Coming back to Lafayette township and going over the list of the pioneers who settled in it in 1855 and 1856, I cannot think of a single one who remains in it, and only of Calvin S. Colton, who was a mature man at that time. Philip Cave, Jacob Eveland and Angeline Stufflebeam (now his wife) were just budding into manhood and womanhood, and all lived at the old homes of “Dad and Mam” and they are all that I know who still survive. “Jake and Angie” yet live in the old township, I believe. (Note: Mrs. Eveland died since this was written.)

Among the well-known pioneers of the township in those early days, none was better or more favorably than Reverend James Skillen, whose farm was in the northeast corner of the township. He toiled early and later to subdue and open up his farm every working day of the week, and would go somewhere every Sunday in the nearby country and preach to the people. He was not only a religious man, but a humane one, for he would not ride or drive his hard-worked horses to the place of service, but would walk. Often he would go on foot as many as five to ten miles to a meeting place. In summer he would deliver a sermon at eleven o’clock and another at three o’clock, and walk home so as to be ready for the week’s work to follow. He did this sort of evangelistic work for many years, without the hope or expectation of fee or reward in the way of money. He probably never received $25.00 all told for his services. He was particularly concerned about people working on Sunday, and often denounced the desecration of the Sabbath in vehement terms. He knew every man within ten miles of his home who worked on Sunday, and often in private rebuked him.

Among the notorious Sunday workers was John Runyan, a neighbor and special friend of the Elder, who very rarely attended church service. One of the places where the Elder preached regularly was the Wallace school house, later the Rew scholl house. It was his home place for holding service, near to his and Runyan’s homes. On a hot Sunday afternoon the neighbors nearly all were present for the service, and among them was Squire Runyan. He was a large, Portly, fine looking man, and known to every soul present. He took a seat in the rear of the room near a window, so as to keep cool. The Elder glanced over the audience and at once decided this was the opportunity to tell the congregation what he thought of Sabbath breaking. He took for his text: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” He proceeded in his plain and emphatic way to explain why this command should be kept. He used all the logic and Scripture at his command to impress upon his hearers their duty to obey the injunction. All the way along none present was more attentive that Squire Runyan. Finally, to illustrate and clinch his argument, the Elder said he would tell them a story, which ran like this:

Two men were on a journey and travelled together for several days, and finally reached the place where they would separate, each to go his way to his home. One man had seven dollars in money and was near his home; the other had no money and was a good many miles from his home. During the evening they talked the situation over, for they were to separate in the morning. The man who had no money said he hardly knew how he could get home, for the lack of money with which to buy food and pay for lodging.
The possessor of the seven dollars sympathized with him and finally said to him: “One dollar will take me home. I have seven; I will give you six and keep one, and thus both will be provided for.”

The impecunious fellow expressed much gratitude and accepted the favor. They retired to rest and sleep. In the night-time the beneficiary of his friend’s liberality sneaked out of his bed and stole the one dollar reserved by his friend.
The story ended, the Elder waited until the force of it had soaked into the minds of his listeners, and the looking over the faces present, he asked: “Don’t you think he was mean and ungrateful man?” As he asked the question, he fixed his gaze upon Runyan, who recognized that he was appealed to, and nodded his head in assent. Rising to his full height, his eyes glued to the full, round and upturned face of his neighbor, the preacher thrust the index finger of his hand at Runyan, and in a voice that rang out like a syphon, he cried out: “Thou are the man; God gives you six days every week, and you steal the seventh.”
Runyan sank back into his seat as if shot, the audience snickered in smiles and laughter, for all knew that it was a center shot and a deserved rebuke.

Runyan often said, “Elder Skillen broke me of working on Sunday.”

Elder Skilled was not a great preacher, being an unlearned and illiterate man, but his Christian faith was of such a rugged and positive sort that he wielded a wonderful influence upon people who heard him preach. In his life he did much good in his awkward and stumbling manner, for like his prototype, St. Paul, he “shunned not” to proclaim a plain gospel. He was a typical pioneer, a plain, honest and sincere man. He lived up to his profession, and left his impress upon his contemporaries. He was buried in the graveyard on the river bluff, near the outskirts of the corporate limits, north of Waverly. Here, while the water of the river flows rippling past at the foot of the bluff, murmuring on and on forever, all that was mortal of Rev. Skillen lies waiting the time when, as he firmly believed, he shall hear the call to come forth to meet Him who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Last updated 10/7/2015
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Bremer County, Iowa
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Last updated 10/12/13
Pioneer Days of Bremer County -- Chapter I