Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
THE KEOSAUQUA FRONTIER
The first two years of life on any frontier is always the most difficult, and this was certainly no exception for the Fellows family when they came to the horseshoe bend area.
Asahelís father pioneered in Pennsylvania in 1796 and eventually held three farms. In 1827, he placed a son in charge of each homestead and moved onward to frontier land in Michigan. After Asahel and Susanna married in 1827, they managed one of these properties until the fall of 1836, when Asahel left his wife and small children in the care of his Michigan relatives while he ventured far to the west to purchase his own claim of 700 acres, after which he returned to Michigan for his family.
On April 10, 1837 they bid farewell to Michigan and set out for Des Moines City, Wisconsin Territory. Although frontier life was not new to them, Asahel and Susanna had to withstand every conceivable obstacle in building a home on the new frontier.
On May 7, 1837 the Fellows family crossed the Des Moines River near present Hotel Manning, and took possession of their claim. Government lines were being run (by surveyors) that spring and summer, thus it was necessary for them to move into their claim house long before it was finished, without doors, windows, or even a fireplace. Until then, they had lived in their wagon but it was now used as a spare bedroom, as the couple housed a border named Mr. Marvel.
Clearing the land was no easy task. Along the river and creeks there were elm, hickory and maple groves along with linn, hackberry, cherry, walnut, hedge and cottonwood trees and tangled masses of undergrowth. Enough land had to be cleared not only for a cabin, but for planting corn, wheat, and garden vegetables.
By September of that first year, land clearing had to be discontinued in order to prepare for winter. A door, window sashes, and a chimney must be made for the cabin. But the worst was yet to come. In the spring of 1838, Mr. Fellows was laid up with rheumatism caused by exposure, so bad that he could not use his right hand at all. He plowed with his left hand and arm, while the children planted corn and wheat, and Susanna managed a garden. The five-acre field of wheat looked nice but was full of tares.
One day Mr. Fellows came in and announced, "Susanna, we will not have one bushel of wheat because the water nettle will choke it out and I canít get help to mow them down!"
Although she was six months pregnant, Susanna took a scythe and mowed the field herself. In the end, it produced one hundred bushels of wheat.
By fall of 1838, everyone in the household was sick with fever except for Susanna and doctor bills mounted steadily. Susannaís tiny baby born July 4 needed constant care, as well as a house full of patients. She worked night and day to prevent death from coming again to her household, for she had already buried a six-year-old daughter in Michigan while Asahel journeyed on horseback to the Keosauqua frontier to buy their claim.
During the next few years, death would again take its toll. Graves were made for two small children in 1843, ages 5 and 4; a three-year-old in 1846 and two infants in 1848. Still another daughter died at age twenty. Only four of eleven children survived.
Susanna was often asked how she was able to contend with the harsh life of the wilderness when filled with so much grief and tragedy. She explained that she trusted God and would not allow her grief to become despair or anger. Susanna practiced what we today would call "positive thinking." She found beauty and joy in simple things, and once wrote, "I never thought my task hard when I could see my family happy."
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick