In August of 1882, James Allen Noyes and wife Caroline Atwell, set out from their home in Anna, Union, Illinois for their new home in Liberal, Barton, Missouri, a town founded by George H. Walser in 1880 and intended for freethinkers, “no priest, preachers, saloon, God, or Hell” welcome. With Caroline and James would have been their children Cora, Victor, Allen, Paul and Ray who was then only 8. Emma, the eldest, had married Orrin Harmon in 1878 in Anna, Illinois and they, too, would eventually settle in Liberal but weren’t part of the migration. About 1882 they moved to Lewis County in Washington State, along with Orrin Harmon’s father, which would mean the family was entirely out of Anna, Illinois.
James Allen Noyes was 56 at the time of the move and Caroline was about 47. They likely believed that their final home would be in this liberal, free-thinking community–and it was their final home but only remained a free-thinking haven for a while.
The trip of about 300 miles took nearly three weeks; however, Caroline’s diary entries ended on the ninth day. Caroline is spare on details and stories, but she does give a number of towns that they stopped at so we’re able to trace their route for the first half of their journey.
A Hiram and a Harry are mentioned and I’ve no idea who these individuals might have been. Caroline had a first cousin (he was also a second cousin twice over) named Hiram Scagel, a son of her uncle George Scagel and aunt Deborah Hunkins Scagel. She had stayed with her uncle and aunt for a time in New Berlin, Waukesha, Wisconsin. Hiram was born in 1823 and was out of his parents’ household by the 1850s. The Scagel name is spelled a number of crazy ways in the censuses and I’ve been unable to locate him, and actually have no idea if he even lived to adulthood. I imagine it is another Hiram to whom Caroline is referring here, but who knows. Perhaps it was Hiram Scagel.
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CAROLINE ATWELL NOYES’ DIARY OF TRIP FROM ANNA, IL TO LIBERAL, MO IN AUGUST 1882
August 9, 1882 – Left home at 9 o’clock. The horses in the big wagon were frightened at wagon cover and began to run when they started. Hiram held them and stopped them before we got to Mr. Harmon’s gate. I walked to Jonesboro, stopped at courthouse for important paper. Got started at 2 afternoon. Camped at night on the bank of Mississippi River ten miles north of Cape.
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From Anna, Illinois to Cape Giradeau, Missouri
August 10 – Started at 7 A.M. and reached the ferry at 11 A.M. Crossed alright. Camped for dinner in a little grove of trees by a stream of water. Got started half past 2 P.M. Camped just beyond Jackson just before dark. Spread carpet on ground and made beds for four. Made up bed in big wagon for Mr. Noyes and Paul and in the small one for Cora and myself. The boys kept guard all night. Had a good fire and kept the lantern lamp burning.
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From Cape Giradeau, Missouri to Jackson, Missouri
August 11 – Got started early. A pleasant day but cool enough so I have worn waterproof cloak all the afternoon. We are camped at noon on the bank of a clear beautiful stream of water. Camped about sundown in a nice grove of timber near a small stream of water. Cora got a good supper fried potatoes and corn cakes. Everybody went to bed and all rested well and did not guard horses. Hiram cut a small tree and wove it in other small trees and made it an excellent tying place.
Friday – Got started early and got along very well. Country rough and stony. Came over a long ridge that had wild timber land. There were many wild flowers, some pretty enough for ornamental gardens. Harry shot one rabbit and one of our boys caught one fish. Did not come to water at noon so drove till between one and two when we came to a nice creek. Camped a little after sundown near a dwelling house and the road was fenced but the boys managed to gather wood and we were quite comfortable. Kept guard all night.
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From Jackson, Missouri to Farmington, Missouri
August 12 – We started at seven. Drove four miles to Farmington, a town of two thousand inhabitants two miles from the Iron Mountain Railroad. The country around it is very good and we were told was worth $30 to $50 per acre. We bought supplies at Farmington. Have passed thru two toll gates and one covered bridge, quite a number not covered. The road is gravelled and mostly level. A few high hills and a great deal of rock. We passed through Iron Mountain town the middle of the afternoon. Camped a half mile east of Bell View. Did not get supper ready till after dark and washed dishes by lamplight.
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From Farmington, Missouri to Belleview, Missouri
Sunday 13th – Rested till noon. Then started. Drove 10 miles over a rough wild country. Plenty of wood and water where we camped but horseflies and sand ticks were very bad.
14th – Started about seven. Drove thru a wild hilly country, did not come to water at noon but stopped and got one pail of water for the folks and fed the horses. We ate our dinner without making fire, then drove on a mile and a half when we came to water and watered the horses. Late in the afternoon we came to a country store. Bought supplies. A little before sundown we came to Turnback Hill and camped.
15 Aug – A slight shower in the night. The boys gathered their bedclothes from the ground and threw it in the wagon. We passed over Turnback Hill without difficulty. It has rained during the forenoon part of the time but we kept on. The country is rough and wild. Stopped at noon. Fed the horses and ate our dinner of canned blackberries and crackers. Sprinkled a little in the afternoon but cleared off and the sun shone and it was quite warm. Camped a little before sundown near a stream of water one mile east of Salem.
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From Belleview, Missouri to Salem, Missouri
Aug 16 – It rained last night before we got our supper ready and we got in the big wagon and ate it, but the rain got in both wagons and wet our bedding and things. We all slept in the wagons. I lay in the wet all night. The sun shines bright this morning. They have packed the wet things and we are about starting.
17 – Drove till sundown thru a new country, hardly any houses and those mostly tiny log ones. The roads…
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How Google plots a trip from Anna, Illinois to Liberal, Missouri
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The diary, which was sent to me by Nancy Benton, ended mid sentence. Whether Caroline didn’t finish the diary or the rest of it was destroyed when the Noyes burned their papers during the McCarthy scare in the 1950s, I don’t know, but it’s an unsatisfying conclusion, isn’t it. One feels left hanging, however bare the story is of personal reflection. And there’s no going to the source to ask what happened.
In later years Caroline told her granddaughter, Pansy, the story that one of the men with them realized, the second or third day out, that he had left his rifle leaning against a tree the night before. Because he felt he needed the rifle to survive, he left his family with the rest of the group and rode his horse back to the former night’s campsite to get the gun. He told them that he would catch up with them later. He was never heard from again.
Did he really forget his rifle or did he conveniently leave it behind? Was he killed or (more likely) did he abandon his family? I’m assuming this other family was one who moved with the Noyes from Anna to Liberal, and thus arrived in Liberal without a male head of household. Or did they eventually quit the journey and return to look for him? The tale caused me to try to reason what the options would have been for a mother and her children, during that day and age, when on a long journey and the husband disappears. If they were traveling with friends and family would she have left them or continued on, thinking that when she reached her destination and was settled she could then hope to search for her husband? Would she have felt secure enough to leave her party and return to the town nearest her husband’s disappearance and wait for him? If she did that, how long might she have to wait and on what money would she survive? How would she then get to her destination, where she and her husband had likely already purchased land?
Somewhere out there is a family with a story of an ancestor who disappeared during a journey, in 1882, across Missouri to a new home. It’s to be wondered if they’ve by now found him in the census living his new life in wherever he eventually turned up.