Chapter 12. New Settlements in the Wilderness


Raising a log cabin, handling a flax crop, or cornhusking, accompanied by quilting, sewing, spinning, cooking, and serving, was followed by a feast, a party, and a dance with a fiddler involved many hands. The custom was to send at least one person from each family to help, so as to claim help when needed in return. The myth of independence persists in spite of evidence of mutual dependence.


Painful experiences are always better in retrospect. Difficulties always seem less drastic after the worry has passed. Deprivations and making do may be normal at the time, but later they may seem like fun. With time, rose-colored glasses get a deeper and richer hue.

Underground railroad

Grandmother Brown’s family TSwere abolitionists; they all hated slavery. She saw white men with whips and chains looking for their slaves, and had sympathy for one in iron cuffs who had been caught. Her Uncle Jack Brown, living in Albany, took runaways in his phaeton, disguised and veiled as his wife, toward freedom.

She saw Indians

Grandmother Brown was too late, settling in Iowa in 1848, for prairie wolves and Indians. She said, “’Twas sufficiently settled up in Iowa by the time we got there.” But she saw two braves once and gave them food under a tree in her yard.


If the typical American is good, it’s because he or she’s been tempered by dishonesty, selfishness, greed, and all manner of refining fires. The founding fathers may have been gentlemen, but they owned slaves and understood that business was business. An unscrupulous business may be perfectly legal when its subterfuge is in fine print. On a frontier, as in war, where laws can be enforced only weakly, lawlessness and dishonesty may be seen as claims of personal freedom, and this claim seems to have become part of the American personality.