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Linn County History


The Old People Who Settled up the Land in Days of Youth and Hardship
Tell of the Times When Log Cabins, Crack Corn Bread, Hand Sickles and Oxen Threshing

Postage Cost 25 Cents and Corn Sold for 10 Cents After Hauling it a Hundred Miles

Stories of "Uncle Dick" Thomas, 110 Years Old and "Granny" Glover, 100 Years Old

The people of Marion had tables spread for everybody who chose to eat, and on stands about the ground were free cigars and fruit. The noon hour was soon spent and music by the drum corps drew the people about the stand.

The first speaker was HON. ROBERT SMYTH of Franklin, who spoke for a few minutes, giving interesting sketches of early days.
He began by a mention of the first settlement at Ivanhoe. They had hardships in the early day that now would be called great hardships, but then it was no more than was expected at the time, and they were equal to the occasion. They had as much pleasure in little log cabins as we do now in our more commodious homes. It was the happiest time in his life, full of hope, as he told his wife the other day. Among the first things after his own house he helped build a log school house and then two more within two years, afterwards contributing and helping to build up schools of higher education. The young men of today can now get the best collegiate education in Linn. He always felt bad for the young man unable to get an education. In the early times our citizenship was founded upon what was right. He spoke of the early political history of Linn county and the ardent desire of the early pioneers to tenaciously adhere to the principles of sobriety and temperance. He related how in the first political campaigns whiskey entered largely into the contest but got an early strangle. In 1843 Cedar, Jones and Linn composed a senatorial district. Thos. Denison of Jones and the speaker, of Linn, were nominated on the democratic ticket for representative. A Mr. Walworth of Jones and a Mr. Chapman of Linn were the whig nominees. A party of men of influence in the county made a proposition that we furnish a barrel of whiskey on election day and we should be elected. The speaker and Walworth declined, but were elected nevertheless.

He was followed by DYER USHER of Clinton, Mr. Usher was among the earliest to come to Linn county. He operated a ferry over the Mississippi from 1836 to 1839 and after coming to this county he ran a ferry boat over the Cedar above Cedar Rapids. Mr. Usher related how himself and others cut a road through the brush so as to be able to attend a celebration at Marion July 4, 1840.

WM. URE of Fairfax made a neat speech in which he told his experiences in early days. When a lad of 16 he would take corn to mill on horseback, and on one occasion he undertook to cross the "raging Cedar" with load of wheat but when he drew up the opposite bank he only had the harness and the front wheels of his wagon, his wheat, wagon box, etc., having floated down toward Ivanhoe. 

DR. BARDWELL - To bring Dr. Bardwell to his place he had crossed the Cedar in a canoe and swam the horses. In those days they sold wheat for 37 cents a bushel and took pay in store goods. He jokingly twitted Mr. Wear about having driven ox teams, and in closing he paid a beautiful tribute to Linn county and her people.

W. R. BROWN was full of good humor and made one of his usually pleasant talks. He had gone to weddings with his ox team and enjoyed it. He gave a description of his Michigan breaking outfit. He said the beam was 6x8 inches and ten feet long and the plow would clip off an oak grub five inches in diameter. He ran a breaking outfit for a whole season and never saw a cent of money. He had no sympathy, he said, with calamity shriekers and he would never say a word against his state whether at home or in New York.

CAPT. KEPLER of Mt. Vernon was introduced as one of the young old settlers. He didn't expect to be called on. He said he was brought from Maryland in a wagon and it is said of him that he cried all the way - hence his strong lungs. While the old men here had many hardships, they hadn't half so many as their wives had. He would write in letters of gold the names of the pioneer women. The old ladies may think they are forgotten, the boys and girls of '40 have not for:gotten what they suffered and endured in those memorable days gone. Kepler's speech took well. Mr. Kepler made a good speech and was loudly applauded.

It was decided by unanimous vote to hold the next meeting in Marion. The following officers were elected: Chas. Weare, president; I. P. Bowdish, vice-president; A. J. McKean, treasurer; J. C. Davis, secretary and the present executive committee was retained for another year.
After the public exercises the photographs of the old settlers were taken on the steps in front of the court house, arranged in groups by the years of their arrival in the county.


It will not be many more years that the Linn county settlers of 1839-40-41 etc, will be able to tell their stories of the olden times and while we have them with us we should aim to preserve all that is said by them. The following interviews by THE GAZETTE will help to accomplish this purpose and will enable that rising generations to read in years to come of the experiences of the early founders of their own, as follows:

REV. N. RATHBUN came to this county in 1839 from Madison county, Ohio. "When I settled here," said he, "there were only two or three houses where Marion is now. I preached at East Lynn Grove, Lisbon, Morten's creek and Center Point. The people here did not have many advantages then, and were in the sense of frontiersmen what we call rough, but I never saw better order at religious meetings than that observed by these same honest, industrious men and women. Some were honest Christian workers but none scoffed at religion. I was a Methodist but did not ride a circuit as others but performed my work as a local preacher."

