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County Iowa Genealogy
WHEN THE WILDWOOD WAS IN FLOWER
By G. Smith Stanton
Transcribed by Lynn Diemer, Copyright 2014
REMINDERS OF BY-GONE DAYS
government snrveyors laid out the prairie States like a checker board.
One could have a good game of checkers on a map of the State of Iowa.
Each square was six miles each way and contained thirty-six sections of
land, and numbered from one to thirty-six, with six hundred and forty
acres to a section. The squares running North and South were called
townships, and those running East and West were called ranges, both
being numbered. Consecjuently, there was little difficuly locating a
section of land. That is, the engineers, in laying it out, thought
there would be none. The corner of each section and half section of
land was marked by a surveyor's stake driven into the ground with the
number of the section cut thereon. Before driving the stake, a mound
was thrown up and a stake driven into the center of it, and to
distinguisli a half section from a section corner, excavations were
made either to the east or south of the mound as the case might be. The
surveyors overlooked the fact that prairie fires would burn off the
stakes. They also forgot the existence of a little animal who
passed under the name of a "prairie gopher." The prairie gopher would
throw up mounds galore similar to those of tlie surveyors. The result
was, with the wooden stakes burnt off and mounds everywhere, hunting
for a section or half section corner in that bare uninhabited region
was like hunting for the proverbial needle in the haystack. There was
only one way out of the difficulty, and that was to find some
established corner somewhere as a starter. It was the custom to go to
the nearest settlement and commence operations from a known corner.
Often the stakes were entirely rotted and the mounds washed away and
the pits filled. Under these conditions, corners had to be established.
Copies of the minutes of the government survey, made years before, were
in the hands of the county surveyor, and with patience and lots of
desired corner was finally located.
The surveyors as they laid out many of the Western States were not
aware that they were creating a timepiece for the settler ever after.
The sections were laid off according to the compass and as the Sun
crossed the section lines running North and South the settler gauged
the noonday hour. Many farmers were too poor to own a watch and were
thus able to tell the time of day with the section lines as a basis to
work from. The width of the average human hand covers a passing hour.
Extended about eighteen inches in front of the face and towards the Sun
the space it occupies takes the golden orb an hour to pass. With the
edge of the width of the human hand resting on a North and South
section line, the number of widths until it cuts the Sun indicates the
time of day. With the edge of the width of the hand resting on the
horizon, the number of hours high of the Sun is easilv ascertained. The
old settler having been accustomed to judge the time of day by the Sun,
a glance was all that was necessary. It was not an uncommon sight in
the towns to see a farmer as he would do his trading give an occasional
glance at this timepiece, which never ran down, nor lost, nor gained.
The saying, "Necessity is the inothcr of invention," was likely coined
on some isolated plain. The coming of the railroad also furnished the
settler with a barometer. Whenever from my ranch we could hear the
rumbling of the freight trains on the Northwestern, it was a sure
indication of rain; when we could not hear them it was a safe bet for
fair weather. While the weather prognosticator was right half the time,
the old Northwestern never slipped a cog.
What changed conditions I saw in the early settlers' means of
transportation. What a transformation from the ox team and the solid
wooden wheel to a span of horses and the spoked wheel wagon. What a
difference walking alongside of a yoke of lumbering oxen with "Whoa!
haw! Buck!" to sitting in a wagon guiding a free action team of horses
with a pair of lines. The springless lumber wagon with a board for a
seat was great for indigestion. The spring seat for the lumber wagon
was the first harbinger of comfort for the early settler. The lucky farmer who had a spring seat for his
wagon was the envy of the neighborhood. I will never forget the day
that a man from Racine, Wisconsin, drove through the neighborhood with a top buggy soliciting purchasers.
Young blood asserted itself and the lumber wagon with its spring seat
was no longer "the head of the class.'' Top buggies began to make
their appearance, and in turn the automobile has superseded the top
buggy, and ere many years the aeroplane will be one of the necessary
auxiliaries of a Western farmer's paraphernalia.
