"From History of Scott County, Iowa 1882 Chicago: InterstatePublishing Co."
One of the most interesting phases of national or local historyis that of a settelment of a new country. What was the original state inwhich the pioneer found the country, and how was it made to blossom as the rose?
Pioneer life in Scott County finds its parallel in almost everycounty in the state, and throughout the entire West. The beautifulprairies were to be robbed of their natural ornaments and the hand of art was toassist in their decoration. Who was to undertake this work? Werethey qualified for the task? What will be the effect of their labors uponfuture generations?
Early Manners and Customs
The young men and women of to-day have little conception of themode of life among the early settlers of the country. One can hardlyconceive how great a change has taken place in so short a time. In norespect are the habits and manners of the people similar to those of 60 yearsago. The clothing, the dewellings, the diet, the social customs, haveundergone a total revolution, as though a new race had taken possession of theland.
In a new country, far removed from the conveniences ofcivilination, where all are compelled to build their own houses, make their ownclothing and procure for themselves the means of subsistence, it is to beexpected that their dwellings and garments will be rude. These werematters controlled by surrounding circumstances and the means at their disposal. The earliest settlers constructed what were termed "three-facedcamps," or, in other words, three walls, leaving one side open. Theyare described as follows: The walls were built about seven feet high, whenpoles were laid across at a distance of about three feet apart, and on these aroof of clapboards was laid, which were kept in place by weight poles placed onthem. The clapboards were about four feet in length and from eight inchesto 12 inches in width, split out of white oak timber. No floor was laid inthe "camp." The structure required neither door, window, norchimney. The one side left out of the cabin answered for all thesepurposes. In front of the open side was built a large log heap, whichserved for warmth in cold weather and for cooking purposes in all seasons. Of course there was an abundance of light, and, on either side of thefire, space to enter in and out. These "three-faced camps" wereprobably more easily constructed than the ordinary cabin, and was not the ususalstyle of a dwelling-house.
The cabin was considered a material advance for comfort and homelife. This was, in almost every case, built of logs, the space between thelogs being filled in with split sticks of wood, called "chinks," andthen daubed over, both in side and outside, with mortar made of clay. Thefloor, sometimes, was nothing more than earth tramped hard and smooth, butcommonly made of "puncheons," or split logs, with the split sideturned upward. The roof was made by gradually drawing in the top to theridge-pole, and, on cross pieces, laying the "clapboards," which,being several feet in length, instead of being nailed, were held in place bypoles laid on them called "weight poles," reaching the length of thecabin. For a fire-place, a space was cut out of the logs on one side ofthe room, usually about six feet in length, and three sides were built up oflogs, making an offset in the wall. This was lined with stone, ifconvenient; if not, then earth. The flue, or upper part of the chimney,was built of small split sticks, two and a half or three feet in length, carrieda little space above the roof, and plastered over with clay, and when finishedwas called a "cat-and-clay" chimney. The door space was alsomade by cutting an aperture in one side of the room of the required size, thedoor itself being made of clapboards secured by wooden pins to two cross-pieces. The hinges were also of wood, while the fastening consisted of a woodenlatch catching on a hook of the same material. To open the door from theoutside, a strip of buckskin was tied to the latch and drawn through a hole afew inches above the latch-bar, so that on pulling the string the latch waslifted from the catch or hook, and the door was opened without further trouble. To lock the door, it was only necessary to pull the string through thehole to the inside. Here the family lived, and here the guest and wayfayerwere made welcome. The living room was of good size, but to a large extentit was all - kitchen, bed-room, parlor and arsenal, with flitches of bacon andrings of dried pumpkin suspended from the rafters. In one corner were rheloom and other implements used in the manufacture of clothing, and around theample fireplace was collected the kitchen furniture. The clothing linedone side of the sleeping apartment, suspended from pegs driven in the logs. Hemp and flax were generally raised, and a few sheep kept. Out ofthese the clothing for the family and the sheets and coverlets were made by thefemales of the house. Over the door was placed the trusty rifle, and justback of it hung the powder-horn and hunting-pouch. In the well-to-dofamilies, or when crowded on the ground floor, a loft was sometimes made to thecabin for a sleeping place and the storage of "traps" and articles notin common use. The loft was reached by a ladder secured to the wall. Generally the bed-rooms were separated from the living-room by sheets andcoverlets suspended from the rafters, but until the means of making thesepartition walls were ample, they lived and slept in the same room.
