RECOLLECTIONS OF PIONEER DAYS
By Nicholas Besser
                      "The best laid plans of both mice and men gang aft aglee."
Robert Burns.

This forcibly applies to the Besser and Blaise emigration plan.  Had father lived to carry out his undertaking, with his knowledge of horticulture and agriculture, love of fine stock, ready cash on hand, with the opportunities at hand our success would have been assured.

Grandfather was a renowned army surgeon for 26 years.  Grandmother, a forester’s daughter. Father in his youth studied these branches in opposition to grandpa's wishes who wanted his only son to take up medicine and surgery.  Right here in the new purchase, the very best part of Iowa was undoubtedly a good place for the development of his enterprise.

I have stated in my first letter that he had contracted for 50 head of long yearling steers at $5 per head, to be delivered Nov. the 1st. This was in 1844.  At the same time and place he paid 200 franks in gold for a 2 year old short horn heifer eligible to registry.  Peter Kramer, who had been sent with one ox team to Burlington after various goods, was to bring this heifer too.  When Kramer arrived, father had passed away.  Mother, prostrated with grief, was asked what to do with this roan beauty and her answer was:  "What you men think best."

I had been sent to accompany Anna Marie one mile through the woods to Mrs. Whilpert's. When we returned, these wise men had butchered the fine heifer, one of the most valuable animals in this, then territory, of Iowa.  To say I was astonished would put it too mildly.  I was distracted, got raving mad, and called them ignorant fools.  Their excuse no pen or lot being there to put her in and leaving her tied to the wagon, some of the cattle might injure the heifer. Living in the woods a sensible man could have cut poles and made a pen to do, in less than an hour.  If they had only turned her loose I would have watched her, being tied there was no danger of straying away at once.  More than that, coming 70 miles tied to a wagon it was like home to her.  8 or 10 dollars would then buy the best fattened heifer in the settlement south of us.  Mr. Black, a Kentuckian, had brought her to town with her dame, an imported cow, weight, pastured on prairie grass, 1800 pounds.  This heifer would have born a thoroughbred male about March the first, falling with the time she was bred; this gave me a forecast of what was to follow.  Through this man's advice no provision was made to receive the 50 head of cattle.

Mother's delicate constitution, no relatives or acquaintances further than Mrs. Wilpert-Kramer brother's sister, unused to any business management and advised by Dr. Maley, not to worry, induced her to enter into a marriage contract with the older John Joseph Kramer.  The contract was written by Jacob Wiemer and witnessed by Casper Klett.  It was stipulated how much should be invested in timberland for us children- some $400, the balance he could use, also all the personal property, stock, etc., further; that we were to be sent off to some good school for at least two years.

Unfortunately for us, stepfather's brother, Peter Joe, was of a speculative disposition and not any too honest either.  He, as business manager, had failed to have this contract recorded.  When land came in the market and he was sent to Fairfield to buy some, the best 80 acres of the lot he had deeded to him self and John Joseph.  I happened to see that deed when his chest was left open one day- and foolish boy like- I told mother about it she looked at me incredulously, soon got convinced by my earnestness.  This was the greatest mistake of my life.  Mother turned pale and fainted.  Not long after this occurrence she took sick and died leaving as addition to us children, little Joe Kramer two years old and a one week old baby girl for my sister- 12 years old- to take care of.  Mother died Oct. l3, 1847, the baby when two months old.

The evening before mother died she told the rest of the family to go and rest, Nicholas would stay with her.  Being free from pain and feeling better, we all felt more hopeful.  It was then when she exacted a promise from me- in case she was called away- to be faithful and stay with the family. "You know," she said, "what arrangements were made, see that justice is done to all and don't forget, little Joe is your brother too."  "I am afraid Peter Joseph will continue to influence Pa."

This was putting a load of responsibility on my young shoulders too heavy for a 14 year old boy to manage with discretion.

