Muscatine County, Iowa


Many years ago, I transcribed a letter written by my great-grandmother (Mary Brown Knight Mathewson) in which she writes extensively about the last year of my great-grandfather's (John Arnold Mathewson) life. Aside from its poignancy, it is a fascinating peek into what life was like in Muscatine at that time.

All spelling is as my great-grandmother wrote in her letter. There are a few gaps where the writing was indeciferable, but those are few.


Mary Mathewson-Eikey

(transcribed letter below)


Muscatine, IA 1/16/1893

Dear Sister Mary:

This is the first letter I have written this year. In dating it I find it is Bennie's birthday; had he lived he would have been twenty-six years old today; he was more like his father, than the other boys are; in his disposition. I am so glad the boys are spared to me, they are so kind and thoughtful in every way; all our friends here in Iowa, think them very fine young men. Isaac is expecting & hoping to return to Mexico soon. T.K. will not go back to Ann Arbor till next Oct., when I shall go with him; rent two three rooms and board ourselves; his arm is improving very slowly; he goes three times a week to Dr. Dean, to have it treated to electricity; a part of the hand, still has no feeling in it, and he can only use the little finger and the one next to it; the nerve is injured, and there was great danger of his having a withered arm & hand. He is, and has been for few days, drawing on his last years school work; his being home two weeks when I had pneumonia, and then he was sick on week in March with Pleurisy, loosing [sic] so much time got him behind in his drawing, he intended to make it up in vacation, but getting hurt and his father's sickness & death he has but just got at it a few days ago.

