MUSCATINE COUNTY IOWA|
Source: REGISTER OF OLD SETTLERS , BOOK One, page 287, 288, 293, 294 & 297
submitted by Neal Carter, Aug. 29, 2007
PIONEERS AT A PICNIC
Sep 30, 1890
The Old Settlers of Muscatine County
Speeches and Proceedings at the Reunion in Wilton
The JOURNAL of yesterday gave an outline of the doings of the Old Settlers picnic in Wilton up to about 3 o’clock but we propose now to give a fuller account.
After the opening prayer by Hon. R. M. Burnett, the brass band gave with impressive effect the tune “Nearer, my God, to Thee.”
President Walton said it was expected he would have something to say, and what he would say would be old if not new. He then read a prepared paper on reminiscences of pioneer amusements, as follows:
We have met here to-day to talk about the early settlements. The trials and disadvantages are more often spoken about than other matters. Our pleasures and amusements should not be forgotten.
The first amusement we took part in was the shooting match with a rifle. It was long before we was trusted to go hunting alone, it being the first day after landing in Iowa. Prior to 1840, I think, the shooting match was the most conspicuous sport. There was little or no gambling on these occasions. The neighboring men and boys would get together to determine who was the best shot. Frequently, a beef was killed and divided into 5 shares, the hide and tallow making the 5th choice, and put up to be shot for. Later, turkeys were substituted. The guns used were long, small-bored rifles, with a caliber of from 60 to 100 balls to the pound; the gun barels were from 4 to 5 feet long; the guns weighted from 15 to 20 pounds. The shooting was generally from 30 to 60 yards.
Hunting and fishing were both sport and business to the early settlers, especially if he lived near the river. The country boy had no higher ambition than going hunting, especially if he had never had the buck fever, a nervous disease that all the boys were said to have at the time the 1st deer was shot at.
The horse race made its appearance about 1841. The first regular race course was constructed in the bottom, …. three miles above Muscatine. It was a double track; each track was made by dragging a log along and waiving of the grass, say two feet wide. These tracks were about 12 or 15 feet apart and 600 yards long. In the fall of 1842 a circular mile track was made on Muscatine Island. It was used but one season. All races were running races. Trotting had not yet come in vogue. The races almost always occurred on Saturday and generally some small amounts were bet. As we had but little money, pocket knives frequently changed hands.
I think in those early days the Sundays were quite as well, if not better, respected than they are at this time. The better class of people generally went to meeting or went visiting. The meetings in the country were generally held at some house in the shade of a tree if one was convenient. If held in the forenoon, the host was expected to prepare a dinner for all who would stay. No unusual pains were taken as to quality, but the quantity was considerably enlarged.
We recollect attending many a meeting at the Gilberts, the Burdetts and others of the neighbors, and can vouch for the dinner or supper that followed. I think that fishing was more popular for Sunday sport than hunting, by those that did not attend meetings.
On Sunday the young man went to see “his best girl.” He would generally get there some time before noon, get his dinner, and spend the afternoon in visiting. After supper he would go out and help the girl milk – that is to say, turn the calf in and out, and stand by and see the girl do the milking – help her strain the milk and put it away, and if he was not “cutout” would “sit up with her,” frequently until morning. If the girl lived 15 or 20 miles away (which was not considered much of a distance to “go a sparking) it frequently took two days to make the trip. Pardon me, boys, for being so minute; you don’t know what pleasant times we had going to see the girls. When we consider the fact that three were fully four unmarried men to one unmarried woman, we can readily understand what visiting Sunday afternoon meant. Very frequently three or four would meet at once, and no one was willing to leave before the others, hence questions were frequently “popped” in a very stealthy manner. But it had to be done, and it was done. Many of the older ladies around here can vouch for that.
We will change the subject a little. Saturday was a kind of a holiday; most everyone went to town; the women to the store and the men to the grocery, an institution very similar to the saloon of these times. However, no lager beer was there. Whisky was the common drink. Frequently Saturday meetings ended with a fight, for which, if not fatal, arrests were not made.
Previous to 1840 the town and country people met on one common level. After that time society began to crystallize into different classes. The country boy had his dance on the puncheon floor; the town folks were better off in that line, which soon made considerable difference. The country dances were somewhat spontaneous. Some one would ask permission to have a dance held at a convenient house, word would be circulated that a dance was to be held on such a night, any one hearing of it was welcome to go, and if the boy could get a girl to go with him he was in luck; if not, he got some other boy. These dances were frequently imposed upon by the town boy, who, if he could hear of a country dance, took great delight in going out and “cutting out” the country boy, a thing he almost always did; he being better clad and generally the best dancer, made him the most popular.
