Grammar and spelling remains the same as in the original document.
Ancestors--Brothers and sisters–House where I was born–accidents in early childhood–Timidity and experiences at school–Visit to birth place after 60 years–The old log spring house–Going to market and mill–Boy sports–Picking stone and handling tobacco–Grandfather Jennings visit–Marketing grain and stock–Moved with relatives to Iowa–Incidents on the way–settling in Iowa–Working for neighbors, driving oxen and mules–First railroad in Iowa–Uncle Henry’s heirloom–Buying boots–agitation and excitement over the war.
If I am prompted by one thing more than another to write a brief story of my life, it is my children and grandchildren may have means of obtaining some little information of their ancestors and the time in which they lived. Of my ancestors, I know but little. I am told that many years ago there lived a family of Jennings, relatives of mine that had a bible in which was recorded the name Benjamin Jennings, the first from England. My father Benjamin Jennings and Ann Jeffries were born near Union Town, Pennsylvania in 1819. They were married December 24th 1840. To their union eleven children were born. Nine sons and two daughters. I was the third son. My two older brothers Elijah and Mifflin were born in Pennsylvania. My parents moved to Ohio in 1844, and settled among the hills in Guernsey County, where I was born in a log cabin February 14, 1845. My brothers, Taylor, Jeffries, Enoch, and Doctor Franklin, were born in Ohio. Sister Ellen, brothers Alvin Wharton, Oliver, and sister Emma were born in Louisa County, Iowa. When father and mother were married they had but little of this world’s goods. I have heard father tell that he rented a farm and when they went to housekeeping they moved with one horse. Packing all their household goods on the
horse, mother rode, while father walked. At that time they moved to Ohio, that part of the county where they settled was very new. The land was mostly covered with timber and brush and had to be cleared off to farm. During the winters father worked in the timber chopping down trees, cutting them in logs and rolling them in heaps with the brush, then burning them. I have some recollections of the privations and difficulties under which the people lived and labored in those days. There were no eight or ten hour labor laws; at that time people worked from sun up till sun down. I presume that our home and surroundings were about the average of the community. The house in which I was born was built of logs. It was one story, had one door and two windows one sash each. The door was hung on wooden hinges with a wooden latch on the inside to which a tow string was fastened and run through a hole in the door to open it and was locked by pulling the string inside. There was a large open fireplace, with a crane fastened in the wall on while the pots and kettles were hung to cook the meals. An oven in which to bake bread and a few pans and skillets made up the cooking outfit. I have seen father cut large logs three to four feet long and roll them in over the floor for a back log, then pile smaller wood in front of it to start the fire. I have a very distinct recollection of the old fireplace. Father and mother went visiting one winter evening at one of the neighbors and while they were gone we boys tried to see which one could sit on the back log the longest. I think I did for I burnt a hole in the seat of my pants for which I got a paddling. One time before I could walk, in the absence of mother from the house, I rolled into the fireplace and will always carry the scar on my right leg where I was burned. Only for the timely arrival of my Uncle Jarard who was working on our porch at the time, the chances are I would not be writing this story.
A tallow candle or a lamp made with a rag laid on a tin pan covered with lard was our electric light. I can’t remember our first dishes, but I well remember once when father came home from town and brought some pewter plates and spoons and a large pewter platter. Mother made “farmer’s rice” wheat flour boiled in water and placed it on the table. Then we had a “square” meal. I have seen mother pacing back and forth
over the floor, turning a spinning wheel for many an hour. When I was about five years old my aunt Hannah, my mother’s sister, was making her home with us and while there she married Mr. Frank Wilson. I well remember the day they were married and have carried a reminder of the event ever since. Father had been to town and bought a new hatchet. While the people were gathering for the wedding I got the hatchet and went to the wood pile just in front of the house and I thought I could stand on a log and chop like a man. I got on the log and began chopping between my bare feet. I had struck but a few times when the hatchet struck a twig and glanced striking between my large toe and the one next to it, splitting my foot half way to the ankle. I fell off the log and, Mrs. Joel Williams, one of our neighbors ran from the house, picked me up and carried me in and laid me on the trundle bed, where I witnessed the marriage ceremony. I am told that many years afterward Mrs. Williams was burned to death in her home.
