This story was written by Frances May (May) VanKirk Taylor. Mrs. Taylor was the youngest of a family of eight, all girls, save one boy that died while they lived in Nebraska.This is her story of the VanKirk family from the time the decision was made to leave Davis Creek, Valley County, Nebraska and return to Wisconsin until the family left the Ashland area for South Superior. The time frame for the story is difficult to establish with any great degree of accuracy. The move from Nebraska occurred after the election of President McKinley and their final move to Superior had to have been close to 1906. Marshall Henry VanKirk and his wife Emily Esther Drew brought with them their four youngest children to Wisconsin when they returned. The girls were Eva, about 13; Ina, nearly 10; Julia, who was around 8 and May, the author, all of 5 years old. I share this story hoping that some of the places and families mentioned will bring to memory family members long gone and times long past.
Nebraska is a state of many moods. It can be breath-takingly beautiful as it was many times, especially in the spring. It can be very productive, but all too often, crops are rained or hailed out. A lovely crop of corn would give evidence of a bountiful harvest, and that very day a hot breath of wind would kill everything in that one day. Hail, flood, droughts, grasshoppers, chinch bugs were all part of the tragedy that is Nebraska. Dust storms would blow up and cover everything. Many cyclones or near cyclones, made living there a hazardous business. We experienced all of these conditions. We were beset with sickness. Ours was a homestead, but with crop failure and illness, we had to mortgage the farm. The time came when we lost everything and had to move away.
At this time, Mother had been corresponding with a cousin, Sam Brace, in Ashland, Wisconsin. He pictured the country in glowing terms, one farm in particular, a lovely stream of water flowing thru a land of "milk and honey" according to his letters. Mother and Dad had lived in Wisconsin and had many fond memories of it. True, it was southern Wisconsin, but Sam Brace was describing northern Wisconsin as quite as wonderful as anything they could remember.
Many things entered into our decision to go to Wisconsin. It was much nearer and much cheaper to take a family of six there than to Washington where Addie, their oldest daughter lived with her family.
Then, Sam Brace, of the golden pen, prevailed and off we started for North Loup, bound for Wisconsin. We drove to North Loup, Nebraska and to our very dear friend's home, the Sam McClellans, for dinner. Eva was very delicate of health so all of us children were taken there. Mother stopped at the post office to get the mail, while Dad drove to the depot to ship our goods to Wisconsin. When Mother got the mail, there was a frantic letter from Addie begging us to change our minds and come to Washington. Mother rushed to the depot but Dad had already billed the goods to Wisconsin. Just those few minutes changed the course of our lives. Probably Addie's plea would have prevailed, had Mother arrived at the depot a short time sooner. And so the die was cast. We went to Ashland, Wisconsin.
Never will any of us forget Dad's despair, as we got into Spooner, Wisconsin, and saw the cut over land that fires had ravaged. Had it been financially possible, he would have turned around and headed West. That was impossible, for money was scarce and he had a very sick daughter and three other children and it was imperative that we find a home soon. Sam Brace had good-heartedly invited us to come to his home. It must have been a shock to him when he saw how poverty stricken we were and how meager our possessions. He had a big home and his wife Kate Brace evidently had not expected us to be there more than a day or so. She kept teacher boarders, besides her own family of five children, so it was no wonder that our coming was a real shock, tho her husband must have told her of his invitation.
We were most anxious to get on our own, so the next day Sam took Mother and Dad to see the place near Iron River. The shack on the place turned out to be an old abandoned logging camp. The land had recently been logged off, there was no cleared land, and to add to the horror, the last man in the cabin had had small pox. Of course, both Mother and Dad would have none of that.
Sam had a team of very heavy workhorses, suitable for logging operations but not for farming. He did sell the horses to Dad for $600.00. the idea was that Dad could haul logs. Dad caught a terrible cold, had flu, and it was at once apparent his health wouldn't take that labor. We rented out the horses for about two weeks and one morning one of them dropped dead.
