1871 Diary of
The Hart Family Wagon Trip
from Wisconsin to Iowa
The following letter was written by Lovira (Grover) Hart to her sister Betsey (Grover) Wheeler.
Mrs. Hart, with her husband, Oliver W. Hart, and their three children, Ada, Winfred, and Archie, left their former home in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, to find a new home in Charles City, Iowa. They traveled by horse and buggy. “Kittie” is the name of the horse.
NOTE: Charles Walter Hart was not yet born.
Notes by the way
Nov. 1st, 1871
Now the time has come for us to start for Iowa. It is very hard to part with those dearest to us, and to pass out into the unknown.
We glance at our dear old home, take a last look at Father Hart’s place and got up the old familiar road. Bid the neighbors with whom we meet Good Bye – stop to Speak with cousin, Lamyra – call at Judsons a moment, and proceed on our way to Jarvisee. Have a quiet little chat. Have to choke down our feelings and be brave as possible till all the Adieus are said.
Now we are over the town and county line – our residence in Wauwatosa is all in the past.
Many familiar places in Brookfield come into view – in the Cemetery near the Liett school is an open grave. Someone else has left their home.
The going is not very good. Shall be glad to reach the Watertown road.
There is quite a gathering at the house where Mr. Rolph used to live. Think there must be a funeral there. Archie is happy – he sings and talks and disputes Winnie. All the cattle he sees he calls “Grampa’s” cattle. Winnie tells him no and then he very loudly says, “Yes, yem are Grampa’s tows, now!”
On the Watertown road but it is quite sticky.
Almost to Pewaukee – think we rather eat our dinner than stop anywhere. So Oliver drives down by some woods where the Blackbirds are chattering and gives Kittie her oats, and we go into our lunch pails. Grandma’s fried cakes and apples are delicious, cold meat not bad. The children are all merry over our way of dispatching dinner. Ada thinks it “Tiptop”, no dishes to wash – Pewaukee Lake!
“Oh! See the water”, says Archie. “There is a little boat,” says Winnie. Hartland looks just as it used to. Pine Lake! Archie says it is a “Big dyke” – Now Nashota is in view.
Oconomowoc Lake! We drive close by the shore and the road is fine.
It is sundown and we are at Mr. Carpenter’s gate. Ada and Winnie will stay all night if they are home. Ada is going in to see – I hear cousin Laura exclaim, “Why, Ada Hart, I didn’t hardly know you.” “How you do grow, you look just like Ella.” She accepts our invitation and goes with us down to Uncle Daniels. At Uncle Daniels – Aunt Mary, true to her natural hospitality thinks of every thing for our comfort.
Laura says that Mr. C. has gone to Chicago to find his son, Frank. They heard that he was sick before the fire [the Great Chicago Fire of October 8-10, 1871] and not a word since. The evening is wearing away and thus endeth the first day of our journey.
Morning now – Ada and Winnie have come and Mr. Carpenter with them. He found that his son was not very sick, but had gone to Salt Lake City – I fear Frank is a fast youth.
Now we say Good Bye to friends once more – feel sorry that we can not see the other relatives here.
Out upon the road where we have never been before (except Oliver) we pass a great many nice farms, and here is Rock River. The water sparkles in the sun as it winds its way among green bands and beautiful trees.
The road is not very good and we ascend one hill only to see another. The farm houses grow poorer, some built of logs. We are getting “Out in the Country”.
Germans must live along here. Pigpens more conspicuous than houses. Turkeys look nicer than the inhabitants. Begin to meet more travelers – must be nearing Watertown. Away in the distance we see a large house on a hill, it is octagon with two verandas around it. The grounds are nicely ornamented. Here is Watertown. The city is neither elegant nor beautiful. Rather filthy looking. See nothing attractive except the school. A splendid looking building with the nicest yard that I have ever seen around a school house. A large Elm, with various other natural and ornamental trees make a delightful shade. The groups of children and Misses around show that it is largely attended.
Out of Watertown one is Out – no nice buildings along the way – no scenery worth looking at for miles and miles, dirty and wretched homes on either hand.
We begin to think where we shall stay tonight – are told that a few miles ahead is Hubbleton. The road is miserable – grows worse and worse. A long way through a marsh, over an old worn out plank road. It is very hard for Kittie. Oliver goes on foot – the old marsh is crossed at last and here is a pretty little stream. We go over the bridge, up a little hill and so. There is Hubbleton. Misery! One mill, one grocery, half dozen saloons, one dog. Dwellings without window curtains – all situated flat in the mud. We’re to go to the Rough and Ready house – the houses certainly are rough enough and I doubt not the inmate are ready to eat anybody – while we have been taking observations, Oliver has found a railroad agent who says that we must go to Waterloo before we find a decent place to “Put Up”. It is six miles and our horse is tired but there is no alternative. Oliver and Ada are laughing at me now, say they shall never forget how my under jaw fell when we drove into Hubbleton.
