Source: REGISTER OF OLD SETTLERS , BOOK One, page 176 & 179
submitted by Neal Carter, Aug. 14, 2007

Sept. 9th 1885

A River Excursion – Picnic Dinner –
Speeches, &c.

The annual reunion of the Old Settlers’ society of Muscatine county took place yesterday. Although nearly two weeks earlier than last year, the weather was quite unpropitions, being cloudy, cool and rainy. Notwithstanding this discouragement, however, the attendance was good and all participants seemed to have a pleasant time.

The steamer John M. Abbott and barge carried the party to Buffalo, 20 miles up the river, where they were received at the hospitable mansion of Capt. W. L. Clark. Previous to arriving there, however, a dinner had been spread on the barge and all were bountifully supplied. Two stops were made, one at Fairport and the other at Montpelier.

At Buffalo a number of the old settlers of that place and vicinity had assembled to meet the Muscatine party. The exercises of the day were inaugurated by President Walton asking Dr. Robbins to offer prayer. Mrs. Walton then made an address, substantially as follows:

All civilized countries have had their historic and noted families. In England and on the continent, the aristocracy are the only identified relics of the feudal times. In New England the Puritan holds his prominence. In New York the old Amsterdam families, including a host of the “Vans” preserve their traditional superiority. In Pennsylvania, the Quaker stock of the noted William Penn stand at the head, while Virginia still clings in a somewhat obsolete manner to her “first families.”

In the western states, and in Iowa, the old settler takes the precedence. The question is frequently asked, Where did John Smith come from? The answer is, “Why, he is an old settler.” That is a sufficient voucher for his identity if not for his character.

When this society was organized it was expected it would be continued by the descendents of the then old settlers, which, if carried out, will preserve the identity and the history of the pioneer settler for ages to come. I think time is near at hand in this state, that the old settler, or his descendents, will have the respect shown them that is shown to noted families in other communities.

Our sister county, Scott, whose territory we have to-day invaded, has pursued a different course in its old settlers’ organization. They have been extremely exclusive. They wish all the honor to rest with them, leaving their identity to be absorbed by a foreign interest. Their membership is composed of themselves; no descendent is admitted. Permit me to rend an extract from a letter received from their secretary, in answer to an invitation to join us here today:

"Our society is peculiarly an Old Settlers’ Association.
By its constitution, its members are composed of those who came prior to December, 1840. So, per consiquence, an infant coming then, must be now 45 years old, and the men and women of the then are now three score and ten. The writer is the youngest, and I was quite a chunk of a boy when I came here in 1836. So I, the baby of the society, am crowding sixty. In view of these facts, and owing to the age, after much conversing, it is the opinion that as a society we had better not accept your kind invitation. Some of our members will undoubtedly be present".

It is possible that they may review their organization and take some steps to make it perpetual, as Desmoines county did in 1881. Louisa, Johnson, and Cedar counties have similar organizations to our own. There have been, and are now, several local ones, such as Blue Grass and Wapsinonoc, which are represented here to-day.

In selecting Buffalo for our reunion, while it is out of our county, we come on the generous invitation of the pioneer Captain of Iowa, W. L. Clark, on whose premises we now stand. Captain Benj. W. Clark, father of our host, ran the only ferry boat between Burlington and Dubuque (so the history reads). There are many incidents connected with this ferry (which our present captain could relate) of great interest to Muscatine county.

At this Clark’s ferry, as it was called, nearly all the first settlers crossed that located in the central part of Black Hawk’s purchase (now Iowa), that is if they came by land. Prior to 1840 this ferry was well known in Muscatine, Scott, Linn, Cedar, and Johnson counties, it being almost the only reliable place for crossing the river.

In selecting such a historic place, we may call to the minds of our children some of the hardships and privations the early settler had to endure in the first quarter of a century of Iowa’s existence, and by the help of these reunions we will keep many of their old reminiscences by tradition, if not by written history, from becoming extinct.

Hon. Theodore S. Parvin, an early settler of Muscatine, but for twenty-five years past a resident of Iowa City, was then introduced and made a highly entertaining and interesting address of about half an hour. He said the term “old settler” was to him a new term of endearment, like mother and home. He had come from the State Fair for the sole purpose of greeting his old friends and neighbors on this occasion. He had cast his first vote at the first election held in Iowa and had witnessed with pride its growth into “a great agricultural State,” as President Cleveland had called it. But the crowning glory of Iowa is not its corn, its cattle or its other agricultural products, but its churches, its schools and colleges, which make men good and great. Mr. Parvin related a number of amusing incidents of pioneer life which were listened to with much interest. When he concluded, the band appropriately played “Old Lang Syne.”

