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The Diary of Ellen McFadden Lowes 1882-1886, part 2

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1977, Volume 22, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

Part 1 here

My Romance

During the Spring and Summer Seasons of 1884 life on the prairies proceeded in much the same manner as the year before. We all found ourselves kept continuously busy, and time passed quickly.

In the Fall of 1884 I was sent to help our neighbor Mrs. Joe Green with the strenuous task of feeding the threshers. By this time Johnnie Lowes had again returned from his homestead to work in the harvest fields, and was employed with Mr. Hector, who owned a large threshing machine. Mr. Hector had several contracts for threshing that Fall, amongst them the Green farm. Like all good threshing machines, this particular one broke down about once a week, leaving the men sometimes with time hanging heavily on their hands. On one such occasion, Johnnie came to see his sister, Mrs. Green, and after dinner invited me to go to the Lake with him for a boat ride. While we were enjoying our boat ride, Johnnie started his lovemaking by reading to me portions of a book called Wide, Wide World, which seemed extremely appropriate as the two leading characters in the book were Johnnie and Nellie. Finally the machine came to the Green farm, and when the threshing there was finished I returned home.

Two nights before Halloween my eldest sister was married to Dave Nixon, and started, with a team of oxen, for their homestead in York Colony.

My father still had quite a lot of threshing to do when Johnnie had finished working with Mr. Hector, and so hired Johnnie to help until it was finished. This proved quite satisfactory while it lasted, but when the work was finished he returned to his sister's, and apparently spent considerable time chafing under the realization that he had no very good excuse to come back to see me. He, however, before long struck on a bright idea. He decided to go to our Post Office, several miles out of his way, to get our mail, and to use that as an excuse to come to our home. Mother, answering the rap at the door, gave him a hearty welcome, because he brought letters from home. He was invited for supper, and also to stay all night. After having in this manner broken the ice Johnnie seemed to have the courage to visit us once a week.

During the long winter months Johnnie and I were very busy making our plans for the future. We had decided to be married the following July, when he expected his mother to come out from Ontario to visit with Mrs. Green and himself. However, I advised him that he must first ask my father's permission. At first he thought that an easy matter, but he let one opportunity after another slip by, and finally advised me that when he got to the Homestead he would write a letter to my father, and enclose it in one of mine. I said, "Nothing doing, young man, I will return your letter, just as sent," - so he realized he must face the music.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad had by this time been completed as far as Whitewood, and Johnnie was returning to his homestead this time by train to Whitewood, where a neighbor was to meet him with a team of oxen and wagon. As my mother and father wished to send some things to my sister, Mrs. Dave Nixon, Father offered to haul Johnnie and his freight to Brandon, and Johnnie assured me, before he left, that on the road to Brandon he would ask permission to marry me, but, alas and alack, a couple of miles after leaving home Mr. Stewart came out to the road, hailed them, and asked if he could ride into Brandon with them. Another opportunity was gone!

After dinner at the Kelly House in Brandon, my father suggested that they hitch up and get the freight down to the station, and when this was done Father decided he had better get started for home. He held out his hand to say goodbye, but Johnnie, by this time almost desperate, said, - "I'll ride out two or three miles with you." In desperation he finally broached the subject. My father, very much surprised said "why, she is only a child, you don't want her!", but Johnnie assured him that he didn't think me too young, that he was tired of batching, and that we were anxious to get married and settle down. So Father said, - "I won't have to live with her, - if you think she is the right one for you I am perfectly satisfied!" Johnnie jumped off the wagon with a happy, - "Goodbye," - and trudged back to Brandon to await his train. He wrote me later saying that had he known he would receive such a hand shake and "God Bless You" from his future father-in-law, he would have asked long before.

Johnnie arrived in good time at his Homestead, and immediately brought home his oxen and a pig he had acquired, which he had arranged to have cared for by a neighbor during the winter. The pig, shortly after her arrival home, presented him with quite a family of little pigs, and he had a busy time looking after them. He wrote me that he was doing his best to have everything in readiness for me in July, but my mother persuaded me to wait until after the harvest was over.

