A Brief History of Bremer County
~~adapted from History of County Governments in Iowa, Iowa State Association of Counties, Des Moines, Iowa, 1992.
The first white man came to Bremer County in 1845 and settled about two miles southwest of Denver. At that time this area was an Indian reservation belonging to the Winnebago tribe, numbering about 300. Later the reservation was purchased by the government, and the Indians were moved to the Crow River area of Minnesota, about 150 miles north of St. Paul.
Bremer County was named in 1850 by Governor Hempstead, who admired the work of the Swedish author Fredricka Bremer. It's the only Iowa county named after a person eminent in literature.
Its townships were also named for famous people: Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Polk for four presidents; Fremont and Douglas for presidential candidates; Dayton for a presidential running mate in 1856; Lafayette and Warren for two famous soldiers of the Revolution; Fredricka for the author Fredricka Bremer; Maxfield for Judge Maxfield; and Sumner for Charles Sumner, a senator and Cabinet member in the Civil War period.
Waverly was first settled in 1850, and it soon grew to importance due to its water power, used by the flour and saw mills. On January 24, 1853 Waverly was chosen as the county seat and has remained the county seat ever since. It was selected because of its growth, commercial position and railroad facilities.
Bremer County was permanently organized in August 1853 with the election of county officers.
The first courthouse was erected one year later by Richard Miles at a cost of $147.50. The small frame building was used for only three years, and then it was replaced by a brick and stone two-story structure that cost the county $23,000 to complete. None of the materials used in its construction -- brick, stone and lumber -- were from outside of the county. This 43-foot x 63-foot building was dedicated on January 1, 1858 at a grand ball and reception held in the new building.
This second courthouse contained no vaults for the safekeeping of county records, so in the summer of 1870 a small brick building was constructed adjacent to the courthouse. The new building, which cost $5,000, was used to house all of the county records.
In 1937 these two buildings were torn down to make room for the third and present courthouse. The county used a Works Progress Administration grant of more than $60,000 to construct the $139,000 courthouse. Several bands were on hand to celebrate the dedication and open house of the courthouse on June 10, 1937.
Early Settlement of Bremer County
the 1883 History of Bremer County, pages 787-800
Transcribed by Linda McCann
Prior to 1845, the territory now comprising the county of Bremer was a vast expanse of prairie and timber, uninhabited by aught save Indians, and wild animals. The confines of civilization had not much more than crossed the Mississippi, and a journey through the territory west of the "Father of Waters," was a tedious, and justly considered a dangerous task.
This county, lying as it does in the Cedar and Wapsipinicon valleys, had no doubt been visited by white men, for these fertile valleys had long been the trail of the hunter and trapper before actual settlers made their appearance. This part of the State was known as an Indian reservation, belonging to and occupied by various tribes. Those in actual possession, it is claimed, were the Winnebagos. Yet there were also members of the tribes of Musquaukees and Pottawatomies. There were about five hundred of the Winnebagoes who had quite a large village on sections 22 and 23, in Jefferson Township. The Musquaukees numbered about one hundred, and the Pottawatomies about fifty. During the summer season they would leave their homes here and push northward for game and fish, leaving only their sap troughs, log shanties covered with bark, and their brass sugar kettles. The latter they buried where they would not be discovered by passers by; and it is not improbable that there are many of these brass utensils yet hid in the woods in Jefferson Township.
The Indians did not, as is generally imagined, cultivate land, plant corn, or raise vegetables, but lived a life of indolence. The three tribes were intermixed and lived together in comparative harmony. The most notable chiefs were Womanokaker (often spelled Wananoker), Four Eyes, Pukatuk, Winnesheik, Hanahetaker, and Big Way, (sometimes spelled Big Wave). Womanokaker (or Wananoker) was the great war chief; and the tradition has been handed down that he got his name from the fact that he had at one time stolen the woman of a white man-thus the name, "Woman-okaker." He is remembered as having the end of his nose shot off by a bullet. He lived on section 23, Jefferson township, near where H. C. Krech now resides, and his counsel had much weight among the Indians.
After the settlement of this county by whites began, the Indians became quite troublesome, stealing anything they could lay their hands upon. Finally, in the fall of 1848, two of the settlers made complaint to the government authorities, and, shortly afterward, the entire body of Indians were removed by a detachment of United States troops, from Fort Atkinson.
