LIFE OF ALICE MINOR HEDGES
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Alice was the daughter of David Minor and Margaret Graham; they came to Dodge Co from Ohio in 1846.
These memories written by Alice Minor regarding her childhood in Dodge Co. were contributed by Jim Jones, who is a descendant of Margaret's sister Eliza Graham.
The write up was done about 1935.

LIFE OF ALICE MINOR HEDGES
(Written by her...)
1854-

I was born in the hard wood country of Dodge Co., Wisconsin, U.S.A. of pioneer and honest parents. I have heard it said that my father was too honest for his own good. My parents came from Northern Ohio in 1846 and I infer from the fact that the road past the front of our house was called Ohio street that they were accompanied or followed by several neighbors or friends. I remember that my father's sister was buried in our yard and that her coffin was disinterred and taken to the cemetery when one was started. I had two girl cousins who had a stepmother and several half-brothers and sisters living near us. Their father was German. The old log house that my parents began their homemaking in still stood but they had moved into a two room frame house at my earliest recollection. There were still friendly Indians all round us but they soon moved away and I don't know where they went.

A picture of the old home comes to me; the lilac bush on one side of the front step and the snowball on the other and a border of perinnials [sic]... columbine, pinks, lilies, coraopsis [sic], etc., bringing a succession of blossoms all summer. There was a large yard with fruit and shade trees and back of the house was the well with its sweep and "The old oaken bucket" and the dairy house only our dairy house was a cellar and over it was a granary where the grain was kept, the apples and the nuts which we gathered in the fall. There was an orchard of varieties of apples ripening from the last of June until frost came and there was one great Concord grape vine trained over a trellis, which was loaded with delicious grapes. There was a crabapple tree at the end of the house that spread its branches on the roof and we children liked to get up there to pick thornapples, high-bush cranberries and all kinds of berry briars, but there were also currents and other berries in the garden. There were hickory nuts, two or three varieties, butternuts and acorns in the woods and we laid in the plentiful supply of each in its season. The farm was divided into fields of from five to ten acres as it was cleared of timber but it was not nearly all cleared.

There was the wood yard with its long ricks of stove wood and its piles of logs for cutting into stovewood and its stacks of chips. There was the barn with its haymow on one side of the threshing floor where the grain and beans were threshed and the sheep sheared and the stalls for the horses on the other side and the loft where oats to be fed in the bundle was stored. Between the house and the barn was the garden, a plum thicket and the chicken house. Blue-grass covered the ground where it hadn't been plowed out. When I was five years old, father built a two story addition to the house and we then had an eight room house and took the old part of the house for dining room and kitchen. There was a lean-to which was used as a summer kitchen and as a wood shed in winter.

A man's farm was his kingdom in those days and produced most of the necessary and what few luxuries there were in his life. There was no unemployment because most things were done by hand or with very primitive machinery. The plowing was done with walking plows and oxen or horses; the planting was done by hand with hoes for corn and vegetables and the grain was hand sown and harrowed in with one horse hitched to a three corner drag; some times a branch of a tree was dragged over the ground to cover the grain. Sheep were kept and the wool was prepared for weaving at home and it was quite common to have it woven at home but my father took it to the mill to have it made into flannel, linsey, jeans and fulled cloth after which it was made up at home by hand. To prepare the wool for weaving it was scoured until all of the dirt and oil was out of it and then the burs must be picked out and this was the task of the children. There were several varieties of burs, the beggar lice and the sticktights being the worst. Every day until this work was done we each had our stint of wool to pick before we could go to more agreeable work, or to play. When this was finished father took the wool to the carding mill to be made into rolls for spinning, but this work was done at home quite often. At our house a girl came and did the spinning, a certain number of skeins of yarn being a day's work. When the cloth was brought home a seamstress came and cut and made up the clothing except that father had his clothes cut by a tailor. The seamstress did the sewing on them. We had calico and lawn and muslin besides this woolen cloth for summer wear and had sheets of cotton for the beds.

We knew nothing about canning fruit or vegetables and what was conserved in any way was dried or made into jams and preserves. Apple butter was made by boiling down the cider and apples until it was rich enough to keep without the addition of sugar. Pumpkin butter was made the same way only sometimes the pumpkins were frozen and then the juice was more easily pressed out and was boiled to a syrup and unfrozen pumpkin was cooked in this until it was thick smooth mass.