Meantime, our goods took two weeks to come, and we were the guests of the Brace's. The daughter, Bessie, was about Ina's age. It was like rubbing salt in a wound for Ina, for she was wearing some of Bessie's hand-me-down clothes. The rest of us all had made over clothing they had sent to Nebraska, but I was too young to feel that sting. One of the boys, Fred was very nice to us.
The folks decided to winter in Ashland, and Dad would get work at the lath mill. They hunted and found a house and at long last the goods came and we moved in.
I should mention the other Brace families. Sam and his brother Alfred were timber cruisers. I'm not sure what work Jim did. They also had a bachelor brother, Fred, who was wonderfully kind and thoughtful to Eva. We liked both Alfred's and Jim Brace's families. I particularily liked Hugh and Margaret, Jim and Jennie's small children, with whom I played.
That winter was a very difficult one. Eva's condition became increasingly worse. We called a fine man and surgeon, Dr. Dodd. Before long, he advised an operation.
Meanwhile, Mother had a terrible case of flu as did all of us, except Ina, who had the care of the house and family. she, Mother, was in bed for a month with flu, then later she slipped on icy steps and dislocated a kidney, again keeping her in bed for weeks.
We had enrolled in school. I was not too unhappy in the third grade, tho it was a great change. Ina missed so much school caring for the sick family that she was placed in the same grade with Julia. Since she was three years older, it was a terrible humiliation to her sensitive spirit.
My chief memory of that winter was seeing Ina tear up old sheets and other rags for hankerchiefs. Our noses seemed to run constant streams. Then the horror of hanging out and bringing in frozen clothes, in that sub-zero weather, so much colder than Nebraska, was something Ina will always recall as part of a difficult time.
The doctor had been seeing Eva, frequently, and he decided that she must have an operation. So she was taken to Dr. Dodd's Hospital and the operation performed. He was a very skilled surgeon, but it was a very critical operation. For days she lingered between life and death, but eventually there was change for the better. There followed long weeks of convalescence in the hospital, where Eva won the admiration and love of the nurses and Doctor for her sweet spirit and patience. Finally Eva came home--still an invalid, but better.
THE GLEASON FARM
Spring came and we rented a farm about three miles out, near Nash, a small village. We always knew it as the Gleason farm, owned by Mrs. Gleason. This was a very interesting place. There was a large house with three bedrooms upstairs and two down. The delightful part of it, was the small trout stream that circled back of the the house. In most places the stream was about three feet wide, but it had been dammed back of the house so here it was larger. A rustic bridge went across the dam, and there was quite a deep hole where trout often lurked. That little stream wandered around across the farm. In some places it widened out to lovely wading pools. The water was very cold, as it was fed by springs. In fact, our water came from a spring about a hundred feet from our door. A barrel had been sunk so that water bubbled up and filled the barrel. There was also such a barrel just outside of our front gate. A cup hung by the willows that surrounded the spring. This spring figures in an interesting tale to be told later. Our Mother often fished on that little bridge. She would fish by the hour and when she came in, she usually had two or three fish. Sometimes enough for a small meal, more often enough for a treat for Eva.
This was a general farm with a few cows and horses, and a truck farm. Dad proved to be a wonderful truck gardener. He found he could raise wonderful vegetables, which had a ready market in Ashland. We picked wild fruit, strawberries by the gallon, red raspberries and just a few blueberries, which we canned or sold.
The Gleason boy had a pony that was gentle to ride. We had the use of him while we lived there. Our delight was complete. We rode double on him, to get the mail at Nash, and very often took turns riding just for fun.
One Sunday, a neighbor boy, Hardomus Burt, came over to visit. He was interested in Ina, and liked to be in her company. On this day he saddled one of Dad's horses and he rode him while we three girls took turns riding the pont, as his companion. I was riding with him, when the young man decided to gallop ahead of me. It was alright with me but not the pony. He started off on the dead run to race the other horse. I was so frightened. I fell off into Ina's arms, but not until the pony had stopped running. That ended the riding for that day. We often rode again, but we never raced again. We loved life with that pony.