In the meantime, during the summer, Johnnie's mother arrived from Ontario, and went by train as far as Whitewood, where Johnnie met her with his team of oxen and wagon, and they drove back the seventy odd miles to the homestead. His mother never ceased to marvel at the great opportunities there were for young people. She remained with him for a month, keeping herself busy by washing up all his blankets and cooking lots of nice things for him to eat, which were indeed welcome as cooking was not one of Johnnie's best accomplishments.

When the visit was over Johnnie took his mother back to Whitewood, and that night there was a frost. Johnnie thought everything was ruined. He was very worried over the loss it would mean to him, but his Mother assured him that they had often had much worse frosts in good old Ontario in the earlier days.

Johnnie returned immediately to the homestead. As he drove back over that long seventy miles and saw the damage on either side of the road which had been done by the severe frost, he lost all hope of there being anything left at the homestead. When he looked over his crop he came to the conclusion that it had been ruined, and he, in his discouraged and disappointed state of mind, decided to pack up and go back to the Elliott Settlement. However, before commencing to pack up, he cut his grain and spread it over the roof of the stable, thinking the straw might some day be useful, and in any event it would protect the roof. He then sold his pigs, packed up and loaded all his other possessions into the wagon and started back to his sister's home.

When he arrived at the Green farm, he found his mother still there, visiting with his sister. When he told them his story, and of his disappointment, - thinking that now he couldn't get married as he had no place to take a wife, - they laughed at him. They agreed that perhaps the frost had done more damage farther West, but pointed out to him that it had done some damage throughout the whole countryside, but that there was always another year coming, and it wasn't likely that there would be an early frost every year. After much discussion between us all, it was decided Johnnie would help my father harvest our crop, and then would rent a farm for a year.

The farm which Johnnie rented was owned by Mr. E. Rogers, and situated on the North Bank of the Souris River. It had a very nice house on it. Our hopes began again to be bolstered up with plans for our marriage. Johnnie received a wonderful box from his mother, containing more bedding and blankets, two large cured hams, sixty pounds of their own cheese from the factory, a pillow case full of dried apples, plums, crabapples and raspberries, and numerous other good things, but I leave until the last, mention of the most important article of all, his wedding suit.

We were married on Christmas Day, 1885, at my home, and after a hilarious celebration Johnnie and I left for Brandon. Johnnie had arranged to borrow a cutter and driver, and we set out with light hearts, planning as we drove along what shopping we would do with money my mother had given me. We spent a very enjoyable time carrying out our plans.

On our return we moved into our new home, and started married life in earnest. We were very generous with our supply of cheese, giving away the most of it, but kept a tight hand on the pillow case of dried fruit.

The Trip to the Homestead

In spite of a very comfortable, happy and contented winter in our first home, Johnnie's thoughts wandered often to the Homestead, and when Spring came along, the seeding and other work was no more than done, when he and Joe Green decided to make another trip to what was originally to have been our first home.

They found the countryside looking prosperous, and the Home-stead in good condition. Johnnie's enthusiasm and delight in the location of his farm and the prospects for the future on it, rose again, and he decided to make some improvements while there. He tore out the floor, which had been made of fence rails, dug a cellar, and prepared the foundation for a new floor. When he arrived back, he was fully determined that when the crop was threshed we would go out to the Homestead and commence our pioneer life.

With the harvest off, and the grain hauled to Brandon, we commenced packing up all our worldly possessions. When the wagon was loaded with what seemed to be more than it could hold, there still remained a couple of crates to be hoisted up on top. One contained a pair of turkeys, the other a couple of hens and a rooster. Our one cow was allowed to come along behind. If she got too far behind, Collie, our dog, would go back and give her a little nip on the heels.

