RECOLLECTION OF EARLY PIONEER DAYS
By Nicholas Besser
On the date after father’s funeral, October 14, 1844, a man brought a load of flour father had bought in Iowa City, piling it up under the porch where also two barrels of salt were stored as father had been making arrangements for a stock ranch.  An Indian Runner stopped and talked to Peter Kramer.  From what I could learn, he had been sent by Big Chief to the settlement at Paris, now called Valley post office to see if they could buy some salt and flour.  Ponies tired, we camp at German Creek.  The Indian produced a pair of fine moccasins.  Swap?  J. Peter wanted them bad, to put on his wooden shoes in place of socks while working in a shop during the winter.  He gave a pint of whiskey and 25 cents for them.  The Indian never let up tasting it till the bottle was empty.  Kramer tried to stop him, saying, "Indian heap far to go."  It was then near sundown.  To show his agility, he leaped up to make heap run, imitating the deer by an upward spring, in a good 200 yard run, he soon disappeared out of sight over the prairie.

J. Peter Kramer and John Schuster went to bed "up stairs" that is, up under the roof – at about 9 o’clock.  John Joseph Kramer arrived from Burlington, sitting by the chimney, he was relating the latest news; three Mormons having attacked a German family, had killed the old man; his son-in-law had then brained one of the Mormons with an old musket.  It had been rumored that the German family has some 200 to 300 dollars in the house.  Kramer had two big watch dogs, one of them he had bought from an Indian.  It was a large and savage beast.  Mother and Anna Marie were listening to this tragic story, congratulating themselves on having watchful dogs and three trusty men to protect them.  I had just gone to bed too, and John Joe was also about to climb up the ladder to turn in, when a knock at the door was heard, he returned to listen; another knock, this time louder.  John Joseph called Han Peter to hurry and come down, there are some people outside, and no barking from the always watchful and fierce dogs.  Everyone in the house was greatly alarmed.  In the mean time I had taken down fathers gun, which was hanging on the wall in easy reach of my bed.  After replacing the cap I put a little fowling piece under the bed cover, aside of me with my hand under the lock awaiting further development.  Han Peter came down the ladder double quick reaching up for an old gun that had refused to go off, having been loaded for more than six months and well rusted up, threateningly holding it up in his right hand he demanded, "Who is out there?" A strong guttural voice replied, "aha."

We all felt pretty relieved when we found that it was only Indians.  Han Peter partly opened the door.  A very large Indian with a long barreled rifle before him, tried to enter, but Han Peter, assisted by John Joe, pushed the door against the Indian, fastening him for a moment in the entrance, saying to him, Indian man can come in but not with gun."  To this the Indian replied, pointing to his gun: "Only one gun, you have gun, boy has gun too."  Like a flash of lightening it dawned upon my comprehension as the chief’s eyes pierced into mine, that some of his "braves" must have been guilty of a violation of the rules of refined society, by looking in the only window.  I shoved my hands above the bed cover, he then placed his long barreled rifle near the door and came in and with him eleven others all unarmed, one of them, a fine young boy of about 15 years, who brought in his bow and arrow.

The chief seemed very much surprised to see mother and Anna Marie, a regular family in there, as Peter Kramer and myself were the only ones the Indians could see in the afternoon while making his moccasin swap, evidently seeing the pile of flour, the barrels of salt and a barrel of whiskey in a cave, had come to the conclusion, that this was a regular trading post and had so reported to the chief, which we understood was Keokuk, but we thought that he claimed to own Keokuk County. 

As soon as the chief’s eyes rested on mother, he said, "Bonjour madame!  Parlez avous francais?"  She replying in french, asking them to sit down on long benches.

Peter Kramer handed the chief his long German porcelain pipe, the chief looked with apparent interest at the long stem and then told mother that he wanted to buy some salt and a hundred pounds of flour.  She let him have it at cost; he paid 50 cents in silver and a two dollar bill for the flour.  The bill proved afterwards to be a counterfeit but the Indians were genuine. 

Motioning to him, mother said: Allons Monsieurs!" but they hesitated, they wanted some whiskey.  It was explained to them that we did not keep a store.  The chief then requested to give each a petite glassful, so mother instructed Han Peter to give each a little whiskey glass full.  Then they filed out, the boy first and the chief, who bid mother goodbye like a French gentleman, last. 

On the next day the 15th of October six inches of snow fell, the following day these same Indians passed by riding single file.  The chief, a grand looking man, was mounted on a Kentucky bred animal; the rest rode common Indian ponies.  The chief only dismounted, apologizing to mother for coming that night, she shook hands with him and learned from him that he was bound for St. Louis.

Contributed by Kim Icenhower. Thank you Kim!

Reference: Kim Icenhower: "I am the great great granddaughter of Nicholas Besser.  My Grandmother, Irma (Striegel) Haag, the daughter of Mary (Besser) Striegel had copies of these stories, which were handed down to her children.  I was told they were factual accounts of his early life in Iowa."

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