Letters Home #01

By Peggy Smith Hake

This is a letter that was written from Richwoods Township in southern Miller County dated June 9, 1859. It was written by William Laird Irwin to Major John Wiggins Simonton (1) in Mifflinburg, Penn. Several Pennsylvania families came to Miller County just prior to the Civil War and settled around present-day Iberia. I am assigning numbers to several names and phrases in this letter and giving an explanation at the end of the article. I have also tried to keep the original spelling intact.

June 9, 1859

Dear Brother, (Wiggins Simonton) (1)

We have written to Wm Stearnes. (2) I think it is time we had an answer. I will write you a fiew lines and let you know how we are. We are all well. I think it is healthy here. At least the neighbors tell us so. There is verry little lowland in the neighborhood of Richwoods. We have better water than most parts of Mosouri. I have saw no part of Mo. that I like as well as where we are. The land here is good. There are rocky ridges of limestone. It would astonish you to see the grass that grows on these ridges. People here never pretend to enclose this state. Horses, mules, cattle, sheep and hogs all run in the woods from spring till fall and do well. There is cattle here now fat enough to kill out of the woods. We have bought three cows with calves. Good cows with calves can be bought for $15 to $20. We do not allow to buy any more stock till fall. We have bought a farm joining where we live of a hundred and sixty acres and got my deed for it.(3)

We do not get posesion till Oct. It is verry handy to where we live. I can be at work all the spare time I have. We have four acres of corn on the lot we live on. There is vacant land joining where I bought. Good land I can get at 50 cts pr acre. I have paid for forty acres of it. I have not got an answer from the land office yet. (4)

We have rented the house we live in till the first of November for fifteen dollars. (5)Corn is the principle crop here. It looks well so far. They say we are going to have a better crop of wheat from the appearance than they have had for some years. Oats looks

fine. Game here is plenty. Squirrels, fox and grey, are verry plenty. I saw one on the ridge I believe would have weighed thirty lbs. They kill them here that weighs over thirty pounds. I saw one deer since I have been here close to where we live. There has been several shot close by. I do not like the idea of killing them this time of year. Rabbits you can see them every place you go. Fruit is not going to be verry plenty. That is apples and peaches. There is apples but fiew peaches in this neighbourhood. There wil be blackberries by the bushel. They grow on high bushes in vacant places in the woods. They say they are excelant berrys of all kinds. Are plenty persimmons and grapes by the wagon load. Wheat is worth $1.00 dollar. Corn 70 cts, bacon 12 ˝ cts.

George (6) has been out at work ever since we came here. The rest of the children are all going to school except Livy. The school house is a mile off. (7) The children all appear to be very well contented. Sarah is very well pleased with the farm we bought. We paid thirteen hundred dollars for it. We have a store almost in site, (8) a mill 2 ˝ miles off. (9) Provisions are scarce and dear. Fall would be the time to move out here. Everything then is low. (10)

Mr. Brown from White Deer and another gentleman was here last week. Relations of Mr. Moors. They were pleased with the country. They intend moving out either in the fall or spring. Mr. Lore on Camrous farm and a nephew of his (11) staid and works with him, same man that George does a very steady.

They both intend buying here. He could tell you what the country is like here. You had better go and see him and tell him I see his nephew every week and is getting along well. Tell him I bought joining where we live. There is people moving in here from all places. Mosouri is filing up fast. Land raising every day. It is well I closed my bargain. The man was offered $1500 hundred since I bought. The people here are nearly all battists. We expect to have some presbyterns (Presbyterians) in here after a

while. Wm Kelby has been through here. I have saw him two or three times although he has not been to see us. (Evidently he was a Pennsylvanian who did not settle in Miller County) Mr. Moors (Moore) and Gitus (?) have been to see us frequently. The people here are friendly and great for getting married. Get married at twelve and fifteen years of age. I wish you would tall (tell) Wm. Steanes to send the Cronacle (Chronicle) out to use as we get no paper and I will se that he is paid. We want you to write and send us all the news. Write soon. Remain your

Affectionat Brother
Wm L. Irwin
(Written to Major John W. Simonton, Mifflinburg, Pa.)

Genealogical Information

  • (1) Hon. John Wiggins Simonton (1812-1895) the third son of James and Ann (Bell) Simonton was born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. On March 2, 1843, he married Sarah Harris Irwin, sister of William Laird Irwin who wrote this letter. They continued to live in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania until their deaths and chose not to move to Miller County even though they were encouraged by William Irwin to come to Missouri in 1859.
  • (2) William Steanes, son of John and Agnes Steans, mentioned in the first line of this letter, was also a brother-in-law of William L. Irwin. He married Caroline Irwin. They also did not come to Missouri. William Laird, Caroline, and Sarah were children of William Irwin Sr. and Jane (Jennett) Holmes. Other children were John Irwin, Jane Kerr, James Irwin, Mary Struble, Robert Irwin, Harriett Irwin and Thomas Irwin.
  • (3) In May 1859, William Irwin bought land from Robert K. and Dorinda Blevans for $1,300. In December 1860, they sold off a small 2/3 acre parcel to Isiah A. Gardner.
  • 4) He was probably waiting to hear from the land office at either Clinton or Fayette.>
  • (5) They were living in a home, made of logs, which lay on a knoll between the present day home of Mrs. Hazel Morrow and the one where the Mobley family once lived.
  • (6) George Irwin was the oldest child of William and Sarah (Livingston) Irwin, born in 1844. After the Civil War, he went out west and settled in the wild frontier town of Tombstone, Ariz.
  • (7) In the 1830s, a subscription school was taught in the old Smyrna Church house in the Big Richwoods near the Iberia Cemetery. In 1838, a school was built at Milyeu’s Mill in Richwoods Township, approximately 2 1/2 miles east of Iberia near the Big Tavern Creek.
  • (8) I am not sure what store he was referring to. In 1837, Zachariah Price was licensed as a merchant and grocer in Richwoods Township. In 1840, Elijah Dyer was a grocer at what is today Iberia. In 1850, Jesse W. Burks was also an Iberia merchant. By 1860, merchants included Tucker and Burks; Dickerson and Noyes; Haman Dyer; Marks and Isaac Lesem. J.H.C. Branaham and Samuel Short were merchants in 1858 having bought the original Elijah Dyer store. Samuel Ticker opened a store also in 1859, with partner Jesse W. Burks.
  • (9) This could have been the old Bilyeu grist mill or the old Rowden mill which later became known as Brays Mill.
  • (10) Harvest time would have been over and the storehouses were filled with provisions so it would probably have been more economical to have bought needed provisions at a lower price in the fall.
  • (11) I believe he was referring to a farm back in Pennsylvania.