Monday, January 6, 2014

The brutal winter of 1836-1837

I mentioned this in a previous post about my great-great-grandparents, Sam and Sarah Vaughn, but the winter of 1836-1837 was a particularly brutal one in the history of the Midwest. Although weather data was being collected at a few locations in Wisconsin as early as the 1820s, this was still early enough in the history of record-keeping that it's hard to know exactly how it compared to winters that have come since. But from the anecdotal record, it seems that it would rank up there as one of the coldest, most extreme cold fronts ever to hit Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

Keith C. Heidorn has an excellent and detailed examination of the weather event itself on his Weather Doctor Blog. In it, he writes:
"On December 16, a severe snowstorm passed leaving about a foot of snow on the 17th. The storm was quickly followed by milder weather on the 18th and 19th bringing "A Great Thaw" on southeast winds... From the weather observations at Fort Leavenworth (Kansas); Fort Des Moines (Montrose, Iowa); and Fort Snelling (Minneapolis, Minnesota), we can surmise that a Colorado low was advancing along a frontal boundary lying across the northern Plains on December 19... With sunrise on the 20th, a change was beginning... Ludlum reconstructs the likely storm path beginning in the central Great Plains and then moving north-northeastward through Iowa to southwestern Wisconsin by dawn. It then likely turned and raced due northward across that state, likely deepening in the process. The trailing cold front was observed to pass through Burlington, Iowa on the western bank of the Mississippi River at 10 am and near Springfield, Illinois by 2 pm, a speed of around 50 mph. It reached the Indiana border by 6 pm and Cincinnati by 9 pm that evening... Behind the front, the frigid Arctic air plunged the temperatures to bitterly cold conditions across the region."
In Walworth County in Southeastern Wisconsin, the front hit hard and fast. Here is what I wrote in my initial post:

"[The winter of 1836-1837] was an incredibly brutal one, possibly the worst Midwestern winter in modern history. On Dec. 20, 1836, an exceptional cold front moved with hurricane-force winds across the plains and the Upper Midwest and by some accounts, temperatures dropped 60 degrees in a matter of minutes, from 40F to -20F. Wild animals, livestock and unprepared humans froze to death in a matter of hours. In Illinois, two men crossing a prairie became disoriented by the storm and got lost. One killed his horse and climbed into the carcass to keep warm, to no avail; he was found frozen to death inside the dead animal the next day.
In Spring Prairie, Wisconsin... the event was remembered as "the four terrible cold days." Another early Walworth County settler, S.A. Dwinnell, arrived in November of 1836. His account of that winter appears in a history of Walworth County from 1890:
The pioneers of Wisconsin must ever remember the 20th of December, for one of the most sudden changes to severe cold ever experienced in our history. It had rained all day upon some fifteen inches of snow. Early in the evening, the wind veered to the northwest and the temperature ran down at a rapid rate. Having no thermometer, I can form no certain estimate of the intensity of the cold. It soon became unendurable in our cabin, and, building a large fire and hanging up blankets before it, I saw down in front of them to keep from freezing.

It was so terribly cold that, had a person been caught four or five miles from a house, he must have perished. Fortunately, few were thus exposed. James Van Slyke, with his hired man, were on their way from Belvidere, Ill., to his house, at the head of Geneva Lake, with a drove of hogs. They had reached Big Foot Prairie, three miles from home, when the change came. They soon left their drove and started at a rapid rate for their house. Van Slyke succeeded in the undertaking, but his boots were so loaded with ice that it took a teakettle full of boiling water to thaw it off, as his wife afterward told me.

