History and Highlights of the Bartlett Yancey Couch Family
Bartlett Yancey Couch
was born at Guilford, North Carolina, May 6, 1824. Nancy Jane Little
was born at Guilford, North Carolina, July 19, 1828.
The Couches and Littles were close neighbors, their land adjoining.
When the Couch boys felled a tree, which the Littles claimed, to
make shakes for a house they were building, it caused a feud of many
Bartlett Yancey and Nancy Jane were sweethearts at the very
beginning of the feud. Her parents forbade her to ever see him
again. However, love laughs at feuds as well as locksmiths, and the
courtship continued on its troubled way until they decided to elope.
She heard the agreed upon signal, grabbed her sunbonnet off its peg
and ran to meet him at the crossroads where he awaited her on
horseback and they rode to Guilford in Lockinvar style and were
married February 11, 1847.
They returned to the Couch home and lived there until he could build
a two room house on the side of the mountain. He was a gunsmith and
a mechanic. One room in this humble home was their living quarters
and the other was his shop.
Clara Emaline was born there August 12, 1849, as was Jabez Lee,
March 13 1852.
There were four sons in the Couch family, Bartlett Yancey, Mesh,
John and Milton, and one daughter, Polly, who stayed at home to care
for her father and keep house for the family after the loss of the
The Couch boys wanted to go north and west in search of better land
and opportunities for their families, but listened to their father's
plea to stay as long as he lived. He passed away when Jabez Lee was
an infant in long dresses. The family then completed their
preparations for the long hard dangerous trek over mountains,
rivers, through forests, prairies and Indian country.
Bartlett Yancey rigged out a covered wagon in which was placed their
few belongings, homespun clothes, bedding, table linen, a few
dishes, black-handled knives and forks, and quite a bit of pewter
ware, wooden tubs, pails, rolling pins, butter bowl and paddle, big
black iron kettle, small black Iron kettle, iron skillet with lid
and long handle, tallow candles and candle molds, corn meal, dried
fruit, vegetable seeds, his shop equipment and a few finished rifles
which he traded as he went along to help with traveling expenses.
By the time their first baby was born the feud was forgotten and
many tears were shed as they bade good-bye to their loved ones and
boarded the horse-drawn covered wagon.
They probably left Guilford in early fall of 1853, as they were
expecting their third child. They camped in a town in Illinois until
spring, 1854. The new baby was George Milton, born in a covered
wagon on January 16, 1854.
Bartlett Yancey was very ill for some time at this place. When he
recovered they resumed their journey westward and established camp
where the city of St. Paul now stands. There he broke land with six
yoke of oxen and a 24 inch bottom plow. At this time, a great deal
of interest was shown among the emigrants in the Big Woods sixty
miles to the southwest. From the information they acquired they
decided to move there and if conditions proved favorable they would
settle and put in a combination saw and grist mill.
Late fall again; winter with all the fury of storms and low
temperatures coming closer and closer every day they could no longer
delay embarking on this last lap of their long hard journey to their
new home. They loaded up the covered wagon again with the few
possessions they had left home with two years before with additional
possessions of a new baby, two buffalo robes, a canvas tent and a
cow. The covered wagon was drawn by a slower moving oxen instead of
the horses they had left home with, they crossed over the
Mississippi River, traveled the Minnesota River Valley to within ten
miles of St. Peter where they landed on the bank of Cherry Creek
stuck in soft snow and mud. It was almost dark and no sign of life
until real darkness descended upon them when a light showed up in
the distance. Bartlett Yancey went to the house and the man, Mr.
Caldwell, returned with him and with brush under the wheels the
wagon was released and they went on to the Caldwells for the night.
By morning the ground was frozen and the snow was deep. Where the
flap of the tent was lifted fine, icy snow flew all over their bed.
Since the family had their food and fuel was plentiful the first
thing to be considered was food for the oxen and cow. The nearest
feed was at LeSeur prairie twelve miles away where homesteaders had
settled a few years before, it was a long hard day's work to go for
the hay with a yoke of oxen many times the men had to walk to keep
from freezing. When the wind blew it would quickly freeze face,
hands, and feet.
