1857: Jane (Caldwell) Kephart to Isabella Beck

This letter was written by Jane (Caldwell) Kephart (1832-18xx), the wife of Emanuel Kephart (1825). Jane was born in Pennsylvania, the daughter of James Caldwell (1800-1850) and Martha Montgomery (1803-1880) of Allegheny, Pennsylvania. When this letter was written in 1857, the Kepharts had been living in North Pepin, Minnesota, for at least a year. By the time of the 1860 US Census, however, the Kephart family had left Minnesota and returned east to Fallston, Bearver county, Pennsylvania, with their 9 year-old daughter Susan Kephart. By 1869, the family had relocated to Pittsburgh where Emanuel worked as a machinist.

The letter contains a delightful description of the region around Lake Pepin — the widest naturally occurring part of the Mississippi river — 60 miles downriver from St. Paul, Minnesota. The letter was datelined from North Pepin.

Engraving on 1857 Letter by Kephart


North Pepin [Minnesota]
June 27th 1857

Dear Becks,

To one and all, Jane sends greeting and hopes that this letter may find you all  as it leaves us quite well. Now Bell, don’t you give any of your significient sniff’s and say she might have written sooner. She has nothing else to do but lend a listening ear, dear friend, and I, in return, will so far humble myself at to acknowledge that an apology is certainly due for this apparent neglect, and must ask permission to throw myself upon your tender mercy and plead the extension of your pardoning grace. Yours are kind, good hearts and Jane knows — at least hopes — that she is excused. Meanwhile, although I have not written to you, you have often claimed a kind thought, and been as often talked of in connection with “loved ones at home.” I received a letter from Mary the first of last week dated May 30th in which she stated that Mother Beck & Bell [Isabella] had been to see them. Oh! how I should like to have been there! I know that the absent one was kindly spoken of and doubtless the kind wish expressed that I too could have strolled with you around those garden walks which perhaps I may in God’s Providence be permitted to do  again. We know not what may be our lot, but this we do know — that God is gracious, that our times are in His hands, and if ’tis His will, we may yet meet on this side the grave. God will take care of His own, but I would not have you infer that I am not happy here. Far from it. I am delighted with this part of the West, as well as with the kindness that has shown to me by my relatives. I am very comfortable and happy too, but thoughts of home often steal upon me and Jane often longs to see again those who are left behind. To have them here would add greatly to my happiness since I should then have no cause for uneasiness whatever. But I must learn to bear the separation better, and indulge the hope that in the future we may meet again.

I have most excellent health, a good appetite, and for this feel thankful. Manuel too is well and likes his new employment — viz: farming. You should see how he is sunburnt. I call him my “nager beau.” He is a kind, indulgent husband and does all in his power to atone for the loss of home & friends. The folks are quite busy now ploughing corn of which we have over 40 acres planted. Mother Kephart and I spend a great deal of our time in our gardens. We each have one. She was about done planting and arranging hers when I came so I had a new plot laid out for my seeds & roots, which by the way are doing finely. And we have rival gardens but both of them are so well kept that ‘twould be hard to say which beats. I wish you could have some of our fine vegetables and see them grow. And I had almost forgot to speak of the beautiful wild flowers with which this country abounds. Each day brings in some fresh wonder and with each new variety the wish goes forth, that the “folks at home,” could see it too. I shall try to send seed of some of them and then of course you can see them too. My vases are always filled with beautiful flowers. The seed flowers I brought are not in bloom yet but these make up for it.

We live right above Lake Pepin and see the boats as they pass up and down to their various destinations. Sometimes the lake is quite calm looking a beautiful deep blue. Then again winds blow and tis very wild & rough. Across the lake, just opposite, are the Minnesota Bluffs & Cooleys they call them here. We used to call them ravines at home and yet they are not ravines either. The hills are to say the least magnificently grand! They are very high & extend a long distance (that is, each bluff does). Then comes the Cooley or valley between hills. Then right back of this valley, another hill & so on. I wish I could sketch it for Bell. Twould make a beautiful crayon One line of hills covered with foliage, then back peeping through the coolies you see the other range. This extends for miles — much farther than my eye can reach from our hills (the top of these bluffs is one vast level prairie). The land there is said to be the richest in the world. I have not been up as far as St. Paul yet but expect to take a trip some day. We could go from here in about a day. There is a pretty looking town a few miles above us called Lake City. We can see it from North Pepin — our town. There is a good public school here — 2 churches & the stores are well-supplied with useful articles which can be had for money and that can be had too for working.

Mary tells me you have Mr. Q. now as your county superintendent. How do you like the change? Bell, you must write and tell me all the news. And Lida, you must write too, or if must is too imperative, please do write — both of you. Give my love to Mr. & Mrs. Mitchell. Also to William & Anna. Go often to Mt. Pleasant. I expect a letter from there this evening and Oh! I do hope I may not be disappointed. I had a letter from Lizzie in Monday of this week dated June 6th. She was quite well when she wrote and seems much pleased now with Quincy. Tis the second letter I have had from here. In the first, she was quite out of sorts and I was very much troubled about her lest she should not be happy. Oh but I did feel loathe to leave here when we came to Quincy. Twas the last time that I must sever, but hope is ever promising that we shall meet again. But dear folks, you must please excuse this naughty scribbling for I am in a great hurry to be done for the mosquitoes will devour me. We have had a nice shower this afternoon and they are driven within doors. They are the greatest pest in this country (every pleasure has its sting). The folks say I stand them very well. They do not trouble so much the second season you spend with them. If twere not for this hope, I should say to Kep, “Let’s go back.” But we must not let these varmints drive us back for as the country becomes settled and cleared, they too, I hope, will settle & quit.

But this brings me to the end of my sheet so I must close with the request that the “school marm” won’t take too much notice of Jane’s blunders and that one and all will please accept the kindest wishes of two western friends who in return for good wishes, solicit a letter from your house at your earliest convenience, we remain now as ever truly yours, — Manuel and Jane Kephart



Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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