Journey Story: Martin Tracy

Mar 9, 2012

My grandmother was the quintessential American pioneer. In 1891, when she was 17, her family left the comfort of their home and heritage in Marietta, Ohio to seek their fortune on the American prairie. Her father, Frank D. Booth, was the son of Horatio Booth, a boat Pilot on the Ohio River, and the grandson of the first Mayor of Marietta, James Mather Booth, an 1804 immigrant from Manchester, England. For over 23 years, Frank Booth was a pilot of the 138 ton J. H. McConnell a side-wheeler passenger steamboat that ran from Parkersburg, West Virginia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He was a Civil War Veteran having served as a Private with Union troops at Harper’s Ferry in the fall of 1862 where he was taken prisoner and paroled. He married Naney Leach Hill with whom he had three boys and three girls, including my grandmother who was born in Marietta in 1874. Her name was spelled R-I-T-A, but pronounced "write-uh."

Frank Booth left his work as a river boat pilot in 1890. He probably quit because the river boat traffic was declining due to the emergence of railroads and because of the attraction of getting 160 acres of virgin prairie land under the Homestead Act of 1862 for only a dollar and a quarter an acre. He chose land near Delight, Nebraska, a rural farming community in Custer County, where he started making improvements on a homestead. In 1891 he packed up the family and traveled by train from Marietta to a temporary residence in Des Moines, Iowa renting a box car to carry their furniture and one Jersey heifer. Two years later the family moved from Des Moines to Delight.

At age 19, Grandmother Rita began teaching in a rural one-room sod school house with a dirt floor and a wood burning stove to stave off the brutal Nebraska winters. Families paid 1 dollar a month for each student who would ride horses to school during warm weather and come by sleds in the winter pulled by horses or dogs.
By the time Grandmother Rita was teaching, most of the Native Americans in Nebraska were living on reservations, but there were still roving bands of the great Sioux nation. On one occasion several Indians on horseback rode up to the school, probably out of curiosity. My Grandmother, who was small in stature, but knew how to handle a rifle, stepped outside and told the Indians to leave. They held their ground without speaking. At that she took aim at a small bird flying high above and fired. As the bird hit the ground, the Indians left.

In 1898, when she was 24, Rita married James Albert Tracy in Des Moines. He was two years older, but had attended the same high school in Marietta and had come west to Iowa to court her and attend Drake Law School. After their marriage they moved to Sioux Rapids in Northeastern Iowa where he took up law practice and where first a daughter, Bonnie, and then a son, James Albert, Jr. my father, were born. By 1909, they had moved to Antelope, Nebraska where Rita gave birth to her third and final child, Helen. Five years later, they relocated to the small community of Fort Morgan, Colorado the county seat located along the stagecoach and wagon Overland Trail which ran from Atchison, Kansas to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. In Fort Morgan they raised their children to be independent, self-sufficient westerners with a love of nature and thirst for adventure in the true American pioneer spirit.