The Crooked Lake Review

February 2008

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Robert Beck's Story

Eleanor Townley, Ithaca and Denver


Robert Beck

Eleanor Townley

After I received my pay from the government I purchased some clothes, cleaned myself up, and started for Burlington, Iowa, where my oldest sister, Helen, was living. I had not seen her in about nine years. But on arriving there I learned that she and her husband, William Krieg, had moved to Colorado some two months previous. I was very much disappointed as I had intended to stay in Burlington that winter, and in the spring if my eyes were well to re-enlist. I had a little money left, so concluded to go to Rochester and visit my parents as I had not seen them in seven years. I bought a ticket to Chicago and there I got a berth on a steamboat to Buffalo as steward's helper and porter. On arriving at Buffalo the steward asked me to stay on board a few days and help him pack up the cabin and stateroom fixtures as it was the last trip the boat would make that season. I helped him about five days for which I was well paid. Then I took train to Rochester to see my father and mother whom I had not seen in so many years, but my dear old mother had not forgotten me and I was received like the prodigal son except there was no fatted calf to kill or general merrymaking. There was no one at home except my father and mother, as all my brothers and sisters were living away from home.

Winter was coming on fast and I was out of a job and nearly out of money, so after a few days of visiting at home I went to Corning, N. Y., where my oldest brother was living. My object of going there was a double one, to visit him and to hunt up a place to work and earn some money to take me back to Garnett, Kansas. My brother Leonard was glad to see me for we had not seen each other in seven years. I landed in Corning with 60 cents, all the money I had in the world, and when I told my brother my financial condition his under jaw dropped considerable for he thought I came to sponge my living on him through the winter, and when I tried to convince him not to be alarmed, that I would have a job in a few days and would be in shape to pay my way, he would not believe me. Of course he was in no shape to support me through the winter for nothing, as he had quite a family on his hands and was trying to build a house for himself. He was working for W. F. Townley at that time.

He introduced me to Mr. Townley the same afternoon I landed in town and I applied to him for a job, but [he] informed me that he had no job for me just then but if any extra work came in he would give me a trial. It was a furniture factory and planing mill at that time.

My brother was foreman in the cabinet department at that time. I was not a cabinetmaker but was quite sure I could make myself useful in that shop and concluded that there was my opportunity for a job. I called on Mr. Townley twice a day and insisted on his giving me a trial. That Saturday evening one of the workmen asked for a week's vacation and Townley told me to come on Monday morning and take his place and try it. I was happy, for I felt that my chance had come. I took hold with a will, determined to do my work well and please Mr. Townley so he would keep me longer than one week. Work began to come in a little faster and when the first week was up he told me I could stay longer and asked me to come to his house to board, which I accepted.

Now my plan was to stay and work until the spring and then go back to Kansas. So in April I told Mr. Townley to get another man in my place, that I intended to quit and go west. But he prevailed on me to stay with him and offered to raise my wages. So after due consideration I consented to stay longer, as I liked him and also Mrs. Townley who was like a sister to me. She did my washing and mending, and Mr. and Mrs. Townley did everything to make life pleasant for me. Now this was the great turning point of my life.

In the summer of 1862 I formed the acquaintance of Eleanor J. Townley, a sister of W. F. Townley, my employer. It was not a case of love at first sight, but as I became more acquainted with the Townley family I liked them better every time I called on them, which I did by invitation. Miss Eleanor was a tailoress and quite industrious, and I was in her brother's employ. We grew quite fond of each other and our visits grew more frequent. She would some [time]s invite me to dinner at her home, which I enjoyed very much. She was not the handsomest girl in the world but one of the best and strictly honest, very industrious and always good-natured, and a good Christian girl. Not a society girl, but of good plain common sense. She loved her father and mother and her brothers and sisters. Our friendship gradually grew into love and our visits became more frequent. In the winter of 1863 I popped the question and was accepted.

Ithaca and Denver

Now we began to form plans for the future. I worked harder and saved all my money, for it was beginning at the bottom round of the ladder, for we were both poor and if we ever got anything we could get it by hard work and strict economy. One thing I promised her was that she should never live in a rented house, which rather astonished her for she knew I had no money to buy a house with. But I assured her that I had something as good as money which was a good will to work, and with proper management we could soon pay for a house, and she agreed to do her part. I am happy to say we made that promise good in short order.

