Cerro Gordo County Iowa
Part of the IaGenWeb Project
Franklin & Cerro Gordo Counties
Some of the terminology is not considered to be politically correct by today's standards.
In this chapter are given the personal experiences of some of the pioneers of
Cerro Gordo county. These articles are written or related by the pioneers, and
when written, the compiler has in no case attempted to change the style of the
writer, it being the design to show the peculiarity of the writer as well as to
record the facts narrated. The expressions of an individual in writing, show his
character and peculiarities as much as do features when painted on canvass, or
printed from steel or stone. These reminiscences are interesting and well worthy
By Hon. M P. Rosecrans
"We found the country a wild and uncultivated wilderness, but a little more than a quarter of a century ago. The prairies were covered with buffalo, elk and deer; the timber and bushy portion held the wild bear, panther and lynx. The lake was covered with wild fowl such as swans, geese, pelican and ducks, while its clear placid water was full of pickerel, bass and many other kinds of the finny tribe. In fact this was a hunter's paradise. The wild and uncultivated savage, with his canoe on the water, in the moonlight glided from shore to shore, and whispered into the ear of some Indian maiden the tale of his burning passion — how he would take her to be the keeper of his humble wigwam, and let her raise the corn for him, cook his buffalo meat and venison, and do for him all his drudgery, while he, her lord, would smoke his pipe in the council of the braves, and there boast of his warlike deeds.
Such, we say, was the state of the country but twenty nine years ago, a time within the memory of our middle-aged men and women. There were no farms, no mills, no schools, no churches, no roads, no bridges, no comfortable dwellings, no mails, no postoffices, no printing presses, no shops, no machinery.
The settler lived in an humble cabin, without floor in many cases. Corn was pounded in wooden mortars, and wild meat with this was their only food. Winters were cold, snows deep, and the communication in many instances cutoff.
Now note the change! The lake is still there, its bright and silvery water at sunset and sunrise reflecting the rays of light cast upon its surface; over it the steamer glides in stately pride, her decks adorned with the beauty and fashion of the southern and eastern cities, as well as the beauty and fashion of our own vicinity, while all over its surface may be seen the flutter of the white sail, as the boat to which it is attached scuds before the wind, bearing the white and civilized lover, who whispers in the ear of his fair one the tale of the home he has prepared, where are books, pictures, music; where flowers bloom, and where he desires to carry his lovely and attentive listener.
The shore of the lake is still here, lined with pebbles and lashed by the waves as of old, but minus many a carnelian and moss agate, taken from thence to be placed in the cabinet of the geological student, or under the hands and skill of the workman, to adorn the breast or the finger of beauty and fashion while moving in the gas light in the mansion of wealth and refinement.
The timber that line its banks still looms up darkly to the eye of the traveler as he crosses our broad and fertile prairies, save what has been destroyed by our settlers in making their improvements, but the bear that once roamed in its cool shades have all gone.
The scream of the panther no more frightens the settler. This scream has been superseded by the shrill whistle of the locomotive or engine in the mills. The lynx and wild cat have been superseded by the Maltese or domestic cat.
In the place of the wolf may be heard the barking of the mastiff and spaniel.
Buffalo, deer and elk are no more seen on our prairies, but their places are filled by lowing herds of cattle, by horses and mules, while at sunset may be heard the bleat of sheep mingled with the merry song of the husbandman.
The wild grass of the prairie has been, in a great measure, chained to the fragrant clover and waving fields of golden grain. The rough, uncultured backwoodsman, clothed in his humble garb of skins, has been changed into the cultivated and refined gentleman of leisure who sports his gold watch, chain and rings. His old coon skin cap is replaced by a hat of the latest style, shining and glistening in the sun. Where water only was drank, now may be found the costliest wines and most delicious beverages.
We say all this change has taken place—and more than this. We now have roads and bridges, schoo's and school houses, societies and church edifices, railroads and telegraphs, taxes and tax collectors.
The old cabin of the settler has long since been torn down and superseded by the palatial mansion. Where once all was rough and uncouth, now may be seen beauty and refinement, harmony and order."
By Geo. E. Frost.
In an article addressed to the old settlers of Cerro Gordo county, in the Clear Lake Jiecord, Mr. Frost says "Through the kindness of John M. Brainard, of Boone, this State, we have received Vol. 1 of the Clear Lake Independent, the first paper published in Clear Lake."
