Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
By Duane Stanley, © 2012
It was early spring in 1861, three weeks after President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 volunteers to join the troops in uniform to stand up for their nation in the face of the impending Civil War. On a shower-filled Sunday outside Cincinnati, at the family homestead where she was born, the young Julia Watkins stood in her "silk wedding dress with a full skirt and flowing sleeves, having puffed undersleeves of white lace; it was thought to be very fine for those times." Next to her stood Alvah P. Frost, as they pledged faithful love to one another. Her father, Benjamin Watkins, led the short ceremony that united his elder daughter to the young man who had come from Minnesota to study for the ministry at the family academy where Watkins had been hired by a wealthy farmer to educate his four sons.
Two weeks after the wedding, Alvah (she always called him Mr. Frost) and his new bride would head for Minnesota to begin their married life together. The expanding railway would speed them to Lacrosse, Wis., travelling from Cincinnati through Indianapolis, on to Chicago, and west to Lacrosse. From there they boarded the paddle wheeler, War Eagle, on their way to the new state of Minnesota at its doorway, St. Paul.
Picture those adventurous days as we listen to Julia, in her own words from the family history she wrote over half a century later. We begin with her wedding shopping during the month prior to their wedding day.
"Those were busy days before my wedding, for the time at home was short. Mother had made me twenty-five yards of rag carpet, together with new quilts, and my clothes were ready before we returned to the farm. Father gave us a hundred dollars for a start, and mother and I went to the city to buy my housekeeping outfit."
Frost described the streets crowded with new recruits and shiny weapons, and the excitement that electrified the city. In that bustle, "Mother and I kept our nerve and made our purchases. We went into a china store and selected my dishes. She bought for me a full set of what was then new ware and called stone china; it was pure white. There were a dozen each of dinner, breakfast, and pie plates, as we called bread and butter plates, besides cups and saucers, sauce dishes, meat platters, deep dishes, tureens, and all complete. The tea cups were better than the ordinary, because they had handles.
"Tinware, knives and forks, a set of plated spoons, and best of all a shining Britannia teapot were added to my outfit. At the last mother took up the teapot, and asked me if I would like to have that. I at once replied that I should be delighted, and so she ordered it packed. How pleased I was; and though the polish is gone and it shows wear, I cherish it yet [50 years later], and recall that time of youth when the hands of my dear mother held up its pretty, silvered surface to catch the light, while outside the soldiers of the Union were drilling in the streets. Little did we dream what would be the fate of my wedding dishes selected so carefully that day in '61. We also bought for my outfit, muslin, table clothes, towels, and sixteen rolls of cotton batting, the latter for comforters.
"When all our purchases were finished, we found they amounted to about fifty dollars, and oh, my young relatives, I felt rich that day, and satisfied! The merchant had securely packed my dishes in hay in a barrel and they and our other purchases were loaded into the army wagon." At home they began immediately to make up the muslin and comforters. "We were making the latter for the cold land of the North, Minnesota, for there I was to go with my bridegroom. I remember that we put seven rolls of batting (seven pounds) in one of those comforters; it looked to me when it was finished something like a feather bed, but it proved a wise article in my outfit."
Many times Julia evidenced that she had carefully considered what moving to the northern state would demand of her. She contrasted her expectations with what she saw in the crowd of those waiting to board the War Eagle with her at Lacrosse: "It was evening and a big crowd was waiting to go on board. I found among the throng, fine ladies whose husbands were going out to take up claims far from civilization as they had always known it. I wondered how their gold bracelets and fine cloth dresses made by skillful dressmakers would look in some claim shanty. One was out for the first time without her baby's nurse, but she was sensible enough to say that she knew it would mean the sacrifice of many things to start as a poor man's wife."
"The whistle on our steamboat certainly justified its name, War Eagle, for it was a wild scream. When near St. Paul, a brass band came on board, and as we approached our destination it began to play some fine airs, which were very heartening. When we entered port a cannon was fired, which seemed to be the signal for all the coachmen to come from the heights and, in a long procession, drive down the steep dug way, making a most picturesque scene. I had never seen the like of these coaches before .... As I looked upon them for the first time I could but think of Cinderella's coach. The body of the coach was red, while the long boot at the back for carrying luggage was black. Soon we were walking down the gangplank, and our feet touched the soil of a new world, the great Northwest."
We will continue our pioneering experience with the Frosts and Watkins in two weeks.
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Next important event: Tuesday, May 22, at 7 p.m., you're invited to see and hear our guest speaker and author Dean Urdahl deliver a brand new message on the Dakota War. Bring friends and enjoy a great evening among more friends at Kimball's historic City Hall. Refreshments included and there is no charge. Everyone is welcome.
Welcome new members to the Kimball Area Historical Society and thank you for renewing your existing memberships. If you didn't already know how valuable your membership is, it's the heartbeat of our organization. Our goal is to make history relevant for today's students and visitors. Seeking a meaningful local organization to be a part of? Kimball Area Historical Society membership is affordable, offers friendships galore, a legacy like no other with stimulating, entertaining programs and speakers.
Mark your calendar and expect more details for the upcoming All-School Reunion scheduled for Aug. 11, during Kimball Days. The last one was held in 1986 (26 years ago). Keep an eye on this column, come to our events in May and June to hear more about it. Everyone is welcome. Celebrate this milestone.
For more information on the May 22 event, the All-School Reunion, membership, volunteering, or general information about Kimball history, please contact the Kimball Area Historical Society at P.O. Box 55, Kimball MN 55353, or phone (320) 398-5250, e-mail
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To recognize and enhance the irreplaceable features that give every community its distinctive character, learn more on May 22.
National Preservation Month