W. A. KRAMER, living in Marion, is another settler of 1839, having settled there in October after a tedious journey from Ohio. He said, "I think the old days are as happy as any of my life time. We had many difficulties to contend with, but there were many sources for enjoyment as well."

ROBERT SMYTH of Mt. Vernon settled in April, 1840, moving from Pennsylvania. "Before that," explained he, "I was from the sod, old Ireland. I can not now say that my old settlers' experience was greatly different from that of some others, but if I could sit down and carefully talk over the early days I might think of something that would make a good story and interest your readers. I know there was plenty of hard work in those days that is entirely unknown to the farmers of today."

IRA G. WILSON, residing at Marion, can call himself an old settler from December, 1838, being a former citizen of Pennsylvania. "I will be 70 years old next December, and have lived in the county," continued Mr. Wilson, "continuously since 1839. I helped lay off Marion as a town. There were five of us who did this work, and out of that number there are only two living, Mr. A. J. McCain and myself. From Second street west Marion was nothing but dense growth of timber. The brush was so thick and heavy we had to first cut it down to allow us to use the compass. One phenomenon in this connection I remember particularly and which caused more or less superstitious feelings at the time. There was a place at the corner of Fourteenth street and Fourth avenue, if I remember rightly, where there were a great number of rocks. Whenever I took my surveyor's needle to this spot, it was utterly impossible to get the needly to settle, the effect on the instrument being about the same as that of the magnetic poles on the dipping needle. This peculiarity, however, had never been noticed since that day. I can not explain the true cause unless the stone was temporarily charged with electricity or something of that sort."

B. VAN NOTE, of Cedar Rapids, moved from Indiana into Linn county in 1849. He said: "Our county history seems to give to Mr. Ed Crow, of Buffalo township, the honor of building the first cabin in the county. I think this is a mistake, for I came here in '49 and I know the old settlers that were here then repeatedly referred to Chas. C Haskins, as having put up a cabin near where Lisbon is now as early as 1835. I did not know that Crow had put up a house before 1837. This is my best recollection of the matter."

WM. HOWARD was born in the county in 1845, his parents having moved here in 1839 from Ohio. "I remember well," said he, "how I used to sit on the laps of the old Indians. They were the Musquawkas, and I liked them as well as the whites. I remember there were lots of them at the time and they always appeared friendly."

G. R: MARTIN of Marion, made his home in Linn county on Feb 10th, 1839, being a native of Illinois but coming from Ohio. "It will not be long now before I have resided here 53 years. I was only a yearling when my parents came here. I saw a log cabin yesterday that was erected in 1838 on Martin's Creek, four miles east of Marion. It is well preserved. My father, who died in 1846, and from whom the creek was named, put it up."

A. HAGERMAN of Marion said: "I came here in the spring of 1840 from Pennsylvania and in the summer worked for old "Uncle Dick" Thomas in his mill that he run with Hiram Bale, who died several years ago. I think "Uncle Dick" seemed as old then as he does now and people used to say he was nearly 75 years old then."

C. W. HOLLENBECK, living between Marion and Cedar Rapids, came to the county in 1842 from Jennings county, Indiana. He said: "I worked for "Uncle Dick" Thomas in 1842 on the farm. We threshed then by tramping the grain out on the ground with horses. Old Uncle Dick would always carry the threshed grain away from the spot. We used three horses for that purpose and I rode the middle one. The straw was pitched out of the way with a fork made from a forked stick. I think we could thresh out about ten bushels a day in this manner. At that time wheat was worth 40 cents, corn 10 cents, potatoes 10 cents and pork $1.00 a hundred. We did all our marketing at Dubuque or Muscatine and it took about a week to make the trip. We enjoyed life immensely then as there was only one class of society and no cliques to stir up broils."

