INTERESTING STORIES OF UNIQUE CHARACTERS AMONG THE EARLY SETTLERS OF WAVERLY
Among Waverly's unique characters was William Mores, or "Bill' for short. He was an excellent citizen and a money-maker. He, with his brother Alfred, was engaged in the furniture business, and I doubt not that many Bremer county people have furniture in their homes to this day made by the Mores Brothers. It was honestly made and put together in a splendid workmanlike manner. In an early day they and Sam Geddes manufactured nearly all the caskets for Waverly, and, I might say, for the whole county. Both the Mores are dead, having passed away several years ago "to that bourne from which no traveler returns." Once upon a time William, I think it was "in the spring, when young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," concluded that he would take unto himself a wife. Like many other good men, he fell for the proposition and submitted to the yoke. Of course, William and his bride- had to take the proverbial "marriage tour." In those days Dubuque was considered a long way from Waverly. And, indeed, it was, for one could not go and come from that city the same day. When he and his bride returned home, he told the boys that he had had a "bully tower," had taken the hearse (bus) on his arrival at Dubuque, and was taken to the Julia (Julian) House, and at every meal they served white sugar. When Gen. Grant was pounding away at Vicksburg, William was greatly interested, as were nearly all our people, you may be sure. When the news arrived that the grey-coats were evacuating Vicksburg, he met Dr. Oscar Burbank, to whom he imparted the information that "Grant was knockin' it to 'em," and that the rebels were "vaccinating" the town like the devil. But William, notwithstanding his murder of the king's English, was one of the best citizens Waverly ever afforded. He was liberal, go-ahead-itive, always favored public improvements, and in cases of charity, was generally to be found Johnny-on-the-spot. All in all, the world was made better because Uncle Bill had lived in it.
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Another early-day citizen was Peter J. Heckard. Peter was a cooper by trade. He made a good barrel and had a flourishing business. He had also served in the war between the states, but he always gave the truth a slight-of-hand deal. He had had wonderful experiences and was always ready to relate them to us admiring boys. One of his famous stories was that which had to do with a bank. He said that he was a "corporal" and was in command of three men. While scouting about in a certain town, they found a bank—"a B-A-N-K, by gad, sir. We placed our shoulders to the door, but it wouldn't give way worth a d—n. So I said, me being corporal, `Men, grab that telegraph pole and ram the door!' Well, sir, we got in. I picked the lock of the safe with a shingle-nail, which I happened to have in my pocket, and, believe me or not, $375,000 in silver rolled out on the floor." "What did you do with all that money, Mr. Heckard ?" one of the boys inquired. "Do with it—do with it? Why, I just shoved it into my pocket and walked off." Thirty mule teams could not have hauled that amount of silver, but we were all inclined to believe the genial Peter, because he said that it was "the truth, by gad, sir." At another time Corporal Peter, with his three men, was patroling the banks of a river, in the middle of which was an island and a melon patch. He said that he and his men soon divested themselves of their clothing and swam to the island. While they were feasting upon luscious, ripe melons, the owner appeared upon the scene, armed with a shot gun. "You were in a mighty hard fix," said one of the boys. "Not at all," was the reply, "we just put on our skates and scooted down the river." At another time he, with his men, captured 10,000 pounds of loose powder. He "touched her off with a lighted match and came near burning my fingers, by gad, sir." Peter moved to Illinois, where, I presume, he told the same stories until called to his reward.
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The very old pioneers will remember that Colonel Lucas, in the absence of the regular pastor, would sometimes "fill the pulpit." Now, the colonel is a fine platform talker, if you please, and an adherent of the Christian church, and, like President Garfield, who was a member of the same cult, believed his creed was the only true way to the better world. Upon a Sunday the regular preacher, Rev. Skillen, I believe, failed to appear. Colonel Lucas was called upon to expound the Scriptures, which call he accepted. Among the topics he took up was the crossing of the Red Sea by the children of Israel. In grandiloquent and fetching style, the speaker told of the hardships and heart-burnings of the "children," how dismayed they were on finding themselves upon the shores of the sea and no way in sight to make a crossing. "But the hand of Providence did not desert them in this hour of distress," said the speaker, "for, when the morning appeared, lo, and behold, they found that during the night the sea had frozen over tighter than a wedge." "Hold on, there, Brother Lucas," said Mace Eveland, "how could that be, when it is known that the Red Sea is right under the equator ?" For the moment the Colonel was up a tree, away up in the top branches, but recovering himself, he pointed the finger of scorn at Mace and said, "I'd have you know, Brother Eveland, that this event took place long before there was an equator." This answer knocked Brother Eveland out, but he shook his head, as if in doubt. I really don't know whether this story is true or not, but I'm inclined to believe that it is, for I was told so by Dr. Oscar Burbank, one of Waverly's pioneer sawbones.
