When spring came in May, 1857, after the hard winter I mentioned, the pioneers set about planting all the broken land to crops. The season was a propitious one and a very large crop was harvested. Plenty, of the best, prevailed and the discouraged people took a new reef in their belts and settled down to the belief that Iowa was destined to be the best state in the Union.

Not all were so courageous, for many  sold  what  they  had  for what  they  could  get, gathered  their  household  stuff  together,  turned their backs upon the country, with their  faces  set for the  homes  of their wives' folks, east of the Mississippi, denouncing the "awful" climate and the bleak prairies as fit only for Indians, wolves and snow birds. Some others would have gone but could not because of poverty; they stayed with  intention  of  going  as  soon  as able  to  do  so.  But the bumper crop changed their purposes, and afterwards they rejoiced that they could not run away.

As an evidence of the tenacity of the winter, it hung on until about the first of May.  In the middle of the month snow was plenty in the low places, about buildings and hay stacks.  On  the  4th  of July my brothers and I dug from under  hay  back  of  father's cattle sheds an abundance of clean, white snow of sufficient quantity, so we had  a snow  balling  game.

Corn was not planted until about the first of June, but the crop was a good one of sound com. The fall was fine and lasted until about the first of December. The experience of the preceding winter caused the settlers to make preparations to meet a like one, which established confidence in the worth of the country.

.The only handicap was the lack of markets for the surplus of production.     The   nearest   railroad   was   at   Dunleith,   opposite   of Dubuque, now East Dubuque. Not only this, but the cordon of approaching hard times had begun to tighten up money, which paralyzed the markets. The gold and silver was disappearing so fast that the dearth of a circulating medium affected all lines of business. Not a man in a hundred knew then what it meant, but the lesson was well learned before business times were better, of which I may speak in the future.

The lack of school facilities was seriously felt by families having children. At that time there was not a school house in Lafayette township, nor a place for public worship. A meeting of the citizens was called to meet at the house of William Van Diver, now known as the Peter White place, to consider how a school could be opened. At the meeting were present Samuel Cave, Judson Hall, Edward Fairhurst, Samuel Leese, Parker Lucas, W. V. Lucas, John Skinner, Scoville Shattuck, John Wile and W. M. Colton. Parker Lucas was elected chairman and myself secretary. The situation was gone over carefully and it was unanimously agreed that a winter session of school ought to be had. But a suitable place to have a school was lacking.  Mr. Van Diver had a log stable near his house, 20x30 feet in size, which he suggested might be fixed up for a school room.  The whole bunch  repaired  to the  stable to  inspect  it as a future  Mecca, from whence knowledge might flow. After, as a Sioux Indian would say, "a heap big talk," it was decided the stable could be metamorphosed from a place to herd stock, to one in which the growing and future men and women of the neighborhood could be herded comfortably. No sooner was the decision reached than committees were appointed to put the stable in order.  The cracks between the logs were "chinked" and daubed with clay mortar. Seats were made from slabs procured at Harmon's saw mill in Waverly. Writing desks were made by boring auger holes in the logs on the north side of the building into which strong bearers were inserted, a standard resting on the new slab floor supporting the other end. Upon these bearers was fitted a 24-inch wide basswood slab gotten from the saw mill, with the upper side carefully planed and polished, by Uncle Samuel Dirks, a confirmed old bachelor, who said in his Dutch lingo, "I haf no shilder, put I fix him up gude for de poys  and  gals, py  golly, mit out pay." It was a dandy writing desk, and was dubbed "Uncle Sam" by the pupils. Samuel Cave had  a large old-fashioned  cast iron stove he had brought to the country when he came, but had never used it for lack of room to set up the  "steamboat," as the school boys called it. It was just the thing to warm up the old stable, then to be a school house.

By the first of December all the preliminaries were arranged except a shutter for the doors. This was delayed and when the school opened, the door was still unprovided, and a heavy carpet, loaned by my mother, was improvised to cover the entrance. It served the purpose so well, the managers did not provide a wooden door during the term, but before the next winter's school this defect was cured by a wooden door. The next important item was a .teacher and by unanimous vote I was elected to the place. It is my belief I taught the" first school in Lafayette township. I had 35 pupils enrolled and an average attendance of nearly the full number. Among my pupils were Philip Cave, now a well-known veteran of the Civil War, Mrs. Esther Raymond, now of  Floyd, who  in later years  was a teacher in the schools of Waverly; Mrs. J. L. Rew, my sister, Amos Hall, the Leese boys, the  Shattuck girls, the others I do not now recall, but all of whom grew up to be honored and useful citizens of the community; At the old log stable school house were many gatherings of the citizens at spelling schools, singing schools, polemics or debating schools, and political caucuses.
In the spring of 1858 Rev. James Skillen established regular monthly preaching service, and occasionally  Elder  Burrington  and other ministers preached in the old school house. A Sabbath school was organized of which my aunt, Mrs. W. R. Lucas, was superintendent.   This, I am certain, was  the first  Sunday school  organized in the township,  and  to  it  came  each  Sunday  nearly  all  the  people of the neighborhood. Peace and harmony prevailed and a friendliness existed that is pleasant to recall. All were on an equality and all committed to the purpose of developing and making the county as great as nature intended it should be. As I recall the names of the grown-up people of the neighborhood, then residents, not one is living now except Calvin S. Colton.  Cal was a dashing young beau then, and did not mix much  with  the  young  people  of  the  neighborhood, but  found  his associates  in town, where  he was  well  acquainted and popular.

In 1859 a new frame school house was finished. It was located north of the present home of Peter White, and was intended to be used for school purposes and all public meetings. It was the church building for a good many years, and the rallying place of political parties.   Able sermons and political addresses were heard within its walls. It was dedicated on July 4th, 1859, which was the coldest Fourth ever known, I think, in that part of the state. The morning was a dark, cloudy one. About ten o'clock snow fell for a half hour or so until the ground was white. The temperature was down so low that the people who came to the school house wore their winter wraps. The house was packed full of people, a roaring fire was going in the big stove (the "steamboat" of the log house), tables were spread with food, good cheer reigned,  except  some misgivings  as to what would happen to the growing crops. But about the middle of the afternoon the sun shone clear, the temperature rose rapidly and the evening was soft and warm and all danger passed.   It was a happy day after all and another danger was passed.


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Bremer County, Iowa
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Last updated 10/12/13
Pioneer Days of Bremer County -- Chapter I