Familiarity with this mode of living did away with much of the discomfort, but as soon as the improvement could be made, there wasadded to the cabin an additional room, or a "double log cabin," beingsubstantially a "three-faced camp," with a log room on each end andcontaining a loft. The furniture in the cabin corresponded with the houseitself. The articles used in the kitchen were as few and simple as can beimagined. A "Dutch oven," or skillet, a longhandled frying pan,an iron pot or kettle, and sometimes a coffeepot, constituted the utensils ofthe best furnished kitchen. A little later, when a stone wall formed thebase of the chimney, a long iron "crane" swung in the chimney-place,which on its "pot-hook" carried the boiling kettle or heavey iron pot. The cooking was all done on the fire-place and at the fire, and the styleof cooking was as simple as the utensils. Indian, or corn meal was thecommon flour, which was made into "pone" or "corn-dodger,"or "hoecake," as the occasion or variety demanded. The"pone" and the "dodger" was baked in the Dutch oven, whichwas first set on a bed of glowing coals. When the oven was filled with thedough, the lid, already heated on the fire, was placed on the oven and coveredwith hot embers and ashes. When the bread was done it was taken from theoven and placed near the fire to keep warm while some other food was beingprepared in the same oven for the forthcoming meal. The"hoe-cake" was prepared in the same way as the dodger - that is, astiff dough was made of the meal and water, and, taking as much as couldconveniently be held in both hands, it was molded into the desired shape bybeing tossed from hand to hand, then laid on a board or flat stone placed at anangle before the fire and patted down to the required thickness. In thefall and early winter, cooked pumpkin was added to the meal dough, giving aflavor and richness to the bread not attained by the modern methods. Inthe oven from which the bread was taken, the venison or ham was then fried, and,in the winter, lye hominy, made from the unbroken grains of corn, added to thefrugal meal. The woods abounded in honey, and of this the early settlershad an abundance the year round. For some years after settlements weremade, the corn meal formed the staple commodity for bread.
The simple cabins were inhabited by a kind domestic industry andhappiness rarely elsewhere to be found.
It is well for "Young America" to look back on thoseearly days. It involved a life of toil, hardship, and the lack of manycomforts, but it was the life that made men of character. Scott Countyto-day has no better men than the immediate descendants of those who built theircabins in the forest, and by patient endurance wrought out of the wilderness thelandmarks for a prosperous commonwealth. One of these writes that"the boys were required to do their share of the hard labor of clearing upthe farm, for much of the country now under the plow was at one time heavilytimbered, or was covered with a dense thicket of hazel and young timber. Ourvisits were made with ox teams, and we walked, or rode on horseback, or inwagons to 'meeting.' The boys 'pulled,' 'broke' and 'hackled' flax, woretow shirts, and indulged aristocraic fellings in fringed 'hunting-shirts,''coon-skin caps,' 'picked' and 'carded' wool by hand, and 'spooled' and 'quilled'yarn for the weaving till the back ached."
Industry such as this, supported by an economy and frugalityfrom which there was then no escape, necessarily brought its own reward. Thehard toil made men old before their time, but beneath their sturdy blows theysaw not only the forest pass away, but the fields white with the grain. Changeand alterations were to be expected, but the reality has distanced the wildestconjecture; and, stranger still, multitudes are still living who witnessed notonly the face of nature undergoing a change about them, but the manners, customsand industries of a whole people almost wholly changed. Many an oldpioneer sits by his fireside in his easy chair, with closed eyes, and dreams ofthe scenes of the long ago.
The wedding was an attractive feature of pioneer life. Therewas no distinction of life and very little of fortune. On these accountsthe first impressions of love generally resulted in marriage. The familyestablishment cost but little labor - nothing more. The marriage wasalways celebrated at the house of the bride, and she was generally left tochoose the officiating clergyman. A wedding, however, engaged theattention of the whole neighborhood. It was anticipated by both old andyoung with eager expectation. In the morning of the wedding day the groomand his intimate friends assembled at the house of his father, and after duepreparation, departed, en masse, for the "mansion" of his bride. The journey was sometimes made on horseback, sometimes on foot, and sometimes in farm wagons and carts. It was always a merry journey; and toinsure merriment the bottle was always taken along. On reaching the houseof the bride the marriage ceremony took place, and then dinner or supper wasserved. After the meal the dancing commenced, and generally lasted untilthe following morning. The figures of the dances were three and fourhanded reels, or square sets and jigs. The commencement was always asquare four, which was followed by what pioneers called "jigging;"that is, two of the four would single out for a jig, and were followed by theremaining couple. The jigs were often accompanied by what was called'cutting out," that is, when either of the parties became tired of thedance, on intimation, the place was supplied by some one of the company, without interruption of the dance. In this way the reel was often continueduntil the musician was exhausted. About nine or ten o'clock in the eveninga deputation of young ladies stole off the bride and put her to bed Indoing this they had to ascend a ladder from the kitchen, which was composed ofloose boards. Here, in the pioneer bridal chamber, the young,simple-hearted girl was put to bed by her enthusiastic friends. This done,a deputation of young men escorted the groom to the same department, and placedhim snugly by the side of his bride. The dance still continued, and if theseats were scarce, which was generally the case, says a local witness, everyyoung man, when not engaged in the dance, was obliged to offer his lap as a seatfor one of the girls, and this offer was sure to be accepted. During thenight's festivities spirits were freely used, but seldom to excess. Theinfare was on the following evening, where the same order of exercises wasobserved.