Well, we set May 20th, 1863, as our wedding day and we both worked with a good will to get some clothes and other little things ready for the great event and on that 20th of May we were made man and wife. Our wedding was just a family affair, nothing expensive or swelly as we could not afford it. I had saved up about one hundred dollars to commence housekeeping with. We went to Ithaca, New York, on our wedding trip as that was my wife's old home.

While at Ithaca I accidentally formed the acquaintance of George Whiting, who kept a furniture store and cabinet shop. He was an old man and a very nice old gentleman. In [the] course of our conversation he learned I was a fresh-married man with no fixed location. He told [me] he was in the need of a man and he thought I would fill the bill—that he was getting old and wished to get out of business in [the] course of a few years, and that there would be [a] chance for a young man. Well, I took the bait, and told him I would consider the matter for a week and let him know by letter. I learned that Mr. Whiting was a very good man and a man of his word.

After a short visit in Ithaca we returned home to Corning, and thinking the chance with Mr. Whiting over carefully, I wrote him that [we] would accept his offer and [that we would come.]

We both worked with a will to get a few things together for housekeeping. I worked evenings at Townley's shop and made a dining table, a lounge, and a washstand, and my young wife made up a few bed quilts. Mr. Townley gave us a bureau and my wife's mother gave us a few things. Altogether we had about a wagon load. So in June,1863, we started for Ithaca and to paddle our own canoe. Of course, we did not have enough things to commence housekeeping with, so we boarded with my wife's sister's, Mrs. L. H. Young. But I worked every day and watched chances of picking up secondhand articles and we were not long in getting quite a respectable outfit together. Now I wanted to buy a house on a contract and had one picked out, but Mr. Whiting advised me to rent for a few months, that he had something in view for me. So we rented part of a house. We moved in and commenced life by ourselves and were happy.

I worked for Mr. Whiting by the day until January 1st, 1864. Then he sold me all the material in the shop and I rented the two upper stories of his brick block with the privelege of space on the first floor to show any furniture of my own make. All things worked well as I had plenty to do and I worked hard, so by the first of [the] next January, I was out of debt and had a little money in the bank.

The winter of 1865 I bought a building for 800 dollars on a contract. It was a two-story brick on Main Street. It was an old building but with a little repairing it made us a good home, and the lower part I used as a shop and ware-room. We moved in March and had just gotten nicely settled and well started in my new quarters when something turned up. In the summer of 1864 my oldest sister, Helen Krieg, who lived at Denver, Col., made us a visit. She pictured out the advantages of that western country for money-making in such glowing colors and wished me to go there, as I was yet young and being ambitious to make money the chances were much better there than east.

But I told her I was doing fairly well where I was and the future looked bright. But in April, 1865, I received a letter from my brother-in-law in Denver begging me to pull up stakes and come to Denver, Col.. He made me an offer that took the breath from me. I showed the letter to my wife who thought favorably of the scheme, which was for me to go into partnership with him, or I could work [for] him at 10 dollars a day. I concluded if he could afford to pay me that amount in wages I could certainly do well to go there and start a business for myself. So after a few days' considering the matter I concluded to go, and commenced at once to sell what I had. I sold the building to E. B. Cornell and after everything was turned into cash I had between 7 and 8 hundred dollars. We boarded a short time with Mrs. L. H. Young, my wife's sister where on May 14th, 1865, our first daughter was born, Alice Lillian Beck.

Now, my plan was for me to go to Denver and provide a home before my wife should come, and in the meantime she was to go to Corning and board with her mother. I left $350.00 with her to defray her expenses until I was ready to have her come. On May 24th, 1865, I bid my wife and baby good-bye and started for the land of gold to make my fortune, full of hope and great expectations.

I arrived in Denver in good shape and my sister was glad to see me. But how disappointed I was right at the start, for everything was new as it was then simply a wild mining country and so different, from a civilized country that I had been used to, that my first impression was not pleasant. However, after looking the ground over for a few days I concluded to start a cabinet shop in a small way. I rented room of my brother-in-law, pulled off my coat, and went to work with a will. I soon had all I could do at good prices but I was homesick and could not make up my mind to settle down in that wild country although I could make money. I tried hard to get used to the wild west ways but it was no go. So I stuck it out until the last of October when I wrote my wife that I was coming home, that Denver was no place for us, that we had better have a little less money and have the pleasure of living in a civilized country. So I sold what I had and started for Corning, N. Y., where my wife and baby were, and [was] perfectly satisfied to stay east. I landed in Corning at midnight and [was] never so glad in my life as I was to see my wife and little baby. My western trip taught me a good lesson, as it broke me of the western fever and made me more content to settle down.

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