IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items

Logo copyright Waukon Standard, used with permission

Logo courtesy of Jeremy J. Troendle, Managing Editor, Waukon Standard

Permission to publish the Wexford Wanderings series on the Allamakee co. IAGenWeb was granted by the author, Hugh E. Conway. We thank him for his generosity.

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22 * Article: 23

page 1-- Introduction & Articles: 1-5
page 2 -- Articles: 6-10
page 3 --
Articles: 11-15
page 4 - Articles: 16-21


Century Old Elm

When white settlers reached northeast Iowa, they were greeted by lush, green, old growth forests of oaks (white, red, black), hickories, hard and soft maples, butternut, black walnut, hackberry, ash (white, green, and black), cottonwood, poplar, basswood, birches, willows, elms, honey locus, mulberry, ironwood, box elder, wild plum, wild cherry (choke cherry), crab apple, thorn apple, white juniper, red cedar, and eastern white pine. There were also a variety of shrubs and brambles including hazel, sumac, gooseberry, raspberry, blackberry, and wild grapes.

The tree species varied by location and quantity of moisture. On the top of hills where there was a dryer habitat, a prevalence of shade-intolerant oaks and hickories, especially white oak, red oak, and shagbark hickory dominated. On the steeper rocky slopes, a mixture of sugar maple, basswood, red oak, black oak, and white oak dominated. In some areas, a coniferous-deciduous forest occurred with mixed stands of eastern white pine, juniper, and red cedar intermixed with hardwoods.

Along the flood plains and deltas formed as streams entered the Mississippi River such as Wexford Creek, willows and silver maple dominated. Along the stream banks, basswood, cottonwood, red elm, and walnut dominated. Where Native Americans had opened up areas, box elder, Siberian elm, American elm, white ash, walnut, butternut hickory, and black cherry dominated the early colonization period.

The early pioneers carefully planted trees for shelter from the frigid winds of winter and the scorching heat of summer as well as to enhance the scenic beauty and increase the value of their farms. The settlers also planted hardy varieties of fruit trees, ornamental shade trees and shrubs, such as apple, pear, cherry, grape, currants, chestnut, buckeye, mountain ash, larch, spruce, arbor-vitae, and many other European varieties.

D.W. Adams established a nursery in Waukon in 1856, and through years of trial and error by casting aside as worthless varieties of winter killed trees and propagating only acclimated varieties, he succeeded in establishing some of the best apple varieties in the country that can be easily grown in this region.

When pioneers in northeast Iowa planned new towns, the expansion and growth of these cities included careful planting of shade trees for beauty along the streets and in homeowners' yards. The most popular and preferred trees used by most new towns were the tall, graceful American elms. These wonderful shade trees grow quickly into large, attractive, vase-shaped trees. In time, the elm limbs extend across the street and two trees on opposite sides of the street will provide a shaded canopy which bridges across the road. The elm crowns would span across large areas in parks and cover whole sides of houses.

The downfall of the American elm was the Dutch elm disease, a fungal pathogen - Ophiostoma ulmi, that arrived in the 1930's. The elm bark beetle carried the fungal pathogen from tree to tree causing a rapid series of infection in a short period of time. The disease clogged the food and water pathways causing tree death in only a few years. Waukon, Lansing, New Albin, and other cities and towns across the country lost the battle and millions of American elms had to be removed. Where the beautiful shady elms once stood, there are vast expanses of open area.

An interesting fact about the elms is that when they started to show symptoms of the disease, such as "upper branches losing leaves", the fungal delicacy morel mushrooms can often be found at the base of the dying trees. The small, delicious mushroom has a distinctive rough and rumpled surface with a blackish color while the larger morels have a rough surface with a light tan color. The morel mushroom is sought after as an expensive delicacy across the country and definitely a delightful treat.

When the first settlers at Wexford picked the location for the first log church, a number of American elms grew along the bottomland near where the small fountain of the Wexford shrine is located. The largest of these was a large vase-shaped tree approximately 50 years old that provided wonderful shade. Many of the early churchgoers used this elm and other trees to tie off their horses during church services. They would tie the horse's halter to a branch allowing the horse to feed in a circle around the tie-off.