Capt. Clark was then called out, and after modestly apologizing for himself because being unaccustomed to speaking, read the following interesting paper:

I regret that the uncertain weather of the past few days has kept us undecided what to provide for your comfort. But, my friends from abroad, if you see fit, to favor us with another visit, the Old Settlers of Blue Grass and Buffalo townships will make it as pleasant as possible for you. As the old settlers of this county were invited to join you here to-day, you will readily see that they as an organization ought to have accepted or declined, so that our community could have felt free to have taken the matter in hand.

My friends, this occasion gives me great pleasure to be able to look into the faces of so many of the pioneers of this grand country of ours, men and women who dared to bear the toils and hardships of the settlement of a new country, to procure homes for themselves and their young and growing families, where their energies could have full and free scope to expand, and how nobly they have succeeded.

But, my friends, how soon this feeling of gladness is shrouded by the dark veil of the past, in most deep and heartfelt sorrow, for in spite of all efforts, the thought forces itself upon us of the dear father, mothers, brothers, sisters, and many, many departed friends that have gone never to return – their loving faces never to be seen again on earth. O, is it not a sad thought! Many of us lost father and mother while yet young and most needed their tender care and advice.

A few evenings since, I was writing an invitation to our absent old settler friend, Capt. Morehouse, and his good wife, to be with us to-day. The thought came to me, how many of the original claimants of the land along the river between Muscatine and Princeton could I count. Please give it a thought, my friends, only two, my brother Perry and myself – he thirteen, I eleven years old. O, what a terrible thinning of our ranks! What a change!

We are now assembled on the soil that I claimed, (or rather my father for me,) and my brother owned the claim where the Dodge residence now is, one mile up the river – his being known as “Perry’s claim,” and mine as “Lewis claim, ” until the land was entered in the year 1840. My father owned the “claims” between ours. We built the “claim cabins” during the summer of 1833, but did not come across the river, to occupy them until December of that year—this being the first actual settlement between Flint Hills (Burlington) and Dubuque.

Our neighbors were Indians by the hundreds, and good neighbors they were—our family having lived with Blackhawk, Keokuk and their tribes in Rock Island for some years. The young Indian boys were my playmates. Many, many times did we run foot races, shoot with the bow and arrow, play ball, and paddle canoes, fish and swim with them. Blackhawk and Keokuk visited our houses often—Blackhawk more frequently than Keokuk. Many times have I been in their houses. When I say houses, thought would be “wickiup,” but no! I mean houses, as they had quite large houses, made by putting of posts into the ground and covering them with bark taken from the elm trees on Big Island, rendering them quite comfortable for the summer.

Here was established Clark’s Ferry, the most noted above St. Louis, being the gateway available to most of the original claimants of Scott, Muscatine, Cedar and Linn counties, crossing the grand and mighty river into the Blackhawk Purchase, which extended from the mouth of the Desmoines river up the Mississippi to the mouth of the Little Iowa and 40 miles in width, forming one of the grandest portions of America.

My friends, in behalf of the old settlers of Blue Grass and Buffalo townships, I bid you welcome, and be assured that my family and myself feel complimented by your presence here to-day. But we are not vain enough to suppose it was in honor of us as individuals, entirely, but because it was the place where the first actual settler put foot on Iowa soil between Burlington and Dubuque. Here it was, the first products of the soil were planted, the first prairie broken, the first orchard put out, the first coal mined in Iowa, the first white child born, the first town laid out, the first brick yard, the first stock of goods. Here stood the blacksmith shop where were manufactured the mill irons for the Whitlesey mill and Green’s mill, the first two mills built in Cedar county.

This ground was well covered with grand old white oaks, towering upward, sixty and seventy-five feet, and not one of these young trees stood here during my boyhood days, but like the younger generation, what they lack in quality they more than make good in numbers.

***continued on page 179***

My friends, for fear of becoming tedious, I will close by saying that these reunions are good for us all. They take us back to are younger days, causing us to forget for the moment our tottering steps and failing intellects. Many of us attended the semi-Centennial at Burlington. I sat on the platform when there were hundreds of early settlers and nearly all much older than myself. Then it was that I saw for the last time my lifelong friend, Augustus C. Dodge, one of the purest and best men the great God ever created. But, alas! Old settler friends, the few of us left are following in the footsteps of the departed. In a few more years the early settlers of are counties, represented here to-day, will be known only as of the past.

