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TALES from the FRONT PORCH

Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project

 

REMINISCENCE of the EARLY DAYS
In LIBERTY TOWNSHIP

by Stewart L. THOMPSON
Taken from the Mount Ayr Record-News, 1914

I have been thinking for some time of Writing something of the experiences one passes through while living forty-six and one-half years in Liberty township, Ringgold County, Iowa.

Perhaps a short prelude of how I came to be a resident of Iowa would serve as an introduction.

In the fall of '68 [1868] my father, who was past the prime of life and was a renter in Warren County, Illinois, decided to emigrate to Iowa and secure a home. His objective point, in company with a neighbor, was Madison or Warren County, Neighbor LACKEY had two teams and wagons, my father one, and at Burlington a family by the name of FRENCH joining our company and journed with us. There were several children belonging to each family and we had jolly good times. We were several weeks on the way and would strike camp in the evening when a favorable camping ground was reached. There were many traveling in those days by the covered wagon route and the camping grounds were pretty clearly defined. In due time we reached Indianola and Mr. LACKEY located there. My parents concluded that, as their means were very limited, they would journey further west* in quest of still cheaper land. So we parted company with our old friends and continued traveling with the FRENCH family until they located in Clark (sic, should be Clarke) county. It was presidential election that fall. GRANT and COLFAX against SEYMORE and BLAIR. Excitement ran high, each party having organized clubs, the republicans being the "tanners." We would often, near the towns, meet great companies of them bearing the "tanner's torch". Democrat clubs were called the "white boys in blue" and we also saw many of them on parade. It seemed to be a custom in those days for each party to rear a pole aloft (probably with the hopes that lightning might strike) and as we traveled along we could tell when we were approaching a town by being on the lookout for these poles. We came to Afton and visited a shore time with relatives living near there.

When we left Indianola, Ringgold [County] was selected as the most attractive place to locate, as we know that many from our old Warren County [Illinois] were locating there. Leaving Afton we continued our journey, following a road which wound along the ridge through the tall blue stem grass that was often as high as the horses backs, and spreading on either hand as far as the eye could reach. Houses were few and far between Afton and Mount Ayr. Mordaci SMITH lived north of where Tingley is now and Asher LORIMOR was improving a farm in the west part of the township and the road ran near his house. The roads were not bounded by section lines but invariable followed the ridges or divide, and by so doing the corssing of many hills and hollows was avoided.

We came to a farm north of Mount Ayr occupied by an old gentleman by the name of PRESTON and camped. We knew we were nearing Mount Ayr for we had already seen the poles. We remained in camp two days, then retraced as far as Asher LORIMOR's and stayed there while father began hunting for a house in which to winter. Houses were very scarece, but Ad SANFORD while attending election heard of one in the northeast part of the township [bottom of the page cut off].

Jesse DICKEN taught our school the second winter. He added to the furniture of the school room a teacher's desk of his own manufacture. He possessed great musical ability and did much to interest the school in the study of music. Others that I can recall as having taught our school are Clarisa NOBLES, Said NOBLES, Amanda JOHNSTON, Anna STRANAHAN, J. W. WORK, Thomas CAMPBELL, and Anna JORDON.

We were rather unfortunate the winter Amanda JOHNSTON taught as she married and left us without at teacher. [NOTE: In those times, a female schoolteacher could not be married, whereas a male schoolteacher was most often a married man.] Anna STRANAHAN was employed to finish the term, but she also gave it up. I think you will agree with me in thinking she had a reasonable cause for quitting when you read the facts of the case. The wood used as fuel by the school was furnished by contract and the school board had neglected to secure a supply suffieient to last through the winter. When it was seen that more would be needed, G. I. and James NOBLES were employed to furnish it. They did so and hauled a great pile of wood cut and ready for the stove, but it was all green red elm and while dry elm is the best of wood, you cannot persuade green elm to burn at all satisfactory. It woul start quite a lot of smoke circulating through the room, but failed to provide warmth so Miss STRANAHAN gave up the school.

Along in the early seventies [1870's] Reuben SHACKLEY purchased the eighty upon which our school house was standing and built his hosue but a few rods distant. The children of those days were not unlike those of the present and took liberties around the premises which were looked upon by Mr. SHACKLEY with great disfavor. He was a large man and would at times become a greatly excited one at some of our youthful escapades. I can remember that on one occasion at last he stood on the steps before his door very red in the face, gesticulating wildly and hurling threatening and abusive words at us. The director came to the conclusion that the best thing for all parties concerned would be to make the distance greater between the two houses, so the school house was put on rollers and moved several hundred feet further north.