He heard of a quarter section with a spring on it and the lay of the
land seemed a favorable location for a home and mill. He talked to
the squatter settled there and traded one of his rifles for his
right, and it became their home for life.
Soon neighbors came and the sound of the ax and saw was heard
clearing the building spot and getting the logs for the new home
which was one room with a fireplace made of sticks and mud which
took up half of the rear wall. An opening with a heavy quilt hung
over it was the door; one small opening in the wall with white cloth
over it let in a wee bit of light. Most of the light was from the
burning logs in the fireplace and tallow candles. One-half the floor
in this new home was of straight grained logs split in the middle
with the split side up, the other half was tamped earth. Their camp
equipment furnished this new home with the exception of a shelf near
the door for newly strained milk which, when frozen solid, was moved
near enough the fireplace to loosen it in the pan, was turned out
and stacked just outside the door in a cubby hole, the forerunner of
our deep freeze of today.
Were they really
settled? Not peaceably settled at least, for they had no sooner
moved in than a band of 300 Sioux Indians set up camp in the
clearing back of the house. They made the night hideous with their
war cries in protest against the white man's encroachment in their
domain. The parent's hearts were filled with fear as they comforted
their little children who finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion,
but there was no sleep for them until the band of Indians had moved
They had many
experiences with the Indians. The Sioux and Chippewa were
continually fighting. They soon learned that the only emotions ever
displayed by the Indians were anger and appreciation. They were
never surprised or frightened. Their movements were as quiet as a
cat. One could look up most any time and see one near watching him.
At last signs of spring began to appear. As soon as a bare spot of
ground showed through the melting snow, the little bloodroots burst
with bloom, their lily white petals with long orange pistils were a
beautiful and welcome sight. The cattle would browse on the swelling
buds and tender twigs of the willows as far as they could reach and
then Bartlett Yancey went out with his axe and cut willow trees and
limbs down so they could continue to feed on them.
As the days began to
lengthen, all nature burst into bloom and song. The sap flowed back
into the trees of the forest and the pioneers placed spikes in the
sugar maples. Every available container was placed to catch the
sweet sap which was hauled on little sleds or stone boats to the big
black kettle, where it was boiled down to some syrup but mostly
sugar which was molded and stacked away in dustproof containers
Once spring set in things moved fast in this little pioneer family.
Bartlett Yancey, with a homemade plow, prepared every cleared spot
for a corn and potato patch and a garden. Then Nancy Jane got out
the poke of precious seeds and, with songs on their lips and faith
in their hearts they together planted them in the black moist
fertile earth, and as the days lengthened the temperature rose
higher until the nights were as hot as the days and vegetation
fairly shot up. Strange climate this; corn heard growing in summer
and timber heard cracking in winter. The offspring of the mustard,
which was a favorite dish of the Southland took such a liking to the
Big Woods it never more had to be planted and cared for. It soon
became native and had to be fought like any other weed.
The garden produced abundantly and the forest was alive with wild
life. Deer, cottontail rabbits, red and gray squirrels, quail,
grouse and in the fall, wild duck and geese, and three or four out
of the thousands of lakes for which Minnesota is famous were close
by and teeming with fish--sunfish, bass, pickerel, walleyed pike.
The Couches soon learned to cure and smoke fish, using hickory wood
for smoking. He built a milk house with an oak trough in which Nancy
Jane placed the crocks of newly strained milk in the pure cold,
running water from the spring. What a blessing the cold rich milk
was to the whole family in the hot summer. Father, mother and
children found it delightfully refreshing. Cream was churned into
butter and the surplus was packed in stone jars, and stored in the
milk house for next winter’s use. She started the lye leaches going
and soon made soap with the lye and fats saved from the wild game
that had provided them with winter meat.
Cynthia Ann, the first white child born in Cleveland Township
arrived August 4, 1856. When she was two weeks old her father yoked
up the oxen again and made the sixty mile trip back to St. Paul
where he purchased the saw and grist mill. With his work as gunsmith
and mechanic and all-round rustler, he had prospered to the extent
that he could not only buy the mill but also shoes for the whole
family and the hired girl as well. Nancy Jane for the first time had
the satisfaction of having the help of a hired girl for a few weeks.
