The ambition and growth of Waverly made it necessary that the 4th of July should be observed in the year 1856. The country was filling up fast with people who had come to make homes, and stay with the fortunes of the country.

Wm. P. Harmon was the man of the town and of the times. He was the embodiment of activity, energy, and a vision. He foresaw a great county, with possibilities concealed from the ordinary man. His whole heart was wrapped up in the future of Waverly. Often in his enthusiasm, he characterized the little town in the grove on the banks of the Cedar River as the “Lowell of the West,” and as a reason would point out the splendid water power of the stream, with its high banks, only awaiting the genius and wealth of man to harness it to whirring machinery to make it all that he dreamed of.

He gave it out that a celebration worthy of the day, the town, and the people would be held. The country for miles about was looking forward to the occasion.

It was a little difficult to select a spot for the gathering, because most of the ground on the east side of the river was covered with a thick growth of trees and underbrush. Finally, the spot chosen was at the foot of the hill in the north part of town, where in after years Jimmy Hayes built his home. Slabs from the saw mill were hauled to the spot by Henry Harmon, and a lot of seats improvised out of them. A modest platform was built on the upper side of the grounds, on which the officers of the day, the honored guests, and the singers were seated.

.In the absence of an outside orator, Mr. Harmon filled the placeā€”and did it well. Geo. W. Mathews was president, with several vice-presidents that I do not recall. B. F. Perkins read the Declaration of Independence. J. G. Ellis was then sheriff of the county and was marshal of the occasion. Mrs. Dr. Cool led the singing, and was ably assisted by Mrs. Wm. Reeser. Miles Comstock was a pretty good fifer and was anxious to play. Mr. Harmon rustled up a snare drummer, who was camped near while looking for a location. He had his drum with him and consented to play. Mr. Harmon found a bass drum in town, but lacked a player. He met me on the street on the morning of the 4th and said, “I want you to beat the bass drum; can you do it?” And I answered, “Yes, of course, I can and will.” I had never attempted such a feat in music, but extraordinary occasions always require extraordinary effort. Comstock and the snare drummer (I never knew his name) decided to practice a little, and Harmon told me to join with them. We went down in the grove, to about the spot where the Presbyterian church stood in later years, and for half an hour we made the woods ring. Finally Comstock declared we would be a respectable band, and as a last piece we would play “Yankee Doodle.” In my efforts to make some extra strokes, I put on more steam than skill, and “busted” the head of my drum. When we reached Bremer avenue, Mr. Harmon came tearing up the street and asked Comstock how the band got along. When told “fine, but the bass drum is out on account of a busted head,” Harmon turned to me and said, “Hurry down the street to Fosselman’s shoe shop and have him fix it.” I went on the jump, for the crowd was to meet at the grounds at 11 o’clock and it was then past ten. That was the first time I had ever spoke to Charley. He was at work on hus bench and dropped his work and fixed the drum. I shouldered it and started to report to Comstock that his band was ready. Charley stopped me and said, “I guess you forgot something. Pay me 25 cents.” I said, “Mr. Harmon sent me here, I guess he will pay you.” To that Charley said, “Nicht, you pay.” I gave him a quarter and said, “This is the 4th of July and you ought to help along a little,” when he retorted, “I work for cash, and not the 4th of July.” In after years, when we became the best of friends, when I wanted to tease him I would ask him for a refund and interest. He still owes me the quarter, and when I dunned payment eight years ago when back to Waverly, he said, “It is outlawed.” Many a hearty laugh we had over the affair.

The day passed off fine, a large crowd gathered from all directions, many families coming in wagons that were drawn by oxen. I believe it is not extravagant to say that there were 25 teams of that sort in town that day. Everybody was happy and declared it was “the best 4th ever.”

At night a dance was pulled off, with Ezra Williams, Joe Baskins, and Bill Reeser, musicians. They played the same tunes over about every half hour. During the evening I danced several times with the god mother of the present editor of the Democrat. She was an artistic dancer, while I had the step of the Wabash style, which she pronounced vigorous but lacking in grace and technique. When the sun rose on the morning of the 5th, we were still dancing. Then Mrs. Matthews appeared on the scene and told the merry crowd she must have the dining room to serve breakfast in, and if the dance continued we would have to go outside in the street. That order closed the festivities of the 4th of July, 1856, in Waverly. I am wondering how many of those present that evening at the Bremer House survive. If Louis Case was among us, he is one, but I do not recollect whether he was present or not. I know he was in Waverly then, as I am glad to know he is yet, from a letter I received from him this week. Louis was a sedate deacon sort of a boy then. He stuck close to his work and saved his strength, which serves him so well he marches for the 84th mile post in life’s journey.

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