A mile from home, the hired man, named Disbro, fell, exhausted and overcome with the intensity of the cold. He must have perished had not a man, providentially at the house, started out at once and brought him in. As it was, his feet were so frozen that he lost several of his toes, which Mrs. Van Slyke amputated with her shears, having made unsuccessful efforts to obtain a surgeon to do it. All the hogs, except two, froze to death that night.
From other Wisconsin and Minnesota reports, we can deduce that the weather hovered between -30F and -20F during that time, after which it probably warmed up to about 0F and started snowing relentlessly.
Mr. Dwinnell was entirely alone in his cabin during the four terrible cold days of the last of December, and had hard work to keep himself alive. He says, “It soon became unendurable in our cabin, and building a large fire and hanging up blankets before it, I sat down in front of them to keep from freezing.”  Notwithstanding  the cold and the deep snow, Mr. Dwinnell got so thoroughly lonesome that on the 20th day of January he  started on a journey of forty-five miles to have a visit with some friends in Belvidere, Ill., then a little hamlet of six families.
In other words, for an entire month Dwinnell sat alone in a bitterly cold log cabin struggling not to freeze to death, having no contact with any other human beings, until it became necessary to risk his life with a 45-mile journey on horseback in the cold and snow just so that he would not lose his mind. Pioneers had to be the toughest kind of people to survive."
Another account from an early pioneer to the state of Wisconsin, Ebeneezer Childs, recounts his journey from Madison to Green Bay during this same period. He traveled with a driver and doctor on his way to the Fort at Winnebago: 
"When about half way I asked the driver how the doctor stood the cold — for it was a stinging cold day. The doctor, who was completely covered up with buffalo robes, made no reply and the driver, of course, could not answer for him. I drove past them and on reaching a grove of timber I stopped and made a fire. When the other conveyance came up, I went to see the doctor, took the robes off, and found him completely chilled through and could not speak. We took him out of the sleigh, carried him to the fire, and rubbed him a long time before he could speak. I had a little brandy with me; he drank some of that and after a while he was able to walk when we again started for the fort. When we arrived at the fort, as we did without further mishap, we found that the thermometer stood thirty-two degrees below zero. I did not suffer at all with the cold as I ran the most of the way."
Metereologist Heidorn includes these anecdotal records from central Illinois in his post:
"In an account from Lacon Township, north of Peoria, Spencer Ellsworth describes the situation: 'The morning was mild, with a settled rain gradually changing the snow on the ground into a miserable slush. Suddenly a black cloud came sweeping over the sky from the northwest, accompanied by a roaring wind as the cold wave struck the land, the rain and slush were changed in a twinkling to ice.' The day was henceforth known here as Butler's Snap after Mr Butler and his daughter who froze to death while attending their livestock.
John Moses recalled watching a heavy black cloud advance from the northwest on hurricane-force winds about two o'clock in the afternoon. "Almost instantly, the strong wind...accompanied by a deep, bellowing sound, with its icy blast, swept over the land, and everything was frozen hard. The water in the little ponds in the roads froze in waves, sharp-edged and pointed, as the gale had blown it. The chickens, pigs and other small animals were frozen in their tracks."
Another anecdotal report recounts this grave story:
"Martin Rinehart of Champagne County [IL, sic] remembers: 'It began to rain and continued all day, when suddenly it turned intensely cold, making ice over the ground and freezing very hard. The sudden change caught many persons unprepared, and they were frozen to death. Two men named Hildreth and Frame were crossing Four Mile Prairie on that day. They became bewildered and lost their way when the change came. They killed their horses, and Frame crawled inside the body of his horse for protection against the cold, but it proved his tomb, as he was found therein frozen to death. Hildreth wandered around all night and when found in the morning he was so badly frozen, that he lost his toes and fingers.'"
So the next time you're tempted to complain about the cold with all our modern-day conveniences, think of the pioneers of 1836-1837, struggling to survive one of the worst cold fronts in history with little more than buffalo robes, blankets and firewood.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Genevieve's Recipe Box: Thanksgiving Edition

Since it's time for another Thanksgiving dinner, it seemed like a good time to rifle through my grandma Genevieve's recipe box for vintage and heirloom recipes for the upcoming holiday. If you haven't finalized your menu yet and are looking for something new-but-old to try, here you go!

Rich Brown Giblet Gravy 

(Note: my dad still loves the turkey neck and giblets, because my grandma cooked them up so well.)

