Palmer C. Tiffany (1809-1900) was a Henry County pioneer, settling in Mount Pleasant in 1838. He was a merchant, tavern owner and hotel keeper. For a brief time, Tiffany mined in California. In June and July of 1899, Tiffany wrote a series of articles sharing his memories and recollections of people and events of Mount Pleasant's beginnings. His series, titled "Reminiscences", was featured in "The Dial of Progress", an early newspaper managed by Rev. W.R. and C.T. Cole.

Part Two - “The Dial of Progress”, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Thursday, June 22, 1899.

Since the appearance of last weeks’ “Dial”, a Mt. Pleasant young man who is extremely fond of good horses and enjoys seeing a good race, said to me: “Why dident you tell about the horse race at ‘Sweet Home?’ That would have been interesting. How they managed it and all that.”

The fact is, I was more interested in the scenery; and what to do and how to do; in the people and curiosity as to where all these men and horses came from. My impressions are, however, that it was a straight-away race from point to point, as different from a track event of today and its management as is the face of the country transformed as it is by time and the labor of man, and his devices for changing the looks of mother earth. Sixty years is a long time to remember the details of a horse race, anything more than the picture of the place, the new and strange people, the mental state of our whole party. Those remain I recall the name of another Indian chief that was pointed out to me, that of Appanoose after whom a county was named as well as one for the other great chiefs, Keokuk and Wapello.

I will also state in passing for the sake of geographical exactitude that the place called “Sweet Home” was not far from a group of houses which has grown to a town of some size, which was then called St. Francisville, and is still so called. This was more upon the bluffs and out upon the prairie. “Sweet Home” was a stopping place for the poled boats and was right on the banks of the river. We have been asked how so insignificant a place should became so widely known. I think it must have been the uses to which it was put or of which it was made the center. I remember that after I got to Mt. Pleasant, I made the acquaintance of a man by the name of “Van Allen”, a young lawyer that I saw at that race, who had come across the country horse back to see it. It simply shows pioneer conditions. A simple log shanty in the midst of a wilderness of either prairie or forest, is as an oasis in a desert; a haven of rest to the traveler. If a point around which commerce eventually centers and civilization rears her walls of brick and stone, of wood and steel, man says it was ordained. Many insignificant points are destined to simply allure the traveler and pass him on as this case, to better things.

The way our attention was drawn to Mt. Pleasant was by a man by the name of Moberly who stopped over night at the same hotel with us. He had been to visit a son in that place and was returning to his home in Missouri.

In connection with this man Moberly, we recollect that the first jokes about mannerism of speech in this country occurred. Mrs. Tiffany, always alert to catch the humorous or strange, heard someone talking about “pailing the cow fornenst the shack,” and her inquiry of this gentleman elicited the information that “pailing the cow” was western or southern English for milking the cow; and “fornenst” was a word for opposite; she was greatly amused and so she and this gentleman passed the evening exchanging local speech for Yankee phrase.

The next morning, as before stated, my brother-in-law, Winthrop Cheney and myself started on foot for this town. At that time men traversed the prairie by aid of a compass and that was as necessary to safety as to the mariner on the ocean. To understand this, let the reader mentally wipe off every fence and bridge and road, cornfield and tree, house, barn or any improvement whatever, far as the eye can reach and miles on miles further, clothe them with waving, moving, undulating vegetation, so mingled with the vivid color of blossoms so vague, so far away that it is impossible to locate the horizon line between earth and sky and the picture will be had of our environment. Probably no place on the face of the globe were land pictures more wonderful; especially to the individual born and reared in the hill country of “rock-bound” New England.

Without further adventure than weariness to the “tenderfoot” and a satiety of “richness of the soil” to the eye, we made a place called Washington, now known as Hillsboro, for the night. In the morning our compass gave us a “bee-line” which we kept for Mt. Pleasant, leaving Salem to the right, then a settlement known to old Mitchell’s geography as “one of the principal towns of the territory of Iowa.”

