Cedar County, Iowa

Source: Unknown.

      On a winter day some twenty years earlier, twelve-year-old Erastus Yeager - embarrassingly small for his age and conspicuously noticeable to the other children for his shock of dark-red hair - had faced another crisis in another unsettled country. But then he had relied upon the support of two older brothers. In turn, two younger sisters and one brother had been in need of comfort from him. The frightening occasion had been the opening of winter term in the new school built in a remote community of Iowa Territory, which was itself but five years old. It was not only the fear of a first day at the new school which gave the six Yeager children butterflies in the stomach; they had recently been taken from their comfortable and familiar home in Indiana, where all had been born, to settle a land still inhabited by Indians. The soil their parents - John and Sarah Jane Yeager - had chosen to bring under cultivation was fertile.
      (John), who had attained an education before marrying, was practicing law in town as well as operating a farm and mill. As years passed, the family continued to grow. The six children had three new brothers and sisters, who one by one took a bench seat at the school, while the older children were completing their learning and one by one leaving home to marry or take their own Muscatine County farmland.
      Shortly after Erastus turned seventeen, his parents had their tenth and last child, a daughter whom they named for her mother. But Sarah Jane, now forty, did not survive the difficult birth.
      At age fifty-four, John was left to both support and rear his family. After two years as a widower, he journeyed to their old home in Indiana, married the daughter of a former neighbor, and brought the seventeen year old back to Iowa. Amanda, the stepmother, was greeted with distrust, but she was so kind and unassuming that she eventually won over even the married children. Her presence in the home allowed John time for community work, a service generations of Yeagers had rendered since 1717, the year their German forefather had immigrated to Virginia. Both William and Austin, Erastusís older brothers, joined their father in local politics. With Austin serving as polling clerk, the three male Yeagers who had reached a majority and eighty-eight other Muscatine County residents cast ballots in the 1851 election.
      Shortly before the arrival of the stepmother, who was two years his junior, Erastus had left home. He had developed into a young man of slight yet sinewy build who stood five foot five. Despite his even temper and courteous manner, he alone of the five older children had failed to find a mate. On leaving his fatherís home, he had moved in with his brother [William] and sister-in-law and their infant daughter and worked on Williamís farm. But William was not content to be an Iowa farmer. Restless to move farther west, he sold his Muscatine property and headed for Washington Territory, taking his own family and younger brother.
      William and Erastusís departure marked the beginning of the disintegration of the closely knit clan. Other brothers and sisters migrated to Kansas Territory, and John, who was now declining in health, moved to a smaller farm located on Sugar Creek in nearby Cedar County. Despite the absence of the five older children, he once more had eight youngsters to support: five by Sarah Jane and three by Amanda.
      But his attempt to homestead at age sixty proved more than his health could withstand. On his deathbed, he entrusted the care of his large family to the young widow. Amanda held the family together for a few years, but when she also became sick and died, the eight orphans were forced to move in with an older sister and her husband. Then with the outbreak of the Civil War, three Yeager brothers enlisted in the infantry. Thus the thirteen children of the deceased lawyer were literally scattered from coast to coast.
      In the Far West, William settled his growing family into a log cabin, and he and Erastus broke new farmland. .......... But when he wrote home about his wilderness experiences, family members still in Iowa replied that their community was suffering problems similar to those in Walla Walla. A rash of horse thievery had left many farmers without a team to cultivate their crops, and certain citizens had banded together to form a regulating society.
      Mr. Corry, a former neighbor of the Yeagers, had circulated a rumor that an industrious young settler named Alonzo Page was actually a member of the horse thief gang. One night while Page was sitting up with his critically ill wife, the couple heard a noise in the clearing. Peeping out the single window, Page saw a ring of horsemen surrounding their cabin. Then a fierce pounding came at the door. Realizing it must be the regulators, Page called out the window that his wife was near death, but the pounding continued. Quickly he barricaded the door and loaded his shotgun, but before he could reach the window, assailants broke down the door and shot him. Then the regulators rode away, leaving the bedridden wife and her mortally wounded husband to their fate. Later the killers learned that Page was innocent and that Corry had started the false rumor out of personal enmity. The incident had provided Cedar County with a sobering lesson: not only could summary execution take the life of the innocent, but a vengeful individual could use a regulating society as a tool against personal enemies. It was a lesson the new territories would have to learn for themselves.

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Page updated December 9, 2010