We did not have the advantages of free schools but they were supported by the subscriptions of the patrons. The little education I have was obtained while attending three months school during the winter seasons until I was nineteen years of age. I don’t believe a more timid and bashful boy or girl ever entered a school room than I, if so, I pity them. On this account I was greatly handicapped in getting an education. I presume that I was between five and six years old when I started to school. The school building where I first went was built of logs. It had one door hung on wooden hinges with wooden latch and tow string to open and close it. There were six windows with one sash each placed about three and a half feet from the floor. The seats were made of slabs sawed from logs, with holes bored through the ends, and wooden legs from 13 to 20 inches long driven through, sometimes projecting two or three inches, I suppose, to keep the scholars from sliding off. The seats were from eight to twelve feet long placed lengthwise of the room and usually two across one end. The writing desks were made of boards about two feet wide fastened to the wall with legs in front to hold them up. When writing we sat with faces to the wall. Our writing material was polk berry juice for ink and a goose quill for a pen. I have chased many an
old goose to get a quill to make a pen. One of the qualifications of a teacher was to be able to make a good pen out of a quill. Our principle books were the old Elementary speller with the words arranged alphabetically, a reader and arithmetic and sometimes a small geography. We learned the states, their capitals and location by song. I never could carry the tune commencing, State of Maine, Augusta on the Kennebec river, etc. The teacher, always a man in those days usually kept two or three hickory or iron-wood gads standing in the corner of the room for correcting rods. It was no uncommon thing to see a boy or girl nearly grown brought on the floor and the gad applied, making the dust fly from their home spun clothing. I believe my first teacher was Jonathan Kanuff. I remember one cold winter morning shortly after school was called, brother Elijah and Abe Jeams, a young man grown sere sitting together at the writing desk facing the wall. Jeams did something that displeased the teacher, he grabbed his gad and commenced whipping across the shoulders. Elijah had a new spelling book lying open on the desk in front of him and the end of the teachers’s gad struck the book quartering, cutting it through. When the teacher, tired of whipping Jeams, started back to his desk, Abe got up kicked and spit at him, but the teacher said nothing.
I remember another incident that occurred at the same schoolhouse with Madison Yagee as teacher. One morning after school was taken up, six of u s boys were sitting on a bench. I was on one end, brother Elijah on the other and Mifflin near the center, the other three boys sitting between us, Mifflin and the boy next to him were pushing each other. The teacher was walking round the room with his hands crossed behind him, apparently not noticing what was going on . Suddenly he stopped, reached over and caught Mifflin and the boy next to him by their coat collars and pulled them onto the floor. Then he laid Mifflin down and placed the other b boy across him, reached back and got the next two boys and piled them across the others, then came back and got Elijah and me and piled us across like a pile of rails. The teacher said nothing but walked away and we all crawled back on the seat.
That was the severest punishment I ever received in school.. In the mixup I think I was scared our of a year’s growth. In the summer of 1913 I made a visit to my old home in Ohio, the first time since I left it, nearly sixty years ago. The railroad now runs within five miles of the place. From the station, Quaker City, once called Millwood, I went with team over the steep barren hills to the old farm. On my way I passed the old schoolhouse where I attended my first and last summer school. There is a new schoolhouse on the site where the old school stood.
The old building stands among some other buildings on a farm nearby. While attending school in this old building I learned the multiplication tables. I had no arithmetic. The teacher drew the numbers on a piece of white paper for me. One evening on my way home from this school while passing through the woods I saw an old black and white striped cat with several kittens run across the path ahead of me. I caught two kittens. I thought they were the prettiest I had ever seen. I put them in my dinner basket and hurried on home, anxious to show my pets. I had no sooner entered the house when mother scented the odor from my basket. Very suddenly, there was a small boy with his basket and kittens (skunk) hurried out of th house. The skunks were killed and the boy’s clothes strung on a line to air. When I arrived at the old home place a rather remarkable incident occurred. Here I met a man by the name of Stoneburner, who was born on an adjoining farm. He and I attended the same school when were boys. Naturally we did not recognize each other. But when I told him that I was born on that farm and that I was the third son o Benjamin Jennings, “Oh yes, said he, “I’ll never forget you, your name is William Henry, you always cried the first day you came to school.” I said, “Well, Stoneburner, that’s very unkind of you to cast that up to me since nearly sixty years have passed.”