Another story I have to relate about the Colonel will please the printing craft, if no others. One day, not being in the best of spirits, after having "read the proof," he gave it out cold and with a deadly thud that he looked for a cleaner proof hereafter; he was not going to have his editorial matter balled up like that, so it looked like thirty cents—no, sir, not by the measurement of four town blocks. This incident happened at about the time "plate matter" came into use, and there were about forty-eight columns of this in the office. The boys took proof of this whole forty-eight columns and laid it upon the Colonel's desk. All that afternoon he labored over those proof sheets, and when he handed them in he said that it was excellent work and that he was extremely proud of his office force. In the forty-eight columns he had found only a misplaced comma. A great laugh and roar went up from the "prints," and the Colonel, very much in anger, wanted to know why the "hilarity." When informed, he made no reply, other than that he thought it was a mighty poor joke to play on a novice in the printing business. But you could not fool him now on a stunt of that kind.
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Among the boys of Waverly who have made good and stand high in financial and legal circles are E. J., James C., and C. B. Murtagh, who are sons of James and Mercy Murtagh, who were pioneers in the county. Jim Murtagh was a harness maker by trade, and came west to avail himself of the opportunities of the new country. He landed in Waverly sometime in the early Sixties and found C. H. Blossom running the only harness shop or store in the town for he succeeded Gib Hamilton who started the first shop of the kind in the county. He sold out to Mr. Blossom and moved to Kansas. Jim was a skillful workman and Mr. Blossom was glad to secure such a man, so Jim staked down and became a fixture in the shop.
Blossom had two daughters whose names were Mercy and May. Mercy was a bright and pretty girl and a favorite with all the people of the town. After Jim had been in town a year or two, he married the proprietor's daughter to the surprise of the village.
After he had taken over the responsibilities of a family, he began to cast about for a place to go into business for himself, and, as I recollect, for a time was located at West Union. From there he went to Shell Rock where he conducted a harness shop for years, at which place he died some ten or twelve years ago. They were blessed with three boys, whom they trained and educated.
James C., the second of the three boys, chose law as his profession and is one of the leaders of the bar of northern Iowa with his residence at Waterloo. True to the teachings of his father, he is a Democrat in politics and a leader in his party. He has been the Democratic candidate for Congress in the Third District two or three times and his party feels that he has all of the qualifications to fill that high office.
Charlie, the youngest of the three brothers, is the only Democrat that was ever elected to the Legislature from Emmet county. My understanding is that he does not care particularly for office and declined a second nomination, even though that nomination meant certain election. His name has been mentioned very generously over the state as the candidate of his party for Governor this year and if nominated and elected the State would be sure of a good business administration.
Ed and Charlie live at Algona, and are very successful bankers and, as I am informed, own the controlling interest in a dozen or more banks in northern Iowa.
These boys are sons of the Mercy, who was often affectionately called "Posie" Blossom.
Among other Bremer county boys who have made good in the world I give a few names, but have not time to look up all of them or just what line of business they were engaged in, they being Charlie Wilcox, of Chicago, financier; George Clark, of Chicago, capitalist, retired; Allen Clark, of Chicago, with John T. Hancock Co.; Will and Fred Cowels, of Chicago and Montana; George Hoffman, of St. Louis, banker; Will Mathews, last I knew of him he was in the banking business; Leslie Fist, army officer; Ben Salinger, supreme judge; Ed Maitin, of Tripoli, banker; L. S., J. F. and Claude Cass, of Waterloo, railroad magnets. Briney Lucas, of Idaho; Theo. and W. H. Pockels, bankers at Tripoli and Bremer; Burton E. Sweet, of Waverly, farmer and congressman; Ed Prentice, address and occupation unknown, but understand that he is in the west and has retired. There are many others, but at this time I cannot recall where they are and their business and I must omit them for lack of knowledge and with only best wishes for them and all other boys of the early days in Bremer county.
Pretty good list for one little town.
Last updated 4/14/15
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