Letter # 17; 1865 (fragment); A Barrel of Goodies

‘…Our children never heard a musical instrument until last Sunday. Our neighbor took down his fiddle and played a tune or two. When Beulah came home, she said,’ I did not know a violin could talk. It did, mama, for it sung a hymn.’

‘Would you like a cheese of my making? I have three fine ones. You may have a cut of anyone. I have been milking five cows since March and I have put down a cask of butter for winter use.’

‘How nice it would be to have a dust pan and brush like we had in our old house in Gloucester (Massachusetts). It is impossible to sweep my dirt floor with a broom….’

‘…Beulah reads in the third reader and reads her sisters all the stories she can get hold of. It is pleasant to see her on the bench between them reading aloud. They are determined to learn. Even Jessie has read her letters…’

         Letter # 18, 13 March 1865 (fragment)

  ‘…I have something to tell you. We are buying a new bedstead, the first article of furniture we have in Clear Lake, except what Emory made with his own hands. Saturday evening, we were all sitting at tea when Carlo’s glad bark announce he was coming. The children scattered from the table to run and see the bedstead. Presently, I heard a glad shout, ‘Hurrah for the Union, Mama, the barrel has come,’

‘This year a new school house was built a mile from us. Two or three times a month there is preaching there. The church is split on the Slavery issue. Methodist North and Methodist South are terms well understood here. The northern preacher is southern born but fled from his brethren. He has been to see us several times. His heart is with the Niggers (term used commonly without negative connotation by anti-slavery proponents). He sang some religious songs as sung by slaves. Some were touching; ‘Our bondage it shall cease’ and ‘Our Deliverer, he will come.’ All such expressions were supposed to have a spiritual meaning but I wonder, did the poor slave take it literally?’

       Letter # 19; Late 1865 (fragment)

‘…I have not said one word about the war. We rejoice at the reports it is drawing to a close. Our latest news is that Charleston is taken, Wilmington also. A good many of the Secesh about us talk of moving to Mexico. There are many whites from Missouri here. It is wonderful that they could uphold slavery. Their young boys express their feelings upon Emory. They call him ‘Black Republican, Nigger Lover’… I wish they would all move to Mexico….’

  The Civil War occupied a major part of those eight years of Susan’s letters. The Tallmans, who at one time owned the old Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake, and other Southern families, left Lake County and founded colonies in Mexico and South America.

       Letter # 19; 15 May 1866 (excerpts)

‘Dear Sister Shotty,

‘… Being so short of bedding you can see how difficult it is for us to entertain a stranger overnight. Last Christmas a friend of ours who lives on the other side of the lake, became benighted in a fog. He rowed from two o’clock in the afternoon until dark until his hands were blistered. Our light guided him ashore weary, exhausted, and cold. It was impossible to tell him we could not keep him all night. I got supper for him and we arranged our beds as best I could, putting Emory and him together and I slept with the children. It is impossible to sleep with kicking young colts. The next comfort we are aiming for is a spare bed for a stranger or bedding to make a good pallet on the floor…. Susan.’

       Letter # 20, 4 November 1866 (excerpts)

‘Dear Sister Mary,

…The lake is higher than it has ever been at this season, and a great deal of the land is flooded. It has caused much sickness. A Company of men from San Francisco have commenced building a dam across the outlet of the lake. If they finish the dam it will flood a large portion of the farms around the lake and drive many from their homes. All our meadow, wheat and corn, are under water. The worse thing is loss of health. To see our children sick and to be shaking ourselves with chills is too hard to think of. I don’t think the people will submit to it. If they can’t get the dam removed by law, they will go in a body and tear it down…., Susan.’

That’s what happened. In November 1868, a party of men tore out the dam.

Next Episode: Susan’s last Letter.

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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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