Stephen, borrowing to supplement his inheritance, purchased land in Grant County, Wisconsin. Continuing his teaching, he set about clearing the land, building a home and  developing farm land. Wood of the white walnut  from the clearing was set aside and eventually was used for the construction of the secretary desk which remains in the family. There is a lovely letter from Florinda describing the house and setting.

Florinda and Stephen began to create their family with the first child, a little girl arriving 30 May 1847. Is it a reflection of their education in the classics that this first baby was given the name Mary  Ginevra? It surely was taken from da Vinci’s “first masterpiece” A Portrait of Ginevra.  Emma Euginia was born 13 March 1850, Rolandus Aurelian 15 January 1853 and Dora Imogene 15 September 1855. We have Stephen’s record book containing not only births, marriages and deaths but also a diagram of the first Grant County apple orchard planted by him and also his school attendance book both covering a large segment of that time.


Desk Ordered by Stephen D. Watkins as it Appears Today. Florinda’s brother Rolandus acquired land for the W.D. Hirst family still in Ohio, naming it Perennial Cascade. Stephen and Florinda combined farming, family and school teaching. In 1847 the W. D. Hirst family migrated from Coitsville, Ohio  and settled at Perennial Cascade in Grant County, Wisconsin (Territory).   There are many letters covering the periods prior to the moves. Stephen’s reverence for education was if anything exceeded by that of  the Hirst patriarch, W. D. Hirst. His expectations  are displayed in all of that family’s correspondence.  Far beyond that, the letters of this time period are so beautifully written and textured with the emotions and personalities of their authors that I feel I know something of what was in their hearts and eyes.

By 1851 the remainder of the Howard and Badger families, including John’s brother Nathan Orlen had migrated to Wisconsin, leaving Amos and  Diana Watkins Ayres and their several children in Ohio. Stephen and his half brothers describe their mother as a worrier but  with humor and affection. Her letters certainly reflect this same.  Stephen having just traveled to Ohio to escort them on the river trip,  his brother Orlen writes:

“She as you may well guess borrowed a great amount of trouble thinking that all the engineers firemen &c were anxious to destroy themselves and all others by blowing up the boat but the farther we came the more at ease she felt. She was nearly worn out when she got here & had one of her bad spells just before we got home…” (Stephen)   “Mother was considerably disappointed when she came hear and saw Stephens children, finding them rather prettier and smarter than she was calculating to find them.”  N. O. Howard   “My Dear Sister”; [signed S. D. Watkins and mother and N. O. Howard. Lima May 23rd 1851], Prairie Tree Letters, p. 42-4

The author of this letter, Stephen and Diana’s half brother,  Nathan Orlen Howard, was to die soon after coming to Wisconsin.

In 1854 Florinda’s brother Rolandus after teaching and farming in Grant County, joined the national migration to the California gold fields. His letters contribute to the story.  Rolandus does not spare in sharing  the Hirst capacity for romantic flourishes and many of his letters are priceless literature describing the era and the environment. For an example see Rolandus on the Mountain. Our great grandfather, his nephew, is his namesake  Contact was maintained with his wife Maria Theresa Calhoun Hirst into the 1900s. We are grateful to Hazel Hinkins Johnson a Hirst descendant and her living surrogate Bernita Craven Jenkins for preserving and sharing copies  letters and information about the other W.D. Hirst children.  Rolandus Watkins’ sister Emma also kept in contact with the Hirst descendants in California and provided considerable information on the latter day line.

John  Snow Howard married Mary Hannum of Wisconsin and immigrated to Mountain Home, Arkansas where he established The Male and Female Academy. In fact according to the Baxter County history the modern town of Mountain Home  sprang up around the Academy, Great Grandfather Rolandus Aurelian corresponded with his daughter Lillabelle (Belle) Howard Bodenhamer.  I made our last contact with the Howards through Judi Sharp, a direct descendant. and am grateful to her for the photographs and additional Arkansas history.   Professor John Howard is yet an honored historical figure there.

Sadly for the Steven and Florinda Watkins, the full nuclear family life was a brief period. Florinda died of tuberculosis in 1858.  Tuberculosis, the plague which prematurely ended the lives of so many of the Hirsts. Florinda was preceded by her older sister, Mary Jane Hirst Burns and husband Thomas Burns. The property on which the Lima Union Cemetery rests was taken from a corner of the Burns farm, I assume at the time of the Burns’ deaths. Also Watkins relatives, Mary and Orlen Howard, several of the Ayres children, and Elizabeth Senter are buried there. But as to the Watkins and Honeys only the 1861  Elizabeth Honey Badger Senter gravestone can be found. It remains well tended. Emma gives a more detailed description of the burial sites in her 1916 letter to R. A. Watkins. Prairie Tree Letters, p. 186-7.  Our generous colleagues in Grant County have provided photographs and precise cemetery records.

