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Grandfather's Keller's Pioneer Days


Posted By: Jenny Bailey (email)
Date: 8/29/2003 at 21:16:32

"Grandfather's Keller's Pioneer Days", written by his grandson, Neil Morrison, Jr., November 23, 1924. From the Warren County [Iowa] Genealogical Society Newsletter, Indianola, Iowa 50125, date unknown.

"My grandfather, Franklin Keller was born in Barbour County, West Virginia, March 21, 1831. His parents, John and Lucinda Keller were natives of old Virginia. Grandfather was the oldest of a family of fourteen children. He grew to young manhood in West Virginia, where he was married to Ellan [sic] Jane Mc-Intosh [sic], January 16, 1851. Grandfather became the father of twelve children, six boys and six girls. He moved from West Virginia to Iowa having came [sic] by water to Keokuk, Iowa. He landed there March 21, 1854, having taken two weeks to make the trip. Here he hired a man to haul his household goods with his team of oxen to Eddyville, Iowa.

My grandfather spent his first night in Iowa in the little town of Farmington on the Des Moines river [sic] in Van Burean [sic] County. Here he and his brother-in-law, Abraham Felton, who had came [sic] from West Virginia with him purchased a team of oxen and started on foot for Warren County, driving the first day a distance of twelve miles. He stayed over night with an old gentleman who was very kind and who made them feel at home. He carried the children into the house for them.

The old gentleman seeing Grandfather was a stranger advised him to leave his family there until he could find a location which suited him. Grandfather rented a house in Van Burean [sic] County for six months. It was now the sixth of April. By the first of May he had buried his two little children who were born in West Virginia. The two little children were buried in the little town of Boneparte [sic]. At the time of the children's death he came down with the measles. After the doctor and funeral expences [sic] were paid grandfather's last penny was spent. He then indeed realized his condition without money and among strangers. He commenced working in a brick yard in the little town of Vernon. By working at any and everything he could find to do he saved enough money, and on the twenty fourth of September started on foot for Warren County.

On the thirtieth of September Grandfather was in the place where New Virginia is now situated. The wild prairie grass at that time was four feet tall. Grandfather with the assistance of William Forman Sr. commenced to survey to find a suitable location. After surveying a week he decided to locate on the place now known as the Neil Morrison farm, where he lived and remained until his death. Here he began the construction of a log cabin, cutting down the trees and hewing out the logs to make it. By the twentieth of November he had his little cabin under clapboard roof, and moved in without chinking or doubing [sic] the cracks and without doors or windows and with old mother earth for a floor. A quilt hung in the place of a door and the chimney was made of sod. The water was carried from the place known as the Lee Keller farm.

After the cabin was completed he began splitting rails to fence his farm with. In order to do this Grandfather went to the creek and chopped down the trees and cut out the rails by hand. There were neither roads nor bridges in those days. The creek had to be forded to get the logs across.

The wild prairie grass grew very high and heavy in those days, and when it was dry it might cause a terrible fire so he had to make fire guards to protect his buildings from the fires. He did this by plowing several furrows around his buildings. He also protected them by backfiring. This was done on mild days by setting out a small fire and making it turn back from the buildings for several yards. Great caution had to be taken because when the fires come they come with great speed. The people fought the fires by wetting quilts or coats and beat the fire out.

Farming implements were scarce in grandfather's day's and most of them were made by hand. Grandfather had one plow and he used a team of oxen to plow with. He cradled the grain and threshed it with a hickory flail. Their crops consisted of corn, wheat, barley, rye and flax from
which the material for the clothing was spun. There was wild fruit to be found in the woods in abundance: plums, wild crabs and wild grapes which they made good use of. Also walnuts, hazel and hickory nuts which they enjoyed very much in the long winter evenings.

At first Grandfather's light was the open fireplace, but later they used tallow candles made by their own hands. They had no matches so they brought fire from flint rock by striking it against steel. The spark would ignite any dry and light thing, so they were very careful not to lose their fire and kept it covered well in the fireplace.

The cooking was done in the fireplace with very few cooking utensils; the chief one being a large iron oven which swung from the center of the fireplace. In this oven the corn pone was baked in, but the potatoes and meat were roasted in the fireplace. Dainties were scarce in those days but what they did have was very good and nourishing. Their meat consisted of wild game such as rabbit, quail, squirrels, wild turkey, goose, duck and herds of deer; but grandfather was never fortunate enough to shoot a deer.

The Indians would frequently come through in tribes, set up their tepees [sic] and camp. Of course the feathers which the Indians wore attracted the attention of the white children. As also did the blankets of many colors which the squaws donned; the blankets which we prize so highly today. The Indian squaw was always decorated with many strings of beads. She always had beaded garments of brilliant shades. She carried her little papoose fastened to a board on her back. When the squaws came to the different homes to beg they would stand the little papooses down by the door. The tribes would always travel on Indian ponies and would always have some ponies to trade to the white men.

In those days the large prairie wolves were numerous and would howl around the cabin at night. The wolves would often carry off the young of the flocks. One night when grandfather was away at work a large prairie wolf came and kept howling around the cabin so long it frightened grandmother terribly. It would come right up and sit down by the door (which was only a quilt) and howl. Grandmother thought sure it would come in the room and kill her, and the baby. She threw some meat out the back door, then slipped out the front door and went to the nearest neighbors a mile and a quarter away.

My grandfather helped organize Squaw township and acted as clerk at the first election. He put the first ballot into the ballot box.

Grandfather was one of the Charter members who founded the Mount Tabor society in March 1855. The people of the neighborhood held meetings at the different homes until the spring of 1857 when the new school house was built on the south-east corner of Grandfatherís farm. The people worshipped there until the year of 1874, when the church was built. This church still stands as a place of worship and as a memorial to the early pioneers.

Grandfather worked on a brick-yard located on Squaw Creek south of where L.D. Forman lives. The bricks were used by the early pioneers. Some of the old brick houses still stand as pioneer landmarks. Grandfather had a brother eighteen years old who had came out from West Virginia to visit him. He would go with Grandfather to the brickyard to help work. One very hot day in August this young man became very hot, [and] he got on a spring board (which the men had fixed) and jumped into the cool water to bath[e]. It threw him into chills and he became unconscious, a burning fever set in and he died a few days afterward. There being no
one who knew anything of embalmbing [sic] and no trains he was buried here in Iowa. This was a sad incident in grandfatherís life.

In the days of my grandfather there were no groves [of trees] and nothing for protection from the severe winter storms which were so much longer then the ones we have now days. Sometimes grandfather's cabin, stables and sheds would be snowed from sight. One terrible stormy night when the snow and wind was blowing fiercely it blew the snow through the cracks in the cabin and made a large drift across the room and covered Grandmother and Grandfather up.

Grandfather lived on the same farm in Warren County fifty eight years. Grandfather was married over fifty six years when Grandmother died. He was very sad and lonely when she died. After her death he lived on in the old homestead. Later my father and mother moved in to care for him. He lived five years and six months after grandmotherís death. He died at the ripe old age of 81 years and six months.

One of Grandfatherís well known sayings was, "old Iowa is the best state in the union," and "Warren County is the best county in the state."

Thus in the years between 1854 and 1912 Grandfather saw our Iowa grow from a wild uninhabited prairie to one of the most prosperous agriculture [sic] states in the union. The state famous for, "out where the west begins," and "Land where the tall corn grows."

[all punctuation in the original]


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