There was one bright Sunday morning when Father Laffan came storming out of the back of the Wexford church with his white vestments flying and yelled to the tardy church members who were smoking clay pipes and gossiping in the shade of the century-old elm. Father Laffan yelled, "Put out your clay pipes, stop gabbing, and come to church; God is waiting on you!" The lollygaggers slunk into church and Father gave an inspiring sermon on the virtues of punctuality and disgrace of tardiness.

Some people were so taken by the grandeur of the elm that they wrote a poem to celebrate this giant of elms. It is published below:

The Wexford Elm
written by John Joyce in July 1904 for the Wexford Fourth of July celebration

A century plant is that grand old tree

That grows in beauty in Allamakee,

Where the people meet on the Fourth of July

In the Wexford valley beneath the sky,

And celebrate ever the natal day

Of our Republic's imperial sway.

Here, Father and Mother, Daughter and Son

With lovers and Sweethearts when day is done,

Dance by the light of the moon and stars

And think of the life over those golden bars,

That flash o'er the world at early dawn

And light up the rolling hills and the lawn.

The spreading crown of the beautiful elm

Is monarch of all in its emerald realm,

And throws its arms to the sun and the breeze

The great Grand Father of the surrounding trees,

While it shades the leaping trout in the stream

And glorifies all like a blissful dream.

Old Wexford Church with its memories dear

To this glorious tree is very near,

While the green graveyard with its precious dust

Holds many a pioneer faith in trust,

While God in his infinite mercy must

Reward the deeds of the brave and the just.

Brave Mission Fathers in the days of yore

Led by the faithful and generous Hoar,

Assembled their flock beneath the spreading tree

And there to their God bent the willing knee,

To the power that rules the land and the sea

Imploring the joys of Eternity!!

And so, as the gathering years go by

Under the sun and the bright starry sky,

The devoted people of Allamakee

Will continue to worship and bend the knee,

As they come from the hills, the vales, and the lea

In the land of the brave and the home of the free!

I remember a large stand of elm trees that surrounded the base of the cemetery on the north side between the church and the Wexford Creek. These tall, shady trees were the chosen spot for road maintenance crews to take their dinner break. On a couple of occasions, the crew was there enjoying the shade at 10 a.m. as I passed by and then 2 p.m. when I returned home they were still hard at work under the shady trees. Some people really have a hard life. They make up for summer rest in the winter months, especially when driving snowplows through the night trying to keep the roads open.

The giant Wexford elm was a victim of Dutch elm disease. Removal of the tree resulted in a gigantic stump that required a number of grown men holding hands in a circle to match the circumference of this tree. There was enough firewood cut up from this tree to last through one winter and half the next. Red elm makes good fire wood that burns hot, giving off a lot of heat while burning for a couple of hours.

It is a shame that the elms have fallen to Dutch elm disease. The giant elms that once grew along the Wexford Creek and throughout northeast Iowa are sorely missed. There is an effort to reestablish the elm trees. A Johnny Elmseed program is trying to plant a tolerant variety of the American elm that seems to better resist the Dutch elm disease. Good luck to this group.


Early Cattle Drive

After returning from the Civil War, Tim Madden raised only a few head of cattle but even these required quality pastures with plenty of long green grass and a slight mixture of wild clover, alfalfa, and native plants to fatten up the cattle. On his farm, the cattle were herded over a mile down to the tall meadows where Wexford Creek ran into the Mississippi River.

This delta received annual topsoil washed down from upstream that provided ideal growing conditions for native and introduced plants and grasses. From spring to fall, the cattle munched on a sea of tall green grasses and a variety of tasty wild plants. Each evening, the cattle were brought back to the safety of the barn and locked in to keep them safe from prowling wolves, the occasional marauding bear, hungry Indians, and unscrupulous cattle thieves.

Tim Madden's daily cattle drives were nothing compared to the long lines of cattle leaving Texas along the Chisholm Trail, Goodnight Trail, and many other cattle trails heading toward town with railheads to ship cattle off to hungry city folks after the Civil War. Since a herd of cows in a cattle drive came from a variety of owners, each critter was branded (burnt with an identification mark into the hide) and earmarked to identify the correct owner.