The last of September ninety-one, John was taken very ill about two o'clock in the morning; we were sleeping in the room you have always had upstairs. Tommie was in the back room. I woke up (John said he called me, when he found I was not awake.) he stood at the foot of the bed, with his hands clasping the foot of the bedstead. I jumped up lighted the lamp called Tommy, we together got him down stairs; he seemed just like a strong man dying. I started fire in stove, and oil stove; (you know I always build fires overnight) so it was not many minutes till I had hot water, he could not sit or lie down, so I had him stand in a tall tin pail hot water, put mustard in the water, then put his hands and arms nearly to the elbows in hot water, the jars stood on kitchen table, then I tied a rubber bag of hot water around his chest. I worked with him while Tommie went back in pasture to get Billie, to go bring Dr. Dean out. Dr. lives away over near where Mr. Underwood used to live, by the time Tommie was harnessed, John was relieved, breathed easy and said Tommy better not go, but I had him leave the horse harnessed, and he dropped down on the lounge and was soon asleep. I brought out John's easy chair Isaac gave him, he sat by the stove, his feet on stool, oven door open, and was soon sleeping as easy as though nothing had been the matter. Tommy was working with the city engineer, so I had to stir round about six to get his breakfast. John roused up said he felt first rate; he ate as hearty breakfast as he ever did in his life, went about his chores as usual, about nine he started in buggy down town. I told him to be sure and see the Dr. and get some medicine, when he returned, I asked him what the Dr. said? Well, he thought I was a little billious, gave me some pills to take at night. I asked him if he told the Dr. just how he was? He said, " told him I had a bad spell in the night, but did not go into particulars. I said "did you tell Dr. about your hard breathing and how big drops of sweat ran down your cheeks, and how you spit nearly two thirds of a cupful of clear arterial blood and that you had to urinate every three four minutes, and what I did to relieve you?" a no, he did not. "Why Mary, I feel just as well today as I ever did." I told him I would go see the Dr. myself so if he should have another spell I would know just what to do., so I went, the Dr. seemed surprised when I told him how bad he was. I also told him that John, wen he was first awake, said it was his heart. I then told Dr. I would have John come down next day and he should examine heart, lungs, kidneys and if he found heart trouble not to tell John, for I feared the result. I said "Dr. Dean, Mr. Mathewson is in bad shape, and this spell is, I fear is the beginning of the end." He could not think so, John went down next morning. Dr. examined, told him he thought he was all right. I then went down to see what he would tell me he said, "there was no organic trouble of the heart and he saw no cause for alarm" The last of Nov. he had another bad spell in the night; seemed just like asthma. I went again to Dr, told him I wanted to know just what to do for him, to relieve him, he said do just exactly what you did the first time, warm him up as quick as possible, he then gave me something to give him a third of a teaspoonful every five minutes while it lasted. I read everything I could on heart trouble and asthma, I decided it must be spasmodic [sic] asthma. I had the leaves taken out of the dining table and moved it out in kitchen, and our bed set up in that part of the room set it so we could et out each side, put it up second week in Oct. Tommie set up stove the last day of Sept. and that eve he went to Ann Arbor. I would fix fire with hard wood, and have teakettle hot water on the stove mustard box on table, pail for his feet behind the stove, so if he was taken suddenly I would be ready. Between the first spell and the time I was taken sick (thirty first of Dec.) he had two spells. While I was the sickest, for three weeks he had none, but I had my nurse have everything ready, so if he should be sick; he slept in parlour bedroom while I was sick and we kept fire in parlour there night and day; the two weeks Tommie was home he (Tommie) slept a part of the night with him he would go to bed at eight, sleep till two, while nurse would sit up with me, then nurse had bed fixed up on lounge in parlour, she called Tommie at two, he would take care of me till near seven, then he would wake up his father and nurse and at seven two of them would go over to Mrs. Wymer [Wymes?] to breakfast. Tommie would hurry back and let nurse go, if he went first, and she would do the same if she went first, so let pa take his time. I think John would broken down, while I was sick if Tommie had not come home. Annie wrote him to come & she also found the nurse & brought her here. I was afraid Annie would get sick, she sat up with me two nights also Miss. Kneidig. Jennie Have {sic - Havl?] was sick herself at the time. The only thing that worried me about dying, was who would take care of John, I prayed God earnestly night and day, to spare me for that and I would serve Him more faithfully so long as I lived. Annie had never seen John have a bad spell, until after she returned from the east; one night while I was sick, I thought when Annie should come next day I would tell her to have John if I dies, to get rooms at the Kemble House that's only one square from Will. Mr. & Mrs. Kemble are members of the Methodist Church and very kind people, then he would be near Annie, while he lived and I was then sure it could not be more than two three years. In April I wrote Isaac of his bad spells, and told him the same as I did Dr. Dean that I was fearful it was the beginning of the end, he thought I was to [sic] easily approud {at least, that's what this looks like]. Isaac wrote to Dr. Dean