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 Four - “The Dial of Progress”, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Thursday, July 6, 1899.

After reading last week’s Dial and finding some radical errors in the statements of these reminiscences, I concluded that I should have to add to them, not only “reflections,” but explanations also, if the printing office was not more careful with copy. It made me say that Mrs. Heath received a legacy of $600.00 from her father’s estate, when the truth was, that it was Mrs. Burge; and that was the way it was written. Upon inquiry as to how the blunder came in, I have got considerable information about the “modus operandi” of getting a man’s thoughts safely and correctly into print. It seems that the manuscript copy on an article is often typewritten, before being passed on to the night operator of the Monotype, for the convenience of the operator. In this copying process is where Mrs. Burge and Mrs. Heath got mixed. When the copyist was confronted with the error, her calm excuse was “lack of personal acquaintance with those ladies.” There were other errors typographical and otherwise as thick as flies on a horse crossing original prairie; but misspelled words and punctuation amiss, is like many trials of my long life, something to be endured, and not fret over.

The New Englander is of necessity a specialist with the scythe. The stony, hilly land, is impossible for the use of the mowing machine; “flats” and reasonable kind of hills, being the only places accessible for their use. Hand mowing in a large proportion of the meadows being still the rule, as it had been from the beginning of land cultivation on the Atlantic coast up to the time of our emigration. Winthrop and I were both expert with the use of the scythe. July was the month we had been accustomed to “begin haying,” and took it for granted that July was also the proper month to “hay” Iowa prairie grass in. But experience taught us that prairie grass should be matured as well as timothy or other grass; the proper time being late in September and October. For to cut that coarse, rank growing variety, which has passed away with cultivation, along with the clouds of prairie chickens, quail and other natives of the soil was to make a failure of it.

We soon established quite a reputation and helped various neighbors to secure a harvest of this kind of feed. I mention this because the fact led to one of those experiences which involve a lifetime of results. A settler by the name of Joseph Horton living north of town on the north side of Big Creek sought our aid in mowing. When we went to dinner the first day, we found Mrs. Horton sick; a sickness that culminated in her death in a few days.

This death broke up a home of affectional and substantial promise; an infant daughter about a year old was left motherless. The Hortons were from Kentucky and Joseph naturally turned his thoughts for help and consolation to his kindred womankind in his hour of need. The journey back meant hardships and endurance for men; for a babe without its mother, the journey seemed simply murderous. The primeval condition of the country with its “red men”, often more to be feared than the wild and ravenous beasts of timber and prairie, have to be held in consideration to catch the setting for all of our events.
What to do with the dear child was the bereft man’s immediate problem. He had met Mrs. Tiffany and to her he turned and not in vain. Would she keep the child until he could make the journey and return. With no children of her own, the great mother heart of this strong affectioned woman went out to the child, in such fashion that when the father did return prepared to take it, Mrs. Tiffany was not willing to give it up. So, after a few months both he and his sister concluded that the child had a home indeed and gave it to us. This child was ever a great comfort to us and is now living in Lawrence, Kansas; a daughter as true in her affection to me in my advanced years as was that of myself and wife to her in her baby days. Many Mt. Pleasant people will remember her as Eliza Tiffany, her name after her marriage being Eldridge, and there are still many who know her from acquaintance with her on her visits to us in the later years.

It may be considered a diversion from the story of the making of our “Sweet Home” in Mount Pleasant to mention that the Eldridges were in the midst of the “Quantrell raid” by the pro-slavery men in 1863, during the time of the rebellion when 200 men, women and children were brutally killed in Lawrence; but it all mixes and mingles with my memories and as the event stands as a historical exponent of the growth of anti-slavery sentiment in this country, it may fill in a lurid corner of our pictures of the growth of “The West” and its homes.

It was in the early winter of the first year here that Mrs. Tiffany had an experience at a primitive Methodist meeting; a “regular shouting”. Now a “regular shouting” is something that would surprise the Sunday School scholar, and some of the older ones today, as much as it did Mrs. T. then. We had some near neighbors by the name of Rogers who frequently attended these evening meetings and they asked us to go with them. I went as far as town with the party, but stopped and talked with a crowd of “the boys”, among them being John B. Lash, A. B. Porter, the Saunders boys, Presley and Alvin, and others. I know there was always a group ready for the advent of another fellow in those times in somebody’s store or at the tavern.

