Iowa – A glimpse into the lives of our ancestors

Dorothy Schwieder, professor of history, Iowa State University, wrote a brief summary of Iowa’s history which can be found on the State Library of Iowa’s webpage.  Iowa records June 1833 as the date for the first white settlement.  Iowa became a state in 1846.  Xaver Aleck arrived in the 1850s, and the Gage’s and DeJean’s came around 1880 (give or take a few years).  Can we still call them pioneers?  

Certainly not early pioneers, but land was still available into the 1870s and 1880s.  Even well after its admission as a state, Iowa continued to draw new settlers from eastern states and abroad.  I think we can call German immigrant Xaver Aleck a late pioneer given that he made a claim on “new” land, cleared it, and built first a shack, then a home.  Perhaps the Gage’s and DeJean’s are better categorized as settlers because, even if they arrived late in the game, they still had to build lives from scratch on remote farms.  Do you ever wonder what life was like for them?

Some months ago, I stumbled upon Aaron D. Hoyer’s diary, which has been transcribed and posted by his descendants on Iowa’s GenWeb page.  Mr. Hoyer’s biography was included in the History of Harrison County, Iowa, 1891.  He came to Harrison County in May 1878 from Berks County, Pennsylvania.  With him came his wife, Amelia, and six children, Frank, Louis, Ferdinand, Ernest, Bertha, and Millie.  Before arriving in Iowa, Mr. Hoyer was a hotelier, steamboat captain, and a canal boatman.  He traded it all in for farming in Iowa.  His mother was an immigrant from Baden, Germany.

Mr. Hoyer was a neighbor of George DeJean and the Nichols family in Harrison County, Iowa.  If you recall from my post on Edward Gage, his cousin, “Lizzi” Gage, married a Nichols man, and they housed him when he moved to Harrison County.  Mr. Hoyer’s diary is a treasure, and I encourage my family to peruse it.

Even though we have no known ties to the Hoyer family, his diary allows us to see what life was like for our ancestors in late 19th century Iowa.  He named his neighbors, described their interactions with each other, and recorded his daily farming activities.

Luella DeJean about 5 years old. I suspect her parents had this photo made after the death of her sisters, just in case… Private collection of the Rhoades Family.

The diary entries start in 1880 and continue through 1905.  In the 1880 census, George DeJean’s household consisted of his wife, Marion Tucker, his five-year-old daughter, Luella, and his brother, Daniel.  Mr. Hoyer routinely calls Luella “Lew”.  George and Marion lost their two other little girls in 1879 to diphtheria.  His son, Edwin, was born on 23 October 1880.  

Eleven-year-old Edward Gage was living with his parents in Brookfield, Illinois, in 1880.  Before finding this diary, I had Edward’s arrival in Iowa sometime between 1880 and 1890.  He is first mentioned by Mr. Hoyer in 1886 when he was 17 years old, possibly indicating that this is when he moved in at the Nichols farm.  

Since the Hoyers, DeJeans, and Nichols (Gages) appear to travel in the same social circles, this is likely when 11-year old Luella was becoming acquainted with Edward.  Though they were probably not “friends” with this 6-year age gap. Being a girl myself, I’m going to guess that Luella was perhaps beginning to be smitten by the older and handsome Edward starting at 13 or 14.  I can almost imagine her and her friend Bertha Hoyer giggling to each other every time they saw him at the Lyceum or Sunday school.

Mr. Hoyer mentions the Lyceum often as his children seem to like going.  I had to look up Lyceum.  I knew what it meant to Greeks in ancient history, but I had never heard it used in post-modern America.  It seems an American Lyceum was a show, like vaudeville.  And it was sometimes for public speeches. 

The diary is my basis for establishing George DeJean’s mother, Elizabeth Bullis, as having been in Iowa after 1880 since she is not otherwise known to have lived there.  I just forgot to mention it in her post.

Key entries are summarized below.  Mrs. Peckenpaugh (Mr. Hoyer’s descendant) transcribed the diary true to the original spellings and punctuations.  I have edited these excerpts for easier reading.

