Mitchell County, Iowa



The following includes two essays written by Helen R. Shepard about the small town of Wapsie, on the Wapsipinicon river. Additionally, there is a short piece concerning Dureau, Iowa, which was probably on the same spot, but at a different time.




How Dear To My Heart
Are The Scenes Of My Childhood

     I was born, September 20, 1916, on the Wapsie, a farming community on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River in north central Iowa. Most of the farmers were Irish -- children of the immigrants, and the church was the center of the social life.   We went to a little country church -- a white frame building with a belfry and a cross.   The cemetery was back of the church and a fence surrounded the churchyard with a wrought iron gate bearing the inscription "St. Patrick's Church".   Here they all came -- the Irish families -- every Sunday and church holy day. They came by horse and buggy, some with Model-T Fords and some walked.   In the winter it was in horse drawn sleds or "cutters".   After the mass, the neighbors visited in the churchyard before they left for their homes or to spend the day with a friend or relative.   Our home was close to the church and always there was someone stopping by.   In the summer the men would pitch horse shoes and the ladies would visit. The invitation, "Let ye come over" was always worm and sincere.

     My parents were friendly social people. My father played the violin with other local friends for dances in the area.   In the winter there were lots of dances -- going in big sleds -- the children too -- setting on a bed of straw with big fur robes over our heads like a tent.   There were also card parties and socials.

     Many of my parents' friends came to the Wapsie as children out of New York on the "orphan trains" to be raised by the farm families.   They grew up bearing the name of their foster or adopted parents. My father's aunt raised two of these children: Howard and Agnes McTigue. One of the boys raised by a neighbor was Eddie Moran, a best friend of my parents.   These are the only three that I knew.

     Since this was an Irish community, it would be supposed that St. Patrick's Day would be the holiday, next to Christmas, that would be my favorite.   St. Pat's was all right -- we all wore green and went to church.   Beyond that, it seemed to be a day for adults.   The holiday I enjoyed most was also a church holy day -- the 15th of August, a day set aside to honor Holy Mary.   We would go to church early in the morning and then on in to the little town of McIntire to spend the rest of the day at the Harvest Festival.   There would be a parade and a small carnival with a merry-go-round that I thought was pure magic.   There was ice cream, soda pop and wieners and other such food that we seldom got at home.   McIntire was a dusty little town.   By the time the day and the fireworks were over and we climbed back into the Model-T to go home, we were tired and grimy, but oh! so happy.

     My father died of pneumonia when I was nine years old. That same year my father's oldest sister took my beloved Grandma to her home in North Dakota and I never saw her again.   Mother and I moved from the farm three years later.   Those early years were comfortable, secure, happy years and I have many fond memories of the Wapsie.


      By Helen Ragen Shepard



I Remember The Wapsie

     I remember the shallow, muddy Wapsipinicon River that flooded over the flat land in the spring, was nearly dry before fall, yet froze to a long winding ribbon of ice to skate on in the winter.   I remember the small mud turtles that would climb up on the logs in the river to dry in the sun and the contests we would have throwing Pebbles at the.   If they were hit, they would dive back into the water.   I remember how good it felt to go barefoot in the summer on the road of soft, dry, warm and dusty earth as we walked "up to the corner" to get the mail.   The fields of corn must be knee high by the 4th of July if there was to be a good crop and the fields of oats turned gold in late summer and waved like a sea when the breezes blew through.   There were fields of potatoes where we started digging when the potatoes were the size of marbles and still had enough in the fall to feed us through the winter.   The electric storms in the summer were frightening with rain, wind, thunder and lightning and always the threat of a tornado.   After a hail storm we would gather the hail stones to be used to freeze home made ice cream.

     The gypsy families came through every summer in their wooden "coaches" to trade horses.   There were always cousins from the city who would come to spend the summer on the farm and the fireflies on the warm evening filled the outdoors with their "lanterns".   I could hear the rustle of her taffeta dress when my Grandma walked up the center isle of the church to the front seat on Sunday.   I sat on my father's lap to steer the Model-T Ford when I was 7 or 8 years old.   Then later, when I was 11, I had learned to drive.   The roads were passable for autos only a short while in the summer so it was our black horse, Fleet, who often pulled the buggy on our trips to town.   There were the Irish wakes -- a sort of three day and night farewell party for the departed friend.   These wakes dispelled any fear of death that we might have.   I remember the cold winters with great drifts of snow and ritual of getting ready for winter -- putting on the storm windows and doors, banking the house with gravel, bringing in the great pile of wood cut from the groves along the river and a load of coal for the heater in the living room.   A small dish of onions and sugar was kept warm on the back of the kitchen stove for cough syrup.   At Christmas time, I wondered about Santa Claus who wore a brown overcoat, carried the toys in a gunny sack and who talked and laughed just like the neighbor down the road.

     All these things, and more, made my world very special -- on the Wapsie.

      By Helen Ragen Shepard




    According to information obtained by Neal Du Shane, Wapsie and Dureau occupied the same geographical area, but at different times. Neal writes: Thanks to the Mitchell County Historical Society, they have found the location of Durea, a.k.a. Drueau, a.k.a. Dureau.

    "Found this information in a Book 'Postmarked Iowa' by Guy R. Ramsey, at the Mason City Public Library. It showed this Post Office spelled as "Dureau."

    Location is about 3 miles NW of McIntire, 1/2 mile west of Bailey & 2 miles South of Minnesota state line, in the northeast part of Section 21, Wayne Township, (TWP 100N, RNG 15W).

    The Post Office opened in 1856, and then in 1858 it moved to Wentworth, while the town moved with the railroad to McIntire, which is a mile away from Wentworth.

    Arlene Brockney -- Mitchell Couty Historical Museum


Compiled by: Neal Du Shane - Fort Collins, CO, June 2002
From Delores Weinberger, of the Mitchell County Historical Society.

   Helen Ragen Shepard
   2016 Brown St.
   Olympia, WA 98501
   (Born 1916)

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