When we reached the Skunk River, we saw a boat and a man on the opposite side; we hailed him, but he refused to cross until we assured him that we were both able and willing to pay our fare.

This man was a brother of Lawrence B. Hughes, then candidate and afterwards elected to the first territorial legislature or council which was held in Burlington. He initiated us into the mystery of woodcraft and blazed trees, showing the route to Mt. Pleasant. A blazed tree is not a burned tree; but one, the bark of which, has been cut with a hatchet to show where the path lay; once in every five yards the blaze or cut appearing.

The first house we saw this side of the river was that of Rev. W. Hutton, father of Mr. Wm. Hutton who now resides in the same place, about one mile west of this city. The appearance of this large double log house with comfortable lofts, the looks of thrift and enterprise around, were the best we had anywhere yet seen. We afterwards learned that this man led the denomination known as “hard-shell Baptists” for a large section. He was earnest and honest, admitting none to fellowship but those of the one sect.

A few rods from this place north and we saw Mt. Pleasant. The town at that time, 1838, consisted of seventy-five or eighty small houses, mostly log cabins, with a few small frame houses; the frames made of rails covered with rived or hand-made clapboards.

The place and surrounding lay-of-the-land looked the most inviting to us of anything we had seen. We were satisfied that we could make a “sweet home”.

Upon this first visit we met many (unclear?) of whom we afterward came to know intimately and esteemed as friends. I remember a conversation we had with Alvin Saunders, then a young man of eighteen or twenty years who was clerking in a small sixteen by sixteen room for his brother, Presley Saunders. This little building was situated next south of where now stands the first national bank. Having dropped into this place of business, young Saunders was cordial in interviewing us. We told him we might go into the dairy business. He thought this would be all right. At any rate, he left no uncertain sound in his praise of the country and people.

We decided to return and report to the others. We managed to get caught after dark before reaching Salem where we proposed to stop all night. After wandering about, we finally saw a light and made for it. The people would not keep us but told us that “further on” there was a cabin where they kept travelers.

At this place there were two beds; the family bed and a bed for travelers with mere standing room and a curtain between. Through this curtain could easily be seen the dressing of the other fellows. But these accommodations discounted being lost in mid-prairie with only rattle snakes and wolves as companions.

Father Cheney and his son Winthrop started immediately upon our return to Farmington for him to view the land. We hired a horse for him to ride a part of the way and a boy to bring it back. He was as well pleased with Mt. Pleasant as his son and myself had been, so the “die was cast” and our place for home selected. Winthrop Cheney returned to Farmington with a team hired of Mr. Lambert Heath, a then squatter, who was afterwards our nearest neighbor.

Meantime, a small two-roomed frame house was rented on what is now North Main Street and upon our arrival we took possession; opened our boxes and with the bedding and pillows, began the process of home keeping in solemn earnest. Father Cheney insisted on a pillow from our own boxes; he said he was afraid that those at the hotel would get lost in his ears if he tried to sleep on them again, they were so small.

One of the characteristic performances which fell under Mrs. Tiffany’s observation while she was waiting at Farmington, was one to be long remembered by a New England woman, born and bred. There were two grown daughters of the landlord where she was stopping that received invitations to a party. In their “fixing up” process, the first was to call “Mam” for the bread pan. As space was limited, they made their toilet in the common room, the lavatory process consisting solely of washing their faces, hands and feet-bare feet and all in the bread pan.

An hour later “Mam” caught up the pan, threw out the water, poured in other water and “set her sponge” for the next day’s baking. Both Mrs. Tiffany and her father, were hopelessly homesick. After dinner the next day, while they were walking about, Mr. Cheney remarked “if only they had some butter, the bread would have been quite good.” Then it was that Mrs. Tiffany told of the uses to which the bread pan had been put and presumably what furnished the seasoning of the bread.

Next week the early settlers, their hospitality and helpfulness will be the subject of our paper.

Resource provided by Henry County Heritage Trust; transcription done by Alex Olson, University of Northern Iowa Public History Field Experience Class, Fall 2022.

History Index   ***   Henry County IAGenWeb