There are but few improvements now on the farm that were there when we left it. An old log spring house, the spring still running, built by my father in 1848, some rail fences, that he split the rails and built, and a few apple trees he planted are still living. Most of the logs in the spring house are well preserved. The clapboard roof is partly rotted and fallen in. I well remember a peculiar circumstance that
occurred at the spring house. At that time, it was built, two logs were left whole at the bottom of the floor. We owned an old blind mule named Lid. One day she got into this house, it being narrow she could not turn around, so father had to saw out one of the logs at the door to get her backed out. I recall another incident or perhaps I should say an accident that happened at the old spring about the same time. One day Uncle Ike Mullen, came to our house and hid his bottle, (he liked his drinks) in the clover by the spring. In some way it so happened that we older boys were about the spring, I think it was Elijah that found the bottle while handling it let it fall on the rock and broke it. I presume Uncle Ike went home dry .
In those days it was the general custom among farmers to have liquor at harvest time, house and barn raisings and corn husking. Frequently serious accidents occurred on account of it. I can remember seeing the whisky jug in our harvest field. But I never saw my father take a drink of liquor. It was quite common for farmers to snap their corn, haul it to the barn and put it in two piles. When the time came for .husking, ten or twelve of the neighbors were invited to the husking. The men were equally divided and a captain chosen for each side. The side that was beaten usually paid for the liquor. Supper was prepared and a jolly time held.The method of butchering hogs was quite different from the present. I have seen father haul a lot of old dry logs and pile them together, then pile on stone weighing from 25-30 pounds until he had 150-200 pounds according to the number of hogs to kill. The log heap was then fired and when the stones were red hot they were thrown in a large barrel about two-thirds full of water and left until the water was hot enuf to scald the hog. One time Elijah and I rode one horse to Kenonsburg, about three miles to market. I carried a little bucket of eggs which we exchanged at three cents a dozen for calico. At another time we went to Burson’s mill, about five miles, to get some corn ground. Each rode a hose with a sack partly filled. On our way back, when within a half mile of home, I let my sack fall off the horse; then I had to go home and get father to put it back on.
P. 11Boy like, we had our sports. One time our neighbor’s hogs came to our place and the older boys got them in a lot. Then they got a single line and tied it to a bar post and made a noose in it. I stood behind the post and held the noose, while the other boys drove out the hogs. The first large hog that came, I slipped the noose over his head, when it ran to the end of the line it broke at the post and the hog ran home with it. When father came home he had to go after his line. I can’t remember, but I expect some boy got a paddling for our fun. I remember once in the fall of the year when the chestnuts began to fall we three older boys went over to Joel Williams, a near neighbor, who had some chestnut trees on a very high hill on his farm. Elijah and Mifflin were up in the trees and I picked a few chestnuts and put them in a little tin bucket. Williams was working in a field nearby but could not see us. But suddenly we heard him call to his girl, “bring me the gun, there is somebody in the chestnut trees.” Ill never forget the rattle of those few chestnuts in that little tin bucket as we hiked down over the rocks off that hill. I am sure we ran most of the way home.
I have no recollection of ever seeing my Grandfather Jennings but once. I t was in the fall of the year when peaches were ripe. Father had made a little wagon by sawing the wheels off a round log, and placing a box on them for the boys to haul peaches off the knob, a very steep hill near the house. My two older brothers started with me in the wagon up the hill and when at the steepest part both leg go, and away it went down the hill, and when near the bottom upset, throwing me out. Grandfather came walking with a cane and picked me up and placed me in the wagon. At that time he was about seventy five years old, his home in Pennsylvania. I have no date when he or grandmother died. Grandfather is said to have been very eccentric. I have e heard father tell that when he was a young man, that he had a riding bridle made with over-check and martingale. At that time buckles were little used in making bridles. All parts were sewed together. Once when grandfather wanted to use a bridle he got hold of father’s new one and got it tangled up so he could not get it on the horse; then he took his knife and cut everything off except one rein. At another time, grandmother wanted him to take a basket of eggs to market. He
