Things Left Behind

Things Left Behind

There was a child went forth every day,

And the first object she looked upon, that object she became,

And that object became part of her for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Catherine “Katie” Cary put the ways of childhood behind her when she took Isaac Bowen for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do they part, and pledged to him her faithfulness. And she remained true to her vow until the end.

In Lifelines – The Bowen Love Letters, Katie married a young soldier and chances are that her parents never imagined such a thing – that Katie would fall in love with a military man who, by occupation, was destined to be transferred to other military posts, away from her childhood home. We know from Katie’s letters to her husband after he was reassigned from Maine to Florida in 1846, six months after their romantic wedding by candlelight, that Katie’s parents did not want her to join him in Florida. There was talk of war between the United States and Mexico and for young Katie to travel by herself to Florida by steamboat was fraught with peril. Not to mention that Katie’s mother was herself afraid of travel by sea, which she projected onto her only daughter. But Katie was now a married lady and determined to join her husband. Her mother eventually got on board and helped Katie pack the household items needed to start a new life.

Shortly, like a “clap of thunder” as Isaac Bowen described it, his artillery regiment was shipped to Texas to provide support to General Zachary Taylor’s men in Mexico. Fortunately, due to a flood in Maine that washed away bridges, Katie’s departure was delayed. By the time she was to leave the only home she had ever known, the war with Mexico had officially begun. Katie had to suffice with love letters written every Sabbath. Despite the differences in climate, at least she and Isaac were under the same moon.

At age seventeen, Isaac Bowen left behind his own childhood home in upstate New York when he arrived at West Point in 1838. He didn’t see his parents or eleven siblings for four years. After graduation with the Class of 1842, Isaac was promoted in the Army to Second Lieutenant, 4th Artillery. As a new officer, he served on the Maine frontier at Fort Kent in 1843, and at Hancock Barracks near Houlton, Maine, from 1843-1845. This is where he met, wooed, and married young Katie Cary. According to Cullum’s Biographical Register of Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy, Class of 1842, Isaac Bowen graduated 15th in a class of 58, which determined his duty assignment. The only problem I have with Cullum’s Register is that the entries about a graduate’s official military career and any synopsis of later civilian achievements were usually based, at least in part, on information supplied by the subject of the entry himself, or by someone who knew the subject The final entry for Captain Isaac Bowen is inaccurate, and it remains so.  

After the Mexican War 1846-1848, Isaac left Mexico as a First Lieutenant, 1st Artillery, after being granted brevets (war-time promotions) for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct during two battles – the Battle of Monterrey and the Battle of Buena Vista. He joyously returned to his bride, unharmed, with the exception of several bouts of cholera and many bouts of anxiety and depression, which he called the “blue devils.” After living in northern Mexico for three years, Isaac hated to leave it due to the climate, but he was assigned to Fort Mifflin, and then Schuylkill Arsenal in Pennsylvania, where he and Katie were finally able to set up house. They bought furniture at auctions in Philadelphia and feathered their nest. Their first child, Margaret Amelia Bowen, was born in 1849 and they were supremely happy.

One of Katie’s brothers and one of Isaac’s were each working behind the scenes to get Isaac a promotion to Captain. Both brothers were politically connected in their own states and Isaac was duly promoted to Chief of Commissary for the Department of New Mexico. He was given six months of leave before he had to report for duty, and now without compensation for military housing, Katie took the baby home to Houlton while Isaac spent time in Washington, D.C., visiting old friends (including President Millard Fillmore and his family at the White House). In the meantime, Katie was frantic when Amelia became sick, although the baby had medical care from several local physicians. The letters drop off and I don’t know if Isaac made it to Houlton before his thirteen-month-old daughter died of whooping cough. Margaret Amelia Bowen was buried in Houlton, with only a flower to mark her grave until her headstones were made. Her grave is still tended to with care in Houlton today.

Captain Isaac Bowen and Katie Bowen
Isaac and Katie Bowen about 1850, possibly in mourning clothes after the death of Margaret Amelia Bowen

Leaving behind their child and Katie’s close-knit family, Katie and Isaac mournfully left to visit his parents in New York, and then traveled to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where wagon trains were being outfitted for the journey across the Santa Fe Trail. Their furniture and Isaac’s big dog, Bruno, were shipped to them from Philadelphia. While they made their preparations. Katie frequently wrote to her mother about their darling Amelia and Katie’s dreams of holding her only child.

Consolidating their belongings and making adjustments for a long overland trip, many items of furniture were sold to other families living at Fort Leavenworth. It felt like the edge of the known world at that time. Isaac was in his element as he outfitted their gear and went about making purchases for the Army – farming implements, seeds, cattle, oxen, horses, mules, sheep, pigs, grain, beans, flour, sugar, barrels of water and vinegar, salted meat, pickles, butter, and so forth.

