IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co.

1858 Letter from Benjamin Ratcliff to his sister Margaret Wilson


Poem written by Benjamin's daughter

Upper Iowa River April 19nt 1858

Dear Sister

I set down A few minutes to write you a short letter and to say that we got here safe on Monday night we had to stay in Lansing at Sunday the weather was so bad we laid over at Indianapolis & Chicawgo and slept friday night on the steam boat at Dunlieth opposite Debuke left Debuke about 10AM and got to Lansing about Dark the day After we got here I would have given something (prety?) if I had been back I dont think I ever felt so discouraged in my life and Charlotte felt the same indeed if we had the land secure I believe we should not stay two days but maybe we shall feel better when we get in our cabbin I found when I come to count the cost of a small house of two rooms that it was no use for us to think of trying to build with our means so I set to work to move our cabin upon higher ground we pulled it down on Friday and got it up on satterday ready for the roof but today it rains so that I cant do anything at it I labour under A great disadvantage in not having A horse and I have no money to buy one with I dont see Any prospect of doing anything at Pump Making at present but if we keep our health I shal try what I can do money is very scarce here but produce is low Wheat from 40 to 50cts Corn 25 Potatoes 25 per bushel so it will not cost A great deal to keep us if we had about ( 5?) hundred dollars I could go right Ahead but wether we like or not I dont see any other chance but to stay untill we get the title to our land if I was to leave now we should be brok up entirely our Cabbin is 14 ft long and 12 ft wide it is A small place I shal put A kitchen to the Back of it about 10 ft square and patch up some more to it

I went to the river this morning and caught 5 large fish in A few minutes so we shal have plenty of fish this is A great country for producing the nessarys of life with A little labour that is certain

My Dear Sister you dont know how Dear you all are to me now we are far away tel Benja to learn all he can and be a good boy and Mary to take care of herself she is now of an age that will require her to be constant guard for the heart of Man is often deceitfull and desperately wicked tell Robison I shal write to him after we get settled and have time to look round

I remain your Afectionate Brother
B Ratcliff



Our Log Cabin Home In Iowa - 1858
by Helen Ratcliffe Moore

I dream of the days
In the old cabin home
Where seeking new life
To the west we had come
From our well loved Virginia
Our birthplace so dear,
The spot to us sacred
Still held in revere.

How new were the flowers
The birds, and the trees
How sweet were the scents
On the soft evening breeze,
The clear notes of the Lark
With the day just begun,
The whip o wills call
When the days work was done.

The cabin stood just at the brow of the hill
Two oak trees stood over
As stern sentinels.
A sweet-brier bush
Sent out rare perfume,
While honey bees busily
Gathered the bloom.

The latch string hung always invitingly out,
The fireplace whispered
"Just gather about"
Awaiting wild game
Four guns busy on high
While outside, fish poles stood
Temptingly by.

Our first callers were Indians
With arrows and bow
Whether hostile or friendly
We did not then know.
But in all the long future
They gave little fear
As they came seeking ginsing
Year after year.

As children, how happy
and glad were the hours
While driving the cows
We gathered wild flowers.
Barefooted, knee deep
We waded the slough
Then paddled around
In the old canoe.

No greater friend, ever,
to children was given
Than Carlo, our dog
A real gift from Heaven.
Not a snake crossed our path
Not a danger came near,
While he was on duty
We never knew fear.

He was a great sport
And grinned when was told
Shook hands with right paw
even when old.
But if a storm came
and lightning flashed red
We saw him no more
He hid under the bed!

Wild strawberries gave us
full many a treat
Blackberries and plums
and blackhaws so sweet
When through with our tasks
And from work we were free
No greater fun we found
Than climbing a tree.

We rode on the pumpkins,
Helped gather the corn
No more welcome sound
Than the old dinner horn.
And then if there lacked
quite enough for a load
Oh! what joy filled our hearts
As the horses we rode.

Oh Mother! and childhood
How far far away
The shadows grow long
At the close of the day.
But the afterglow lingers
to lighten the gloom
As memory harks back
to the old cabin home.

Contributors notes:
-Benjamin Ratcliff was my great-great-grandfather. He and his wife, Charlotte Gilchrist, came to Allamakee co. from Wheeling, now West Virginia, and settled on what they named Mt. Hope Farm. He was the postmaster of the Clear Creek Post Office for 30 years and was a representative in the Iowa Legislature in 1878.  A great-great grandson, Donald Hartley and his wife, Marlene, now live on the farm.
-The poem was written by Helen Ratcliffe Moore of Marshalltown, Iowa February, 1916, with verses added in 1928; remembering her childhood home in the log cabin built on the rise west of the later Mt. Hope Farm residence. Helen was Benjamin's daughter.

-letter & poem contributed by Neva Auenson. Neva's email contact information can be found in the Surname Registry for Ratcliff.


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