P. 12took the eggs and brought them back with him. When asked why he brought them back he said “no one asked for them”.
My earliest recollection of work was picking stone off the side hill, where brother Elijah was trying to plow corn with one horse and a single shovel plow. I also remember helping set out tobacco plants, hoe and worm it, and when matured strip it from the stalk and pile it in bundles. Then father would haul it to the tobacco house on a sled. I have carried the bundles from the sled to a table for my mother to string. The leaves were usually strung on a cord fastened to a stick about four feet long. When the stick was full it was hung on poles in the sun until the leaves were wilted; then placed in the tobacco house to smoke. Perhaps it was my experience, when a boy, in handling the filthy weed, that gave me such a dislike for it. In those days all improvements in farm machinery and inventions that now make farm life attractive, were unknown.
Father’s farm implements at the time, consisted of a wagon with wooden lynch pin, stirring plow with wooden mold board, single shovel corn plow, harrow with wooden teeth, mowing scythe, grain cradle, hoe and wooden hand rake. I have seen father flail out wheat on the barn floor. Sometimes brother Elijah would ride the horses round and round on the barn floor to tramp it out. The first threshing machine I ever saw was called the “Chaff Pile”. It simply threshed the wheat from the straw. Then men separated the straw from the wheat with forks. The wheat and chaff was then run through a fanning mill and separated.
At that time railroads were few. The stagecoach and horse carried the travelers and mails. From t hat part of Ohio, most of the stock, and even turkeys, were driven to Wheeling, Va. To market. Sometimes in the winter season hogs were butchered and hauled whole in wagons, to market. The first hogs I ever saw sold on foot was in Iowa and were weighed in a box one at a time. The stock buyer had a pen made of rough boards that would hold twenty or thirty hogs. In the fence, a space of about three feet was left, and on each side a post about eight feet long was set two feet in the ground. Across the top of the posts, a bar was p laced over which a lever was laid with a large pair of stilliards (sic steelyards) attached to the end and fastened to a box about
two feet wide and four feet long. The box was made with sliding doors at each end. The hog was driven in the box and passed on into another pen.
The spring we left Ohio, I went with father to Salesville, about five miles from our place, with a load of ear corn to sell. The grain buyer measured the corn in a barrel, then shelled it, and measured it again in a half bushel. Father used three horses to the wagon, two abreast on the tongue, he riding the near one and drove the lead horse with a single line. This was the usual way of freighting at that time, using four to six horses to the wagon. I have no recollection of ever seeing father drive a team with check lines until we started to Iowa.
In the early part of April 1854, we left Ohio. I shall always remember the day we started. Our folks had borrowed some little articles of a neighbor that lived about a mile from us. Elijah and I were sent to take them home. In going we had to pass over a high hill, out of sight of our house. When we got to the neighbors and delivered the goods, little grass grew under my feet until we reached the top of the hill on our return. I was afraid our folks would leave us.
The day we started was rainy and the roads were quite muddy. A short time before, father had bot a little3 bay mare and we had not gone over half a mile when going up a little hill she balked. Then one of our neighbors hitched his team onto the wagon and helped us to Washington, twelve miles, then the county seat of Gurnsey (sic) county. We remained there that day. Some time previous to leaving home father and mother had arranged with their relatives in Pennsylvania to meet them at Washington, and all go together to Iowa. About dark that day, their folks arrived. I can’t recall the exact number of them, but before we got to Iowa at one time, there were forty-two in the caravan. Of the older ones coming from Pennsylvania were my Grandfather and Grandmother Jeffries, Uncle Elijah and Henry Jennings, brothers of father, their wives Aunt Jane and Rachel. Aunt Eliza Malaby (widow), Aunt Esther and Lydia, all sisters of mother, and Uncle Taylor, her only brother.P. 14
The balance of the company was made up of children, all relatives. Of all those mentioned, Aunt Lydia, past 77, is the only one now living.The morning we left Washington, our little mare still balked. That day my father traded her to a man that was plowing in a field for a large bony sorrel mare that we drove to Iowa. On our way, one night be camped near Cambridge, Ohio. It was there I first saw a railroad and train of cars. We were camped in the woods about two hundred yards from the railroad track. Shortly after dark we heard the train coming. We children and many of the older ones started thru the timber toward the track. I must have gotten halfway when I saw the headlight on the engine coming around the curve in the road. At once I got behind a large tree. I thot it was coming straight for me.
