Memories of Pioneering Days in Northwest Iowa
- Guess The Writer -

O'Brien County Bell, 20 Mar 1946, p. 4

I was among the very early settlers, although not the earliest. The stork found the load too great so dropped me off in eighteen seventy-three.

In that far away day, all over the prairie of that part of the Hawkeye State, there was nothing growing taller than the wild rose bushes and the yellow blossomed resin weed [compass plant], but when one came to a slough, a certain grass grew there so tall that when it shot up to seed, it almost hid a man on horseback.

My father homesteaded an eighty acres, and tree claimed the eighty lying east of it. He must have been guided by kind providence, for the next year after he took up residence on the land, a townsite was marked out only a mile away, which later became the county seat.

Blue stem was the grass indigenous to that soil. The main crop grew perhaps eighteen to twenty inches tall, but the stalks that shoot up to bloom grew as tall as the average person. One spring not long ago, while digging wild flowers on the right-of-way of the Rock Island Railroad, not a mile from town, I accidentally dug up a root of blue stem with a flower; that first year it grew only enough to send up one bloom stalk; the second year eight stems, and "Believe It Or Not" the third year it matured thirty-four stalks, which were seven feet tall - just shows what a little mellow soil will do.

A great joy to me in my childhood was to find a certain blue flower growing perhaps ten inches high in this native wild grass; they were so blue and often in the winter time when I would be putting down hay from the stock, for I was my father's chore boy, I would see that same kind of blue flower cut and cured with the hay, like a little chunk of sky dropped to earth.

The soil was deep black loam, with a subsoil made for drainage, which made for security among farmers. Indeed it has been said, and truthfully, that Northwest Iowa has never had a total crop failure. It is the world's breadbasket.

My father, coming from the east, was fond of trees and shrubbery, and at an early date put out a row of trees on his west line and on his south line. They came from Poweshiek County, Iowa, in their covered wagon, which was their wedding trip.

Those first intrepid settlers supposed the soft woods would be better, so cottonwood, box elder, maple, ash and willow, were what we were raised with. Later, how pleased we all were when black-walnut trees came in to bearing, and oak trees were bearing acorns. I was a big girl before I eer saw an evergreen tree. Our Christmas trees, always in the church, never at home, were just a little tree cut from the grove, nailed and braced to stand erect, then wrapped limb by limb with cotton batting to resemble snow.

Any one, along at first, caring for nature in her brighter moods could enjoy themselves to their heart's content - no trees, no buildings to obstruct the view, just rolling prairie and sky.

Winters in that beautiful land were severe. They tried men's souls. The nearest town and fuel as we know it, was thirty miles away at first; if one could get to the Waterman Creek, about fourteen miles away, a few willow poles could be cut. The greatest drawback of all was the lack of money to buy fuel; what really was used was hay twisted into bundles. You may have heard wild tales of heating a house with hay, and thought it was only a fairy tale, but each and every child as they came to be strong enough, was taught to make hay twists. Men made most of the twists, I believe, but we all helped. I have made thousands.

As winter relaxed its grip, and spring came bounding along, we knew it was time to hunt the pasque flower and violets and butter-cups. The Indians called them prairie smoke, and very rightly for they grew in great drifts, and were so pretty, and so fragrant, and where they had gone to seed with their fluffy seed heads waving in the breeze, they indeed would remind one of a low creeping smoke.

As though the severe winters were not enough to try those early settlers, a scourge of grasshoppers came, I should think, in about eighteen seventy-four, leaving nothing in their wake. People had to have help from the state to be able to keep their homes on the prairie. Food and clothing for man, and grain for seed and for stock was sent. I'm not sure from where, but probably from Des Moines. I was too young to remember or realize much of the awful hardships my family and their neighbors were undergoing.

My mother told us when we were older that fifty cents worth of sugar was all the sweetening they had the first summer. Prairie chicken were quite plentiful in those days, so that must have helped some.

To show what cleanliness will do, my mother used to tell us of their first pig - yes, only one - a little white pig bought from a neighbor four miles distant. Mama said on wash days, after the work of the laundry was done, she would catch the little porker and land him in the wash-tub of suds, and with a little something in her hand, probably a piece of cob the horses had eaten the corn from, to take the brunt of the battle, she would proceed to scrub him until his little white body was fairly pink and glistening. Probably then he got his rinse, but I don't remember that part. She kept this up until she was not able any more to catch or lift him into his bath.

The second summer, grasshoppers took full toll, but the third summer there were not so many. A lone deer was sighted once loping over the prairie some distance from the house. Of course there were no fences yet of any kind. A furrow of sod turned over was the line between farms. Another pest that came along a little later was a scourge of worms. We children called them "thousand legged" worms; they went as they came, no one knows where.

By the time people's trees planted on the lines had had ten years growth, they became tall; and the willows especially came to be a real menace to roadways. Such a condition existed from our house to town, but more noticeably from our home north to the next homestead. Willows grew tall and branched, and grew thick in that good black earth, so that when snow began to fall in the autumn, a great drift was formed for the half mile. Sometimes men cut fences, later when some had been able to put them up, drove their teams and bobsleds through fields to escape the high drifts. Some years they made roads on tope of the large drifts. A little thaw in the afternoon and an all night freeze would make a hard road bed.

We had a new neighbor move on the farm next west of ours, who was quite novelty in we children's eyes. His name we learned was Mr. Teabout. The story went the rounds, that he had been shipped from the slums of New York City, and was found later somewhere in the West in a tea box. So teabox he was called until he came to be grown, when he changed it to Teabout. He was a bachelor and kept several hired men on the farm. He had foresight for he planted a large acreage of navy beans. When they were harvested, vines and all, they were forgotten until wintertime, then each day when the livestock had been fed, and hired men didn't sit around telling wild tales of palmier days, or maligning their neighbors or boss, but they threshed the beans, winnowed them clean of chaff and soil, and hand picked them. Some city had good hand-picked beans for its soup making as a result.

Then for a little excitement we heard that he would allow his men to pile gallon milk crocks up as high as they would stand while one of their number would stand back and throw one, hitting the pile with a resounding crash, and for a few minutes, then men had great sport.

I did not start to school until I was seven; we belonged in a country school district, and on account of the long distance to go, and a part of the way alone, I did not being very young. That first school building was only one room; the roof made of wide boards put on vertically as a farmer made shelter for stock.

Another wild flower to be found in those days was the meadow lily; not very plentiful, but so fragrant, and the tall Kansas gayfeather.

At first no one had anything to get about with but their lumber wagons and the two heavy farm horses. Later we could afford a spring wagon. And still later came the open surrey, gay with cushions, fringe around the top and low steps, and best of all, mud guards over the wheel. With a high stepping black team that did not have to work so hard on the acres, we did, indeed, feel we were "out amongst 'em."

Nature was a strict mother, building good bodies and making the pathways clear between and God and his toiling children. Most of the early settlers were God fearing men and women. They must have had lots of faith, or they would not have been found in such environments.

Churches were built and supported and well attended. Lyceums were organized, and in due time the lecture course came to town. No self respecting citizen would miss this great educational and entertaining feature, if the price of a ticket could be found.

Presidential campaigns were things to be long remembered, but have long since faded form the fore front of our thinking.

NOTE~ Writer unknown-Doing a search I found Mr Teabout lived soutwest of Sanborn. He is listed in the History of O'Brien County by D.A.W.Perkins 1897~

O'Brien County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project