The majority of cattle were moved on trails in spring when grass was available and the weather was reasonable. A good day on the trail would cover 10 to 15 miles. The era of the cattle drive lasted approximately 30 years, from just after the Civil War until railroads reached the south making the trek to northern markets unnecessary.

A seasoned crew of 12 men could move as many as 3,000 head of cattle. The best of the men were assigned near the lead cows in front of the line. The cattle drovers worked in pairs, on either side of the line of cattle. The remainder of the men worked the hazy flank and swing positions farther back, with drag men bringing up the dusty rear. The trail boss rode ahead of the cattle column to scout for signs of Indians, look for water and grass, and find a place to camp for the night. Communication was by hand signals, adapted from sign language of Native Plains Indian, or by hat gestures.

A stampede occurred when lightning spooked the herd, or any combination of sights, smells, or sounds sent the cattle running. To control a stampede, the cowboys nearest the front of the herd would turn the lead cows to the right, forming a circle. Then, the drovers would bring the rest of the herd into a smaller and tighter circle, until all the cattle were moving slowly in a small circle towards the right.

From 1866 to 1895 nearly 10 million cattle were driven to market via railroad cow towns such as Dodge City and Abilene, Kansas or all of the way to the gold fields in California. These trails could cover over 1,000 miles and often required 12 to 16 weeks of hard work in the saddle. A herd with several thousand head of cattle might stretch out one to two miles on the trail with several natural lead cows taking their places in front, while all the other cattle fell into an irregular long line behind.

One of the major necessities of a cattle drive was the chuck wagon where food was prepared. The chuck wagon "drawn by oxen or mules" carried food, utensils and a water barrel, as well as tools and the crew's bedrolls. The wagon "covered by a canvas top" contained several drawers, shelves, and a storage compartment underneath.

There were a number of home remedies for illnesses along the trail. Coal oil was used for lice. Prickly-pear poultices helped wounds heal. Flowers from the bachelor's button plant were used to cure diarrhea. Salt and bison tallow were used for piles.

The popular 1960's television show "Rawhide" depicts the hardships of the 1866 cattle drive from San Antonio to Sedalia. The show, based on the diary of Cattle Drover "George C. Duffield", with Gil Favor, Rowdy Yates, and the rest of the cowboys provided a glimpse into the life of cattle drovers on the trail with a heard of cattle as they headed for Sedalia avoiding Indians, stampedes, and cattle rustlers.

Texas fever from the lone star tick Margaropus annulatus was noticed in Arkansas and Missouri after cattle from Texas were driven through in the 1850s. Since the rangy, tough longhorn cattle from Texas remained healthy and were immune, their role as the carrier of the disease was not known. When the South Texas longhorns trailed through, the ticks dropped off and found local cattle to feed on, transmitting the deadly disease and killing local cattle. Some cattle drives from Texas were met with armed mobs in southeast Kansas, southern Missouri, and northern Arkansas with a "Winchester Quarantine," in effect, to keep the disease-carrying cattle out.

In the second half of the 1900s, Allamakee County had it own authentic American cattle drive with the annual fall movement of 40 to 100 head from summer pastures along the lower end of the Wexford Creek to the winter hay storage at the Conway farm. In late May the cattle were again driven over six miles from the farm back into the summer pastures along the Wexford Creek bottom where Tim Madden had fed his cattle over 100 years before. The long trip started in the early morning when all of the cattle were rounded up and started moving. It would be late in the afternoon, a good seven to eight hours later, before the last of the cattle reached the farm.

The cattle started with lots of energy and wanted to run during the first couple miles. The more mature lead cows, which had made the journey before, set the pace. As the day wore on, the cattle traveled at a steady pace until they reached the two-mile mark where the first steep hill caused them to slow down and the slower cows and calves started to lag behind the main body of cattle. At the four-mile mark, some of the cattle's tongues started to hang out as they climbed the very steep hill below Cassidys and Whittles. The last two miles the herd moved at a slow steady pace with the front cows doggedly leading the way and the rest of the herd stretched behind for over a mile of road.

