Thursday, May 9, 2013

Phebe and Rufus

In the last post, we met Otis's siblings: Ben, Delia and Phebe. Of the siblings, I find Phebe the most compelling (her story having a deep note of melancholy running through it), and the most perseverant, with an artist's eye and sensibility.

Phebe as a young woman

She was born Phebe Ann Vaughn on the farm in Spring Prairie in 1838, before Sam and Sarah had even built the frame house on the property, so she was probably born in the log cabin. She married Rufus Harriman on March 31, 1864. Rufus was the son of a Canadian logger who brought his family to Walworth County in 1846 and eventually owned a large piece of land here where he raised stock.

It seems likely that Rufus initially took over the operation of his father's stock farm. Then in 1876, Rufus (along with Delia's husband LeGrand Latham) became partners in a meat market in Elkhorn, (probably drawing on Rufus's extensive knowledge of quality meat from his upbringing on a stock farm). Eventually Rufus bought out his brother-in-law and became sole owner of the market.


Unfortunately, it seems that Rufus suffered from a chronic illness (possibly rheumatoid arthritis) that forced him to retire in 1883. The following newspaper clippings appear in Corinne's scrapbook:
  • Thursday, June 28, 1883: It is understood that Mr. Harriman has sold the lower meat market, business, building and all, to a new firm composed of Messrs. Hale Foster and Henry Ketchpaw. Mr. Harriman has done well by his customers, who will part from him with real regret, and but for his ancient and relentless enemy, inflammatory rheumatism, he would have done well enough for himself by remaining in the business.
  • 1883: Mr. Harriman's cigars were passed about on Saturday among some of his friends. It would not be easy to reach all of them with cigars. It was a sort of acknowledgment, as far as that simple set could go, of his grateful sentiments toward the people who, he says, have stood by him in his successful seven years career as a businsessman in Elkhorn. The business was profitable as he could wish, and it was his hard infirmity, and not his free will, that had at last made him pass it over to other hands. Could he have heard on Saturday half the kindly-spoken regret, dropped naturally and unaffectedly from the lips of friends, who sincerely wished it had so been ordered that friendly sympathy might mend his pain and release him from his wearying captivity, he would have felt some of the satisfaction that an honorable man must feel at finding that generous manhood and upright dealing do not always pass on unnoticed or unappreciated.

In 1872, four years before Rufus entered into the meat business, Phebe gave birth to their only child, a girl named Rispah May.

Rispah as a young girl

At the time of Rispah's birth, they were still living in LaFayette (between Elkhorn and Spring Prairie), but when Rufus went into the meat market business, they moved into Elkhorn, where they made a wide circle of friends and became pillars of the community. A clipping from 1884 recounts the incredible story of their surprise 20th anniversary party:
  • 1884: "The friends of Mr. and Mrs. R.D. Harriman chanced to remember that Monday was the twentieth anniversary of their marriage, and that it behooved them to appropriately celebrate the event. Consequently after Col. Copeland's lecture, the friends, to the number of at least a hundred and fifty [Ed. note: 150 friends in ONE town!], preceded by the band, wended their way to Mr. Harriman's commodious home on Walworth Ave, and without so much as a "by your leave," took summary possession thereof, much to the surprise of the man of the house and his estimable wife, and a merrier company seldom gathers anywhere than was there that evening. Mysterious baskets and packages indicated that a still further surprise awaited the victims, and when silence was proclaimed, and Rev. Mr. Barrett presented to Mr. and Mrs. Harriman in behalf of the friends assembled, a handsome, gold headed cane and a natty white "tile" to the former, and to the latter a beautiful set of decorated china, then they understood that the mission of the intruders was one of good will and peace. After the presentation and congratulations, requisition was made on the contents of sundry other baskets, and the company were served with a bountiful collation. Delightful music by the band, jokes and chit-chat filled in the balance of the only too short two hours, which intervened ere the commencement of another day, and about midnight the guests folded their wraps about them and not altogether silently stole away, all with one accord declaring that the evening had been well spent, and wishing Mr. and Mrs. Harriman many joyous returns of the day."
Rufus, or as he was known around town, "Ruff"

