Fremont County, Iowa

Catherine "Katie" Forney
by Sherry Perkins
View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of April 17, 2016

After crossing the frozen Mississippi River from Nauvoo, Illinois in the winter of 1845-1846, she continued westward with her husband to Kanesville (Council Bluffs) where they survived an extreme winter. When some of the men left, for the Mexican War with Texas, their women followed along herding the cattle. The party also included those disgruntled with the leaders of the wagon train bound for Salt Lake City. All were seeking a new land.

They came to an area of hills, hollows and creeks around Plum Creek. It so impressed them that they decided to put down roots in Fremont County. The settlement began with primitive housing or homes created by digging deep into the hills.

Her name was Catherine, but they called her Katie. She married in 1840, George Forney. They had buried three babies, by the time she and George decided to seek a new land. She was pregnant, when she arrived in Iowa, and delivered the first male white child of the township in October of 1846. He was followed, by the first white female child, of same township a year later.

During the early years, it was not uncommon for babies to be born yearly. There were few doctors, if any, to help. In all, she had nine living children. In addition to caring for the babies, she carried water from Plum Creek, cooked meals over an open fire, did the laundry by hand, chopped wood, made their clothing and butchered animals for meat. The fireplace provided the only warmth and means to prepare meals. If the fire went out, it was not uncommon to travel several miles to “borrow” a start. There were no matches.

The family did not lack for food. There were several varieties of wild berries; asparagus, grapes and wild game including wild hogs were plentiful. Most settlers had a milk cow and probably chickens. With fox, coyotes and raccoons plentiful, many chickens roosted inside the house at night to survive.

My grandmother, remembered her great-grandmother as very stern looking, with no gray hair in her dark hair. Katie smoked a corncob pipe carried in the pocket of her long white apron. Her clothes were ankle length skirts and long sleeved tops. The Forney clan, which was large in numbers, would gather at George and Katie’s on Sunday for dinner. They lived northeast of Thurman in a house that resembled a corncrib.

My Grandma remembered playing with the old wooden washing machine, under a big tree, and going to Katie’s bedroom to try on old eyeglasses and look at them in the cracked mirror. Grandma Katie told them about in the early years waking up to find Indians asleep on the floor in front of the fireplace. She would feed them bread and biscuits. There were no locks on the doors and in many homes no doors or windows. Katie was widowed early.

She lived with her youngest son and helped him raise his children. She died in 1919, at the age of 98. She and George are buried, high on a hill, in the Thurman Cemetery, overlooking her beloved home. Today hundreds of her descendants live in Fremont County. She represents all the tough and resilient women that helped settle this County. I am proud to say she was my great-great-great grandmother and a true pioneer.

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