For most of the trips, we lacked the luxury of horses to herd the cattle and instead used human foot power to keep the cattle in check along the trail. In the fall, the trail started on a well-worn dirt road that led up the Wexford valley to the gravel road below the Wexford Church. The four oldest brothers, Jimmy, Joe, Leo, and Pat, were in front of the moving herd and at each neighbor's property one or two would be assigned the guarding and blocking duty to keep the cattle from going into the neighbor's property. At Marleys and at Heavy Crows (where Edwards later built a cabin), one of the boys blocked the driveway as the herd passed on by. At the base of the Wexford Church the gravel road veered left, hugging the hillside heading toward Harpers Ferry for the next mile.

Some of the middle-aged kids, Dan, Mary, Ellen, Hugh, or Mike, were given the job of blocking the right side of the gravel road and keeping the cows from heading toward Lansing. Others guarded the area around the Wexford Store operated by Mullarkeys and later by Bobby Jo Hawes. Jimmy or Joe would run way ahead to warn any traffic on the road of the slow-moving cattle. Dad brought up the rear of the herd driving the car with John, Rose, and Ray. Like the chuck wagon, the car carried three gallons of water, a drinking cup, snacks, and paper sack lunches for each of the family members.

Next, the road turned right at the base of the Wexford rock quarry up a relatively steep hill (Fitz's Hill) toward Sweet Ridge and a four-mile stretch of gentle up and down hills with one steep hill at Cassidys. The boys in front kept busy running ahead and blocking driveways at Jim Hawes', John Hawes', Tommy Cassidy's, Virgil Whittle's, Lafayette School #7, Farley's, Harold Mooney's, and the road below Joe Kernan's to turn the cattle down our mile-long lane. At each of the neighbors' farms, their herd bull would be just on the other side of the barbed wire fence kicking up grass - bawling and making a show as the cattle passed on by.

By the end of the trip the cattle and everyone else were tired, dusty, and ready to take a nice long rest. The older boys walked and ran over 10 miles by the finish of the cattle drive. It makes us appreciate the amount of work that was needed to move the large herds from Texas. As Jimmy, Joe, Leo, and Pat were drafted into the Army, the younger ones took their job in the front of the herd.

The return trip in the spring was the reverse of the fall trip except on a few occasions the cattle crossed the iron bridge below the Wexford bridge and went the long way back up Mullarkey's hill. On these occasions, the boys blocked driveways at Mickey and Mary Maddens, Carl Mullarkeys, and Whalens. In the spring, it was necessary to help some of the young calves that were less than a month old by giving them a ride in the station wagon.

On one occasion, Jimmy and Sonja did bring a horse that helped move the cattle along. The lead cow on this trip was a veteran of many cattle drives and knew the way from many previous trips. She picked the long route up Mullarkey's hill and had a rather tough time making it up the long gradual rise in the hill with her tongue hanging out for the last mile. Little did we realize that this was her last trip and that she would die later in the spring.

Wexford had other cattle drives as well. George Delaney would gather a crew with horses and drive his cattle from pasture along the Wexford Creek to the old Mullen's farm. It seemed much easier using horses and saved a lot of shoe leather.

In Ireland, booleying was a system of moving cattle or sheep to summer pastures on higher ground or distant moorland. Young folk and sometimes whole families left the village after planting the crops and journeyed to the booley area. Small homes were built using turf or sods and roofed with branches or heather. A cast iron pot, a few chairs, a churn, and some household items would have been taken on the trip.

During the 8th century, the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as All Saints Day. It was an occasion of family reunion after booleying. At the reunion at All Saints Day, when the sheep and cattle were brought back from the summer pastures, fires were lit to mark the end of the period of growth and to herald the new year. By this time, the crops would have been harvested and the grass and hay cut and stored for the winter.

page 1-- Introduction & Articles: 1-5
page 2 -- Articles: 6-10
page 3 --
Articles: 11-15
page 4 - Articles: 16-21

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