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Thomas Buchanan
Bertha Alice Buchanan Dodge Diary
  1878 to around 1885

This diary was written by Bertha Buchanan Dodge to her daughter, Dorothy,
and later added to by Bertha’s sister, Jean Buchanan Howe, after Bertha’s death.

It tells of their parents, Thomas John (T.J.) Buchanan and
Alice Amanda Brownell Buchanan, and their marriage and
early life in Harrison County, Iowa.

Submitted by Bertha’s granddaughter,
Bonnie Dodge, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, July 2014.
Alice Buchanan

Click photos to enlarge

A portion is omitted here at the beginning which tells of the T.J.’s parents in Scotland and their early life in Rockford, Il. – this account skips ahead to the main subjects as it relates to their time in Harrison Co., Iowa.
Thanksgiving Morning—November 30, 1911

My Dear Precious Little Daughter:

Thomas John Buchanan was born March 10, 1856, at Poplar Grove, Ill. If there were other children, they died in infancy. This son, Thomas J., was my father and your grandfather. How he would have delighted in you if he had lived longer.

 This is an odd way to write to a little daughter, I know, but no doubt you will want to know many things about your family and mother may not be where you can ask me all about it.

Thomas Buchanan was a mischievous although quite delicate boy and I am told was always planning some fun or prank, and he had many funny experiences during his young boyhood and young manhood. He was in the habit of walking and doing things in his sleep which were very comical. He lived in Rockford, Ill., on 1127 Buchanan St. in a cozy home and attended the south Rockford school. During his young manhood he became a moulder and afterwards took a business course at Sterling, Ill.—Bryant & Stratton Business College.

On April 19, 1876, he was united in marriage to Alice A. Brownell, a young and charming girl of Rockford. She was one of three children who were left motherless when quite young. The eldest one was Aunt Lillie Copeland and the younger Harry J. Brownell. They were cared for and practically raised by their father Charles Brownell, who was my dear and favorite grandfather. My young brother, Thomas Charles, was given his name. 

February 11, 1912

How time has flown since I have written in this book, but now I will try and make up some of the lost time and tell you something of your mother’s life.  On April 19, 1876, Thomas J. Buchanan and Alice Amanda Brownell were joined in marriage by Rev. W. H. Burns at Rockford, Ill. In the presence of the bride’s father C. H. Brownell. Her dress was a lovely ashes of roses silk, her slippers and gloves were of white kid. The groom wore the conventional black with white kid gloves. The engagement ring was set with a large and beautiful topaz; the wedding ring a plain band with the date engraved inside. The wedding gifts were many and beautiful, and the future looked unusually bright to this young couple. They commenced home keeping near the banks of Rock River on Buchanan Street in Rockford in a neighborhood who were mostly Scotch people. They lived only a few doors from the parental home of the groom.

The little bride learned to dearly love the new father and mother and her own father and sister visited her often. Her husband worked daily at his trade as a moulder, and she sometimes would be very lonely among all the strange people and cried many times by herself although of an unusually happy disposition, but her neighbors being Scotch and foreign to her, it must have been quite a change to her happy life across the river with her many childhood companions.

One cold, bitterly cold, and stormy night, Feb. 5, 1877, a little daughter came to their home and there was great rejoicing in the families of this union.  The little one was named Jeannie Louise for her two grandmothers, and she was petted and loved and cared for by the different relatives who lived within walking distance. Every nice day it was Grandfather Brownells’ delight to bundle the baby into her up-to-date buggy and with her little black and tan trick dog “Tip” at her feet, wheel her uptown to let his friends he met on the street make his first and only granddaughter’s acquaintance. When Jeannie was about a year old, it became necessary for her father to change climate for his health, and her grandfathers and grandmothers were very kind and helped the children to move to a farm in Iowa, a place called Pigeon near Logan. This was thought to be quite far west in those days, and it must have been very new, for there were no fences but prairie everywhere, and at night the wolves and coyotes would howl about the little home and almost frightened the little city woman. 

