This letter was written by 21 year-old David H. Buck (1836-1910), the son of Horace Buck (1791-1863) and Betsey Burgess (1794-1861). David wrote the letter to his older brother, Whitmer Hall Buck (1825-1900) who was married to Mary Alvina Joslin (1829-1898) in 1849.
David was married to Henrietta C. Miller (1842-1899) about 1862 in Boonville, Oneida County and farmed in the county the rest of his life. It appears his dreams to live in the West or leave his bones to “whiten on western soil” never materialized.
We learn from this letter that Buck was an early surveyor in Mitchell County, Iowa, and that he performed a survey for a town to be called Villanova which doesn’t even appear in a listing of Mitchell County “ghost towns.” This leads me to believe that Villanova never existed except on paper or that it was created under another name such as Bailey, McIntire, or Riceville.
Villanova, Mitchell County, Iowa
April 26, 1857
I meant to have written you sooner but for the few last days have been where it was not very convenient to write. I was 13 days traveling from Boonville [Oneida County, New York] to Osage [Iowa] at a cost of little over $50.00 & I have paid $1.00 per day for board since I have been here & it cannot be had for less until after the land sale.
I have seen a great deal & had considerable sport since I left home as well as some pretty hard times. The weather has been cold most of the time & the severe winds here make it miserable.
I have been appointed Deputy County Surveyor of the County & commenced surveying last Thursday & have surveyed since. I am now 15 miles from Osage laying out a new town on the Big Wapsie River to be called Villanova. It will take two or three days more to get through. I do not get only $3.00 per day as that is all the law allows. I think I shall be appointed County Surveyor of Floyd County. I shall probably survey around here for a couple of months or so & then go through Minnesota. Had I been here six weeks sooner I could have made six hundred dollars in two months easily by making a preemption claim. It is too late now & there is a speculator here to every 160 acres & they have any quantity of money too. I am going to try & enter some land on time when the office is open but I have not much hopes of succeeding in closing as there is such a rush of men seeking lands & there is not much land in this district to come into market either.
Most of the land here is good though some very poor. I have crossed several large prairies where no tree, water, or houses were visible. I made a survey Thursday & Friday for a minister who has over a thousand acres of land with plenty of water & timber. There are 440 acres of it in a body by itself through which the Little Cedar River runs. He asks six dollars per acre. In New York, it would be worth $30.00 — perhaps more. Good land can be bought here for $3.00 & $5.00 per acre.
The climate is about the same as Oneida County & old settlers tell me no fever & ague exists here. When I came over the prairies first the weather was very cold & the winds bitter & freezing. I came across a family poorly clad on the open prairie & they would have frozen to death if I had not taken my shawl & wrapped round the children — two little girls — one about 4 & the other about 2 years old. I carried one some distance in my arms to a house where they recovered.
Do you ask me if I am homesick. If there sometimes wells up from the fountain of the heart a secret yearning for home, relatives & friends & the scenes of bygone days — not much, for I do not allow myself to indulge in such thoughts. To be homesick here would be foolish & of no consequence. If sadness & gloom sometimes hover around me, I drive them away & look to the future, not the past. One thing I shall do, I will at least make something here or my bones shall whiten on western soil. As for living in the East a poor man, I will never do it. I have found some good boys here from New York & other parts & we have some pretty good times.
Write as soon as you receive this. Give my best wishes to Mary & all of our folks & my friends. I will write you again after the land sale. Your brother, — D. Buck
Direct to Osage, Mitchell County, Iowa