THE DAYS WHEN FISHING WAS GOOD, AND SOME OF THE MEN WHO INDULGED IN THE SPORT
Captain Jordan, who was a good and efficient worker in church and Sunday school, wrote the history of early Sunday schools in Bremer county. He found that the M. E. church people established the first Sunday school and that the writer of this item was the first one enrolled in that school, that being of date of 1856. I have no distinct recollection of that enrollment. The first superintendent of the school that I remember was the Reverend Smith, a fine man and an excellent platform talker. He is the same man who was drafted during the war, and claimed British protection, being a subject of the queen. But it did not work. He was forced into the service, but did not remain long. He was a very large man, hence little use could be made of him, so he was discharged. He was father of Samuel Smith, who later on, became famous as the pastor of the People's church, St. Paul, Minnesota. The next superintendent of the school, as I remember it, was the Rev. John Stone, father of Mrs. S. H. Morse. He was a strong man in Sunday school work, and he kept the interest of the pupils up to the highest point. During his superintendency, if he ever failed to give out that glorious hymn, "Greenland's Icy Mountains," I have no recollection of it. He was dead after the heathen every time, lay for 'him in every nook and cranny, and brought him into the fold, if a possible thing. This good old man has been dead for many a year, but the work he accomplished will last for all time. He was an expert fisherman, and he and I many a time "rowed" over certain fishing holes and—"well, that is another story," as Kipling would say.
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In the days "when you and I were young, Maggie," fishing was good in the fine old Cedar river, a river winding its way thru some of the best land in all the world—land as fertile as the far-famed valley of the Nile, a veritable Garden of Eden. The Cedar, if I remember correctly, is something like 400 miles in length. As it winds its way southward it passes thru some grand, magnificent scenery, or did in the old days, for since that time, vandals have felled the grand timber from its banks, the timber that conserved the rain-fall, and thereby they have destroyed much of the beautysites, but, oh, boy, in my time there was fine fishing, fishing at which you could catch something, never going home with a grouch or "fisherman's luck." "Dutch" John Smith, because he kept everlastingly at it, had the reputation of being the best fisherman on the river, but there were also others who took pride in their piscatorial prowess. There was Rev. John Stone, who was an old Ohio angler, and who knew to a nicety just where to cast for bass and pickerel and who handled a dip net so that any that entered seldom escaped; there were Al Lawrence, E. C. Moulton, and Hinkley Beebe; and sometimes George LeValley took a whirl after the finny tribe. Charley Parson was also quite an expert. The Hazlett Bros., Isaac and the writer of this—both young kids—knew every nook, cranny and pool wherein fish might be found, or where they were liable to . be, and on many occasions when accompanied by "Dutch" John Smith, they showed him a thing or two about his noble and exhilarating pastime, which would cause John to give forth some choice Pennsylvania Dutch. I hear that nowadays Waverly has some who claim to be cap sheaves of fishermen, but my impression is that they are of the punk order, and not in the class of the fish catchers of yesterday.
The old fellows, who "bore the heat and burden of the day," will remember Col. J. W. Woods, better known as "Old Timber." He was a lawyer, and had a voice like a fog-horn. When he summed up a case, his voice would carry for nearly a mile. Children would be frightened . homeward for fear of rain, because it thundered. He was one of the old-time circuit riders, going overland from countyseat to county-seat. In one of the counties he was retained in a murder case, being for the defendant. The case was hotly contested, and the defendant was acquitted. A large crowd had assembled about the court house and when the verdict was announced they took charge of the acquitted man and hung him to a tree near the court house, requiring but a few minutes to commit the deed. "Timber" was told of.the happening, as he was preparing to leave the court room. "Well," he said, "I guess they got the right man, but it beats me out of a thousand dollars." "Timber" was a tall man, straight as an arrow, wore a tall hat always, upon the inside of which he carried his office. He was of about the same build and height as was Philo Knapp, of Nashua, an attorney also, and when these two got together, glory be, there was hilarious fun, galore. Philo had much humor concealed about his person, and had considerable ability. Falling into slumber in his office one evening, his lamp tipped over and dropped into the waste basket. Philo awakened and opened the door. A man rushed up the street, calling out, "Fire! Fire!" "H-1!" yelled the old gentleman, "it isn't fire we want—it's water!"