1 quart water
Turkey neck and giblets
1/2 cup flour
1 cup cold water
2 teaspoons salt
Turkey fat
2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet

Bring quart of water to boil. Add turkey neck and giblets, cook until tender. Drain off broth, measure and if necessary add additional water to make three cups total. Mince and add neck meat and giblets. In a separate bowl, blend thoroughly 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup cold water and 2 tsps. salt. Add to broth gradually, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes. Drain fat from roasting pan, measure and return 1/2 cup fat to the pan. Add thickened giblet sauce, stirring vigorously until thoroughly blended. Stir in two tsps. Kitchen Bouquet. Heat until thoroughly hot. Yields about one quart.

Broccoli Casserole

2 pkgs. frozen, chopped broccoli, cooked and drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 eggs
4 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
3/4 cup Hellman's Mayonnaise
1 med. onion, chopped
1/2 cup Ritz Crackers

Mix all ingredients except crumbs, pour into square, well-buttered baking dish. Sprinkle crumbs on top. Dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Wild and Long Grain Rice Dressing for Duck or Cornish Hens

2 pkgs. rice (Will fill 3 cornish hens and make large casserole, or 1 pkg make small casserole) Use only 1/2 of herbs in one pkg.
bouillon cubes
1/2 pound ground beef (optional)
1 can mushroom pieces

Cook rice as on pkg, but add beef bouillon cubes. Brown onion and celery, cut up. Add about 1/2 pound of ground beef (optional). Add 1 can mushroom pieces. Add this to rice.

Note from Gen: I put giblets on top of rice casserole and cover it with foil until about done.

Whatever you end up doing for the holiday, I hope you have a great meal and great company! Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Otis's Siblings: Delia and LG Latham

I've been doing a disservice to my great-great-grandfather Otis's sister Delia, by telling you all about her siblings and not devoting a whole post to her. So let's fix that today.

As you know, my grandmother's grandfather Otis Vaughn had three siblings who survived to adulthood. We've learned about his sister Phebe and his brother BF already. Today let's focus on his sister Delia, the second oldest of the Vaughn clan.

Cordelia Bowher Vaughn, circa 1860s?
Cordelia Bowher Vaughn was born in Tecumseh, Michigan on Feb. 16, 1833, during the few years that Sam and Sarah lived there before continuing on to Wisconsin. Delia was five years younger than BF. Another brother, Melvin, had been born in 1831, but died in infancy. When she was just two years old, Sam and Sarah had another daughter, Abbie, while living temporarily in Franklin, Michigan.

When she was four years old, Delia's parents packed up a covered wagon (including among their belongings two dozen dozen grafted apple trees*) and traveled south around Lake Michigan, passing through the fledgling town of Chicago the year it became incorporated as a city. Sam's sister Mary and her husband made the trip as well, so it's likely the extended family caravanned together through Chicago. They arrived in Spring Prairie in March, 1837. Delia had just turned four years old; she would live in Walworth County for the rest of her life.

When they first arrived in Spring Prairie, the little family  -- Sam and Sarah, BF, Delia and Abbie -- lived in a log cabin that Sam built. Phebe was born in the log cabin the next year. It wasn't until the fall of 1839 that Sam built the frame farmhouse on the property and they moved into a real house, so from the time she was four until she was seven, all Delia would have known was life in a log cabin or a covered wagon.

Two years after they moved into the farmhouse, my great-great-grandfather Otis was born there, rounding out the Vaughn family in Spring Prairie, Wisconsin.

LeGrand Latham, Delia's husband
In 1861, Delia married LeGrand (LG) Latham. LG was the son of early Elkhorn settlers Hollis Latham and Lemira (or Louisa?) Bradley Latham. In fact, LG's parents had the distinction of being the first couple married in the town of Elkhorn -- they were married there in April 1838.  LG was born in Elkhorn in January, 1839 and was named for another prominent early Elkhorn settler, LeGrand Rockwell. (Rockwell was the first clerk of court, register of deeds, acting postmaster and founder of the first bank in Elkhorn.)

