Madison County, Iowa


by Frederick Runkle

  Frederick Runkle was born in South Township, Madison County, Iowa about 1875. He spent his youth on the Runkle farm and when about 25 years of age, moved away. He passed away on 11 Apr 1944 in Stanhope, Hamilton, Iowa. 

This paper was read by Fred C. Runkle of Eldora, Iowa, before the old settlers meeting at  St. Charles, Iowa, August 17, 1933.

           These memoirs are possible because the writer has retained keen memory and has always possessed an interest in the traits and characteristics which build the personality and character of those persons he contacts.  The persons, dead these many years were neighbors of my father, Thomas Runkle, in the early eighties (1880’s).  All were settlers around the neighborhood of Union Chapel before the Civil war, many of them lie buried in the Union Chapel cemetery, a cemetery laid out from land donated by my father in 1852.  The original purpose was to establish a family cemetery.  Family cemeteries seem to have been a Runkle trait.  I have found Runkle burying grounds in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and in three remote sections of Iowa.  My father with pioneer hospitality and kindly neighborliness permitted others to bury their dead in the cemetery on our homestead, and today it is the resting place of most of the families who were the early settlers of that locality.

The purpose of these memoirs is that a knowledge of the sterling character, the homely and commendable virtues, and the heroic courage of these men of the eighties be preserved.

The record is not intended to be complete.  The list includes those who lived near us that can be remembered these fifty years.  Those, who impressed an impressionable lad of five to seven, and those whose character, personality and influences have remained with him a half century.

First friend and neighbor of the family that I recall was Israel Taylor.  Short, squat, white haired and white bearded, he lived on a farm that joined us on the northwest, half mile or more away.  He was rather quiet and exclusive only to his closest friends.  As banks were new, he was the community banker, thrifty and canny.  If Israel Taylor was satisfied of one’s honesty and integrity, it was possible to borrow $50 to $100 for three to six months.  Meticulous in keeping his own obligations he expected the same conduct from those he accommodated.  It was a childish fancy of mine that he had a pot of gold about the house because in an early day he had mined gold in California.  He was thrifty and some thought he was close.

I remember an incident that interested me very much when I was quite small. Mr. Taylor was having dinner with us.  Father says, “Israel, will you have sugar in your coffee.”   Mr. Taylor, slightly deaf, said, “What you say, Thomas.”   Again, “Do you use sugar in your coffee Mr. Taylor (with spoon raised above the sugar bowl).”  “Well, yes if you the folks can afford the sugar.”  Pioneer wit.  But there as a small boy at that table all alert to know the financial rating of the family, and then the small boy subsides, satisfied, as he watched Mr. Taylor put three heaping spoonfuls of sugar in his coffee.  This was another good joke.  Mr. Taylor, or his father-in-law before him, purchased an acre of land from our farm that he might live and vote in the South township and after eighty years there are two sharp turns in the road because an earlier settler wanted to be a South township elector.

Directly to the west of us lived Meres C. Debord, a Civil war veteran.  He was older than most soldiers, having enlisted and left a growing family on the farm at home.  He was intensely patriotic and an ardent greenbacker and a great admirer of James B. Weaver.  He was a man of strong passions and violent temperament, but a fair-minded and honest neighbor.  He always permitted small boys to enter his large orchard and gather from the ground the most delicious apples, but none must be taken from the trees.  He sacrificed much for his country and in after years spent much time in a violent defense of his country and of the political principals he believed would save it.

Beyond Mr. Debord’s farm lived Fiddler Jones.  Of him I have very little memory, he was called Fiddler to distinguish from a brother who lived further out on Hoosier Prairie who was called Butch.  He had a great reputation as a fiddler and owned and raced horses, a fact that aroused the sporting blood in a small boy.

Beyond him lived John Hinkle, a very close friend of my father and a frequent visitor at our home.  I believe he was a man of excellent worth and character.  He died when I was about six, and I well remember his burial with full Masonic Rites.  It made a strong impression upon my mind, and I as a small boy pondered over the significance of the Square and the Compass on the stone that marked the grave of this friend of my father, little thinking that some day the meaning would be revealed to me.

Near the old Hinkle place lives Samuel Ross.  I think he was a master farmer; or would have been a master farmer if such had been recognized and awarded those days.  His farm always looked so neat, and the stock in the fields were so superior.

Another western neighbor that often visited our home was Joe Breeding, a Kentuckian I believe, at least he possessed all the hospitality, friendliness, and courtesy of our Kentuckian neighbors.  Sons and grandsons – a number of them – have served this country as sheriffs since the founder of this family has passed to his reward.

