Thursday, July 19, 2018

Alexander Cairns' 1909 Trip to the West

My great-great-grandfather, Alexander Cairns (1843-1921) of Mt. Hope, Wisconsin, led an interesting life.

In the Fennimore Times of August 4, 1909, there is a note:
Later issues of the Fennimore Times printed letters from him describing their trip. I discovered the existence of the letters in the mid-1990s during a visit to the DAR library in DC. Only upon visiting the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2018 was I able to get my hands on copies of the letters.

On August 9, 1909, he wrote a dispatch from Wallace, Idaho entitled "The Far West". It began, "We are away out here in a queer country, but interesting nonetheless. It mostly describes the train journey from Prairie du Chien. He seemed to evaluate the scenery mostly based on its suitability for farming. They stopped in Wallace to visit Alex's brother (my great-great-grand uncle), Henry E. Howes.

On August 22, 1909, he wrote a dispatch from Lewiston, Idaho, which the paper titled "Cairns' Western Trip." He described the mining operations in Wallace in fairly great detail, and their trip from Wallace to Lewiston via Coeur d'Alene and Spokane.

His third dispatch was from Seattle. Undated, it was published a week after the second, in the September 15 Fennimore Times. It was also titled "Cairns' Western Trip." Here, he catches the reader up on Lewiston, Idaho, specifically how the farming is done around there, and which former residents of the Mt. Hope area he visited. I had always assumed he visited his nephews on this trip, but now I see that they were in the southern part of Idaho, which is not a convenient detour, even 109 years later.

Towards the end of that third letter, he writes, "One thing for sure, it is a hot spot, 105 in the shade. Don't think they go to church much here. In fact there is no need of it. If they can stand the heat here they need fear nothing anywhere else."

That was the last letter in the index. On a hunch, I checked subsequent issues of the Times, and found a September 7 letter from Thomas, Washington, entitled "Cairns at the Coast". Here he describes his impressions of Spokane, Yakima and Seattle, and the World's Fair. I was struck by the fact that he compared it to the Chicago World's Fair -- of course he had been to that one, too. They were headed to Portland as their last stop on the West Coast.

Unfortunately, I have no further letters. Whether he didn't write again, the Times failed to publish them, or they didn't show up in the index, I don't know.

We know that he and "Lizzie" did not go home directly from Portland, however, due to this note from the Frankfort (Ky.) Index on September 29: “Mr. and Mrs. Alex. Cairns, who were guests of their old friend Herman Johnson, left this noon for their home in Mt. Hope, Michigan. [sic] They are on their way home from a trip to the coast.”

The October 6 Fennimore Times reports, "Alex. Cairns and wife got back from their trip to the coast Saturday. They had a fine time but are glad to be home again."
Post a Comment