The Schutler wagon was one of the first and best that ever "clucked"
over the Western prairies. Its manufacturer was Peter Schutler of
Chicago. It surpassed all other wagons in durability and strength. The
reason for this was that nothing but perfectly seasoned timber entered
into its construction. The Schutler plant occupied the whole of one of
Chicago's blocks. Shed after shed contained lumber stored until well
seasoned. An employee knew that if he was found using defective or
unseasoned lumber, instant discharge followed. How different to-day; a
standing tree Monday morning, Saturday night a door, the following week
a carpenter to plug the cracks.
In the early settlement of the West, especially at the time of the
country being railroaded, in many of the counties there arose the
county seat question. The railroads left many of the old county seats
miles away from the track. It seemed to be the universal opinion that a
county seat should be located on the railroad. Immediately there began
a fight among the towns along the railroads as to which one should be
the shire-town. In some of the counties the railroad traversed its
whole width or length, and several railroad towns were established
thereon. Harrison County, Iowa, had its trouble with the rest. The
Northwestern Railroad traveled the whole length of the county near its
center and had four railroad towns. The old county seat. Magnolia, was
left six miles from the railroad, so the verdict was unanimous that the
county seat should be relocated. On account of the rivalry between the
railroad towns. Magnolia remained the county seat long after the
railroad was constructed. The county seat question overtopped all
others at issue. Even politics had to take a back seat.
We often hear the expression "fought like cats and dogs," but a cat and
dog fight was a dead calm compared to the fights in old Harrison over
the county seat question. It was fought out in churches, stores and
bar-rooms, over the prairie and through the timber, up hill and down,
afoot and on horse-back. Children, stock and crops were neglected,
merchants fought with their customers and ministers lost control of
their flocks. Fathers neglected to perform their marital duties,
consequently the population failed to increase, and those children who
were born were of a quarrelsome disposition. In fact, the question was
demoralizing the county over.
Eyery year a vote was taken without a majority for any town. Eyerybody
commenced to realize that a state of anarchy would prevail, martial law
be proclaimed and the militia called out if the question remained open.
It was finally agreed that there should be a vote cast for the two
towns that heretofore had received the most votes, and whichever one
was beaten at the polls, peace would prevail. The
election took place, but the vote was so close that both sides alleged
fraud, and claimed the election. The dispute was carried to the courts
for final adjudication. A lawyer by the name of Joe Smith represented
one of the towns. The town Smith appeared for was beaten, and as is
generally the case, Smith's client was dissatisfied, and its
inhabitants jumped onto poor Joe. He was openly charged with selling
out and branded a Benedict Arnold. They nicknamed Logan, the successful
town, "Smithville." After the
excitement had subsided it was proven and admitted on all sides that
Smith acted on the square. One of the most amusing episodes in
connection with Smith and the county seat question occurred with a
minister by the name of Burgess, who occasionally preached throughout
the county. He evidently had never met Smith but knew all about the
county seat fight. Joe had the reputation of being the best all around
joker in the county, and neyer lost a chance even if on himself. Smith
knew Burgess by siglit. One awful hot day Smith was riding horseback
from Magnolia to Logan. Wlien about half way he caught up to Brother
Burgess plodding along afoot. As Smith came up to Burgess he saw that
the gentleman of the cloth looked tired, hot and dusty, and getting off
his horse, offered it more as a joke than anything else to the minister
to ride. Brother Burgess accepted Joe's invitation and mounted the nag.
Joe told Burgess he was an entire stranger and inquired how far it was
to Smithville. The innocent preacher told Joe there was no such place
as Smithville, that the town he wanted to go to was Logan. Joe feigned
surprise and informed the minister that a short way back a man told him
the town was Smithville. Burgess told Joe that the
name Smithville was simply a nickname they had for the town. Joe asked
for an explanation, and he seemed to
enjoy the story as the preacher recounted the charges against ''a
lawyer by the name of Joe Smith." Here was poor Joe walking along the
hot dusty road and hearing himself
denounced by the rider of his own horse. Burgess preached the next
night in Logan and took for his text the seventh chapter of St.
Matthew, 12th verse, and cited as an
example his experience with Smith. The story was too good for Joe to
keep, and poor Burgess was surprised and mortified when he learned who
was the good Samaritan of
the day before.
