HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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YEARS OF PRIVATION AND SUBSEQUENT RELIEF
DURING the first four years of their history in Iowa the Hollanders underwent many novel experiences, but nothing more disastrous than the winter of 1848 - 49. Unfamiliar with the extraordinary extremes of Iowa weather, they had deceived themselves into believing that the mild winter of 1847 - 48 was the rule and not the exception. They had continued to work outdoors with bare hands, and bad paid little attention to their livestock which ran loose in the woods and on the prairies.
In the spring of 1848 they had been introduced to a genuine Iowa windstorm with its attendant havoc and destruction: buildings in course of construction were razed to the ground. Thus began their acquaintance with storms of cyclonic severity. After passing a favorable summer and reaping a harvest sufficient to supply the colony's needs, without having taken precautions to provide food and shelter for their stock, they suddenly found themselves in the midst of a winter such as few Iowans have ever endured before or since. From November in 1848 to May in 1849 snow covered the ground at an average depth of three feet, and for weeks the temperature remained twenty degrees below zero.
Unprepared for this intense cold, Dutch farmers lost much livestock and with the utmost difficulty husked a small quantity of their snow-covered crop of Indian corn. Fuel was scarce and difficult to obtain, while journeys to the mill were tedious and burdensome. Then in the spring of 1849, to aggravate the winter's disastrous losses, came the flooded rivers and miry sloughs from which half-famished animals were too weak to extricate themselves.(83)
Financially the Hollanders were on the whole practically destitute in 1849. Even those who had pursued farming with good results considered themselves poor in the midst of plenty, because they lacked a convenient market for their surplus products. So great was their discouragement that many thought seriously of giving up and seeking a more satisfactory location. Then relief came in two unexpected ways.
During the year 1849 about two hundred and fifty Hollanders came fresh from Europe to seek homes in Pella. Many of them were members of the association organized in Holland in 1846, and it is said that their hearts were in Pella after Scholte and the eight hundred found land for the colony. Very many of them were well-to-do, and some at once bought out American pioneers who had refused to sell their farms to the first Dutch settlers. The arrival of so large a body of newcomers meant the consumption of surplus products and this in turn brought money into circulation. Many adopted and stimulated business life in Pella, paid cash for what they bought, and also made loans to the needy.
If the coming of so many Hollanders helped to infuse new spirit into the Pella community, even more of a godsend was the mad scramble of Americans westward to reach the California gold fields, reports of the finding of which spread like wild-fire in the autumn of 1848. In the spring of 1849 commenced the rush of Easterners, which proved to be a veritable "El Dorado " for the Hollanders of Marion County. For a period of three months covered wagons rumbled ceaselessly through Pella, and though the gold fever soon subsided, for a number of years a steady stream of emigrants continued to flow through Pella, some in search of gold in California and Colorado, others, like the Mormons, to build homes in Oregon and Utah.
An eye-witness, a Hollander, thus described the "call of the West and the lust for gold" as evinced by the caravans which came from the East by the road through Pella:
Those who remained on their Iowa farms and furnished the fortune-hunters with necessary food and other articles gained immense profit from the thirst for gold.' One Dutch farmer who lived upon the Iowa route declared:
Thus it will be seen how marvelous was the influence of
newcomers from Holland and of "fortyniners" from eastern
States. The former came to begin life anew, and providing for their
various needs revived the zeal and industry of the Dutch settlers who
had struggled hard for over a year in town and country. Gold-seekers
left much money among the Hollanders who did not hesitate to charge them
what were extortionate prices for that day.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(83) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 23, 46, 47, 48, 49, 51, 53, 54; Nollen's De Afseheiding, p. 53; and History of Marion County, Iowa, p. 263.
(84) Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 53, 54; and van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 66-68, 71-73.
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