The first stage of our journey was not far. We stopped at my father's, where we stayed over night, or at least I did. Johnnie left at 3 o'clock in the morning, but Father drove me into Brandon with the horse and buggy. We stayed overnight at the Kelly House, and early in the morning we started out. I walked to the end of Rosser Avenue, where the road turned out across the wide rolling prairies, then I climbed up onto the wagon. In about a half an hour's time, I had to get down and walk I was so chilled. It was one of those cold days in October, dull and windy, with the clouds rolling past overhead in a frantic endeavor to see which could go the fastest. I walked for some time on the shady side of the oxen. At twelve o'clock we stopped in a little hollow to let the oxen eat their oats. I was too cold to eat and was soon begging Johnnie to hitch up and get started again. Towards evening, the clouds disappeared and the wind went down. Ahead in the distance, we could see a good sized farm house and barn, and Johnnie encouraged me by saying our troubles would soon be over for that day, as the latch string always hung outside in that country. We could see the smoke rolling out of the chimney, and there was a load of hay being drawn into the yard. As we drove into the yard we saw that the men had started to unload the hay into the loft of the barn. Johnnie went over to ask permission to stay in the house overnight. Our greatest need was to get warmed up. I wondered why he was so long getting permission, but finally he came back to tell me that we couldn't stay. Johnnie said to me, - "What will you do?" and I replied, - "I will have to get on the wagon. I can walk no farther!" He climbed up beside me. The oxen, having been over the road several times, put their heads up in the air and stepped out with a vim. They seemed to know that another five miles would soon pass away, when we would reach Griswold. We kept on going until we reached Griswold, where Johnnie took me immediately to the stopping house, a two story, long, narrow frame building. He made me acquainted with the Landlady, and asked her to try and get me warmed up. He went out to get his oxen settled for the night, and just as he came in the call for supper was heard. Were we glad to go! Well do I remember some of the things we had to eat, - cold meat, fried potatoes, baking powder biscuits, so high you could hardly see over them, with honey, these, and a few other things made up the meal. We were ready for bed, and were shown to the spare room off the parlor, where sleep overcame us without any coaxing.

We got an early start next morning, and as the day was warm and balmy the travelling was more enjoyable. We even enjoyed our dinner by the side of the trail. As evening approached we could see the trail leading up to another farm home. Away in the distance two loads of wood were headed for the same place. As we drew into the yard, we could see poverty on every side of us. An old gentleman came out of the house to greet us. He was wearing a ragged broadcloth coat, - remnants of better days. We asked him if we might buy a bundle of hay for our oxen, and when the old gentleman found out where we were going, he insisted on us staying with him and his two sons all night. We learned that his wife and daughter were in Virden doing dressmaking and millinery, endeavoring to earn enough money to keep the farm going, as they had had crop failures. This situation was vastly different from our experiences of the night before. We were very glad to accept the invitation to stay all night, and immediately got busy carrying in eatables from our supply, cold meat, pie and cake, etc., I helped the old gentleman get a good hot supper ready, which apparently the boys, as well as ourselves, enjoyed very much. A straw tick was thrown downstairs, and we made up a bed for ourselves, putting our own bedding on it.

We made an early start again the next morning, having advised the old gentleman and the boys not to let us disturb them as we would be gone before they need rise. We travelled all day without seeing any settlers' homes. At dusk we drew to one side of the trail to make our camp for the night. We made a bed under the wagon and hung a piece of tenting over the wagon wheels to keep the wind out. After a night of what seemed to have been continual turning and twisting, with a little sleep thrown in, we awakened to remember that the day was Sunday. We got breakfast over, all the while discussing whether or not we should travel on Sunday. We finally decided that we would drive for part of the day at least. At about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, we were passing through Moosomin, and the trail ran in front of the Church where a service was being conducted. Of course, there was the usual double fire-brake ploughed around the Church Building, and as our wagon went over the rough bumps of the ploughing, the crates of chickens and turkeys received a considerable shaking up, and they voiced their protests in the usual healthy manner. This most unusual disturbance brought the Congregation to the windows and doors of the Church to see what it was all about. We were not exactly anxious to hold the centre of the stage any longer than necessary, so we kept on going. However, as we travelled along, our guilty consciences kept cropping up and telling us that we should be resting on Sunday, so we finally camped by the roadside at around four o'clock, where we spent another night.

