Florence Courtney Melton (1857-1926)

By David Schleper

Florence Courtney Melton told the story of her trip from the Ohio to Washington on February 24, 1929. The book was called History of a Pioneer Family. It was later donated to the Garfield County, Washington Historical Museum in Romeroy, Washington.

Florence’s parents were Levis Courtney and Mary Anne Ashbaugh Courtney. Levi and Mary Anne were the parents of six children. All survived to reach maturity except William Laurence who died at age one while they were still in Ohio. Florence Courtney Melton was youngest member of the family. The family lived in Shakopee for six years, starting in 1854.

Levis, Florence’s father, was a chair maker. He became ill with epileptic seizures in 1849 or 1850, and doctors advised him to move to a colder climate. He and his wife and children moved to Shakopee, Minnesota, but his seizures got worse until the entire burden of the family fell on Mary Ann, Florence’s mother.

There was quite a rush for the new territory of Minnesota in 1854. So, the family equipped themselves for the journey west. Florence’s grandma, her uncles Robert and Joseph and their families, and Jane Patterson, Comfort Patton, and Florence’s mother, Mary Anne, and family started overland for the great Northwest. Here is part of the story about moving to Shakopee from 1854 – 1860:


My folks had one team. Mother took a dozen chickens. I think that was all the livestock. The children were not well. Mary had a chill every other day. She was much opposed to leaving her pretty bedroom. She made so much fuss that Aunt Comfort lost patience with her. She said, “You little dunce, if you stayed here you would die.” Mary said, “I don’t care. I would have a nice little room to die in.” When they began traveling they all felt better.

Uncle William Patton was a drinking man. He carried a bottle with him all the time. He ran out before they got to another town to stock up, one time. They thought of Mother’s bottle she always kept to use as medicine. He got very sick and had Aunt Comfort ask for a little whisky for William. He was taken with pain in his stomach. Mother fixed a dose of some whisky about half whisky and half of the hottest colic medicine known. He drank it down without stopping but when he could speak he said, “I was a damn fool to think I could fool Mary.” They never came to Mother again for whisky.

They traveled across Indiana and Illinois and took the boat at Galena, Illinois. They went to St. Paul. They camped until the men located claims. Uncle Robert and Robert Patterson settled in Wisconsin. A distressing accident occurred while they were camped in St. Paul. Robert Patterson’s oldest son went swimming in the Mississippi and sank within a rod from shore in water twenty feet deep. He was about 14 years old. Uncle Robert was an odd fellow. He was soon surrounded by friends. Everything was done for their comfort that could be done. This may have been the cause of their going to Wisconsin.

The rest of the party kept together and took up claims nine miles south of Shakopee, county seat of Scott County. It was dense timber. Indians were as numerous as the squirrels. There was a lake about a mile from our claim. Uncle Will and Uncle Joe took claims at the lake. Grandmother stayed with them most of the time.

It was September when they got started to work on their houses. They camped on the ground and the nights were quite cool. A neighbor who lived almost a quarter of a mile away had his cabin built. He offered to let the little girls sleep in his house. Mother used to take one boy with her and the girls. After they were tucked in bed, she would go back to the wagon where the other brother was watching Father. She did this for three weeks. She gave directions about the cabin.

The roof was covered with clapboards with logs to weight them down. There was a big fireplace at one end of the room; a small window by the door. The floor was made of small ash trees hewn on both sides and laid side by side; it was called a puncheon floor. Father took the adz and smoothed it; then went over it with a plane until it was almost as planed boards. Mother always said it was the whitest floor she ever owned.


They had no cook stoves, so she wanted a Dutch oven built of stone or brick out in the yard. There wasn’t a man who could build one, so Mother told them to haul some stones and she would build it herself. Uncle William Patton was always ready to help her. He got the rocks and she bossed the job. They built an oven and they used it as long as they lived in Minnesota (six years). The built some kind of shed for the horses; by that time winter was at hand.

That first winter was very long and lonesome. My father soon found he could not stand the cold weather. He and his brother Jake froze their feet every time they tried to work, but Baxter and Mary played out of doors with “Old Sorrel” and a jumper sleigh. The runners made shafts and cross pieces held it together. A seat was fastened on. They played for hours, many a day, with the thermometer 20° below zero.