Saturday, March 6
– We tried to sow but it was froze too hard, so I went with Mr. Towne and Mr. Deuel to Dunlap where I got my wire note that I paid some time ago. Also got the blake drag fixed.  Marm, Frank and I went to a surprise party to George DeJeans. Had a nice time. Giles told me to fetch the cow if I wanted her as she calved today. I must bring her home Monday morning. G. E. Reiff finished putting in his wheat today.  Note:  I am uncertain whom the surprise party would have been for.  No one in the DeJean family was born in March before 1880.  Perhaps it was for a neighbor and was hosted at the DeJean home.
Wednesday, April 7 – Mrs. [Marion] DeJean washed and ironed for us today. I paid her 75c. Frank and I sowed and harrowed about 5 acres of oats. I took Mrs. DeJean home with the team.  NOTE:  There are several entries about taking laundry to Mrs. DeJean or driving between his farm and theirs so she could help.  Mr. Hoyer’s wife, Marm, was very sick and laid up in bed for most of the year.  Quite a few entries are about his worry for “Marm.”  Marion would have been about three months pregnant with little Edwin.  Around the time of Edwin’s birth, Mr. Hoyer had hired another girl short-term to help out around the house.
Friday, May 21 – Frank broke all day. I went to see Mr. Morton about a cow.  He was not at home. He came over this evening to see the cultivator. Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. [Marion Tucker] DeJean were here today. It was very warm today. Mrs. DeJean baked some cakes for us today.

Wednesday, January 12 1881
– Marm and I went to Woodbine to see the Doctor, and got Marm’s note. He gave Marm a bottle of medicine and I a bottle of whiskey.  NOTE:  I just thought it was funny that the doctor gave Marm medicine, and Mr. Hoyer whiskey.  Yes, I know whisky was also used for medicine back in the day!
Sunday, March 6 – Marm, the girls, and I went visiting to George DeJean’s and stayed to supper.
Tuesday, April 12 – It snowed last night and until noon today. C. Morris and Dan DeJean were here and stayed to dinner.
Wednesday, May 18 – It rained last night and all day today so we did nothing.  G. Towne was here to dinner.  He got four bushels of seed corn at 25c per bushel, but he did not pay for it.  George DeJean was here all afternoon.  It is still raining this evening.  DeJean thinks the corn that is planted will rot in the ground.
Saturday, June 25 – Frank and I plowed all day, which finished the yellow corn for the second time.  Louis and the girls went to a picnic up at the DeJean grove.
Sunday, June 26 – It rained a little this morning.  John Hushaw and family, George DeJean and family, and Dan DeJean were here all day and Mr. Deuel was here awhile.
Thursday, December 15 – I worked in the hovel. I then went to George DeJean’s and settled my remaining $1.50, which pays all in full to date.  Frank brought a half-cord of oak wood. DeJeans little girl [Luella] is very sick.  Luella was 7 years old.
Saturday, December 17 – Frank brought a half-cord of wood. Louis and I finished the cow stanchions. Then Louis and I went over to Mr. Morton’s to see the young bull he is selling. [Luella] DeJean is not any better yet.
Sunday, December 25 – Mr. and Mrs. Evans, Mr. Deuel and family, and Dan DeJean and his mother [Elizabeth Bullis DeJean] were here all day and we had a happy Christmas together. Leon Lowrey died this morning at 10 o’clock.

Sunday, January 8
– All but Marm went to Sunday School.  I stopped in at Dan DeJeans awhile.  Mr. Pitts and family were there, also Linna [Elizabeth], Dan’s sister.  Note: Elizabeth Bullis DeJean, and her daughter, Elizabeth “Linna” had to have arrived in Iowa some time between 1875 and 1880 and Linna married Eugene Pitts on 9 December 1880.  So, by the time of this visit in 1882, Linna was already Eugene’s wife.  She used her middle name, Adaline/a, in legal records as an adult, probably to differentiate her from her mother.  Linna or Lina was short for Adaline/a.
Tuesday, February 21 – It is very cold with a good bit of snow on the ground.  We sewed calico together for another quilt and got it ready to quilt.  Eugene Pitts and Dan DeJean were here today and stayed to dinner.
Friday, March 10 – Frank and I went to the timber and brought forty posts.  I was up to George DeJean’s, got my saws, paid 75c and paid Mrs. E. Pitts [Linna DeJean] $2.00 for a horse collar. Topsy kicked three pales or pickets off from the Deacon’s fence.
Thursday, December 28 – Last evening we all went up to Ecclestons to a surprise party. We came home this morning at 2 o’clock.  L.L. Deuel, Ed Deuel, and our boys went gunning (hunting).  The Duels got seven rabbits, and our boys got four.  I went with I.A. DeCou and George DeJean to M. Kinney to sign DeJeans bond as Road Supervisor.  The bond being for two hundred dollars, signed by I.A. DeCou and A.D. Hoyer as sureties.