RICHARD THOMAS, better known to the people of Linn county as "Uncle Dick," was the prominent figure on the grounds. He came to the county in April, 1840 from Ohio. By the kindly assistance of his wife and friends he was able to greet everybody with a hearty handshake. He is reported to be 110 years old but seems as strong and lively as many men at fifty. By means of additional information furnished by his wife, he said, "I was born near Baltimore where I lived until I guess I was 19 years old. I saw the first capitol of the American government burned by the British in the war of 1812. My memory is pretty good." continued he, "unless many friends talk to me like today when I get a little confused." This seemed to be the case for he had shaken hands with hundreds during the morning exercises and when they were finished he was compelled to asked his own wife who she was. When asked if he still enjoyed life, he replied: "No, I don't. I wish I was dead. I would be better off. I can come here and see the people and that's all there is to it. I am too old to have much interest in this life any more. In the war of 1812 I thought it was fun to haul supplies for the government to use against the British. The best recollection I have of my age is that I am about 110 and I  may be 115 years. I was married 26 years ago to Julia Jones, at Fulton, Ill. I have a grandchild 6 years old. I came to this territory in 1837 at Muscatine. I attended the first legislature in the state. I never experienced anything like real sickness in my life and never used tobacco. I have a good appetite and sleep like a baby. I live on a 64 acre farm on Ninth avenue, where I hope you will come sometime and visit me. I lived an old bachelor until after I was 75 years old, so you see a man never gets too old to marry."

JOHN  DUNLAP of Brown township came from Ohio in 1851. He said: "I have lived on the same place for forty years. There was nothing much in Cedar Rapids and Marion. Mr. Daniels had the biggest establishment then and Joe Mentzer and Judge Welch kept store here then. Muscatine was market, where I bought groceries as cheap as now. Sugar was worth 4 cents a pound. I am 74 years old."

L. F. DANCE - "I live in Otter Creek township. I settled there in 1852, coming from Lancaster, Penn. I live on the same land that I entered, the warrant for which was signed by President Pierce."

SAMUEL WINK - "I moved to Lisbon in 1854 from Bucks county, Penn., and engaged in the harness business in a log cabin. Mechanicsville and Solon were unknown then and I did work for men for more than 35 miles around. I will be 72 years old Oct 29th and carry the mall at home."

D. DORWART of Cedar Rapids, said: "There were just three merchants in Franklin township in 1849, when I settled there after being burned out in St. Louis. We then sold goods on 12 months credit with the privilege of paying in two years, taking a note at 10 percent interest. Our business was conducted on the plan of kite-flying. We merchants paid our wholesale men what we could at the time and then they let us draw on them for enough to carry us through until we could settle. We boated the goods up from St. Louis, and then hauled them over the country. Farm products were cheap them. I sold 3,000 bushels of corn at 1 cents after there was a railroad through this territory. Our mail service was primitive. An old fellow who wore a big over coat in the winter and roomy linen coat in the summer, carried the mail from Muscatine to Marion and Cedar Rapids in his coat pockets and yet we thought we were doing finely."

MICHAEL SNYDER of Linn township, moved from Stark county, Ohio, into the county in 1854. "I followed saw milling." said he, "for thirteen years. I sawed a walnut tree 90 feet in length and 5 feet across that made 8000 feet of half inch lumber. The greater portion of it was used in siding Andrew Safely's barn. I also sawed a cottonwood tree that made, 1,800 feet of half inch lumber. In 1855, 8  walnut lumber sold for $20 a thousand that today will bring $50; common hard lumber was worth from $18 to $20 a thousand; we sawed all the year around but never sent any of the lumber away. I also had a machine for making shingles. I see some shingles that I made, still in use. Shingles sold for from $3.50 to $400. Stephen L. Dows of Cedar Rapids, was my partner in the saw mill and shingle business."

S. W. DURHAM - "I live in Marion. I located in the county in 1840 and laid out Cedar Rapids. I was the first surveyor in these parts to keep anything like a record of the surveys made of the towns or lands."

A. J. FUHRMEISTER of Ely, said: "I came here from Germany in 1843, and am now living in the same place I settled on. I went to Muscatine for provisions. It was a 55 mile trip and not a single bridge on the road. I had to ford everything. I father came into the country in 1839 and helped to organize the territory.

L. W. CARROLL, of Cedar Rapids, said: "I came to Linn county from Canada in 1839. We had to go to Muscatine to have our milling done. We would travel 60 miles, wait until a sack of corn meal was ground and then return home, and perhaps not think anything more about it than farmers do now who have to go five or six miles."