The dances in the country were generally the “Virginia Reel,” “French Four,” “Money Musk,” and dances of that character. The quadrille was rarely ventured upon for the want of room.
Pardon me for being a little personal. Living in the country, and seeing the disadvantages we were laboring under, we set about to improve ourselves and better our condition. Having but little money we availed ourselves of the currency of the day, “trade,” by exchanging a lot of muskrat skins to Chester Weed for broadcloth enough to make a coat. Then we traded a cow to Mr. Bartholomew for a pair of pants. The coat was made by Andrew J. Fimple; it was one of the claw-hammer-pattern, with long wide fully padded tails. The pants were what they called spring-bottomed, with straps under the boots to hold the pants down straight. These with a double-breasted black satin vest and standing collar that reached up to the ears, tied around with a black silk neck handkerchief, completed our make-up. It was quite fashionable. We then took dancing lessons of Col. A. M. Hare, the school was in the room now occupied by R. T. Wallace as a lime office. This dancing school soon became the principal society amusement of the season. It was quite informal. The ladies frequently came in parties, without an escort; sometimes a man would bring his wife, then go and attend to other business and come later. I think there were generally three gentlemen to two ladies and that there were three married ladies to one unmarried.
For the benefit of the younger people that may be present, we will describe a country dance that we attended in one of those winters early in the 40’s, at the house of a well-to-do farmer. We arrived just before dark and put up our horses. The fiddler soon came and the dance began. It was continued without interruption until about 11 o’clock p. m., when supper was announced. An hour or so was occupied with that, and after attending to the business of passing the hat to pay the fiddler, the dance began again and continued until about 4 in the morning. The rest of the time until daylight was spent in talking and sleeping on the benches. But few went home before daylight. At this dance, like all others of the times, there were two men to every lady. It was no uncommon thing to see six gentlemen and two ladies in the same set.
I think that between 1845 and 1850 the country dance lost its prestige. Parties with marching games became frequent. Many present will likely recollect such games as “Prince William” and “We are marching on toward Quebec.”
I have stated that about 1840 that country and town society separated in a manner. The dance in the town had its ups and downs. The polka and round dances were not known or at least they were not in use before about 1855, the quadrille being the fashionable dance.
While it was customary for any one to attend the dance in the country it was not so in the town. There tickets of invitation were issued. I have several of them in my possession, some of which we will read. The first one is headed “Cotillion party” and read “The pleasure of your company is requested at a cotillion party to be given at the Iowa House, on Tuesday evening, Nov. 8th.” The managers were Daniel Ball, the leading saloon keeper of the town, George Reeder, the principal doctor, J. B. Dougherty, the druggist, and George Humphreys, J. W. Richman and B. P. Howland, all three merchants. Dated Bloomington, Nov. 5, 1842.
Notice that it took only three days to get up a first-class party with printed invitations. I have another, dated Feb. 14th, 1844, which reads: “The pleasure of your company is respectfully solicited at a cotillion party, to be given at the American Hotel, on Monday evening, the 19th, at 6 o’clock p. m.,” with T. M. Isett, John Lemp, E. H. Robbins, H. H. Hine, Denton J. Snyder as managers. It seems to have taken 5 days to mature this party, but 6 o’clock would be considered quite early at this time.
I have another, dated Oct. 21st, 1844, that reads: “Assembly. The pleasure of your company is respectfully solicited at the Assembly Room adjoining the Iowa House, on Tuesday evening, 22nd inst., at 6 o’clock, p. m.” Managers, John Rainford, John Lemp, W. H. Blaydes, William P. Israel. The Assembly Room was the room now occupied by R. T. Wallace as an office. You will notice that a single day was sufficient to get out the invitation and have a party.
I have another of a decade later, that was gotten up in a modern style, and reads as follows: “First Annual Ball of Unger’s Brass Band, at Major Hare’s Hall, on Monday evening, Jan. 1st, 1855. Mr. -----. The pleasure of your company is respectfully solicited. Honorary members, Col. T. M. Isett, Charles Stone, Chester Weed, S. F. Kimball. Managers, Geo. D. Magoon, Dr. S. Schock, R. T. Hood, Henry Smalley. Floor Managers, George D. Satterlee, James G. Beggs, G. R. White, John Schock. Carriages will be in attendance at half-past six o’clock.” You will see by this that in a single decade, society in our town had considerably advanced. The name of “Ball” was attached to the heading and carriages were brought into use, a luxury that the earlier settlers did not indulge in. But the time of half-past six for carriages would now be considered old fashioned.
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Card playing was mostly confined to the drinking houses and gambling dens. The steamboats had a class of men traveling on them that were called blacklegs; they were card players for money.