Friday, March 16
– The boys were gunning all day. I was down to Mr. Giles.  George DeJean, Giles and I went down to see the new bridge, which is finished.  And the Valley Bridge is being repaired.  Mr. Damery came for the stalk cutter.  May B. was here.
Saturday, March 17 – Frank and I went to Woodbine.  I paid Farnsworth in full to date and got carpet warp.  Mrs. DeJean was here. There was an awful wreck on the railroad, two men killed, one man was scalded, and a great many hogs and cattle killed or crippled.
Note: Daniel DeJean had married in 1883 and moved to Nebraska after. Linna DeJean Pitts died this year.

Friday, October 31
– Frank husked 5 rows, a good load.  Mrs. Tuttle, Marm, and I went to Woodbine this morning.  At noon the threshers came and threshed 180 bushels of wheat.  Mr. Yount and Mr. DeJean went home with their teams.  George DeJean seemed to be very angry when he left.  Mr. Stewart went with him but left his team.
Saturday, November 1 – It was 8 o’clock when we commenced work this morning. George DeJean was late.  We threshed 56 bushels of wheat and 456 bushels of oats, finished at 2 P.M.  George Reiff and farm-hand, Elmer Colwell and his father, C.J. Tuttle, Damery, Herbert Burk, and J. Yount helped. Frank and I were to Woodbine this evening.  NOTE:  The DeJean family is not mentioned for the rest of the year and are not mentioned again until late in 1886.

Saturday, October 16
– Louis threshed at Charles Nichols (Edward Gage’s cousin-in-law) all day.  Belle, Bertha and I were to Woodbine.  Frank came home with us.  DeJean’s barn and hay burned up today.  Tom Butler and W. Lacy were this evening making music.

By 1887, it seems the Hoyers and the DeJeans were socializing again.  Luella is now 12 years old and Mr. Hoyer starts to refer to her has “Lew”.  I have used her full given name for ease of reading.
Tuesday, February 15, 1887 – Louis let the small horses have a run in the pasture lot, one at a time.  I worked at a window sash. Luella DeJean was here to supper, then Louis and the girls went to a spelling Bee.
Wednesday, February 23 – It snowed a good bit today.  I finished a dress again today. Bertha did not come home from school this evening.  She went home with Luella DeJean.  Louis went to town with H. Burk and J. Yount.

Thursday, February 9
– The thermometer was 24 below this morning and 16 below last evening.  Louis was over to visit at school. Luella DeJean was here to supper and then went with our girls and Louis to the Lyceum.
Tuesday, February 14 – Louis and I went up to R. Mungan and bought a mare. Paid $80.00 for her, and she is said to be with foal.  Herb, Jesse and Amy Burk came and Louis and the girls went with them up to DeJean’s to a party. Shy dropped a heifer calf.
Monday, April 2 – Louis, C.J. Tuttle, Kirkham and I was up to the Gilchrists to see [Edward] Gage and Nichols dehorn, then we went to H. DeCou to see Deuel dehorn.  Louis and I were over to Burkholders this evening.
Saturday, October 20 – Mat [McKean] husked two loads of corn. Louis and I hauled out manure and fixed up around.  This afternoon Louis threshed at George DeJeans, which finishes our exchange work this fall.
Friday, November 23 – Ma and the girls were up to DeJeans visiting this afternoon.  I chored around all day.  Louis, after taking the women up to DeJeans, went up to Reiffs and went with Charles Heilig to Woodbine.  After doing the chores he went up to DeJeans and brought Ma and the girls home.

Wednesday, January 9
– Louis was to Younts last night to practice music.  Luella DeJean was here visiting Bertha.  Louis was to town.
Sunday, February 10 – Louis and Millie were to Sunday school. I was up to see Mrs. [Marion] DeJean.  She is much better today.  I called at Tuttles and got two dozen eggs.
Thursday, February 28 – Millie has the measles.  Dr. Edwards was here.  I was down to Logan to County Alliance, had no meeting as Scarlet Fever is there and quarantine would not allow us to meet.  Louis cut stalks part of today and one load of manure.  Paid 75 for medicine to Dr. Edwards.
Friday, March 8 – Louis tried to disc but it was much too frozen.  He was over to see H. Burk.  Four of them have the Measles at Burks.  I was in the house all day with a very bad cold.
Saturday, March 9 – Bertha is very full of Measles and her face is much swollen as was Millie’s also.  Millie is getting on fine but does not go out yet.  Louis was to town.  C.J. Tuttle was here to tell us Mrs. DeJean will be buried today at 11 A.M. [NOTE: Marion Tucker DeJean died on March 8]  Louis finished discing Rye this afternoon.  It is still frozen some.
Tuesday, August 6 – Louis and I hauled out manure all day.  This afternoon Misses DeJean, Watkins, Kinney and Reiff were here visiting with our girls.

