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 Five - “The Dial of Progress”, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Thursday, July 13, 1899.

A young lady who was reading the article in which I mentioned the incident of the Bellows, a “pair of bellows” being the term used. The word “pair” elicited the inquiry, “Are there two of them?”

It is a word used either in the singular or plural, and is a utensil for blowing fire, either in a dwelling, or in forges and furnaces. It has two handles and the opening and shutting of it inhales and exhales air through a nozzle. It was an important convenience in making fires in old-time fireplaces.

Another correction I wish to make is the expression “coarse rank grass,” in speaking of haying prairie grass. Now the grass that was best for fodder, was neither coarse nor rank; but this we had to learn. There is a native grass that is close to the ground, sweet and juicy when properly secured. I do not know whether it may not be a strong growth, of what is called blue grass, after the prairie has been pastured. At any rate, blue grass is the grass that appeared naturally upon the constant grazing of the prairie. This succession of vegetation is curious and interesting to observe.

I remember digging a well in this town once in the early spring, and clay that came from twenty-five feet below the surface generated a seedless plant of particular beauty. This, like all of nature’s spontaneity is beyond the ken of man.

It was only a short time after I got here that I was appointed Justice of the Peace by Gov. Lucas, then territorial governor. I came into town to hold court, and any room we could get was used-frequently the office of J. B. Taze and Dr. Taze. They were practicing lawyers, one being also a doctor, and original in every particular. I don’t recall that he practiced medicine. Upon one occasion, there was a case up that the testimony showed very clearly that Taze would get his case; but he taffied and flattered “his honor” (that was me) until it pretty nearly turned my stomach; and I would not have given him the verdict had it not been absolutely just. But I revenged myself by telling him that I was fond of turkey, but objected to too much stuffing. This passed into a long-standing joke among the lawyers, who were a little cautious of taffy for me after that.

After a few years, by the act of legislature, the office of Justice was made elective. I resigned, but was elected without opposition for many successive years. While I was in California, in ‘49 and ‘50, Kilpatrick had the office, and my docket; but upon my return, the community saw fit to again place me in the position, which I held for about twenty-five years in all.

Probably no class of incidents would show more clearly some characteristic features of the early time than court scenes and practices.

There was a considerable time before there was any jail here. When a man was fined and could not pay, he was sentenced to a jail made of jailers; that is, a guard was appointed to take care of him. When the boys got tired of guarding, they would take their prisoner out into the prairie, give him a good thrashing with a cow hide, according as they thought he deserved it, and set him loose. He seldom showed up the second time. He was quite likely to “go West.”

By the way, one of the curious things about the place for starting to “go West,” was that it was at every advancing point on the line from New England, until the place was reached where there was no more land to preempt from the government. One heard more about “going West” here, in this pioneer settlement at that time, than in Massachusetts; until now, after sixty years of “settling up” the islands of the sea are about being laid tributary to the spirit of emigration to places where cheap homes, business openings, and personal advancement among men, seem possible to the men with energy, but without money.

But to-day, the adventurous will find that wherever he may go in civilized lands “capital” has preceded and preempted commercial possibilities and stands prepared to dominate the labor of the individual who has no money with which to compete or co-operate with combines.

But, to come back from ‘99, it’s changed but not in all respects improved conditions for emigrants, to the beginnings of this town and country about it, I may say that the town was not incorporated until 1842. The first death was that of Presley Saunders first wife. At this time, he set apart the plot of ground now known as the city or old burying ground for the town, and this was the first burial in it.

It is claimed that a man by the name of Pullman, living near the hospital, was the first, but Mrs. Saunders’ was the first formal interment in ground set apart for public use in that way.

The first marriage was Presley Saunders to Miss Huldah Bowen, one of a family of twelve children, of Isaac Bowen, who lived next neighbor to us when we were on the farm, as before stated. There were ten daughters and two sons in this family, two of whom are still living in this city, Mrs. Huldah Saunders and Mrs. L. G. Palmer.