There were many other amusements we could talk about, such as wrestling, foot-racing and jumping, which will have to be left for another time.
Dr. A. B. Robbins was introduced at 1:30, and said he would speak on a somewhat different line, and referred to the saddening effect of the passing away of some of our number. He said:
These meetings of old settlers of Muscatine county were intended to be seasons of social enjoyment – of thankfulness and becoming mirth – but they are often chastened by the passing away, during each year, of some of their numbers. And as the remnant of the old band grows smaller and smaller we may well and naturally get above the old song,
“Be gone, dull care,
I prithee, be gone from me!
You and I can never,
Can never, agree.”
And substitute the lines of the hymn “Thus far the Lord hath led me on,” or at least the line “Bless, Oh my soul, the living God,” or “Oh, praise the Lord, for he is good,”
We are not to forget that every year finds some hearts among us heavier that they were a year ago. One of the old preachers coming among you in 1843, a young man of 26 years of age, has often occasion from sympathy with other families, if not from fresh sorrow in his own home to come to these gatherings with a subdued rather than with a jubilant spirit. Some one else can mention reverently the names of all who have gone through the gates to death since we last came together. On my own heart there remain still some of the sobering and admonitory thoughts coming from the recent death of one of the noblest of our members. I refer to John M. Shellabarger, of ‘76 township. Being requested by the husband of one of his daughters to call upon her father, as he was failing in health, I did so, on the first day of the August, just closed. To my surprise and grief I found him on that fair morning so near the end of life here that he was unable to speak to anyone, and I could only ask with his grieving family gathered about his bed that the gracious Lord, into Whose service he had openly entered nearly or quite 40 years ago, would, with the rod and staff of the great Shepherd comfort and guide him through “the valley and shadow of death.” He left behind him a record which is a great honor to us old settlers, and to Muscatine county, and to his own township (well called, hence, if not before, the old ’76). Among other good things in that record was this – that “he was an uncompromising foe to the devil and all his works,” and that this stern resistance to evil was accompanied by a warm and loving heart, was evidenced by the earnest fidelity and attention and affection with which nearly all his seven children, daughters and sons-in-law and only son, with other relatives gathered about the homestead of 38 years standing, and united in cheering the widowed mother, who for all these years and more had been the loving wife, and still continues the beloved mother.
And, again, only the last week, in the county adjoining our own, I was called with three other ministers, all old settlers of Iowa, and all over 70 years of age, to attend the funeral of a venerable father in the ministry, nearly 82 years old, who, first saw this State in the year 1833, when it was called the Blackhawk Purchase, in the eastern part.
Since that time, in his duty as a missionary superintendent, he has traveled over this whole State, has known very many families, has forded innumerable sloughs and rivers, where there were very few bridges and scarcely any taverns, with a wonderful power of observation and memory, he knew nearly every fine prairie and rich location in the State, and there passed away with him a marvelous amount of knowledge of the history of our fair State. He had traveled largely in other parts of our country, Colorado, California, and Oregon, the Yellowstone country, Florida, and other Southern States, and over large portions of Europe, but retained a high estimation of his home and State. He gave something like $7,500 towards an endowment of one of our academies, and had he not been unexpectedly called away would have given some at least to the academy at Wilton. He had in his heart to do largely toward the endowment of many such schools in our Sate. It is hoped that, to the honor of the old settlers of this county, there will be generous remembrance in cash and legacies of this institution, which is to be not a rival but a supplement to the other institutions for education among us. There are many who desire an education who can give only a few months to such work in the year, and therefore cannot well attend our graded schools, but who, by taking more years, can, at last, prepare themselves for entering higher institutions and pay their way with funds acquired meanwhile by the labor of their hands. The generous brother to whom I refer is the Rev. Julius A. Reed, D. D., of Davenport, and the academy to which I he gave so generously, considering the limit of his means, was the academy at Denmark, in Lee county.
Not a few of the old settlers of Muscatine county can immortalize their names and ennoble the county by doing likewise. It will cause them to be remembered and to continue their influence for good when there names have been erased from their old homesteads. What has become of the old Chambers farm and the old Banks farm, and the Warfield farm on the Cedar, where, in early times, quails and the breasts of prairie chickens cooked in cream and the roasts of wild turkeys, and wild plums and apples and gooseberries, &c., in sauce and coffee, such as has banished from most of our homes, used to welcome the guests. I used to tell the story of the astonishment of the young Yankee (who came from a country where eggs were carefully used as a great luxury) when on coming down stairs for his first breakfast in Iowa, he saw on the long tables of the hotel what his estimate made to be no less than five bushels of eggs piled up on the table. But of all the dinners in Iowa, demanding my asking a blessing, no one has more impressed me than the one I saw and shared in a log cabin with one room and a lean-to at a prairie farm not many miles from where we meet to-day, upon which there seemed a wonderful amount and as many varieties as you could purchase in the Fannell Hall market in Boston.
