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Orlando S. Jones: Pioneer Farmer Extraordinaire

>Location: Southwest Wisconsin Room, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Platteville Wisconsin.
>Citation: Platteville SC 3, Orlando S. Jones Diary and Family Clippings, 1852-1903, 1922. Southwest Wisconsin Room, University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Platteville, Wisconsin.


Collection Summary

Orlando S. Jones was a pretty interesting guy. He was a Wisconsin farmer that lived his life on what, at the time, was the very edge of the United States border! Through his diary, we can read all about his regular tasks and his day-to-day life on the frontier. Orlando’s Diary is actually two separate diaries. The first details his life from 1852-1873, and the second one has entries from 1873-1888. Use these to explore the routine life of a pioneer farmer trying to make ends meet in the newly formed state of Wisconsin. (Wisconsin became a state in 1848, a mere 4 years before the first entry!)

Orlando’s diary can be used in tons of different ways, because it shows many different things going on in the 19th century. For example, along with being a farmer, Orlando also worked as a school teacher. Therefore, you can discover for yourself what duties and tasks a teacher performed almost two-hundred years ago! This is just one idea for ways that Orlando’s diary can be used among a variety of others only limited by your own shrewdness and eye for ideas.

This finding aid will focus on the importance of routine in order to maintain and thrive as a pioneer farmer in Southwest Wisconsin. By following it you will find examples of joy, sadness, money problems, and most commonly, the farming routine of Orlando S. Jones. Consider it an adventure into Orlando’s life from 1852-1858!

Important notes:

• Orlando will be referred to by his first name throughout this finding aid because it’s just way more fun to use than his last name.

• Orlando’s handwriting may be hard to read at first, but once you get used to how he writes, it gets really easy to read.


Collection Description

Orlando S. Jones was a farmer, school teacher, and town clerk somewhere around Grant County. Orlando kept a hand-written diary of his regular life in a bound book, from 1852 until 1888, with footnotes that go all the way up to 1903. The diary logs the various chores, work, expenditures, and trips that he would go on every single day. Orlando also gave a brief description of what the weather was like at the end of each daily entry in the diary.

The footnotes range from interesting to mundane, but they are always worth looking at! For example, in some months Orlando details the type, and amount of various crops he harvested. In other months he tallies up the total of how much money he made, compared to how much money he spent, over the course of the month. Also in the footnotes Orlando gives details on the personal things that have happened. For example, When Orlando’s father died, the daily entry merely states “Father died. 2 ½ A.M.” however, at the bottom Orlando details HOW exactly his father died (diabetes). It’s important to note that any daily entry that has a footnote at the bottom of the page associated with it was a big deal to Orlando.

You’ll start to notice a pattern as you read farther into the years of Orlando’s life and realize that certain crops were prepped, planted, harvested and cleaned on a rotating basis, depending on the month, as well as the weather. The same was true with livestock. This pattern is the key to Orlando’s survival on the frontier that is Southwest Wisconsin, and is also the reason that this diary is such a great historical tool!


Reading Guide

Every page is headed with the year and covers one complete month from start to finish. Each month is then broken down into a line per day. There is space at the bottom of the page for footnotes.

Quite a few days or even weeks in a row have one recurring entry. For example, one day will simply say “Chores,” followed by 5 days of nothing but quotation marks indicating that those days were also just full of “chores” as well.

Important note: In the next two sections, Orlando’s life will first be broken down into a chronological list of important or interesting diary entries from January 1852 through December of 1858, followed by the routine that makes up his everyday life. Each bullet point in the FFA will have questions underneath that should be considered when looking through Orlando’s diary.

Second Important Note: The reason this portion of the FFA starts with the interesting events is because they’re just a little more… well interesting than Orlando’s daily routine. However, keep in mind that the routine IS interesting because it shows how people survived on the frontier in the mid-1800s.


Events of Note

Reminder: This section goes chronologically through the interesting events that happened in Orlando’s life from 1852 through 1858. If you’re having trouble finding the specific events, refer to the first point of the reading guide.



April 22, 1852: Orlando is married to Sarah E. Jones.

  • Check out the footnote at the end of the month



March 1853 shows lots of work on Orlando’s fence.

  • What work was he doing on his fence?
  • Why do you think he spends so much time working on a fence?

April 5, 1853: Orlando wins an election.

  • What does he get elected to?

June 6, 1853: Orlando raised a log barn

  • Did he have any help?

September 19, 1853: Orlando’s father passes away

  • What happened before his Dad died? Check the entries before to find out.



January 15, 1854: Orlando’s Uncle Leyman passes away

  • Notice how often Orlando visited Uncle Leyman before he passed, try to count the number of times went to and from Leyman’s.

May 16, 1854: A MASSIVE rainstorm

  • Note the language Orlando uses to describe the storm. See if you can find anywhere else that he uses language like this.
  • Consider how the weather impacts the work that Orlando does.
  • Can you find other examples of the weather impacting Orlando’s livelihood?

The footnote for July is a ledger of wages paid to someone for help with the hay work

  • What does this imply about Orlando and his farm?

