"Well. Here I am. Now what?"
My dearest Mary,
After a lengthy and exhausting trip,
I arrived yesterday in Prairie
Valley. Imagine my surprise when I inquired at the general store
and learned that our uncle and aunt no longer live here! I can
only guess that they failed to receive Father's letter and were unaware
that I would arrive this autumn. The storekeeper told me that
they headed west only two weeks ago, in search of a place not quite so
busy and settled up. (Although I look around me and can't imagine
anyone thinking this tiny town as "settled"!)
Another family had
already purchased Uncle's house and had no room for a stranger.
Land is plentiful here, so I selected a parcel nearby
and instructed the wagon driver to unload my belongings. Sister,
I cannot tell you how desolate I felt when I saw all of my possessions
occupying a few square feet of ground under a vast and uncaring western
Of course my first concern is
shelter. The townspeople are very
kind and have volunteered assistance in building. I must
have a roof over my head before cold weather sets in, and I would
prefer not to be lifting wood and carrying furniture when the baby is
farther along. My new acquaintances are not yet aware of my
situation but I am sure they must suspect. (I get the impression
that most of these people are here to escape something in their own
pasts. It's a town filled with secrets, and nobody's secret is
more or less terrible than anyone else's. This is oddly
comforting to me.)
Until the house is built, however, I
must sleep in the open, under all
of this sky. It is somewhat overwhelming but also freeing; this
is a place without boundaries where I can achieve anything I set my
mind to. How different from back East!
Please tell Mother that I miss her,
and tell Father thank you for the
money and that I am sorry I disappointed him. I of course miss
you most of all.
With much love,
Juliette finished her letter and looked around at her new home, trying
hard not to feel discouraged. This was not going to be
easy. She climbed onto the bed, wondering at the distant howls of
wolves and the chirping of strange insects, and remembered.
Being an unmarried
pregnant woman did not bother her; the talk of snooty politicians and
their wives was of no consequence. However, her father was a
minister and would lose his standing in society if one of his daughters
sinned so flagrantly. Better to lose a daughter than lose his
whole flock, he said. Mother said nothing, deferring to her
husband in all matters. Mary, to her credit, was outraged by her
words, but to no effect.
And as for Thomas... it was better that he did not find out where she
went. His rising political star could not survive such a
scandal. Juliette missed him terribly, but resolved to keep this
secret from him forever.
My dearest sister,
I have enclosed a sketch of my new
house--it is so good to have a roof
over my head! The house is small and coarse but it serves its
purpose. Building materials are plentiful just beyond the valley,
where oaks grow thickly in the river bottom. I traded cooking and
gardening for materials and labor, and I care for my neighbors'
children occasionally. I suppose I need the practice. I
have spent the last of my money on food for the winter. I expect
the baby to be born around April or May. I very much wish I could
spend a bit on another dress for myself but I must put survival before
Early Winter 1845
It is so lonely here. I have
of my neighbors in several days; the cold and snow keep everyone
indoors and extra time must be spent with the livestock. I am
showing now and trying to rest as much as possible. Sometimes I
feel very unsafe; not that anything bad has happened, but the isolation
makes one imagine all sorts of horrible things. It's not at all
like back East where you are always aware
of people on every side of you. I am trying to be brave, but it
I have been studying every book
on my shelf and learning how to run a
farm and raise crops and livestock. I will be very prepared when
spring comes! I also discovered a book of games--did you slip
that into my trunk? If so, I thank you; it has been a source of
much amusement and I even constructed a crude sort of chessboard for
myself. Alas, I make a very predictable opponent.
Wonderful news! The endless
winter has ended, and I have had my
baby. I named him Thomas for his father. He seems to have
my eyes but when they're so small it's hard to tell which parent they
favor. The less said about the actual childbirth, the
better. I don't wish to frighten you from having children of your
My neighbor, Mrs. O'Reilly, loaned me
a crib, which was very kind of her.
Having an infant in the house is exhausting, but he is very sweet and
cheerful and will be a good companion in my great Western
adventure. I no longer feel so alone. I am even happy to
wear my boring grey dress again; the purple shirt and trousers I
Mr. Tellerman were a bit embarrassing.
In between feedings and washings, I
have managed to get some vegetables
planted and a fence installed so the neighbors' cows don't eat my
The homestead is very cozy and I
think Thomas and I will be very happy
I have never been so tired in my
life. The garden is all weeds,
young Thomas is very demanding, and I can hardly keep my eyes
open! I must admit I cannot wait until Thomas gets older so he
can take over some of the chores. I apologize for not writing for
so long but I barely have time to eat, much less write. Things
will get better, I am sure. I am determined to make this work.
Thomas is a joy, a cheerful,
industrious baby with much curiosity about
everything. The shopkeeper gave him a toy, a pink rabbit, that he
plays with constantly, and the Brutys loaned us a child's chamber pot,
painted a shocking shade of red. I cannot wait until he masters
its use! Diapers everywhere!
My dearest sister,
I hope this letter finds you
well. I was very sorry to hear about
Mother's illness. Please tell her I am thinking about her and
wishing for a speedy recovery.
Thomas has entered the township
school and is making friends.
Prairie Valley has increased in population; many families traveling out
west stop here to water their horses, and then just stay. The
soil is good, and the valley protects us from the worst of the Plains
weather. There is a definite need for more shops and commerce,
and I am actually considering opening a business of my own now that the
homestead is well established.
I treated myself to some new clothes for both of us, then stopped by
Miss Kitty's for a drink. The saloon just opened and she and Miss
Rosie are hopeful that business will pick up soon. (It amuses me
to think of Father's reaction if he knew his oldest daughter drinks
spirits at saloons run by ladies of ill repute!)
I have been hard at work building a
shelter for the animals. We
now have three cows, some pigs, and a horse named Flamingo (Thomas
named him; don't ask).
I want to buy some chickens, and then
we will be pretty much
self-sufficient. I will be so glad when the construction is
I still miss you and I hope someday
you and Charles and the kids can
come out to visit me. I think you would like this place; it takes
some getting used to, but there is nowhere I would rather be.
The Kinzie farm in 1855
The weeks and years passed quickly for Juliette and Thomas. She
became well-respected in Prairie Valley for her fine cooking, and she
played a mean game of chess. She claimed she had never played
before arriving in Prairie Valley, but nobody believed her.
And then one day, while Juliette was scouting for a location for her
shop, a visitor arrived at the homestead.
"Hello, young man! Can you tell me who lives here?"
"I live here with my mother. Her name is Juliette Kinzie,"
answered the boy.
The man hesitated. "And what is your name?"
"Thomas," he said.
"Thomas. That's a good name," the man said slowly.
Juliette came home a half hour later. "Ma, a man was here while
you were gone. He wanted to know who lives here," Thomas said.
"Who was he?"
"I don't know, just a man. He looked at me strangely."
"Well, you are strange, so that makes sense," she replied with a laugh,
hugging him close. Strangers came to Prairie Valley all the time,
and she thought no more of the mysterious visitor.