Besides having to make our clothes at home by hand we had to make a lot more of them. Instead of one or two garments to be pulled over the head there was a chemise, a corset or a boned tight waist and at least three petticoats and a dress with from ten to fifteen yards of cloth in it, besides a hoopskirt...the only garment not made at home.

I was a homely little mortal and a great trial to my mother who wanted her only (at that time) daughter to be a little lady and I was always an outdoor child, in other words, a tomboy and would much rather work or play out of doors. About the last of February the days were warm and the nights cold and preparations were made for making maple sugar. I liked to follow my father around as he inspected the sap buckets and troughs and tapped the trees, drove in the spiles to carry the sap to where it would drip into the bucket set under it, and then I liked to help gather the sap every morning and evening and carry it to the sugar camp where the big kettle holding about two barrels, was hung by chains from a strong pole held up by two large posts far enuf apart that a big fire could be kept under the kettle. As the sap boiled down more was added until enuf thick syrup was made to fill the little kettle when it was dipped into the little kettle, holding fifteen gallons and more sap was put in the big kettle while this syrup was made into sugar and we children were let pour some of it on the snow to make wax, the most delicious sweet ever made or imagined. We used to give the dog a mouthful which would stick his jaws together and likely, he did not think it as much fun as we did.

The sugar was poured into shallow pans to harden and the cakes were piled on a drain board to drain out the syrup that was still in the sugar. After sugar making came soap making. About the first of April the buds swelled on the sugar trees and the sap was "buddy" spoiling the flavor of the syrup and sugar and the buckets and troughs were gathered up and the spiles pulled and all stored away until another spring and the kettles were taken to the house to be used in soap making. That was a very cold counry, that is we had long cold winters and burned lots of wood to keep the house warm and the ashes was put into a large straw lined hopper and kept covered until soap making time in the spring when it was uncovered and water poured in the top, which drained thru as lye and into this was put all of the waste grease and which had accumulated during the winter and it was boiled until it became a brown, jelly-like mass and this was our soap. The soap and the sugar looked so much alike that one day I saw what I thought was soft sugar in a saucer in the pantry and took a mouthful and it was soap.

After the soap was made and stored away in a barrel came corn and potato planting. The ground was worked off in check-rows and we children dropped ... if it was corn we were planting, five grains, one for the black bird, one for the crow, one for the squirrel and two to grow, where the checks crossed. If the corn came up to thick, we had to thin out but if the blackbird, the crow ate too much, we woud have to replant and this was children's work. There was always a baby at our house and it was kept in a cradle as much of the time as it could be and it had to be rocked whenever it became fretful and this was a small child's work. Some folks had ingenious ways of keeping babies quiet. One way was to tie a piece of fat meat to a string and tie the other end of the string to the baby's toe. The meat was given the baby to suck and if it went too far down its throat it would kick and pull it back. It took careful measurement to get the string so it would pull the meat from its throat but not out of its mouth. Sometimes the baby would have colic and would be given a dose of Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, which would surely quiet it but my mother wouldn't either give the baby the meat nor the syrup but I did have to rock the cradle a good many hours.

In spite of these many duties we had time to play, complexions by nature in those days were not bought at the drug-store so my mother tried to have me wear a sunbonnet that was like looking thru a length of stovepipe. But though she tied a lock of my hair thru the top of it, I would come in with it hanging down my back and I had freckles across my nose, but I did not care. When the baby was big enuf I had a little wagon and would take him with me and wander for hours in the fields and woods. I knew where to find the early flowers and for that matter all the flowers and fruit and nuts in their seasons. It may sometimes have been hard on the baby for me to haul them around but they seemed to thrive as we had very little sickness and the epidemics of diphtheria, which took so many children, either missed us or struck us very lightly. I remember that a neighboring family buried three children in one grave from the dread disease. We had scarlet fever and two of my brothers were very sick but the other three or four of us did not go to bed with it and the two who were very sick recovered except that they were left with bad throats.

When I was six years old the stork left a sister for me but all that I can recall of her as a child is hearing people remark how much prettier she was than I was and I know that I did not in the least care if she was. We were of such different dispositions that we were never companions.

