Apr 15, 2021 - Sale 2564

Sale 2564 - Lot 122

Price Realized: $ 1,625
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 800 - $ 1,200
(AGRICULTURE.) Washington Ludlum. Diaries of a struggling Illinois farmer who relocates to Washington, California and Florida. 3 diaries, each about 12 x 8 inches, with 177, 280, and 200 pages of manuscript entries; various bindings with worn original calf-backed boards, first volume warped, final volume's front board detached; condition of contents generally strong. With--5 pieces of ephemera including 1884 marriage proposal note. Vp, 1884-96

Additional Details

Washington Ludlam (1854-1935) began this diary in 1884, working on his father's farm in Bradfordton, IL just north of the state capitol in Springfield. That October he married a widow named Lillian with 3 children--his proposal letter is included in this lot. A baby girl followed in 1889. Tending to 80 acres (corn, oats, other crops, and livestock) was difficult work, made more difficult by the region's hot summers and brutal winters. His diary entries are thorough and readable (he took college classes at Illinois Wesleyan as a young man), and he made time to comment on national and local politics. Illinois first permitted women to vote in school elections in 1892, and Ludlum recorded the historic moment: "This morning Lillian, Josie, Grandma [Lillian's mother], Mrs. Stone, and Mary Tabler went up to the school house and were registered to vote at the next election for school officers. They are the first ladies that have ever registered in this township. We had some trouble to convince the judges that they were entitled to register, til Mr. Stone went home for a copy of the last law. This I believe to be the beginning of universal suffrage" (1 November 1892). A week later "all went to the poles, the ladies to cast their first balot for school officers, which after the judges had argued and talked and opposed (2 of them) for an hour, they were permited to do, and came away triumphant."

The challenges of life on the farm started to take a bleaker and stranger turn in the 1890s. The family barn burned down on 14 March 1890, with no fire insurance: "It looks like it had been set on fire, but I hate to think anyone could be so mean. . . . It is a dead loss." On 29 October 1891, they found a colt's throat cut: "How it was done we cannot immagine, as there was no barbed wire near it." The family enjoyed a visit to Chicago's great Columbian Exposition on 3-7 October 1893, described in great detail over 10 pages. However, it was clear that their life in Bradfordton was unsustainable.

Almost 40 years old, Ludlum had never been more than ten miles west of his family farm. On 6 February 1894, in the midst of the harsh winter, he got on a train west. 4 epic days of entries describing the Dakota Badlands, Rocky Mountains, Indians, and saloons, before arriving in the new settlement of Sunnyside in central Washington. Pleased by the "magnificent orchards" he "concluded that I will invest here and try my fortune" (12 February). He returned to Illinois to sell off his land and livestock, gathered his family, and brought them west. They brought 16 rooms worth of furniture and could only find a two-room cabin; they were unfamiliar with the land and climate: "Clear but a terrible dust storm all day, which is the second day of it. Our garden is about ruined, what is not blown out of the ground or killed is covered under a sand bank. I don't think I want to live on this sand hill another year" (4 May 1894). More dust storms followed; jackrabbits attacked their fruit trees.

On the 4th of July, Ludlum seemed to grasp the absurdity of the young settlement: "This is the first celebration of our town, about 300 people present, where last 4th was nothing but sage brush and jackrabbits." On 13 September, they announced their plans to leave Sunnyside for southern California. Several of their neighbors said they had the same plan. On 22 October, he arrived in Los Angeles to scout land: "I have been in beautiful cities before and seen beautiful grounds and residences, but nothing equal to this. Here for the first time I saw oranges growing, whole groves of them, and other tropical trees & shrubs in profusion." Back in Sunnyside it was harvest time: "We finished digging our potatoes . . . but price is so low they are hardly worth hauling off. Fine potatoes but not a very large yield. Have covered them up in the field. Have not yet sold my corn" (3 November 1893)." The Ludlams left on 18 November and arrived in late November in Palmdale, CA, just north of Los Angeles, where they bought 20 acres and a small hardware store on 13 January 1895. The town's land titles and water rights came into question. After a town meeting on 26 July 1895 he wrote "The whole district is upset and we don't know where we are, who the water belongs to, who the land belongs to, or who we belong to." On 2 August 1896, after a long gap, Ludlow summarizes: "Our titles are still uncertain, the tunnel still unfinished, the winter rains and snows were short and our water long since failed to reach us. The alfalfa is as dry as the road. . . . We are thinking of going to Fla if we can raise enough money."

On 1 November the increasingly desperate family arrived in Auburndale in central Florida, following yet another scenic cross-country train trip, where they set out to raise oranges and tomatoes. Ludlam's final entry in the diary also closed out the year: "Settled to try our fortunes at orange and truck raising. . . . We hope and believe that the change has been for the better" (31 December 1896).