And this reminds me that having been born in the old town in Massachusetts, Salem (a city distinguished in the annals of the Revolution as having “offered the first armed resistance to the illegal and tyrannical demands of the British authorities, on the 26th of February, 1776,) it becomes me to remind you that we should never forget the soldiers from Muscatine County whenever we have an annual meeting. I passed by about 500 graves of Union soldiers on the island of Rock Island last Saturday, and surely we old settlers ought not to fail, always, (even though we have an annual decoration day,) to make mention of the fact that Muscatine County sent at least 2,000 men, companies of them in the 1st, 11th, 18th, 2d cavalry and other regiments, and that we had in one regiment (the 35th) eight companies, and that out of this very town which gives us such a royal welcome to-day there were from 12 to 20 in that one regiment, and we are to remember that the women of county were, in proportion to their means, more generous, more indefatiguable, more persistent in their loyalty and in their efforts to render the various kind of help needed during the civil war.
I remember the field of potatoes and onions which they cared for and dug in this county, and which went down, I think to Vicksburg, labelled with the Bible verse upon each tag, “the earth helped the women,” We are thankful to say there were not a few in that 35th regiment who knew the Bible well enough to comprehend the significance of that verse.
I think in every meeting of the old settlers we should bear in mind, and should teach our children to bear in mind, what these, our fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters, did for us. They gave their choicest treasurers and many lives for us. Let us not forget them. I saw one of them the other day the fountains of whose tears had actually dried up from what she had gone through – one from whose home the star spangled banner never fails to be unfurled at every special occasion, a flag which will, I trust, be wanting henceforth at no school house in our county, but will be this year, upon which have entered, if it has not been before, gladly furnished in some way. [Here the speaker unfurled a flag, which action was cheered by his audience.] Out of our county came a great number of our sons and brothers who have made, some of them, many of them, at the sacrifice of their health and of their lives this flag dearer than ever before a thousand times. We have among us those, one of whom I often meet with respect and gratitude, who spent many a weary day and night and month at Andersonville, the vivid story of which is so well illustrated and told in the July and August Century Magazine, in which we are told that 40,000 men, the most of them as noble and fair as your sons or mine, suffered in a way that all things considered relieves comparatively the disgrace and brutality of the Russian prisons.
Let us in each meeting of the Old Settlers of this county not fail to call to mind that some from our county and our families are of those who in the words of General Howard (now the commander of the largest and most important of the eight military commands into which the War Department has just been divided, the brave soldier who lost his arm at the repulse of the rebels at Fair Oaks in June, 1862). He says of those thousands in Andersonville and Belle Isle that they might have escaped in a few moments the prison and slow starvation, and a most likely terrible death, by simply enlisting under another flag. But no! no! (he says):
“Write it often, write it high, As on a banner in the sky.”
They chose to suffer long, and to die wretchedly, that their country might not perish and that all men might be free, and so they remained true to the old flag. I count it an honor to be cherished and remembered to the latest generation that this year a stone from the government came to be placed over the grave of my eldest child, signifying that for awhile he was a member of an Iowa regiment.
There were some disadvantages in being old settlers. I recollect swimming the Cedar just over here in order to get a boat to bring my clothes and my companion, a western man, who did not know how to swim over the stream. I drove my horse and buggy over at least one quite long log bridge, each log of which sunk under my swift horse’s feet, who probably would have refused to go over at all if she had not been blind in one eye.
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I know I had to …….the Wapsipinicon devoutly kneeling on the saddle of my horse. I know that the oldest of the ministers present at the funeral last week at Davenport has a lame shoulder which he secured in fording an icy stream more than 40 years ago.
I know I had to ride 40 miles horseback to marry a couple and got a new saddle for my fee. But I shall earn the next one by only going a few blocks – and got a larger one the other day by crossing the street much easier than I did another by crossing the Mississippi through the ice and taking all day to get over, and wait, and get back. I know I had to haul water for my wife’s washing in a half barrel on a sled from Mad creek to where the U. B. church now stands.
I know that another of my brethren forded a stream, as he supposed, the opposite bank of which was so high that his horse got away from him, and started for the other side again, and he, in order not to lose him on the prairie, went into the stream and got hold of the tail of his horse and was carried over only to find that what he had crossed was not a stream but simply a bayou or a long pond.
The other day I found I was such an old settler that in a little gathering of colored people here in my own county I was not recognized by them as an old “dyed in the wool” abolitionist, but really treated with a chilling indifference. Perhaps this was owing to my having a white stovepipe hat which I was persuaded, contrary to my habit of 40 years or more, to put on during the hot weather.
