Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year's Eve on the Prairie

I was initially drawn to my love of history because I was encouraged by the lives of pioneer women during a very difficult time in life. Learning about what they endured gave me perspective on my own trials. As we close out 2010 and ponder the New Year, I thought you might find a pioneer woman’s New Year’s musings of interest. I’ve interspersed the historic record with some personal musings [In brackets]

Emily Carpenter was 42 years old when, on August 12, 1872, she and her family (which included 3 boys and 4 girls ranging in age from 1 to 16 years old) left Bear Creek Valley in Wisconsin headed for Nebraska. The Carpenters two-wagon train included oxen Buck & Bright, Tom & Jerry, Dave & Dandy, and Duke & Derby, four cows, a gray pony named Badger, and Colonel—the dog. Moving wasn’t new to Emily. She’d already lived in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and two different counties in Wisconsin.[So much for the idea of pioneers living a hundred years on the home place!]

The Carpenters move came as a result of a letter from a homesteading friend in Nebraska. Seven children, their parents, and a brother-in-law began life “in a house of one room size 14 x 16 with attic.” [Oh … my … goodness. And I thought MY house was small for company!]That winter they “put up a story and half frame house with a combined kitchen, dining room and living room, a bedroom and pantry down stairs and one large room upstairs. [And that was the “big new house.”]”

Mrs. Carpenter served as a nurse/midwife in the neighborhood and “was noted for being able to go calmly from one case to another.” She lived on her homestead for 32 years. One of her daughters paid tribute this way: “If Ma could write a line -- her line in that big book up there -- I know about what she would write. Something like this: ‘arrived here safely after a few mishaps.’ These are the words she wrote in her journal when they arrived in Gibbon at the close of their trip from Wis. in the fall of 1872.”

As you contemplate the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I thought you might find a few New Year’s Eve entries from a Nebraska pioneer woman’s diary of interest:


Christmas tree New Years Day. We all went except E.W.C. and Lydia. The tree was very good but some were offended at the jokes. [The more things change, the more they stay the same!] The young folks watched the Old Year out and New in at Pool's ranch. They sang the old out the New in. Many that commenced the year with us have gone to their long home. Our hearts have been made sad many times during the past few months at parting with friends. I went to town once during the year. [Did you catch that? She went to town ONCE … all year.] Brought home some few things for Christmas.


The last day of the old year. The day is cold and dreer. The storm is howling. No one is in today. All shivering around a cob fire. [Thank you, Father, for central heat … forgive me for complaining about the bill.] Yet we should not complain, for many would be glad of as good. [Give me a heart to thank you like Mrs. Carpenter’s.] Winter with his frosty breath is giving us a little of the Artic regions where he is supposed to hold his coast. The past year has brought many changes to our family. Hulda and Cyril married the past year. [Thank you for the new love you’ve given young couples this past year!] Steve's little boy has come to greet us all with his pleasant smiles. Randie's little girl with her dear little coaxing ways has stole our hearts away. [Thank you for grand-children and their pleasant smiles and dear little coaxing ways. What a joy it is to spoil them.] May the coming year be a happy one and may we all be spared to the close. [May I ever be mindful of the blessing of today and not take it for granted.]


The last day of the year has come again. The day is nice and warm. . . . The evening finds only mother, E.W.C. and I at home. Mother has gone to her room. . . I sit here and think over the changes of the year. Dear little Fannie has gone, forever is still the little voice. Dear little one "gone before.". . . Uncle Aaron Sleeper has died during the year. [Thank you, Father, for the medical advances that have made children’s illnesses less life-threatening.] Five grand children have come to bless and cheer. May their lives be happy. Poor Mrs. Hunneybun was among the living a year ago and also Mrs. Whitakers, now they have joined the majority. Soon we shall join them a few years at the most. Soon we shall lay the burden down. Soon we shall rest from all the toil and care of earth. [My life is so much easier than it would have been in 1888. Thank you for tall the labor-saving inventions. Help me to complain less.] How blest if our work is only well done. From all our toil to find release. At the close of the year we are given to sober thoughts. Shall we be here at the close of the coming year, and if here will we be happy in the consciousness of a year well spent in good. Let us strive to be active in good work, slow to do or think evil to our neighbor, Make the golden mile our mile. [Amen, Lord!] So shall our days in contentment be passed, knowing we have done our best. Good-bye little book and old year. Laid by are you both. You pages are written full. We can not go back now to make any changes. Good-bye, good-bye.


To night is the last of 1889 The year has sped away with the swiftness of an arrow shot from the bow. Friends dear are gone who were here at the beginning. They have turned their faces from us and have gone; others have crossed to the other shore, and O! how we miss them.


The last day of 1895 has come. Soon the last day of our life. So many have gone during this year. Our little Agnes went and how our hearts ache. So young to bid all goodbye. No more will her feet on willing errands go. Never more on us to smile. The little hands are still that were so busy. yes, she has passed to the great beyond where others of our dear ones have gone. What would we not give to know if they have met and know each other there. In God's own time all will be manifest. A few more years at most will be lived, then too we shall join the many.

May we all begin the new year with Mrs. Carpenter’s sense of “making the most of the time” as Ephesians says … BLESSED NEW YEAR!


  1. Hi Stephanie:

    It occurred to me, while reading these diary entries, that Emily Carpenter probably had a harder life than a typical free Roman citizen would have had in the year 50 B.C.

    I once read an historian who wrote that a person who was sixty years old in 1899 had more in common with an ancient Roman citizen than he did with us who are living today. It would seem that time, in an historical sense, is not a uniform measure.


  2. Well. PART of a comment ... weird. Sorry 'bout that! I think you may be right about Emily's life vs. a free Roman citizen, although I bow to your far superior knowledge in that regard. The Carpenter diary was a treasure hidden in another manuscript collection. I love serendipities like that! Researching in an archive can be thrilling. You never know what's in the next file or the next box.