The road grows better. It is sundown. Winnie is getting sleepy. Archie is full of fun and keeps us all laughing. The lights of Waterloo are in sight. There is the “Badger State”, a nice looking house. The young kindly looking landlord takes Archie in his arms and leads the way to a nice warm sitting room – a good supper and nice room with two beds. Are all somewhat tired and retire early. Morpheas is carrying us to the land of forgetfulness – but we are suddenly brought back by a great incoming below. The [railroad] cars must have come in. How they pour in. Hark! Oh! Music – music and dancing! We are in for it now – well the music is really nice and we hear nothing except for the “calling off” – “Oh dear! “ in a whisper from Ada – what is the matter?” “How can anyone sleep with that pesky fiddling down there! Wouldn’t you like to see the Belles and Beaus of Waterloo?”
“No, I wish they were all in Bongay” – and she turns over and resigns herself to her fate. The dancers do not tarry long. The house is very quiet.
Nov. 3rd, 1871
We are very nicely rested and Kittie is fresh and gay this morning. We leave the pretty little village of Waterloo – The country looks very well but we see no places where we should like to live. Pass a schoolhouse and then with its little neighborhood, go over the hills and some rough places. Are getting into the “Oak Openings” and “Out on the Prairies”.
There is a very sightly place. Can see Sun Prairie off to the right. Can see church spires in several directions. The road is fine and Kittie travels with ease.
Now we can see the dome of the Capitol although Madison is Twelve miles away. The country ahead is very beautiful. Nice farms, buildings and orchards. This must be a delightful place to live. What nice times the young folks must have driving over these roads, through these little groves. Third Lake! How beautiful! We are near Madison but the hills hide the city.
Driving up an avenue leading straight to the capitol. It is very broad, and lined on each side with shade trees, but outside of them it is a regular swamp. Boggy and wet. We ascend rapidly, the wheels out into the sand, and what seemed but a little way is a long distance. But we suppose to gain such high positions always takes labor and patience. We shall be called Hon. I suppose now that we have been to Madison.
We admire the splendid structure which does honor to the State as its capitol and turn to the left toward the Rasdell House. This house is very grand, but not so much like and comfortable as the one at Waterloo.
Nov. 4th, 1871
Kittie seems a little lame this morning. The hostler says her shoe is the cause of it. Think we will take the cars – Oliver goes to the depot. They ask more for taking our house and buggy to the river than they did from Milwaukee. He gets disgusted and resolves to drive one day more “anyway” – Are all glad only have some “Misgivings” about Kittie.
Leaving Madison we pass the state University and the University farm. Ascend a few little hills and we are in a most beautiful country. On the left is Forest Hill Cemetery and opposite is the Catholic Cemetery. We can look back and see the Insane Asylum. Had no idea of the extent of those buildings before – a splendid farming country is before us. The children admire the large and brightly colored windmills that the farmers have to pump water. Archie calls them wheelmills. Oliver has gone into a house to buy some apples. The kind, old lady says, “Now John you get some good ones”. John is obedient and fetches them down to the buggy and Oliver brings a pail of water out of a well 105 feet deep.
Now through a German settlement – nice farms, with Dutch written all over them.
An Irish neighborhood – can see the Blue Mounds. We all exclaim, what is that? Something setting up through an oak grove. It is an immense rock, three times as high as the trees and here are more rocks. They form quite a cave with a huge pile at one side. If they were in Milwaukee County the whole city would go out to see them. The hills grow tedious. We walk up them Pine Bluff is in view. Will stop there and get warm, looks as though it would snow.
Pine Bluff is reached. With reluctance we go into the dirty hotel to fire in the sitting room. Must go to the kitchen – about 6 x 12. Oh! Horror! What a nasty place! The landlady says, “And now won’t you have a bit of dinner?” We decline and the time seems long before Oliver is ready. Has had Kittie’s shoe taken off and shoe is all right now. Our intention was to reach Moundville tonight, but these people say we cannot, must go to Crossplains to stay. Do not know whether to believe them or not. But we turn toward Crossplains. A wild region is this. Sometimes on each side of us is a mound or mountain up and up and great rocks projecting from their tops and setting out from their sides. And now up on one side and as far down on the other. We wind around the bases coming to jumping off places apparently, but the road takes a turn and we get safely down – surely here is another “Yosemite Valley”. In the center is a perfect pyramid. Around that a row of farms, and around all, hills upon hills and on every side are rocks, immense, of every hue, and ledges of stone and gullies add to the scene.
Crossplains! We do not like to go where those hard looking Irish men sent us so we turn our faces toward Black Earth – Are in Black Earth Valley, it is a long narrow plain. Black and rich. The bluffs set up high and bold along each side. The railroad runs through the middle. It is growing dark but we are near the village. It is built around the base of a bluff. Imagine a very large fruitcake on a black waiter with small white houses for trimming and you will have a miniature of Black Earth. We find a good home for the night with a kind widow. It is raining – we have to take the cars from here.
