During 1872/73 Robert met Margaret Jane Fisher who was being raised by her older sister on a farm in the neighbouring hamlet of Ripley. Both of Margaret’s parents had died from tuberculosis when she young. Margaret was “a tall, beautiful, striking woman with black hair, blue eyes and milk-white skin.” Raised in a neighbouring township at Clinton, where a school was more accessible, she became a voracious reader. However, as the relationship between Robert and Margaret blossomed, Robert’s father expressed severe reservations about his son’s future marriage to Margaret. James had experienced the tragic deaths of two wives and seemingly wanted to spare Robert a similar sorrow and hardship. James was fearful that Margaret, like her parents, would succumb to tuberculosis. At that time the disease was thought to be very contagious among family members. Although Margaret was currently healthy, the history of family association was one which prompted James to express his fears to Robert.
In reaction to these concerns, Robert decided to elope and married Margaret July 15th, 1874. His father’s disappointment may have been one of the factors which contributed to Robert’s decision to relocate in 1881. After the marriage, Robert and Margaret took up residence at a farm in Ripley located about 5 miles southwest of Bervie. Over the next few years Robert experienced the challenges of clearing land and adjusting to the vagaries of weather as he tried to meet the needs of his family. He found it difficult to keep pace with the rate of clearing expected. The summer of 1879 was exceptionally challenging when a severe infestation of potato bugs destroyed this staple crop. From 1875 to 1879 Margaret gave birth to three children, Thomas (1875), Emma (1877), and William James (1879). Margaret’s health deteriorated in after the birth of William James. The doctor advised that a drier climate was would alleviate Margaret’s condition. With fears of the onset of tuberculosis, mounting debts, and disappointing crop yields, Robert and Margaret carefully considered their options when they read news about the best farming lands opening up in in the northern plains of the United States.
Advertisements similar to these posted in Harper’s Weekly in 1872 boasted of the best farming land in the world on the western plains of the Red River.