In the spring of 1845, the first settlement by white men was made in the territory now comprising Bremer county. Charles McCaffree was first white man to locate, making claim to the whole of section 34, township 91, range 13, on what has since been known as Quarter Section Run, in Jefferson Township. Mr. McCaffree is of Irish descent, born in Jefferson county, Kentucky, and during a portion of his early life was engaged as a boat hand on the Mississippi. After a few years of this life he went to southern Missouri, but in a short time turned his face northward, and settled in Lee county, Iowa.
In the spring of 1845, as stated, he came to Bremer county and located upon section 34, in what is now Jefferson township, put up a little log cabin in a small grove about fifty rods from the creek, on land now owned by Henry W. Briden, northeast of the present residence of Mr. Briden. During the first year of his residence, McCaffree broke about fifty acres, and raised considerable corn. Soon after McCaffree settled there came to the county, Jerry O'Conner, an Irishman, who had for a time been making his home in Lee county, who took claim embracing all of section 33, adjoining McCaffree's and together they kept bachelor's hall. O'Conner broke and fenced about five acres and raised some corn, near where the house of H. D. Gould now stands. After this McCaffree and O'Conner went back to Lee county. The former soon returned, but the latter never came back. O'Conner during the season was accustomed to do but little clotheswashing; when his shirt became worn and dirty, he would tear off the sleeves and collar, and put on a new shirt. When he started for Lee county he had on the bodies of not less than five shirts. The weather being cold when they started, they wore their overcoats. O'Conner, having neither boots nor shoes, made a sorry appearance traveling bare-footed with an overcoat and five shirts on. The following year, McCaffree was married to Cynthia, a daughter of John H. and Mary Messinger, who were then residents of the county. They went to Independence to have the marriage ceremony performed. They had a family of ten children-Hardin, Floyd, Mary, Hannah, Laura, John, Hestins, Lewis, Owen and Eibert. Mr. McCaffree and wife remained in the county after marriage for about eight years, when they removed to Spring Creed, where they remained three years, then returning to Bremer county. In about one year he went to Missouri, where he lived nine years, until the rebellion drove him from that State, when he again settled in Bremer county in 1869. He died about 1872, and was buried in the burial ground of Jefferson township. Mr McCaffree wasa man of good impulses, genial and social in disposition, and of much integrity. He made many friends among the pioneers. Mrs. Cynthia McCaffree, his wife, is still a resident of the county, living in Jackson township. She is the oldest female settler living in the county.
In the fall of 1845, Charles McCaffree bought his brother Isaac and their mother to Bremer county as permanent settlers. Isaac now lives somewhere in Missouri, having left Bremer county before the war. About the same time-September, 1845-Jacob Beelsh and his family and son-in-law, Andrew Sample, moved into the county and took claims which, after the survey, turned out to be on section 35, township 91, range 13, now constituting Jefferson township. A log cabin was erected by them on the premises now owned by David Marquis. Not much is remembered of Beelsh, as he did not remain long, removing to Floyd county. Andrew Sample, however, is remembered better, although he left about 1851. He is said to have been a disagreeable, quarrelsome fellow, nearly always in trouble with some of his neighbors. He moved into Chickasaw county, where he was a part owner in the town sote of Nashua. He won a hard name there by his drinking, carousing and lawlessness, and finally left for Missouri, where he was when last heard from. Jacob Beelsh has not been heard from since he left the county, but the grove he settled in, near the southern line of Floyd county, has since borne his name, though slightly corrupted, being called Beelar's Grove Thus the first settlement in the county was made.
Early in the spring of 1846, a party came to the county from Marion county, Indiana, consisting of J. H. Messinger, with a large family of girls and boys; George Tibbets , with a like family; T. Fisher and P. Miller. They all came with ox-teams, spending a number of weeks in the journey.
J. H. Messinger took a farm on section 35 and 36, township 91, range 13, and he and his wife lived there for twenty years, until called away by death. The family consisted of four boys and five girls. Elias J. was the oldest son, and now lives at Waterloo, where he owns part of the mill power of the Cedar river. John was the second, and lives two miles north of Waterloo. Robert P., the third, still resides upon the old homestead, and is the earliest settler now living within the county. Henry M.C. was the youngest son. In 1878, he went to Oregon, where he still lives. Of the girls, two of them married the Tibbetts boys, one married Charles McCaffree, and one is now Mrs. H.B. Boyd of Jefferson Township. The youngest married Isaac Conner, and is now dead. Mr. Conner is in Kansas.