Another disadvantage is that an old settler seems to hold on longer than he ought. The great Mr. Moody told me at Davenport two or three years since that he thought I had been dead for twenty years or more. What an old fogy I must be in his eyes!
Another disadvantage is being told, as I was the other day, that my second son was a better looking man than myself. He ought to be, any way.
Another disadvantage in being an old settler is that you will soon pass on, and the country will lose something --- i. e., provided you are really good for much of anything but to eat your rations. And even if you are not you will cease to be a warning, by your hang-down look and the mark of the habits which are our masters.
We may be a loss as fighters. I recollect a good deacon of my church who was an old settler who could not be handled physically by any man in the county, but we have no such men left in the church now. But the most of the fighting to be done in the world is moral and educational. If you are good fighters in that line and on the right side this county can poorly spare you.
No good and loyal old settler but wants to stay till he can see the law that would break the power of the liquor traffic thoroughly enforced – and the law that would secure the advantages of a good education to every child. No good old settler but wants to see the laboring man have his rights --- and the families of the poorest among us advancing in their comforts and power for good. The dawn of these good times is sure to come, and as sure as God lives, the mighty obstacles in the way, of which power are greater then the saloon and the grease that keeps them burning their lurid lamps by day and night, shall banish under the power of truth and the mighty Providence, and that God who says “Woe unto men that giveth his neighbor drink and maketh him drunk. Woe unto men that establish a city by iniquity.”
But among the advantages of being an old settler I count one the knowing what pioneer life is. No man can know this now --- for there is a railroad, a hydrant, a telegraph, an electric light, a post office and a mail two or three times a day, and a tramp at any time of day or night, making you shut your windows, lock your doors, and …..
No man but an old settler knows the luxury of getting a letter that cost the sender 25 cents postage.
Again, no one but an old settler can see the original forests in their prime, or have the privilege of planting the seed that brings a young forest to him and his children. I shall never forget my first sight of the noble forest of the big woods not far from Anamosa. I never knew before what handsome timber was. A single seed brought by me from Seekonk, in Rhode Island, and planted, I have seen grow to a mighty and beautiful acacia tree.
Old settlers have seen the time when men were strong enough to ride a good horse and did not come to town perched like a hen upon her roost in a go-cart. Old settlers have seen some cattle that were not mooleys laying the foundation for a degenerate race of stock with not fire enough in them to generate a calf much larger than a jack rabbit, as will most likely be the case after a few generations.
The new settlers, roaming around, will soon be turning the hides wrong side out because the hairs get into the milk.
Old settlers may thank their stars that they will rest in peace in some quiet grave before the new and latest Boston theory prevails that the resurrection will begin to take place very soon, and we shall hear people say they have just seen a man who died 5 years ago, and another who was hung or put to death by electricity, has come back to repeat his crimes over in the world, or when the new theories of the Russian writer, Tolstoi, prevails, that no man has any right to have any descendents.
On the whole, old settlers, while we may not be certain that old times were better than the present, when potatoes were 10 cents instead of $1.20 per bushel (and that depends much upon whether you have them to sell or have them to buy), yet it is still good to look back to the days when everybody knew everybody, and when there was a mutual and often expressed desire to give each other a lift.
May the coming year be a good one in the homes and hearts of all Old Settlers.
Mr. I Windus, who was introduced as “Boss” Windus, sang a song, the chief sentiment of which was “Man was born for a purpose that’s noble and good, and the maxim I hold is to cherish and love one another” --- a sentiment to which every heart fully responded.
W. S. Fultz, the farmer-soldier, was next introduced, who spoke particularly of the changes that had been wrought in the past forty years in the rural portions of this county, and particularly in that section in the neighborhood of Wilton, in which a large part of his boyhood was spent. He said:
In looking around over the crowd of persons assembled here I recognize but few who were the companions of my boyhood days. In looking over the poll list of 1850, which I have in my possession, I find but 9 of the 92 persons whose names are there recorded are themselves or some of their descendents still living within the original bounds of the township.
Among the many changes that have taken place in the past forty years none have been more varied or greater than the manner of harvesting grain. The cradle was about the only means of cutting grain forty years ago, and to cut a crop of ordinary size required the help of 8 or 10 hands, and the whisky jug was about as necessary an adjunct to the harvest field as was the grain cradle. No farmer would have thought it possible to cut a harvest where help was to be hired without the aid of whisky. The universal use of liquor in the harvest field has long since passed away; not on account of any legislative enactment against the sale of it as a beverage, but the result of a public sentiment that has arisen adverse to its use when a hard day’s work is to be done.