asked him, Dr. answered that he did not see cause for alarm, and that I was weak from my illness and was more worried on that account. I wrote brother Benjamin in May, then when his feet began to swell, I wrote Edith how he was, I had been owing her a letter since before Christmas. Dr. then wrote me the letter I enclose with this [note: there is no enclosed letter]. All the time I had to keep cheerful before John he was so easily depressed then he would have a bad spell. I had a very poor girl so lazy, took no interest in the work, but she would help him about milking, so I kept her for that, he would ride to town every day, did not look bad in his face, Sunday before Tommie came home from Ann Arbor, he wrote Tommie he was not feeling very well, could not sleep. I said when he told me what he had written, it might alarm Tommie; it did too, for he hurried home Wednesday, instead of remaining till Saturday I went down to see the Dr. for John that P.M. and Tommie came in on the 4 o'clock train, we missed each other down town, somehow; when he got here, to the house he found his pa drawing a map, for Dr. Weerd [could be Weird or Wend), seeming as well as ever, he came out to the barn to put up Billie, and then told me, how he had hurried home, for fear pa was sick; but said he, "Pa looks first rate and seems as well as ever he did." I could not bear to dash his hopes by telling him by telling him my fears; when it came bed time I fixed the chairs for John to sit up (at that time he could sometimes lie down a few minutes during the night) I slept in dining room bedroom after middle of June, when we cleaned house took down the stoves, I would then have hard wood fire in kitchen stove and leave doors and windows open, he needed so much air. I would go to bed before nine about eleven he would call me, I would be up till about four then he would rest easy I would catch a nap I let the girl go and Tommie soon got hurt then I had two to care for, for two weeks had to keep his arm wet in arnica night and day, he could help me some with his right arm through the day, John would seem quite smart and would wipe dishes pick currants sitting in a chair. It was pretty hard to live two lives, one cheerful to keep him in good spirits another heartbroken for fear he might drop off in an instant. I went one eve to talk with the Heller girls Charlie's sisters about their father who died of heart trouble, from what they told me I felt encouraged some. I thought when Annie and Effie returned they might see some change in him, they did not seem to. I went to the Dr. the last of August told him I thought he was failing not holding his own at all. I wanted him to watch him closely and let me know before it was to late to send for Isaac and you. Not sleeping he began to feel pretty nervous, and loose his appetite. It seemed to disturb him very much to have any one come in. One Sunday eve I guess about a month before he died Sawyers young people came up we were all in parlour, he always like them & I was glad at first they came. I soon see he was weary, he got up and went out in kitchen and sat down by stove. Amy was here. She followed him out and sat and sang her school & Sunday school songs to him, she is a very pretty singer she sang soft and low, seemed to sooth him; next day, Mrs. Smith our neighbour came in, she & her husband are members of our church, used to live near us in the old home. John had always liked them she stayed about an hour. I see he was getting very nervous, I asked him to go see if there were any eggs. I knew he hated to go out when she was talking to him & she soon went home; all that night he would say "How tired that woman made me with her talking; about that time Jennie Howe came out while we were at supper; it was not quite sunset I see he began to get worried, he thought he would have to walk home with her. Jennie saw it, and understood at once, she said, "Mr. Mathewson, you are warring [sic] how I am to get home. Now do not do that, for I shall go before its dark, and am not a bit afraid, so sit down by the stove and go to sleep." He seemed relieved and did sit down and go to sleep. Tommie sat by him. I went as far as the street lights with her, to see what she thought of him; she thought he looked and seemed as well, but he was growing nervous. He wanted me to sing to him a great deal. I did so many times when it was h so hard to keep from crying. Every night for two months before he died I would go down cellar & get three spoonfulls of cream, then break a fresh egg into it, and beat it real hard with the egg beater. He would drink it down as though it tasted so good; my nurse was here the other day. I told her about it; she said it was the very best thing I could give him; The eighth day of Sept. he said he believed he would ride down and pay his taxes. I told him I would hitch up and drive down with him as I wanted some groceries (Tommie was helping city engineer that week.) so we rode down. I sat in the buggy while he got out, went up steps in Court-House paid his taxes, he met Recorder Hudson in the Hall, he said to John, "Where you been keeping yourself the last month? I have not seen you around." John told him he head not been feeling well all summer. Hudson said, "why you look well. I am afraid you are getting blue over the election." John got into the buggy and said "It cannot be I look as bad as I feel for no one seems to notice I am sick." About that time Edna wrote, you were coming out with John & Caroline, I had neglected the house sweeping & dusting so I got Mrs. Silier to come out and give the house a good sweeping and dusting and wipe off the fingermarks a little; he seemed to think I was in hurry about house cleaning and as I cleaned in June thought it was too soon; he had written you about that time I did not know how your letter looked or sounded but less than a week before I telegraphed