George Tibbetts located on section 24, the present site of Jefferson City. His family consisted of four boys and four girls. About 1851 he ran away to Minnesota to avoid arrest. He has never returned, unless in secret. It is reported that he died a number of years since, with small-pox. His wife was a good woman, and much liked by all who knew her. For a number of years she lived with members of her family, finally going to Minnesota, where she died. Wesley Tibbetts, the oldest son, located on the north side of the Big Woods, on section 15, in what now constitutes Jefferson township, and the next son, Henry, took a place adjoining, on section 16. When the survey was made, the section line passed directly between their houses. Wesley sold his place, and now lives in Kansas. Henry also went to Kansas, but has since removed to California, where he yet lives, engaged in fruit culture. Jeremiah, the third son, removed to Minnesota, where he still remains, upon land given him by his brother Henry. Luther also lives in Minnesota. Jerry was peculiar in dress and actions, spending most of his time praying in fence corners. He never shook hands, his manner of salutation being a groan.
T. Fisher and P. Miller, who are mentioned as coming with party, did not remain longer than the ensuing fall.
The year 1847 witnessed the addition of a number of pioneers to the little settlement in Bremer county. So far, nearly, if not all, had settled in and about the "Big Woods," of Jefferson township. The settlers had already commenced tilling the soil and were raising various products. Game of every description abounded, and much time was spent by the pioneers in hunting.
The arrivals of 1857 who can be recalled were, Charles Frady, Ezra G. Allen, Joseph and James Fee, each of whom made a claim.
Charles Frady was son-in-law of George Tibbetts, and is supposed to have come from the same place. In a few years he moved to other parts. A son of his remained in the county a number of years but finally removed to Nebraska.
Ezra G. Allen settled upon the farm now owned by S.F. Shepard, on section 25, township 91, range 14, now Jackson township. Within half a dozen years he removed to Horton, and in 1856, went to Kansas, where he has since died.
Joseph and James Fee were brothers, and were know as "Joe and Jim." Where they were from is not known. They settled near the Tibbetts family, and after remaining a short time, removed to Chickasaw county.
In the spring of 1849 John Clark came from Delaware county, Ohio, and made a claim on section 8, township 91, range 13, now a portion of Washington township. After selecting this claim he returned to Ohio, making the entire trip upon horseback. In the fall of 1849, he returned to Bremer county with his family, bringing the same horse which he rode in the spring. Mr. Clark cut out the first wagon road from the north side of the Big Woods in Janesville. He was really a frontiersman--no one living north of him in this section of the State, nor west of him this side of Sioux City. Quasketon, forty miles distant, was the nearest grist mill, and Cedar Falls, then called Sturgis Rapids, was the nearest post office. At this time there was not a tradesman nor a professional man within the limits now constituting Bremer county. John Clark was born in Pennsylvania in February, 1796. At an early day, in company with his parents, he went to Delaware county, Ohio. He was brought up on a farm, and received a common-school education. He lived in Delaware county until 1849, when, in company with his wife and eight children, he came to Bremer county. There were but eleven families in the county when they arrived. The first spring, Mr. Clark and the boys tapped 400 maple trees and made 1,100 pounds of sugar, which they sold for six cents a pound. When they came to the county they bought a little flour, which was boon borrowed by the neighbors, and Mr. Clark was obliged to go to Cedar Rapids for more. The family parched corn and ground it in a coffee mill, living upon this until his return, usually being about a week on the trip. Mr. Clark was one of the first justices elected in the county. He died at his home in December, 1855. His wife is still living at the advanced age of seventy-eight. Seven of the eight children are yet living. Mr. Clark was a man of grand impulses, upright and honest in all of his dealings, and when death removed him from among the pioneers, they lost one of their best and most respected members.