Wednesday, January 29
– Louis separated sows over by themselves and turned water away from the sheds.  I arrived at the Chicago Stock Yards about 9 o’clock A.M.  Louis was at Ed Gage and Luella DeJean’s wedding this evening.  NOTE: Luella was 15 years old and Edward was 21.

Edward Gage and Luella DeJean – believed to be their engagement photo’s. Private collection of Rhoades Family.


Mr. Hoyer stops mentioning George DeJean after 1891 and doesn’t mention any DeJean (or Gage) until 1897 when 16-year-old Ed (Edwin) comes around looking for work.  I already considered George DeJean to be an erratic man, but a couple of entries (and lack of entries) adds to my suspicions.  I want to say that Luella was smitten with Edward and married him of her own free will; however, George’s paper trail leaves me wondering.  

  1. His wife dies in March 1889, and he marries his surviving daughter off at the age of 15 to a 21-year-old man nearly 1 year later. 
  2. Then, his first child by his second wife may have been born before their marriage (by over a year!)  UPDATED: George and Minnie were married on 2 November 1892 and according to the 1900 census, their first son, Vernie, was born in January 1891. BUT…Vernie was not the biological son of George. He was buried as Vernie Victor DeJean, but he was born Vinnie Victor Mint and his death certificate records the same. He is the son of Minnie’s first husband. Mini was around 10 years older than Luella not 1 year older.
  3. Next, in May 1893, he abandons the second family, four months before his second wife gives birth to their first child (Ralph.)
  4. There is a gap between children Ralph and Della, indicating he may have remained missing for at most two years (Minnie would have had to conceive in March 1895 for Della’s birth). 
  5. In 1900, Edwin (the last child he had with Marion) was a 19-year-old servant in Boyer, IA, instead of helping his father on the farm.  Did George lose the farm? 
  6. In 1913, he took out a newspaper advertisement for a “big deal” that looks like a scam to me.  
    A few months later, he has self-admitted himself to the Veterans Home in Hot Springs, South Dakota, for one month and gets discharged on his own recognizance.  It’s his last known foray before returning to his family in Iowa and dying in 1921.

Did George marry Luella off so that he didn’t have to care for her any more?  Or did Luella feel the need to get out of her father’s house and believed marriage was her best option?  Perhaps his new wife, Minnie, didn’t want Luella around or Luella resented her mother’s replacement?  Was George following in Julian’s footsteps as a man who sabotages his marriages and runs off his children?

2 thoughts on “Iowa – A glimpse into the lives of our ancestors

  1. This is not only most interesting but completely new information–that is, the part after he marries Minnie McIntosh Vint!. My father, Gerald Houts (Della’s eldest son) remembered his Grandfather as a butcher in Dunlap. I have the knife sharpener (“steel”) that was his. My father was born in 1914, seven years before his grandfather’s death. My grandmother was a talented pianist who disappointed her mother when she married at 17. I cannot imagine Minnie DeJean being able to raise 2 surviving children and indulging in a talented daughter as a single mother! Now I want to fill in these details and this history but there is no one left to ask. Clearly, your detailed information is compelling but some of the dates I have from Minnie’s obit do not conform to yours. According to the obit, she married George in Nov. 1892 and Ralph was born in Sept. 1893. Minnie was born in 1863, making her 10 years older than Louella. And it gets more intriguing every page!

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    1. I was super excited when i found that diary. How wonderful to have a family heirloom! I am envious of you. I have been in contact with other DeJean descendants. One has a crazy quilt made by one of Stephen DeJean’s granddaughters through Harriet’s line. Another came across the portraits painted of Stephen and Cordielia that had hung in the home of one of Stephen’s sons. Sadly the location of the portraits are no longer known. But I think she had the foresight to take pictures of them. They were not in her possession, she just found them through the cousin connection. I have copies of the image, but I have not yet obtained permission to publically post them. You remind me that it is on my todo list.

      You are correct about Minnie’s age compared to Luella’s, I never pinpointed her date of birth, just census approximations. I will update the post. Sometimes I write late at night (as now) and that’s never a good time to write and do math. Thanks for the catch! I will be honest though, Minnie is not my focuse and much of what I have starts with Myrle’s publication with some validation. I will add your information to my collection of names, dates, and relations. I don’t suppose you have done DNA testing. My grandmother and uncle have matched up to descendant sof William and Della. Thanks again for commenting.


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