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BICKNELL FAMILY
Pleasanton, Decatur County, Iowa

Copied from an account of the Estes family by Vee Estes Dowling

About the time my father returned from crossing the plains, another family came to Pleasanton from Nebraska. That was the family of Robert Bicknell which consisted of the parents and four children-Zora Rosalie the oldest who was ten; Susan Irene two years younger; Robert Smiley; and Sarah Ellen who was only a year old.

Robert Peter, my grandfather, was born in Greencastle, Indiana on 1 October 1835. He was the son of George and Susan (Moore) Bicknell. He had two brothers-one older and a younger one who died in infancy. He also had four sisters who were older. George, the oldest of the boys was a hardware merchant and quite a prominent citizen. He was a Trustee of De Pauw University, where all his children attended. At the time of his death, the Greencastle devoted a great deal of the paper to his life.

Grandfather homesteaded 160 acres of timber and also started a blacksmith shop. Five more children were born to them after they came to Pleasanton. Maggie who died at the age of twelve years the same year that Robert aged nineteen died. Elvira, who lived only ten days; Mabel who died at the age of seven months; Maud and Jacob who died at the age of 68 in Alliance, Nebraska, and Susan Irene (Aunt Nin) who died before grandmother. In spite of all her troubles Grandmother had a sunny, cheerful disposition. She had a millinery shop for awhile and made and trimmed hats. She was very artistic and used to make her own bonnets.

They started the hotel at the time the CBQ railroad was built through Pleasanton. The house was a big, rambling two story building with a large living room, dining room, kitchen, office, parlor and a small room sometimes used as a bedroom. This room had windows all across the south side and those windows were filled with flowers and a large bird cage with several canaries. Grandmother also used to feed all of the stray cats and very often we would hear a scream and find that a cat had caught one of her canaries.

The kitchen was a large room which had been enlarged to enclose a well from which water was drawn In one end was a large range which burned wood or coal. There was a long work table on the other side and in the other end were cupboards and especially a safe where all of the leftovers, such as pie, cold meats, tarts, etc. were stored. These were for hungry children when they got home from school.

Connected to the kitchen by a broad board walk was a large building where Grandfather made barrels of kraut and brewed his beer and Grandmother did her washing. As a usual thing she had one or two hired girls to help with the work.

Grandmother's parlor was a joy to behold. The walls were covered with a soft flowered paper while the woodwork was painted black with gold trimming. On the floor was a Brussels rug with beige background covered with pink roses. In one corner was a bookcase filled with good literature. A sofa and comfortable rocking chairs at one end [and] in the middle of the room was a center table with an album filled with family photographs and a stereoscope with a box of pictures through which one could see the wonders of the world. But the crowning attraction was the ebony piano with a piano lamp by it. The lamp stand was about three feet tall with a marble top. On this stand was a tall brass lamp with a pink shade that cast a rosy glow. We gathered there of an evening to sing and listen to a friend play ragtime. Joan Castle of the Lawrence Welk show reminded me of her.

The upstairs had three large bedrooms and seven smaller ones. Aunt Maud's room was above the office and was well furnished. Later Aunt Ola's and Uncle Jake's first two children were born in this room. I remember Aunt Ola letting me rock Carl. I was about eight years old at the time.

There was a great deal of land around the house. To the south was a flower garden fenced off and the paths lined with bricks. Almost every flower was grown there; a large lilac tree was in the corner; climbing roses of racks; peonies; sweet peas; nasturtiums; chrysanthemums; asters and many others.

At the back was a vegetable garden and Grandfather took most of the care of it besides his blacksmith work. He always met the trains to greet the salesmen and carry their grips. They not only had vegetables from the garden in summer but for winter too. Grandfather stored in sand the cave turnips, winter radishes, and celery; also barrels of apples and kraut; stone jars were filled with apple butter; and shelves of canned fruits and vegetables. Also there were jars of pickled pigs feet; pickled hogshead; and cured ham and bacon.

Grandmother set a wonderful table and the food was served in large bowls and platters. I waited on tables from the time I was eleven. All that I had to do was say "tea or coffee." Traveling salesmen would travel for miles to get to Grandmother's to eat.

To the north and west of the house was the orchard of cherry trees, peach trees, plum trees, apple trees, mulberries and apricots. To the north were the shade trees of walnut, elm, and maple. In the spring Grandfather would bore holes in the soft maples and put little funnels made of wood in the holes and hang buckets to catch the sap. Grandmother would boil this down and make maple syrup and sometimes boil the syrup to sugar.

In the middle of the orchard was a croquet ground and every evening when the weather permitted a game was in sess. Grandfather had hives of bees not far from the croquet ground. When I was about five, one of the boarders was pretending to play a game with me. I wanted to be doing something cute, so I went over and hit a hive with my mallet. The bees swarmed around my head and I began to scream. Grandmother rushed out and began to beat them with her apron which was the worst thing she could have done. I think it was thirty stings that I got around the head. Mama put soda on the stings and they didn't do a lot of harm except they were painful.

Aunt Nin was the first to marry. She married James Mekiney on 9 July 1877. They lived in Missouri on a farm and their first child, a boy named for his father, was born there. They moved to a ranch near Alliance, Nebraska and there seventeen years later, their daughter Irene Mckiney Hall was born.

Rose, my mother, was married a year later, 22 July 1878 to James Estes. Their first child, Orel Patrick was born 28 May 1879. Eight years later Maud Orletta was born. She died at the age of eighteen months. Six months after her death on 26 April 1889 I was born. My birth, in a way, helped to assuage my parents' grief for the little girl they had lost six months before.

Contributed by Janice Tilman

NOTE: Robert Peter Bicknell was born October 18, 1835, Greencastle IN and died in Pleasanton IA in 1916. He married Elvira Pond Bradley on July 2, 1857 at Nauvoo IL. Elvira was born on November 20, 1839, Erie County NY and died in Pleasanton IA in 1918.

 

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