Another feature of pioneer life which every old settler willvividly recall was the "chills and fever," "fever and ague,"or "shakes," as it was variously called. It was a terror to newcomers, for in the fall of the year almost everybody was afflicted with it. It was no respecter of persons; everybody looked pale and sallow as thoughfrost-bitten. It was not contagious, but derived from impure water andair, which was always developed in the opening up of a new country of rank soillike that of Scott County. The impurities continued to absorb from day today, and from week to week, until the whole corporate body becomes saturatedwith it as with electricity; and then the shock came; and the shock was aregular shake, with a fixed beginning and ending, coming on in some cases eachday, but generally on alternate days, with a regularity that was surprising. After the shakes came the fever, and this "last estate was worse thanthe first;" it was a burning hot fever and lasted for hours. When youhad the chill you couldn't get warm, and when you had the fever you couldn't getcool. It was exceedingly awakward in this respect-indeed it was. Norwould it stop for any contingency; not even a wedding in the family would stopit. It was impertivie and tyrannical. When the appointed time camearound, everything else had to be stopped to attend to its demands. Itdidn't even have any Sundays or holidays. After the fever went down youstill didn't feel much better; you felt as though you had gone through some sortof a collision, threshing machine, or jarring machine, and came out, not killed,but next thing to it. You felt weak, as though you had run too far aftersomething, and then didn't catch it. You felt languid, stupid and sore,and was down in the mouth and heel, and partially raveled out. Your backwas out of fix, your head ached and your appetite was crazy. Your eyes hadtoo much white in them; your ears, especially after taking quinine, had too muchroar in them, and your whole body and soul were entirely woe-begone,disconsolate, sad, poor and good for nothing. You didn't think much ofyourself and didn't believe that other people did either; and you didn't care. You didn't quite make up your mind to commit suicide, but sometimes wishedsome accident would happen to knock either the malady or yourself out ofexistence. You imagined that even the dogs looked at you with a sort ofcommiseration. You thought the sun had a sort of sickly shine about it. About this time you came to the conclusion that you would not take thewhole State as as gift; and if you had the strenght and means you would pick upHannah and the baby, and your traps, and go back "yander" to "OldVirginny," the "Jerseys," Maryland or "Pennsylvany."
And to-day, the swallows flitting
Round my cabin, see me sittting
Moodily within the sunshine,
Just inside my silent door,
Waiting for the 'ager,' seeming
Like a man forever dreaming;
And the sunlight on me streaming
Throws no shadow on the floor;
For I am too thin and sallow
To make shadows on the floor-
Nary shadow any more!
The foregoing is not a mere picture of the imagination. Itis simply recounting in quaint phrase what actually occurred in hundreds ofcases. Whole families would sometimes be sick at one time, and not onemember at all able to wait upon another. Labor or exercise alwaysaggravated the malady, and it took General Laziness a long time to thrashthe enemy out. These were the days for swallowing all sorts of roots and"yarbs" and whiskey straight, with some faint hope of relief. Finallywhen the case wore out, the last remedy got the credit of the cure.
In early days more mischief was done by wovles than by any otherwild animal, and no small part of the mischief consisted in their almostconstant barking at night, which always seemed menacing and frightful to thesettlers. Like mosquitoes, the noise they made appeared to be about asdreadful as the real depredations they committed. The most effectual, aswell as the most exciting, method of ridding the country of these hateful pests,was that known as the "circular wolf hunt," by which all the men andboys would turn out on an appointed day, in a kind of a circle, comprising manysquare miles of territory, with horses and dogs, and then close up toward thecenter field of operation, gathering, not only wolves, but also deer andmany smaller "varmint." Five, ten, or more wolves, by thismeans, would be killed in a single day. The men would be organized with asmuch system as a samll army, everyone being posted in the meaning of everysignal and the application of every rule. Guns were scarcely ever allowedto be brought on such occasions, as their use would be unavoidably dangerous. The dogs were depended upon for the final slaughter. The dogs, bythe way, had all to be held in check by a cord in the hand of their keepersuntil the final signal was given to let them loose, when away they would go tothe center of battle and a more exciting scene would follow than can easily bedescribed.
The religious element in the life of the pioneer was such as toattract the attention of those living in more favored places. The pioneerwas no hypocrite. If he believed in horse-racing, whiskey-drinking,card-playing, or anything of like character, he practiced them openly and aboveboard. If he was of a religious turn of mind he was not ashamed to own it. He could truthfully sing,
I'm not ashamed to own my Lord,
Or blush to speak his name.