The family had worn moccasins or gone barefoot in summer and had
wrapped their feet in linsey woolsey rags in the winter. These shoes
were the first the children had ever had. Jabez Lee was then four
years old, but he never forgot the thrill of the moment when his
father placed the new shoes on his little feet. These shoes were
given the best of care, which meant they were regularly oiled with
deer tallow and carefully dried when wet away from the fireplace.
They were handed down as the younger children grew into them.
These pioneer parents were not only carving a home out of a
wilderness but were by precept and example inculcating the ideals of
Christian living and good citizenship in the lives of their children
without which no home or nation can long survive. How busy can one
be? Working from sunup to sunset was Bartlett's daily task, but
Nancy Jane worked night after night by candlelight sewing whole
garments by hand as well as mending the worn ones. She cared for the
growing family raising a garden, saving seed for next year's
planting, gathering wild raspberries, elderberries, grapes which
were dried and hung in the white homespun linen pokes to the walls
of this already crowded home.
With his gunsmith and
general mechanic work Bartlett Yancey was kept busy; on top of this
was his task of clearing a site for and assembling the mill. At last
everything was ready for the great event. People came from miles
around to witness the opening of the mill. He was engineer and Mr.
Caldwell was sawyer. The mill started in fine style but the well
supplying the water soon ran dry. What a terrible disappointment! It
was no time to give up now so he moved the mill to another spot;
water proved plentiful and everything pointed to success until a
colony of Irish Canadians moved in on dog sleds and took up
adjoining land. The dogs came by night and ate the raw hide laces on
the belts. One morning when the family awoke there was a dead dog in
the yard and the mill was burned down. After surveying the ruin
Bartlett Yancey went to the house and laid down on the bed saying he
felt like he could never get up again. Nancy Jane went to him and
said "Bart, don't give up. We have each other and the children and
we are well; there will be some way to have another mill". If she
could be so brave in the face of such disaster, surely he could go
forward with hope for success in the near future. So he got up
determined that it should be. He built another mill which was a
success and ran for many years. It was there that Jabez Lee learned
the sawmill business.
In the Autumn, with the mild beautiful days of Indian Summer, Nancy
Jane left the children, except Jabez Lee, who insisted he could
gather cranberries too, with Clara and went into the bogs, that only
last May were a sea of shining green leaves and rose tinted
blossoms--now were a flood of crimson berries. To make space for the
cranberries the trundle bed was taken from its daytime resting place
under the full sized bed and placed on the floor not far from the
fireplace. The space under the bed was boarded up, one board at a
time as the cranberries were filled in until it was full to point of
Indian Summer, that period of mild beautiful weather that gave man
and beast a rest from the hot summer days just passed, and the whole
country side was one vast picture of beauty with the oaks, maples,
birch and many shrubs decked out in their red, golden, and green
leaves dancing in the gentle breeze. These rugged pioneers would
pause in their hard struggle for existence and marveled at God's
handiwork and silently from the depths of their hearts thanked Him.
Day after day the children would gather butternuts and hazelnuts,
placing them on boards to dry, then would begin the race between
them and the red squirrels. They would rob the squirrel's nests and
the squirrels would steal them from their boards. The little red
fellows with their bushy tails brought squeals of delight and
laughter from the children as they spiraled up the trees and sat
safely on a limb where they would scold and scold the children for
stealing their stockpile of food. Indian Summer gave way to
approaching winter; its forty below temperatures and snowstorms that
many times developed into howling blizzards that neither waited nor
ceased for birth or death.
Nancy Jane was from her early childhood a devoted Christian having
united with the Methodist Church when nine years old. She later
joined the First Day Adventists and she heard of the Restoration
Movement started by Thomas and Alexander Campbell with its plea for
Christian Unity, founded on the Lord's Prayer that his disciples
might be one "That the world might believe," she joined that
movement, which was called The Christian Church and was faithful to
that teaching as long as she lived.
