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Samuel Baker (1848 -1947)


Posted By: Barry Mateer (email)
Date: 12/7/2021 at 18:54:42

Samuel Baker
Pioneer Citizen Tells of Struggles
Early Life of Pioneer Portrayed by Samuel Baker Who Came to Iowa When Young

Osceola Sentinel , Osceola, Iowa
August 14, 1930 , page 1

At the Baker reunion at the Community Park Sunday the following paper on pioneer life in Iowa was read. Samuel Baker, one of the participants in the reunion, now 81 years old, is the narrator.

"Last year I wrote a sketch of our journey from Pennsylvania to Iowa which brought the family as far as Jacksonville, Iowa, a collection of a few houses located on the Lucas and Clarke County line, about one-fourth mile east of what became known as Jay. At that time the country was just a vast expanse of prairie and brush patches with stretches of timber along the creeks and small streams.

My father bought forty acres of land, paying $100 therefor. It was rough land but had some timber on it. We had to have some kind of a house to live in and the land was bought for the timber. There was plenty of open prairie land that could have been bought at that time for $1.25 an acre. But timber was needed for building. So the logs were cut and hewed with a broad ax. The house was soon up and a clapboard roof put on, held on with weight poles. A puncheon floor was made out of split logs. We were soon living in it, happy, with plenty of corn bread to eat. Prairie chickens, wild turkeys and wild fruit were plentiful in season. We soon had pork. The hogs ran at large and got fat on hazelnuts. Did not have to have cholera dope those days.

Don't believe there was a nail used in building our house. The cleats were put on the doors with wooden pins, wooden hinges were used and a wooden latch on the inside. But the latch string was out for neighbors to pull and walk in. We used greased papers for window panes and a grease lamp with a handle to stick in the wall at night.

We were getting along very well until the Civil War broke out in 1861. Don't know why it was called civil--I thought it was everything else but civil around here. We could hear the roar of cannon in battle down in Missouri. Must have been worse there.

The ox teams were the main standbys and were used largely in breaking the tough sod. I have gone twenty miles or more to mill with the ox team. It took two days to make the round trip. We generally used from 8 to 12 oxen strung out on a 24-inch breaking plow.

I was 12 years old when the war broke out, but can remember when President Lincoln made his first call for 75,000 men. It was believed the war would not amount to much but when the call for 300,000 more men came it looked more serious. When Iowa made up her quota there were no able bodied men left to carry on the development and pioneering work was at a standstill until after the close of the conflict.

It was pretty hard sledding during the war, just the wives and children of the soldiers to dig for their existence. The private soldiers received $13 a month at first, later $16.

I had one brother, George, who enlisted in Company G, 103rd PA. He went through the whole four years of conflict, was taken prisoner and kept ten months and six days in southern prisons. Had two uncles who never came back, besides some cousins and a brother-in-law. Brother John enlisted the latter part of the war in Co. K 46th Iowa. He got back alright.

After the war was over the oxen were yoked, hitched to breaking plows and the work started again to bring under submission the wild land. I cannot but notice the wonderful changes since we had to go ten miles or more to the post office and how our post office was kept by a farmer down in Lucas County. We took turns going about once a week to bring mail for all neighbors.

At the end of ten years after we came to Iowa, the C.B. & Q Railroad was built as far as Woodburn. Now we get our mail delivered on rural routes at our door every day. In the early days if we wanted to go some place we started angling across the prairie. Now we have paved roads, the automobile and buses, and all the luxuries imaginable. But are the people any better satisfied than we were, with our ox teams. I doubt it.

I hear more grumbling and fretting about hard times than I did in those early days when we were all interested in each others welfare and could trust each other to any limit. In those days we had few doctors and few occasions to use them. Sage tea, catnip tea or a dozen homemade remedies were helpful in minor cases of sickness. The older folks did not have time to get sick. They got plenty of exercise.

Yes we were a jolly bunch. We did not know, though, from one day until the next during the war which way the tide was going. When we received news the Union Army had lost a battle greenback money would depreciate and go way below par. When the Union forces won a battle the Lincoln money went up. But precious little money the pioneer got anyway.

We had to raise sorghum ad make it do in place of sugar and syrup and sometimes it was burnt and used in place of coffee. Corn bead was the staff of life for many years in the early settlement.

I was raised up until ten years of age in a pine forest in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, and am now close to 82 years of age. I have lived part of my life on four frontiers in four different states and the remainder of my life so far has been spent under the present conditions of our once glorious country which now seems to me to be little more than a country of waste and extravagance with no forethought of what is going to happen in the future.

I am yours for honest pioneering days against a world mixed with crime, fun and frolic and complaining about hard times."

Samuel Baker 1848-1947.

gravestone photo at Findagrave

Clarke Biographies maintained by Brenda White.
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