RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY PIONEER DAYS
By Nicholas Besser
Dutch Creek was well named as 2/3 of its first settlers or more are German from various provinces and a few Pennsylvanians. Richard Schnakenberg and Curt Myerdick were two of the first settlers.  Henry Schnakenberg, our ex-county treasurer, was born on the place now known as the Louis Bruening farm.  A tree from an apple seed planted by Richard Schnakenberg 63 years ago, I was told had some 18 bushels of apples on 2 years ago.

August Klett was born near Dutch Creek 62 years ago.

When the new purchase was opened for settlement, May 1843, a rush was made by the Germans for the German Creek timber.  This was one of the best timber districts.

Mr. Mohand, Seaba, Schnakenberg and Reinhart settled east of the timber belt, their fields on the nearest prairie.  Hartman, Chas. Wolfe, west near the creek from Schnakenberg.  South from Hartman's, John Killmer, Casper Klett, on the old Sigourney road near the Creek bottom, a little east of Klett's, Peter Hellwig built.  Casper Klett's nearest neighbor north was a Lutheran preacher, a jovial gentleman, Mr. Helder.  This was a well educated and refined family.  Chas. Merz was a German college graduate in law.  He had located on a farm near Peoria, Ill.

Mr. Merz possessed a fine lot of books of the most eminent German authors, the works of Schiller, Goethe, Schocke as well as Shakespeare's, Euseley's, Darwin's, Spencer on Evolution. This was the most interesting to me of his English works.  Many an evening we spent in reading, through his kindness lending these works to me.

Casper Klett came from Baltimore.  He landed there after a three months service as a sailor; got acquainted with John Killmer's wife’s step-sister Louise, whom he married.  These families then came west, located on Dutch Creek until 1843, when Klett, Sr.- learning of his son’s marriage and settling in the new "purchase" left Suhl-Germany, came over here and took a claim near Casper's.

This old gentleman made three or four trips to the old country, crossing the ocean in a sailing vessel.  On his return here came Paul Seeber, who settled south of Sigourney near Snelson's Ferry, also Val. Triebel, Jacob Stoermer, Dietz Bros., Meisel, Stephen-Schilling and his brother Gottlieb, Aug. Steigleder, the Seibel family, nearly all of them settled near German Creek making this a very sociable settlement.

Stephen Schilling, a tinner, by trade, moved to Sigourney- the first German of Sigourney. All of these people, with the exception of the Seibel family, came from the manufacturing town, Suhl, had learned trades, were well educated and therefore poorly adapted for farming, as all details had to be learned yet.

The first named, Casper Klett, was an exception; he had become an expert in woodcraft during his residence on Dutch Creek.  In his prime and strength, with natural ability to see and observe, enabled him- to split 200 rails in one day and return, after dark on his bay horse, from German Creek to his family at Dutch Creek.  I presume his father helped Casper to secure good horse teams which enabled him to become the chief freighter for the merchants of Sigourney, hauling their heavy freight from Burlington and Keokuk.

Upon the advice of his friend, Richard Schnakenberg, Casper took a claim of 160 acres of fine prairie land adjoining the timber region, the farm upon which Wm. Klett the youngest son lives today.

The three most prominent among the German pioneers in improving and opening land, were Jacob Goodhart, Casper Klett and Richard Schnakenberg. Each had his special abilities, although in different ways.  In 1852 Casper Klett and Jake Goodhart joined breaking teams.  Goodhart was an expert in hammering out shears, setting and adjusting these big, bulky plows George Hartman tended to Klett's plow, Fritz Blaise 17 years old, and August Klett, 10 years old, driving the 7 yoke of oxen. Goodhart and myself had 9 yoke of oxen hitched to an immense weighty plow, calculated to do away with brush cutting and grubbing of stuff not over 8 or 10 feet high but it took lots of yelling and bullwhacking when nearing a heavy brush patch. These two outfits broke 140 acres during the months of May and June.  Some 30 acres of these were brush land.

Goodhart, having just moved onto a piece of raw prairie land that spring, had no harvesting to do, while Klett had 120 acres in small grain to cut with cradles.

Sebastain Striegel, Jr. and Christ Striegel who, it was said had cut 10 acres of wheat for Mr. Mohland, came to help Klett cut oats. Jacob Goodhart, a raw-boned giant, born in Illinois on the land upon which Bloomington now is located, a sort of Lincoln type man and Casper Klett in his prime, these four men made a harvest team of athletes not often seen together.  The first day, when supper time came, Fritz and myself slipped across the patch cut down, to estimate how many acres the four men had harvested, it being a 40 acre length and 33 rods wide made it 16-1/2 acres. Two acres of heavy grain like this was considered a fair day’s work for one man.

An old Virginian by the name of Blue and his gray-headed son showed Fritz and myself how to bind the sheaves in a better and more expedient manner than we had learned.  These lessons came handy when the harvesting machines came in use, when each man had to bind a station.

