A View From The Attic
24 November 2008
by Danette Hein-Snider
A paper letter in this era of electronic mail, texting, and
cyber-chatting is like a handmade afghan or a jar of homemade
preserves; it is a hand-wrought little gift from one human being to
You will probably never again find a small bundle of letters tied
with a silk ribbon tucked away in the attic or stashed in an old
desk drawer. Letters can open a door not only to the day to day life
of our ancestors but it can provide clues to the history of the
westward movement. Take the following letters from the Fremont
County Historical Society’s collection for example.
Caleb J. Allen was a nephew of Dr. Samuel W Ripley one of Fremont
County's earliest doctors and also was related to the Chambers
family who donated land for the Chambers Cemetery. He was a soldier
in the Civil War from Fremont County.
Cory, Fremont County Iowa
January 22, 1861
Perhaps you are astonished at the date of this – but it is no
forgery – you will be obliged to own that I am ahead of you at
pioneering! Fairly circumvented you, haven't I? Here I am on the
frontier! On the “border” by the old Missouri! Can walk over to
Nebraska any day!
I've had a taste of travel too! Have been two months on the way –
came all the water, commencing on the old cassadaga! You just look
at the map and you will perceive that Fremont Co is the southwestern
Co. of Iowa. And by looking further you will see that it is near the
eastern terminus of the Platte River Route to Pikes Peak! The people
of this country are continually going to and coming from there –
carrying freight – querie whither I go there next spring or not –
For about six months I have been living with Mr. Sears (formerly of
Sinclearville) studying law! At Sidney, the county seat of the
I am now out in the country at an Aunt's for the purpose of hunting
deer and am snowed in to day with your old friend Sam Hedges – who
is the same jolly rogue yet – Prairie chickens, rabbits, quail,
squirrels, etc are in abundance deer are petty scarce.
The boys in Sinclearville are scattering pretty fast – perhaps you
heard that some of them are in California.
What the deuce are you in an eastern State for – why don't you come
out West! Where there is room? You just come out here and we will go
to P.P. In spite of fate – here's plenty of gold just waiting to be
picked up! Indians and buffalo in any quantity – Please show us a
specimen of your hand write.
Caleb J. Allen, Jr.
PS: Sam can speak for himself.
One of the letters is written by Sam Hedges the son of Elias Hedges.
HEDGES, Elias S., real estate broker, P. O. Sidney; born October 21,
1807, in Saratoga county, New York, where he grew to manhood. In
1830, he went with his father's family to Chautauqua county, New
York, being employed with his father until 1856, when he came to
Fremont county, and located at Sidney. In August of 1857, was
elected county judge, which office he held for two and a half years.
In 1863, he was appointed commissioner of the board of enrollment
for this congressional district, with headquarters at Des Moines,
which position he held to the close of the war. He engaged in his
present business in 1865, and through his hands has passed a large
portion of the lands of the county. Before leaving New York, Colonel
Hedges was a member of the New York state militia. During the war
with the Confederacy Mr. Sears held the same position in the state
militia of Iowa, a further history of which may be found under the
Southern War Brigade in a preceding portion of this volume. Colonel
Hedges was married January 18, 1832, to Miss Rebecca Parker, a
native of New York; they have two children: William H. and Samuel P.
The wife of Colonel Hedges died November 18, 1872. He was married
September 10, 1879, to Amelia Elifritz.
January 22, 1861
Well Hank my old Friend,
Here Cape and I are snowed in out in Iowa, and this morning Cape
says Sam, let us write To Hank Cole”. I informed him that I as in so
these scratches will inform you that we carried out our intension's.
You know when my Father's family came out to this state, well, I
have been living at home in Sidney, most of the time, but this
winter I am playing “Pedagogue” out here in the Country and board
with Mr. Ripley, an Aunt of Cape's; today there is no school and as
there is a snow storm raging, neither of us can do what we intended.
Cape made all the preparations for a deer hunt and I let school out
for the purpose of going home. But this change in weather confines
us both to the house. I find that a country schoolmaster has a busy
time teaching the young ones how to shoot. And although there is
some variety still my time is taken up in the same round of
This is my first attempt at school teaching and perhaps my last for
a long time for in the Spring I intend to start for some Eastern
college. Cape has just taken his gun to go out and shoot some
Prairie chickens, rabbits, etc. He is as you know fond of hunting as
any back woods man. And no obstacle is too serious for him to
encounter if there is a possibility of killing any game. I am fond
of hunting but am not so enthusiastic in the sport. But what I can
be disappointed and thoroughly tired of it, and after each failure I
feel less inclined to go again.
Fremont Co. is the most southwestern portion of the state and said
to be the finest county in this state which is saying a good deal
for Iowa is destined to be one of the brightest stars in the
constellation of American states; (If the Union is preserved). And
as for Cape and myself have adopted this portion of the country for
our future home you must not be surprised to hear from us some day
as Great Men. Ha! Ha!
But enough of this. I hope you will consider this worth answering
and give us a description of your whereabouts and prospects. Direct
to Sidney Fremont Co. Iowa. Cape and I both reside here.
Sam P. Hedges