One who remains most vivid in my memory is Hogan Queen, probably because of the childish impression of the Queen Homestead.  Seven hundred acres of level land; the great stone house, said to be at that time the most magnificent home in the country, the large well kept lawn, shaded by veteran elms; a couple of deer about the lawn and orchard; the two barns, near bursting with mown and bays of hay; feed lots with fattening cattle; all marked it as a magnificent estate.  Back of the house was a great orchard reaching almost to the creek.  The trees seemed to be always loaded with apples and in their midst was the older press, and piles of discarded pomsee drawing the yellow jackets, waiting to be carted away to the big stys.  Always there was cider in the cellar – new cider for the children – cider a little aged for the ladies - hard cider for the gentlemen.  Hogan Queen was a short thick set man, always clean shaven except a small white goatee.  Always wore a white shirt, stiff starched bosom, with neckband, but no collar.  On the bottom of the shirt bosom was a sort of appendix with a hole to button the shirt to the trousers – do you remember them – this devise was not suitable to Uncle Hogan’s rotund figure and was always unbuttoned.

His wife – Aunt Martha – sister of my father, was a tall woman, always busy about the household tasks.  There were great quantities of pickles and preserves to be prepared.  There was bread to bake, great quantities of meat to be cured, a large household to feed, and often there were guests to entertain.  It was indeed a palatial home of the Seventies and eighties.

Before that it was Queen’s Point Tavern and post office on the stage route out of Indianola and St. Charles.  During the Civil war it was the social center of the neighborhood, and people gathered there to hear the newspaper read and to hear the latest news from the war front from soldiers returning by stage, disabled from the front.

The stone house still stands, rather a ghost of its former magnificence.  Most of the elms and all of the great orchard is gone and even the old barns seemed to be shrunken in size when I saw them a few years ago.  The grandeur of the temporal things do pass away, but the influence of worthy pioneers, their courage, the kindness and the hospitality of such as Uncle Hogan Queen and Aunt Martha Queen never pass away.

Another good friend of my father was William Eldridge.  He lived to the south and west of us.  They were often together and exchanged work.  I know he was a man of the highest integrity and a very accommodating neighbor.  Civil war partisanship was yet strong, and I remember that William Eldridge was the lone democrat of the neighborhood but held the respect and friendliness of some very rabid republicans – who were still fighting the Civil war.

Our nearest neighbors were the Wilcoxes – forty rods east.  For forty years the two families lived in peace and closest harmony as neighbors.  The things that the Wilcoxes had were ours to use, and our possession were used by our good neighbors, whenever they needed them.  The father, Alamanza Wilcox died before my memory began; but his wife, Aunt Kate, was a second mother to me, and the cookies she kept in the top drawer of the old tin safe in her kitchen were mine as freely as those in the bottom drawer of the old tin safe at home.

When I started to school at the Old McClain School House (District No. 8 South) it was Frank Wilcox who took me by the hand and carried my lunch pail across the field to the old school house for my first day of school.  In after years when I was a country school teacher the scene was re-enacted, and I took Frank’s small son by the hand and carried his dinner pail across the same fields to the same school house for his first day of school.

Little did I dream that this pretty prattling lad of six who was clinging to my hand would, when he grew to young manhood, be Madison county’s first sacrifice in the World War (WW I).  Yet this fine lad, St. Claire Wilcox, was the first of the gallant 168th to be laid in a foreign grave.

Just beyond the Wilcox farm was the Guilliams place.  Aunt Anne Guilliams was old at the time and Benton, the son, managed the farm.  A story told at that time about the patriotism of Aunt Anne Guilliams has long remained in my memory.  She had four sons – George, Abe, William and Bent. She had sent the three eldest sons to fight for the Union.  George and Abe both died in service.*  Bent was almost too young to go.  When the two boys were lost to the Union, this patriotic mother said: “Now I must send my baby,” and sent her youngest, seventeen years old, Benton, to take the place of the ones who died in the defense of their country.  The mother and her four soldier sons lie sleeping in the Union Chapel cemetery.  When I visit our family graves there I always go to the grave of Aunt Anne Guilliams, pause a while and contemplate on the sacrifice made by this Civil war mother.

Asa Archer, beyond the Guilliams farm was quite a neighbor.  I remember that my father held him in high esteem.

Jackson Conrad lived to the south of us.  He was a man of honor and integrity.  I remember his wife better.  She was an active worker in the church at Union Chapel and was my first Sunday school teacher.  She taught me my letters from the large letters of the title of my Sunday school leaflet.

Daniel Brown lived across the fields to the north of us.  He had grown up sons and daughters and it was a popular meeting place for young people.  He had a rather gruff voice and I was shy of him.