We all very much enjoyed school at Nash. It was a regular country school to which we were used. Our teacher, Minnie Meisner, was lovely to us and we progressed nicely. We made many fine friends in the neighborhood.
One day Dad and I took a delightful walk in the deep woods. We went picking wild flowers. We found bloodroot, hepatica, violets, cowslips and many other things. We were looking for possible arbutus sprays. We didn't find them, but I shall never forget Dad's joy and awe at finding a lovely showy ladyslipper. He had picked them as a boy in southern Wisconsin, and it was like finding an old friend. We loved the the beauty of the spring and the glory of the fall leaves-red, yellow and mixed colors.
The road, that passed our farm, ran out to a logging camp about ten miles further on. It was a very common thing to have lumberjacks come by, get a drink at the spring by our gate, and come in to beg for handouts of food.
While we lived there we had two very lovely visitors. We had made the acquaintance of Uncle Amasa, Dad's older brother. They had a half sister Aunt Angeline Glendenning, who came to visit us. I believe she was in her late seventies and she was quite blind but every one of us loved her dearly. Uncle Amasa was always a welcome visitor also. Later on our Grandma Drew came. She was Mother's mother. She was seventy five when she came, and was as frail and delicate as eggshell china. She brought us some of her lovely paintings. I watched her paint one scene that now has an honored place in our living room.
THE BINSFIELD PLACE
That year passed and Dad decided that we needed a bigger farm, so we moved to a another farm several miles the other side of Ashland in the German settlement, on the Binsfield place.
When we first came to the Binsfield place, a very fine young woman, Ethel Hull, taught the school. Ina, Julia and I attended this school, and we all loved her. I think after the first year she went away to be married.
Eva was determined to get her certificate and to apply for the Setski School. She went to a three-week teacher-training institute. It so happened that Mrs. Gleason knew the County Superintendent of Bayfield County well, and she told him of Eva's determination to acquire an education and teach. Eva said that he questioned her in much detail, all thru that Institute. She obtained her teaching certificate. The Superintendent told Mrs. Gleason that he was amazed at the depth and breadth of her knowledge. Eva applied for the home school and got it. She was very much loved during her three years of teaching there.
No story of our life is complete without a description of the beauty around that school. It was set in the midst of a beautiful forest. The yard, of course, was cleared and free of trees, but all sides were maples, oaks and evergreens in most beautiful intermingling. In the spring we roamed the Setski woods for arbutus, hepaticas and violets. But it was in the fall that the beauty was the greatest. Then the trees "put on their dresses of red and gold," brilliant reds and yellow, red and green, in a combination of colors that were unbelievable. We, who experienced it, will never forget it. Ina, Julia and I attended that first year that Eva taught. We lived about a mile and a half from the school. This was much to far for Eva to walk, so Dad took us to school and back each day with horses and buggy or horses and sleigh. I think that first year Ina and Julia helped Eva with difficult tasks about the school, after hours. I played in the trees across the way with Jennie Hogan, a little neighbor child who rode back and forth with us. Ina and Julia finished the eighth grade that year and went to Ashland to High School, the next year.
The next year Eva and I went to school. About this time a gland under Eva's arm began to swell. It was under her right arm, so she could only write a few minutes at the board. Nobody in the neighborhood knew of that sore arm. I used to watch to save her at every opportunity that I could. I cleaned blackboards, wrote assignments and helped where ever possible.
The Kane boys went to school that year. They loved to tease me. One time they cut long slender limbs from the trees and all the boys switched my legs and made me dance. I yelled bloody murder and Eva came and called them off.
We had many interesting gatherings of young people at our house. We gathered round the organ and sang. Ernie Smith, Ina's admirer, played the mouth organ, some one else held forth on an accordian. John Van Hagan almost convulsed us with his rendition of the following song: "Take me to de church yard and 'trou' de sod 'ore me Cause I'm a poor cowboy, I know I done wrong." We didn't dare laugh then, but ever since any one of us who started that song could get a laugh from the rest.