David Clark, son of John and Jane Clark, was born Delaware county, Ohio, November 3, 1831. He came with his parents to Bremer county, in the fall of 1849. Mr. Clark received a liberal education and in the winter of 1853-54, taught school in Polk township, completing an unfinished term. This was the first school taught in Polk township. On coming to the county, he made a claim, but did not live upon it, remaining at home with his parents, until 1858, when he located at Waverly, engaging in the boot and shoe trade, and operating a tannery at the same time. In this line of trade he continued about one year. From 1859 to 1869, he was in the real estate business, and subsequently, for about five years in the hardware trade. On account of failing health, he has not been very actively engaged for some years, spending much of his time in Nebraska. In 1860, he was united in marriage with Miss Mary C. Lyman, a native of Pennsylvania. They have five children, two girls and three boys-Mary, the oldest, living at home; John L. now at Eagle Grove, in the drug business; Ernest C., Grace and Arthur B. Mr. Clark has been assessor of the town, a member of the school board, deputy collector of internal revenue of this district, and has held various other offices of honor and trust. He has taken an active part in every enterprise looking to the advancement of the city of Waverly, and has sacrificed great personal interests for its benefit.
In 1850 the arrivals were numerous, among whom were John T. Barrick, Herman A. Miles, William Payne, William Thorp, Samuel Armstrong, J.H.Martin, Jacob Hess, Charles N. Martin, J.H. McRoberts, William Hinton, and Frederick Cretzmeyer.
John T. Barrick made himself at home on section 35, township 91, range 14 where he subsequently erected a saw mill, and platted the town of Janesville, naming it in honor of his wife, Jane. Here he remained until late in the sixties, when he removed to Kansas, where he still lives. His son, Isaac T. Barrick, still lives near Janesville. Mr. Barrick was a genial and pleasant old gentleman, and made many warm friends among the old settlers.
Heman A. Miles, who was for many years identified with the progress of the county, located in Lafayette township. A letter from him, in connection with the chapter upon reminiscences, gives particulars of his early settlement.
William Payne came with Mr. Barrick, and also settled, with his family, near Janesville. He came from Indiana, and after making improvements, remained six or seven years, then moved to Dallas county, this State, where he still lives. He was an ardent Methodist, and was a man of good principles and many friends.
William Thorp, another pioneer of this year, settled with his family upon the place now occupied by Charles Thies in Jefferson township. In about four or five years he sold out and removed to Franklin county, this State. He was well-known among the early settlers; was a good kind of a man, but very passionate, and when excited would commit acts that in his more sober moments he would sincerely regret. One little incident is recalled in which he figured conspicuously. On a certain occasion when his daughter--having just been married--came home, a party consisting of Matthew Farrington, the Messinger boys, Loren Gilbert, and some others made arrangements to serenade "the folks". Accordingly, a number of musical instruments, such as tin pans, shot horse-fiddlers, etc. were obtained, and the party repaired to the scene of action. The performance began, and the din was almost unbearable. Thorp got angry, then mad, then wild, until, taking down his rifle, he swore annihilation of the whole posse. Just as he was about to open the door preparatory to beginning his bloody work, the thought chanced to strike him that possibly the serenaders might object, and it might result in their "cleaning him out." The thought was enough, his courage failed, and putting up the rifle, decided to sit down quietly and listen to the balance of the "concert." When the entertainment was through the orchestra departed. During the ceremonies M. Farrington mounted a stump, and in a spirited speech dwelt upon the text that "anger rested only in the breast of fools."
Samuel Armstrong settled upon a farm on the south side of the Big Woods, in Jefferson township. He had a family and is remembered as a good neighbor and a conscientious man. He only remained upon his first farm a few years, then moved further up the river, and finally, in 1854, removed to Minnesota.
J. H. Martin and his brother came with their father, Rev. Charles N. Martin, and their good mother, Elizabeth. The old gentleman was a minister of the gospel, a man of much integrity and well esteemed by all who knew him. He settled upon the southwest quarter of section 13, township 91, range 14, now Washington township. His wife, Elizabeth, was a great doctress, and rode all over this region healing the sick. The old folks went to Fayette county, where they have since died. John H. Martin located on section 26, on the road between Janesville and Waverly, in Jackson township. He was the first school fund commissioner of Bremer county.
Jacob Hess came with the Martins. He made his home on section 2, township 91, range 14, now a portion of the city of Waverly. His first log cabin was built near the site of the present stone house of G.R. Dean. He remained here for a number of years, but in 1864, went to Oregon.
