He was 29 and a bachelor who had moved to Kansas to take advantage of what was thought to be a better environment for his health. She was 18, the third oldest daughter of a family of ten. She had lost her mother in December of 1888 due to childbirth and now was taking in laundry and baking for bachelors in the neighborhood. Her next oldest sister had been married just a year before while Mother was still living. Belle was not so lucky. She was not married until after her own mother’s death. Thomas Edward France and Lena Belle Salmans were married on the 17th day of February 1889 most likely in Larned, KS. The photo above was of their wedding day.
After living in Kansas for nine and a half years, Ed and Belle made their way back to Illinois to attend Ed’s mother’s funeral. Lavina Clanin France had died at the age of 60 years. Ed’s father, John, was still living in Fulton County, Illinois. Ed and Belle had two living children by this time. Lola was born in 1890 and Lee was born in 1892. An infant daughter had died in 1895. Ed, Belle, Lola and Lee supposedly took the train back to Illinois. Once there, John France asked Ed and Belle to remain in Fulton County and set up housekeeping in his house. He was 63 years old and didn’t want to keep house by himself.
It was well past six months before Belle could return to Kansas to bring back their things and say goodbye to her family. The remaining nine Salmans siblings all lived in Kansas until their deaths. Belle would never return to live there, but merely to visit her siblings.Two more children were born to Ed and Belle – two daughters – Essie in 1899 and Vera in 1902, but their son Lee died in 1906 of pneumonia breaking his parents’ hearts.
At the age of 51, Ed succumbed to pneumonia and died in 1910. It’s hard to say if abiding by his father’s request to move back to Illinois actually caused his demise. Breathing issues are what had prompted his move west in the first place. Nevertheless, Belle was left with a farm, a father-in-law, and four children to care for. Her daughter Vera often commented on Belle’s industrious nature and “farming” intelligence. She was well known for the quality of her horses. She managed the farm and put her share of physical labor into it with the help of a hired man, Milton Westlake. Westlake was a widow also and worked for Belle for five years before they finally married in 1915.
December 8, 1915 Milton A. Westlake and Lena Belle Salmans France married, both for the second time. Belle was 45 years old at the time of her second marriage; Milt was 47. They were together for 31 years until Belle’s death.
She looks very proper in her first wedding photo. She was only 19 at the time of her wedding and the world had no doubt weighed heavy on her shoulders. She looks very happy in her second wedding picture. Her children were grown, She had moved from Kansas to the France farm in Fulton County, IL and then moved again when the government bought her farm for an army camp. Her life was ever-evolving. She was a pioneer in more than one way during her life, yet she seemed to embrace the happiness of a new marriage and a new companion later in life.
it would be interesting to hear how different her thoughts were at her wedding at age 19 and her wedding at age 46. What comparisons and contrasts could she provide. What perspectives on life could she offer. I hope to get to ask her someday in the Great Beyond.