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A Memorable Frontier Wedding in West Point, Iowa


Posted By: John Stuekerjuergen (email)
Date: 2/26/2015 at 11:11:54

Hawkins Taylor, one of the founders of West Point, liked to tell a story about one of the weddings he performed as justice of the peace. The ceremony took place around 1840. The story reflects some of the simplicity, coarseness, desperation, and hope of the frontier.

The father of the bride was David Penrod, who came from Johnson County, Illinois in 1836 and took a claim in the timber a mile south of West Point. Penrod’s business in Illinois was that of a hunter, Taylor said, with the game being deer, turkey, and hog. As the countryside was settled, hog hunting became most profitable. Meals at Penrod’s table were rumored to include pork more often than venison. Unfortunately, some meddlesome persons eventually complained to a grand jury about his hog hunting. But that is another story.

Penrod brought with him to Iowa a dog, a gun, a wife, and two daughters of marrying age. He built on his claim a small log shanty with a dirt floor and clapboard roof (no loft). Two beds were supported by poles and covered with some straw, a few deer skins, and an old quilt. The only seats were three-legged stools. The table was a puncheon (a broad, heavy, roughly dressed log with one face finished flat).

Fuge Martin, a local bachelor, had courted one of Penrod’s daughters with success. Taylor was asked to marry the couple. About the middle of the afternoon he slipped out of his own plank house on the south side of town. He hoped to avoid detection by the young boys in West Point, who loved to stir things up at weddings. However, some of the boys had heard about the Penrod wedding and were closely watching Taylor’s movements. Shortly after his arrival at the Penrod residence, about a dozen rushed into the yard to see the fun.

Nancy Penrod, the bride, was dressed in a bluish green striped home-spun dress and was barefooted. Mr. Penrod and his wife were sitting on stools, one in each corner near the fire. Both had savage looks on their faces. The two were clearly not in favor of the marriage, and neither said a word to Taylor. Their other daughter was also in attendance.

The groom’s Grandfather Clark was the only other person in the wedding party. He was one of the real characters in the area. He never came to town without spending some quality time with a whiskey jug, and every utterance started with “Hello Molly.” As soon as Taylor stepped through the door of the cabin, Grandfather Clark said “Hello Molly, they think my grandson not good enough for their gal. Hello Molly, I think it an even swap. Hello Molly, Fuge is a no-account, but Hello Molly, he is as good as the Penrods. Hello Molly, Fuge, bring out your gal.”

By that time a small crowd had come out from town. The uninvited guests made old Penrod furious, but they paid no attention to him. Fuge Martin and his gal stood up and Taylor tied them. Without delay, Grandfather Clark took from his pocket a flask of “forty-rod” whiskey, so called because it was warranted to kill at forty rods (220 yards). “Hello Molly, let’s have a drink.” After taking a good swig himself he offered it to Taylor, who refused. “Hello Molly, never heard of the like before.” Grandfather Clark then gave the bride a long sip, which she appeared to enjoy, then her sister, then the bridegroom. Penrod and his wife indignantly refused a turn at the flask. That was probably the first time in their lives they refused this beverage, Taylor thought.

“Hello Molly,” said Grandfather Clark, “here’s to you, hoping that the first may be a gal and a boy. Hello Molly.” Taylor recalled in his later years that the union had some staying power. And it most fruitfully increased the area’s population. Taylor performed other marriages during his years in West Point, but this proved to be one of the most memorable.


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