|Muscatine County, Iowa|
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
31 May 1940
Section 2 - Page 2, Submitted by Lynn McCleary, September 22, 2012
Rare Volume Describes Beauty of the Prairie
German Author Stopped Here on Trip Down River
Muscatine and Muscatine prairie, as they appeared to an early day traveler down the Mississippi river are described in the following article, which was taken from a volume, “Das Illustrirte Mississippithal,” written in German by Henry Lewis, and recounting his experiences while floating downstream during the summers of 1846 and 1847.
The volume, of which few ever got into circulation, was published at Dusseldorf, Germany. The following translation of his description of his visit here was obtained from photostatic copies of several pages of the volume, obtained from a copy in the New York city public library.
Muscadine, in Iowa, formerly called Bloomington, is located on the right shore of the Mississippi, and, seen from the river, presents itself very beautifully. The number of inhabitants was at that time (1846-47) a little over 1800, has however rapidly increased and may now (1851) be doubled. Muscadine is the seat of the court for Muscadine county in Iowa, and judged by the number of its inhabitants and commercial activity, one of the most important cities in the state. It is the landing place for all goods, destined for Iowa City, the capital of the state, and many other inland towns. No part of this flourishing state is more inviting to the farmer, the mechanic and the merchant than just this one. Fertile farm lands can be bought from the government for a dollar and a quarter an acre. The soil consists of excellent prairie land, bordered by forests, and wood-and-farm-lands are quite equally distributed.
Extract From Diary.
The following excerpt from the diary of the author offers an interesting insight in the life and conditions of the often quite adventurous inhabitants of this region.
July 23. After a gloomy morning it started to rain quite heavily at 4 o’clock, and not being inclined to spend a stormy night in my tent I did look sharply around for a house while rowing down the river. After some time I noticed two old log cabins, and having come nearer to them, I saw, only a short distance away, a fine new little house, which in appearance looked like a small English villa. Such a thing is rare in this region, for here, in building of homes, only interior comfort, and never architectural beauty and exterior ornaments are taken into consideration. I surmised that the old log cabins may have been used as a home by the owner of this villa, who, in some way or other, had been blessed of goods of fortune, had become prosperous, and had exchanged the poor log cabins with the attractive villa. Judging by the style of the latter, I surmised that the owner must be an Englishman, and man above the majority of the adventurous inhabitants of this region. We will soon see that my calculations prove to be correct.
Assailed by Dogs.
“We landed and fastened the boat on one of the uninhabited log cabins. Having told my companion to leave everything in the boat until my return, I started to go to the villa. When I got near two large dogs, undoubtedly of foreign breed, ran up to me, one of them showing a great love for my coat-tail, the other for my trousers. I happened to have a large umbrella with me, and involuntarily I thought of that traveling man who scared off a tiger by suddenly undoing his umbrella, I tried the same idea and the dogs took their tail between their legs and went away. I entered through the gate and ---- before the vine-covered villa.
Courageously I knocked at the door. An elderly but deciding aristocratic-appearing lady opened and inquire (in broad Scotch dialect) for my wish. I asked her whether her husband was at home. She asked me to step inside, awhile she would go upstairs to wake him, for it was Sunday and the good man seemed indeed to have made of it a ‘a day of rest.’ Following faithfully the word of Holy Writ, which, I am sorry to say, was not so much to my taste. He soon appeared, rubbed his eyes, and did not seem to be in the best of humor, which, by the way, must be pardoned with anyone who ruthlessly is being disturbed in his afternoon nap.
When I told him of my wish he looked sharply at me, but showed little inclination to have such a neighbor for the night; and, to tell the truth, I must confess, that my appearance was in no wise suited to make a pleasant impression. My beard and hair had not been touched for the last three months, my face had been so tanned by wind and weather that is seemed to belong rather to some Indian, than to a white man. I wore a red woolen shirt, coarse white trousers, long boots, that reached above my knees, and a belt, in which there were two long pistols and a large knife. The reader will no longer be astonished when I say that my (future) host did not seem to be inclined to grant my wish. After long meditation he finally said that he had rented the two log cabins, and as the renters happened to be absent, he did not know what to do: but upon the urgent petition of his wife, he finally consented; and after having succeeded in making him go down with me to my boat, I also succeeded in making him more talkative.