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There grew up in Waverly a young man, John Lawrence, by name, son of "Deacon" Lawrence, living on the west side. "Johnnie," as he was familiarly called, always had the courage of his convictions, and expressed them anywhere and everywhere. He was always ready to back up his arguments in a pugilistic way when necessary, and being of sturdy build, light of foot and handy with his fists, he generally emerged from a fracas not second best. He was a keen, bright young fellow, with more than average ability, and had quite a following among the younger set. In 1868, I think it was, he left Waverly for Texas. He had been there but a short time when the news arrived that he had been shot to death by southern sympathizers. It was learned that he had had many fierce discussions with exrebels, denouncing their cause with bitter invective. One morning, or evening, as he was making his toilet out doors at the rear of the house, some men rode up and shot him. If I remember correctly it was his father who gave me this version of the affair. John was a brother of Al Lawrence, the keen and successful lawyer, and of Del Lawrence, who, with S. H. Curtis, established lumber mills at Motley, Minnesota.
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It has been years since I last met my good-natured friend, Frank Cretzmeyer, but I am told that he has grown old gracefully and is taking life in a happy way. As I remember him, he was short, chunky, and had a leg on him like a derrick. He and I attended the same school, the lower room, taught by Mrs. Moulton, wife of the late Rev. E. C. Moulton, who had charge of the upper room. Whenever any of the big boys misbehaved she would pen a note and send the culprit with it upstairs. When the boy and the note reached their destination, a good drubbing would be pulled off. One day this writer disobeyed a rule and he was started upward with a note. As he reached the hall he met Frank and told him that Mrs. Moulton wanted the note delivered immediately. Frank fell for it, and in consequence he received "what Paddy gave the drum." After school that little Dutchman lay in wait for the writer, but being a good sprinter, we escaped the bottled-up wrath of the irate Frank, and we likewise saw fit to avoid him for several days thereafter.
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During the Civil war, James Moss operated a sorghum factory, or mill. He made many barrels of sorghum molasses. It was largely used by people, simply because they were unable to purchase anything better, that is to say, the reason for the popularity of the sorghum was that "spondulix" was scarce. It was a bitter concoction, and to this day I hate the name of sorghum. Besides this mill there were many maple sugar camps, and hundreds of pounds of it were made and sold. The Evelands and Stuffiebeams were adepts at making it. Take it on a cold, frosty morning, pull up to the table, upon which you find the festive buckwheat cake and a pitcher of maple syrup, and, "Oh, boy, what a grand and glorious feelin'!"
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On the west side near the river, opposite the old Ida House, of which Frank Taber's father was landlord, stood a two-story frame house, in which was a saloon and gambling house, John Hinchey and his mother being its proprietors. John was badly crippled up, but was an expert at cards, and every day in the year he had a new cuss word to exploit. A large number of young men, and old ones, too, were frequenters of the place. At last it became a public scandal, and its abatement was gone at drastically. One morning it was found that during the night citizens of the town had torn the building from its foundations and had completely wrecked it. The Hincheys passed on to other pastures and were never heard of again. It was in the Ida House that Charley Taber met with his death, being struck by lightning. He was standing by a window, when the bolt struck the house, and he was killed instantly.
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One of the early-day school teachers was Miss Laura Riggs (Mrs. 'M. H. Franklin). She was an excellent educator, far above the average. As a disciplinarian, she had few equals, and she sought to put "pep" into all her pupils so that they might become good men and women and bread-winners. I believe she remained with the public schools until she voluntarily resigned. If she is living, and it is hoped that she is, and if she reads this item, I want her to know that there is one at least who remembers her with loving kindness and gratitude.
On one occasion, while attending school of which she was the teacher, the writer of these lines had broken some rule of the school and was "called upon the carpet," so to speak. His guilt being clearly proven, in fact it was not denied, he was told to prepare for a lesson in "Physical Culture." To this the writer put up the plea that he had graduated from that branch of the "course of study" and proceeded to show his ability in that part of the "course."
