Herbert Quick and the Ostfriesens

In 1922 Herbert Quick wrote the first of three of his most famous books. It was this trilogy of fiction books where Quick described prairie life and people he had spent time with during his childhood in northern Grundy County, IA. From history we know that the area in which he lived was settled by our ancestry of Ostfriesens. His presentation of his love of the mysteries of the prairie is a beautiful account of the way many Grundy County, Iowa settlers toiled to make homes for their families. And many people of his childhood years recognized themselves and others in the books.

The first book Vandemark’s Folly covers the time period from 1850 to 1865. It is a first person narrative of Jacob Teunis “Cow” Vandemark who finds himself in Iowa after inheriting a full section of land covered by a marshy “hell slew”. Mr. Gowdy’s character is believed to be George Wells who plotted and developed Wellsburg. And the Bushyager Gang is believed to be the notorious Rainsbarger Gang of Hardin and Grundy county fame. His second book The Hawkeye overlaps Vandemark’s Folly and extends the time period up to about the turn of the century. The Invisible Woman is the third in the trilogy. Through these three books Quick describes the taming of the prairies and humanity. His description of the early pioneers and the strength of their character is easily recognizable as the many Ostfriesens who settled the area. A heritage which has come to us molded out of the wilderness, built up through thrift, hard work, ingenuity and resulted in the good land, opportunities, comforts and conveniences of today.

Herbert Quick of English descent was born on the Grundy County, Iowa side of the Hardin and Grundy County line at midnight on October 23, 1861. He was the son of Martin and Margaret nee Coleman Quick. He was one of 9 siblings in the Coleman-Quick family.

At the age of two, Herbert suffered an attack of paralysis or poliomyelitis. He could not move a muscle in his body. The local Dr. “Grizzly” Wright prescribed a dried beef gall which was hanging on a nail in the barn. This gall was sliced and put in a bottle of alcohol. Herbert’s back and legs were then bathed in the treatment three times a day. After a few days Herbert began to move his legs. With continued treatment Herbert lived and could walk again, although having some crippling effects which remained over his lifetime.

In 1864, the family moved into Hardin County and closer to Steamboat Rock, Iowa. But in 1868 the family found themselves moving back to Grundy County, to Shiloh township and then Colfax township. Here Herbert learned about life on the beautiful rolling Iowa prairie and he attended Colfax #9 school. He and his family were surrounded by many Ostfriesen families moving from the German Valley area of Illinois to Iowa and he observed their way of life.

For $1 Herbert Quick attended the Teacher’s Institute at Grundy Center, IA and was given a Teacher’s Certificate after passing the examination. In 1877 at the age of 16 he started teaching in Shiloh township, Grundy County for $25.00 a week, but his room and board cost him $2.50 a week. Due to his asymmetric chest, malformed feet and ankylotic ankles he was rejected for West Point at Mason City, Iowa. In 1881 the family moved to Mason City, Iowa and Herbert taught in the largest school in Cerro Gordo County. During these years Herbert Quick began to write and to study the law. He took the Iowa Bar examination in 1889 and passed. He had been courting Miss Ella Corey over the past year and married her on April 9, 1890. At his time they moved to Sioux City, Iowa where he successfully practiced law and served as the Mayor of Sioux City in 1898 and 1900. In 1902 he was a nominee for Supreme Court Judge.

Between 1904 and 1920 Herbert Quick wrote several books such as Double Trouble and The Brown Mouse, all whimsical literature. During these years he was the editor of several farm magazines. Then in 1916 he became a member of the Federal Farm Loan Bureau and a Colonel of the American Red Cross.

It wasn’t until the early 1920’s Herbert Quick wrote his trilogy of books describing prairie life and the people. In 1925 he had just finished writing his autobiography when he suddenly died while lecturing at the University of Missouri in Columbia. His last book was edited by his wife Ella Corey Quick and titled One Man’s Life.

Today the Herbert Quick School House stands in Grundy Center, IA. It is the original school in which Herbert Quick gained his knowledge as a child and started his teaching career. Colfax #9 school was moved to its present location in 1933. It contains Herbert Quick’s school master’s desk, some of his personal memorabilia and many items used in the country schools over a hundred years ago.

While it is difficult to locate his books, the author has found Vandemark’s Folley listed on the Project Gutenburg web site Etext# 12179 for free downloading. On occasion the Barnes and Noble web site will have a reprint of one of Herbert Quick books for sale. And keep watching those neighborhood book sales.

written and contributed by Jean Sietsema

Master Thesis in English by Helen Gethman, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio
Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation by Frank Morain, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Grundy Register, Grundy Center, IA, May 1976