But this story is about the “Shouting”. The place of public meeting was in a log hut about 16x16 feet square, which had been built for a school house the year previous and the settlers were proud of it. The seats were rude benches without backs. In order to appreciate the point of this story, the reader should be familiar with the solitariness of this log cabin; the strangeness and newness of it all, to Mrs. T.; the weird effect of the tallow dip or two, which aided the fireplace to furnish light, the methods of the Methodists of that period in conducting a revival and the fact that the usages of that sort of meeting were very different from the manner of religious exercises to which she had been accustomed, needs to be borne in mind.

I am not certain, but I think the name of the conductor was Zion; his intense fervor and earnestness revealing unfamiliarity with grammar, just in proportion as his words poured forth. Imagine the place; how one, two, a half dozen, a dozen voices, all shouting in promiscuous accord approval of the utterances of the speaker with Glory to God: Hallelujah: That’s so: Save him Lord: Jesus is here: I’m coming Lord, I’m coming! And a chorus of amens; and thank God’s from all over the room in uninterrupted chorus; when suddenly a woman sitting exactly in front of Mrs. Tiffany, sprang to her feet, crying, I’m coming Jesus! Thank God, I’m coming! Shrieking and clapping her hands high over her head in a perfect ecstasy of emotion, suddenly falling backwards onto Mrs. Tiffany’s lap and laying as one dead, her eyes rolling back into her head. Of course, this frightened Mrs. Tiffany, who cried out very excitedly, “Oh! Mr. Rogers; take me out of here quick, quick.” This made the congregation look at her with amazement as great as they had inspired in her. I will say for the benefit of the young people, that the woman who fell backward and dropped as one dead, was under “the power.” I suppose today such an experience would be called a form of psychology or self-magnetism. But no matter what it was, it scared Mrs. Tiffany so she did not get over it for weeks, and never forgot it.

This school house was the first one for a large circuit of country. John P. Grantham, afterward a prominent figure in Henry County political circles, then a young man, with more brains than money, taught school. The building stood exactly west of where George C. Van Allen’s residence is, on West Washington Street, who in conversation a few days since, said that since he had owned the place, Grantham pointed out the very spot of the old cabin, and they found some of the stones that supported it at the corners. I think that the next school building and “meeting house” combined, was the main part of the residence where Dr. Wellington Bird lived, reared his family and died, at the corner of Main and Madison streets, opposite the Baptist church.

I remember very distinctly that very soon, only a few days after going on the farm, we were waited on by a committee of citizens asking for a contribution towards building a court house. The pull by different points to secure the county seat was at its height, and it was thought that if Mt. Pleasant people would build a court house, that would settle the matter. I gave them five dollars; the first money paid by any one for the purpose. Next time I went into town I saw Dicky Noble laying the foundation of the building which was 40x40, two stories, with a little cupola on top. Remember, there were no trees and only huts about the square; -neither fence nor anything but raw land. The building was in the middle of the present park and looked quite imposing. There were four fronts, each side having a door; with four rooms on the ground floor, one in each corner for the county offices. The upper room being the court room.

This stood into the sixties until it was torn down, and trees planted, and a park fence put up, as it now is.

As I look back to that first summer and winter, in thought and emotion, I am one with the hopes-never any fears-of happiness, success, home.

The possibilities were literally boundless and limitless, except to individual capacity and endeavor.

The spring of 1839 found Winthrop and I, busy planting and cultivating, just where the stately hospital building now stands. Father Cheney returned the previous summer to New England, after seeing us settled, to get his wife, his son Winthrop’s wife and child, that were left behind. He went and came by the same route we had pursued in getting here, with the exception of taking the steamboat for St. Louis at Burlington, instead of Warsaw.
We were busy in the corn field cultivating one fine June morning of 1839 with a horse of our own this time, when the party arrived, travel stained and weary, but all glad and thankful for sight of loved ones again united.

This accession made three families for one small cabin. Six adults and three children. This is a good typical experience of how shelter was availed of and thankfully occupied. It was a common pioneer experience for a settler to take in a whole family of new comers who were entire strangers and keep them for weeks until they could put in a crop and put up the inevitable cabin.