In those days, slogans were as popular as they are today. The
Campbells coined a few and soon other preachers added more. Some
were; No Creed but Christ; Where the Bible speaks we speak; Where
the Bible is silent we are silent; Not only the Christians, but
Christians only; Neither Catholic nor Protestant, only Christians.
She was shocked and deeply hurt when Bartlett Yancey announced his
intentions of joining the Free Masons Lodge. She had for so long
prayed that he might joint that great and glorious institution
founded by Christ, the Church. The Church, all inclusive, "Who so
ever will may come." How then could an exclusive organization find
acceptance in his heart? But it did and he was a charter member in
the Cleveland, Minnesota, Lodge.
She could not and never
did understand it but loved him none the less. The first religious
services in that community were held in the Couch home and the Post
Office was located there for some time. Like Hannah of old, she
prayed earnestly that one of her sons might enter the ministry. Her
prayer was answered 21 years after the birth of a new son, Joseph
Orin, March 19, 1858, when he was ordained in the Christian Church
at Cleveland, Minnesota. He married and later with his family moved
west where he was neighbor, friend, and spiritual leader to many
pioneers in the Territory and later the state of Washington.
Spring of 1860 found the work of other days being repeated and the
new house began. It was for any pioneer community a large house,
consisting of a large parlor separated from the front and rear
bedrooms by the hall with the stairway leading to four bedrooms
upstairs. A door opened from the upstairs hall onto the upper porch.
A large one story room annexed to the parlor was kitchen and dining
Bartlett Yancey bartered much of his work for help in building and
the family moved in before winter. The trundle bed was abandoned and
rock-a-bye cradle found a place in the new home. Home-made slat beds
were fitted with strawticks, topped with feather beds which were
things of beauty when dressed up in tufted counterpanes and
coverlets woven from homespun wool dyed in home made colors from
indigo, hulls of nuts and bark of trees. Copperac and cochineal,
snailtrail and chariot wheel were common patterns. The white cotton
pillow shams with hem-stitched hems and mitered corners greeted one
with Good Morning and Good Night embroidered in red. One framed
sampler with the Motto, "The Lord is the Head of this House", in
red, green and blue hung just above the front bedroom door and
another over the door in the parlor just off the kitchen whose motto
was "Home Sweet Home". Other pictures, prints, were framed in paited
reed or bark material and painted jet black, one such was a boy in a
torn straw hat, blue blouse and black trousers.
Spring, 1861, with the promise of renewing life and the rumble of
Civil War abroad in the land excitement ran high. The Couches were
the only people in the neighborhood who took a weekly paper.
Neighbors would gather at their home upon its arrival and husband
and wife would read it to them. Then President Lincoln called for
75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion, they talked it over and
Nancy Jane consented for him to enlist. He went to the recruiting
station and offered his services to his country but was rejected on
account of poor eyesight. He came home and continued to run the saw
and grist mill doing repair work of all kinds, sowing more seeds as
more land was cleared. As the days began to warm up and mornings
greeted the family with "sugar snow", he would take the four older
children to the maple grove where Clara, Jabez, and Milton could
help carry the sweet sap and keep the fire going under the big black
kettle. Cynthia Ann would wear herself out trying to catch the
tantalizing redbreast robin that always managed to fly just when she
felt sure she would catch him this time.
When the older ones
could be spared from the sugar making task they would take off to
the edge of the pond and day after day watch the successive
development of tadpoles into frogs, sugar-made, candles molded, soap
made, fruit and vegetables stored away, corn in crib, nuts in a dry
place, Indian Summer past and gone and winter closing in once more,
when Hugh was born November 21, 1861, followed by John, born January
21, 1864. The parents realized the importance of play in a child's
life and saw to it that the children always had toys, all home-made.
Hugh’s favorite ones were a pair of popguns which his father made
from small parts of elderberry branches with the pith pushed out.
