Letter’s # 1; 1859; Pay in Potatoes and Corn    

Dear Sister Fanny,

Emory started a school for three months last summer (Letter written before Susan arrived from Nevada). Mrs. Boyd took him in. They agreed to pay him (for teaching the school) fifty dollars a month. When it came to making out the bills, he found one man who wanted to pay in potatoes, another in pork, and one, who proposed to pay in corn meal. Emory will get his pay but only forty dollars in cash.’

‘The law business is very small. We are seventy miles from Napa, the County Seat. There is talk of dividing the county (including Napa in Lake County). Then the county seat will be nearby (Lakeport became the County seat in 1861). That will bring Law business here. Here are no lawyers here. Emory has had only one case.’

‘… For five weeks, I stayed with Mrs. Boyd.  She had several small houses on her property and she let us have one, so we moved in with the bins of oat and wheat. She lent us a bed till ours came (furniture was freighted by wagon). We put the bed on one of the bins and we had to climb on a bench to get in. We were more comfortable after the grain was taken out.’

‘Mrs. Boyd made it a condition of letting us use her granary that Emory, or I, must teach her children. Our granary room is fourteen by twenty feet and serves as a law office, school room, kitchen, parlor, bedroom, and nursery. I teach her four children but others come and I charge one dollar a week.  I expect to take it in potatoes and such. I say to the scholar, ‘Ask your ma to send me some butter tomorrow’. To another, ‘Bring me a sack of cabbage or beets or some eggs.’

A small eight-year-old boy, Lewis Henderson, whose parents had crossed the plains in 1850 from North Carolina, was one of Susan’s pupils. Susan’s teaching was the only schooling he ever had. Young Lewis often held baby Beulah while he recited his lessons for Susan. Eighteen years later, he married Beulah.

‘I have not mentioned the light of our granary (single living room). Our bright spot, our heart’s delight, is now sitting on the floor crowing over the feat of pulling off her shoe and stocking. Beulah is as fat as a little squab and such a chatterbox. She does not creep but she is trying. Oh, how many times does she cause us to smile in spite of life’s cares. I tell Emory if one (child) is so sweet why should we complain of having two? I would not complain if it were not so soon. I am afraid Beulah will get neglected. Your affectionate sister, Susan.’

Susan was pregnant again with a second child. Having children was a part of the hardships for a woman with no way to prevent pregnancy, no doctor, and the poorest of living conditions.

Letter’s # 2, 1859; Pay in Potatoes and Corn    

 ‘Dear Sister Fanny,

It will soon be impossible for me to teach school. How are we to live unless Emory gets more business? Emory had been to Healdsburg before he came to Lake County. There was an opening for a lawyer and there are two churches and a good society. Alas for the disease. The putrid sore throat is endemic there and carry’s off children and old people. He considered and thought of our precious Beulah and turned his face away and came here. He might have been elected to be Justice of the Peace but that would interfere with his lawyering…’

‘Mary (Susan’s other sister) has been kind in sending me The Rural Register and The Harpers (Gazette). They are a comfort in our loneliness. I am raising poultry but it takes time. Then the pig gives a loud call and I run with something for her. There are a dozen children within two miles, whose parents want me to teach. They want me to start a school.’

‘Fanny (the second daughter, born that year) sits alone and is a hearty and thriving baby. She rolls and tumbles on a blanket and is trying to creep. We had anxiety with Beulah and, since we lost all our other children, we believed Beulah would die also but she is well and growing like a weed. I am forty-three. How difficult to realize the lapse of time. I wish we could have the babies’ daguerreotypes taken and send them to you. Perhaps in time. Your affectionate sister, Susan.’

Next Episode: Civil War looms closer

Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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