No. 1 is dated Feb 10, 1860. It is a six-column folio, and was published by Brainard & Noyes. The card and advertisement columns report as follows:
County judge, George Vermilya; district clerk, E. D. Huntley; recorder and treasurer, H. G. Parker; sheriff, John L. Mc Millen; county surveyor, J. H. Ambrose; county superintendent, John M. Brainard. At Clear Lake Edwin Nichols was postmaster, W. C. Staubery, attorney at law, and Marcus Tuttle, P. T. Sturgis, James Goodwin and Brainard & Noyes were land agents. Marcus Tuttle was also in the livery and lumber business, and kept in stock all kinds of native lumber. P. T. Sturgis was dealer in general merchandise, Goodwin & Howard were carpenters and builders, and R. O. Sirrine run the blacksmith shop. A report on county finances from the organization of the county to Jan. 1, 1860, shows county warrants issued for $19,556.98, and unpaid warrants outstanding $5,754.47.
No. 2 gives an itemized statement of county receipts and expenses from the organization of the county in August, 1855, to Dec. 81, 1859, by J. S. Church, retiring county judge, which is a very complete statement of county affairs.
The paper dated March 2d notes the building of a regular "down-east" ox-cart by Willard Dort, which is probably the first vehicle on wheels ever made in this county. The same paper also notes the burning of a little school house at Mason City.
In the next issue A. B. Tuttle and Buren R. Sherman advertise as attorneys at law, and Rosecrans & Stanbery, attorneys, publish four legal notices. Charles Johnson also advertises a mail and express route between Clear Lake and Cedar Falls says he will be here every Friday prompt.
March 16th says farmers are all sowing wheat. Judge Rosecrans, of Upper Grove, had finished seeding. James Dickirson was building a new barn in connection with the Dickirson House.
March 23d reports 1,500 pounds of fish caught at the outlet Monday night.
April 20th announces a mail route opened from Clear Lake to Irvington, Kossuth county, with Joseph Hewitt, contractor, and running once a week.
June 1st reports the opening of the first district court of Hancock county, with Hon. John Porter for judge, C. J. Pritchard, clerk, Daniel D. Chase, prosecuting attorney, and Huff, of Hardin county, Col. Woods, of Burlington, W. C. Stanbery, of Cerro Gordo, and M. P. Rosecrans, of Hancock county, were the attorneys present. At the same term C. J. Pritchai and Harvey Brockway were admitted to the bar as attorneys. Court was also held in Winnebago county the following Monday, and H. B. Gray was admitted as an attorney, but there were no trials in either county, and but one day's court in each.
Martin Bumgardner advertises a large stock of general merchandise at Forest City, the first store there, in the same issue.
In the issue of June 22d, the U. S. Government advertises for bids on thirteen mail routes in this vicinity. The public installation of officers of Benevolence Lodge, A. F. & A. M., is mentioned in this paper, and there is also a long article on the Comanche tornado in the eastern part of the State, by which 100 persons were killed.
In the issue of June 29th Marcus Tuttle and J. C. Crowles have formed a partnership, and have bought out P. T. Sturgis, at Clear Lake and Mason City, and will operate a general store at each place.
July 6th reports Fourth of July celebration, dance and camp-meeting exercises, and all parties happy.
July 20th announces the return of Rev. J. S Saxby from Kansas with his family, and the wheat harvest never better, and H. G. Parker and D. E. Coon as having a lively tight over the tax lists.
On August 3d Mr. Chilson threshed 107 bushels of wheat, raised from five and a half bushels of seed on James Dickirson's farm of three and a half acres.
August 7th Col. Woods (old Timber) arrested for stealing a dog, and the Hancock County Sentinel started by W. E. Tucker and C. W. Tobin at Ellington.
The same paper contains the tax list of Hancock county, which filled six pages of four double columns each, also the list of Cerro Gordo county, which filled five pages of six double colnmns to a page.
At that time the water was so low in Lime creek that Randall's mill could not run and there was lots of wheat but no flour. At that time two threshing machines were kept busy in this county.
The names of the committee appointed for the county fair also appeared in this issue.
September 14th W. P. Stanbery, C. D. Pritchard and H. B. Gray are discussing politics. A. B. Tuttle has ripe melons and John L. McMillen has the best corn in the county.
The following notice appears in the same number: Married On the 11th inst., at the Dickirson House, in Clear Lake, by Peter Wood, Esq., Mr. Robert O. Sirrine to Miss Martha Denslow, both of Clear Lake. (That was Rob. and he is married still.)
September 28th Tuttle & Crowles sell out their store to Brainard & Noyes.
In the statement of county finances, from Jan. 1st to July 1st, the salaries of the county officers unpaid for six months, are as follows:
County Superintendent $ 68.64 Clerk 75.00, Judge 75.00, Surveyor 6.00, Sheriff 18.00, Treasurer and Recorder 105.75.
October 19th the town school, with Mrs. Gardner as teacher, closed with a picnic.
A slim report of the county fair from which we judge that the fair was not half so large as the premium list, and a new postoffice established at Linn Grove, now Rockwell.
November 2d contains the death of Rev. Elisha Pattee, aged seventy years. Mr. Pattee was one of the pioneer Methodist ministers in Iowa, and probably preached the first sermon in this county. His widow, Grandma Pattee, still resides here and is over ninety years of age.