The children would place a wad in the cylinder with a little oak or
maple plunger quickly push it out and it would pop. He became ill
and would lie in bed with his little toys and sing the songs he
learned in Sunday School. He had one little popgun on the bed beside
him and the other in his soft baby hand while he sang "Bring the
Little Ones to Jesus". He passed away with this song on his lips,
January, 1865. His sister, Lucy McClure, now living in Spokane,
Washington has those little popguns. Who will care for them when she
passes away and who will treasure their history?
The death of this child brought the children their first experience
of real sorrow and left the parents broken-hearted, but time and
work must go on and they tied the broken threads and continued to
weave their life's pattern. Baby John, with his need for care and
affection proved to be a blessing in this crisis.
As Nancy Jane watched her little sons at play she realized they
would soon be doing a man’s work. They felled little trees, trimmed
them into logs, skidded them to their play mill, in imagination,
sawed them into lumber, built houses, log ones, too. When the Dodd
Road was being built past their home they went into road building.
Clara was a young lady now and Cynthia Ann fast growing up. Not many
years would they be home and so when a little daughter was born
September 4, 1868, she named her Lucy Thankful. Thankful! It is easy
to understand why, thankful that she would have a little girl close
to her playing with her rag dolls, caring for them in health,
nursing them in illness, and giving the new babies saffron tea to
bleach them out. A little girl to teach the need of wearing a
sunbonnet, the care of her complexion by always using a homespun
white wool cloth, to teach her that she was a child of God and God's
will for her.
Even with more comfortable surroundings hard work continued to be
the lot of Bartlett Yancey and Nancy Jane. It was beginning to tell
on him. The men would come to the mill with their grist and logs.
They noticed it and would say, "Couch, you are working too hard" and
he always reply "I would rather wear out than rust out." They were
prosperous, alert people. The older children were attending school
in District No. 44. Luke Keough, one of the Canadian Irish, had
given the land for this schoolhouse. Singing schools were very
popular and all of the Couch children were very good singers.
The last member of this family, B.Y. short for Bartlett Yancey, was
born March 13, Jabez Lee's birthday, 1870. About this time a
grasshopper plague descended on that part of the state and continued
for three consecutive years, destroying all crops. The people were
becoming desperate and destitute. The Governor proclaimed a day of
prayer. At the appointed hour Nancy Jane with her son Orin walked to
the little log church and with other believers joined with them in
prayer that the curse of the grasshoppers might forever be removed.
The next day the grasshoppers were still there and the scoffers said
“I told you so”. But on the morning of the third day, the settlers
looked on a land free from the pests. When or where they went no one
ever knew. The state furnished seed and once more the land produced
abundantly and the people were released from fear of famine.
The spring of 1873 found an epidemic of measles sweeping the
neighborhood. Bartlett Yancey had never had them and so he was
stricken along with the children. Clara had married and was living
close by. Her husband, Sam Nichols, stepped into the Couch home and
helped care of the sick. Little B.Y. succumbed to that dreaded
disease March 9, 1873 and Bartlett Yancey was sick unto death; the
measles would not break out and he was burning up with fever. Sam
was working night and day with Nancy Jane caring for the sick. They
had given him up and he had also become resigned to death. One
treatment for measles those days was to refuse the sick cold water.
He called Sam to his bedside and said, "Sam, I have just one last
request to make of you. Go get a pitcher of cold water, step out on
the porch, (he was upstairs), place some icicles from the roof in
the pitcher, let me have one more drink of good cold water". Sam,
believing it was the one last favor he would ever ask granted it and
after drinking his fill he began to break out and recovered. At the
time of little B.Y.'s death some member of this family were just
recovering and some were still bedfast and the well ones were worn
out keeping vigil at their bedsides. Some did not have the strength
to mourn his passing at the time but did later on when the full
significance of their loss came to them. Whether the measles
promoted Bartlett Yancey's ill health or not, he continued to
He tried to work at his familiar and loved tasks, but would soon
tire out and go to the house. He would lie down and say, "Jane,
bring the Good Book" and she would get the Bible, sit by his side
and read. He especially liked Revelations 21:4,. “And God shall wipe
away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death,
neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain."