Having but recently read of the heroic deeds of Paul Jones, Commodore Perry, Captain Lawrence and Commodore Decatur, my mind was all aflame and I resolved to stand by my guns. Straightening up to my full height and putting up both fists, I dramatically exclaimed, "I am a man-of-war." But, oh boy, after a few exercises quite well performed I was forced to "strike my colors" and surrender, much to the edification as well as the great amusement of the rest of the pupils. I think Frank enjoyed the engagement the most of all as it, in a measure, ended up his old score against me.
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I suppose the pioneer merchants of Waverly have all disappeared. These merchants were a goodly lot. As I remember them, they were A. C. Fairfield, H. J. Hoffman, Theo. Hullman, Peter B. Foster, Alonzo Woodruff, S. H. Curtis, Theodore Hazlett, John Dunn, the Hechts, Raymond Bros., Thos. Aldrich, Jim Brown, Dave Clark, and W. V. Lucas, J. C. Hazlett, N. P. Ellis, Sidney Covert, G. W. LeValley, John Boys, Andrew Dailey, Simon Howard, Chas. Fosselman, Michael Casper, J. B. Barber, the cigar and tobacco man, E. F. Bacon, and many others, whose names I do not now recall. Well, in their day, they were a mighty host, but a majority of them are now "under the sod and the dew."
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And among the far-away-from-today blacksmiths were one Holbrook and William Mooney. Holbrook's shop was located at the east end of the bridge, on Bremer avenue. He was an eccentric old fellow and easily aroused to anger, consequently the kids made life extremely unpleasant for him. William Mooney's shop was also located on the east side. As a blacksmith, Tubal Cain had nothing on him. His workmanship was fine, and he bore the reputation of being the best horse-shoer in all the country about. He was a splendid good citizen and a fine neighbor. He passed away many years ago, to the sorrow of a mighty host of friends.
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My impression is that the first brewery established in Waverly was by Joseph Ellis. It was a good, honest brew, favorably known, and patronized by lovers of the "amber." Later on it passed into the hands of E. F. Taber, who operated it until the time of his death. For many years Mr. Ellis was sheriff of Bremer county, and was an able, discreet officer, and a democratic war horse, always in the front line and ready for action. Mr. Taber was a highly educated man and a keen observer of men and events, therefore, a companionable gentleman.
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All the boys will remember the terrible commercial and business revulsion of the year 1857. It was universal, and is known to this day as "The Great Panic." That year every bank in the union failed and suspended specie payment. In all classes of society there was much extravagance. Men invested in land speculation, were landmad and hurried to get some of it, because they thought that it would soon be exhausted. Men who had no money, if they succeeded in obtaining it, agreeing to pay for it cent for cent, rushed to the West to invest in wild lands. From the East came the tradesman who had forsaken his store, the farmer, the lawyer, and the clergyman, all bent upon getting some of this earthly domain for speculative purposes. The debts of that time were excessive and extravagance ran rampant, and this brought on the panic, which, when it came, created great excitement thruout the country. The country did not fully recover from its effects for a period of nearly twenty-five years. This was the period of "wild-cat" money, when private individuals, merchants and bankers issuing their own paper, which, in nine cases out of ten, wasn't worth a cent on the dollar. I have seen my father look over his "bank detector" to determine whether the paper money he had on hand, purporting to be good, was of any value. I've seen him close the book on many occasions, and say, "Well, they have caught me again." But the people of Bremer county pulled thru in a way. Nearly all the business of that day was of the "trade and barter" order. Breadstuffs were cheap, as the .land produced prolifically, but the man who was not a producer had a hard time to make both ends meet, if they met at all. Following this panic came the war, and it was years before people could say with truth that they were "on Easy street." No such panic will ever occur in this country again. The government has provided safeguards, the bankers are more conservative, and the people themselves are shy of all wild-cat schemes. Of course, there are confidence men today, and now and then they catch a victim, but as a general thing, people are more careful in investing in anything that has not a solid foundation. Banks of today are the arteries of commerce and trade. They are generally officered by the best financial ability in the community where they are located. If one be in doubt over an intended investment, if he consults his banker he will be set aright. It is the "knowit- ails" that lose their money, not the men willing to take expert advice.
