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Harold Van Brocklin, Lansing


Posted By: Volunteers - Errin & Sharyl
Date: 5/20/2017 at 20:27:35

Lansing (Mule) Man is '68 49'er, Prospects In Hills
by Robert C. Gehl

LANSING, Iowa — A self-styled “old timer”—face half ­hidden in a heavy growth of beard and appearing much like a 49’er of gold rush days—trudges out each day with pack on back headed westward into the surrounding hills. Harold Van Brocklin, 70, is on a daily trip to do his chores and feed and water his jackass pal, Ted, and jenny friends, Cricket and Cindy. Some people call them “donkeys,” but to Van Brocklin they are his “mules” and he says, “I have been a mule man all my life.” He keeps his three mules, a half-dozen ponies, three or four stray dogs and a few chickens in an old barn behind the former Four-Mile-House, once a stagecoach stop but now only a vacant and weathered remnant of the past.

Van Brocklin, a bachelor who lives with his 92-year-old mother in Lansing, walks the eight-mile round trip each day the year round, unless of course he is offered a ride by a passerby on Highway 9 along which the old farm lies. “And on a nice day he doesn’t want a ride,” a friend says. "I come out every day and walking is the main feature unless I get a ride,” he explains. “I spend up to four hours on the farm and then return to town when I have the chores done.”

Van Brocklin says his mules are his hobby, but he also wants to do something with them. Doing something with them means to him “trying to find an outlet so I can show them in parades and at celebrations.” He says he works hard with them every day. He explains that he breaks them in to handle, but because they are stubborn it takes a long time. “You have to push them around,” he says, “but they are real gentle.” He once said about his jack that “he understands every thing I say, I’ve raised him from a baby.”

He packs a mule or mules and takes them with him up into the surrounding hills on his prospecting trips. Van Brocklin said, “I’ve been digging around up here in the hills for years and years trying to unearth something, but I’ve never found anything to amount to anything.”

What about his beard? “This is my first beard,” he explains. “I grew it for the local centennial last summer and just let it grow ever since.” One reason, he adds, is that the mules have got used to it.

His years, and perhaps, too, his mules have made him somewhat philosophical: “I’m old enough to retire, but don’t... If a man don’t know his misery, he’s all right... People who complain are foolish, because they can’t do anything about it... There’s nothing wrong with the world, it’s just the people.” Van Brocklin explains, “I got most of my wisdom from kids. If you are willing you can always help a kid. Grownups figure they know enough to do things by themselves.” He summarizes: “I’m no man for town.” A friend quotes him as saying once “he never wanted to be rich.”

He was born of Dutch and Irish heritage to Mathias Van Brocklin and Lavinnie Connor, Nov. 11, 1897, near West Union, Iowa, and moved with his parents to this area when 12 years old. The family belongings were shipped by train, but a brother and another man drove six mules and two horses overland to their new home. Van Brocklin recalls that he rode a jenny up river six miles to their farm, followed closely by two colts.

He attended area country schools and also went one year in town. He spent all of his life except eight years working around and on farms in this area. The exception was the eight years he lived in Missouri, where he took a carload of horses before “looking around and feeding cattle” there. He returned home 13 years ago...bringing a “mule” along with him.
~La Crosse Tribune, La Crosse, WI, March 10, 1968
(see photos below) ~contributed by Errin Wilker


Salt-and Pepper hair reaches to his shoulders. A shaggy beard hangs down toward a moth-eaten kelly green cardigan. A string tie around his neck is anchored with a wooden hand-carved boot inscribed with the name John.

He is Harold Van Brocklin, 87, of Lansing, and he is waiting along the road for his mail. The Mississippi gleams from the hillside below his chair.

"The river? I like it right where it is. There's no real love on the river for me. It's been such a change since they put in the nine-foot channel. In the '30s there was timber and pasture and that's hard to find."

He's lived most of his life in the area. "Oh, I traded and bought horses for 65 years. I traded horses, I drove horses on the road and mules, don't forget the mules. I picked up a few clamshells on the river here too, before they flooded it."

Now he lives in a rented cabin with a few dogs and a potentially endless supply of cats. No horses. "Oh, you don't miss nothing after you get to 88 years old," he says. "Eleventh of November I'll be 88 years old. You don't miss nothing. Whatever goes is just it."

Now he likes the attention he gets. "I like to talk to people. Like to talk things over. Tell 'em what little I know. I never was smart, you know."
~Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 13, 1985
(see photo below)
~contributed by S. Ferrall

~Notes: Harold Van Brocklin died in 1993 and is buried in Gethsemane cemetery, Lansing. His gravestone has the epitaph "Old Horsetrader" (it can be viewed at the Find-A-Grave website)
Obituary: http://iagenweb.org/boards/allamakee/obituaries/index.cgi?read=641623

~See also: The Four-Mile House, in the 'Lil Bits section of the website for another photo & a bit of info. (link below the photos)


The photos on the left are from the La Crosse Tribune article and the photo on the right is from the Cedar Rapids Gazette article

Top left photo caption:
Some people may call them donkeys, but to Harold Van Brocklin of Lansing, they are "mules." Here he is with two jennies - Cricket and Cindy - on the creek which runs through his farm four miles out of Lansing.

Bottom left photo caption:
Van Brocklin persuaded Ted, one of this three "mules," to pose with him for a portrait. "You have to push them around a little" he says, "because they're stubborn, but they are also real gentle."

Right side photo caption:
Harold Van Brocklin of Lansing lives alone in a cabin alongside the Mississippi. Van Brocklin raises dogs and offers any stray cat a home. "There are never too many cats. They're a lot of company," he says.

'Lil Bits - Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

Allamakee Biographies maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen

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