Despite Rufus's illness, he and Phebe seem to have had a full life. The following announcement appears in the scrapbook:
  • 1885: Mr. R. D. Harriman and wife; Miss Ruth Wales, Miss Jessie Wiswell, Mr. Charles Ellsworth, Mr. John Hare, Mr. Ogden T. Hubbard, and Mr. Geo. W. Wylie, left on Tuesday last, Feb.17, for New Orleans. May they have a pleasant season and a safe return.
More amazingly, I also inherited a hand-copied version of a the first part of a journal that Phebe kept on this trip to New Orleans. It appears to have been copied in Corinne's hand. I have transcribed the whole thing (in which she recounts leaving a day late in bitter cold weather, traveling to Chicago and then St. Louis) below:

Elkhorn, Wis. Feb. 16, 1885

Monday morning and mercury 26 dgs below zero. [Ed note: !!!!]

Some of the N.O. party reached the depot in advance of others and found the train was fast in a snowbank this side of Rock Island and six hours "behind time." We all went back home with our numerous satchels and lunch baskets to wait further developments.

Next morning, mercury at 20 degrees below

Ruff went "on ahead" to find out time of starting and if all were going. Telephoned down to the depot and learned the train was three hours late. It went through Monday afternoon but the trains were all so late that they could not get regulated in one day.

R.D. came back and said he would go down to the depot and for me to wait - until he sent "the bus." about nine o'clock the "bus sleigh" came and once more loaded up boxes, bundles and satchels and started - Didn't know but I was the only person going to new Orleans as there was only one passenger in the sleigh and he a stranger - Arrived at the Depot in time and found the New Orleans party all there except three (one was sick and two had changed their minds.) At nine o'clock, stepped aboard the cars and away we went for the "sunny south."

Everyone was talking about the storm - snow bound trains and cold weather. -20 below zero and snow two feet deep on the level.

Cold at the depot at WUI (Ate our first lunch dinner at WU depot) but warm int eh cars after starting for Chicago - What lots of snow between WUI and Chicago - men shoveling snow and side tracks not at all cleared. Arrived in Chicago at 2 p.m.

Staid at the Depot nearly all the time until half past eight o'clock in the evening. Very cold and some snow falling. Found the Ill. Central was blocked and the route by way of Mammoth Cave, also.

After a long consultation by then gentlemen of our party whether to wait until the road was clear (Ill. Central) or take some other route = concluded to go by way of St. Louis and Iron Mountain route. Had a splendid supper in the depot dining room and then took a "sleeper" on the Chicago Alton and St. Louis Road. The porter was so long making the beds.

Some of the gentlemen bring in word that it is snowing and blowing and that we will surely get snow bound - but we all go to bed in the sleeping car and rest very well.

Wednesday Morning
Yesterday morning seems a long way off - the party all make their appearance after a while and have fun and laughter over the adventure of one of our young ladies. She was awakened in the night by the porter "tenderly putting her foot in bed and tucking it up carefully." She thought her foot must have hung over in the hall and he ran against it.

We had lots of fun and free passageway which we used all we wished to. In fact, we were so long fixing our bangs and bustles that one lady ($) (flounced and frizzled more than all our party put together) said to this same young lady, "I guess your party never has traveled before." !!

'Oh,' was the answer. 'We have traveled a few miles. One of our party has only spent a year in Europe and four in South America.'

When we came to look around outside our car, we found we had left the deep snow and storm behind us in the night - There was only a few inches of snow and we had reached the river which was open covered with cakes of ice floating downstream - saw two large steamers fastened to the river side - Not nice looking farm houses along here at all. The county look like Sugar Creek - sandy light soil - hedges along the R.R. track. This is Ill. but not the prairie land part.