We have all heard of bold bank robberies, but the most
daring I ever heard of occurred at the noon hour many years ago at the
banking house of Officer & Pusey, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Throughout the West at that time, about everybody closed up shop to
enjoy the noonday meal. The banks, as a general rule, kept open. I was
a customer of Officer & Pusev. Business called me to Council
Bluffs. It was during the noon hour that I arrived at the bank. The
only occupant of the bank at that time was Mr. Pusey. He invited me
inside of the counter. I had been sitting there but a few moments
when a stranger, at least to me, and he seemed to be to Mr. Pusey,
entered the bank and engaged Mr. Pusey in conversation. He claimed he
had some money that he wanted to deposit, and kept on presenting all
kinds of propositions to Mr. Pusey regarding interest on the same. As
we afterwards learned, he was simply trying to attract Mr. Pusey's
attention. While Mr. Pusey and his customer were discussing the
transaction, I was reading a newspaper. I heard a little noise in the
direction of the safe, and turning around, I saw a man with moccasins
on his feet in a crouching position with his ear to the dial, turning
it around while trying to catch the combination. I understand that an
expert can work out a combination if given time. A whole lot of things
happened in the next moment. I called Pusey's attention to the fellow
at the safe. Pusey's customer gave a signal and started on the run for the street.
The man who was at the safe made a bolt for the back door, where he had
entered unobserved. Pusey gave yell, jumped the counter and rushed to
the street yelling, "Stop that man!" United States Marshal Chapman was
passing the bank at the time and also gave chase, reminding us of
by-gone days. but the robbers escaped. Around the corner was a
two-horse rig, hired from one of the local livery stables, in
charge of a third party. Before the posse headed by Mr. Chapman
could get ready, the robbers were well on their way up Indian Creek.
Just beyond Loveland's Mill the posse came to the deserted livery rig
and there lost the trail.
But the gang were finally caught, and it was
''By" McArthur, sheriff of Harrison County, who corraled the outfit. He
was in Missouri Valley when he received a dispatch recounting what had
taken place. The news soon became public property. McArthur was
informed by a Mr. Hoover, a stock man, that about an hour before he had
seen a man in a clump of trees southeast of old St. John guarding some
horses. McArthur at once surmised that they were the robbers' horses.
Hastily swearing in some deputies, they, with Hoover as a guide,
started on the gallop for the clump of trees. McArthur arrested the man
in charge of the horses and waited for the Council Bluffs delegation.
The sheriff did not have long to wait; instead of the robbers meeting
their pal, McArthur and his posse were the committee on reception. The
man McArthur first arrested turned State's evidence, and the other
three were tried and convicted at the next term of court of
Pottawattamie County. For the following five years, instead of trying
to work the combination of the safes in Council Bluffs, Mr. Pusey's
guests were working the stone yard at Fort Madison. Mr. Pusey
afterward stated that at the same time the day before a stranger had
entered the bank with similar propositions. Mr. Pusey had no doubt
whatever that at the time a man was at the safe trving to work the
combination, and the customer had held Mr. Pusey's attention as long
as he dared. About two months before the Pusey episode occurred, the
First National Bank had been robbed of $20,000 in some mysterious way.
Mr. Pusey and other bankers smiled whenever the First National's loss
was mentioned; in fact, they as good as stated that the First National's
loss was a defalcation, they trying to cast discredit on that
institution to their own advantage. But after the incident occurred
that I mention in connection with Officer & Pusey's bank, the loss
of the First National was easily explained.
Horse stealing was not an
uncommon occurrence in the West during the early sixties. It was during
the time that I was running my ranch that horse stealing became one of
the lost arts. The "unwritten law'' for horse stealing was hanging as
soon as caught to the nearest tree. I participated in the hanging of
one of the first horse thieves in our section of Iowa. The victim was
caught with "the goods" while camping in a little clump of trees near
Honey Creek in Pottawattamie County. With the placard "horse thief"
tied around his neck his body was suspended from a tree by a wire and
hung there until his clothes rotted and the flesh fell from the bone.
For many years afterward that clump of trees was known as "Horse Thief
Grove." With what neatness and dispatch a horse thief got his deserts.
