Saturday, March 20, 2021

Bovina Ex-Pats: Robert Pringle

Robert Pringle’s time in Bovina was relatively brief, but it did make an impact on him, given a lengthy letter he wrote from the west in 1890.

Robert was born in the Scottish borders town of Hawick in August 1825. The area around Hawick was from where a number of Bovina’s early settlers came. He was married to Joan Ormiston or Ormistone in Hawick in July 1849 (his wife variously shows up as Joan, Johanna, and Joanna in the records). They lived in Hawick where in the 1851 Scottish census he was listed as a baker. His obituary noted that he was employed “as weighmaster in one of the large woolen mills of Hawick. He received an appointment in the London Customs service where he continued for several years.” They had four children in Scotland, James, Joan, Anna and David. Joan died in 1853 at the age of 14 months. It seems that Robert came to America around 1855, going to Illinois to buy a farm. On his way back to Scotland to bring over his family, he stopped in Bovina to visit a couple of his uncles, James and John Murray, his mother’s brothers. The entire Pringle family arrived in New York City on July 17, 1858, having sailed from Liverpool on the Harvest Queen. The family included their three surviving children.

They settled in Ogle County, Illinois but in 1860, the family headed east to settle in Bovina. Exactly where I am not sure, but it was in the Bovina Center hamlet, then known as Brushland. It appears they were at the lower end of the hamlet. One reference in the old genealogy files I ‘inherited’ from Fletcher Davidson notes that Pringle built Mr. Davidson’s house, now the home of Bonnie and Ed Denison.  Joan had three more children after coming to the U.S. Robert was born while they were in Illinois. Elizabeth Mary and John were born in Bovina. Elizabeth Mary died in December 1863 and was buried in the Bovina cemetery, though the grave is not marked. Early in his days in Bovina, on March 3, 1860, Robert became a U.S. Citizen. The Pringle family were in Bovina for barely five years, leaving in the fall 1865. While in Bovina, they were members of the Bovina U.P. Church.

The family headed west to Grant County, Wisconsin where they had a farm. After about fifteen years in Wisconsin Robert and two of his sons, Robert and David, traveled to Dakota territory and decided to buy farmland there. He came back to Wisconsin to finish the fall harvest and prepare for the move. Robert’s wife Joan became ill and died a few days later in September 1879. She is buried in Wisconsin. His wife’s death put off the final move to Dakota until the following spring. In April 1885, Robert was married again, to Mary Cash or Cosh, someone he had met on a visit to Scotland in 1883. He stayed in what became South Dakota the rest of his life, dying in June 1896. He is buried in Bridgewater, McCook County, South Dakota.

On December 28, 1890, Robert sent a letter to the Bovina U.P. pastor, J.B. Lee. He notes that he tried to send a letter for several years but finally got one off. It appears he had not heard much from Bovina, or at least from Rev. Lee. The letter was sent to Brushland but by 1890, the official name had gone back to Bovina Center and Rev. Lee had moved to Franklinville, NY. It is not clear how the letter got to the newspaper. It’s possible that the letter got forwarded to Rev. Lee in Franklinville then he sent it on to the newspaper to have it printed.

Letter from South Dakota

Bridgewater, S.D., Dec. 28, 1890

Rev J.B. Lee, Brushland, Del. Co., N.Y.:

            Dear Mr. Lee – This is a season of the year that cannot fail to awaken old memories, at least it is so with me. It is twenty-five years and three months since I left Bovina, where I had more real happiness than I have enjoyed in any other place in America. At many different times since I left I had made up my mind to write to you, but always failed; and not it is very embarrassing to write, from the uncertainty of the changes time may have made.

            I got a letter from William Campbell some years ago, which I enjoyed very much, and to which I replied in due time. Twenty-five years makes great changes in a community. Those who were then about 60 years of age, as well as many who were much younger, will have passed away; those who were then in their prime will now be old people, and those who were then the children at school will now be in their prime. I hope this will find you in your old home, also Mrs. Lee.

            It was 34 years last October since I first heard you speak. Your subject was “Polygamy and Slavery, “ and I remember how well I enjoyed the address. I had just got into Bovina about sunset that night, on my way from Illinois to Scotland, and, as Uncle John Murray was going to hear you, I went with him. It was a campaign speech, and a good one, when Fremont and Buchanan were the candidates for the Presidency. In those days the Republican party advocated such a system of government as I thought ought to have the hearty support of every honest and patriotic man. Then their arguments were all founded on justice and reason. In those days they did not need to resort to falsehood or misrepresentation, as they do now and as they have done for many years past. You may perhaps be shocked at me for using such language as this. You will doubtless think me a renegade. If so, you are correct. When the Republican party failed to keep their promise to the people, int regard to the reduction of the burdens made necessary by the wary, and when I was convinced of the horrid corruption to which the party resorted to keep themselves in power, and when men in high official positions, who were known to be guilt of great frauds on the government, were allowed to go without punishment, merely through partisan motives, then I said, most emphatically, that the Republican party were unworthy of the confidence and support of all honest and patriotic men who had a desire to see the affairs of the nation managed on good, sound business principles.

            But I find I am drifting away from what I began to write about, which was simply to refer to old times, and ask you, as a great favor, if you would be so good as to answer it at your convenience, and give me such information as you think will be interesting.

            Some time ago, I mailed a newspaper to William Campbell and one to you, which I hope you got, but I fear neither of you will indorse my views. I am getting quite a number of converts to my doctrine now. The extreme hard times farmers have had for years past is a powerful ally in helping to open the people’s eyes, as the late elections show.