After riding about two hours, we saw a low dark cloud in the southwest which some tell us is the smoke cloud above St. Louis which is always hanging there. We come to the St. Louis bridge across the Mississippi (which we have tickets for separate from the R.R. ticket - and has been such a bother.) An immense iron bridge three-fourths of a mile long - Iron trustle work looking large and black, reaching from the river bottom up to the track, a gieldy distance and up above our heads.
This bridge is the pride of St. Louis and well it might be - but - the Blair bridge across the Missouri is more of a marvel because so much longer and seemingly nothing to fasten to. At St. Louis, the bridge runs into the bluff and looks so strong from the grip it has on teh bluff. At Blair, the river bottom descends so gradual without trees or bluffs that the bridge seems to rise in the air - and rest on the foundations. Missouri river is rather narrow but rapid, deep and ugly-looking. The river bottom proper where the river is likely to make a new channel in any storm is covered with white glistening sand that lies in huge drifts like dirty snow drifts.

The bridge is so high above that to look down without fear requires strong nerves and the bridge is so long that when one finds the bridge gradually getting back to terra firma, a feeling of relief is experienced.

We go from the St. Louis bridge into the tunnel which is seemingly a long one - We were thankful to reach the Depot and change our hot, close sleeping car for a day car. We were told while crossing the bridge that we would barely catch the Columbus train - and on stepping out of our car there was the train waiting and I do not know ho many other trains waiting, too. All was bustle, noise and confusion. We are hustled along "without ceremony" between two long trains, and when we reach the right car, the man who has done all the piloting (he almost went on the run and would turn his head at every step and shout, "Right this way gentlemen for Columbus! Right this way!") would not let one of us get on the train until he saw every ticket. That is, he would look at the one ticket and almost shove the owner up the steps and stop the next one until he had seen the ticket.

I guess he knew his business.

We expected Mrs. Frazier to go with us as far as Fredrickstown, but that man sent her on another train. We were sorry to lose her company.

We saw but little of St. Louis - and what we saw was very dirty - three or four inches of snow and that was almost black from coal dust.

We were hurried so that we had no time or chance to get a warm breakfast, so we get such seats as we can in the crowded car and take out our lunch and eat to satisfy our hunger without any tea or coffee.

After packing away our lunch, the nxt thing in order is to take a view of the country.

Nearly ten o'clock and the car is very warm. Take off our cloaks and leave them in our seats and as the cars are making quite a long stop for taking in coal, three of us get off the train onto a long platform and promenade up and down.

No depot here, but the US Arsenal is and we saw some of the blue-coated soldiers around on the hill at our left while the river is at the right (or east) of us - we are about six miles south of St. Louis and even here the M- River is changed very much from the same river at St. Paul, so much broader and deeper-looking.

How odd it looks to see the round cubes of ice covered with snow floating on the blue-green water (the color of Lake Michigan) and all moving downstream looking so different our small lakes whose waters are still.

Such a bright, warm day - not noon yet and yet the sun is thawing the snow a little. Does not seem to me that we left Elkhorn yesterday morning with the thermometer pointing to 20 degrees below zero. (I have since learned that it was thawing in Elkhorn that Wed. noon.)

It is not always thought best to ride in the last car but we were glad we had that privilege for we could see so much more of the country. We found rough country nearly all the way through Missouri. The soil looks poor and clay-ey or sandy. Houses in the country from the stations are log houses and poor small ones at that. No barns or haystacks and only once in a while do we see any stock - Sometimes one poor small calf or two and once in a while a pig or two - nothing to be seen of what they live upon, only the corn stalks few and small and only small patches of cultivated land to be seen.

The country is rough with the hills covered with scraggy timber and the soil almost red in color - I suppose I saw Iron Mountain but could tell as I saw so many peaks of bald-headed hills.

The conductor told me which way to look for it, but I would not confess I could not tell whether I saw it or not - It was surprising to see how far south the snow lasted with the ground just barely covered or not quite. After passing Vineland we...
Sadly, the copy cuts off here, and Corinne includes a note: "This was as far as she wrote, although I'm sure there was another copy of this which took the reader all the way to New Orleans, but right now I can't find that."

Phebe, bottom right, with two friends; one identified as "Mrs. Squires"

These were the good years for Phebe. Twenty years later, a deep note of sadness would enter her life from which she would never fully recover. More on that in the next post.

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