Late 19th century agriculture was literally driven by man and horse power even though steam-powered threshers had been invented in the 1860’s. None of the modern agricultural advances invented in the 1800’s were used widely until the turn of the century and temporary help was hired to gather that year’s bounty. Field rows were turned with an iron plow pulled behind a horse and much of the grain harvested was done so by scythe and gathered by hand. Even corn was picked and tossed onto a wagon as men followed it up one row and down another.
In my novel, Romancing Olive, Jacob Butler attempts to bring in his fields with only the help of his young son. It was an overwhelming task and his son eventually asks Olive Butler if her nephew can come help him in the Butler fields.
From Romancing Olive:
Over the next month’s back-breaking work of getting the crops in, stored and sold, Jacob’s house grew somber. Luke was called on to help in the fields, and Peg was often left alone with Mark. Jacob worried, knowing the situation was grim but was at a loss as to how else to solve it. Worse yet, Peg rarely smiled, and Luke became increasingly sullen. Clean clothes and baths and hot meals went by the wayside as Jacob struggled to drag himself back home every nightfall and deal with his family. The only high point in his dismal day was that corn prices, were holding and his land had yielded a bountiful product.
Luke walked to Olive’s early in the morning one day to ask if John could help in the fields. “Daddy wouldn’t want me to ask, but we need the help.”
Olive looked at Luke standing on her porch in the early morning gray light and was shocked at the appearance of the boy. “We’ll get him up. Luke, you look so thin and tired. Are you feeling alright?”
The boy’s head hung. “Just a lot of work this time of year.”
“Can’t Mr. Williams or Mr. Steele help your father?” Olive asked.
“They have some, but they have their own fields to do,” Luke said.
“Who’s watching Mark?”
“Peg,” the boy replied.
Olive’s shoulders dropped. She called to Mary and John to get up and dressed and heated oatmeal for Luke for breakfast. She stacked canned goods and a ham on the table while the boy ate and John and Mary got dressed.
“Where we going in such an all-fired hurry this early?” Mary asked.
“Jacob is trying to get his crops in, and Peg and Mark are home alone. I have a feeling they haven’t been eating very well either,” Olive whispered to Mary.
“So what are we going to do?” Mary asked and scowled.
“Help, Mary. It’s what neighbors do.”
When she arrived and saw the state of Jacob’s home, she was shocked. Peg burst into tears and clung to her dress when she saw Olive. The girl had burnt her finger on the stove attempting to heat mush for Mark. Olive kissed her and the thumb and helped Peg into clean clothes. To Olive’s surprise, Mary dug into the dirty dishes and piled muddy clothes windowsill high. Mark’s rash was back with a vengeance and the infant howled and fussed. Olive bathed him and made a cornstarch paste. He greedily ate the mush Olive fed him and nearly fell asleep in his chair. Near noon, Olive started a fire for laundry, and Mary carried the earth and sweat-laden pants and shirts outside.
“I’m going to take Jacob and the boys some lunch. Mark’s asleep, and Peg is playing with her dolls,” Olive called to Mary from the porch.
She filled a basket with sandwiches and jars of iced tea and pickled beets. Olive made her way slowly over the uneven plowed ground and saw Jacob and the boys ahead.
* * *
“There’s Aunt Olive,” Luke said as he straightened from the straw he bundled.
Jacob whoaed the horse and stood straight. His back was sore, his face and chest sunburned and his hands raw from holding the reins. Two weeks of gut-wrenching labor had left him wrung out. His mind often drifted to Olive as he drove the horse, tired as well, one more row southward, one more row northward in a seemingly unending battle.
1891 . . . Spinster librarian, Olive Wilkins, is shocked to learn of her brother’s violent death at a saloon gaming table and her sister-in-law’s subsequent murder, traveling far from her staid life to rescue her niece and nephew, now orphans. She arrives to find the circumstances of her brother’s life deplorable and her long held beliefs of family and tradition, shaken.
Accustomed to the sophistication of Philadelphia, Olive arrives in Spencer, Ohio, a rough and tumble world she is not familiar with, facing two traumatized children. Her niece and nephew, Mary and John, have been living with a neighboring farmer, widower Jacob Butler, the father of three young children of his own and a man still in pain from the recent loss of his wife.
Real danger threatens Olive and Mary and John while Jacob and his own brood battle the day-to-day struggles for survival. Will Olive and Jacob find the strength to fight their battles alone or together? Will love conquer the bitterness of loss and broken dreams?