Asa Gregg, of West Liberty, was called out. He said it gave him particular pleasure to attend this reunion at this place, for it was here that he first saw Iowa, 48 years ago last Spring, having crossed the river at this point in emigrating to his present home. He said there was no settlement then between Blue Grass and Moscow, and only a few houses at the latter place; between there and West Liberty was a wilderness, while West Liberty itself was the verge of civilization. He spoke of seeing many Indians throughout the country at that time.

Hon. T. S. Parvin then read the following letter from Capt. Morehouse:

Springfield, Mo., Sept. 3, 1885

Capt. Wm. L. Clark – My old friend: Your favor of the 30th ult. is received and I thank you for your kind invitation to meet you at the Old Settlers’ gathering. It would give me much pleasure, but I will not be able to do so at that time. You have our best wishes, and I hope you will have a joyous meeting; but many Old Settlers have been called away by death. Yes, but a few are left and probably I may never be able to meet with you again at your annual meeting, but may be up later. My health is very good at this time. Mrs. M.’s health is not good. * * * I am your old friend, L. MOREHOUSE.

Stephen Nye, for 20 years a resident of Muscatine county, but since 1852 of Mt. Sterling, Ill., was introduced as one of the first settlers. He said he landed on the Iowa shore at Buffalo, in a small flat-boat in 1834, in company with his brother, Benjamin Nye, and during their first night stayed with Capt. Benj. Clark, father of Capt. W. L. Clark. They then went to the mouth of Pine, his brother being in search of a mill-sight, which he found there. They explored the country as far south as Wyoming Hill and then returned. That summer, which was very hot, they put up hay and made other preparations for winter. No immigrants came into the country that year – none till next year. In October, 1884 (SIC 1834), Benj. Nye brought his family out from Ohio. There was no corn or vegetables in the country; a supply of corn and potatoes was obtained by going to Oquawna for it with teams; on the return they killed many prairie chickens, which were plenty then, and one deer. In 1834 he went three times to Rock Island for his mail; each letter cost 25 cents. He extolled the generosity of the old settlers and expressed great pleasure in once more meeting many of his old friends and neighbors. Mr. Nye is 72 years old but looks 20 years younger.

Joseph Bridgman was next called on and related a number of pleasing reminiscences of early times, both in Iowa and in his old home in the east. He spoke of the rocking chair, being unknown to the early settlers, and asked Mother Leffingwell whether it was not true that instead of it the common chair was “jolted back and forth,” to which she assented with an emphatic nod of the head. Mr. B. expressed the opinion that his mother was the inventor of the rocking chair about 80 years ago.

Rev. Enoch Mead, a pioneer preacher of Scott county, who settled there in 1837, related some of his experiences in aiding to lay the foundations of western civilization. He said he often rode 20 miles over the prairies without seeing a habitation and it was supposed then that the prairies could not be inhabited.

Rev. Dr. Robbins being called out made a short and pleasing speech, giving incidents of his coming to Iowa in 1843 which impressed him with the fact that there was plenty to eat in this country. In a hotel at Burlington he saw three bushels of boiled eggs on the table; when he came to Bloomington in November, 1843, a farmer with whom he stopped over night not only would not permit him (R.) to take care of his own horse, but hitched the animal to a crib containing 150 bushels of corn to which the horse had free range all night. He said the old settlers were a generous set of people; he came among them to preach temperance, which many of them failed to practice, and while he preached against them, they listened and many of them showed their appreciation by giving him pecuniary help if in no other way; had the old settlers not been generous and large-hearted he never could have preached 42 years among them.

Hon. John A. Parvin was next called upon and made one of the best off-hand speeches of the occasion. Referring to a remark of one of the previous speakers that 15 persons had slept one night in an early settler’s cabin, he declared that at a hotel in Iowa City 62 men and one woman had slept in one bed! He immediately added that this would need some explanation; it was that the landlord had made a long shed where he had spread prairie hay for a bed and that the landlord and his wife and 61 of the boarders had slept on it. Mr. Parvin spoke of other incidents of early times and closed by saying that he had attended every annual meeting of the Old Settlers’ Society since it had been organized, and had found them all interesting and profitable.

Suel Foster was called for, and though the boat had begun whistling for the return trip, he interested the audience for several minutes with an account of a treaty held with 500 Indians, under Keokuk, at Rock Island, which he attended, and where Gov. Henry Dodge was the principal on the part of our Government, and J. W. Grimes, subsequently Governor of Iowa, was one of the clerks. He also spoke of a romantic marriage on the ice in the river opposite Rock Island in which Miss Wilson, sister of Mrs. Henderson, one of the pary at this reunion, was the bride.