Our family was interrupted by the sickness of brother Franklin, so that we had to stop a week at Uncle John Jennings’, in Athens county, Ohio, for him to recover. Near Dayton our company was joined by two of father’s brothers, Enoch and Jarard, and their families. Also another man and his family, whose name I have forgotten. They all traveled with us until near Peoria, Ill. when they left for Wisconsin. I have never seen any of them since. After many long days of hard travel and nights camping along rough and muddy roads, over steep hills and thru miry swamps, and across swollen streams, we finally reached the east bank of the Mississippi, opposite Burlington, on the 26th day of June, 1854. No incident of great importance occurred on the trip. Grandfather Jeffries had one horse die on the road. When crossing the Big Walnut river, in Indiana, while it was very high, Uncle Enoch, with his wife in the wagon was fording the stream, and when they reached the opposite bank, which was very steep, their team balked, and the water was running over the wagon box at the rear end. Uncle began whipping the horses, not using Sunday School words, trying to make them pull. Aunt Betsy, hysterical, began screaming “I’ll die Enoch, I’ll die.” “Die and be d—d.” said uncle. While coming thru Illinois we met many people going back. Some had very discouraging stories to tell of Iowa. Their main complaint was
P. 15the high winds. Some said it would blow the tires off the wagon wheels.
June 27th, we crossed the river at Burlington and traveled about twelve miles on a plank road and camped near New London. A plank road now in Iowa would be a novel sight. Leaving New London, we traveled northwest across the prairie until we reached Albert Hague’s, about six miles south of Columbus City, in Louisa County. Hague’s wife was a distant relative of mother’s. .Iowa was a very new country at that time. There were but few houses on the road form Burlington to Hague’s. The early settlers had a hard struggle to exist for many years. Some gave up and returned to the eastern states. Our company camped at Hague’s nearly a month. Father and some of my uncles took a trip thru some of the western counties, looking for land. They were gone about ten days but returned without buying. Finally they all bot (sic) land in Louisa country within a few miles of each other. Father bot eighty acres of prairie, near Long Creek, about five miles south of Columbus City. It was partly broke and had a frame house on it partly enclosed. My recollections is that father paid $1000 for the land paying $600 cash, the balance in payments. I have heard him tell that after making the payment on the land and buying a cook stove, he had but three cents left. Winter coming on , his house not finished and a family of nine to support, was not a very encouraging outlook for a man in a new country. The house was 16 X32, one story, divided into two rooms. Before winter set in the house was lathed and plastered. One room was used for the kitchen. The floor was of rough boards. I n the other room we all lived and slept, and sometimes kept travelers over night. Father kept this land during his lifetime and added two more eighties, making a farm of 240 acres. It is peculiarly situated, in that the public road runs on all sides of it, and has, ever since the first settlement of the county.
In 1881 (should be 1883 the actual date) brother Alvin married Miss Bell Hester. He now owns and occupies the farm.
The first winter in Iowa, I stayed most of the time with my Aunt Jane, w hose husband, Uncle Elijah, died in the fall before. I did chores an went to school. During the holidays some of
aunt’s neighbors made a wood chipping and hauling for her. I was sent to Grandfather Jeffries’, about five miles to invite them. When I got there none of the family were home. John Wilson, who made his home at grandfather’s was there. Before starting back, he got a mince pie and cut it. I think I must have eaten about half of it. That night I was a very sick boy. The pie came up freely. From that time to present, nearly sixty years, I have not eaten a quarter of a mince pie.