Harvesting today is but child's play.  We still fondly dwell upon the remembrance of working at Klett's.  Nobody was ever urged, everybody was jolly and then such good dinners. Mrs. Sophia Klett was an excellent cook, such bread and biscuits as she baked out of the home raised grain, ground in the old-fashioned way, with the grain thoroughly cleaned the bran and shorts only separated.  With this kind of flour, plenty of lime and germ substance remained in the starchy part of the flour, although not to be compared in fleecy whiteness to our patent flour of the present day, which in my humble opinion is making Breakfast Food a necessity and Dentistry a lucrative profession.

A BIG LOAD OF HAY

After harvesting and grain stacking, haying commenced in earnest. It, too, was continuous hard work, cutting the grass with a scythe. The last days hauling in hay for Klett, at the dinner table, Goodhart was telling Lawrence Adrian- in Pennsylvania Dutch- about priding himself hauling the biggest load of hay into Bloomington, Ill., nearly 3 tons on one load.

Klett estimated that he had about 4 big loads cut which would finish his job that afternoon, making two loads for each team to haul.  Hurrying down with the big horse team- old Pete and his mate- we had this team nearly loaded when the 3 yoke of oxen team arrived.  There were left some 60 well settled and good sized hay cocks, 15 of which would make a common good two horse load. Lawrence Adrian, who was doing the loading, said to Fritz and MYSELF: "Boys, this is a new, wide-track wagon, the rack is 22 feet long and ten feet wide, I can extend the load 2 feet more, if you hand the hay to me in compact forkfuls I can put the entire lot on this one load and beat the Bloomington Jake." I had pitched a few loads for this style of loading for Mr. Horras.  We knew that Adrian had been chief or main servant on Herr Von Nell's extended landed possessions near Trier and the farm hands doing the loading of grain and hay there, generally were experts.  Turning our backs to the load and standing close to the wagon, we handed up moderate forkfuls, which Adrian took with his hands rolling and pressing it into a kind of a large sheaf and packing them down firm, commencing to build ahead of himself like a stone wall, extending it beyond the rack until the load was 26 feet long and over 13 feet wide.  Fritz and Mr. Valentine Triebel would prepare the forkfulls ready for me to hand them up.  As good luck would have it, Mr. Triebel had brought an unusually long handled fork such as were used in finishing very tall stacks, with this we succeeded in handing up all.  When finished it was a monster of a load.  The ground was well beaten and dry, the three yoke of oxen, big and powerful; it was all they could move.  We made slow and careful progress.  As we commenced to crawl up the last hill Casper came trotting down the hill with his big horse team and – whistling - Fritz and August were driving and I was walking behind the load until I heard the whistling, which always was a pretty safe indication that Casper was out of humor - we evidently had taken too much time to load our wagon.  Goodhart was pitching from the load to the stack and Klett was doing the stacking.  They had got uneasy and tired waiting for the second-load until the big load came in sight, Lorenz Adrian on top of the load.  Casper had no idea that this load contained the whole lot.  He thought it was a bad managed affair and wanted to drive on for another load.  It was hard work to convince him that there was nothing left for him to go after.  I got on the empty wagon with him and we drove home to unhitch before the oxen would bring the load up hill.

Casper then said to Jake: "You will surely have to give it up, that load of hay now coming is a world record beater."  When it arrived at the stack, Goodhart said: "Here is over four tons of hay to pitch.  Lorenz Adrian felt proud of his load and said: "We both can soon pitch it off."  Fritz Blaise volunteered to help on the stack, Goodhart confessed: "I am "zei mal" surprised, first-how straight and square like a stone house this immense load came to the stack, and again, how extremely easy it is to unload, more so than bundles of grain, and when unloaded Jake slapped Adrian on the shoulder, saying:  "You are the captain hay loader, I doubt if ever anyone sees another such a load." 

 THE FIRST MONUMENT ERECTED OVER A GRAVE IN WASHINGTON OR KEOKUK COUNTY

Miss Louisa Myer of Dutch Creek died August 5, 1842.  A young German stone cutter showed his devotion to the departed, by quarring a suitable slab out of the flint hills at Burlington, properly dressing it down and chiseling the usual formalities, into the stone; then he walked on foot beside some ox teamster, who had the kindness to bring it along.  He erected it in 1843 in presence of Caspar Klett, William Wells and others on her grave in the Dutch Creek grave yard south of the old Imes farm.  This was the first grave stone put up in Washington and Keokuk County.  A few years ago August Klett and myself visited this lonesome place, where we found also a few of the more modern tombstones erected to the memory of members of the Singmaster family and also a monument of French design with a niche and cover, with the portraits of Squire Varain and his wife, involuntary creating reflections of the past, the present and the future.

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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