The first white settler was James Dawson in 1834, waking up the Hugh B. Swan farm 1 ½ miles west of this town. The first grist mill was put up by Zach Wilburn. Mrs. Mary McCoy, eldest daughter of Presley Saunders was the first white child, and she was born in 1835.

The first postmaster was Alvin Saunders.
The first cabin was built by Joseph Moore.
The first doctors were Warren L. Jenkins and J. D. Payne.

As is usually the case in the settlement of this country, the itinerant Methodist minister was the first minister. Among those were Barton H. Cartwright, J.M. Jameson, Learner B. Stateler, John H. Ruble, J. W. Dole, and an ever-recurring procession upon the interlacing circuits. These circuits were often more than two hundred miles in extent.

John H. Ruble married for his first wife one of the daughters of Isaac Bowen, Diana, I believe. After a year or two he died, and was buried in the cemetery at this place.

Mrs. L. G. Palmer tells how curiously the younger children of the Bowen family looked upon a gentleman by the name of Stephenson, a physician who in the year or two which followed, fell into the habit of driving out to their place in a two wheeled cart. This was to them such an odd arrangement, they could hardly tell how much this particular style stood for professionally, as he was the first doctor they had ever seen. But after a while they found he was interested in their sister, Diana, whom he made his wife.

The first year we were here we had occasion to call Dr. Payne to see Wealthy, who was extremely ill with climatic fever. It was then the defects of puncheon floors and log cabins were emphasized. She was extremely nervous and the rattling of the puncheons especially irritated her. We could not step without their moving; so, we went to work and evened them up with chips underneath. Climatic fevers, or fever and ague intensified to unremitting fever, and fever and ague, or “the shakes,” were the principal diseases known at the time. The idea prevailed extensively that “a fellar can’t die with the ager,” and was a standard belief; and probably helped save many a man from death.

Along in these early times a man by the name of Farris started up as a Dr. He was uneducated in schools of medicine and surgery, and the regulars looked down on him accordingly. But for all that, he had an extensive and successful practice. He had some original prescriptions for various diseases; one of them was for dysentery, and standard with him. It was a vegetable soup, and made of cabbage, and all garden vegetables at hand, boiled with a good big piece of salt fat pork; the patient to eat and especially the drink of the liquor of this concoction. Strange as it may seem, this specific for dysentery of old Doc Farris’ is a sort of “hand me down” remedy in some families in this county where other remedies fail, today. While I am talking about Drs., I may as well tell of a Thomsonian, or “Lobelia Dr.,” that came sometime in the early forties. Someone in my hotel employed him, I know, and in fact like many new notions, his method had quite a run. The chief remedies were powerful sweating, lobelia emetics, and “number six”; a concoction of red pepper and other hot stuff, to be taken as tea to stimulate the sweating process. Our well was the only one for quite a round, and after a while he sued for a big bill; we all claimed that he tacked on to us a professional call every time he got a bucket of water to sweat someone else with.

The Christian church was established, or preaching and belief, which precedes both, was held as the true faith by Presley Saunders and his sister and her husband, Arthur Miller. Church organization and connected fellowship among churches, was not as general as the Methodist, and regular membership and incorporation came latter. The Baptists were organized in 1843; the Presbyterians in 1840.

The first school teacher was A. M. Daniels, J. P. Grantham following him in 1837-1838.

Mrs. Tiffany always remembered a reply a lady gave her in response to the question as to what was the difference between the Cumberland Presbyterian and the Methodist religions. The answer was that “there was more bodily exercise in the Methodist religion;” that was the greatest difference.

Soon after the erection of the Court House, a young Methodist divine by the name of Heustis, and his wife, came here from Vermont. He was especially zealous and active in revival meetings, which were held in the court room. Miller Snider, grandfather of George and Chestine, were very earnest in their efforts to get me converted. If they could get “Squire Tiffany” they were certain they would save a “brand from the burning.” I remember promising them that after they had got everybody else, I would go forward to the “mourners’ bench,” and give them a fair trial at my soul. The time came when no more would go. I went forward as I had promised, but did not experience that mystical change called “getting religion.”

