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Lute F. West's journal offers a glimpse of rural Missouri life in the 1880s


Lute F. West’s remains have rested at the Salem Baptist Church Cemetery in Monroe County, Mo., for 123 years. The young farm wife went to her eternal rest on Nov. 13, 1892, taking with her all of her memories of yesterday and dreams for tomorrow.

But while following life’s natural progression, she did leave behind an artifact that would resurface many years later, offering a glimpse into the life that she and her husband, John D. West, shared during the 1880s.

A journal – a Christmas gift from her husband in 1882 – details the minutia of their farm life, from the birth of calves to the price of millet seed.

Lute West’s hand-written account of her life was stored away following her death. Her husband remarried, farmed Monroe County land until he was 70 years of age, and eventually moved to Hannibal where he retired. He lived at 1501 Wardlow at the time of his death in 1933, two times a widower.

Back in the early 1980s, Marie Godwin of Hannibal found the journal in a storage box in a Hannibal home’s attic, and brought it to the Courier-Post as a unique curiosity.

Mrs. West kept a record of all their expenditures and income, along with some poems and verses she obviously found enlightening.

The following is an excerpt from a story written about the journal:

The record keeping began on Jan. 4, 1883, when (Lute West) obviously spent the day at the market. Mrs. West purchased 7½ pounds of butter for $1.50; 6 pounds of coffee for $1 and 1 bottle of Dr. Reads Tonic for 75 cents.

Other items purchased early the year included a gallon of coal oil for 25 cents; 1 bunch of shoestrings, 5 cents; 3 spools of thread for 15 cents; 3 bars of soap for 25 cents and 1 pair of scissors, 60 cents.

Slippers cost $1, and shoes were $1.75. A corn planter sold for $40 and a plow was $11. Three bushels of millet seed sold for $3, and a visit to the barber was 25 cents.

Sugar was a real bargain in 1883, selling for 20 pounds for $2. A box of oatmeal sold for 15 cents, and 1½ gallons of molasses for 85 cents.

Obviously, John and Lute West were farmers, and also kept records of what was sold during 1883. One hog, weighing at 350 pounds, was sold for $13.47 on Nov. 4. Sales for the year included a calf, hog, three steers, and 11 bushels of wheat. The total for the year was $253.85.

Records were also kept concerning calving. “Lady Julia foaled April 7, 1888,” was entered into the diary next to dates and names of other cows.

Before the turn of the century, relief from common illness depended solely on home-made remedies. Mrs. West clipped several remedies from local newspapers, and pasted them in this book for safekeeping.

The old fashioned methods of relief included a cure for sun cholera.

“Take equal parts of tincture cayenne, tincture of opium, tincture of rhubarb, essence of peppermint, and spirits of camphor. Mix well. Dose 15 to 30 drops in a wine glass of water, according to age and violence of the attack. Repeat every 15 or 20 minutes until relief is obtained.”

Smallpox and scarlet fever were also common ailments during this time span, and old wives tales also applied to curing these ills.

“Sulphate of zinc, 1 gram; foxglove (digitalis) 1 gram; half teaspoon sugar; mix with two tablespoons of water.

Take a spoonful every hour. For a child, smaller dose according to age.”

No diary entry would be complete without a recipe. Included in this book is a recipe for Lizzie Batsell Fruit Cake.

1 pint butter; 1 pint molasses; 1 pint brown sugar; 1 pint buttermilk; two teaspoons of baking soda; 1 tablespoon each of spices; 3 eggs; flour to make very stiff dough; 1 or 2 cups chopped raisins.

Bake in slow oven.

Also included in the book was this verse by Tennyson, perhaps the motto the Wests lived by: “Men may rise on stepping stones; Of their dead selves to higher things.”

Mary Lou Montgomery is a writer, speaker and researcher with a specialty in history. She is the former editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post.

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