ED M. CROW the man who first settled in Linn county, is still living, hale and hearty, and was at the old settlers' meeting. In fact he came here before Linn county was organized. Mr. Crow came to Linn county June 5, 1837, and settled in what is now Brown township. He has resided in the state ever since and since 1838 has lived upon the same farm in Buffalo township. Mr. Crow related how he would walk all the way to Galena, Ill., for his mail and then pay 25 cents postage before he could get the letters out of the post office. On one occasion he went to Davenport to get his plow repaired. Once he spent ten days on a trip to Dubuque to get corn and buckwheat ground. Mr. Crow was born in Indiana, June 4, 1816, and is now 75 years of age. He has a great fund of information and is full of anecdotes and accounts of early days and is keen in observation.
"I am positive I was the first man to build a log cabin in the county. The talk about C. A> Haskins antedating is incorrect. Haskins may have gone through the county in 1837 and blazed the trees for a claim but he did not make a permanent settlement. I went to Galena, Ill., for groceries. I ground my corn in a mortar and bolted it with a piece of mosquito bar. In 1838 I got as high as 75 cents for corn, and $1.25 for dressed pork in 1839."

JOSEPH COOPER of Marion first set foot on Linn county soil in 1854, moving from Morgan county, Ohio. He said: "I entered 80 acres near Big Head school house that was made of plain logs. There were only 3 months school in the year. I cut barley for Rufus Lucore with a sickle and I can tell you it was slow work. The biggest fool, I thought I had ever seen in my life, was a fellow by the name of Enock McIntosh, who came here from Ohio soon after I did and bought 3,700 acres of land, for county was so raw and wild then, I never imagined it would settle up at all. I tell you our postage came high then. We made our envelopes of the paper on which the letter was written and then sealed it with common sealing wax. It cost 25 cents to send that kind of letter. Elisha Kemp got a dollar bill in a letter once. The postage was 25 cents and Kemp had to give 50 cents to get the other half. That was the regular government charges and only left him 25 cents out of the bill, you see."

O.E. THOMAS of Cedar Rapids is another Ohioan who settled here in 1854. He said: "I was a carpenter and attended the first meeting held to see about building a dam across the Wapsie at Waubeek in the fall of 1854. Carpenters got $3 a day and matched their own flooring and made their own shingles. It always required two men to match the flooring. I have taken oak lumber right from the saw, smoothed it with a plane and put it on the building on which I was working. We made our laths with a frow. Oak timber was mostly used in building and a new 16 foot board on a building would often shrink a quarter of an inch. A house 16x24 feet and 12 feet high cost about $125 in those days."

JAMES D. THOMAS. "I live in Lafayette, coming here in 1846 from Kentucky. I entered 120 acres on Otter Creek. We didn't have much farm machinery in those days. Somebody in the township would buy a plow of Andrew Safely and let the whole neighborhood do their plowing with it. The Tom Hare plow was all the rage then. Give a Tom Hare plow to a hired man now in the morning and he wouldn't be on the farm when you came home at night. Cradling grain used to make sweat. You could easily spit over all I could cradle in a day, perhaps not over three or four acres. Old Man Erastus Egleston, one mile from me, had the only threshing machine in the county, I guess."

E. IVES of Marion township, settled in 1839 from Illinois. "I stopped at "Jim" Martin's house on Martin's creek for six weeks, until I could build a cabin of my own in May. It was built of logs, had no floor in it and had holes for windows. Marion wasn't laid out then. What few cabins were here had cow paths leading from one to another. I got my groceries in Knox county, Illinois, something over 100 miles away. My father got his claim of 160 acres of land for 150 bushels of Illinois corn from Sam Deen the same place where I am now living. We used to send our corn to Muscatine on flat boats and get 12 1/2 cents a bushel for it on the river."

M. H. MOROHEAD - "I came to Linn county in 1854 from Ohio and now live in Marion. I remember that the first wheat my father raised we hauled to Iowa City and traded it for groceries. After hauling it 25 miles we  only got 40 cents for it and that was after 1854. We could not even trade the wheat for dry goods or get any money for it, groceries were the only thing.

NANCY ANN GLOVER or better known to the public as "Granny Glover," lives in Marion, but owing to a slight illness was unable to get to the park, although her home is only a half block away. She is a patriarchal companion to "Uncle Dick" Thomas, as she is nearly 100 years old. The Gazette representative called on her and her chatty conversation made the visit very pleasant. "I was born," said she, "on May 14, 1792, making just about ten years difference between my age and that of "uncle Dick." That the way it was when I came into Linn county in 1847 and I guess the old fellow is about 110 years old. I was born in North Carolina. I was married on the same day general Jackson fought his great battle. When I was in Indiana there were lots of Indians. It took a train of them a whole week once to pass through in going to the reservations. My eye sight has always been good. I can thread a needle without using spectacles and do all my own sewing without them. I have fiver generations now living. My oldest daughter, Elmina Garrettson, is 73 years old and my baby boy, David Martindale, is 67 years old. My whole history is in this Bible, which was printed in 1858 and given to me by a party of gentlemen after it had settled a Biblical dispute."