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In the good ( ?) old days the wage-earner, no matter how hard he may have tried, never succeeded in establishing much of a bank account. If I remember correctly the average wage of a farm hand was about $8.00 the month, and there was not much of a demand for him at that price. It's different these days, and he is now fast becoming a plutocrat. He is now able to fix his own hours of labor, generally the price of the same, has his automobile or his horse and buggy, Sunday is his day off, and it is upon this day that he gives Nellie or Annie a joy ride and makes known his thoughts and aspirations. He can get more now for a day's corn husking than fifty years ago he could get for a month of the same work. He wears good clothes, shaves and has his. hair cut twice a month. In fact, nevermore is he to be sneered at as a "country clodhopper." He is practically his own boss and has the "long green" to meet his every want. Products of the farm fifty or sixty years ago brought but small returns. Butter and eggs were so cheap then that the very remembrance of their then selling price makes one smack his lips and almost wonder if such things could have been. Will Tyrrell has often related the fact that he sold my father, who was a merchant, eggs at three cents a dozen and "took it out in trade." But it must be remembered that one could purchase more for a dollar then than for five dollars today. Speaking of wages reminds me that when a kid I employed Charley Tyrrell and Valey Brooks to husk corn at five cents a day. The boys went at it manfully and labored for nearly twenty minutes, when they knocked off and went fishing-I with them. "The call of the wild" was too much for them. Where Valey is now living, if at all, I don't know. He was the son of "Bully" Brooks, named for the "Bully" Brooks who assaulted Hon. J Charles Sumner by beating him over the head with a heavy cane in the city of Washington. Nothing so stirred up the nation as did that brutal assault upon one of the most brilliant men of his time. Brooks went into disgrace and is remembered only as a brute, while Sumner is affectionately remembered by his grateful countrymen.
As for Charley Tyrrell, I hear that his lines are cast in pleasant places. He is upon the government pay-roll as deputy postmaster at Waverly. He is the son of Lieutenant Tyrrell, who was killed at Vicksburg. I well remember Lieutenant Tyrrell. He was a companionable gentleman, a close observer of men and measures, had ability far above the average of men, and died with his face toward the enemy. No better man than he ever lived in Waverly.
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One of the old-time residents of Waverly was Dr. Oscar Burbank. He was not only an efficient physician and surgeon, but he was an equally great wag and joker.
He had been one of the California gold diggers and had in his possession several small gold nuggets which he had brought to Waverly with him. When the Pike's Peak gold excitement was on, and after several of the citizens of Bremer county had gone there to seek their fortune with "Pike's Peak or Bust" printed on the cover of their wagons and to afterward return with "Busted by Thunder" printed beneath the former words, the doctor thought of a plan to "put one over on the boys."
The spring freshet had, as usual, washed away the logway from the sawmill of Oberdorf and Brownell on the west side of the river and left nothing but a bed of rocks, with some sand filled between, from there to where the bridge now is.
One morning the doctor wended his way there and quietly placed four or five of the aforesaid gold nuggets in as many different places among the rocks and then commenced to turn over the rocks at other places as tho searching for something. It was not long until he had attracted the attention of several persons who came to where he was and inquired as to for what he was looking. The doctor at first seemed to be shy about telling, but when pressed for an answer, showed them a small gold nugget and at the same time gave them a wink and told them to keep quiet about it.
About this time he turned over a stone and found one of the nuggets he had placed. He soon found another. This set the others searching among the rocks in great haste.
The doctor was able to lead the search away from the places where he had placed the nuggets until he was ready to pick them up. It was not long before the news of the finding spread about town and for a couple of days nearly the whole population was engaged in the search for gold. While some turned over the rocks looking for gold nuggets, others used tin pans with holes punched in them and washed the sand to find the smaller particles.
The excitement was very great, and it was quite a week before some of the people were convinced that the doctor had been up to one of his pranks.