Our school grew in number. There were three new pupils from the SHACKLEY family - Morgan, Mary and Jimmy. A family by the name of MORROW, from over on Walnut Creek, furnished three boys - Albert, George and Alwin to help swell our ranks. Abel, Eliza and Rachel LAYTON, although belonging to the district further south, attended our school a number of terms. George RIGGS and Wesley SCHOCH were also added to the list.

I had always considered myself the champion runner of the school, but Albert MORROW could outrun me and I had to be content with second honors.

The first threshing crew which threshed in this locality was composed of Jonathan STUCK, G. W. NOBLES and Si CROSLEY. I remember our first granary was a square pen made of rails. The space between the rails being stuffed with straw and covered with slough grass.

Stock ran at large upon the prairies, one cow from each family usually wearing a bell so that they might be easily found by the chore boy at miling time. Blue stem grass properly cut and cured made excellent [bottom of page cut off] . . . grass was not plentiful as at the present time, in fact, I beleive there was none here forty years ago.

Not long after we located here Captain [Andrew] JOHNSTON desired to enlarge his barn. Lumber was scarce, there being no railroad nearer than Afton, so he cut and piled a great number oflogs which he and father hewed to suitable shape for framing. They were the greater part of the winter engaged in this work. I have the broad ax which father used. It weighs eight and one-half pounds. It requires a peculiar shaped stick for a handle and I have accompanied father when he would go to the timber to secure a young hickory with which to rehandle the ax. He would view a tree and pass it by, oft' times rejecting many before the one most suitable was found. It must show a good grain free of knots, must be large enough to split and must above all things have the peculiar gentle bend which would make the perfect handle. Father was skilled in the working of wood, as in his younger days in Pennsylvania and Ohio he had folloed the occupation of millwright [a specialized carpenter with a knowledge of machinery and equipment in those days]. I have the mallet with which he used to drive the chisel in mortiseing (sic) those great timbers which were used. It is made from a knot large and heavy and cannot split.

The following spring a force of workmen erected this barn which is perhaps fifty-feet square. One of these men by the name of HANDY, a small active man, would take such risks in traversing the upper frame work that it would almost make a boy's hair stand on end who saw him. The barn is still standing [1914] firm and staunch, its massive beams and supports as sound as ever.

The settlers were arriving. Each season we could see new houses being built. Ad PAYNE began improving land adjoining us on the south. A Mr. JOHNSON built a mile northwest of us. L. E. COX began improving the farm which he still occupies. Then further west near the corner of the township, Enoch BOGGES and a Mr. PERKINS bought a farm and began improving. E. R. RIGGS bought near us a farm partly improved. A little later Geo. (generally reffred to as "Bach") BEADLE began improving the eighty which W. E. DRAKE now occupies and William FIFE's eight west of it. This was the beginning of the destruction of our level ridge road which corssed his quarter section. William CAMPBELL also located on the Jonas FENDER farm and assisted in despoiling our familiar highway.

Thomas LANDREATH came to Ringgold [County] in search of a location. He interviewed an agent of Mount Ayr who was dealing in land. He accompanied Mr. LANDRETH to show him some unimproved land which he wished to sell. They reached a nice level tract of ridge land and Mr. LANDRETH was informed that this was the land offered for sale. He bought 120 acres or perhaps more, but before he made any improvments he had it surveyed and was amazed to find that what he had supposed to be the western boundary was in fact the eatern boundary, putting the land further west and including some much rougher land than the agent has shown him. The agent might possibly have been mistaken. We feel certain that our real estate dealers of the present day wouldnot knowingly do anything in such a deceptive way. But Mr. LANDRETH improved the farm and sold it to his brother Eli, who made a fine stock farm out of it.

Those of us who were boys when this church [High Point Church] was being built are men with silvery hair today. But few of those who shouldered the burden of carrying this enterprising work along by contributing of their money and assistance remain. Two score years have wrought many changes. Within this old church we have passed many happy hours, also some of the saddest in our experience. Here the majority of the present members were converted. From its doors many of us have followed loved ones to the tomb. It stands as a monument to the memory of the loyal, hardy, early settlers of the surrounding country.

Of all those who were especially interested in the building of the High Point church I can recall but four still living in the county - Capt. JOHNSTON, J. W. JOHNSTON, P. T. CLAYTON and Mrs. KICKEN. Job RUSH, near whose farm the church was built, took great delight in caring for the church while we remained on the old farm. He was a large good-natured man with a large voice and was always called upon to act as leader at barn raisings and anything else of this nature and he was always ready to lend a helping hand. We boys organized a ball club one or two seasons and played each Saturday afternoon. He acted as our umpire in a manner satisfactory to all.