November 16th contains election returns from which it appears that Cerro Gordo county cast 220 votes, of which 121 were republican and sixty-nine democratic.
January 4, 1861. — Thermometer twelve degrees below, and the printing office devil froze up. First board of supervisors organized with J. M. Hunt, of Falls, E. Randall, of Mason, J. P. Gardner, of Lake, A. C. Owen, of Owen, and J.J. Rogers, of Linn township, members. Paper contains account of the secession of South Carolina.
January 18th H. G. Parker has bought press and material for a new paper at Mason City, to be called the Republican, J. H. Aylesworth to be editor.
February 1st railroad was built to Waterloo.
Vol. 1 of the Clear Lake Independent closed, and the paper suspends publication for the editors to rest.
James Turner, the mail carrier, was caught out in in a blizzard and was badly frozen, and the first number of the Cerro Gordo Republican is out.
The above is a brief review of the local of Clear Lake in 1860, and when we remember that in January, 1861, there were but twenty-nine families in the west half of Cerro Gordo county and that there was but little to fill a newspaper with. The entire advertising for the year outside of tax lists was less than $300, with subscription next to nothing, but still they did more work and set more type each week than the Record and Mirror together, but that was before the days of "patents" and "plates" and every word was set up each week. Altogether the work was creditable for the times. The files will stay here hereafter."
By Will. Ed. Tucker.
It is not our purpose in this article to dilate much upon the part which the "noble red man" took in our early history, preferring to deal with subjects which are not surrounded with such a halo of doubt and uncertainty. In that early day Clear Lake seemed to be a favorite hunting place for the Indians, and,naturally enough, the name of James Hewitt is connected with our earliest account of them.
The significance of his name appears to have immediately struck them, for they at once re-christened him 'Nock-a-Shookle,' which is Winnebago for Hewit. Having had some experience with the Winnebagoes in Clayton county and elsewhere, Mr. Hewitt was prepared to deal with "Lo" as a trader and talkist. Large numbers of that tribe, under the leadership of some of the braves, were camped much of the time near the residence of "Nock-a-Shook," at Clear Lake, hunting by day, and making night hideous with "music" and dancing. During the winters of 1855-56, '56-7 the supply of "pagainena" was obtained from some enterprising dealers at Mason City. The name of this beverage is derived from two Winnebago words, 'pageda,'fire, and 'nena,' water, (fire-water), which had the most remarkable effect on ye noble red man of the forest. They would often fall to beating their squaws, till the 'better halves' were compelled to seek refuge among the trees, with the whites and elsewhere, until the frenzy had passed away from their lords. At the breaking up of winter, with new canoes just dugout, they would usually start with their 'plunder' at the head of the West Fork of the Cedar, just a little south of the lake, and follow that stream to its confluence with the Cedar, catching otter, beaver and smaller fur.
Arriving at the Cedar, the fur season over, they sold furs and canoes, then returned overland, the same dirty, destitute, vagabond noble 'Injuns' they ever were.
I left Wabash township, Jay Co., Ind., Sept., 10, 1855, with two teams, to come to Iowa. We were five weeks getting ten miles west of Dubuque. It got very cold and as I had no claim picked out in Cerro Gordo county, the place toward which I was making, I concluded to leave my family and go ahead alone to find a location. So I rented a house, got my family comfortably domiciled and came to Mason City, purchasing the farm on which I now live. I then returned to my family, and in the following April started to my land in Cerro Gordo county.
When I got to the Shell Rock river, the ice was running and we couldn't cross with the wagons, so I got Enoch Wiltfong to help swim the horses over and take the family, beds, stoves, etc., across, giving him one dollar for his trouble. After paying Wiltfong I had thirty cents left to begin the summer.
The next winter I went to Cedar Rapids and hauled a load of mill irons for George Brentner, receiving for the job seventy dollars, with which I bought stuff that was called flour, at five dollars per hundred. We had bad luck with the first two crops of corn we planted, as the early frosts killed both, and we had almost nothing to feed our cattle. We had six cows, however, that we had brought with us, and these helped us weather the storm all right. One day, in 1856, we were visited by an Indian squaw, who wanted to trade us her papoose for a bushel of potatoes, because the little thing was sick, and she didn't want to take care of it; but we didn't care about dealing in that kind of goods, and so didn't make a trade. When we first came to Cerro Gordo we didn't have very good religious privileges, and it was very seldom that we got the benefit of hearing a good sermon.
I remember the first Sabbath I spent in this county. I went to Mason City, to see if there was any meeting; all I found was a Sunday school, and there was but little satisfaction in that, as there wasn't a man to open the school by prayer.
Chapter XI. "Reminiscences of Pioneers." History of Franklin & Cerro Gordo Counties, Iowa. Pp. 673-77. Continental History Co. Springfield IL. 1883.
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