Louisa Latham as a girl. She bears a resemblance to BF's four daugthers.

In 1862, Delia and LG had their first child -- a  son they named Hollis after LG's father. Three years later, a daughter was born. They named her Louisa.

Delia (back left) and Phebe pose with what appears to be LeGrand(?) and an unknown sitter
It seems they remained close with the Vaughn side of the family. Both Phebe and Delia had moved to Elkhorn when they were married, so it is safe to assume they saw each other often.  The few times that Delia and LG appear in Corinne's scrapbook, they are usually mentioned along with Delia's siblings.
  • Date unknown: Otis Vaughn and family, of Burlington; Peter Howard and wife; and LG Latham and wife, journeyed northward on Saturday afternoon until they came to Idlewild at Lake Lauderdale, where a week will be spent in pleasure and resting...
  • Date unknown: Mrs. Harriman and Mrs. Latham, of Elkhorn, made their brother, Mr. Otis Vaughn and family, in this village a pleasant visit last Friday, returning to the quiet village of Elkhorn in the evening after a day's pleasure viewing the sights of this bustling city [Burlington.]
I have not discovered what LG did for a living prior to 1876. But in that year, he and Phebe's husband Rufus became partners in a meat market in Elkhorn. Rufus eventually bought him out, and in 1900, LG's profession is listed as "nursery agent," so presumably he owned or was working for a nursery in the area.

Louisa and HDL Adkins wedding photo, 1887
In 1887, their daughter Louisa went on to marry HDL Adkins, who worked at the First National Bank in Elkhorn. Sadly, she died in 1889 at the age of 24, most likely from complications of pregnancy or childbirth. (Twenty years later, the same tragedy would befall Delia's niece Rispah. In fact, all of the Vaughn siblings would lose a daughter relatively young, echoing the loss of their own sister Abbie at the age of 15.)

Hollis married Emily Duckett and they went on to have just one child -- a daughter born five years after his sister Louisa passed away. They named their daughter after Louisa, but changed the spelling slightly to Louesa. Hollis found work with the railroad and moved his family all over Illinois -- they lived in Hancock, Chillicothe, Aleda and Rock Island. (Interestingly, Hollis's daugther Louesa seems to have been quite a wild child. She got pregnant at 16 and went on to have a total of nine children, the youngest of whom just passed away in 2007.)

Delia, later in life
Of Otis's siblings, Delia is the most enigmatic. I know the least about her life, perhaps because unlike Phebe, Delia had a child and grandchildren who survived her and to whom I assume she left the bulk of the things that would help to tell her story. She appears the least in the scrapbook as well, which could mean her name appeared in the paper less often than that of her siblings. Or it could just be that when Edna was doing this research, she was less interested in the Lathams and therefore didn't send requests to newspapers for clippings containing their names. It's hard to say.

Fifteen years after losing her daughter, Delia herself passed away at the age of 71. Her obituary described her as a "well known and esteemed resident of the city [Elkhorn]." It went on to describe:
The fulsome measure of love and esteem however which scores of friends and acquaintances held for her came not from a long residence but from an active life rich in sympathy and good works toward her neighbors and friends. Her life has been of availing helpfulness and her own patience in bearing those tribulations, the all too common lot of life, made firm those bonds so rudely broken by her death.

*This fascinating article from Mother Jones about early American apple trees is really educational, and well worth reading. It helped put into perspective why my great-great-great-grandfather Sam would have prioritized bringing two dozen apple trees with him in a covered wagon.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Recipes: Labor Day picnic suggestions

Getting ready for a Labor Day picnic this weekend? How about a few vintage recipes from my grandma Genevieve's recipe box to bring to a potluck?