The next day, after a long hard day's travel, we landed in Whitewood. From this point on the Canadian Pacific Railway our trail took a sharp turn to the right, and we headed North across the rolling prairies. At Whitewood we purchased supplies which we could not get beyond that point, as this was the closest railway point. We purchased lumber for a new floor and to make doors, tables, etc., which was strapped underneath the wagon with two logging chains, then a large box of groceries was hoisted up onto the back of the wagon, also a five gallon keg of syrup. A place was then found for the bedding, and I sat or lay on it most of the time for the rest of the journey.

Shortly after we had started on the last lap of our journey we discovered that we would have company part of the way. There was an old Hungarian gentleman travelling to his Homestead on the north side of the Qu'Appelle River. We travelled together to the top of the river bank, where it became necessary to lock the wagon wheels to keep the wagons from sliding over the precipice. Johnnie proceeded to do this, but apparently not to the satisfaction of our travelling companion, who was keeping a fatherly eye over us. He proceeded to show Johnnie by means of elaborate gestures and his broken English, just how it should be done, and we were not long in finding out that he was right.

We travelled some four miles in descending the River Hill before we came to the river. Here we found a stopping place, and thankfully turned in for the night.

In the morning we forded the River and travelled up the Valley about five miles, when we commenced the hard upward climb to the top. There was nothing but a small narrow wagon track to follow. As we arrived at the top of each incline or knoll, I would put a block or stone behind the wheel, to ease the load on the oxen and give them a little rest. Our progress was so slow that it seemed a never ending climb. The old Hungarian gentleman wanted to hitch his oxen on ahead of ours, as we had a very heavy load, and he hadn't, but we thought we would try another incline. This one proved nearly fatal. As our oxen got their feet over the brow of the knoll the harness on "Old Bill" broke, leaving the weight of the load to be held by bobtailed "Tom," who flew around and sat down like a dog, front legs out in front of him and the ox collar jammed against his horns and jaws. He held the load there until we got it well blocked with stones, then we had to whip him to make him let go, as he seemed to know that if the wagon went over the precipice he would go with it. When Johnnie got the harness mended and everything in shape, the old gentleman hitched on ahead of us.

In a short time we had reached the top of that terrible climb, and were once again on the level prairies. I threw myself down, feeling more dead than alive. At this point our good friend, the Hungarian, left us, as he was close to his home, which was in what at that time was known as the Esterhazy Settlement. Johnnie turned our oxen loose for a rest, and came to see what he could do for me. He lay down alongside of me, and said, - "Somebody is tired!" We discussed our experience, and I said, - "The wonderful Qu'Appelle Valley has lost all its charms for me. I never want to see it again."

After a much needed rest, we started out again and added a few more miles to our day's travel. Once again we slept in the open, and started out the next morning, early. This day we plodded along without any undue excitement. In the evening we came to a farm house, which was also a Post Office for the District, and the farmer insisted on us staying the night with him. We appreciated very much this night's rest in a comfortable farm home, and the next morning we started out feeling very much refreshed, lighthearted and gay, as this was the commencement of the last day of our weary trip.

At about three o'clock that afternoon, we passed the farm home of Mr. Sharpe, who was Post Master for our District. We longed to go in and be welcomed, but resolutely kept right on realizing that, although we just had another three miles to travel, we still had considerable hard work facing us in getting unpacked and settled.

For some distance our trail ran through bluff country, and before we knew where we were we looked ahead and saw our new home. We drove up in front of the shanty, and as the oxen stopped, we threw our arms up in the air in great excitement, shouting, - "Home at last! Home at last!"

Note: The editor wishes to thank Mr. Charles Allin for bringing this diary to our attention.

Page revised: 20 July 2009

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