It being announced that the election of officers was in order, on motion of Jos. Bridgman, in spite of a protest from President Walton, the old officers were re-elected, viz:

President – J. P. Walton
Vice-President – J. A. Parvin
Secretary – Peter Jackson
Treasurer – Mrs. P. Jackson

The following is the list of excursionists on the boat, as near as our reporter could ascertain them:

R S Amlong S C Dunn Nicholas Lang
J C Abbott and wife Mrs C A Eggart Daniel Lake
Mrs Alexander (colored) John A Evans and wife John Lewis and wife
Charles Barnes and wife B H Eversmeyer Mrs C E Lewis
Joseph Bridgman Levi Eichelberger and wife John Mahin and wife
Mrs W F Brannan and daughters Suel Foster and wife Mrs I R Mauck
John Barnerd and wife A Funk Ben Mathews (colored)
Jesse Brogan and wife Ephraim Fenstermaker Mrs P Musser and son Drew
Henry Blanchard, wife and daughter Wm Fletcher Mrs Eva Metz
Geo Baxter and wife Asa Gregg S McNutt
Mrs H A Barrows Isaac Gatton and wife Ira Nichols
Will Bishop William B Gregg and wife Miss Ruanna Neidig
Mrs Wm Calder C D Gibson C B Ogilvie
S T Chesebro Frank Geiger J A Parvin and wife
Mrs J Carskaddan and daughter J B Heneker Geo Parks
Mrs Harriett Cook (colored) Dr. Hawthorne Theodore S Parvin
Mrs J Carr (colored) Mrs J E Hoopes S Phillips, wife and child
Mrs Buelah Collier Daniel Henderson and wife John Rowan and wife
Chas Chaplin Mrs Thos Hanna Miss Mollie Reynolds
Wm L Davidson Mrs H A Hollister Thos W Rodgers and wife
Ewing Downer Dr Mary Hollister J D Romaine and wife
John M Dunn John H Headley Dr A B Robbins
Mrs Rebecca Dunn and Miss Emma Dunn Wm G Holmes and wife Mrs Eva Ruckdeschel
J A Deemer and and wife W H Hazelett, wife and son E T S Schenck
Mrs M A Dewitt and daughter W A Hunter and wife Isaac Sager
Eli Drury A T John and wife A Smalley, wife and daughter
M F Drury Mrs Lizzie Jackson (colored) Miss Jennie Sinnett
Ross Drury and wife Miss Mattie Jackson Samuel Sinnett, jr.
Ed Denton and wife Dr. D P Johnson W H Shipman and wife
Dr DeLap John Keuchman Shep Smalley and wife
Isaiah Davis Miss Ida Karnes  
Mrs Jos Dunham Cyrus Kelley  

***continued on page 175, third column***

Moses Shellhammer Mrs Tewksbury C A Wright
Mrs Amos Schott Josiah P Walton and wife Mrs Rebecca Woods
W W Smith and wife Mrs Jane Watkins (colored) H M Wallace and wife
Miss Lizzie St. Clair Miss Sophia Wilson Josep Wilhelm
Mrs Wm Shields Miss Ada Wilson A M Winn
Mrs Helen M Smith George Wooley and daughter Mrs Melissa Young and children

It will be seen that West Liberty and the western part of the county was well represented – much better in p…..tion than the city or other parts of the county. The West Liberty band contributed much to the enjoyment of the occasion by its excellent music. The following are the names of the members of the band: E. H. M. Hounslow, manager; W. H. Shipman, leader; Frank Sheets, R. S. Phillips, W. G. Nichols, Benj. Gatton, John Ross, J. H. Clark, R. S. Clark, J. H. Rogers, A. J. Westland, Charles Silsby, Hobart Sheets, Thos. Campbell and W. S. Hoge.

The reunion, on the whole, was one of the most successful ever held by the society. The speeches were of a higher and better order and the make-up of the party was unexceptionable. Among the novel features of the occasion was a barbecued pig contributed by John Barnard, which, however, happened to be roasted too much to admit of being garnished and decorated as he had intended.

The officers of the boat made everything as comfortable and as pleasant as possible under the circumstances, for which they are deserving of much praise. The boat was about four hours in making the run to Buffalo and 2½ hours returning, reaching the wharf at the seasonable hour of 5:30 p. m.

The only mishap we noticed was the spilling of a cup of coffee on the portly person of Clark Abbott. As usual with man since the days of Adam, a woman was to blame for it, but Clark bore it gallantly and good naturedly.

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