At first father only had eighty acres and did not have work for all of us boys during the summer season. So it was my lot to be hired out. My first work in Iowa was while we were yet in camp. I raked wheat after a cradle and carried bundles for a man named Kirkpatrick. I remember supper was brot (sic) to the field for the hands, but I was too bashful to eat with strangers, so I went to camp. One summer father hired me out to a man by the name of Mickey at $6.25 a month, for four months. Mickey had a nephew, Levi, working for him at the time. He and I broke prairie. He held the plow while I drove the oxen, usually two yoke. One evening about quitting time a peculiar accident occurred. Levi had filed the plow, intending to go another round; but looking up at the sun, he said, “we’ll unhitch.” I went between the hind yoke of cattle to unloose t he chain, and just as I came out from between them, the near steer kicked me, knocking me past the plow. Levi, being high tempered, grabbed up the hatchet and threw it at the steer in such a way that the blade struck its hamestring (sic), cutting it in two. The steer had to be killed.
Early one spring I took the ague; I shook with it nearly every day until harvest; at times shaking hard enough to make the dishes rattle in the cupboard. One day mother had gone to town to get some medicine for me, and the older boys were going to the field with a wagon and rack to get some loose wheat that the chinch bugs had spoiled, to top out a wheat rick. I got on some of the loose wheat, they set fire to the balance: that scared the mules and they started on the run. I tried to get off thru the hay rack and got fast. The mules ran about a quarter of a mile, dragging me in the rack. The incident must have scared or
shook the ague all out of me, for I have not had another chill from that day to the present, over fifty years.
I worked two summers for my Uncle Henry. The first summer he ah d a young man by the name of S. E. Wilson, working for him. He afterward married my Aunt Jane. We broke prairie, he holding the plow and I driving the oxen. The second summer I did general work on the farm, at times plowing with a span of mules or yoke of cattle. The mules I worked were afraid of thunder. One day while plowing I had the lines around me and there came a loud clap of thunder, and away the mules went dragging the plow and me several yards thru plowed ground before they stopped. I have a very distinct recollection of plowing in the fall in the stubble field with a yoke of oxen, and plowed up a bumblebees’ nest. The bees got on the cattle and me. I ran one way and the cattle bawling, the other. I think I came the nearest to swearing at that time, that I ever did. One warm summer day uncle and I took tow yoke of oxen and wagon to haul a log to the saw mill. I drove the cattle. About half a mile from where we loaded the log there was a long, steep hill. When near the top, one of the steers of the lead yoke fell and died before we got his yoke off. We thought he broke a blood vessel.One rainy day after harvest uncle and I were plowing a stubble field, with two yoke of oxen, when a man by the name of Bond came along the road with the separator of a threshing machine, and when within about a quarter of a mile from where we were at work he got into a mudhole and stalled. After trying for some time to pull the machine out on solid ground, Bond went between the cattle to unhitch them. He had on a slick gum coat, that scared them. One of the steers began bawling, that scared the others, and away they went, machine and all. If Bond had run the other way I could have stopped the cattle, but they outran us. They ran about a quarter of a mile, finally striking a wagon, locking the machine wagon, which stopped them, with but little damage done. I h hauled the sand to plaster a house for uncle, with two yoke of cattle, from the Iowa river bottom, near
P. 18where the town of Columbus Junction now stands. In those days what was known as “Wildcat money” was in circulation. You did not know from one day to another whether the bank notes were good or not. While I was working for uncle he sold a yoke of steers for $100; the party paid him al lin new five dollar bills issued by a Burriss City bank, located in Louisa county. About a week afterward uncle went to Wapello, the county seat, and found out the money he was paid for his cattle was worthless. I am reminded that while working for this uncle, he gave me a dollar bill, which I now have, that has been an heirloom in the Jennings family. On the face of the bill it reads “Maryland, One Dollar, No. 13476. This Indented bill of One Dollar will entitle the bearer hereof to receive bills of exchange payable in London for gold or silver at the rate of four shillings and sixpence sterling per dollar for the said bill, according to the decision of an act of the Assembly of Maryland. Dated at Annapolis, this tenth day of April, anno Domini, 1774. Signed: H. Lapham. On the back of the bill it reads, ‘Tis death to counterfeits. Patented by A. C. And F. Green.”