How different from the custom of the East both in application and
results. It was the custom where I came from, after arresting a horse
thief and while he was waiting for a Grand Jury to indict, for him to
partake of the viands and recline on a comfortable bed at the expense
of the county in which he stole the horse, and continue to be its guest
until court convened. Able lawyers were either employed or assigned to
defend him, and after the jury had brought in a verdict of "guilty,"
the case was carried to a higher court and sent back for a new trial on
the ground that in the judge's charge to the jury the court erred in
using the word ''off'' instead of ''from." Before the second trial came
around, the main prosecuting witness had died of old age and tlie
horse thief was acquitted for lack of evidence and turned loose to
continue his former vocation.
One of my neighbors was a man by the
name of Braden. He was there long before I arrived. His home was a
''dugout," a large excavation in a side hill. There, with two or three
helpers, his life was spent. His sole occupation was raising circus
horses. The handsome and peculiar marked horses of the circuses to-day
trace their blood to the Braden breed of horses that roamed in the
sixties over the prairies of Harrison and Shelby counties, Iowa. Agents
from the great circuses constantly visited Braden to supply their shows
with fancy colored stock. Stallions, brood mares and colts roamed at
will over that vast expanse. None of them was even halter-broken. They
were really a band of wild horses. Braden always kept a supply of rock
salt near his ranch which brought the herd around at stated intervals.
It was a hopeless task hunting for the herd, and prospective buyers
would stop with Braden in his hut until the herd made its accustomed
round. All the settlers raised horses, and for the lack of yards they
were turned loose to roam with the Braden gang. They stuck together,
for horses like individuals soon learn that numbers are the source of
protection. One of the peculiarities of a horse is that night is the
time he roams; what little rest he takes is in the day. One of the
grandest sights I ever saw was on a moonlight night as the Braden gang
of horses on the run passed up the valley of the Pigeon. As the moon
shone on the variegated colors they looked like the charge of some
The Braden gang of horses were constantly being
diminished by the horse thief, but a fight that took place on the head
waters of the Pigeon in the summer of eighteen sixty-nine in a measure
blue-penciled that occupation. While I was entertaining at dinner old
Braden and one William Cuppy, mentioned aforesaid, the mail-carrier
from the East came in and reported seeing some horse thieves running
the Braden gang. When he saw the herd
it was crossing the Mosquito River and heading West pursued by the
horse thieves. Braden proposed to intercept them. He calculated that
the herd would head for home and cross the Pigeon at its head waters.
As both Cuppy and myself had horses running with the Braden gang, we
readily accepted the proposition. With two of my helpers, Braden,
Cnppy and myself started on horseback up the valley of the Pigeon. We
were all armed with Colt's revolvers. As we came in sight of Hall's
Grove, which is near the head waters
of the Pigeon, we saw the herd heading Southwest towards the Braden
corral. A little curl of smoke was seen ascending from the grove. We
surmised that the horse thieves had stopped for something to eat. As we
started down the hollow, which led to the grove, we could see
some of Braden's horses straining at the end of lariats. Braden
was a man of powerful physique, being over six feet tall, built in
proportion and fearing nothing. The sight fired the old man to fury.
With a revolver in each hand and his horse on the jump, down the
incline toward the grove old Braden went. Cuppy, the helpers and myself
followed. All but Braden dismounted and fought the horse thieves from
behind horses and trees, but the old man stayed in the saddle. About
all we could see of him was his bald head dodging around amongst the
brush. With such a target, how he ever escaped with his life has always
been a mystery to me. When the "smoke of battle" cleared away, two of
the horse thieves lay dead on the ground, the others escaping over the
prairie. Braden was shot twice and also one of the helpers, all flesh
wounds. The uninjured helper was up in "first aid to the injured," and
he bound up Braden and the other helper's wounds, and we headed for
Doctor Cole's home, in the Boyer valley, twenty-five miles away. The
fight at Hall's Grove was passed along the line, and from that time on
horse thieves gave the Braden gang of horses a clear course. As
settlers poured in and spools of barbed wire were unwound along the
section lines cutting off the range, the old man saw his occupation
gone and retired to his hut to die, and the "Braden gang of horses"
became a memory.
Chapter 3 -- Chapter 5
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