ODD CHARACTERS, AND BEGINNING OF CIVIL WAR DAYS
In those days the country between the Elder Smalley farm and Martinsburg was a vast, unbroken prairie, with the exception of the "Prairie" Cook and Homer H. Case farms in Warren township. Sid Curtis and I rode across the prairie in 1856 to Martinsburg and discussed the misfortune that such a desert of prairie land should intervene between the Cedar and Wept& rivers. I recollect well he said, "This waste won't be settled in fifty years." Such was the prophetic wisdom of a couple of wise young men. It is another proof of the old saw that "hind sight is much better than foresight."
From 1856 until 1861 the immigration to Bremer county was very small, and the emigration from it was much larger, because many became so discouraged that when they could trade their land for stock, they would leave the country for a home further east. Years afterward many of them returned and settled down for life.
One man who never flinched but stuck to his old home was E. B. White, who lived in the extreme eastern edge of Fremont township, on the east side of the Wapsie, on the bottoms. He bought all the "40's" he could of the flat, wet bottom lands, and thus acquired the nickname of "Swampy" White. He was a typical Connecticut Yankee, welt educated, and a man with a vision of the future greatness of that rich section of land. In winter he dressed in garments made out of the skins of animals he caught in traps, thus making himself a conspicuous person. But he was a student of books and carried a head full of knowledge, perfectly indifferent as to what people said about him,and his droll ways. I recall an incident of his frugality and yet good intentions. He was a justice of the peace and frequently made out deeds and other papers for his neighbors. He sold a 40-acre lot to somebody whose name I do not recall now. He made the deed and both he and Mrs. White signed it; then Swampy took the acknowledgment as justice of the peace. The deed was offered for record to W. W. Norris, who was then recorder. He noticed the informality and declined to accept it for record. Soon afterward "Swampy" appeared in his office with the deed the man had returned to him as not good. I was then deputy recorder and was alone in the office when Squire White arrived, and he was instructing me upon the law relating to competent instruments for record. In the midst of his efforts Norris entered the office and took the matter up with "Swampy." They were very good friends and went over the case thoroly. I well recollect "Swampy's" logic. He asked if the deed was properly signed by him and his wife, to which Norris assented; then the ingenious old squire asked if they did so of their own free will and accord was it not legal and proper that he should certify that fact. Norris replied, "You certify as an officer that the grantees did so voluntarily and are reputable persons," etc., to which "Swampy" answered, "Well, who could do so better than I?" But the deed was rejected for record, much to Squire White's disgust. Among other arguments he used was this, "It will cost me fifty cents to have some officer take the acknowledgment." In fact, that was the nub of the whole affair.
Another character in Fremont township was Lafayette Walker, who was the democratic war horse and a leader of his party in that section. He was very fond of discussion and was a good talker. He was a near neighbor of W. R. Bostwick, who was a republican and about as fond of discussion as Walker was. They were good friends and got along well enough in all ways except politically, and then they always clashed. One evezling Walker visited the Bostwick home and after awhile, as usual, they drifted into a political discussion. Mrs. Bostwick was busy ironing, while the men sat nearby in a hot discussion, to which she was intently listening as she worked. Walker was much the better talker and very aggressive in a debate, as well as sarcastic. In his denunciation of the anti-slavery party he reached an abusive period, when Mrs. Bostwick took a hand. In reply to something she said, Walker retorted in a way that stung her, and she wheeled upon him and hit him over the eye with the hot flat-iron she was using. Walker was not hurt very much, but he sported a black eye for several days. The report of the case reached Waverly before Walker came over to town, so when he came we had a lot of sport having him explain how it happened; then upon cross-examination the mischievous fellows would put Lafe on the cross and worry him for specific answers until he would fly i9to a passion and jump, the crowd. Some years afterward Walker sold out and located in Waterloo, where he died a few years ago, as I believe. Mrs. Bostwick was all gold. In 1857 a colony of Germans came into and settled nearly the whole of Maxfield township. The land is quite level and had been regarded as wet and sour soil. But the, industrious and energetic Germans very soon taught the pioneers they had overlooked some of the best land in the county. They metamorphosed the prairies into splendid farms and I suppose no richer township of land can be found in the state. Not only that, but the colony was made up of the best quality of men and women, whose sons and daughters grew up to be among the leading families of the county. When the Civil War broke upon the country, I took into my company about forty of the German boys, who were as good soldiers as the old army of the Tennessee had, and those who returned settled down and became as good men and citizens as Iowa ever produced. To the pioneer Germans, Bremer county owes much of its prosperity and wealth, both in money, men and women. American laws and institutions became a melting pot which cemented all nationalities into stalwart citizens and Americans.
The year 1860 was an exciting one all over the country and was the forerunner of events that shook the continent and tried out the strength of a republic to sustain itself against internal rebellion. Predictions of war were often made by sober-minded and thoughtful men, but the general thought was that all such talk was for political effect. Lincoln led the anti-slavery hosts, Douglas the bulk of the democratic foams, who believed that each territory should decide for itself whether or not slavery should exist within its borders. Breckenridge was the candidate of the wing of his party that held that the constitution was a pro-slavery document and Bell led the native American party, whose shibboleth was "Americans should rule America."
The campaign was a wild and exciting one, and even as far west as Bremer county the spirit of excitement spread and men began to break away from all party ties and align themselves under new flags according as the principles of parties accorded with their own convictions of right. Party lines were pretty well broken, or if not broken, they were so strained that a year after, they were shattered. In the county the republicans made a clean sweep, electing all their candidates, with the exception of G. W. Maxfield for state auditor, for the first time in its history.
Last updated 4/9/16
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