We were satisfied with the contract made, although when I asked the advice of both Casper Klett and Herr Blaise, they were of the opinion that some good man ought to be appointed as guardian. M. I. Whistler had been proposed.  Thinking the contract on record, we were told to remain together as a family and we therefore concluded to risk stepfather's fine promises.  A few months afterwards, Peter Joe had hatched out another plot unknown to me which I will relate in the following.

Peter Joe went after Samuel Singmaster, brought him up and sold him six long yearling and one two-year old steers for $50.  I was detailed to help Mr. Singmaster drive them to his place. Two of these steers I had bought when calves with the money obtained for a silver watch, presented to me by an uncle when we left Germany.  When Mr. S. Singmaster- pointing to these very steers, remarked: "That a well mated pair they would make."  I could no longer hold my grief, big tears swelled my eyelids, which the kind old gentleman noticed; then commenced a shrewd questioning in so kindly a manner, that I confided all my troubles and promises to him. "Cheer up, my lad." said he, "and stick to your promises all your life and you will come out all right too." This had the good effect to restore my usual good spirits to "try, try again."

I began to "size him up" and formed an opinion of him, which put in words would be about:  A plain but shrewd man, with an immense business capacity, a great admirer and willing helper to any truthful, honest man, but always carefully guarding against chances against him.

As we arrived in the yards at the Singmaster place two big loads of rails were hauled by unusually big horses for those days.  The first team was driven by a stout colored boy whom they called Phillip.  The biggest load was brought by a rosy cheeked, well fed lad, apparently about 15 years old.  Mr. Singmaster turned to me and with unmistakable pride and a smile said: "That is my son Charles, don't you think he will make a Rustler?"

Arriving home, I found that Peter Joe had persuaded stepfather to sell a fine young bay mare with a 6 month old colt beside her and a new set of flatback harness for one-half their cost to a neighbor for $55.  Peter Joe thereupon rode off as my sister had overheard some of their talk- to Fairfield, again to enter some valuable timber land.

This accounted for the sacrifice- sales of stock.  Peter Joe was induced to come to Lancaster to make some explanations about our estate.  This was a ruse.  He was detained there under some pretext until towards evening.  Finally, when he noticed Casper Klett among a goodly crowd of men his "guilty conscience needed no accuser," he smelled the mice and concluded "a change of climate" would, be beneficial, he started for his horse, but one Joe Middleton took hold of him and his horse’s bridle, the crowd surrounded him and gave him the choice of between a ride on a rail in "a tailor made" suit of tar and feathers or the assigning of the title of that land to the rightful, original owners, by them returning to him the $100 with which he had entered it.  It is needless to say the assignment was made.  He came home in the middle of the night with a doleful tale blaming himself for being too "easily caught," but this was good news to me and sister Kate, who had overheard the plot.  This land belonged as claims partly to father's friend, Herr John Blaise and 40 acres of it to Casper Klett.  Kramers tried to excuse themselves to me; they wanted to teach other folks to mind their own business.  I had never hinted a word to anybody about their advice, yet these former friends thought I did.  It was years after when they learned better, but the Kramers had forfeited all respect in this community, which also rested to some extent as a dark shadow on our innocent heads.

The readers will excuse me for writing this portion of our history.  Many, no doubt will wonder at my recollections of early times- written for the Hawkeye Journal, what made such a lasting impression upon my mind, to enable me after 60 years to give a fairly correct description of men and places that we came in contact with and yet so young at that early day.

These "ups and downs" will arouse a boy to thinking and observing if there is any "metal" in him.  My spirits would rise like cork in water, the deeper the depression the higher the rise, with me it was, "Cheer up and try again."

The involuntary treatment of the "Kneip cure" that I enjoyed walking before breakfast through wet grass up to my waist during the summer months for 6 years, made out of a delicate boy, who had been kept at hard study from his fourth to his tenth year- a fairly hardy youth, a close observer of nature and a good judge of character and the ability of other men.  This enabled me to enjoy life by helping others as well as myself and preserve a very good retentive memory up to the present day.

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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