The cradle was soon superceded by the old-fashioned reaper. The first reapers that were made would not cut grass, and the first reaper that I ever saw at work had no seat for either the driver or raker. Four horses were necessary to pull it and the driver rode one of the horses, while the raker ran along side of the reaper to rake off the sheaves. This reaper was superceded by others having seats for both driver and raker, the raker’s seat being made by having a board set edgewise in such a manner that the raker sat on the edge of the board. There was no spring of any kind under the seat and in consequence the punishment to the man who raked the reaper was almost unbearable. This seat was placed as far as possible from the grain and it required a very long handled rake to reach the grain, which made the raking of the reaper very hard work and it always required the two stoutest men in the field to run the reaper, each taking turns at raking and driving. An improvement was soon made that gave the raker a seat as close to the grain as possible and made his work comparatively easy, and about the same time machines that would both mow and reap made their appearance. The first reapers that were made would cut a swath seven feet wide and were what the farmers denominated “horse-killers,” but at each improvement made the width was reduced until a width of from 4 to 4½ was used and a reaper then ran easier for two horses than the old-fashioned ones did for four horses.
The next improvement was a dropper, which left the grain in bundles in the swath behind the reaper, but which had to be removed before the reaper again came around. The next improvement was the automatic or self-raker, and then farmers thought that perfection was reached when they had a reaper that would not only cut both grass and grain, but would deliver the grain in gavels to one side of the swath, entirely out of the way of the horses at each succeeding round, and they predicted that it would be a long time before anything better in the way of a harvesting machine would be produced, but the Marsh harvester soon made its appearance, on which two men rode around the field and bound the grain as it was cut. The Marsh harvester in turn gave way to the twine-binder, which delivers the grain in gavels ready bound, and now when a farmer’s grain is ripe, all that he has to do is to hitch his horses up to his machine, mount the seat and drive ahead, the machine cutting the grain, gathering it up and binding it, and throwing it off in such a way that it is ready to be shocked up. And yet reaper manufactures tell us that something better than the present binder is soon to make its appearance.
The changes in the manner of making hay have been almost as great as in harvesting grain, but to enumerate all the changes that have taken place would be uninteresting. Suffice it to say that with the present improvements three men will put up as much hay in one day as 8 to 10 men would 40 years ago.
There has also been a great change in the manner of planting and working a crop of corn. Forty years ago when the farmer had his ground ready and properly marked out both ways with a single shovel plow and one horse, all hands would turn out to plant the corn. The small children, both boys and girls, were put to dropping the corn, while the older ones followed after and covered it with a hoe. There was no young lady in the community that thought herself too good to assist in planting corn. For to work the corn we had the old-fashioned single shovel plow, drawn by one horse. This, in a year or two, was replaced by the double shovel plow, which in turn was replaced by…
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…the cumbrous and very unsatisfactory riding cultivator, which in turn was left to rot in the fence corner, when the present style of walking cultivator came into vogue, and the improvement in them has left nothing more to be desired.
In the year 1850 there were but two school houses in Moscow township, a portion of what is now Wilton township being within the jurisdiction of Moscow township. Both of these school houses were log cabins. About the year 1851 a third one was built. This was the old brick at North Prairie, since torn away.
A description of the log cabins may not be out of place here. One of them was built in the road about a mile and a quarter west of where the town of Wilton now stands. It stood within 10 or 15 feet of the traveled track and was about 20 feet square and was seven feet high between the floor and ceiling. The floor was of puncheons, split from large trees, and laid on large round joists; the ceiling was of loose boards, laid on top of good-sized log joists. Writing desks were made by boring holes into the side of the house with a two-inch augur and driving stout, rough pins into the augur holes; on top of the pins there was placed wide slabs flat side up. The seats were made of slabs with wooden legs driven into augur holes. There were two windows in the house, one on the west and one on the north side. They were made by cutting out the space between two logs, making an opening 10 inches wide and about 10 feet long in which window lights were placed. At the east end of the house was a large chimney, built of sticks and mud. This chimney occupied about one-half of the entire end of the house and would take in a stick of wood about 5 or 6 feet long and 16 inches through. This chimney was the only means by which the house was warmed, and it was usually sufficient. The door was somewhat related to an old-fashioned barn door; was near the middle of the south side of the house, and was hung on wooden hinges and the leather latch string always hung out. The roof was made of slap boards held in place by logs laid along on top.
Such, in brief, is a description of school house No. 1, of Moscow township, as it appeared forty years ago, and the same description would answer for most of the country school houses of that time.
I might add that the ground now occupied by the town of Wilton was included in district No. 1. It was at such a school house that your humble servant finished his education and graduated with corresponding honors. (I mean the honors corresponded with the school house.)