In June, after the corn had been cultivated with the shovel, plow and one horse and hoed over, came the hay harvest. The men took their scythes and mowed wide swaths and the boys had hand rakes to rake it into wind-rows. Each man carried a long whetstone and I liked to hear the cling, clang as they whetted their scythe blades at the end of each row across the field. After the hay dried a little the boys followed with hand rakes, wooden rakes, and raked the hay into wind rows and the next day men with pitchforks put it into shocks, after which it was hawled into the barn and mowed away. This was hard, hot work. When a few loads had been spread on the bottom of the mow, we children could climb to the big beam, a foot square beam ten feet above the barn floor and from which we jumped to the hay. It was a daring jump until the hay was several feet deep and the one who dared make it first was quite a hero.

When the hay harvest was over came the grain harvest when the cradles were brought out and put in order. A cradle had a blade like scythe only that it was a little broader and a little shorter; it had wooden fingers as long as the blade, four or five of them, to hold the heads of the grain all the same way as they were laid on the ground. Each cradler was followed by a man with a rake, who raked a bundle of grain together and took a bunch of it and twisted the heads together, wrapped it around the rest of the bundle and twisted the butts together and tucked the end under the bundle that was bound. It took some skill skill to do this so that the bundles would hold together in handling. The boys carried the bundles and put seven in a group, after which a man set them with the heads up five in a bunch and spread the other two over the top for protection from the weather. After the grain was all cut, bound and shocked it was hauled to the barn or stack yard to go through the sweat before threshing, if there was enough of it a place was cleaned off on the ground and bundles were placed, butts to the enter and heads outside covering the ground to some depth and one of the boys rode a horse round and round over the heads until the grain was all shelled out when the straw was lifted off with a pitchfork and stacked at one side and the fanning mill brought out and the grain gathered up carefully and, if there was a breeze, dipped up and poured down several times to get rid of as much chaff and light dirt as might be done in this way and then it was run thru the mill with its riddles and sieves until it was free from dirt. If there was not much of it, it was threshed on the barn floor with flails and the cleaning didn't take so much work.

After the threshing was done the bedticks were emptied of their worn out straw and washed and filled with fresh cut straw. We did not have springs and mattresses on our beds but bedsteads had round rails at the sides and ends that screwed into the posts and on these rails were legs screwed on and a rope was tied to the end of peg, put around the pegs on the opposite side of the bed, crossed back and put round the next row of pegs and so on until it covered the bedstead crossway and then it was put lengthwise in the same way. This was all the springs we had. In making up the bed this rope [phrase cut off] the middle. Then the straw must be stirred up so that it wouldn't work down between the ropes and let them be felt. It was quite an art to make up a bed so it would be comfortable to sleep in especially if there was also a big feather tick to get evened up. I was about ten years old when a friend moved in from somewhere in the East, who had a bed with springs and mattress and how we envied her because all she had to do was to spread up her bed. Usually bedsteads were made high enough that a trundle bed could be pushed under then to be out of the way when not in use. Nice little girls were supposed to piece a quilt to cover one of these beds by the time she was ten years old but I was not that kind of girl though I did when I was grown. I don't think it was any harder to get goods then than now, but people were more thrifty and the scraps must be saved and some of the quilts were works of art, with their beautiful quilting.

There were no screens on windows or doors and flies were considered as necessary scavengers. Some people had a peacock feather brush to wave over the table to keep the flies scared away enough that one could put their victuals in their mouths without flies going in with them but we used branches or paper cut in strings and fastened on a stick and one would stand at either end of the table and keep their brushes moving to keep the flies from settling on the food or on our plates as we ate. I was six years old, a tousle headed, freckle faced, hoopskirted, pantaletted youngster when the Lincoln campaign was going on and I remember a "railsplitter" dress, a blue and white lawn of rail fence design, which I had. It was made low necked with a full waist and tight belt and very full skirt come well below my knees.

There lived one souther sympathizer near us. He was called a copperhead and life was made uncomfortable for him and his family. The war did not affect me much as my father was exempt for some reason and my brothers too young for the army. The call for volunteers took most of the young men from the neighborhood and then came the draft which took most of the able bodied men who could not raise $199, with which to pay a substitute. We had one neighbor who was a widow with one son who was [phrase cut off] she had to use it.

My father was elected to the state legislature, a member of the assembly and twice he went south to bring home bodies of boys who had been killed, one with a bullet hole between his eyes and one who had been killed by a more deadly enemy. I heard whispers which I did not understand then but do now that bad women caused more deaths than were killed in battle. I do not remember what the preacher said, if I ever understand, but I do remember the mother of the unfortunate boy bending over his coffin and moaning "It isn't so", over and over and then was my first experience of, what I call, wicked preachers.