Nov. 5th, 1871
Did not rain much last night after all. Is very mild this morning. Oliver proposed to drive over to Moundville this morning and spend the day there. Shall be out of the bluffs then and Kittie will get rested for Monday’s drive. So out of the valley we go and over the Mounds. Some of them are very steep, no one rides except Archie. We take our time and enjoy this little season among the “Everlasting Hills”. They are more eloquent than any sermon this Sabbath morning.
Oh! What wonderous works are here. Above, below, and all around us are hills, grand and awful, some are covered with prairie weeds, some with trees and rocks and some look like masonry from top to bottom. Oh! What a scene is here. Such beautiful rocks! Marble and purple. They project far over the road. We drive under them. They form a cave. Some one has housed their sleds and tools in . . . Ferns are growing in the crevices as fresh as spring. A stereoscopic view of this would be equal to any that I ever saw – up and up we go – are on the summit of the east mountain. Wish I could describe this view, but my notes are getting wearisome.
Are 1365 feet above Lake Superior. After descending a long, steep, strong hill we enter Moundville or Pokerville – go to a hotel – what an old fashioned place. Must describe the sitting room. Very low walls – nicely white washed over head, neatly papered, contains one bed, two bureaus, one stand, one wardrobe, one center table and a Florence sewing machine. Rag carpet. Stand cloth, Bureau cloth, window curtains and pillow cases all trimmed with edging and as white as snow. Lamps are not the style – candles entirely.
Nov. 6th, 1871
Am writing more than anyone will wish to read. Will say but little, and that in the past tense. Left Pokerville early in the morning – passed the highest mound of all, on its top one can see fifty miles around. Wanted to climb it. Came out onto the “ridgeroad” nice farms along but no houses in sight. All down in hollows. Passed over a large rolling prairie, three hills in sight all the time. Came into a beautiful country. Some timber and some prairie. In the little village of Mount Ida we saw and spoke with Willie Proudfit (Daniel Proudfit’s son). Stayed all night at Wingville. Landlord was drunk. Ladies treated us well and made us comfortable. Stayed next night at Mount Hope (a village in a hollow).
Nov. 8th, 1871
Prairie du Chien
Nov. 8th – brought us to the river. Down through the Mississippi bluffs was some very romantic scenery. Not quite equal to the Blue Mounds though. Prairie du Chien is as level as a floor. We crossed it at the new town, therefore did not see much of the old town. Saw where Jeff Davis ran away with his wife. Had to wait until two o’clock for the ferry boat. Ada and Winnie took a walk along the shore of the Father of Waters and fished out some shells for their cabinet. The Mississippi looked just as we always see it in pictures. The Wisconsin was perfectly beautiful where we crossed it. We were 15 minutes crossing the river. Kittie trembled but was very quiet. McGregor is a curious place. Built in a notch between two bluffs. We got up through the bluffs this side much easier then we expected.
Stayed at Monona that night. The prettiest place we ever saw.
Nov. 9th, 1871
Nov. 9th – we went to Ossian. Think it must be very pleasant in summer, but seems to lack wood and water. (Saw Frank Blodget in the evening).
Nov. 10th, 1871
Nov. 10th – brought us to New Hampton. A smart Yankee town.
Nov. 11th, 1871
Nov. 11th – we crossed an awful large prairie. Nothing in sight but now and then a large blue rock. How came they there? Toward night we came into the Wapsie country. A prairie crossed by many little streams which form the Wapsie-Pinaey river. It was night. The road came to an end. Did not know which way to turn. Oliver went to a house to inquire the way to Charles City. An Irish woman told him to ford a little stream, cross a bridge. We are afraid of Irishmen. Oliver took his popgun out of his back pocket and put it where it was handy. We forded the little stream, drove a rod and found ourselves in the water. Flags all around us. Could see no road – no bridge. Oliver jumped in the water – couldn’t find any road. A voice from behind says, “If I had of been in when ye called Mister, I could have told ye better”. “Do ye see the bridge?” “No”, says Oliver. “Well I will just come down and see where ye are”. “Och! Yer all right, just drive up this way a bit and ye will see the bridge.” Bless that Irishman forever! For kindly looking after us. That was getting through the Wapsie slue. Three miles drive brought to the Ely Hotel in Charles City.
Dear sister, if you think this long “lingo” is worth reading, give it to Jarvis and tell him to pass it to Father Harts.
Write soon. I am anxious to hear how Ella got along with the journey. Direct to Charles City.
[ 1 ] Charles Walter Hart was born in 1872 in Charles City, Iowa. C.W. Hart's parents were Lovira Grover Hart and Oliver W. Hart of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. "C.W.'s" grandfather (also a Charles Hart) was the first settler in Hart's Mills (1835), later changed to Wauwatosa (meaning fire-fly).
Annotated by Ken Riedl