In 1859,   the year following Florinda’s death,  Stephen traveled back to Ohio and married former student Sarah Bushnell, later Sarah B. Watkins Davies. Her father was a physician in Hartford, Ohio. She was an Oberlin College graduate. All of Stephen and Florinda’s children, including Mary Ginevra, who was married when orphaned, speak in many letters of their love and closeness to Sarah Bushnell Watkins, later Davies. She was clearly a caring influence for Florinda’s children, all of whom grew to maturity in Lancaster, Wisconsin.

Our grandmothers Elizabeth Senter Badger and Mary Tarr Honey Eaton Watkins died and are buried in Grant County, Wisconsin. The  Honeys and Howards and Badgers were very much a part of the Stephen Watkins family. They are also an interesting branch, in terms of both their origins and and more recent history. They migrated to Kansas before the Civil War and descendants remained at least well into the 20th century. There is a page devoted to their history.

There is minimal Watkins correspondence covering the Civil War period but what we know  affirms the impact it had on our family as so many others.

Our great great grandfather  Charles Ignatius Clark was in the Confederate Cavalry . He  died shortly after enlistment in Lamar County, Texas.  representing the second chapter in the family drama that began with brother against brother in violent war.

A secret kept in the Clark family, really until his letters were uncovered recently, was that Charles was a passionate advocate for the Confederacy and slavery while the John Clark descendants and we Watkins celebrated his brother John’s beliefs as family tradition.

John Garvin Clark  was a member of Lincoln’s circle at the founding of the Republican Party. At the outbreak of war he was serving in Wisconsin State Legislature. He was  a strong advocate for abolition and the Union.   A more complete history of this fascinating line, the Clarks is included in letters and  on a separate page and the biography of John Garvin Clark in the Appendix of Prairie Tree Letters.

The Hirst family suffered the sacrifice of Florinda’s younger brother, the exuberant Larodus, in the Union forces He was killed in 1862 at the Battle of Bloody Angle near Fredericksburg, VA.

He lies in the National Cemetery at Fredericksburg.

Srephen’s  half-brother, John Howard fought with the Confederacy, was captured by Union forces and was apparently in some manner released from captivity by relatives in Wisconsin whom I assume to be Stephen. He and  Sarah could have been of help by way Sarah’s association with Col. John Clark, Union Army Colonel law partner of to her brother R. W. Bushnell,  or perhaps Henry Hart (son of Orenus)  who was serving in the region of his capture.

Family friend and son of Orenus Hart, Henry served in the Ohio Cavalry in the west.  His letters covering this time may be read here.

Orenus’ final letter in the collection is painfully poignant as he recounts the death of his son, Henry, in Andersonville Prison:

“…my fair Henry captured June 29 /64 some six weeks before his 3 years time was out & starved to death at Andersonville, Ga.  Died March 21st 1865. I never can get over it but with his mother must go mourning down to the grave. No language of which I am master can express the abhorrence I feel towards the actors actions and abettors of that land of more than average barbarity. I cannot write about it and will leave it for you to imagine my feelings & try something more agreeable to think about if spared until tomorrow..”  Unsigned – [Without doubt authored by Orenus Hart]  Brookfield T. C. Ohio July 24th /66 ; Prairie Tree Letters, p. 92.

Ironically it appears Henry was likely captured in the battle of Pea Ridge that also saw the injury to our mother’s Confederate grandfather,

Meanwhile our mother, Gladys Cooke Watkins’, Grandfather Aaron Cardwell and Great Grandfather Hiram  Cardwell were serving in the Confederate Army in the West. Both survived.

The children of  Stephen and Florinda Watkins came to full maturity married and began families in Lancaster, Wisconsin.  The older two siblings Ginevra and Emma early on followed husbands’ work and moved west.

The Bushnell connection was significant also for Ellen Clark who was to become our great grandmother Watkins.  Sarah Bushnell was sister to A. R. Bushnell who had joined John Garvin Clark in establishing the law firm that our great grandfather Rolandus was to join. It is by this association he was to become acquainted with John Garvin Clark’s niece Ellen Maria Clark.

Ellen was  the youngest daughter of Charles and Mary Maria Proffitt and her siblings had become orphaned by the death of their mother shortly after the war. She and her siblings were taken to Wisconsin into the home of her uncle, John Garvin Clark where she lived until marriage to Rolandus Aurelian Watkins.

Their marriage closed the book on the Clark brothers’ saga.

Florinda Hirst Watkins’ siblings, spouses and a number of nieces and nephews died young of tuberculosis.  Her brother Larodus as noted was killed in the Civil War and the brother Rolandus remained on the West Coast, Oregon and California,  married and had two sons Henry Herbert and Charles Hist. He lived into his 60s.

Stephen’s sister Diana Ayres lived to be quite old  and there is one letter to Great Grand Father Rolla late in her life. There are few Stephen Watkins letters after Florinda’s death though Stephen maintained contact with his half-brother John Snow Howard.