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A View From The Attic

Week of  02/17/2014

Fremont County Historical Society

by Jerry Birkby

Evelyn Birkby called me the other day and said there was a shortage of View From The Attic columns and it was time for me to get off my lazy--Well, she didnít phrase it in quite that manner, but I am attuned to tone and inference so that is what I heard.  She also suggested Aunt Dora Birkbyís Memoirs would be a good subject.

When one is born late in life to someone who was the tenth of eleven children, he is bound to wind up with a good many Aunts and Uncles and even a few cousins that he does not remember at all.  So it is with my Aunt Dora.   She was born August 7, 1880 and died sometime in the late 1920ís or early 1930ís in California.  She was born with three fingers of her right hand webbed together which left her slightly handicapped and  she also seems to have been highly intelligent.  Perhaps for these reasons she was the only one of Thomas Birkbyís children to attend college. 

In reading these Memoirs I am always struck by the prices she quotes.  Having said that, I will let Dora speak for herself.   Jerry Birkby 



My father, Thomas Birkby, eldest son of Captain John Birkby of Pontefract, England, and Elizabeth Pinder of London, was born at Leeds, England in 1837. The following year the family sailed from Liverpool and, after a stormy voyage of six weeks, arrived in New York.  After residing in New York for one year, they again set sail and after seven weeks arrived in New Orleans where they took a steamboat up the Mississippi to St Louis, and thence traveled by stage to Jacksonville, Illinois which was my fatherís home until his mid-twenties.

My mother, Mary Courtney, daughter of James Courtney of Kentucky and Lily Bowen of Virginia,  was born in Macoupin County, Illinois in 1843, her parents being farmers.

My parents were married in 1864 at the famous old Planterís Hotel in St Louis and immediately boarded a steamboat going up the Missouri River to St Joseph, Missouri and then took a stage from St Joseph to Fremont County, Iowa,  to the farm that was their home so many years and where I was born one Saturday morning in 1880 on a hot August day.  I was the eighth child of my parents, there being eleven of us, two dying in infancy.
My parents had brought some money from Illinois to make a first payment on their new home.  This money, a thousand dollar bill, the bank and merchants of Sidney refused to have anything to do with as they had never seen a bill of so large a denomination and were afraid it was counterfeit.  A couple of strangers in town followed my father from place to place offering suggestions until he became suspicious of them and, on the advice of friends, remained in town overnight. 
Our first farm contained one hundred and seven acres which was purchased on September 10, 1864 for $1,200.  One hundred acres were added on Feb. 26, 1872 for $330 and Forty acres on Nov. 10 1875 for $280.
Then came a hard struggle for several years that only pioneers who have passed through a like experience can properly appreciate.

 (To be continued.)