Who is Belle?

1890 – Early Fall

A heavily laden wagon filled with a family of five and all their worldly goods heads south, pulled by a team of four horses.

The air is cool, and coloured leaves are dropping. Fall is definitely here. John Bamford eyes the sky and the failing light. He is anxious to reach the next town. Everyone is tired and hungry, including his pregnant wife, Ella Belle. After working their homestead in the northwest corner of Nebraska for four years they are giving up, and going back home to Iowa.   

1890 – Late Fall

Walter Davis and his wife, Laura, are more than a little surprised when his sister, Ella Belle, and her family arrive. The Davis home is large, but taking in the Bamford family will be difficult. Yet there seems to be no alternative: It could take time for John to find a farm to rent.

In the meantime the Davises do what is necessary. They have one large empty bedroom where the Bamford family can sleep. An old shed is converted into a kitchen and eating place for the new guests. John and his older kids work as servants for the Davis family, in the house and on the farm.

Soon after they arrive, a girl is born, on December 20, 1890. In honour of her aunt, Laura Davis, and her mother, she is named Laura Belle.

1897 – Summer

The stay that everyone had hoped would be short has been anything but: John decided to change his vocation. Instead of looking for a farm to rent, he entered the ministry of the United Evangelical Church. After almost seven years, he has just been assigned to his first parish. To the delight of all, the two families part.

As they head down the road in the family’s new buggy, their six-year-old daughter announces, happily but firmly, “My name is Belle, not Laura Belle.” The change is never talked about, just understood and accepted.


Belle is in high school, studying part-time and doing practice teaching under a mentor the rest of the day. By now she is considered a young adult, and is well versed in her duties as the minister’s daughter. In those days a congregation didn’t hire just a minister: The whole family was expected to serve his flock.

This day she is grumpy, and fed up with duty! Another meeting, and she knows what will happen. Some church business will be discussed, and the chairman will finally turn to her and ask, “Miss Bamford, what is your opinion?” What can she do? It’s ridiculous to expect a young person to have answers to adult business!

Suddenly the answer comes to her. She’ll pretend to be shy, and refuse to stand up and enter the conversation. So Belle remains seated, drops her eyes, shakes her head, and murmurs, “Oh no, I don’t understand anything about this.” The chairman is baffled. What should he do – he can hardly tell the minister’s daughter that she should have an answer. He counts on her because she always does!

Belle continues her shy act and chuckles to herself. The chairman is about to turn to ask someone else when a voice rings out from the door, “On your feet, daughter, if only to say you have nothing to say!”

Greatly embarrassed, she stands up and answers the chairman’s question.



Belle never forgot that church-meeting incident and the lesson therein. Most of her adult life was spent in Canada, in a Danish community where most of the women had little experience in public speaking. She was often asked to do the speaking when it was needed. I remember her giving a little sigh, but always rising to speak, if asked to give her opinions.

This is not a biography, but a quick scan of the life of a woman I knew well and loved dearly: Belle, my mother. Two more stories are coming: one about her development in her twenties and thirties, and one in her old age. With those, I hope you will have formed your own answers to the question, “Who is Belle?”


Filed under This & That

8 Responses to Who is Belle?

  1. Jim Taylor

    Dear Marjorie,
    I hadn’t heard from you for a while, and I was worried that your health might have deteriorated. I’m glad to see it hasn’t.
    Your mother represents many women of her era. They were expected to be helpless Victoria females, but they often shouldered astonishing responsibilities, in places many of us today would hesitate to go to. They rose to their feet, and to the need. Bless ’em all!
    Jim Taylor

    • Marjorie

      You are right, Jim – just think how few women in my mother’s generation were leaders, or spokeswomen for various causes, how few had university educations. It is a bit melodramatic, but someone said “We stand on the shoulders of giants”.

  2. How delightful to meet your mother this way! You have a knack with storytelling that makes me think of the stories passed on to me by my mother about her many relatives and friends. A teacher, she played a central role in the small communities where she also played the organ and directed the church choir. Thank you for opening another window into the lives of people who created the Canadian social history we share.

    • Marjorie

      Laurna – I’m always pleased when my memories rouse other memories in my readers. These ties to the past, and to those we loved, are invaluable.

  3. Joyce Schuman

    Loved this family history. As you know my mother was a Davis. I’m passing this along to my children and nieces and nephews. It’s important to know our history.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, Joyce – the family history is precious for me too. Sheldon and I were able to find the exact homestead land where Ella Belle Davis Bamford and her husband John lived. Question – Have you seen the book “Grandma Was a Davis” that I wrote? Seems to me someone in your family bought a copy. If you can find it, borrow it and catch up on some of our Davis background.

      • Denise Lewis

        Joyce, I think you have a copy of the book, but if not, I’ll ship you mine. Marjorie, I too have enjoyed learning more about our family history! Thanks for educating us in story form.

        • Marjorie

          Denise, I am pleased you enjoy learning some of our family history. Thank you for letting me know.