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On another occasion while walking in his garden one morning, about the last of June or the first of July, after he had been reading an article which told of how little notice people took of the things around them, especially the most common things, he chanced to see a little flower growing on a plant. It was a blossom on a most common plant, and the doctor thought he would see if what the article said was true. Accordingly he plucked the flower and strolled along the walk on the business part of East Bremer avenue, showing the blossom to each person whom he met and stating that he had found it that morning in his garden and was desirous to know what it was. Farmers, businessmen, gardeners, none of them knew. Each of them admired its fine pink center and the delicate coloring of its leaves, but none of them knew the name of the plant from which it was obtained. Some remarked that it was too bad that he had plucked it, that he should have let it produce seed that so fine a flower should have been preserved. The doctor quieted them with the assurance that there were other blossoms on the plant. Finally when about a dozen or more persons had collected around him and all had praised the beautiful flower but none knew its name, the doctor told all of them that they had seen the same thing each year. He had picked it from a potato vine. It is not necessary to say that all of those around him had urgent business which required immediate attention and that the writer of the article the doctor had been reading had proved his point.
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The jokers of that day set forth some marvelous fakes, one of which I vividly remember, because of its frightfulness. It was told that a huge snake had been seen in the river at or near the Cedar Bluffs. Its body was estimated to be as large as a fair-sized sawlog, and fully fifty feet in length. It was said to be a land as well as a water snake, and had invaded gardens, and one man declared that the snake had taken one of his pigs from the pen. A large number of men and boys, armed with clubs and guns, went in quest of the reptile, but if ever there had been one, as stated and described, it had disappeared. In the next week's Waverly Democratic News Charlie Parsons wrote a humorous article, saying that the snake story had a substantial foundation, for he himself had seen it. He said he was standing "on the bridge at midnight," a clear night with a full moon. While he was running over in his mind some legal matters, he noticed that the waters above the dam were fearfully agitated. Suddenly, the dam parted in its center and he saw the snake heading for the bridge, which it struck, carrying away with it in its mad flight, the middle pier. He said that after it had passed the bridge, it did not keep to the natural water course, but with a swish of its tail when it reached Taber's brewery, where there was a great bend, it straightened the river, which was a good thing, because it gave more land to the west side, and he was a west sider and wanted everybody to know it. He said he followed the snake down the river until it crawled out and got in a potato patch, where it gorged itself to death. Charley was a good lawyer, witty and bright as a new silver dollar; but to this day I believe his snake story was the creature of a vivid imagination.
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If these little stories that I have written have been relished by the readers of the Democrat, it will be a gladthing for me to know. There are many other things, "by field and blood" that happened in Waverly and in Bremer county fifty or sixty years ago that might be made note of by others who are much handier with the pen than I am. In my retirement I hark back to the old pioneer days and the friends of my youth, and it gives me great pleasure. There were ups and downs, many a stone in the way, pathways rough and rugged, but somehow and in some way it has worked out all right in a measure. Many a time, while going thru the grind of the day, with a multitude of cares and responsibilities, I've thought "what a grand and glorious feeling" it would be when I could close my desk and retire to private life, and amidst my friends and my books await complacently the call to "cross the harbor bar." Having reached that point, I find it considerably different from what I expected. A poet in a homely way thus describes the situation:
"Always lookin' forward to an easy-goin' time, When the world seems movin' careless like a bit of idle rhyme; A day when there is nothin' that kin make you sigh or fret— Always lookin' forward—but I haven't seen it yet."
Doing nothing is the hardest kind of work. It dry-rots one— makes him a grouch and a poor companion. The retired man who has enough to live on is not necessarily the happiest of mortals. There are times when he would sacrifice all that he has, to be once more "in the harness." Therefore, I say to the old boys, don't retire; hustle, and refuse to be shelved. All of us have pictured in our minds what is in store, or the sights we shall see upon the 9ther side of the hill. Then when we have reached its apex it is not what we thought it was going to be, and so we keep on plodding and worrying for the thing that never appears, and finally we drop off into eternal sleep.
Last updated 4/14/15
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