Sam’s father moved his family back to Arkansas and wanted him to
move back too, so he went first, Clara and the children went later.
Nancy Jane was desperate and hoped against hope that an overland
trip in a covered wagon would improve Bartlett Yancey’s health. So
John, grown man now, outfitted a covered wagon and after several
weeks on the road, they arrived at Clara’s home. He grew steadily
worse and in a very short time passed away. They laid him at rest in
a shady spot, placed a stone at the head of the grave and John made
shakes and enclosed the grave. This was in Woodruff County,
Arkansas, December 4, 1883.
The broken-hearted mother with son John and daughter Lucy stayed
until spring was well on its way up north when they bade Clara and
family goodbye and started on the long lonesome trip back home. She
continued to live on the homeplace until sometime in 1890 when she
came west to Griffith Corners, not far from Ritzville, Washington,
to make her home with her son Orin and family. About 1900 her sons
John and Jabez and daughters Clara and Lucy took up homesteads at
Cunningham, then Scott, Washington, John and Lucy's land adjoined.
Cabins were built on their own land but were almost close enough to
be one building. In July, 1903, Nancy Jane went to visit her
children there. She became ill and asked for her children to stay
near. Most homesteaders used condensed milk because it kept so well.
She asked for a cup of coffee with cream. She said that if Jabez
knew she wanted cream she would get it. He lived a short distant way
and when John went to telegraph Orin of her illness he stopped on
his way to tell Jabez, and of her wish for cream. He took cream and
The next day, with
daughters Clara and Lucy, sons Jabez, Milton, Orin, and John with
her she asked them to sing the hymn "Oh, sometimes the shadows are
deep and rough seems the way to the goal, and sorrows, how often
they sweep like tempests, down over the soul. Oh, then let me fly,
let me fly to the Rock that is higher than I". They sang the hymn
and she prayed, remembering all her children and grandchildren,
praying that they might believe that Jesus is the Savior and that
believing they would be saved to eternal life with God, their
heavenly father. Breathing a soft Amen, she passed from earth into
eternity, July 29, 1903. She rests in the Ritzville Cemetery.
Compiled by Martha Jane, Jabez's daughter, (1880)
Audrey Kuhn's son, Robert, had this history typed into Microsoft
Word, from a photocopy of the original typewritten history. To
preserve the history, as written, no grammar, punctuation, or
spelling changes were made to the original typewritten history.
Audrey Kuhn's genealogy research:
Clara was born August 12, 1849. Clara Emaline Couch married Samuel
Nichols November 30, 1867, in Cleveland, Minnesota. They were
married by T.P. Brown, Justice of the Peace. This is in the LaSeuer
County (Minnesota) records.
Their son, Samuel, was born in 1884. He enlisted in the Army. Other
members of the Couch family said he was an alcoholic, and committed
suicide about 1905.
Clara Emaline Couch Nichols Davis died on April 7, 1949, in
Portland, Oregon. She was buried on April 10, 1949, in the Multnomah
Park Cemetery in Portland.
Samuel Nichols (Clara’s husband) died May, 1898, in Ritzville, WA.
Horace Lee Nichols (1868-1958) and Joseph Bartlett Nichols
(1873-1954) outlived her. Clara Maud (1870-1879), Claude (Jan,
1870-April, 1870), infant son (1871) and Samuel L (1884-1905) all
pre-deceased her. I don’t have death dates for Jay L. or Orin
Nancy Jane Little Couch (Clara’s mother) died July 29, 1903, and is
buried in the Ritzville, WA, cemetery.
Bartlett Yancey Couch (Clara’s father) died December 24, 1881, and
is buried in Woodruff County, AR).
Cynthia Ann Jackson Couch died July 12, 1932, in Minneapolis, and is
buried in Savidge Cemetery, Cleveland, MN.
My father (Chester Jackson) spoke of "Jabe" Couch and his sons,
Redden and George. I Interviewed both of them.
Clara was four months short of 100 years when she died. In Jabe’s
family, Gertrude Dilley was 101 years old when she died. I think
Redden and George lived to be 100, but I don’t have the deaths years