Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 2 - Page 18, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, April 30, 2012

Locale of Two Legends Laid in County
Fantastic Tales Traced Back to Frontier Days

Muscatine county is the locale for two fantastic legends which have found their way into published volumes – although there can be no longer be found any residents around here who can lend authenticity to the tales.

The one legend about “Providence Hole” is centered at Wyoming hill, while the location of the second incident cannot exactly be determined.

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Stories concerning the two legends have been published in volume two of “Myths and Legends of Our Land,” by the J. B. Lippincott company of Philadelphia and London and bears an 1896 copyright. Charles M. Skinner is the author.

Following is the account of the “Providence Hole” tale as chronicled in the book:

    “The going of white men into the prairies aroused the same sort of animosity among the Indians that they have shown in other parts of the country when retiring before the advance of civilization, and many who tried to plant corn on the rolling lands of Iowa, although they did not harm the red Men, paid for the attempt with their lives.

    “Such was the fate of the settler who had built his cabin on Wyoming hill, near Muscatine. While working in his fields, an arrow, shot from a covert, laid him low, and his scalp was cut away to adorn the belt of a savage. His little daughter, left alone, began to suffer from fear and loneliness as the sun went lower and lower, and when it had come to its time of setting she put on her bonnet and went in search of him. As she gained the slope where he had last been seen, an Indian raised his head from the grass and looked at her.

    “Starting back to run, she saw another behind her. Escape seemed hopeless, and killing or captivity would have been her lot had not a crevice opened in the earth close to where she stood. Dropping on hands and knees, she hastily crawled in and found herself in what seemed to be an extensive cavern. Hardly had she time to note the character of the place when the gap closed as strangely as it had opened and she was left in darkness.

    “Not daring to cry aloud lest Indians should hear her, she sat upright until her yes could keep open no longer, then lying on a mossy rock she fell asleep. In the morning, the sun was shining upon her and the way to escape was open. She ran home, hungry but thankful, and was found and cared for by neighbors. ‘Providence Hole’ then passed into the legends of the country. It has closed anew, however.”

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Here’s the second fable:

    “There was rough justice in the west in the old days. It had to be dealt severely and quickly, for it was administered to a kind of men that became dangerous if they saw any advantage or any superiority in their strength or numbers over the decent people with whom they were cast. They were uncivilized foreigners and native renegades for the most part who had drifted to the frontier in the home of making a living without work more easily than in the cities.

    “As there were no lawyers or courts and few recognized laws, the whole people constituted themselves a jury, and if a man were known to be guilty, it was foolishness for any one to waste logic in his case. There is almost no record of an innocent man being hanged by lynchers in the west. For minor offenses, the penalty was to be marched out of camp, with a warning to be very cautious about coming that way again, but for graver ones it was death.

    “In 1840 a number of desperate fellows had settled along the Cedar river near its confluence with the Iowa, who subsisted by means of theft from the frugal and industrious. Some of these men applied themselves especially to horse stealing and in thinly settled countries where a man had often to go 20 or 30 miles for supplies or his mail or medical attendance, it was thought to be a calamity to be without a horse.

    “At last people organized themselves into a vigilance committee and ran down the thieves. As the latter were a conscienceless gang of rascals, it was resolved that the only effectual way of reforming them would be by hanging. One man of the group was supposed before his arrest to be a respectable citizen, but his evil communications closed the ears of his neighbors to his appeals, and it was resolved that he, too, should hang.

    “Not far away stood an oak tree with nine stout branches, and to this natural gallows the rogues were taken. As a squall was coming up the ceremonies were short, and presently every limb was weighted down with the form of a captive. The formerly respectable citizen was the last one to be drawn up, and hardly had his halter been secured before the storm burst and a bolt of lightning ripped off the limb on which he hung. During the delay caused by the accident, the unhappy man pleaded so earnestly for a rehearing that it was decided to give it to him, and when he had secured it he conclusively proved his innocence and was set free. The tree is still standing.

    “To the ruffians it was a warning and they went away. Even the providential saving of one man did not detract from the value of the lesson to avoid bad company.”

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Very Versatile

Merchant – cooper – doctor! - These were the professions claimed by members of the Covell family, early settlers in this area. In advertisements appearing in early Muscatine newspapers – in the era from 1840 to 1842 – they offered their services to residents of Wyoming and Salem – both in Muscatine county.

Dr. B. Covell advertised as a surgeon and physician of Salem, announcing that, having well supplied himself with medicine, he was ready to attend all calls. His announcement was of date of Jan. 28, 1842.

In the Dec. 17, 1840 issue, a member of the Covell family, bearing the same initial – “B” – announced he was carrying on the coopering business in all its branches and that he would have constantly on hand meat casks, flour barrels, liquor kegs, wash tubs and boards, churns, water buckets, dry measures and numerous other articles. At the same time he advertised for one or two journeymen coopers, also a few thousand hickory hoops.

And again, in another issue, in the same era, “B.” Covell, through an ad “respectfully informs the public that he continues to keep a public house at Salem, Muscatine county, Ia., where the best accommodations can be had, between Bloomington and Davenport. Private rooms to be had at all times. His stable is good, and at all times furnished with all kinds of provender. He invites a test of these statements. Several comfortable houses to rent.”

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A report for the year 1868, published in The Journal of Jan. 16, lists among other establishments in Muscatine, 37 retail stores, five clothing, eight tailoring and seven millinery establishments; two music stores, 46 saloons, two book stores and seven barber shops.

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Enlarge - The Davenport Gazette has been considerably enlarged and dressed out in new type. We are glad to perceive the prosperity of our neighbor and hope his efforts to extend the usefulness of his paper will be properly appreciated by the citizens of Davenport – May 31, 1851.

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First Catholic Churches
Photos of churches

Two of the church edifices which antedate the present St. Mathias church are pictured here. At the left is the original St. Mathias church, which was built at Prairie du Chien, Wis., and brought here on a raft. It was recently moved from its original site on Cedar street to the present St. Mathias church grounds. Later property was purchased on Eighth street, between Chestnut and Pine streets, and the building above erected in 1856. It was subsequently enlarged over the original dimensions and the tower, chimes and clock were added in about 1880. This second building was replaced by the present church in 1911.

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