            It was 31 years last November since I took up house in Brushland. I can just fancy I see all the old hills and woods and the pure, clear water of the Delaware rolling past within a few yards of the house, and all the old familiar faces come before the mind’s eye as I write. At Xmas that year you sent us a new clock, and Mrs. Lee sent a nice new dress to Annie and her mother, pieces of which we can yet point out in bed quilts.

            Twenty-seven years ago yesterday, we laid our little daughter, Elizabeth Mary, in her grave in the new grave-yard, a place where money and good taste might make a beautiful resting place for the dead. Twenty-seven years will have added many mounds, covering both old, middle-aged and young.

            I often think if I were to revisit Brushland again, I would arrange to get there on a Sabbath morning and go to church. I think no one would know me, and there would be few that I could recognize. I visited Scotland in 1883. I got home the night before Christmas, and never in my life until then – except when my wife died  - did I realize what true loneliness was. There I was for days, going about the streets of my native town, where I used to know nearly every person and nearly every person knew me. I had been absent for about 26 years. On my return I was an entire stranger. I knew no person and no person knew me; but when it became know I was there, people of all classes came to see me and gave me a most hearty welcome. My trip extended over a period of six months. I did enjoy myself very much. My health had been very poor for years in Wisconsin. What, with disappointments in business and my wife’s death in 1889 [sic – this should read 1879]. I was almost a physical wreck; but the ocean voyage both was first-rate. I was never seasick, and the company of old friends, all vieing with each other to make me happy and comfortable, had a most beneficial effect on my health. 

            For several years before my visit I had written very frequently to the Hawick newspapers. This brought me to the notice of many prominent people who were not in Hawick when I left. Mr. John Nichol Skinner, whom you visited, died in 1881. I was frequently at his widow’s house. She is a kinswoman of mine. The Rev. John Thompson, whom you met, died some two years ago. I think his widow, who is very wealthy, was married last August. Mr. and Mrs. Nixon have been dead many years. He used to write me regularly as long as he lived.

            In 1879 I came out to see this country, which was then without an inhabitant hereabout. James, my oldest sone, and David, my second son, came with me. We liked the appearance of the country and we took up a homestead of 160 acres each, close together. James and David remained in the country to break up some of the land, while I went back to attend to our last crops in Wisconsin. This was in May and June. My wife died in September, just when we were getting things ready to leave, so we put off our journey until the spring of 1880.

            Annie, our only surviving daughter, had been engaged to be married about the time of her mother’s death, to a very steady young man, a blacksmith by trade. He was working at the gold mines at Leadville, Colorado. My wife took ill on the 2d of September and died on the 9th. Annie wrote at once to her intended husband what had happened, and that she could not leave us in the position in which we were then placed; but he had started before the letter reached him. So they were married soon after he came, and he went back alone, and she went the following February. After David learned of his mother’s death, he came back to Wisconsin and stayed over the winter. Then, in the spring, David, Robert, John and myself started with out cattle, horses, implements and household furniture, feed for the horses and supplies for yourselves, also lumber for house and stable. It required 3 ½ cars of the largest size. By the time we came out with our stock, the railroad had been extended past here, and a station bult only ½ mile from David’s land, 1 ½ miles from James’s and mine, and 2 miles from Robert’s. We live on the main line of the Iowa and Dakota division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. The president and several directors of the road are the persons who advised me to come here, and they gave me all the transportation free, as well as always passing myself and family free, whenever we had occasion to travel, for which I feel truly grateful.

            Annie and her husband did not like Colorado very well, so they came here in the fall of 1880. They live in town, only 1 ½ miles away, so we are all together. After I got home from Scotland I built a good new house, and in the spring of 1885 a person with whom I became acquainted while in Scotland came out to take charge of it. My children are all married except the youngest son; he is at home. We spent the Christmas at James’s and we had quite a talk about Bovina and its people. So I promised them I would write you, and perhaps you would answer and give us some news of old friends and the changes that time is making.

            I am happy to say my wife likes this country first-rate. My own health is very good. John got his leg broke – a compound fracture – on the 9th of September, 1889, and was laid up about eight months, so the past summer I did a great deal of the work. This fall I plowed over 75 acres. We use three horses, and the plow is on wheels, with a spring seat for the driver.

            For the last three years it has bene extremely dry here, and only about half crops; water is very scarce for stock; most of the wells have gone dry. My son, Robert, got a deep well bored lately, and attached a wind-mill to pump the water into a tank. So we get all we need there.

            Should you get this, if any of my relations are still about Bovina, will you please give them my regards? My relations are members of the families of my late uncles, James and John Murray. Any information about them will greatly oblige us; also about Mrs. Lee, yourself and family, Mrs. Paton, your younger sister, and Hamilton. I would like information about the following persons, outside of my relatives: Thomas Lewis, John Phyfe, William Richardson, Walter Forest, John Miller, Robert and Mrs. Scott, Charles Smith and wife, Thomas Hastings, Robert O. Gladstone, David Oliver and wife, William Clark (editor of Recorder), George Currie, Archibald Forman, William Wight and William Campbell. I ask you to remember me to these people, only if you have a convenient opportunity to do so. But I doubt I am making this longer than you will have time or pleasure to read. My family all desire to be kindly remembered to Mrs. Lee and yourself. They have the photo you gave them at the Sabbath school, which they preserve affectionately.

            Should you have time and opportunity to answer this, I assure you it will be gratefully received. Hopping this will find Mrs. Lee, yourself and family and other old friends, in good health, as it leaves us all at present.

I am, dear sir, Yours sincerely, Robert Pringle. 

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