I will also add that the Methodists at this period of their history in this locality, baptized by immersion; and as John Alsup recently put it, “Big Creek is lined the whole length of it, with the scenes of former baptizings.” The camp meeting was a marked feature of religious method from the beginning, until into the seventies. Since then, there has been great decadence in them. Civilization, with its big churches, did for the open-air religious meeting what it did with many of the native and distinctive features of the pioneer times; it simply effaced them.

The first man to say “college” to Mt. Pleasant was this man Huestis, of whom we have just spoken. The project was first talked of as a college for the locality; a start for a school which should grow up with the country, and meet the local educational needs. The idea of a denominational school was not mentioned; whether thought of, I know not. I had a lot near the present Asbury church which I donated. Everything was taken that could be sold, used or traded for material for the building, which was pushed forward with vigor. It is still in fair condition and is the one of the group of I. W. U. building now occupied by the Conservatory of Music, by Dr. Rommel.

Heustis got up the building, lived in one the chambers, the east one, and taught school in the west one, his wife assisting him in the winter of ‘42. He traveled east on an expedition soliciting money. I gave him letters of introduction to my brother at Hartford, Conn., through whom he got more money than from all the other sources in Iowa put together. He was a banker and a man of influence; and when he introduced the young missionary to the Methodists around, it helped open all purses. His interest in the matter was because the town contained the “sweet home” of his brother.

In 1843, I returned to Maine and Mr. and Mrs. Heustis started with me; going as far as Ohio by the same route our original party came out by; stopping off in that state to solicit for the school. His wife and son Wilbur continued their journey to Vermont under my care, as far as Hartford; and from there on to Vermont alone, by stage coach. This son is still living and a member of the California legislature. He visited this town a few years since to view the scenes of his father’s early labors and to see those still living that were associated with him. His mother was living with him in that land of sunshine and flowers at the time he was here. This is another instance of the extreme longevity of women which endured hardships and privations such as would appall the women of today.

This man Heustis engineered this college, which was chartered by Palmer C. Tiffany, who was the first president of the board of trustees, John P. Grantham, Ephriam Kilpatrick and others; and I think, that Miller Snider and Nelson Lathrop were among the others. The given name of Heustis was, Aristides Jackson; a good strong name which he lived well up to. Whether or not there was a latent purpose with this man to work public sentiment for the establishment of a college which should later become a denominational school I cannot say. Whatever it was, the probabilities are that it has been a much more stable and important school, because it has been nurtured by a strong conference and large local church, goes without the saying. Nothing short of state support could have sufficiently maintained it otherwise, and it would have died an early and easy death. I base this presumption on the fact that about the time one of the most successful instructors of that or any other time, Samuel L. Howe, located here and opened a school in a log house in very primitive fashion; but the “divine afflatus” of the teacher ordained by nature, choice and training made this school one that would have outrivaled the college, had that school been left to the public spirit of the community. Proper attention was given from the first to the establishment of the public or common school. Howe’s met a popular demand for “higher instruction; - and had not the college been gathered into the fold of a demonstration zealous for an educated ministry, it probably would have died a natural death. So soon as the extraordinary qualities of Mr. Howe, as teacher, were discerned by those interested in school matters, an effort to draw him into association with the college was strongly and steadily made, but failed. His purpose was to establish an individualized school for the development of individuality and personal purpose in his students as well as the thorough training of each, according to his special intellectual needs. The results of his life-work in this direction, proved that his purpose was ordained of the needs of the time, and for the long years in which his sons succeeded him in its management, it met a popular demand in educational circles. A few years since the original purpose of the college was brought forth, if tardily, and the old school is now established in one of the main buildings of I. W. U. where it enjoys all the privileges of the university; united with, but not absorbed, it yet performs the functions of a preparatory department to the institution.