Father was away from home a great deal but I think the work went on as usual; my oldest brother was twelve years and a boy of good judgement and with the help of the two others and some hired help kept things going and I don't remember especially hard times. We drank coffee made of roasted peas, bran and molasses browned together and other substitutes and we did this for several years after the war was over.

I remember the time father brought home the kerosene lamp with the thick green shade on it. It was very like a number one lamp of today and we were told that the shade must be kept on as it made such a bright light that it could injure our eyes. Heretofore we had used candles of tallow or grease lamps through the long winter evenings when knitting, sewing and reading had to be done. One of the regular chores was to mold candles; a kettle of tallow was put on the stove to melt and the candle molds were threaded with the wicks made of untwisted cotton, which was measured into candle length, twisted lightly and double and strung through the molds, held by a stick through the double at the top and drawn down tight and a knot tied at the bottom to keep the tallow from running through. When the tallow was poured in and they were set back to harden when they were dipped for a moment in warm water, the knots cut off and the candles drawn from the molds by the sticks through the doubled end of the wicks, which was the bottom end of the candle in the candle-stick. Sometimes we were negligent and got out of candles and made a light by putting grease in a saucer and one end of a rag in the grease and lit the other end, but this would smoke and have a disagreeable smell. There were sperm oil lamps which were vessels to hold the oil with wicks which could be picked up but these had no flues and smoked and gave very little more light than a candle.

In that country we had heavy snows and after a storm that buried everything and we were shut in all the men in the neighborhood got out with their yokes of oxen and broke the road. They would drive the oxen up and down the road, the teams of one neighorhood meeting the teams of the next until a road was broke through and then the horses and sleighs were brought out and the road was soon as slick as glass. When the snow was very deep the road was made just wide enough for one team and every quarter of a mile or so a wider place was made so teams could pass. Every team had strings of bells on the harness so that they would be heard and the one first reaching the wide place pulled to the right side and waited for the other team to pass.

Early in November all the wheeled vehicles were stored and the sleds, sleighs and cutters were brought out. The bob-sleds with the box of the big wagon half filled with straw and covered with buffalo robes was the favorite for parties. When a young man wanted his girl to himself, there was the cutter, just big enough for two and padded for warmth and gay robes for covering. Of course these cutters were used for light carriages by all. In winter the frost on the windows was so thick one couldn't see out. At first there came beautiful frost flowers, ferns and tropical plants (frost pictures) which grew thicker until there was just a gray surface and the only way we could see out was to scrape the frost away and make a peep hole. One favorite amusement was to take a thimble and made designs or circles.

When I was seven years old, waists were at their smallest and hoops at their largest. It was quite an art to pass through a door without tilting the skirts at the back and a youngster of my age was likely to get a rap on the nose unless managing their skirts properly when taking a seat. You may wonder how every girl could have a small waist. Mothers who were particular to bring up their girls right began at an early age to put stays on them that they might grow naturally to the proper form, but if a waist was too large there were corsets and hooked up front with large hooks on steel straps that could be hooked very tight and if this was not enough they had laces in the back which could be drawn much tighter. I have heard of girls typing the strings and putting the loop over the bed post and swinging their weight on it and then someone would tie it for them. I have heard of cases where the liver was cut in two. The busts also must be large and if nature had been remiss, art remedied the matter. Sometimes these artificial busts were made of crinoline and a glance from the side revealed their falseness. Did I ever lace up this way? Yes, once my cousin laced me and then she unlaced me in less time than it took to lace me because she thought I was dying. I have told you before that they couldn't make a lady of me but I did wear hoops. Girls in those days did not run races or play ball. Unless the members of a church which forbade it, they danced but not modern dances. There was a rhyme which said "waltzing and hugging are just the same. None but the wedded should play that game." One went gracefully through square dances but even they were considered wicked by some folks. My parents were not church members but father always owned a pew in the nearest church, which anyone was welcome to occupy as our family seldom used it. We also entertained the preachers.

It has been some months since I wrote the last page and questions have come up as to whether the scanty dress of today (1935) has an evil effect on the morals of the young. As I think back I think there is less of sexual immorality now than then but there was more drunkenness though, among my girl friends I can recall but two who had fathers who came home drunk and abused their families while everyone kept whiskey in the house, it being considered necessary for medical purposes and it was thought good to take a drink once or twice a day. It happened occasionally that a preacher would be a little unsteady as he got up to preach. Such a thing as total abstinence would have been thought eccentric.