May 6, 1932 – now written by Bertha’s sister, Jean Buchanan Howe

Twenty years have passed and dear brother Verne and wonderful sister Bertha have gone “home” – and I of our family alone am left. To fill in the many days of loneliness, I am resuming the writing of our family partly taken from the book Bertha kept and filling in with some of my own memories of the days of childhood and girlhood.

I often heard the term “out on Pigeon” in those babyhood days and remember being in our attic with mother, rummaging through a large packing box of pieces of materials and would beg to stay up there awhile when she went below because I wanted to dress my dolly in some of the bright scraps. Out there we had a pet badger which was full of mischief and if mother left her cover off the wooden sugar pail, he was ready to dive in. At least one day she went to get some sugar and nothing but his tail sticking out of the sugar could she see of his as his nose was in the bottom of the keg. Their father caught a young wolf and tamed him, but he snapped at me quite fiercely one day so he had to be disposed of. There were no fences but prairie everywhere, but my father wished to fence some of his land and did so. A neighbor who had been in the habit of driving over this ground resented this and one night the wires to the new fence were cut—just how it was settled I do not recollect.

Aunt Lillie and Uncle Vince Copeland lived on an adjoining farm and on Feb. 5, when I was 3 years old, a little cousin, May, (Ida May) came to their home. My mother was over there. During part of the time Grandpa Brownell lived here also. When I was 4 my folks moved into Logan, where my father was in the furniture and undertaking business. We lived in a square cottage of fine rooms with orchard and garden. It was here I started to school and my teacher was Mrs. Evans. The primary was in a building apart from the main one and was at the foot of the hill—and I can remember well of the day Sammy Sloan (who became Professor of Literature at Ia. City) had his mouth washed out by the teacher with brown soap and water for using naughty language. It was here that the little gold ring given me by Mrs. Covilla in Rockford was lost and found and kept by an older school girl who was about to move away but later seen on her finger by a friend who visited that town during vacation.

I had many dear playmates, Gracie Cadwell, mayor’s daughter, Angie Middleton, sheriff’s daughter, Leona Antrim, whose father was in Canada and came back to Logan in the spring driving a reindeer. They couldn’t locate him when little Leona died so buried her on the premises of their home until he came. My little boy playmates were Walter Hardy, Roy Evans, and Arthur Middleton, who became a well-known singer whom I have heard over the radio in later years. Aunt Ida Copeland lived on a farm. Uncle Joe, her husband, was a brother of Uncle Vince but I called them my aunt and uncle although they belonged to Aunt Lillie’s children. We often drove out there and enjoyed a good dinner and a play in the woodlot and apple orchard with our cousins.

Two of Joe Copeland’s children (one was Jennie Copeland) became veterinary surgeons and located in Logan. When I was 5 Aunt Lillie moved into Logan also and I remember when Charlie was born in a house on the edge of town. My folks took out a high chair and a cute walnut table from the store. The table was octagon with gold chains in scallops around the beveled edge and had three legs curving in together about - down.
One December night I was told I could go to Antrims for the milk as usual only my father said you can stay and play with Leona until I come for you – I thought that was great and we did everything we could think of to pass the time and it seemed like he never would come and I was almost in tears when there was a rap and there stood my father with tears in his eyes, and when he announced that I had a new baby sister (Bertha) for whom I had teased incessantly. Had even talked to Dr. Witt about it and he had promised he would bring me one in his big overcoat pocket. So I was joyful and could hardly be pacified when I found the door locked between kitchen and dining room and the maid, Alameda Jewell, refused to unlock it for awhile. At last they let me go into my mother and on her arm was a sweet little dark haired baby sister and she smiled so happily. They were cooking oysters for the Dr. and nurse. That night my father brought home a lovely 8 day Seth Thomas clock and put it on a shelf in the dining room – there was great rejoicing over the new baby, Bertha Alice, and I heard them saying now Jennie’s nose is broken. I had later to learn the meaning of this, but I had been petted long enough and was happy over my little sister. I believe needles must have been scarce, for when the ladies aid met to sew I always teased for one to sew with and they gave me a pin with a thread tied on the head. Imagine my chagrin – I wanted to really sew. Mother used to let me visit Aunt Lillie’s often, but I had to pass a cemetery and I would run until I was safe on the other side. There I knew I would have a good dinner and a romp in the basement kitchen with the cousins. The front room upstairs seemed formal and I liked a place to romp. We surely had fun there and Aunt Lillie had a good time with us. 