Sauerkraut Salad

1 quart sauerkraut
2 cups celery cut fine
1 green pepper
1 large onion
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup salad oil

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Corinne's Carrot Casserole

1 1/2 pkg. carrots
2 small onions
2/3 cup Saltine cracker crumbs
For topping:
2 tsp. brown sugar
chopped pecans
little grated or powdered cheese

Cook carrots with about 2 T chopped onions. (Editor's note: I don't know what this means. Any ideas?) Then mash (or put through blender and then cook with a little water -- easier for large amount.) Mix with cracker crumbs. Put topping on and bake in casserole or flat 9x9-inch pan. Cut like brownies to serve.

Cocktail Meatballs

1lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
handful of Italian bread crumbs
parsley (optional)
Spices: Accent*, powdered onion, oregano, thyme, bay leaf and salt

For small electric casserole:
4 lbs. ground beef
1/2 lb. pork
2 eggs
Put in plenty of oregano

[Editor's note: There are no instructions listed, just ingredients. I assume you mix everything together in a bowl, roll out 1-inch meatballs and bake? Anyone have suggestions?]

*Accent is a spice that combined MSG and hydrolized vegetable protein. Probably best to leave it out if you're taking this dish to a potluck, as many people are allergic/sensitive to MSG.

Monday, August 19, 2013

B.F. and Martha Vaughn

As we've learned, my grandmother's grandfather Otis Vaughn was the youngest of six children born to Sam and Sarah Vaughn (who I've recently learned was sometimes called Sally.) Their second child, Melvin, died in infancy in 1831. We've met Otis's sister Phebe already. So now let's meet his oldest sibling, B.F. (I like to call him Ben, though there's no evidence anyone else did during his lifetime.)

No labeled photos of B.F. exist, so this may or may not be a picture of Benjamin Vaughn.

Benjamin Franklin Vaughn was born in 1828 in Carver, Massachusetts, where Sam and Sarah were living at the time with Sam's younger brother David. Sam and David were trained as carpenters, but were also farming. When B.F. was around one year old, they packed up their things and moved west, most likely in search of better opportunities and better farmland. They first landed in Tecumsah, Michigan, which is about 30 miles southwest of Ann Arbor. By the time B.F. was 7, they had moved again to Franklin, MI, about 70 miles north of Tecumseh. It was a short-lived move.

In March 1837, when B.F. was 8, his sister Delia was 4 and sister Abbie not yet 2, Sam and Sarah hitched up a team of oxen and traveled around Lake Michigan, passing through Chicago the year it was incorporated from a village to a city, and landed in Spring Prairie, WI, "in those early days when the Indian and deer still roamed the prairies," according to B.F.'s obituary. (Though it's likely both Indians and deer were scarce when they made the trip: The winter of 1836-1837 was particularly brutal, and it was still very much winter in March when they came.)

B.F. attended one of the earliest one-room schoolhouses in Walworth County at a time when there weren't even roads to get there, and going to school required walking across the neighbors' lots: "when it meant a walk of six miles across lots back and forth each day in quest of the 3 "R's", then the specialty of the county schoolmaster"  according to his obituary again.

Perhaps because he had done so much traveling and pioneering when he was under the age of 10, B.F. displayed a wanderlust all his life. It is probable that Otis didn't know his older brother very well; by the time Otis was born, B.F. was already 12. In February of 1850, when B.F. was 21 and Otis just 9, B.F. left Spring Prairie to join the hordes of gold-seekers in California. He went by ship around Cape Horn at the very southern tip of South America, a journey of six months, landing in California in August of 1850. He spent six years seeking his fortune on the west coast, but eventually returned to Spring Prairie, this time taking the shorter "Isthmus" route across Panama. (The train route connecting the Pacific to the Atlantic across the Panama isthmus had been completed just one year earlier, reducing what had been a six-month journey to a 30-day trip.)

Shortly upon returning to Spring Prairie, he married Martha Vaughn, who lived in Honey Creek, the next hamlet over. (Where Otis's wife Fannie also came from.) It is possible that B.F. and Martha thought they were not related to each other, despite having the same last name, though two Vaughn families ending up in such close proximity to each other in southeastern Wisconsin, and having similar first names recurring throughout both lines might indicate they did in fact know they were distant relations. (We'll probably never know what they knew.) Modern internet research reveals that B.F. and Martha did in fact share a common ancestor six generations back: Joseph Vaughan of Middleboro, MA, who was born in 1652 and died in 1734.

