Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Good Earth? Sometimes not good enough.

"Life on the farm" sounds idyllic to a city boy like me. A horse to ride, cows to milk and tip, chickens to feed and gather eggs from, a barn full of hay and a loft, and a tractor to enjoy. Work? Who, me? I'm just a kid. All day? Out in the sun?

The truth is that a farm meant work, work, work, morning, noon and night, spring, summer, fall and winter, constant worrying about the weather, the pests, the crops, the economy, the competition, the market, the neighbors, and the health and safety of the wife and kids.

Sometimes the farm fails - for whatever reason - due to any or all of the above. This happened to my great-great-grandfather, David Jackson (D.J.) Carringer, in Jackson township, Washington County, Iowa in 1872:




David Jackson Carringer was born 4 November 1828 in Mercer County, Pennsylvania to Henry and Sarah (Feather) Carringer. D.J. married Rebecca Spangler on 16 October 1851 in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. They had three children, Harvey Edgar (1852-1946), Henry Austin (1853-1946) and Effie E. (1858-1874), according to the family Bible pages in my possession.


Sometime between 1853 and 1858, D.J. and his family left the rolling hills and streams of western Pennsylvania for the plains and rich soil of southeastern Iowa. I assume that they traveled by wagon, probably with friends and family to make a new life in the West.

The Bible indicates that Effie was born in Louisa County, Iowa in 1858. The 1860 US Census record says that D.J. was a carpenter residing in Columbus City, Louisa County, Iowa. In the 1870 US Census, the family resided in Jackson township, Washington County, Iowa and D.J.'s occupation was "farmer."


So, between 1860 and 1870, D.J. bought a farm in neighboring Washington County, Iowa and tried his hand at farming. The farm failed for some reason. The notice above reads:


PUBLIC SALE!

I will sell at my place, 7 miles northeast from Washington, in Jackson township, beginning at 10 a.m., on

FRIDAY, OCT. 11, 1872.

The following property, to wit:

1 Team of Mares, 2 Sets Harness, Wagon, Buckeye Mower and Reaper Combined, Self-rake, Bobsleds, Corn Plows, Double and Stirring Plows, Scotch Harrow, 2 Milk Cows, Calf, 13 Hogs, Berkshire Boar, 20 Shoats, Corn in field, and all my Furniture.

TERMS: A credit of Twelve Months will be given on sums over $5, with approved security.

D.J. CARRINGER

John S. Reeves, Auctioneer.

Isn't that sad? A failure at age 44? An embarrassment to his family and friends? A victim of bad judgment, bad credit, hard economic times? I have no idea.

The family sold their life away, and moved on to Caribou, Boulder County, Colorado to start a new life in the mountains. A tragedy struck in June 1874 when their daughter, Effie E. Carringer, died at age 15. In the 1880 US census, D.J. is listed as a carpenter and joiner residing in boulder, Boulder County, Colorado. Before 1900, they moved west to San Diego, built a home on the block just north and west of the block owned by Henry Austin and Della (Smith) Carringer in San Diego.

The Earth is not always good to the tillers of the soil. I haven't read enough about the economic times in the early 1870's to be able to talk about it authoritatively. I don't know enough about southeastern Iowa to know much about the soil, weather, crops, livestock, etc.

This is one of the sad, yet recurring, themes in my family history. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and the resilient ones bounce back from the loss or tragedy, and go on with their lives. D.J. and Rebecca did that, although I'm sure that their hearts were heavy for many years.

4 comments:

amyrebba said...

You hear it all too often. My own grandparents left Oklahoma when they couldn't make it anymore and found life a little easier living in town in California. I have seen old photos of the old shack they lived in and the kids with no shoes. Times were rough and this was after the Great Depression was long over. I wished I could find more on their story. You have a great find there.

Patti said...

I don't remember the details, but 1873 (also 1893--the similar dates make them easy to remember), there was a nationwide depression. So this 1872 event may have been a part of the events that led up to the depression.

DGranna said...

My gt grandparents were married in Iowa in 1872. Migrated from Johnson City to Audubon Co. with inlaws, then to Nebraska, a few years in each new home. My grandma said the grasshoppers and the weather made them keep moving on. They finally heard of the free land in Oklahoma and made the Run of 1889. Never a wealthy family, but always seeking something over the next horizon. County histories and newspapers can help us place our families in their surroundings "back in the day."

Terry Thornton said...

Randy, Are you sure your relatives "failed" at farming? Or did they decide for a better way of life elsewhere?

I base this question because my earliest recollection of a sale of a farm, land, buildings, animals, household goods, crops, etc at public auction was when I was about five years old in the early 1940s. The head of that farm family had made a decision to move about 60 miles to a neighboring county and take up a new way of life --- of being a merchant. His success as a farmer enabled him to buy his way into a new life style. And he sold out at public auction.

Failures as a farmer? Not the example I cited. Perhaps more research will show that your g-g-g-grandfather wasn't a failure --- but a progressive forward looking individual using his assets to make a better life for himself and his family.

Terry Thornton