J. H. McRoberts erected a log cabin upon the claim he made, on section 1, township 91, range 14, now a part of Washington township. A few years after his settlement, he was drowned in the Spring Branch. In company with Mace Eveland he had gone hunting, became fatigued and finally gave out all together. Mr. Eveland left him while he went for a conveyance to take him home. While he was gone it appeared that McRoberts had crawled to the edge of the brook for a drink, and while in the act of drinking fell forward on his face into the water. The water was only about six inches deep, but nevertheless, when Mr. Eveland returned, he found him cold in death.
In the fall of 1850, William Hinton and family came. Mr. Hinton made claim to a part of section 1, township 91, range 14, Washington township. After a number of years sojourn in Bremer county, the old folks moved to Kansas. Lorenzo and Shadrach, two of the sons, are yet residents of the county.
During the spring of 1850 quite a party arrived and were made welcome as valuable acquisitions to the settlement. The party consisted of Israel Trumbo and family, William Baskins, Joe Kerr and Aaron Dow; the latter bringing the family of Mr. Trumbo. All here secured homes. Israel Trumbo had a family of nine or ten children. He had previously visited the county and made a claim on section 16, Jefferson township, where he remained until about 1861, when he and his family removed to Dakota, where he and his wife have since died. He was a man of fair education, of good motives, genial, and popular. He was one of the first justices of the peace in Bremer county, and was the first surveyor.
William Baskins was his nephew, and was a single man at the time of his arrival. He is still a resident of the county. Joseph Kerr was a relative of the parties whom he accompanied. Being a young and single man, he soon began to look for a partner. He was soon afterward married to Martha Clark, and settled upon the place near the city of Waverly. He remained in the county until his death, which occurred in 1889. His wife is also dead, and the children scattered.
Aaron Dow, who came with the family of Israel Trumbo, like the rest was a native of Ohio. Shortly after his arrival in Bremer county, he claimed a piece of land on section 5, in what now constitutes Washington township, erecting his log cabin in what has since been known as Sturdevant's Grove. he was an old fellow, both in manner of speech and dress, but was honest and reliable in every respect. He was a nephew of Lorenzo Dow, and partook somewhat of the peculiarities of that good, though eccentric minister of the gospel. Aaron remained there until 1851, when he went south.
After this, the settlement became rapid. The details, as to the early settlement, will be found in the connection with the histories of the various townships.
Among the early settlers of the county, who are still citizens, are the following: O. C. Harrington, C. R. Hastings, Abner Scott and brother, M. R. Flood, T. Clarey, P. Burgess, Watenpaugh, Adam Brodie and brother, M. F. Gillett, James Leaman, S. F. Cass, A. L. Stephenson, O. S. Hatch, J. B. Yerton, A. Macomber, George Watts, Isaac Barrick, Allen Sewell, Frank Coddington, S.F. Shepard, Joel Loveland, George Daniels, Matthew Farrington, John Foutch, John Stears, P. Bredow, Winne, Stumme, Fred Bruntz, N. C. Peck, R. V. Dibble, John McRae, Patrick O'Dea, Fred Hidrebrand, G. N. Bowers, J. N. Johnson, Andrew Carstensen, Hiram Lester, Asa Martin, John Chapin, James Sturdevant, H. H. Case, W. B. Ingersoll, Moses Robinson, Mason Eveland, William Pelton, James Andrews, Stannard, R. J. Ellsworth, W. P. Harris, Moses Lehman, James Woods, and D. A. Long. These old settlers are mentioned merely as an index of what will be finished in the township histories.
~~from the 1883 History of Butler and Bremer Counties
One or the most interesting phases of national or local history, is that of the settlement of a new county. What was the original state in which the pioneer found the countries and how was it made to blossom as the rose?
Pioneer life in Bremer County finds it parallel to almost every county in the State and throughout the entire West. While some of the customs given here may not be entirely applicable to pioneer life in Bremer, they are a truthful representation of pioneer life in general and are thus worthy a place in this volume.
When Charles McCaffree, Jacob Beelah, and others of that noble band of pioneers settled here, they found an unbroken wilderness. Wild beasts and little less wild savages roamed at will over the prairie, through the forest and along the waters of the Iowa river and its numerous tributaries. Forests were to be felled, cabins erected, mills built and the river and creeks made to labor for the benefit of mankind. The beautiful prairies were to be robbed of their natural ornaments and the hand of art was to assist in their decoration. Who was to undertake this work? Are they qualified for the task? What will be the effect of their labors upon future generations?