School teachers at that time (always called “the school master”) usually got about $12 or $14 per month and boarded around; that is, he took turns of 8 or 4 days at a time boarding with patrons of the school and fuel was supplied by donation, each farmer hauling his proportion of wood as it was needed.
In the winter of 1850 and 1851 the school at No. 1 was taught by Mr. William L. Brower, who owned and lived on the farm just east of Wilton and north of the Stearn’s farm, now owned by Mr. Geisler. Mr. Brower received $16 without board per month of 26 days, school being taught on Saturday.
The old settlers were very sociable, much more so than is shown at the present day. During the winter season parties and gatherings were of common occurrence and it was surprising how large a number of people could gather into a neighbor’s log cabin and be made comfortable, pass a social evening together and have a glorious good time.
Forty years ………… on the roads and work on the farms was done with ox teams. A person traveling along the road was about as certain to meet an ox team as horse team. The ox as a work animal has entirely disappeared; the last ox team that I recollect seeing hitched to a wagon and driven along the public road was driven through Second street in Muscatine about 5 or 8 years ago by a woman, who was riding in the wagon at the time.
We are astonished when we contemplate the changes that have taken place in the course of forty years. How rapidly the sweeping tide of time rolls on. The morning of life has passed away like a dream and we look around in vain for the companions of our boyhood days. Where are the gay, the beautiful, the happy, with whom we once sported in the sprightliness of youth and buoyancy of enjoyment? They were here -- we knew them – we loved them – we rejoiced with them down time’s sunny stream with pleasures fragile bark. But where are they now? Alas! They have gone before us. The whirlwind of death drove them rapidly onward and they are sailing on eternity’s wide shoreless sea.
The scenes of our boyhood, too, pass away, and ere long not a vestige of them will be left as a token that they have existed. Time’s stupendous wheel is ever rolling on. Forty years more, and where we will we be? Our present friends, our present companions, will they still be here? No, the older ones of us will have all passed away, while the younger ones, many of them, will be scattered far away, strangers and in a strange land.
Tradition will undoubtedly preserve many of the sayings and doings of the Old Settlers. But the recollection of many, very many, of the scenes and trials through which they passed will pass away with them, unless some reliable means is devised by which to preserve them for future generations.
S. W. Stewart, the rustic sage of Wilton, being also on the programme, gave a characteristic address. He said he we would draw a contrast between then and now – between 1840 and 1890. The log cabin was the place of the pioneer and sheltered an imperial race. Prices of produce were low and of dry goods high; we had no manufactories – the money went to England and France to pay for goods. Mr. Stewart paid a high tribute to Horace Greeley and the influence of his Tribune in the early days. He proceeded:
The laws of a country represent its Christianity. If laws are well enforced in a community you can afford to take your family there; if they are not well enforced you had better go slow.
It seems to us that the great enemy of mankind has done his best work through slavery, intemperance and land monopoly. On those three lines his power for evil seems to be omnipitent. In this happy land slavery has got its death blow, but its blighting effects is still to be seen. The friends of humanity are dealing intemperance some heavy blows. Its power is already broken. Its rule will soon be a thing of the past in this goodly land where its presence has ever been an unmitigated curse. But land monopoly flourishes like a green bay tree. It holds the scepter and rides in its chariot; its power there is none to dispute. But the time will come when men will build houses and inhabit them and pay tribute to none, and pay homage to the Giver of all good while they enjoy the fruits of their own labor.
There is better no omen of good now than the fact that women are coming to the iron in every honorable vocation in life, and on that is not so certain. We want to see what the women will do as lawyers. If they are a ready to sell themselves to defend all kinds of crime and cussedness as the male lawyers are, then God help us, for they can do more mischief.
At the close of this patriotic speech a choir of citizens of Wilton, led by Prof. Chandler, sang “My Country, tis of Thee.”
Was attentively listened to, when in a clear voice, he addressed the meeting speaking more particularly of merchants, markets and traffic of the early days. He spoke as follows:
The changes that take place in 40 or 50 years in a new country seem hardly credible, but some of us who have witnessed them and been parties to them can speak of them with perfect truthfulness.
Aside from the general appearance of the country changed, you might say from an uninhabited wilderness to a high state of cultivation and civilization teeming with an intelligent and cultured population, with all the arts and sciences, schools and churches in full operation, these isn’t anything that strikes the Old Settler more vividly than the change in what we might call the necessities of life or the conveniences of living.
In our early settlement supplies of every kind were very scant with no means of indulging in extravagance of any kind, only the barest necessities were obtainable and that in moderable quantity. One room for a family and a small one at that – no cisterns, very few wells – had to go to the river, spring or creek and often melt snow. No wood sheds or dry wood; would get a team and haul a few green logs up before the door and chop as needed – picking up chips most of the time – very different from having a wood house, plenty of dry wood and nice kindling.
