Autobiography of

Matilda Gibson-Kennett



This is such a great opportunity to catch a glimpse into the past!

I want to thank Mary June Butler for sharing this wonderful treasure with us!


This autobiography of Matilda Gibson Kennett appeared in the Jefferson Bee Newspaper, (Iowa) August 27, 1936.


Matilda was 97 years old at the time of this recollection (born Dec. 28, 1838). Matilda died (Oct. 24th, 1936), not too long after this article was printed at the age of almost 98, and was the oldest living person in Greene Co, IA.


As you read along you will have the opportunity to really “get a understanding” of the lifestyle of our ancestors!


Matilda Gibson Kennett is the G. Grandmother of Mary June and

sister of my G. Grandfather Albert J. Gibson






I came to Greene County, Iowa with my parents, brothers and sisters in the spring of 1852.  We settled in the edge of the timber where my father bought 700 acres of land at two dollars an acre. (*Northeast of Scranton)


What fine nice land it was!  Everything grew so big!  We had all kinds of wild game, fish, and wild fruit, but very little money.  Our nearest trading post was Des Moines a little less than one hundred miles distant.  With horses and bad roads the trip was quite an undertaking.  When we first came there were no neighbors, no schools, and no churches within miles of our home.  We would get very lonely, especially on Sunday as we were raised by Quaker parents and Sunday was indeed a sacred day.  As time pasted people began to take up the land.  Weren't we glad when we could have playmates!  My father had "Law Books" and could help the others in "taking up" land.

Father also knew all the stars and their locations in the sky.  Therefore he could not get confused as to where he was on a trip you had no guides but the stars-no fences, no towns, to guide you.  Just open prairie!

We dried and preserved our fruits and as sugar was so high Mother used to take the watermelon juice and boil it down they were such big sweet melons!  Muskmelon was then cooked in the juice to make lovely muskmelon "butter" for our bread.  Finally Father got some cane seed.  Since necessity is the mother of invention my Father made a cane mill.   Then we had sorghum to sweeten our food and we were happy to see it!

Father built our log cabin; it was one large room with a fireplace in one end.  Our beds were in the other end with sheeting draped around each bed to give us a little privacy.  Everything was kept clean and shining.

We wove all the material for our clothing, knit our stockings and the men's socks.  Mother and we girls braided oat straw to make hats.  We braided with four straws one of which Mother had dyed black before beginning the braiding.  The straws were spliced together with no rough edges showing.  We made hats for neighbors getting fifty cents apiece for them.  We also made cord and clotheslines out of "tow" from retted flax.  This material was really strong.  Father tanned the leather and made all our shoes.  Weren't we proud when we got a new pair of shoes!

When Father made the trip to Des Moines he would get we children "copy books".  We had a cousin who did beautiful writing and also spelling works for us.  Then we would have a regular school in our home.  We ten children would spend our long winter evenings reading, writing and spelling. I became able to write a good plain hand and to read well.

Of course, the first years were the hardest with so little stock.  We had to get oxen team to break up the new ground since horses could not stand such hard work.

Fever and ague were bad and how we would chill and shake!  Our teeth world chatter.  Soon we would become burning hot with fever.  On little brother aged five died with erysipelas.

In April 1860, soon after I was married, my Husband, myself, and two year old twin girls, my parents, brothers and a sister with a few friends started west to get rich in the gold mines.  We were not very successful.

There came a sickness.  My sixteen-year-old brother and my eight-year-old sister died in Colorado.  Before they passed away they had begged my parents not to leave them out there in those mountains. Father made strong boxes and brought them back to Iowa.  My older brother (Albert) drove all the way back with the men.  That long, lonely, sad and slow journey! 

There were five wagons in the train.  The Indians on the way did not molest us enough to cause great alarm, although we were really frightened a number of times.

When we reached Denver, which was then little more than a fort, we with a large number of others were detained a few days on account of the hostility of the red men.

Contagious diseases among the children were terrible and the Doctors did not then know how to handle the situations. Therefore, most every family would lose two, three and even four children.  Also the Doctor had to drive so far with horses to reach a home.

Well we had our sorrows and joys: hardships and good times.  Hardships that would seem great indeed today but we were taught to be brave; to work, and to make the best of everything as it came along.  We were thankful for our blessings too!

Although there were six boys I never remember of any serious quarreling among them.  I never heard my Father curse or use bad language.  When I was eight years old I remember that I tried to coax my Mother to tell me what "swearing" was.

By our hardships and sacrifices we were made strong and grew to womanhood and manhood.  And we were able to hold our heads up and be brave and carry on and come out victorious and now when younger generation are sort of inclined to laugh at the old folks ways, just remember it was the hardships they were willing to brave, that gave them this lovely country with all its beauty and conveniences that can now be enjoyed by our children and there children.



Matilda’s father:  Archelaus Hiram Gibson, mother: Hulda Carson Gibson--husband Valentine Kennett, their twin girls were Lavina & Melvina Kennett, and the two children who died in Colorado were Matilda’s siblings, Isaac and Ann Gibson).


The Gibson & Kennett families returned to Greene Co, IA, but the time is uncertain. (I calculate by Spring or Summer of 1862).  Matilda and Valentine Kennett were back to Greene County by April of 1862, as their 2nd. set of twins were born, George Riley and Henry Wiley.  Albert Gibson and wife Mary were back to Greene Co some time before July 1862, as their 2nd child, Henry L. Gibson was born there.  (Their 1st child Anne Aliza was born in 1859, before they left for Colorado).





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