The Bremer county pioneers had many difficulties to contend with, not the least of which was the journey from civilization to the forest homes. The route lay for the most part was through a rough country, swamps and marshes were crossed with great exertion and fatigue, rivers were forded with difficulty and danger, two nights were passed on open prairies with the sod for a couch and the heavens for a shelter, long, weary days and weeks of travel were endured but finally the "promised land" was reached.
Early Manners and Customs
The young men and women of today have little conception of the mode of life among the early settlers of the country. One can hardly conceive how so great a change could take place in so short a time. The clothing, the dwellings, the diet, the social customs have undergone a total revolution as though a new race had taken possession of the land.
In a new country far removed from the conveniences of civilization, where all are compelled to build their own houses, make their own clothing and procure for themselves the means of subsistence, it is to be expected that their dwellings and garments will be rude. These were matters controlled by surrounding circumstances and the means at their disposal.
The earliest settlers constructed what were termed "three-faced camps", or in other words, three walls leaving one side open. They are described as follows. The walls were built seven feet high, poles were laid across at a distance of about three feet apart, and on these a roof of clapboards was laid, which were kept in place by weight poles placed on them. The clapboards were about four feet in length and from eight inches to twelve inches in width, split out of white oak timber. No floor was laid in the "camp". The structure required neither door, window or chimney. The one side left out of the cabin answered all these purposes. In front of the open side was built a large log heap which served for warmth in cold weather and for cooking purposes in all seasons. Of course there was an abundance of light and on either side of the fire, space to enter in and out. These "three-faced camps" were probably more easily constructed than the ordinary cabin and were not the usual style of dwelling houses.
The cabin was considered a material advance for comfort and home life. This was in almost every case, built of logs, the spaces between the logs being filled in with split sticks of wood called "chinks" and then daubed over both inside and outside, with mortar made of clay. The floor sometimes, was nothing more than earth tramped hard and smooth but commonly made of "luncheons" or split logs with the split side turned upward. The roof was made by gradually drawing in the top to the ridgepole and on cross pieces laying the "clapboards" which, being several feet in length, instead of being nailed, were held in place by poles laid on them called "weight poles" reaching the length of the cabin. For a fireplace, a space was cut out of the logs on one side of the room, usually about six feet in length, and three sides were built up of logs making an offset in the wall. This was lined with stone if convenient, if not, then earth. The flue, or upper part of the chimneys, was built of small split sticks two and a half or three feet in length, carried a little space above the roof and plastered over with clay and when finished was called a "can and clay" chimney.
The door space was also made by cutting an aperture in one side of the room of the required size, the door itself being made of clapboards secured by wooden pins to two crosspieces. The hinges were also of wood while the fastenings consisted of a wooden latch catching on a hook of the same material. To open the door from the outside, a strip of buckskin was tied to the latch and drawn through a hole a few inches above the latch-bar so that pulling the string, the latch was lifted from the catch or hook and the door was opened without further trouble. To lock the door, it was only necessary to pull the string through the hole to the insides.
Here the family lived and here the guest and wayfarer were made welcome. The living room was of good size but to a large extent it was all kitchen, bedrooms, parlor and arsenal with fleches of bacon and rings of dried pumpkin suspended from the rafters. In one corner were the loom and other implements used in the manufacture of clothing and around the ample fireplace were collected the kitchen furniture. The clothing lined one side of the sleeping apartment suspended from pegs driven in the logs.
Hemp and flax were generally raised and a few sheep kept. Out of these the clothing for the family and the sheets and coverlets were made by the females of the house. Over the door was placed the trusty rifle and just back of it hung the powder horn and hunting pouch. In the well-to-do families or when crowded on the ground floor, a loft was sometimes made to the cabin for a sleeping place and the storage of traps and articles not in common use. The loft was reached by a ladder secured to the wall. Generally the bedrooms were separated from the living room by sheets and coverlets suspended from the rafters but until the means of making these partition walls were ample, they lived and slept in the same room.