Martha Vaughn was the daughter of Erastus and Olive Vaughn. (Erastus's middle name was Otis; you can see the similarities between the two Vaughn families.) She was 10 years younger than B.F. They were married on Dec. 9, 1856 and settled again in Spring Prairie. They had four children, all girls: May was born in 1858, Sadie born in 1862, Olive born in 1865, and Grace (who was evidently nicknamed "Birdie") born in 1871. A fifth child, a boy, died in infancy.

May Vaughn West, oldest daughter of Ben and Martha

B.F. Vaughn served as the town clerk of Spring Prairie from 1861 through 1877. Sometime after that, most likely in 1878, B.F. and Martha and the three younger girls moved west to Sundown, MN, in the southwestern part of the state not far from South Dakota. (Oldest daughter May had married Henry P. West and moved with him to Ripon, Wisconsin.)

By the 1900 census, they had moved west again to Yakima, WA. (The history of the city of Yakima is rather interesting. According to Wikipedia: "When [Yakima was] bypassed by the Northern Pacific Railroad in December 1884, over 100 buildings were moved with rollers and horse teams to the nearby site of the depot. The new city was dubbed North Yakima and was officially incorporated and named the county seat on January 27, 1886.") The 1900 census lists B.F.'s occupation as "landlord" and indicates that his home in Yakima was a farm and was owned free.

Sadie Vaughn Robertson, second daughter. She went on to have eight children of her own.
B.F. died in Yakima in 1910 at the age of 81. Martha went to live with her daughter Olive, who was married to a man named James Berry; they lived in Stockton, California. Martha died in 1921 there.

Olive Vaughn Berry
B.F. and Martha had several grandchildren. Birdie remained single all her life and seems to have lived in Portland, Oregon. But the other three girls were prolific: Sadie and her husband Middleton Robertson had eight children, Olive had three boys, and May had four children.

Frustratingly, I have no labeled photos of B.F. or Martha. There is one daguerreotype from the late 1850s or early 1860s in the collection that belonged to Sarah Vaughn (Otis and B.F.'s mom) of Otis seated with a mystery person. I strongly suspect that this is B.F., but I have no way to know for sure. (If it is him, wouldn't you expect him to pose with his wife and baby rather than his brother? Though if it isn't him, I can't imagine who else it might be.)

Otis (on the left) and very possibly B.F.?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Otis and Fannie Vaughn's Burlington house

We've been talking about the siblings of my grandma Genevieve's grandfather Otis a lot lately, but let's go back to Otis and Fannie for a moment, because I had the good fortune to stop by the Burlington library one day last spring when the resident town historian was there, and he helped me track down the house that Otis built in town when they moved off the farm in 1889. (It was a little trick to find the house because Burlington renumbered its streets in the 1960s.)

 I was able to go back to Burlington recently and get some pictures of the house, which is still in great shape, though it's been converted to a duplex now.

The house Otis Vaughn built in 1888-1889, on Lewis Street just off of 36 downtown.

You'll remember from Corinne's scrapbook that there were a few newspaper clippings regarding Otis building the house:

"1888: Mr. Otis Vaughn is hauling stone for the foundation of his new residence to be built early next spring on his fine corner lot at the rear of the Opera House, opposite the old 'Sawyer property' on Washington and Dyer streets."

The stone foundation that my great-great-grandfather Otis laid in 1888.
"1889:  Mr. Otis Vaughn and family moved into their new house on the corner of Washington and Dyer streets last week, and will soon be comfortably settled in their fine, cozy home."