I can remember hearing remarks during the Civil War that more men died from disease than were shot; measles was more often fatal... smallpox and both were prevalent. In the meantime things went on merrily at home for the most part; of course there were some who worried but mostly folks got used to the situation and the news of a death of a friend came as a shock. Twice I remember my father went to the scene of action and brought home bodies to be buried in the home cemetery and then for a few days there was gloom over the community.

Hoops were at their widest spread and did not diminish much until toward the seventies; they straightened down in front and held out farther at the back and there was no diminution in the under-skirts. About 1870 bustles began to take the place of hoopskirts and some of them were a sight to behold. Skirts became even longer than they had been and spread out in front as well as trailing in the back.

When I was twelve years old father sold his farm in Wisconsin and bought a larger farm in Souther Iowa. The older boys were old enough to handle teams and do farm work. There was a log house with one room with a lean-to which we used for a kitchen which was so open that in cold weather the grease would harden on the meat frying in the skillet and there were none of the conveniences of the old home; no cellar or milk house or smokehouse; everything had to be kept in these two rooms. Two more rooms were built on for bedrooms and a large "cannon" stove put in at the opposite end of the big room from the fireplace and we did not seem to mind the inconvenience tho I am sure mother must have minded. Our neighbors were from different parts of the U. S. Some were from the South and it was a little difficult for us to understand each other. Once a neighbor remarked "Youens don't talk like we-ens do" and I agreed with him. Some of the neighbors spoke so nearly the same language that we did that they could interpret for us at times when an interpreter was necessary. For instance, one asked, "Is you pap goin' to shuck hi corn or snap it?" I told him I thought he was and the interpreter explained he means is your father going to husk his corn or pick it?"

On one corner of our farm was a United Brethern church and a cemetery and here I went to Sunday School and tried to commit to memory as many verses of scripture as was possible but it was not thought to understand them. One little girl could repeat whole chapters and it was said that she had injured her mind learning so many verses but I and most others did not run any such risks, and the teachers who heard us recite them evidently understood them as little as we did.

The preacher who held services twice on Sunday and prayer meeting Wednesday night, lived across the road from the church. Father put in a cross-roads scale and in those days farmers drove their stock to the nearest railroad station but the buyers came and bought the stock and had it weighed near home. There wasa a ruling that stock should not be fed or watered for a certain number of hours before being weighed and usually the sellers were trusted to observe this rule and bring their stock in the morning, weigh it and start on the road but they had the preacher bring his the night before they were to be weighed. This and his expressed opinion that "a good moral man outside of the church is worse than a horse-thief" started me thinking. It did not take me long to be convinced that it was not the good people outside the church that hurt the church but the ones inside that were not so good.

Our farm lay in two school districts and one schoolhouse was a mile from home and the other two miles and sometimes I went to one and sometimes to the other. In the winter the snow was deep and there was no traveled road to either and I frosted my feet and my hands would get so cold that I would take off my mittens and rub snow on my hands till they got warmer, then put on my mittens again so my hands never froze. One time the snow was melting and there was a deep ditch not far from the schoolhouse and the snow let me through into water up to my knees and I went on and sat near the stove all day but did not get thoroughly dry and took such a cold that I was sick for a month, unconscious most of the time and that is the only spell of sickness that we ever had in my father's family except contagious diseases that children are supposed to have and those diseases went light with all of us only two of the boys, Gus and Nate were very sick with Scarlet fever.

When I was fourteen an aunt (Eliza & Geo States) and family came from Blairstown about 100 miles north from where we lived, on their way to Nebraska and when they went on the oldest girl, Adaline States stayed with us. She stayed a year and taught the summer school in the house nearest us and I went to school but the most I can remember of it is that we had to cross a small stream on the footlog and she could not walk it alone and I liked to [phrase cut off] while she stood trembling.

[Note from interviewer:] When Mother was sick in the summer 1938.... I wanted her to finish her autobiography. This is what she told me.

At 15 went to High School, used slates and pencils. Worked out the problem and took them up to the principal. From a report card out of 611 words I missed 6. Mastered Rays practical arithmetic. Elements of Algebra. Rec'd teachers certificate at 14 on the condition I would not use it before I was 16. Went to Nebraska with cousin Adaline at the age of 18. Married at 20 in Lancaster Co. Nebraska to Ed. N. Hedges in 1874. They attended neighborhood dances and as the roads were bad they had to stay all night.


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Last updated 29 August 2010.