Companions Occupied Cabin
I found that my companions being tired of the long waiting, had occupied one of the cabins, had brought my boxes, carpets and buffalo skins from the boat, and had made a good fire; over which they were just cooking the coffee when we entered. Laughingly I asked my host to enter ‘his house’ and find a seat. He good-naturedly took what could not now be changed, and soon we found ourselves in a most friendly conversation. After I had answered all kinds of questions, he treated us with his own certainly interesting story.
Captain Jackson – this was my host’s name – belonged tone of the best families in Glasgow. He had received a very fine education and entered the navy, and in a few years had advanced to a captaincy. By some incident (which however he did not come to divulge) he had fallen into disgrace, lost his position and had gone abroad. After some time his friends in England succeeded in procuring for him his former position. He returned, received a ship, and was sent to Canada during the revolution. Overcome by his feeling he joined the rebels, and after their defeat, again, lost his position and almost his freedom, he succeeded, however, in reaching the United States and settling down where I found him. The British marine officer, the Canadian rebel, and the hospitable gentleman is now a farmer on the shores of the Mississippi, and chops wood for the steamboats to carry, his daily bread, and yet he assured me, that he would not swap his present mode of living for the finest frigate that has ever been constructed of English oaks.
The Muscatine Prairie – This is one of the most beautiful and largest prairies found on the shores of the Mississippi. It is about 45 miles long and 15 miles wide. Through the center of it runs a small creek and a few trees on its shores are the only objects which, in some measure, break the view upon this wide plain. The soil is exceedingly fertile, having no doubt been gradually brought about by the river; some assume this prairie to have been once a large lake, through which the Mississippi flowed, as is now the case with Lake Pepin; the river is supposed to have, in the course of time, found a new bed; and the dried out lake became the prairie.
On account of its low location it is exposed to periodic overflowing of the Mississippi, and, this being the case in conjunction with sickness caused by the rotting of the over rich vegetation in the fall, colonization of this fertile piece of land is rendered more difficult; it is however, to be assumed that if this whole wild vegetation were rooted out and the land plowed this evil condition would be brought to an end.
The city of Muscadine is situated on a hill, on the upper end of the prairie, and the accompanying picture of the latter is taken from the top of that hill. The prairie offers in the inhabitants of Muscadine, a good hunting ground, for one can find here prairie hens galore, snipes, pheasants, wild geese and ducks, stags and wolves, and at the same time, excellent pasture for cattle, and horses; hay for the winter can also be had from the prairie and will cost no more than the trouble of mowing it and putting it up.
Pictures Believed First Taken of Early Muscatine
What are believed to be among, if not actually the earliest pictures of Muscatine ever to be published appear on the front page of this section of The Journal’s centennial edition. Through a peculiar combination of events these pictures were published only in Germany, in a book of which only a few copies were ever marketed. The volume is now so rare that one would be worth several hundred dollars if it could be found.
The pictures were painted by Henry Lewis, an Englishman, whose business was that of a scene painter in St. Louis theater, who spent the summers of 1846 and 1847 floating down the Mississippi river making sketches and paintings of everything along the line.
Is 1849 these painting were in the form of a panorama, said to have been 1,350 yards long, with which Lewis toured the cities in the east. Later he went abroad.
In 1851 about 80 of these pictures in color were used to illustrate a book which Lewis wrote about the river, “Das Illustairte Mississippithal,” of which the six sections were published in Dusseldorf by Arnz and Co., in 1854-7. This publishing house then encountered financial difficulties and sections seven to twenty were not published until 1857. Very few copies of this book ever reached the market.
In the view of the city of Muscatine, the most prominent building is the original courthouse; built in 1841 and which was destroyed by fire some 20 years later. The reproductions which appear in this issue of The Journal were obtained from the New York Public Library, where one of the Lewis volumes is on display. Photostatic copies of the pictures were obtained by J. C. Bishop and the cover page illustrations reproduced from them.
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Page created September 22, 2012 by Lynn McCleary