The building which finally housed the originator and his school, was for more than half a century and honored and honorable landmark in this town; and many from far and near let fall sympathetic and reminiscent tears, when it passed into “the shades” from whence it emanated.

The ground is now owned by one of Henry county’s most popular officials, and rumor hath it, that a beautiful modern residence in the near future is to be the successor of “The Old Mill,” on East Monroe Street.

How often are those observant of the coming and the passing of the generations, and of their gifted and honored ones, and of their gifted and honored ones, as well as the points made sacred by associations vital to human welfare, called upon to see them effaced, pass on, disintegrate, learning the meaning; the truth and the pathos of the words, “And the places that knew them, shall Know them no more forever.”

If “Success in Life,” be measured by material acquisitions, by intellectual attainments or the approval of men, then he who contemplates a retrospect of ninety years and the passing of the generations of its decades, will find himself pondering the potential words, from whence, whither and why? And unless from within his own consciousness comes knowledge of the “strait and narrow way” that leads to “life and peace,” the philosophies of religionists, the pomps, ambition and material splendors of mortal man, are simply “dust and ashes;” shadows on the “sands of time.”

For several years after we came, there was only a weekly mail. It was brought every Saturday on horseback, in saddlebags, from Burlington, then the outpost of public travel; and this was the same public route by the same slow and tedious trip in stages, by canals, lake and rivers that we have already told of traveling by on our journeying out. The development of the railroad in the east began to annihilate time and accelerate the mail, a few days. It requires a vivid imagination to apprehend these mail conditions, accustomed as the reader is to the idea of the fast mail of less than twenty-four hours from the Atlantic coast; the daily rural mail delivery for a large circuit of many miles around, and means of safe and speedy public travel in all directions.

Postage on a letter was 25, 18, 12 ½ cents, according to the distance carried. Envelopes were unknown. To fold a sheet of foolscap, which was the kind largely used in writing letters was a triumph of mechanic art. The introduction of envelopes and cheap postage, transformed the whole postal service by increasing the volume of mail matter to be handled by the department. For several years before the introduction of cheap postage, it was a public service that was almost a gratuity to the public to be postmaster.

It is interesting to note how certain things in the settlement of this continent went hand in hand, and in the retrospect, seem so a part of the great whole, that I cannot clearly trace their interdependence.

One thing strikes me as worthy of consideration however. State governments as well as the National government have been responsible for the building of many public canals, and for the removal of obstructions in natural waterways used as means of public transit. Government and state have also helped private capital to build R.R.’s. If all the people through their representatives find it for their common good to do that much, why could they not find it for the same common good of each and all to operate them. The public builds its canals for itself and then makes money renting them to individuals or companies.

This matter of the growth of the mail service, the fidelity of public officials to the finest details of its requirements shows clearly what all the people can do for each; and if I mistake not, stands an object lesson for public ownership of common utilities in that point of time when man shall realize the interdependence of all upon the welfare of each. As I look back from this point of time as vantage ground and see as in a vision, how commerce is promoted by sure, cheap and quick communication, how in proportion to cheapness are common necessities increased in volume of production; realize the indirect influence of the common school upon those who are to run the machines which control the commerce of the world, and furnish the ideas which are to guide the democratic principle into conditions of permanence by the conservation of the common welfare of men and nations, I can see something moving in the world’s civilization which wipes out inferior races and establishes the progressive conditions ordained of divine evolution.

Having witnessed the evolution of nearly a century of its growth, I can but forecast the permanence of the American principle of securing the good of all by mutual effort.

Institutions are greater than men. Men are merely the agents which are used in the evolution of conditions for the common welfare. Politics are petty, and futile, when the principle of freedom demands expression in the affairs of men and nations.

It seemed that we young and vigorous men were making the town. Instead, it was this wave of civilization that was making the conditions of our fortunes. We merely stood and (sic) ser-fortunes. We merely stood and (sic) serv-fashions and garnered our pecuniary reward.

Man is master of conditions only as he works harmony with the principle of truth in service.

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