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Mr. & Mrs. C.J.F. Newell: A PIONEER'S STORY


Posted By: Robert Bee (email)
Date: 3/4/2009 at 00:46:05


The forthcoming celebration of the golden wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Newell, who have lived nearly all of their fifty years of married life in northeastern Iowa, suggested to a friend of ILLUSTRATED IOWA the opportunity for a story of an interesting character. An interview growing out of the suggestion resulted as follows:

"I was born," said Mr. Newell, in Huron, Wayne county, New York, March 3, 1817. My father was Wm. Pomroy Newell. My grandfather Newell's name was Simeon, and he served as a captain under Washington all through the revolutionary war. My father, who died when I was about eight years old, left my mother with seven children.

Among my earliest recollections are those of going trout fishing with my father and carrying the fish (I was then about seven years old) and going with him to visit his traps the next spring, a few months before he died.

From 1835 to 1834 [sic] I lived at home, attending school in winter and helping on the farm and among the neighbors in summer. In that section of the country, before the completion of the Erie canal, there was really no market for farm produce, except in exchanging with or selling to neighbors. The prices of labor, including board, were:
By the season, $10 per month.
By the day, 50 cents.
Reaping with sickle, $1 a day.
Mowing with scythe, 75 cents per day.
Boys' labor, 35 cents a day.
Reaping and binding, per acre, one pint of whiskey and $l, or a bushel of wheat.

The common price of grain:
Wheat $1 per bushel and corn 50 cents.
There was no market for fruits or vegetables.

For houses the people lived in log cabins, with large open fire places having stone hearths and back and stick chimney, plastered with mud. The baking was done in a bake kettle by setting the kettle on coals and placing more coals on tile cover. Meat was roasted by hanging on a string in front of the fire and turning occasionally. We had no matches and if the fire went out some one went to the neighbor's and borrowed some coals. There were no stoves, no lamps, no sewing machines, no steamboats, no railroads and no labor saving implements of any kind worth mentioning. For lights they used tallow dips (candles) if they had them, if not they took a saucer of lard, with a button wound with cloth, for a wick. Sometimes there was no light, except from the fire place and if a stitch was dropped in knitting they lighted a splinter to see to take it up; they did the same to light a candle.

People wore homespun wool in winter and cotton and tow [sic] in summer. Tailors went around the neighborhood and cut and helped make men's clothes and shoemakers went around making boots and shoes for the families. Most persons then went barefooted in the summer. The women knit stockings and mittens to exchange for tea, snuff and tobacco. Men could exchange corn for whiskey at the stills, two and one half gallons for a bushel of corn.

There were mills on small streams where there was sufficient fall for a breast or overshot wheel. If you took a grist to mill in a dry time you had to walk the wheel to help grind it.

Our school system was very different then from what it is now. Teachers received from $2 to $8 per month and 'boarded round.' The amount paid each term was apportioned in proportion to the days attendance of each family and collected as other taxes by collector. The school houses were seated by benches on three sides with writing falls or inclines next to the walls and we had to sit with our backs to the center of the room to write. There were three tiers of benches, high, medium and low. The last term that I attended school from home I was called upon to assist the teacher in the arithmetic class and when any of the girls raised their hand I could sit beside them and whisper to them about their lessons (of course.) I was then nearly seventeen years old.

In January 1834, I went from home to Waterloo to learn blacksmithing and carriage ironing; lived there till 1838. From there went to Clyde, Wayne county, and engaged in building wagons and carriages. Times were very hard. There was a financial crisis and stores and banks were failing and we had to have a bank note detector to refer to find the value of the currency. (state bank bills and then they might be worthless the next day.) I remained in Clyde three years and was glad to get back on the home farm.

While living in Clyde I helped build log cabins for the Harrison-Tyler campaign and cast my first vote for Harrison. I have voted at every county, state and national election since.

I was married March 1, 1818 [sic*], to Mary Boynton, in Huron, Wayne county, and went to keeping house on the home farm. In 1851 I sold my shop and started west to look up a new home, taking passage on a packet at Clyde, and following the canal to Lockport from there to Niagara Falls on the railroad and thence by train to Buffalo and from there to Detroit on a lake boat. The lake was very rough and nearly all the passengers were sick, and they managed to keep me busy getting brandy, etc. for them. The crew said it was the roughest trip they had.

While visiting near Albion, after leaving Detroit, I shot a wild turkey, which was so big that when hung over my shoulder, holding to his leg, his bill struck my heels. After a several week's visit I took the boat at Niles and crossed to Chicago, then a small, muddy, western town, though there were some quite nice buildings, considering the location. After a short stay I boarded the train for St. Charley, on the Fox river, and then the terminus of the railroad. I rode from there to Freeport in a lack. The streams were swollen, making the fords almost impassable, one stream being out of its banks. We struck the bank diagonally and nearly tipped over. My satchel was thrown out and I had to swim to get it. I walked the rest of the way to our stopping place, Rockford, where we spent the night, going on to Freeport the next day. On Monday I started to walk to Galena, but got a ride part way. I visited the lead mines, smelting furnaces. etc. In those days wood instead of coal was used on both boats and trains, making it necessary to stop quite often.

I staid [sic] in Sabula until the next boat came up and took passage on it to Dubuque. After staying there several days I came up the river to Lansing by steamer and from there drove to Waukon, where I found and entered 'an eighty' and returned to Lansing. While waiting for the boat I helped to raise the first three frame buildings built in that town. When the boat came down I boarded it on my way home, reaching there in September, 1851.

In the fall of 1853 I again started west, accompanied by my family and coming over about the same route as before; reaching Lansing in October and moving to Waukon two weeks after. At this time there was no finished frame house in Waukon and only a very few log cabins. After living in Waukon twenty years, I lived nearly eleven years on one farm and nine and one half on another; then returned to town again in 1893.

On March 1 next, my wife and I expect to celebrate our golden wedding."

Mrs. Newell added to her husband's story this item of interest concerning their early life in Waukon:

"The fall of 1851 we had seven boarders in our one room log cabin, with loft, besides our own family of five. Among the boarders were Judge Noble of McGregor, Judge Murdock of Garnavillo, Judge Wilson, lawyers Wiltz and _andever of Dubuque."

This was, we understand, during court time, and affords to the imaginative mind, a vivid picture of the pioneer conditions that existed in Iowa less than fifty years ago.

*marriage was March 7, 1848, according to The Past and Present of Allamakee County, Iowa 1913; Chapter 20, History of Waukon: A Typical Pioneer, pp. 396-401

~source of article & photo of Mr. & Mrs. C.J.F. Newell: "A Pioneer Story", Illustrated Iowa (a successor to the Saturday Review); Feb. 1898, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 57


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