Writing My Life

Now and Then

… my grandmother: a pioneer in her own right …


I was asked to speak in church about pioneers, and the minute I accepted I knew I needed to talk about my mom’s mother – also named Rebecca. As the entire speech is little lengthy for a post, the following is the first part of my talk. I will post the second part as soon as I write it. Yes, I presented a half-written talk. Oh, and heck back because I am going to post photos as well. But not tonight. 

Officially the pioneer era ended with the advent of the transcontinental railroad. No longer did immigrants or other western settlers have to cross the American continent via covered wagons or handcarts. Nevertheless, pioneering and the pioneer spirit lived on. While my family history does include individuals who ventured forth to Zion in prairie schooners, it also consists of grandparents who continued to settle communities beyond the Wasatch front well into the twentieth century. Among those was my grandmother Rebecca Wheelwright Howe.

Little Rebecca Wheelwright

Grandma Howe’s childhood read like Cinderella’s younger years. Like the fairytale heroine, Grandma was born into a loving family where the beautiful young mother died at age 28. My grandmother was one of 6 children, all under the age of 10, who were left motherless. That was a heavy burden for her father Mathew Wheelwright, but somehow he managed to care for them as a single parent until he met and married Amanda, a woman from Sweden. Grandma’s life dramatically changed again.

While Amanda managed the household, she did not extend the loving care and concern to her stepchildren. When she and my great-grandfather had two sons of their own, Grandma and her siblings were not allowed to eat at the same table with the “new” family. Instead they were sent to the kitchen to eat their meals, a simple fare, while those at the table enjoyed three or four courses that included dessert.

Once my grandmother learned her letters and numbers, she was taken out of fourth grade to stay home and help her stepmother with household chores, watching children, feeding chickens, and tending the garden. By age 12 she was hired out to other households to fend for herself and provide added income for her family. One particular employer was especially unkind, and Grandma wished so much that she could return home, even if it meant living under the same roof as her stepmother.

Fredrick James Howe as a baby and a dashing young man

I doubt that my grandmother dreamed a prince or a knight who would sweep in on a mighty charger and rescue her from a life of drudgery, but she did meet the love of her life one spring day while walking down 25th Street in Ogden. My grandfather, whose family accepted the gospel while living in England, immigrated to Utah when he was three.  At age 20 Frederick had developed many skills, and among those, he broke wild horses – more of a cowboy than a prince, I guess. But when he saw Rebecca Wheelwright and she saw Frederick James Howe, sparks flew and they were married not long after meeting on that spring day on 25th Street.

After 8 years of working as a butcher and grocer, Grandpa decided it might be best for their growing family to move north to Idaho. Having visited his parents there and seeing the fields of green

The Traditional Wedding Pose

wheat, he believed he could be successful at dry-farming, and so they packed all their household furniture, a cow, two horses, some chickens, a wagon AND my grandpa into a boxcar and headed north. That must have been such a pleasant journey??!!

Grandma and her 4 little ones followed a week later on the train. The conductor who helped her off asked her, “Where did you have all those kiddies?”

“On one ticket right there in the car,” she replied, and the railroad man enjoyed a good laugh.

Life homesteading the 160 acres in Marsh Center, Idaho was so hard, and they quickly learned why it was called DRY FARMING. They had to haul all the water they used in barrels for two or three miles, and not a drop was wasted. Four more children were born while they labored there, and two were taken away.

To be continued.

Author: rbs

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2 thoughts on “… my grandmother: a pioneer in her own right …

  1. ‘Love reading about the olden days. Waiting for installment #2!

    • I just collected some wonderful photos of this grandmother and am anxious to write part 2 and document with more pictures. She was amazing in my eyes! =)

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