But Mrs. Tiffany and I concluded we would “swarm out”, so we rented a small house in town and moved. In a short time however we rented the Viney tavern and run that for about a year when we got possession of a larger building, which had evolved as a midsummer night’s dream on the corner ever afterward known as the Tiffany corner, until the past few years “Bartlett’s” dry goods is effacing the old name from the parlance of the town. It is from this corner, with this setting, that I shall pursue my retrospections of the next decade.

As I look back over the panorama of the events which mark the historic evolution of American citizenship in this particular locality, it cannot be entirely divorced from the rise and fall of all general events which show the growth of what is termed in a general way, American agricultural, mechanical and commercial industries. Perhaps the reader will do well to read local history in general, and let the imaginative faculty aid in the process of catching my unwritten as well as written story. It needs both and more; fact cannot express nor fancy picture, the realities of this most realistically dramatic and picturesque period; picturesque in people and personality, as well as in scenes.

While making my memory of 60 years the thread by which type events are sort of strung together, for the sake of the pleasure it gives me and I trust also the reader, I find myself theorizing over causes as well as conditions and can hardly refrain from moralizing.

In connection with the condition of “public morals”, that much vexed question, which has so baffled the pulpit, as well as court of justice from the beginning of civilized endeavor, is that of alcoholics in the broadest sense. In a local and personal sense, it was a problem brought close home to the western “tavern keeper” of the “forties” and the “hotel keeper” later on. For a very short period I kept a bar-perhaps three months. I did not like the business and quit. I concluded if men wanted whisky, they might get it where they could and when they wanted it, but I did not have to sell it to them. If men came “loaded” to my house, it was my business to see that they behaved themselves or they might get out “and quick.” Drinking was common, and the men going a cross country expedition would no more think of starting without a flask, if for nothing else than “snake bites,” than materia medica would think of carrying a case without alcoholic stimulants in some shape, today.

The “cow boy,” so familiar to the readers of border plain stories today, had not yet appeared. But he had his prototype in the adventurous and daring and “border ruffianism” is but another name for that whichever prevails in a new country; the froth and foam begotten of the mixing and mingling of diverse people on selfish interest bent; determined to get money somehow, and crime and the criminal were more striking, but not more in evidence than today, only more open, less hidden and skulking.

My experience in connection with the public house brought me in contact with literally all travelers, from far and near. My place was the center of what I am proud to say, was good and properly conducted social amusements, as well as table and bed accommodations of the time. I taught the first dancing school in Mt. Pleasant; and these social gatherings were to the girls and boys then what the club dance and amateur theatricals and church socials are to the young men and women now. I don’t see but what human nature is about the same now as it was then. Young men and maidens enjoyed the society of each other and “fell in love” just as inevitably as they always have and I expect always will.

I want the reader to see what I am talking about, in a town of scattered, small houses without a tree, a sidewalk or fence. Everybody kept “dog fence” in those days. That is, stock run loose, and fencing was expensive, so the cattle were watched out of “truck patches,” and a man or boy was employed by the season, to herd the stock out of the corn fields. It was the possibilities of the country that people enthused over. In less than a year after we came here, some of our nearest neighbors, the Heath Bros., among them, got restless because the country was settling up so thick; they did not have room enough, and so went further west. This was a common feature of the settling of the country. Hunting for something better was the consuming fever of western settlements. I never had it. After reaching this town, I was satisfied that I was far enough west. In ‘49, I, with tens of thousands of others, took the “gold fever” and went to California. Ours was one of a train of ox teams reaching from the head of the Platte River in the Rockies, the rear resting upon the Missouri river; a distance of six hundred miles. This journey covered a period of four months and eleven days. This is an experience also having its lurid colorings, but I refer to it only to show its relations to the permanent settlement of the “great plains,” that term at the time covering a large share of the tillable but untilled portions of Kansas and Nebraska, as well as Colorado and the really arid and desert portions this side of the Rockies, which altogether were vaguely mentioned then as the Great American Desert; and which to-day engineering skill is slowly but surely converting into the richest of garden spots by irrigation and deep flowing wells. Truly is man placed in dominion over the earth to bring forth for his uses, by means more certain and teachable, than that by which the water was made to flow from the rock by means of Aaron’s rod. And this great movement from the world over-to California for gold was incidentally of the greatest advantage in opening up and settling the great Middle West and Atlantic coast.