you and Isaac. He wrote Isaac his hand trembled so I thought Isaac would notice the writing. I went again to Dr. told him to examine him thoroughly and let me know if I better not send word to you both. He thought he might live months. It was about this time I thought Dr better come to the house every morning, it seemed to tire John so, to go up the Dr's office stairs. Dr. would come out about eight in the morning. One day he did not come till after dinner; he had to examine a lot of soldiers in his office for pension. John was growing quite anxious to have him come. He started to go to the front gate to look for him. I knew what was worrying him, but said nothing, as though I mistrusted what he was looking for. I asked him where he was going. "Just to take a little walk" I said, I guessed I would go with him; when we got half way to the swing, he stopped, said I guess I must rest a little; I run in the parlour, got him a chair told him I would walk down to the road for both of us. I looked first up the road then down, could see nothing of the Dr, so then I walked back picked up couple of ripe pears, brought them to him told him to give me his knife & I would peel them for him. He looked up and said you did not see anything of the Dr, did you Mary? I said no, I guessed he would be out right after dinner; he come about one I told him how John had worried because he did not come, he replied he did not think he would need him but if it would make him feel better, he would come every morning early, before he went to his office. So he did and the last ten days he came at seven in the morning and seven in the evening. On Tuesday Sept 20 Dr. had been here seemed encouraged thought he was holding his own very well. John was out in kitchen with me, he used to sleep in his chair a great deal. I would try to get him to go in the parlour where it would be more quiet but he would say he wanted to be where I was. I was afraid the noise of my work would disturb him. About eleven a.m. on Sept 20 I noticed a change in him. He had an ashen look, and it seemed to me he was growing weaker fast. Tommie was working for Mr. Ryan, city engineers that day. I did not know what part of town he was, or I would sent at once for him; after dinner John brightened up, but did not rest well at all. He held my hand all night, only while I would be getting something for him [word here is blurry] the water had reached his brain and he began to talk quite flighty. Dr. came about seven as usual the 21st I watched him closely. He seemed wholly unprepared for the change; he changed his medicine. I followed him out to his buggy when out of John's hearing, he turned around and said "you better write your son to come home". I told him Tommie was there harnessing the horse for me to go down and I would telegraph him. He offered to take the dispatch right along but I told him I wanted to telegraph you, too, so I best go myself, and I could arrange the telegrams on my way to town. I directed the telegram to Patience because I knew she would get to you more direct and quicker than the telegraph officer would and I supposed of course as they knew of John Patters intended visit to Colorado they would let him know too, so all could hurry up and get here in time. I knew if John could possibly get you here in time he would do so. In the meantime his sister Mary's death stopped their coming. Annie came out that night staid [sic] all night with me and she, Effie, Jennie Howe, Mrs. Silier some of them were with me every night till the last. Mrs. Neidig was with me a great deal in day time, I got a married woman to stay with me from Sept. 26 till Oct. 8, two weeks. She had a family so came every morning at six and went home just after sundown. Oct. 3rd when the Dr. Came I asked him if he did not think John would be more comfortable in bed, he said yes, so we brought in the little bed you always slept on and set it up in the parlour, the head toward the East so he could look out the west window & the door. Isaac got home about two in the morning of the 26th. John kne2w him; but asked no questions how or why he came. Sept. 30 I sat by him, had just given him a drink of beef tea. He looked up & smiled said "You look so tired Mary. You need not go to the barn. I will do the chores this morning" and he could not then feed himself in fact was then dying. I think he was anxious to live, but not afraid at all about dying. The Dr. charged me over & over again to not let any one talk to him about it said he was in that state he might sink right away. I did not have my dress off for five days & night. Amey baked me three loaves of cake and four pies the last two weeks of his life. Maggy Howe baked me two loaves of cake. Mrs. Silier sent out two pies and Saratoga chips. I bought all bread, cookies and rolls from the bake, so all I cooked was beefsteak. At twelve midnight I would cook steak, make cocoa and Isaac and Tommie would eat together and one go to bed the other sit up till after [undecipherable word] in the morning. I would wake up the one that was sleeping at midnight, they would eat while I sat with John. I had Effie go to be before ten so she could rest every night but Friday and Saturday, then she would sit up to rest the boys she would take Billie every night after school and go down and do all my errands and bring Annie out too sometimes. I was afraid Annie would break down; the last night John lived, I could not get her to go to bed till eleven. He was breathing strong, she thought he would live till sunrise. Between 12 and one I spoke to him, called him John; he opened his eyes and smiled. I asked him if he knew me, he bowed his head, I said who is it, and he tried hard to speak my name, I said never mind, can you kiss me, he did but it was very weak; nights when I would wait on him, everything I would do he would want to kiss me for [word] he would say; he died just