October 7, 1854: Orlando got Daguerreotypes taken in Platteville.

  • A Daguerreotype is an old style of photograph common in the 19th century



What does Orlando do in June of this year in his position as a town clerk?

September 5, 1855: Orlando and his Uncle Obed go to see “Ms. Bell’s” leg amputated.

  • The diary doesn’t say, but why do you think she needed her leg amputated?
  • I hope she came through it alright!

October 14 – November 23, 1855

  • What’s going on every day throughout this stretch?

November’s footnote:

  • What is Orlando complaining about?



February 5-7, 1856

  • What neighborly act is Orlando up to?

March 11, 1856: “Went to Platteville to have Daguerreotypes taken.”

  • “Photo-shoot fresh, looking like wealth, [Orlando] called the paparazzi on himself!”

March 13, 1856: “Mary Alice born.”

  • Do you think Orlando was giddy or excited? Check the footnotes and see if you can tell!

May 18, 1856: Orlando’s Uncle Obed gets married

  • Ain’t that just sweet? Did they do anything to celebrate?
  • Do you think Orlando and his uncle were very close?



February 20, 1857: “Went to pull teeth for Mr. Winter”

  • The diary doesn’t say, but whose teeth do you think Orlando was pulling?

September 28, 1857 – October 2, 1857: Orlando takes a vacation

  • Where does he go, and what is he doing?
  • Did he have fun?



January 17, 1858

  • Read this entry. What do you think it means? Are there any footnotes to go along with it.
  • January’s footnote:
    Orlando is complaining! What is he on about THIS time?

March 1858

  • What does Orlando spend most of his time doing this month?

June’s footnotes:

  • June 10: How does Orlando feel about the prospects for his crops?
  • June 30: Has his opinion changed in the past 3 weeks?

July 1-14, 1858

  • What does every entry start with during this stretch?
  • How does it affect him?

August: What is Orlando focused on this month?

October-December 1858: Orlando is working on building a sawmill

  • What type of work is he doing? How is the work going? What sort of supplies does he need to get the job done?
  • Does the weather effect his work at all?



Reminder: This section is broken up into the 12 months of the year. Each month contains bullet points of the routine work done during that specific month in any given year. Read the questions under each bullet point and try to find the answers for them in Orlando’s Diary. Be sure to pay attention to the variety of work Orlando must do to survive.



Grain work

  • Who does Orlando do the work for?
  • What type of work is he getting done?

Day Trips

  • Where does Orlando go?
  • What is he doing when he travels?

School work starting in 1853

  • What type of school work is Orlando doing?
  • Does the work change over time?



School Work

Looks specifically at February 1854 and 1855, where is Orlando spending a lot of his time?


  • What kind of chores do you think Orlando was doing?
  • Why would he be doing chores in February, instead of farming?

Day trips

  • Same questions as before?
  • Do the day trips change with the months or are all day trips fairly standard throughout the year?




Sawmill work as well as sawing and chopping wood for personal use.

  • What do you think Orlando uses his wood for, and what do you think he did at the sawmill?
  • Why does Orlando do so much wood work in March as opposed to a different month?

Town Clerk duties from 1854-1858.

  • How many different jobs go into being a Town Clerk?
  • Is there a specific job that is more common than others?

Day trips



Lots of farm prep work

  • What type of work does Orlando do to set his farm up for the spring?
  • What does he mean when he says that he is “Harrowing” a field?

Town Clerk duties (from 1853-1858)



Farm Work

  • What work is most common in May?
  • Is he working on his own farm, or is Orlando working on other people’s farms?



Cheese making

  • How much cheese does Orlando make on average?
  • What kind of cheese do you think he makes?

Hay work

  • How does Orlando word his entries when he works on hay?
  • How important do you think the hay work is for Orlando?


  • What kinds of crops would you see if you visited Orlando’s farm?
  • Why do you think he grows so many different things?

Road work

  • Why do you think Orlando (a farmer) would be working on fixing a road?
  • Does Orlando specify which road he is working on, or the work he is putting into them?

Hay work

Cheese making




  • Consider how and why the crops that Orlando is working on have changed since May

Hay work

Day trips



Harvesting fruit

  • What kind of fruit does Orlando grow?

Day trips




  • It’s harvest season! How did Orlando’s crops do every year?
  • Were there good years and bad years?



Collect taxes for school

  • Is he collecting the taxes as a town clerk or as a school teacher?

Vote in general elections

  • Note how regularly Orlando votes
  • Who does Orlando vote for?
  • Can you tell Orlando’s political alignment?

Prepare crop fields for winter

  • What goes into preparing his fields for winter?

Day trips

Tax work

  • How many days does Orlando spend on this?
  • The diary doesn’t say but what do you think tax work entails?

Hauling and cleaning corn and grains

  • Why do you think Orlando needs to clean his grain?
  • How do you think someone cleans grain?



Day trips to sell goods

Tax work

School inspections

  • Where does Orlando go to inspect these schools?
  • How do the inspections go? Are there any schools that fail?


Reviewed by: Tim Olson