Early Calhoun County History

Chapter XIII

On Sept. 27, 1854, Christian Smith, Peter Smith; Allen McCoy, Jesse Mormon and the two Crumley boys from Greene county, arrived at the Lake Creek Grove, looking for land and intending to conclude their excursion by taking an elk hunt. So, after having called on Mr. Comstock, the earliest settler, and satisfying themselves with reference to the country and securing the number of the land they intended locating, they camped for the night a few rods east of the Lake Creek bridge north of Lake City, ready for a start in the morning on their elk hunt.

The land office had been closed for some time but would be open again on Monday morning, the 30th of September, and it was evident a rush would take place, so that it was a matter of great urgency that they should be there at the time of opening and make sure of the entries, and their hunt at the furthest could last but one day.

Early in the morning, and after having had a bad night with mosquitoes, our hunters broke camp and started for Twin Lakes. They arrived there and had traveled around the Lakes by noon, seeing no elk. They however saw many heads and carcasses of buffalo and elk scattered over the prairie near the lakes.

The Crumley boys had been up in this section often hunting elk and had never before missed seeing a drove on their way, or near the lakes. Our company without stopping to feed or get dinner, started eastwards towards Cedar Creek and had gone but a few miles when they were gladdened by the sight of what was then called a small herd of about 200 elk. Everything was excitement, for none but the Crumley boys had ever seen a drove of elk before. The first thing to be done was to unhitch the horses and tie them to and the two dogs to the wagon.

The elk did not seem to be very shy the wind coming from them toward the wagon, and they appeared to be traveling toward the Lakes. Our hunters cautiously and quietly stole down a small flat and were just peering over the tall grass when, to their astonishment, they saw the whole drove of elk right upon them. They fired with undue haste probably, for no elk fell, and as they had only muzzle loading guns, they saw that it would be impossible to get another shot at that time for while they were loading, the elk, now thoroughly aroused and frightened, were thundering off across the prairie. It was seen that this first shot had wounded a few and presently a large elk dropped out to one side from the herd and laid down. Peter smith shot him just as he was getting up, and our hunters were sure of one elk at least. They hastily skinned and quartered him, rehitched the horses to the wagon, loaded their game and started again after the herd, and just before sundown going southeast they overtook them.

Everything was hurry and bustle, and while Christian Smith was attending to the horses the rest of the company took after the elk, and as night was now coming on they had to close their hunting for the day and seek a camping ground. It being so late, there was no time for skinning elk so they just took out the entrails and loaded their game into the wagon and started for the first bunch of timber on Cedar creek and camped in the grove near what a few years ago was the residence of R.M. Tigner.

Before the horses were unhitched some of the younger ones of the party had a fire started and were roasting elk meat and were eating it ravenously, without salt or bread, for they had been without a mouthful of anything to eat since early in the morning. The excitement and hurry of the days travel and chase had been so intense that the question of hunger and appetite had been neglected and entirely forgotten until now, when all was over for the day, it was found (text missing) reason with the boys about eating so much fresh meat, only partly cooked, and without salt or bread, but nothing but roasted elk meat would satisfy their craving appetites.

Our company sat around the fire talking over the incidents of the exontful day they had just passed through until after midnight when they went to bed and to sleep. By about four o'clock in the morning some of the boys began to be disturbed in their peaceful slumbers, and it was not long before there was a general groaning and complaint of sickness among them. Everybody was soon awake and the older ones were full to overflowing with laughter but the matter did not seem to be so very funny to the boys. Next morning at breakfast, which was very early, the boys did not have a greedy relish for anything, and more especially not for elk meat in any shape or form. The hunt being over, the older members of the party made for Des Moines, for as before stated the land office opened at 9 o'clock on the morning of September 30th and it was urgent that they should reach there at the time in order to secure the lands corresponding with the number they had already selected. By hard traveling they reached there at the time mentioned and without further delay secured their land.

The following interesting reminiscences from Christian Smith are given as received from him, some of the events transpiring soon after the hunting expedition referred to above, others taking place later.

We had to cut our hay, get our provisions and stores from Des Moines, and build our houses for the winter. We first built a log house for Jesse Mormon that fall on the southwest quarter of section 5-86-33 just west of where John Russel lives. Not a particle of frost come until the 1st of October and the winter was mild and pleasant throughout; not enough snow fell to tract a rabbit by until March 14, 1855 and even then only about three inches in depth and which soon melted leaving the ground bare again. We had but little time to hunt during that winter, but succeeded in killing one large elk on the prairie on southwest quarter of section 21-87-33 where T.W. McCrary now lives. It was late in the evening and the wolves were plenty. We were working on Jesse Mormon's land at the time and saw a drove of about 100 but succeeded in killing only the one above mentioned. We took out the entrails first, and on its belly placed our guns crosswise over it and on coming back in the morning found our elk untouched.

Mr. Wolf appeared to be suspicious that the arrangement was some kind of scheme gotten up not entirely for his benefit, so he kept off at a distance to await further developments. In fact, it is generally understood that a wolf will not go near where a gun is left, so acute is their instinct and suspicion of danger, and so cowardly is their nature unless a large gang of them happen to be together.

We did no more hunting until June, 1855, when Peter Smith and I went up north near Big Rock on Camp creek, but found no elk or deer. We then went across to near Sac City and then back north of Elm Grove where we succeeded in killing two elk and capturing two young ones, which we afterwards traded off for a couple of milk cows.

Our next hunt was August 18, 1855. This is easily remembered for it was on the day of the August election. About sunrise while the boys were out hunting the horses for us which had been turned out to graze during the night, on account of the scarcity of feed, they saw a drove of elk of about 200, near the south line of section 18-86-33 near where S. H. Richardson now lives.

We started after them with our guns, leaving orders for the boys to bring the horses after us. Just before we got ready to fire a loose horse came running up toward us from the south. D. Carr Early and others from Sac City, had been to Des Moines, and on their way back had camped near Coon River and one of their horses had broken loose and was making his way for home.

We did not wait to look after the loose horse, for by this time the boys had overtaken us with our horses and pell mell we went after the herd. They ran west and soon came to the big bend of the Lake Creek and seemed afraid to cross on account of the hills being so steep on the west side. They finally turned to go south and we succeeded in killing one large elk. When the herd got down to Larkin William's place his dogs gave chase and they again turned north and we killed another one. We let the boys attend to the elk and hurried back to assist in opening the election.

Watches were not very plenty in those days, and it was somewhat late in the day before the election was opened, but no one made complaint because we were late. Everybody was good natured and each well know that he would get a good slice of elk.