April 28, 1851 Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

My dear Mother, Isaac is having a grocery chest filled with tin boxes to contain everything needed in a family and then I will have everything under control, boxes of different sizes made to fit perfectly into the chest, three tiers deep and the cover of the chest, when let back, makes a table for any purpose. A thin board fits in over the boxes which will be a grand bread board, and so we carry a whole kitchen in one chest. Candles, soap, flour, sugar, spices, everything has its own box, and a nest of milk pans finish the top. Our cow gives a good mess of milk and I have no misgivings with regard to the future.

Along the Santa Fe Trail, from Missouri and Kansas to New Mexico Territory, travelers before them had disposed of furniture along the way. The trail was littered with broken wagons, other debris, and unmarked graves. It was also common to bury the dead in the trail so that wagons pounded the dirt when passing over. That way, animals could not disturb the bodies.

Once they reached their destination, the couple started all over again. In September of 1851, they arrived at the new supply depot named Fort Union before housing was built and lived in tents for several months. Fort Union was the main guardian of the Santa Fe Trail, which was one of the most important overland trade routes serving North America beginning in the 1820s. Of course, the trail itself was about 2,000 years old, having been established by American Indians.

During their five-year stint in New Mexico at Fort Union, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe, the Bowens bought and sold furniture as needed. By the time they left New Mexico in 1855, they had sold almost everything for a good price, except for personal belongings and preserves from home.

After being assigned to New Orleans, the last place they wanted to go, the Bowens lived in a boarding house for the first time in their marriage. With three small children underfoot, they made do, living in several furnished rooms. When Isaac couldn’t get leave for the summer, Katie and the children traveled back east to visit family, where family homes had not changed and everything was in its usual place.  

When Isaac got sick and died, they were unwillingly parted by death. Katie kept her vow of faithfulness and followed him three days later. She would never leave him.

Three small children were left behind, but they were well cared for and adopted by Isaac’s brother and his wife. Lifelines – The Bowen Love Letters chronicles thirteen years of a happy marriage and somehow, most of their letters survived, leaving behind the story of Katie and Isaac Bowen in their own words.

Things left behind, belonging to the estate of the late Captain Isaac Bowen:

2 Large Silver Ladles

2 Small Silver Ladles

12 new Silver Table Spoons

24 Silver Tea Spoons

2 new Silver Salt Spoons

12 new Dessert Spoons

6 Silver Forks not marked

4 Silver Cups

I Silver Coffee Urn

3 Silver Teapots

1 Silver Sugar Bowl

1 Silver Milk Pot

1 Large Silver Pitcher & Cover

1 Cake Basket

2 Large Candle Sticks

2 Small Candle Sticks

1 Silver Slop Basin

1 Molasses Pitcher & Stand

1 Fork & Spoon – William’s

1 Fork & Spoon – Agnes’

1 Silver Butter Knife

1 Silver Sugar Spoon

1 Pickle Fork

1 Mustard Spoon

6 Silver Tea Spoons new

1 Gold Tea Spoon

1 Pocket Book containing valuables

9 Dining Chairs

6 Small Chairs

1 Cameo Set – Bracelet, Pin & Earrings

1 Pair Heavy Gold Bracelets in case

1 Turquoise Set – Pin & Earrings

2 Pair Gold Earrings

1 Pen Knife

2 Gold Watches & Chains

1 Cameo Pin

3 Gold Pencils

2 Gold Chains

1 Silver Card Case

1 Silver Snuff Box

1 Pearl & Silver Porte-Monnaie

1 Pearl Fan

1 Silver Buckle

4 Pieces Coral

2 Lockets and One Gold Dollar attached

2 Sets Sleeve Buttons – 1 Gold & 1 Cameo

6 Coral Pins

1 Hair Necklace

2 Bracelets & Locket

15 Finger Rings

1 Silver Bride

6 Shirt Studs

3 Watch Keys

1 Breast Pin

2 Necklaces (red topaz)

1 Jet Necklace, 2 Bracelets

1 Small Porte-Monnaie with odd coins

1 Pearl and Silver Ornament

1 Yellow Paper with Trinkets

2 Head Pins

1 Carriage

1 Sewing Machine

1 Small Table

2 Arm Chairs


There was a child went forth every day,

And the first object she looked upon, that object she became.

And that object became part of her for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

These became part of that child, that young woman, who went forth every day, and will always be part of her.

And these become of him or her who peruses them now.

Walt Whitman constantly changed his earlier poems and I don’t think he would take offense at my modifying this poem. At the end of 1891, Whitman prepared a final edition of Leaves of Grass, after thirty-three years of “hacking at it.” The last version was published in 1892 and was referred to as the “deathbed edition.”

My book, Lifelines – The Bowen Love Letters, is currently available on, Dorrance Publishing Bookstore, and The Last Chance Store of the Santa Fe Trail Association: