Muscatine County Iowa

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 620


No other organization enlists a warmer sympathy from the people then the Pioneer Association. Especially is this true in the West-- that portion of our country that has been settled within a period of but little more than half a century. On another page in this work is given an account of the experience of the pioneer in opening up for settlement a new country, and the method of putting into operation the machinery of local government. After enduring the trials of that early day--experiencing the hardships, the trials and difficulties of pioneer life, and having lived to see the wilderness transformed into a populous and well-cultivated country, and where and when every reasonable desire of the inhabitants may be gratified--is it any wonder that the grand old men and women, who were instrumental in bringing this all about, should form associations where, by appointment, they could meet from time to time, and recall the experiences of the past, and renew friendships and attachments formed at a time when to be known at all was to be recognized as a neighbor? It is but natural that they should thus come together.

The Old Settlers' Association of Muscatine County was formed Feb. 9, 1856, by the following named persons : Judge Joseph Wilson, T. S. Parvin, Pliny Fay, Joseph Bridgeman, Suel Foster, H. A. Jennison, H. H. Zine, Z. Washburn, G. W. Humphreys, J. P. Walton, M. Ward, W. Chambers,Jr., Giles Pettibone, Joseph S. Allen, and A. T. Banks. After due deliberation a constitution was adopted and officers elected. Judge Williams was elected President, and T. S. Parvin, Secretary.

The meetings of the Association have been held as often as practicable from that day to the present time, and its annual re-unions are looked forward to with bright anticipation by old and young ; for not alone do the old settlers come together, but the young, and those of a later day, assemble with them, and partake with them of the joys of the occasion.

In 1886 the Association met upon the site of the residence of Benjamin Nye, who always claimed to be the first settler of Muscatine County. J. P. Walton, the President of the Association, delivered the following address :

" Old settlers, Ladies and Gentleman :--We have met to hold our re-union in this grove for the second time. Two years ago we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the first white woman as a settler--Mr. Benjamin Nye and Daughters. One of the daughters, Mrs. Patterson, was with us then and is on the ground today. This year there are several anniversaries that are worthy of our attention. This is the fiftieth year since our city of Muscatine was laid off as the town of Bloomington. If one would look at the roughest place in our county he would hardly find an equal to Bloomington in 1836. It was all hills and hollows. They were largely covered with trees and brush. The town was located between and on four hills--one of them the highest for five miles--with two large creeks and several small duck-ponds to add a variety to the wilderness. It contained a few log cabins--one of them a trading house--with less than 100 inhabitants, who settled near ' Grindstone Bluff '--the original name before Bloomington--to build up a town. The principal business was trading in claims. Almost every man you met had two or three claims to sell.

" Such was the condition of Bloomington when the surveyor commenced to stake out our present city of Muscatine. When we consider the unevenness of the ground, the thickness of the timber and brush, the indifference of the instruments, we now wonder that the streets and the lots are as straight as they now are. In the space of fifty years our little town of Bloomington, with less than 100 inhabitants, has grown to a city from 12,000 to 15,000.

" A thirtieth anniversary should not be forgotten. It can be called the advent of railroads to Iowa and west of the Mississippi River. On the first day of January, 1856, the first western railroad reached Iowa City. At that time there were less than 100 miles west of the Mississippi River. In the short space of thirty years the State of Iowa has nearly 8,000 miles, with many more thousands to the west of her.

" Our fortieth anniversary also should be celebrated. It is forty years since Iowa became a State. There are many here present who recollect that for four or five years previous to 1846 a large portion of the street-talk was about our admission to the Union. It was looked upon as one of the events of the times. Then as now, the politicians had much to do with it. The old Whigs as a party opposed it. The government was in the hands of the Democrats. Iowa had voted Democratic ; hence the Whig opposition. But in it went--a Democratic State ( as all the new States at that time did ), with no possible effect to anyone but the officeholders.

" We have another fiftieth anniversary of more importance in a general way than either of the others. It was the extansion of the civil government over this part of Iowa. By an act of Congress the Territory of Wisconsin was organized on July 4, 1836. It embraced the present States of Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. This eastern protion of Iowa was then known as the Black Hawk Purchase. It was composed of two counties-- Dubuque and Des Moines. We were in Des Moines, and held our first election under Wisconsin, on the first Monday of October, 1836.

" For two or three years previous to 1836 quite a number of white settlers had come in while they were supposed to be under the the jurisdiction of Missouri or Michigan. They had really no laws but such as were made by themselves for the occasion. While they had no prisons or jails, ' the way of the transgressor was hard.' Their trials were speedy, and their punishment adequate. Their courts were numbered somewhat by the size of the settlement. His Honor, Judge Lynch, usually presided. The juries were composed of or collected from those present. The verdicts were usually final and the punishments were of a kind that could be inflicted without imprisonment. Hanging was the penalty for murder and horse-stealing. For crimes of a less magnitude whipping was generally the verdict. For offences against the morals of the community where life and property was not at stake, a ride upon a rail, with a coat of tar and feathers, were deemed sufficient.

" Most of the time a man was allowed to settle his own grievances as best he could--peaceably if possible but forcibly if he must ; remembering that any over tact on his part was liable to be investigated by his neighbors.

" An assault or an insult was usually settled at once. To 'give the lie ' ( tell a man a lie ) was an insult that warranted a fight. The man, large or small, who did not resent it was considered a coward, and hardly worthy of the respect of the community. For a man of large size to take the advantage of a small one was considered an outrage, and was quite frequently corrected by a third party.

" Every man that came to a settlement was heartily received, ( a Yankee may have been an exception to the rule ), and no questions were asked about him. But if he became a little crooked in his deals or harbored men about him of doubtful character, he was usually waited upon by three or four of his neighbors and told to leave. Usually twenty-four hours were allowed him. He generally left.

" There was no collecting debts by law. If any law existed, it was not inforced to any extent. Still a considerable credit system existed. Debts were usually paid. The misunderstandings about their land claims were usually settled by arbitration ; each settlement making its own claim laws. Meetings were frequently held for that purpose. This custom was continued until the land came into market in 1838.

" Then, as now, the people went to town on Saturday, where they met, discussed and settled their difficulties at considerable less expense, and quite as satisfactory as they could be after civil government was established."

On the 4th day of July, 1888, the old settlers again met in annual re-union. Again Mr. Walton addressed the assembly, and as his remarks refer to life in Muscatine County in an early day, we give them in full:

" Ladies and Gentleman :--We have met to-day to celebrate two noted events--the birthday of our Nation, and the fiftieth birthday of our State. By an act of Congress, passed June 12, 1838, Iowa became a territory on the follopwing 4th day of July. At that time Iowa's geographical area was immense. It extended almost as far west as imagination could reach, and as far north as the British possessions. The inhabited area was small-- a narrow strip not more than twenty miles wide along the west bamk of the Mississippi River. The inhabitants were largely a class of farmers, just commencing in this new territory.

" We know of no better way to celebrate our semi-centennials than to talk about them, their homes, and their domestic habits. They all lived in log-cabins, say 16x20 feet in size, with a large chimney built on the outside of one end. It projected out about four or five feet, was six or seven feet wide, enclosed with logs up to four or five feet, and topped out with sticks plastered with mud. When this chimney became a little old, it required constant watching and frequent repairing. It was no uncommon thing while sitting by the fire on a cold winter evening to see sparks of firs dropping down. This required a cup of water to be thrown up the inside of the chimney to wet it out. One of the last things before going to bed was to look up the chimney to see if it was all right. The breast log, or the first one over and in front of the fire, was the most exposed and usually caught fire first, and had to be continually watched and frequently daubed with mud.

" These large fireplaces, frequently four or five feet wide, required something of a fire to make an impression on a room in cold weather. So after supper we usually made our evening fire. It consisted of a back-log from twenty to twenty-four inches in diameter, with a top-log about one-half as large and a front-log two-thirds its size, laid on andirons, between the front and back log. The fire was built with smaller wood, to be replenished as fast as it burned out. This fire if made of green wood, which was most frequently the case, lasted for twenty-four hours, supplying heat and coals for cooking.

" Their manner of cooking would be considered quite novel at this time. Cooking-stoves were not in general use. We brought the first one in our neighborhood. It was an odd-looking thing, with fire in the bottom, oven above, and two boiling holes on the top. We brought it all the way from New England ; it was worth the cost of its long trip to us.

" But to return to cooking. Those large fireplaces with their great hearths, frequently four by six feet, were needed for that purpose if nothing else. The utensils for cooking usually consisted of two iron kettles ; one for boiling vegetables and one for heating water, an iron tea kettle for making coffee, a frying-pan and two bake kettles, sometimes called ' Dutch ovens '--one for baking bread and one for roasting meat. This was a first class outfit. The bake-kettle is about the only article that has gone entirely out of use, hence I will venture a description. It was made of cast-iron, about fifteen inches in diameter and seven inches deep, with legs four inches high, its cover had a rim or projection that extended up about one and one-half inches above the top at the outer edge to keep coals of fire from dropping off while in use.

" The most common diet was corn-bread and bacon. The bacon was cut in slices and fried in the pan. The corn-bread about after this formula : the meal was not bolted but had to be sifted, the housewife would take, say a teaspoon about even full of salt, the same quantity of saleratus, one or two tablespoonfulf of lard, pour on boiling water after the lard is melted ; stir in about two quarts of meal, making a dough a proper consistency by adding warm water. She would then set the bake kettle over a heap of live coals ; when warm would grease and put in the dough, put on the lid and cover it with coals. The time occupied in baking depended much on the fire. If the housewife got a little tired of corn-brean and she could get flour--an article not always to be had--she usually baked what is known as salt-rising bread. Its formula I never knew.

" Meat was baked and roasted in the same manner. It was certainly a very palatable way of cooking meat. During the process of cooking the lid had frequently to be removed. This was done with an iron hook kept for the purpose. During the cooking hour the housewife could be seen stooping over her work, holding her dress back with one hand and lifting her pots and kettles with the other--a third hand to have kept her face from burning would have been acceptable.

" While the cooking utensils have very much changed, the dishes have not. The furniture consisted of a table, two or three split-bottom chairs ; if the family were a little fore-handed they had some wooden-bottomed ones that were called ' Windsor Chairs'--one long bench, that could be used for a lounge, and a few short ones in case of company. On the right side of the big chimney stood a wooden bench, with a water-bucket. Under the bench the kettles were stored. On the left of the fireplace the dish-cupboard or shelves were located. Over the fireplace, out of the way of the children, hung the all-important rifle. Across the rear of the room stood the beds.

" The first crop raised was usually corn. The hog was one of the most important domestic animals. He was expected to live in the woods in the summer and to get very fat in the autumn on mast ( acorns and nuts ). Their means for slaughtering hogs were frequently primitive. An empty whisky barrel could usually be had ; if not, a wooden trough was used for scalding. A 10-gallon iron kettle was commonly used for heating, although we frequently had to heat rocks for that purpose--six or eight rocks, say six inches in diameter, heated red-hot and thrown in a barrel of water would heat it enough for scalding. The meat was usually salted in a pile in a corner of the cabin--if one could be spared--and frequently hung up in the loft ( the common name for attic ) to smoke ; thus economizing the smoke that missed the housewife's eyes during the cooking time.

" The farmer kept one or more cows and always raised the calves. One-half of the milk was its allowance, which must be secured while milking. The calf being the most expert milker, would usually exhaust its side of the udder first, which was generally followed with a tremendous ' butt,' very much to the disgust of its parent, which would either kick or step up, to the annoyance of the milkmaid. She however, being on the alert for such a contingency, usually milked in a tin cup and poured it in a bucket that was a safe distance . I said the milkmaid--the women always did the milking. It was considered feminine for a man to cook or milk. I lived on a farm in my younger days and of course never learned those arts. The young men usually went a 'sparking' on Sunday evening ; if they were on hand at milking time they carried the bucket, turned the calves out, and put them up, but never offered to help milk.

" Customs have changed now ; the men do the milking, and I presume the women will soon do the voting.

" During the long winter evenings the large fires made abundance of light for our social purposes--for sewing or reading. The grease light was the most common in use. This came nearer the old Roman lamp than anything in use in modern days. A first class grease lamp was made with an iron cup, three or four inches acrooss, an inch deep, with a handle on one side extending up six or eight inches, to hang it up by, and a nose on the opposite side in which the wick was inserted. When lighted, the heat melted the grease that supplied the wick. This lamp required considerable attention but it made a very good light. As a substitute, a tea-saucer with a strip of cloth for a wick was used.

" In our neighborhood ( now in Sweetland township ) there were one or two molds for making candles. They were usually traveling from one house to another, dispansing all the light they could, but at best they were slow processes and never fully took the place of the grease light. The tallow-dip was a Yamkee invention. My mother made the first in our neighborhood ; the neighboring women came in to see how it was done ; they took great interest in watching their stalactite growth, and went home and adopted that way for making candles.

" In Iowa, in 1835, the common match of to-day was not introduced. A common way for lighting candles of lamps was by holding up a coal of fire and blowing the breath on it until a flame appeared ; then inserting the wick, the candle would be lighted. A small, light, dry stick, called ' a lighting stick,' was frequently kept for that purpose ; used as we use paper-lighters. The fire was not allowed to go out in the winter, and not in the summer if it could easily be prevented. If such an accident did occur, it was not easily re-lighted. The most common way was to take some flax or hemp tow, sprinkle some gunpowder through it, take the gun and snap it in the tow ; it would become ignited by the powder, and could be easily blown to a blaze.

" Of those farmers and others that lived in this county or in Iowa and have since become citizens of this county and are yet living I have prepared a ' Rollof Honor,' which I will now read with the dates of their arrival :

" 1833 -- Hon. Err Thornton. 1834--Mrs. Laura Nye Patterson, John McGrew, L. D. Palmer. 1835--Dr. Charles Drury, Mrs. Jacob Kiser, M. P. Pace. 1836--C. A. Warfield, William Gordon, Vincent Chambers, Anderson Chambers, Mrs. M. P. Pace, Mrs. McGrew, Joseph Edington, Peter Hesser, Sarah Hubbard, Stephen Edington, Mrs. Rachel Briggs, Mrs. Jane Reynolds Simpson, W.P. Wright, John Holliday, William Chambers, John Chambers, L.L. McGrew, W. A. Drury, Mrs. Martha Truit, John Thomas, Samuel Holliday, Mrs. J. I. Schofield, Mrs. Mahala Briles, and Nrs Marian Miller ( who was born in this county in 1836 ). 1837-- Mrs. W. A. Drury, Mrs. F. Thurston, Mrs. Henry Funk, Mrs. Beaumont, Mrs. A. T. Banks, Mrs. Asa Gregg, S. C. Hastings, H. H. Hine, Isaiah Davis, Henry Blanchard, T. L. Husted, John H. Headly, Tobe Browb, Elizabeth Hesser, Mr. George Baumgardner, Mrs. Luther Kiser Colbert, Sam S. Haslett, Mrs. Dr. Fitch, Mrs. M. Couch, Mrs. A. Ogilvie, Mrs. John Sherfey, Mrs. Luke Sells, Asa Gregg, A. O. Warfield, W. G. Holmes, Myron Ward, Aristarchus Cone, Joseph Bridgeman, Adam Funk, W. A. Clark, Jacob Hesser, C. A. Hesser, John Love, Mrs. Newcomb. 1838--S. W. Stewart, J. P. Walton, Alonzo Brockway, H. W. Moore, William Morford, Mrs. James Hawley, Samuel Storms, A. M. Winn, George Lucas, Jesse Lucas, Remembrance Morford."

Among other speakers on this occasion was Prof. T. S. Parvin, who spoke on "Iowa's Infancy"' G. W. Van Horne on " Iowa's Youth "; H. J. Lauder on " Iowa Today "; and Joseph Bridgeman, a pioneer of 1837, who made the following remarks :

" In 1837 I attended a 4th of July celebration in the city of St. Louis. Daniel Webster was the orator of the day. But the oration and the celebration was insignificant with the one that followed one year later in Burlington, Iowa. On that occasion we laid aside the name of Wisconsin and received the new-born child, laid it in its sap-trough cradle, clothed it in the flag of our Union, placed upon its brow the territorial coronet and baptized it ' Iowa.' In less than a decade of years, Iowa took her place among the sisterhood of States and received the crown of Statehood. And that glorious star has sent its bright rays across the waste of waters and its beams have shown into the homes of the Irishman, the German, and of all other nationalities. As the wise men of old followed their star across the plains of Palestine, so those from other nations, pursuinf the path of wisdom, followed the brightest rays of Iowa's star to their source and built homes for themselves and their children and their children's children. Our State at once took a proud position among the other States. Our Senators were the peers of any in the Senate Chamber ; whether in peace or in war we have ever maintained that position.

" And now, let me say to you, let no act of yours down to the remotest generation place one stain upon her bright escutcheon or one foul blot upon her glorious name. When in the rolling centuries this world shall have grown old and the fading twilight shall have gone out, and it shall be proclaimed that Time shall be no longer, Iowa's glorious star shall be transferred from the blue field of ' old glory ' to the blue field of the star-lit dome of Heaven."

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