HARDSHIPS AND WEATHER CONDITIONS THE PIONEERS HAD TO CONTEND WITH.
The year 1858 was the wettest one the state of Iowa ever knew. The Good Book says, “In the days of Noah the foundations of the great deep were broken up.” So they were in that year. The Cedar river was a raging torrent for months. On January 26 of this year the “high water” took out the first bridge built over the river at Waverly. This bridge had been built by subscription in 1857. It may be said here that the night following was extremely cold, so that the next morning people were able to cross the river above the dam on the ice. The high water also took out a part, or all, of the mill dam. The water swept over ground never since covered by water from the river. From the mill to the “Stone Corner” boats were used, and as far up the avenue as P. B. Foster’s brick store. During the summer it rained so much and so often that much of the small grain remained uncut in the fields and that which was cut became so badky sprouted in the shocks and stacks that the wheat (not much oats was grown) was of very inferior quality and the flour made from it was quite dark in color and so poor in quality that no good bread could be made. The corn was mostly unripe and soft. This left the county short on grain. The ground became so wet, that it was said, if one should go about midway between Waverly and Tripoli and place a wide plank beneath his feet, to keep from sinking out of sight, by jumping on the plank he could shake the whole county.
One day W. R. Bostwick, who lived in Frederika township, succeeded in getting to town. Judge Ruddick inquired about the condition of the Wapsie, when Bostwick replies, “She’s 40 miles wide and 30 deep.” People talked seriously about the Cedar being a navigable stream. I think a small steamer did ascend as far up the stream as Cedar Rapids. A good many boats came up the Des Moines river that year as far as the now capital city, and so sanguine were the residents of that valley, that they believed the transportation question was solved for them, and thru Senator Dondge they succeeded in having the Des Moines river declared a navigable stream and secured an appropriation to clear out the obstructions. Two things knocked the navigation project out, one was the mill dams and the other a normal state of rain.
In a group of wise old farmers, one day in Waverly, when assembled to talk about the wet weather, they included the subject of steamboats coming up the river. Mace Eveland said, “Boys, by gum, we could have plenty of them come right up here, if it was not for these mill dams.” Then he told how the steamboats in “Eelinoy” had solved the questions of transportation for the farmers to reach markets for their produce, and ended by declaring, “The mill dams are an infernal nuisance.” To which some of the listeners replies, “That’s so, Mace.”
The spot where the station of Irma now stands was covered with water eighteen inches deep, by the Cedar river overflowing its banks. South of the station fifteen or twenty rods, the ground is lower. I rode a horse down the lane there to inspect 40 acres of corn I had on the west side of the road and the water was up to the middle of the horse’s sides. It was in August and the only thing I could see of my corn was the tassles sticking above the flood. I need not say I did not even get a “nubbin” from the whole 40 acres. I had rented the land from Thomas Halse, an Englishman. It was comical to hear him discuss the flood and wonder what was to come next, for he was on his farm the cold winters and recollected all their horrors.
The result of the floods was a very light crop and to add to the loss, nearly all the grain kept over from the year before was spoiled because the granaries were covered with hay, and the water leaked thru to the grain and ruined it. It was a cheerless year, and discouraged people so that many of them left the country in the spring of 1859, thoroly convinced that Iowa was not a fit place for a white man to live in. Following the crop failure came the panic of money of which I will speak later. No silver or gold was in circulation and even the worthless “stump tail” currency was hard to get, for the people had nothing to sell, and if they had, there was no market. It was a hard task to get money enough to buy a postage stamp, for the government would not take anything but coin.
For a whole year I did not have a dollar in coin and not $10 in “stump tail,” except the $30 I sold a cow for, of which I will speak. I asked Theodore Hazlett for a postage stamo, which I used in writing a letter to my wife’s father in Illinois, in which I told him of our absolute poverty and asked him to send us some stamps, which he did. The news got out some way that I had stamps. Jim Adair lived four miles from my place and rode on horseback in a rain one evening to “borrow” a postage stamp. Of course he got it; he wrote to some friend in New York and got a dollar’s worth as I had. Jim and I furnished stamps for our neighbors so they could write “home” for stamps. Everyone in the east would say, “why don’t you quit the God forsaken country and come back?” No doubt, some would have done so, if they had not been so everlastingly poor they could not go out of the township. I loaned stamps to Pat and Joe Boylson, and after years when Adair, the Boylsons and I met, we went over those days with much interest. The people learned how to utilize cornmeal for bread-making, and many of the women became experts in making “corn dodger.” To this day I have a hankering for a “hunk of corn dodger.”
The winter that followed was a hard one on the pioneers because of the scarcity of foodstuffs, and many left the country the next spring, generally returning to the east. But those who would not, or could not, cheerfully put in all the crops they could and garnered a large crop in the season of 1859. The trouble that faced them then was the lack of markets and the total absence of all sorts of money, except paper issued by irresponsible banks. A person might have a wad of it filling his pockets one day that was current, and the next day it would be worthless, for like lots of miserable sinners, it never knew a redeemer. All such money was called “stump tail” or “rag baby” money. As an illustration of its utter worthlessness as money, I mention this case: I sold a cow to Jim Murphy on a Monday morning for $30.00. The bank reporter classed the bank that issued it “good” that day. I knew the danger of holding the stuff and decided wife and I would hasten to town and spend every dollar of it, for we were as poor as Lazarus was. When I told her my plans she was busy with Monday washing and decided she could not go that day. After a consultation, it was decided by her we would go early Tuesday morning. I protested, but yielded to her decision. During the evening we made a list of articles we needed most, and felt pretty rich over the thought of all we would have when stocked up with our $30.00. Tuesday morning we arrived in town about 10 o’clock, told Theodore Hazlett, with whom we always traded, that we wanted a BIG vill of goods, and added that we were in luck in selling a cow for cash. He inquired what bank issued our money, and when I told him, the “Bank of Anamosa,” he said they closed their doors yesterday at 4 o’clock. I was not greatly surprised but awfully disappointed. Wife, woman-like, could not understand the situation all at once. We got into the wagon and struck for home with our bill of goods in cold storage—I, mad at such a system of finance, and she, crushed over the disappointment. Ever after, when I wanted to tease her, I would mention the $30.00 washing she put out that Monday.
Millions of dollars of that sort of money was issued and scattered all over the country by speculators with the full understanding that before the stuff would get back for redemption by the bank of issue, the doors would be closed and the holder would be the loser.
A bunch of speculators established a bank of issue in Florence, Neb., on the west bank of the Missouri river, and issued an unknown quantity of as fine looking bills as ever were seen. They sent agents thru western Iowa with saddle bags filled with crisp and beautiful bills to buy Iowa land. Hundreds of settlers were anxious to sell their land and get back east. Thousands of acres were purchased in that way, the sharpers knowing the sellers were anxious to sell their land and get back east. Thousands of acres were purchased in that way, the sharpers knowing the sellers would carry most of the money as far east as people would take it, and thus ample time would ELAPSE before the COLLAPSE would come. The titles to the lands were passed to the wives, or persons not responsible. They held the lands until after the Civil War was closed, prices went up, the lands were sold and the project of financing the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad was the net product.
The laws of the states failed to provide any way to control the banking business, and no penalties were provided for failures of banks. The only good paper money was that issued by states, and that class was not in general circulation. No gold or silver was seen in trade or traffic, and all was locked up. It was hard to get enough to buy postage stamps with, and the federal government would take no other. Talk about hard times! It takes an old-timer to tell the story.
Last updated 10/12/13
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