MARTIN FLOYD of Lisbon, located in 1850. "I claim to be the oldest living shoemaker in the county, having worked at the trade since 1850 when I built a log cabin. I am 67 years old and did work for most of the people in my portion of the county."

M. E. MCKINNEY of Jackson township, became a resident in 1840. "I settled first in Maine township. I cracked corn for meal with two hard stones made like mortars and later went 56 miles to a mill. I brought a year's provision from Taswell county, Illinois, making the drive with oxen in 19 days, it being over 175 miles. I am 82 years old."

B. LUTZ says that he came to Linn county in 1839. At that time calico sold for 37 1/2 cents and on one occasion he paid five dollars in gold for a bushel of salt. He was seven weeks coming from Pittsburg, Pa., to Muscatine. Four weeks of the time was spent reaching Cincinnati and three weeks from there to Muscatine, having made the trip in boats. Along with him came M. C. Jordan.

M. C. JORDAN - "I now live in Severy county, Kansas, going away from Linn county in 1880. I settled here in 1848, coming from Maine. My nearest neighbor was fives miles distant. I walked seven miles once to give a neighbor a day's work, and eight  miles to sit up with a sick man. I hauled dressed pork to Muscatine and got $1.50 a hundred for it, and sold wheat for 30 cents a bushel."

I. N. KRAMER, the florist, who corroborates what Mr. Lutz says as to prices. He sold a load of 40 bushels of wheat in Dubuque for $10, or 25 cents a bushel. Mr. Kramer says that their first post-office was Muscatine and on one occasion he received a letter from Pennsylvania that had no address on the envelope. The postmaster at Muscatine sent it up thinking it might belong to some of the people up in Linn. In those days it took 25 cents to pay postage upon a letter.

BOWDISH BROS., who came from Duchess county, N.Y., April 19, 1856, have lived together in the old homestead near Waubeek with their mother who is now 80 years old.  "We came with father" said they, "who was intending to go north for a home, but meeting S. H. Marshall, an old friend, we temporarily stopped with him and finally concluded to make this our home. We came from the east over the Erie Canal, where thieves stole everything we had, even to the family bible."

DYER USHER - "I live near Covington and passed through what is now Linn county in November, 1836. I passed the Cedar Rapids site on the Cedar river in a canoe, after the Indians had run us out from our hunting cabin near Bradford. In 1837 I again passed through on a hunting expedition and two years later took a claim in the county at Louisa. In 1836 John Anns, J. Craig and myself crossed over the country from the Mississippi to Council Bluffs on an Indian trail, finding only one house on the way. I drove the first government stake in the territory. In my three years and four months stay in the west, I only saw one man I had ever seen before."

ORMUS CLARK of Central City, settled near the site of that village in 1839. The place was called Clarksford after Mr. Clark. "I moved here from Michigan with teams, driving over 500 miles over all kinds of roads. I entered 300 acres of land. My nearest neighbor was fifteen miles away at Viola. I ground my corn on a hand mill. Perhaps there were not over one hundred people in what is now Linn county. I threshed with cattle tramping the grain out. The best winter wheat that was raised then went 53 bushels to the acres. I bought a cloth called "Hard Times" at Dubuque for 23 cents a yard and had clothing made for my family. The wind would blow through it like mosquito bar."

H. N. BROWN - The old settler who received much attention was Horace Brown. He is in very feeble health, being unable to walk without assistance. Mr. Brown lives on the same farm he entered in 1839. To a Gazette reporter Mr. Brown related some of his experiences. He said that the county seat was located by Adam Nott, Ben Nye and Thomas Dennis. The town was named after Gen. Marion of revolutionary fame. Mr. Brown said the county business was first transacted at the town of Westport, then better known as "Pumpkin Bottom."
"What were the ruling prices in the early days, Mr. Brown?" asked the reporter. "I have sold dressed pork in Dubuque for 75 cents per hundred for light weight and for $1.25 where they dressed over 200 pounds. I have paid 50 cents per bushel for grinding corn when the corn was worth only 25 cents.  Wheat was often sold for 39 1/2 cents. Corn, wheat and pork was about all we had to sell."
"How about prices of the good you consumed as compared with what we pay now?" "Excepting sugar everything was higher. Farm tools and everything we used on the farm was much higher. Sugar is now at about the price it was in the '40s and '50s."
"Which period has been the best for money making on the farm, from 1839 to the present?"
"The latter period has been much the best."
Mr. Brown carries a fine gold beaded cane presented him last June by his Brown township friends upon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his settlement in Linn county.

Crow Glover Thomas

Source:The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) 02 Oct 1891, Fri, pg. 2