Capt. JOHNSTON had laid the foundation for establishing a herd of Short Horn cattle. After he returned from serving in the Army he began building upon this foundation and by attending the district fairs and purchasing pure bred cattle of noted breeders he built up a herd of cattle second to none in the county. He also brought to his farm the first Berkshire hogs I had ever seen. The bringing of these pure bred cattle to his farm was the means of building up a superior class of grades in this locality which was soon noted by the stock buyers of those days and they were always willing to pay a small premium for such stock.

On one of the trips made by Mr. JOHNSTON to the district fair, he was accompanied by Si CALFEE as assistant. When Si returned, he brought home with him three old army muskets from the arsenal at Des Moines which had been converted into shotguns. Well, here was a pretty pickle, four boys and only three guns. Weretofore, we had hunted with dogs and clubs and woe betide the bunny that was unwise enough to let "Ring or Watch" get sight of him. We had great sport and moreover assisted in solving the "high cost of living" (using an expression often heard at present) by our powers as hunters. When the snow was good and deep the hunting fever would attack us and I would arm myself with a good substantial club and taking "Watch" would hike over to CALFEE's and Si and Mack, likewise armed, would call "Ring" and we would set forth on a great rabbit hunt. We generally selected a grass patch bordering the brush thickets and by following up the path that we found leading out in the grass, we would come to a burrow in the snow which usually contained a rabbit. If it escaped a blow [bottom of page cut off] . . . and we usually returned with about as many as we could tote.

But Si had secured three guns and the four boys were Si, Mack, Tom DRAKE, and myself. Of course, Si must keep one and Mack wanted one and Tom got busy before I did and got the third and I was left out. Hard luck. Well, the only way out of it that I could see was forme to go to Afton and purchase a gun - must have one - couldn't possibly get along without. So I went on horseback to Afton and bought a light single barrel shot gun.

One day we were taking a hunt and the rabbit had gotten out of our sight. Si took a position on the top rail of a "stake and rider" fence and from this point of vantage again caught sight of the rabbit, and taking aim, blazed away. I am not certain that he killed the rabbit, but the recoil of the gun caused him to get to the ground in a hurried and undignified way. Old musket could kick like a mule.

I think perhaps in the seventies a peddler known as "Dutch Levi," who had been engaged with a team and wagon in selling dry goods and notions over the county, decided to start a grocery and dry goods store at the Blackmore corners. He bought a building site of Alec BLACKMORE and erected a store building. He was not as successful in running a store as he had been as a peddler so he sold out to D. M. McCLEARY. A blacksmith shop was built near by and we were granted a post office called Blackmore, receiving mail twice a week. Dr. LOCK (sic, Dr. Frank S. LOCKE) located here and enjoyed a splendid practice.

The store burned down one night and a Mr. WADDEL came from Missouri and bought an old school house an moved it to the site of the former store and began business. The goods were hauled from either Leon or Afton and WADDEL went to Afton to restock and came back and reported that he had in some way lost his money, $1,300, which he had taken with him to buy goods.

Geo. BRADFORD, an eastern man, then embarked in the mercantile business by buying a small stock and building from WADDELL. He made a success of the business for a number of years, but an unfortunate speculation in corn and other things gave him a downward start from which he never recovered; in fact, he lost all that he had.

J. O. [James Oliver] MILLER secured the building and put in a stock and put his father in charge. For a number of years they carried on the store, and receiving a liberal patronage, did well. But J. O.'s father concluded to go back east and as Mr. MILLER's farm demanded his attention, he closed out the stock and the career of the Blackmore store ended.

[Captain Thomas C. MILLER, father of James Oliver MILLER, was a Civil War Veteran, serving with Co. K of the 146th Illinois Infantry. He was born July 1, 1827, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and died June 21st, 1905, with interment at Moss Ridge Cemetery, Carthage, Illinois. Captain MILLER married Mary McCULLOUGH, born July 22, 1826, Dickinson, Pennsylvania, and died March 22, 1906.]

Sam SCHOCH set out on his farm a large vineyard. After the vines began bearing, he intended to manufacture wine. He was (so the boys thought) a little stingy with his grapes as he had on several occasions neglected to invite the boys to partake of the tempting fruit and some of them thought that they would help themselves. SCHOCH discovered that someone had been taking his grapes and he and his hired man watched over the vineyard by night and some of the boys attempting to enter were given a merry chase through the surrounding cornfields. (You might notice that I don't mention the boys' names.)

