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

Section 3 - Page 4, Submitted by Cheryl Sheets March 20, 2012

Pioneer Women’s Lot Was Hard One
Hardships Were Many, a Part of Every Day Life

Woman’s lot in the settling of the primitive land that was Muscatine county a hundred or so years ago was not an easy one.

Shoulder to shoulder, she stood with her husband and the other menfolks in her family, doing her part and asking no sympathy or favors in tackling the work which was to be done.

Mrs. Laura Patterson, daughter of Benjamin Nye, Muscatine county’s first white settler, who came here only about five months after her father had set up a home in 1834, and other pioneer women of that period went through untold hardships and deprivations.

‘Twas Never Done.

An idea of a woman’s work and duties in those days can be gained from an excerpt from “Scraps of Muscatine History”, collected by J. P. Walton.

    “The pioneer women of Iowa were a select and royal company. They left the better settled portions of the country east of Iowa, where to some extent the comforts of life were to be obtained, to come to a place where even the necessaries of life were a luxury, where the Indian trail was the only sign of occupation, the Indian the only neighbor and not in good humor at that.

    “They knew they had to live in a camp until a house was built. Most women will guess that cooking in the rain by a log heap without even a piece of bark for a cover would be trying on their religion. Yet it was often done, without damage to the religion, and the woman as brave and cheerful as if she was by a kitchen range.

    “In the fall of the year when the house was up and roofed, a table was to be made with no board to buy or beg in 50 miles—a cupboard for the dishes and victuals. The family chest was perhaps used for a cupboard to scour block. Tin cups and saucers came in later.

    Slept On Ground.

    “For a time the bed was made on the ground with perhaps a little hay or some leaves to begin with. Then came the puncheon floor, somewhat smoother than the top of a pile of wood. This the woman must sweep, with a bunch of hazel brush for a broom. It sometimes happened that the man had skill enough to make a split broom.

    “With the first crop, a patch of broom corn was raised. They tied a bunch of that together, drove a stick into it, cut the stalks off to suit, and then the broom question was solved. For a cupboard some pins were driven into the wall and stakes were laid over them, and on these were placed the dishes and eatables.

    “After a time a curtain was put up to keep out the dust and flies, the wagon perhaps was used as a lean-to to the door against wolf or Indian, and all either had to do was look in. The woman could set the dogs on the wolf or shoot him, and give the Indian something to eat. She was afraid of neither.

    “The wolves were so careless of the right of property that to save the seed, the good woman had to divide what room there was in the house with the chickens until a wolf-proof hen-coop could be built.

    Real Home Makers.

    “Then came our posted bedstead, the greatest invention of the age. The upper part in daytime was used to store all the beds and bedding in the house and was covered with a nice counter pane or quilt. The lower part was made to hold the flour meal, tubs, soap, pots, harness and other things, including the pet hen with her first brood of chickens. The wealth would often be hidden by a curtain. With all this variety of stuff on her hands, the pioneer woman managed to make the house look tasty and homelike.

    “The early settlers were religious. The woman went to worship when opportunity offered, but the men swapped horses, made up a horse race or got an exchange of harvest work. Meetings were usually held in private houses. Our ministers as a rule were great on tobacco and when they got an a full head of steam, tobacco juice was apt to fly amazingly, no matter how crowded the place about the preacher—in fact eight feet in front of the preacher had to be left vacant and even then on some occasions, the flow would go beyond the limit.

    “It was not to show the nice dress or fashionable bonnet that the pioneer woman went to church, for in her day a bushel of wheat would not buy a yard of calico. Socially we had no sight. We were all in the same boat, then a girl did not lose caste by helping a neighbor in harvest or doing housework for him in case of sickness and one dollar was big pay for her week’s work.

    “We had no money or very little. We had to let want wait. The women mended until the materials gave out, the Sunday dress keeping for years. In summer we could go barefooted, in winter could be wrapped in rags too badly worn for patches. In all the schemes to make little or nothing cover the case, woman furnished the brains and the skill.

    “For years after Iowa was settled, the ague was as plenty as settlers. We had to make about as much arrangement for the ague as for the winter. The wife and mother usually stood the hard row. We have seen a mother shaking with the ague, holding a baby in her arms shaking and another at her knee shaking, all of them at the rate of two miles a minute. The ague could be relieved or broken, but never cured. It came and went at its own pleasure, quinine, Sappington pills and all to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Her Duties Multiplied.

    “At first, milling facilities were scarce. Grain was plenty but there were few mills. The husband had to go to mill—it was winter time. He would get wood and prepare for an absence of two days, leaving the wife to care for the stock—no neighbors within half a mile—food for two days and the neighbors all short.

    “When the man gets to mill, he finds the water low, the mill thronged with grists, enough for four days at least. If he leaves, he loses his turn. No bread at home, but he must stay and let the wife work out her own salvation.

    “The best of it is she makes the riffle without a kink in her face. The man would arrive home Saturday night and find things all right. In his opinion, when the pioneer women of Iowa were got up, one of the best jobs was done that ever left the hands of boss workman.”

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Among The First To Arrive

Photos of Alfred Nye, Mrs.Azura Nye, Mrs. Laura Peterson & Mrs. Alfred Nye

Taking rank among the very earliest of the pioneer women settlers of Muscatine county and the town of Bloomington are the members of the Nye family.

And pioneer among these pioneers was Mrs. Azuba Nye. She came to Pine Creek on March 15, 1834 with her husband, Benjamin Nye, credited by many as the first white settler in this area. She was born in Vermont in 1799 and died on March 4, 1879. Mr. Nye, also born in Vermont, in the year, 1796, was killed March 3, 1852.

A cousin of Benjamin Nye was Alfred Nye, born in Washington county, Vermont in the year 1811. He came here in 1837 and lived until Jan. 8, 1886, death occurring at Iowa City.

Mrs. Alfred Nye, the former Sarah Silverthorne, was born in Northampton county, Pennsylvania in 1822, the daughter of Oliver and Margaret Silverthorne. Her death was recorded as of Sept. 28, 1901.

Mrs. Laural L. Patterson, a daughter of Benjamin and Azuba Nye, was born in Wayne county, Ohio on Jan. 22, 1834, coming here in 1834. She lived to the age of 85 years.

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Women Who Were In Community’s Early Settlers

Photo of Mrs. Asenath Pettibone
Mrs. Asenath Pettibone came to Bloomington in 1839 with her brother, I. C. Day. She was married to Giles Pettibone in 1841. He came here in 1836 and left in 1889, his death occurring in the south. She was born in Essex, Vt., in 1814 and died March 23, 1879.

Photo of Mrs. Red S. Phelps
Mrs. Fred S. Phelps, born in Natchez, Miss., was the former Mary Paul. She came here in 1842, living until September, 1900.

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