There were no railroads in Iowa at that time. The first road to enter the state was the Chicago-Rock Island, during the summer of 1856. It crossed the Mississippi and out to Iowa City, then the capital of the state. The next year it was extended to Fredonia, near the Iowa river, just across from where the town of Columbus Junction now stands. The rock in the piers of the railroad bridge across the river at Fredonia were hauled with teams from my grandfather’s farm on Long Creek. Uncle Henry and father bot the first McCormick reaper in Elm Grove township. It could hardly claim relation to the harvester of today.We had very cold winters in those times. The winter of 1856-57 was the longest and coldest, and had the most snow of any winter I ever experienced. I have heard father tell that the icicles hung on the south side of the house that winter for ninety consecutive days. At times the snow drifted terribly. I have driven a team of horses with sled over a seven rail fence with rider. Wild game was quite plentiful at that time, especially prairie chickens and quail and some deer in winter and geese and ducks in the spring. I remember of chasing eleven
deer out of a cornfield with a dog. I also caught a crippled one. I was never a very good Nimrod, but had fair luck in trapping quail and prairie chickens. One snowy winter day I caught thirty-six prairie chickens in one trap at two hauls. The first money I ever had to call my own I made by trapping. The first school I attended in Iowa was at a place called Pitchin, at a cross road and blacksmith shop about a half mile from our house. The house was frame, a little improvement over those in Ohio, but the seats were made of slabs placed around the room. The writing desks, made of boards fastened to the wall.
I went there three terms. Then the district was divided and a new more modern house, built which was called Amity. I attended there the balance of my school days. I shall never forget when the first county superintendent came. I had been trembling from the time I heard he was coming. Att hat time classes were called on the floor to recite. The day the superintendent came I feigned sick and could not recite with any of the classes. I felt greatly relieved when the superintendent left.Religious meetings in those days thru the country were frequently held in schoolhouses and conducted quite differently from what they are now. I remember attending revival meetings held by what was known as the Evangelical Methodist, mostly Germans from Pennsylvania. It was no uncommon sight to see a person shout. I have seen three or four men and women shouting at the same time, until they would become exhausted and fall to the floor. I shall never forget being at a meeting held at our schoolhouse on a very cold winter night when a man, with whom I was well acquainted, kneeled down to pray near the stove, which was red hot in places and full of live coals. When he got real earnest in his prayer he leaned back, striking the stove and upsetting it. The stove door flew open and the coals rolled out onto the floor. We boys shot out of the house. The man moved a little ways on his knees, but kept on praying until he got thru. In the meantime other members had put the stove back to its place and the meeting continued as if nothing had happened. Father being a Baptist, seldom attended such meetings. But I remember of helping to cut ice on Long Creek when it was from 18 to 20 inches thick to make a hole to baptize Baptists.
In 1859 I began working for Joseph Durbin, a near neighbor of ours. At that time he was county judge of Louisa County. I worked for him nearly three years. He was one of the finest men I ever worked for. I would rather work for him than at home, as there were no boys to boss me. During the time I worked for the judge I can’t recall that he ever spoke a cross word to me. One winter I made my home with him doing chores for my board and went to school.In those days Methodist camp meetings, lasting two or three weeks, were very common. While working for the judge, one fall, a meeting was held in the woods near his house. Many people came a large distance and camped. I presume at times there were 500 people on the grounds. Great religious excitement often prevailed, and shouting could be heard almost day and night.