Continuation written by Jean Buchanan Howe (Bertha’s sister)

Bertha left us on Oct. 8, 1931, and now I have only her book to copy some of our family history from omitting some of the items I wrote some years ago. After we came to Logan, Iowa, Bertha was born Dec. 17, 1882. Father was in the hardware and undertaking business. Some things stand out vividly in my mind of Logan, but Bertha states she does not remember anything of Logan, so I’ll write a few of our experiences there in those early days. We lived in a square cottage with garden and fruit trees. My playmate, Leona Antrim, lived across the road but she was an invalid from a fall from a swing and died when I was 5 years old. And her father was in Canada and they buried her under the bedroom window until her father could come. He came driving a pair of reindeer in the spring. Then they had the funeral. Father wouldn’t let me go, but I wept as I saw it all from the window.  

Other little playmates were Gracie Cadwall and Angie Middleton (sheriff’s daughter). The folks would go to the Masonic Lodge and leave Bertha and I with the Middleton children and the maid. Later Arthur became a noted singer. Later I wrote this and forgot to mention our sojourn on “Pigeon” which I suppose is a brook or creek.

My father got in a large shipment of wax dolls for Xmas trade and they were a new thing. Many of them had their beautiful faces frozen and they were full of little cracks. We children had plenty of these dolls. They were worth much more but Dad sold them out at 25 cents apiece and gave some to the poor. They who bought the good ones, dressed them in latest style and hung them up on their parlor walls where the children could see but not touch only on rare occasions they were thought to be so “genteel.”

The better homes boasted a chandelier with iridescent pointed and cut glass drops with gold in chains looped around some. Basques and hoops and fichus and cameo rings and pins and Lincoln hats were worn. The materials were gorgeous, wine satin and silk fringes and polonaise were popular. I had a dotted swiss dress all ruffles with a blue silk slip and a pink one as I really had 2 dresses for Sundays and on the 4th of July there was a big celebration in the park and I wore the blue one with a blue sash and had a wonderful time. We had lemonade on the grounds and maybe ice cream. I had lovely times in Logan. Grace Cadwall had a party and we had a beautiful time all the elite of the children were there.

Then my father decided he would like to go into the hardware business as he didn’t like this undertaking, so their friends gave a large surprise party for them and Mayor Roadiper presented each of them with beautiful cameo rings. My mother’s lip trembled but she kept the tears back when they each responded to his speech. She was very brave. We had spent many happy evenings together going to our big garden on the edge of town and mother and we children would pick flowers and gather vegetables while he worked. He couldn’t get into his place at Owasa at once, so we stayed in rooms over a store in Conrad for awhile.

I remember taking part in the Christmas program there (in Logan) and attending S. school. One morning a friend was to leave a book for mother to read on the outside steps and she sent me to see if it was there. In my hurry to get it in some way I fell under the railing at the top and went straight down to the hard ground and became unconscious. She came out to look for me and found a mound at the nape of the neck was bleeding. Some man helped her get me upstairs where she took care of it and I was laid up for several days. It seemed to be of minor importance although a dr. dressed it but this spot has always given me trouble.

I had a fall downstairs where an outside basement or cellar door had been left open at the big schoolhouse in Logan and the steps were rock. I was unconscious and when I came to the teacher sent an older girl home with me. She took me to a neighbor’s who came home from Dunlap where they had spent the day.

I was only 5 and wanted my mother. She was somewhat frightened and turned white when they told her. This was a short time before Bertha came. Anyway, my spine was never as good as it had been. 

NOTE: At this point in the diary, the Buchanan family moved to near Tama, Iowa, and later West Union, never returning to live in Harrison County.

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