Our staple food was corn meal and smoked pork. There were a few water mills around here on Sugar and Pine creeks that would occasionally bring to town a load of corn meal, when everybody would come around with a sack and we would sell it out in an afternoon by the half bushel measure, ready and waiting for the next load.
I recollect in ’39 we imported from St. Louis smoked jowls packed in old sugar hogsheads, and they went off like hot cakes at 6¼ cents per pound, faster than we could get them up the river.
Cooking in skillets and ovens with wet wood and smoky chimneys was very trying to the temper of the cook.
There was one advantage in early times --- it cost hardly anything to live, we had no anxious thoughts about making a living or the money holding out, for we did not have much or need much – no trouble in keeping along with the times, for we were all in the same boat.
A fellow could marry or go to housekeeping without a thought about the expense or style of living.
Everything was trade and barter and store pay. If any one worked, they got an order on the store for pay.
If any one had something to sell they took it out in goods.
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We had a home made circulation in those days that passed quite current in the shape of “due bills” issued by the store keeper “payable in goods.”
Our comforts were few and our burdens light --- we might say our taxes were almost nothing and for what little there was we could buy county orders at 31c on the dollar and pay it.
I recollect when Mr. Wm. Parvin was marshal the whole city tax amounted to only $600, and he carried the city treasury in a little buckskin bag in his pocket, and had great pride in keeping city orders at par.
It is wonderful the confidence people had in each other; everything was bought, sold and exchanged on credit; borrowing and lending was very common; we did not have all things in common quite, but sometimes came very near it.
There were no banks in the early settlement of the county where we could deposit what little money we had, or when we went to lay in a stock of goods make a loan to eke it out; so we went to St. Louis, our headquarters then, we went around among our neighbors and borrowed what money they had on hand, to be paid back as fast as he took it in, in a give and take kind of a way.
The most of our goods were bought on credit with the privilege of paying for them as we made cash sales. We could not go to bank then and buy a bill of exchange and remit by mail. The most of our funds were remitted by steamboat clerks, and although this was an every day occurrence, I never heard of an instance of those clerks not faithfully delivering the money intrusted to them.
In this way we managed very well in the summer, and in the long winter we put everything in pork and wheat.
In this way it took a whole year to realize on most of our goods we would sell during the summer on credit getting our pay in pork and wheat in the winter which we could not market until the ice went out in the spring.
This made the opening of the river an event of very great importance, the whole population turning out and coming out to the landing on the first arrival of a steam boat.
The great Mississippi was everything to us in those days and now it seems almost deserted and lonely with more bridges than steam boats.
Communication with the interior was by wagon except in wet seasons, when boats sometimes went to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids; at such times the boat would take freight to Cedar Rapids at 37½ c per 100 lbs., when to go by team it cost 60 to 75c.
Messrs. Asa Gregg and A. S. Lawrence whose halcyon days on the stage of a action are passed, were called upon and contributed some interesting reminiscences, as did also the remarkably hale and venerable Mrs. Laura Thorley Nye Patterson, who came to this region in 1834.
Ex-Mayor Norton introduced Prof. Wells, of Ames, Iowa, who has recently been appointed to take charge of the Wilton Academy and that gentleman delivered an excellent address relative to educational work which very favorably impressed all who heard it.
“Auld Lang Syne” was beautifully rendered by the choir and assemblage, and closed the program.
On motion a unanimous vote of thanks was tendered the citizens of Wilton for their cordial greeting and hospitable entertainment of visitors.
The old officers were re-elected by acclamation, and S. W. Stewart was honored with the newly created office of second vice president.
Messrs. D. C. Cloud, of this city, and Geo. E. Hubbell, of Davenport, were expected to participate in the exercises, but were detained at home by urgent business.
President Walton was in receipt of a letter from Hon. T. S. Parvin, in which the latter regretted his inability to be present. He desired a small flax spinning wheel for his Cedar Rapids cabinet, and several of the old settlers, when the matter was mentioned, volunteered to supply him with the same.
The number of persons in the grove was estimated to exceed 500, and included visitors from Muscatine, Summit, West Liberty and Atalissa.
The Junior Cornet Band is composed of talented young musicians whose frequent renditions added much to the pleasure of the day.
The weather contrary to expectations was fair, and although a few drops descended occasionally, at no time were the people constrained to seek shelter.
The return home was made at five o’clock.
J. T. Walton, President John Baunard, Vice President S. W. Stewart, 2d Vice President P. Jackson, Secy.
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