Pioneer Boyhood of John Walker

Pioneer Boyhood of John Walker – from Franklin Curtis Wedge 1915


John Walker was the nephew of James Sheridan who had taken a claim on the Southeast side of Lake Charlotte.  The Walker family started in August 1856 from St. Anthony by ox team and wagon. After three days they reached Lake Charlotte where his Uncle had a partly built log shanty.  His family stayed with the Sheridan’s while his father built a cabin on the banks of Lake Walker (Presently Lake Wagner).  One of their first jobs was to make the winter’s supply of hay for the three cows that they had brought with them.  That fall the weather was very dry and forest fires rage in every direction burning a great deal of the hay they had put up for their cows.  The settlers fought those fires night and day until the danger was past.


 In November 1856 they moved into their log house and that night six inches of snow fell which stayed until spring.  His younger brother Thomas Walker Jr. was born on January 2, 1857 being the second white child born in Rockford Township. The three cows that they had brought with them proved to be very valuable.  They were the only cows in the immediate neighborhood and supplied many of the settlers with milk and butter. The settlers planted their corn and potatoes with large hoes.  As soon as they finished planting they had to start grubbing the ground around the plants. This was to keep the weeds, trees and brush from growing back. In the summer of 1857 the hordes of grasshoppers made their appearance and threatened to destroy their crops. They did not know what to do.

One of the most effectual methods was for the family to walk back and forth among the plants with cow bells, tin pans and wash boilers making all the noise possible. This did not allow the pests to remain undisturbed all day.  The hoppers were inactive at night.  That way a little of the corn and potatoes was saved.  Some of the other garden plants   survived.   Many of the settlers did loose their crops.  That spring they made a little maple sugar and syrup.  Game and fish were plentiful but they had very little time to hunt or fish. It took so much of their time to care for their crops. It is interesting to note that John writes that here were no boats on Lake Charlotte except two Indian canoes. These were made from trunks of trees hollowed out with axes.  They were very dangerous as they could upset very easily. 


In December 1857 his father, Thomas Walker walked to St. Anthony.  There he purchased a barrel of flour for $20, a barrel of pork for $40 and a few articles of tea, coffee and sugar.  This apparently was paid for from the balance of a loan that he had made to the store owners earlier.  He hired a teamster to haul the load to their home on Lake Walker.  The grasshoppers did not come back until the fall of 1875 so they had several years free of that pest.  In the fall of 1858 they planted four aces of winter wheat and had a good yield the next year.  Mr. Walker rigged up a threshing floor of sheets and they threshed about four bushels of wheat.  This was taken to a mill on Rockford for grinding into flour.  The water powered mill had just started and limited each customer to a small mount of grist (flour).  They divided the flour among their needy neighbors.  Shortly after that, the dam at the mill started a leak so the mill was out of order.  The Walkers had a coffee mill (grinder) that bolted to a wall. One day Mrs. Walker was grinding corn which they used for coffee.  She decided she could make corn meal the same way by grinding it over and over until it was fine enough for table use.  It worked and she surprised the family with Johnny cake for dinner.  When the neighbors heard about this they started to bring their little bags of corn to be ground.  She later tried to grind wheat the same way and it turned out to be the very best graham flour after sifting.


Rockford mill started up again in the spring but before many waiting patrons were supplied with a small amount of grist the dam washed out again and it was back to using the coffee grinder.  The dam was repaired but it was several years before it could be relied upon.  During the Civil war prices for items that settlers had to buy were high. Prices for farm products went down and corn coffee sweetened with maple sugar was a luxury on the settler’s table.  Dried ironwood leaves were used for tea but were not so good.  Roasted barely became the universal beverage and later ripe peas roasted was a favorite substitute for coffee. 


In 1860 a school was started about two miles northwest of Rockford.  John did not go that year as it was four miles by road to the school.  The next year his father and John made a trail through the woods which shortened the distance to two and one half miles.  Due to work on the farm he attended school only fifteen days. (School terms were for only 3 months in the summer) The next year he attended school regularly. Then a log school house was built and opened for winter school.  It was dismissed after one week before John had attended for one day.  The reason is not really clear in the history book. The following summer the school opened and after two months the teacher, Sarah Spaulding contracted diphtheria and died.  That was the end of John Walker’s schooling however he did continue studies in spare hours and during the winter evenings.   


The Walker family is mentioned in the account of the settlers panic and taking refuge on the Beebe Lake Island following the Dustin family massacre in 1863.