Burlington was taking on a certain and steady growth. Strong, public spirited men were there. They perceived the need of a good public road leading due west as the needle points, to develop the town and aid trade. To make Mt. Pleasant a suburb and to get a bridge across Skunk River at Rome for the promotion of emigration and security in travel was their dream. Such men as H. E. Hunt, W. H. Postlewait, Fox Abrahams, John G. Foote, Lyman Cook, W. F. Coolbaugh, Thos. Hedge, John L. Corse, J. W. Grimes, E. E. Gay, J. H. Wyman, and others, were these pushers.

Mt. Pleasant was largely indebted to Burlington enterprise for the laying of the plank road from one town to the other which preceded the railroad by several years. Some of these rare old boys, are still living. One, and prince among them, is H. E. Hunt. He was in Mt. Pleasant Friday of last week, and called upon me. My amanuensis was present and expressed most vivid regret at inability to take short hand. His references to the old times made them again new to me. He was one of the young men that thought it nothing at all to sup in Burlington, take his best girl behind a good trotter, (and they had horses at that time that for endurance and “get there” would compare favorably with roadsters to-day) come to Mt. Pleasant in three hours over the plank road, dance into the “wee sma’” hours, and home for breakfast. I was accounted a good “fiddler” in those days. In fact, for several years before leaving Massachusetts I had received $50.00 per year for playing it in the choir of the Baptist church in Southbridge. But I found that the ultra-religious people in Mt. Pleasant thought it a wicked thing to do, “to fiddle”. Even yet in many places it is considered one thing to “fiddle” and quite another to “play the violin.” Just the difference there is between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. There are no conditions in life that promote good fellowship and enduring friendship like the common interest in public improvement, equality of social position and environment made pioneer associates, enduring friendships indeed.

It was very early in these first years that Enoch Hill came west. He may have been here when we first came; I do not clearly remember. At any rate, he was located at the mouth of Big Creek and had a saw mill-a very primitive affair-but it sawed logs into boards and clapboards, and furnished lumber for the first frame houses. After a bit he built the two-story frame which now stands just south of the jail on South Main Street, and occupied it as a residence until the time of his death and his widow after him, until some fifteen years ago, when she also went on. The timber put into it must have been good stuff, for it is standing intact to-day; having successfully withstood the disintegrations of time and the machinations of politicians of a recent day; standing not only as a monument to the honest work of pioneer saw mills, but also a monument to the political and financial schemes of men still living. In fact, the readers of the Free Press will recognize it as the “Hill Property,” with the doubtful title; but supposedly belonging to Henry County, through the business foresight of Sol Cavenee, who, acting as the board of supervisors, invested three thousand dollars of county money in it, as a relic of pioneer days, it is charitable to suppose.

It may interest Mt. Pleasant people to know that as far back as the forties Saunders’ Grove was a favorite resort for Burlington people to picnic. Three hours on the plank road, and here they were. Recently - a few years is recently to me - the grocers of Burlington held a picnic in the same grounds, but they came by rail instead of with horse, switched onto the K line, and landed bag and baggage right by the great Saunders’ spring. The change, the contrast, furnished food for reflection- it mirrored such different conditions. Nothing has so changed the face of the country as the trees which now so nearly make a swamp of the town and furnish shade and picturesque effects all over “High Henry” and the state, but destroying the prairie scenery. This change is not only in appearance, but in climate as well; the great growth of trees changing the humidity, to a certain extent.

One of the funny incidents that H. E. Hunt brought up the other day, was of Asbury B. Porter, then a young man who kept the best, perhaps the only livery barn in the town. Some fellow from Burlington came out and put his team up at the livery stable. One of the horses was “heavey” and for some reason, perhaps he had come for a dance, and wanted his horse at his best for the return trip; anyway, he gave Porter instructions not to feed his horse hay, as it was “heavey.” A fellow by the name of John Courtney was hostler, and either from indifference or “deviltry” filled the beast up with dusty hay. When the results showed, his driver came back on Porter, and Porter went for the hostler; not only with word, but with pitch fork, and in the running, and turning and twisting, the fellow barely escaped with his life. This was a vigorous, but type anecdote of the “rough and readiness” of the times.

I don’t believe I will say what I will tell about next week. Last week I promised that the condition of the churches should engage our attention, but instead have found myself wandering along through “memories’ halls” and have handed out but a few of the scenes. Could I make others see them as I do, it would be worth while trying. Instead of saying would that we had the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us, I now say would that others could see what I do.

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

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