like a babe going to sleep. I went at once and called Annie & Effie the boys and I had been with him till the last. Tommie slept from eight till eleven, when he got up, Annie got right into his warm bed. It was cooler that night than it had been. Isaac harnessed Billie and Annie went right down to the Undertaker Mr. Day. While she was gone Effie and the boys moved the bedstead from parlour bedroom up stairs and Effie swept and dusted the room out; the undertakers brought out a sort of cane bottom lounge. He had a very nice pair of black pants, but his coat and vest were old and threadbare; so after Annie ate something, it had then got to be about seen, she took his old coat and vest, for a guide and rode down to Cohns and bought a very nice new coat and vest. She also went around home and told them, then she and I fixed out the telegrams and she and Effie or rather, Isaac I helped and I do not remember who took them to the officer - Jennie Haws little nephew drove them out to school, then brought the horse back to Jennie's and she rode out, staid with me that day, next day when Annie and Effie went to school they rode round and told Ella McCulla, Charlie's sister, to come out Friday night & Effie was here. Annie slept with me in the large bed and Effie in the little bed both in your old room. We opened the parlour lounger made bed on that in the parlour for Isaac and Tommie, so they were near their father both nights. I neither did the boys want strangers about him. The undertakers embalmed his body so that it needed no attention, except they came each morning & evening to see if it needed attention and gave all it required. After I had arranged for the carriages, I had Isaac make two copies one for Ella McCullah who seated the people the afternoon of the funeral one for Mr. Guslier [Gieslur?] who waited on them to the carriages while the undertaker had one so there was no confusion. When I handed the copy to Annie to give to Ella, she looked at it and said "Why Aunt Mary ought you not have Fanni and her family come next to you, instead of Will and our family?" I said "Annie we will not talk about it. I have arranged it just as I want it." Jennie Howe rode in the coach with the boys and me. The Wills family then Charlie Fannin [Ferrier?] Amey and Mattie in the next. We all sat in the parlour bedroom, while the service was held, a stand at the head of the coffin and the pillow I bought for the boys which had Father on it. Then on the coffin your piece "brother" Annie's piece "John" my piece which Mrs. Day had sent me, a sheaf of wheat a handsome bunch of roses ties with a very pale shade of lavender ribbon from the Howe girls. A shield from the lodge was on the table where the bible and hymnbook lay also a standing sheaf of wheat from Mrs. Gilbert Wood in the country, John's old Ohio friend. Mrs. Hole [Hale?] and Setter and others sent in lovely flowers Mrs. How, Charlie's mother, brought lovely white roses and smilax. I had a carriage for the choir. They met at Jennie Howes and they called for them there. They called for Will's family also one for Charlie's sisters, Mrs. Silier & Geisler all met at the Heller girls and were brought out from there. Effie had to go home to get ready, she and Annie went in about eleven and Annie & Mrs. McCulla and Effie's mother rode out together with Billie. Then in the prasisnoir [sic] Mrs. Wymer drove Billie and she and Effie's mother rode in our phaeton, the boys were so anxious to have Billie go. A carriage called for Suigger & Magie Howe and Effie and Miss Nedig were there, so those four rode together. Every one has been so kind to me to may have called to see me. Last week though the thermometer was below zero every day, someone came and sat with me every afternoon. Today is the first day since John died I have been alone, all day, except the boys. Last week I sent [...] some of the letters I have received. Noah, Cretia, and brother Obeds widow, wrote very kind letters, but as there were other things of their own personal matters in them, I thought perhaps they would not care for anyone but me to read, so I did not send them. I would be so glad to hear from some of John's relatives, but aside from the letter you sent me, I have not receive one word. I know they all loved him and I remember too that many of them are crushed with their own sorrows. Effie and Annie came out last Thursday night staid all night; in the morning (Friday) it was 22 below zero they had a good big hot soap stone at their feet and Isaac took them over in the sleigh. Tommie has repainted the sleigh and repaired so it is now firm and looks very well; the runners are carmine red and the body a shining black; with Billie nicely groomed and the nice robe Annie gave us several winters ago it makes quite a respectable outfit. I dare not hardly look out-doors, am so afraid of taking cold in my weak lung. It is aching pretty bad now. I expect I have used it a little hard today writing you so long a letter. I shall try and write out folk, in California this week. I will send you a letter I received from brother Benjamin not long after [...] left for the east; also one Isaac received from him and Mother's. She is failing in her mind. I suppose some of the rest finished it just as she dictated it. I wish you would send me Phillip Patters address in Denver. I suppose your cousins the Gard...s will have it. I would like to send him a paper. Edna had a very hard headache yesterday. She has gained ten pounds. Will said, she has only been out here once and Mrs. Heill was here at the time so I had not time to ask as many questions as I would like. Mrs. Heill was with me most a week. She has come back to Sioux City now. I am so very very tired. I must close or be sick tomorrow. I hope you can read this long letter. Shall always be glad to be [...] you.

Sister Mary

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