Familiarity with this mode of living did away with much of the discomfort but as soon as the improvement could be made there was added to the cabin, an additional room or a "double log cabin" being substantially a "three-faced camp" with a log room on each end and containing a loft. The furniture in the cabin corresponded with the house itself. The articles used in the kitchen were as few and simple as can be imagined. A "Dutch oven" or skillet, a long-handled frying pan, an iron pot or kettle, and sometimes a coffee pot, constituted the utensils of the best furnished kitchens. A little later when a stone wall formed the base of the chimney, a long iron "crane" swung in the chimney place which on its "pot-hook," carried the boiling kettle or heavy iron pot. The cooking was all done on the fireplace and at the fire and the fire of cooking was as simple as the utensils. Indian or corn meal was the common flour which was made into "pone" or "corn-dodger" or "hoecake" as the occasion or variety demanded. The "pone" and the "dodger" were baked in the Dutch oven which was first set on a bed of glowing coals. When the oven was filled with the dough the lid, already heated on the fire, was placed on the oven and covered with hot embers and ashes. When the bread was done it was taken from the oven and placed near the fire to keep warm while some other food was being prepared in the same oven for the forthcoming meal. The "hoe-cake" was prepared in the same way as the dodger, that is, a stiff dough was made of the meal and water and, taking as much as could conveniently be held in both hands, it was molded into the desired shape by being tossed from hand to hand then laid on a board or flat stone placed at an angle before the fire and patted down to the required thickness.
In the fall and early winter cooked pumpkin was added to the meal dough giving a flavor and richness in the bread not attained by the modern methods. In the oven from which the bread was taken, the venison or ham was then fried and in winter, lye hominy made from the unbroken grains of corn added to the frugal meal. The woods abounded of honey and of this the early settlers had an abundance the year round. For some years after settlements were made the corn meal formed the staple commodity for bread.
These simple cabins were inhabited by a kind and true hearted people. They were strangers to mock modesty and the traveler seeking lodgings for the night or desirous of spending a few days in the community, if willing to accept the rude offerings, was always welcome although how they were disposed of at night. The reader may not easily imagine, for as described, often a single room would be made to serve the purpose of a kitchen, dining room, sitting room and parlor and many families consisted of six or eight persons.
The clothing of the early pioneers was as plain and simple as their houses. Necessity compelled it to be in conformity to the strictest economy. The clothing taken to the new country was made to render a vast deal of service until a crop of flax or hemp could be grown out of which to make the household apparel.
The prairie wolves made it difficult to take sheep into the settlements but after the sheep had been introduced and flax and hemp raised in sufficient quantities it still remained an arduous task to spin, weave and make the wearing apparel for an entire family.
In summer nearly all persons, both male and female, went barefooted. Buckskin moccasins were much worn. Boys of twelve and fifteen years of age never thought of wearing anything on their feet except during three or four months of the coldest weather in winter. Boots were unknown until a later generation. After flax was raised in sufficient quantities and sheep could be protected from the wolves, a better and more comfortable style of clothing prevailed. Flannel and linsey were woven and made into garments for the women and children and jeans for the men. The wool for the jeans was colored from the bark of the walnut and from this came the term "butternut" still common throughout the West. The black and white wool mixed, varied the color and gave the name "pepper-and-salt."
As a matter of course every family did its own spinning, weaving and sewing and for years all the wool had to be carded by hand on cards from four inches broad to eight and ten inches long. The picking of the wool and carding was work to which the little folks could help and at the proper season all the little hands were enlisted in the business. Every household had its big and little spinning wheels, winding blades, reel, warping bars and loom. The articles were indispensible in every family. In many of the households of Bremer County, stowed away in empty garrets and out-of the way places, may still be found some of these almost forgotten relics.
The preparations for the family clothing usually began in the early fall and the work continued on into the winter months when the whirr of the wheels and the regular stroke of the loom could be heard until a late hour of the night. No scene can well be imagined so abounding on contentment and domestic happiness. Strips of bark of the shell-bark hickory thrown from time to time in the ample fire place cast a ruddy flickering light over the room. In one corner, within range of the reflected light, the father is cobbling a well-worn pair of shoes or trying his skill at making new ones.
Hard by, the young ones are shelling corn for the next grist. The oldest daughter whirls the large spinning wheel and with its hum and whirr trips to the far side of the room drawing out the thread while the mother, with the click of the shuttle and the measured thump of the loom, fills up the hours. The whole a scene of domestic industry and happiness rarely elsewhere to be found.
This page was last modified on October 26, 2007