The house as it looked when it was first built. Note the barn behind the house and the size of the tree in front.
Otis and Fannie moved into the house in 1889, though they maintained ownership of the farm in Spring Prairie at the same time. (I assume they rented it out.) In 1918, their oldest daughter Hattie lost her husband to the Spanish flu, and she and her two young daughters moved in with Otis and Fannie to the house in Burlington. Five years later, in 1922, Otis passed away. Hattie and Fannie and the two girls lived in the house together until Fannie's death in 1931. This is the house where Corinne would stay when she was a little girl visiting "Grandpa and Grandma Vaughn."

Today the barn has been torn down and there are houses close on either side. The little tree has grown much taller.
Remarkably, other than a paint job, the exterior of the house looks almost identical to the way it looked when it was first built. I assume that is a testament to the craftsmanship of the house itself, which was built entirely by hand by my great-great-grandfather. The barn behind the house is gone now, and there are houses right next to the house that weren't there when it was first built (though I suspect they were built not too long afterward, judging by their age and appearance.) Though the double mailbox out front and the double addresses indicate it is being used as a duplex, you can't tell that from the outside, so the conversion was commendably unobtrusive.

It is a piece of my family's history that is still a living, contributing part of the community in Burlington, Wisconsin. I hope that someday the people who live there now will read about Otis and learn to appreciate his handiwork the way I do, 125 years later.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Phebe's paintings

So as we have learned, the last decade or so of Phebe Harriman's life was a sad one. She lost her only daughter to childbirth, then raised her grandson for six years until his father returned to take him away from her as well.

But Phebe's story is more than just this sad coda. Despite (or possibly because of) growing up isolated on a farm in rural Wisconsin during the earliest days of its settlement, Phebe grew up with an artist's eye. As an adult, she seems to have been an avid painter. When my great-aunt Corinne passed away, I drove up to her house in Manitowoc to buy items from her estate and discovered she had left a list of several family heirlooms that she hoped I would take in order to keep them in the Vaughn family. Some of these heirlooms were Aunt Phebe's paintings.

The crown jewel of the collection is this oil painting of a landscape scene, possibly inspired by her travels. It measures about 12" by 18":

(I had to take the picture at an angle, to avoid re-hanging the painting, hence the slightly crooked perspective.)
I absolutely love the lavender sky reflecting in the river and the serene little skiff sailing off into the distance.

Then there is this vertical landscape attributed to Phebe, which measures 12" by 24":

This one may be an earlier work; this painting displays less mastery of dimension than the first painting, as evidenced by the relatively flat rocks in the river and the way the water line cuts off rather abruptly in the distance. But the colors themselves are lovely and subtle: a peach haze in the sky, the burnt red of the leaves changing, the light reflecting on the river.

When I was looking through Corinne's things at the estate sale, I found a little painting underneath a blanket on a chair that seems to have been one of Phebe's as well. The styles are remarkably similar, and like the vertical landscape above, this smaller painting is painted directly on board. It measures 6" by 10".

And finally, the last painting I have by Phebe is a sweet little hand-painted scene on a butter paddle, which is all the more meaningful for potentially being her way of commemorating an item that was already a family heirloom in her day. (Pioneers to Wisconsin made their own butter using churns and butter paddles. It is likely that this butter paddle initially belonged to Phebe's parents, the original immigrants Sam and Sarah.) The paddle itself looks hand-carved from a single piece of wood and shows signs of use prior to being painted. I am guessing it was carved by Sam and used by Sarah before Phebe painted a pastoral river scene with a church and her signature sailboat (a favorite subject for her, it appears.) The butter paddle is about 8 inches long and 4.5 inches wide at its widest part.

Looking at her paintings, I am curious whether Phebe was self-taught and painted all her life or if she took it up after losing her daughter and possibly received instruction from someone associated with the Art Institute of Chicago, which held classes in nearby Delavan in the first part of the 20th century and was responsible for the presence of a small artist's colony there during that time. Phebe passed away in 1914 at the age of 75, and may have spent the last 10 years of her life attempting to paint away her pain under the tutelage of professional artists.

Either way, I am grateful to have inherited her paintings, which seem to me to transcend the label of folk art and reveal a true artistic talent.