The Indians taught the boys how to fish by cutting a hole in the ice and gigging fish. They could get necessary supplies at Shakopee, as it was a trading post established by the fur company. Shakopee is a Sioux Indian name that signifies six. The fur company had built six little cabins, hence the name. (Not the real reason for the name!) There was a company of soldiers who came up on the boat our folks came on; they were stationed at Fort Snelling as protection to the settlers.

The long winter came to an end. All was bustle and stir, clearing land, getting ready to plant a garden. Mother worked with the boys. Either that spring or the next, Baxter thought he could cut down trees equal to any man. He cut off one toe of one foot, and soon after cut three toes from the other foot. One toe hung by a thread of skin, the others were clear gone. Mother raised the scissors to clip it off, but he began to beg for it and cried.

He said, “Don’t take them all away.” She said, “All right, I’ll see if I can mend it.” She fixed some splints and set it; it grew together as good as ever – never a thought of a doctor.

She was the doctor for miles around – put the first clothes on all the little ones who came to the homes of the settlers. Also the Indians soon found they could come to her and she would help if she could. In March of 1856 (I believe) Cotapantopo, the chief of the Shakopee band, brought his squaw and papoose, a boy of two years, to Mother. He was very sick. She knew at a glance he had the mumps so she helped them care for him. They spread their blankets in a corner by the fireplace. They stayed there three days and nights. The old chief would try to get the baby to eat. He would smack his lips, and say, “Chehumpa” (sugar), but the baby’s throat was too badly swollen. Mother fixed some soft food for him. They seemed very grateful, and many a mess of fish and venison were brought to us in return.

When they had been there a short time, in Minnesota, Baxter and Mary grew very enthusiastic about teaching an Indian to speak English. He would say over after them in English after telling them in Sioux. He had played with them for an hour or longer when they ran and put their arms on Old Sorrel and said, “Horse.”

He said in perfect English, “It isn’t a horse at all; it’s a mare.” And then he laughed at them. They never gave any more lessons. The Indians would not speak English unless compelled to. One came once and asked for something to eat. He could not make Mother understand, so he said, “Mrs. Courtney, I wish you would give me a bite to eat, I am very hungry.” They were just like other folks; they would conform to the rules if they gained by it. I think the fall after the mumps episode my brothers and sisters all took the mumps from the papoose.

My mother was topping turnips to bury in the root cellar for stock food through the winter. A band of Indians came along, stopped and began eating turnips. She had a small pile of the most perfect ones for seed. One Indian wouldn’t take any from the large pile. She told him, “NO!” (and) jerked the turnip out of his hand, threw it down.

Father saw there was something wrong. He came to the door of the shop, hand axe in hand. The Indian raised his gun to shoot, but Mother struck the gun down. She called Father to go back in the shop, then turned to the Indians and told them to “pockochee,” which is Sioux for “Go home!” The other Indians took no part in the squabble. Some of the neighbors thought we would be massacred, but no notice was ever taken of it. Mother was kind to the Indians but she was the master; they had to come to her terms.

In looking over the timber on the farm, several sugar maple trees were found, so it was a regular job every spring making maple syrup and sugar.

The severe winters proved too much for Father’s health. They both longed for their Ohio friends. On the thirtieth of September, 1857, I (Florence Courtney Melton) was born. The other children were so near grown that I was hailed with delight. No doubt I was a fund of pleasure during the long cold winter. To illustrate what the winters were like, the thermometer froze up the six winters we lived there, with the exception of one.

Sarah was seventeen the twenty-third of November, 1858. They had a dinner and invited friends. The guests came in sleds and drove over a stake and fence to safety. When she married [Jacob Houk] the eleventh of March, 1859, the same snow was on the ground, and they still drove over the fences, and it snowed so hard the day of the wedding that some of the guests had a narrow escape from being lost.

Sarah Jane Courtney Houk
Sarah Jane Courtney Houk
Jacob Houk
Jacob Houk

The family became more dissatisfied with the cold and snow. They had an opportunity to sell the farm, and September 1860 saw us bound for Iowa.

Florence Emily Courtney Melton and her husband James Moran Melton (1849-1895) ended up having three children: Ralph B. Melton (1878-1949), Caroline Elizabeth (1880-1966), and Gertrude Lucile Melton (1884-1971).

Florence Melton Family
Florence Melton Family

And that is the story about Florence Emily Courtney Melton and her family in Shakopee!

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