One spring Jake BRUBAKER and Jess DADY found a wolf den containing a number of cubs. For the next days I believe about every man and boy could muster a spade was hunting wolves. Every suspicious burrow was dug into and investigated. It was too wet to work in the fields and we might just as well be thus occupied. Had each burrow which was dug into contained a litter of cub wolves the county treasurywould probably have been forced into bankruptcy, but no more were found.

What great times we had attending the singing school, the spelling bee and literacy at the old Prairie View School house. [bottom of page cut off]

Will GILREATH taught; he had a spelling bee every two weeks. Alex SHRIMPLIN always carried off the honors as champion speller when he was present, but our school was willing to compete with any of the surrounding schools. There were four from the CALFEE family, the two older DRAKE boys and three of my sisters and myself that were capable of handling the majority of the words pronounced from the old "blue back" speller.

The literacy and debating society was held weekly. The forepart of the evening was taken up by declamations, song, essays, etc. and after a short recess, came the debate. R. J. CRITCHFIELD and J. P. WORK were the two leading debaters and were always given opposing sides on the question. There were usually two others on each side, but the responsibility of gaining a favorable verdict from the judges rested upon the leaders. And how they strove. What great proof was produced pro and con. What oratory! What eloquence! To what shall I liken it? Shall I liken it to lava gushing from the crater of the mighty volcano? You have perhaps been taught that Solomon was the wisest man but after once heard a question discussed by the old Praire View debaters, you would be led to exclaim, "there are others." Sometimes one would win, sometimes the other.

Mr. McINTIRE organized a class and taught music one or two winters at the same place. Afterwards we had a musical convention of two weeks duration, held at the church and conducted by Prof. FURGESON (sic, should be FERGUSON) and daughter. A few years after this, Prof. CASE assisted by his sister, Prof. BUCK and Miss BARRON held a like convention at the same place. I sometimes wonder why there are no more of these places of instruction and entertainment provided for the young people. They are certainly of great benefit and, when rightly conducted, are commendable.

Liberty township bears the distinction of having had a ghost take up its abode within her boundaries. Many years ago the report circulated that a ghost had been seen near the old WHITMORE farm. People watching did see something and the story grew. There was great excitement over the county, many coming for miles to get sight of a real ghost. I have seen the road boarding (sic) the farm literally blocked with teams and often the crowds could be numbered by hundreds. But his ghostship was wary and the large crowds did not get sight of it. It was partial to small companies and sometimes rewarded them by showing itself. One night some boys saw something white in the adjoining field and gave chase on horseback, only to find when capturing it a very innocent and badly frightened calf. After a time the excitement subsided and the truth of the matter was never known.

While the incidents recorded were transpiring, the township was settling up and there finally came a time when the last of the virgin prairie was enclosed and converted into farms. In East Liberty [township] the large tract to be improved was the three eighties upon the corner which stands the Oak Grove School house and which is owned by W. M. FENDER, C. E. MAIN and Ralph SCONCE.

I should have mentioned the name of Henry WHITHORN in connection with the other superintendents of the High Point Sunday School and Katie THOMAS as one of the earlier teachers of our schoo. but their names had escaped my memory and I humbly beg pardon.

While I did not locate in Ringgold County early enough to be enrolled as a pioneer or to partake of the hardships that befell to their lot, I have passed the greater part of my life here, and although I can claim no greatness, I feel that I have had a part in maing Iowa one of the greatest states in the Union. Nothing assumes greatness at the beginning. There must be growth and I have witnessed the gradual development of Ringgold County [bottom of page cut off].

. . . convenient things as rural [mail] delivery, telephone, parcel post, and automobiles are within our reach, inhabited by a class of citizens second to none, all brought about by the brave and hardy pioneer who blazedthe trail that others might follow, who endured hardship, who withstood privations and who labored faithfull to sudue the wilderness -- and conquered. The reminiscent mood has fled.

THE END.

* NOTE: Clarke County, Iowa, is located south of Indianola.

NOTE: Stewart L. THOMPSON was the Sunday school superintendent at Highpoint Church in 1897.

SOURCES:
Ringgold Roots Vol. IV. Pp. 9-11. Mount Ayr, Iowa. July, 1983.
Ringgold Roots Vol. V. Pp. 18-21. Mount Ayr, Iowa. October, 1984.

Submission by Gene Dolson, February of 2010


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