Two men that visited our home to discuss the scriptures with my father and whom I remember for their piety were John Caskey and Father Tisdale, as he was called.  Mr. Tisdale was a local doctor in the early days before there were many graduate physicians.  His ability to apply home-made remedies for pioneer ills made him much in demand.  My memory of him is that he was a very old man, a friend of my father.  Before my time he and my father held a religious debate on the Trinity, at the Old Stone school house.  The debate lasted about a week, each spoke alternately for three evenings.  The school building, so they say, was packed and the windows were opened so that those who could not get inside could listen at the open windows.  This was popular entertainment in the late sixties.  Now we have changed much in our taste for entertainment and while I am not sure which of the debaters was the Trinitarian, and which was the Unitarian, I am sure there are none of the present generation who would listen to a couple of farmers defend their religious beliefs for three nights in an hour’s discourse each night.

Two fine Christian characters that occasionally came from Brush Ridge, to attend services at Union Chapel and who would always stay at our house for dinner were Uncle Ben Carter and Captain Stiles.  I remember their prayers and if men prayed today with the earnestness, the sincerity and the faith that these men used when they addressed the Throne of Grace, they would get more of the blessings out of life than they received today.

The Lander Boys – Levi, William, Hiram and Felix, all much younger than my father, were neighbors who still live within my range of memory.  I believe the two older of them, Felix and William were soldiers.  I remember all for of the distinctly and that we often exchanged visits with the families of the Landers boys.

In the beginning, I said these reminiscences were not to be complete.  These names and memories have remained with me a half century.  There were no doubt other excellent neighbors whose names have escaped me in the lapse of a half century.  It has been a third of a century since I left these scenes and may new friends and acquaintances have come into my experiences.

In closing there is yet one pair of pioneers that remain most vividly in my memory and those are my parents, Thomas and Mary Runkle.  Their home was the center of this neighborhood described in this article.  It was not a house by the side of the road, yet they were friends to man, but the house stands a hundred yards or more from the road and a deep rutted lane, made by the conveyances of friends lead up to the house, which was not separated from the road either by gate or barrier.

The house always seemed full of people who came to it as a haven and a shelter to share in the hospitality of Uncle Tommy and Aunt Mary, as my parents were called.  Always were ministers welcome, and as it was near the church it seems to me that there was always some minister and his family at the house.  Once, when I was seven, I grew tired of them and called them damn preachers – and my father gave me a “licking.”  Father was a student of science and the Bible and I can hear him yet, seated in the old front room, his legs crossed, the old leather bound Bible on his knee, his hand upraised, his thumb extended, saying, “What I want to find is truth, if I can find truth.”  Again, I can see him, smooth shaven, white-haired, striding forth vigorously, an axe on his broad shoulders, six foot-one of powerful manhood going out across the road to clear out more land to farm.  He died before I reached the age of ten, but I always remember him a deeply religious man – student of many things, a leader, an experimenter in orcharding, respected by those who knew him, leaving behind him a purpose in the son of his old age that he must be worthy of such a father.  Mother lived many years after father’s death and saw that the son of their marriage had as much schooling as the times offered – an opportunity that was not offered to the older half-brothers and sisters of the family.  She lived long enough to watch over and play with the other Mary Runkle, her granddaughter – and may this granddaughter be ever ready to serve others as her grandmother served.  One time a neighbor – rather rough in his manner and careless in his habits said – “I don’t know much about Heaven, but there should be a good place for Aunt Mary Runkle to live throughout eternity, for the good she had done for others without complaining.”  Both father and mother sleep side by side on the cemetery on the hill, the face the old home on the opposite hill.

Those who lived in this community have been gone there many years – even the scenes as I knew then are changed.  The neat little spruce that dotted the Guilliams home have grown into great trees or have been removed.  The roses, pink and yellow, that were Aunt Kate Wilcox’s pride are gone.  The orchard at the Debords, long ago decayed, and the race track at Fiddler Jones has been a field for fifty years.  Strangers live in the old homes of these pioneers.  Some of the houses have been torn down and more modern ones have been built.  A few of these old homesteads are still owned by some member of the family – four, probably – the others have been sold and resold many times the speculative days.  Some of them perhaps have fallen into the land company’s possessions – are we following the peasantry condition of Europe?  Such is the condition in every Iowa community.

We now live in a new age – a more modern age with more conveniences.  It is a faster age, but not a happy age.  We are nervous, anxious, suspicious.  Many fail to trust God like our forefathers did – and we do not know whom to trust.  But there is still the spirit of the pioneers to guide us.  Their memory is our heritage.  Let us return to the simplicity, to their neighborliness, to their honesty, to their hospitality.  And in these things they left to us – their children – let us find happiness.


Published in the Winterset Madisonian, August 31, 1933, page 9.  

* Editor's note: Neither George nor Abraham Guillams died while in the service according to Madison County military records. However, both appeared to have died of their wounds after being discharged. Abraham was wounded at Pea Ridge, Arkansas on 07 Mar 1862 and died 14 Mar 1865. George W. was discharged for wounds on 23 Mar 1865 and died 06 May 1866.


Transcribed by Judy Wight Branson

Edited by Kent Transier


Maintained by the County Coordinator

This page was created on Sept 27, 2006.
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