I recall that one Christmas celebration, we moved the organ on the sleigh to help with the music at school. Another long remembered remark was occassioned by little Herbert Setzke, who had a "case" on his teacher Eva. There was to be a dance and this little five-year-old said to his mother, "How would it be if I should as dot teacher to dance mit me?"
My friend Jennie Hogan and I had lots of fun in wintertime after school catching on the logging sleighs that went by. We'd steal a ride and jump off.
The most difficult experience that our family had, occurred during a winter blizzard. We woke up that morning to see a very heavy snowstorm. It was necessary for Dad to get to town that day. He drove Eva and me to school and it was evident that we were in for a terrible blizzard. He told us that quite likely he would be very late, but not to worry. There was wood piled high in the little shed attached to the school building. We could get it without opening the outside door. Only a few children came that stormy day. By noon it was clear that if the children were going to be able to get home, they would have to be dismissed at once. Most of the parents called for their children in sleighs. One of the neighbors wanted to take us home, but Eva said, "No, Father told us to wait." By 2:30 it was almost dark and you couldn't see the gate. Eva and I waited and waited. As four o'clock came, we had almost decided that we would have to stay there all night. About that time our neighbor Mr. Windle, came to take us home, telling us that Dad had had to turn back from town in the storm. He was so weak he didn't dare to come for us. Mr. Windle got us home safely, after the team had floundered alot. He had many blankets and quilts to wrap us up completely. We were thankful to get home.
The third year of Eva's teaching came. That year, one of the Kane boys, brought Eva a fern ball that he found growing in the woods. It was about eight inches in diameter. We put it in a wire egg basket, and hung it up in the schoolroom. From time to time we would dip it in a pail of water and it was soon covered with lovely fern fronds. None of us had ever seen such a growth before, but we didn't realize how rare they were until the County Superintendent of schools visited Eva's school. He was much interested in it, coming back to it again, and again. I have since seen several of them here in California, but believe they are vey rare and usually of sub-tropical origin.
That year our stove at school was defective, and we all suffered with the cold. Eva caught a terrible cold that became an alarming cough. Finally she became so ill, that she had to give up her school, and we decided to move to Ashland, so she would be near a doctor. This happened in March.
RETURN TO ASHLAND
Dad found a house and we moved to town. By this time, I was in the sixth grade. I went to the 9th Avenue School. The Principal was Mr. Orme. I was a frightened country child. I had always been poor in Arithmetic, but in other subjects I did very well. He taught Arithmetic and U.S. History. He could always frighten me in Arithmetic. Once he had given us a History lesson and he had called on half a dozen pupils who had failed to answer him. He called on me. I stood and answered his first question. He asked more, I stood my ground, took up the discussion until he said, "That's good." I never feared him again and when I left the school, he told me I was a fine student.
Eva had long had the ambition to go to a Normal School. She wanted Ina to go as well and we began to discuss which one we would go to. Of course, that would mean we would move to a city where such a school was located. We discussed Oshkosh, Steven's Point, and Superior.
Meantime, Eva's cold didn't get better and Mother called Doctor Dodd to see her. I shall never forget his look of sadness and compassion, as he came out to talk to Mother. She said "Doctor, is it TB?" and very sadly he said, "It could be." We are all sure that he knew the truth and hated to tell us.
Eva insisted that our plans go forward, and that we move. Mother had a cousin Julia Linscott, who lived in Superior. Mother wrote to her and she found a house for us to move to in South Superior. She thought Dad would get work in the Chair Factory. So we moved there and rented the house at 5907 John Avenue, where we lived several years.
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED - LATER
After reading the story, I was so involved that I had to know how things turned out for Eva - however I guess I knew. This is the reply I got from Sharon after inquiring.
"Yes, Eva died in 1906 in South Superior and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Julia, Ina and May went on to complete their education and all taught school. May taught for many years before and after she married Bert Taylor."