The boys boots were supposed to last them a year and our clothing, always home-made, until it was worn out. I n ever had a ready-made suit of clothes until I got them of Uncle Sam. When the fat hogs were sold in the fall or winter, we usually got new boots, father would line us boys up and have us stand, one at a time, in our stocking feet, with the heel of one foot against the door jamb then mark the length of the foot on the floor and cut a small stick to fit the measure. If the stick went inside the boot the foot had to fit it. Then we had no rubbers or overshoes.The first circus and animal show I ever saw was P. T. Barnum’s, in the fall of 1861, at Wapello. It came from Illinois, crossing the Mississippi at Port Louisa and the Iowa river at Wapello. It crossed the river on a ferry boat, except the two elephants–they were made to wade. At times, while crossing the river they would be entirely under water. Many people stood on the river bank watching the elephants in the water. It was a warm day and their keeper had quite a time getting them out of the water. When they came up the river bank they threw water with their trunks on the crowd and dispersed them very rapidly. While performing in the tent the keeper would lie down and make the elephants step over him. I thot that a dangerous business. A few days afterward while performing at Mount Pleas-
ant, one of the elephants stepped on the keeper, killing him instantly. I had my first picture taken the day I attended the show. I was working for Judge Durbin when the war broke out. He was a Virginian by birth. His sympathies were with the south. But he never talked about the war in my presence. About election time in the fall of 1859, the Judge made a trip to Kansas, on horseback, riding old Mike, ostensibly to look at land. But since I have read the political history of Kansas, I have always thot he went to vote against a new constitution prohibiting slavery in the territory. I shall always remember old Mike. An incident occurred with him that came near ending my life. After plowing corn with him one day I took off his harness and led him out of the stable to roll. I was holding the halter strap while he rolled when all of a sudden he jumped up and whirling, kicked with both hind feet, striking me in the breast and knocking me clear of the ground about a rod where I fell flat on my back.
About the first of September, 1861, Elijah and Mifflin enlisted in the army. Than I went home to work. I did general work on the farm that fall and went to school three months during the winter. The next spring, shortly after the battle of Shiloh April 6th and 7th Mifflin came home sick and remained at home until the 9th of July, when I took him to Burlington to return to his regiment then in East Tennessee. At that time several members of our family were down with typhoid fever. I was taken down with it on the 11th of July and was confined to the house until the 15th of September. Two doctors gave me up and said I couldn’t get well. They gave me thirteen emetics in fourteen consecutive days. I was kept in a close room and but little air allowed. I lay until nearly every joint in my body was worn to the bone. The wonder to me now is that I lived. At one time there were seven of our family down with the fever. Brother Jeffries died in the room where I lay. I had one aunt and two cousins die while I was sick. I have heard father say that during three months at that time the doctor only missed one day coming to our house. During the summer and fall of ‘63 there was much excitement and agitation over the war. Many public meetings were held and the Union sentiment was very strong through that part of Iowa. Our 4th of July celebration was held at
Columbus City. There was a very large gathering and the war spirit rang high. The speaker for the occasion was a lawyer by the name of Cloud. He was very patriotic, and had been speaking but a short time when he was interrupted by a man named Steel, a southern sympathizer, who was “full”. A soldier who was home on furlough was sitting just behind Steel, and when Steel interrupted the speaker the second time he was knocked down by the soldier. Some in the crowd began yelling, “hang him, hang him.” Two men went to a house nearby to borrow a clothesline, but the woman of the house wouldn’t let them have it. After quite an effort, Steel was gotten out of the crowd and left the grounds. At times southern sympathizers would try to get public meetings but they were generally failures. I remember attending one at Cairo schoolhouse, about five miles from our place. It was aver warm afternoon and the crowd was mostly young people. I don’t believe there were a half dozen grown men there, and they were too old to go to the army. The speaker was a lawyer named Hall. There was quite a large attendance of young women and boys who favored the Union. Among the young women was one named Marshall who had a brother in the army. When the speaker began, she and quite a number of the girls were sitting near the center of the room. We boys were hanging in the windows from the outside looking on. The speaker had talked but a short time when he began denouncing the Union soldiers saying “they would be robbers and thieves when they returned home.”He had scarcely said it, when the Marshall girl jumped to her feet and said, “You’re a liar, sir.” Then she said “come on girls” and left the room followed by most all the young people. Then we boys raised a yell and broke u p the meeting. The chairman protested, said he would have us all arrested, but that didn’t stop us. The next day at Sunday school at the Prairie Chapel, there was a girl wearing what was known as a “Butternut pin”, which represented the uniform of a Confederate soldier. This same Marshall girl and another tore the pin off the girl and threw it away.
W. H. Jennings at Sixteen