Peeking Into Lake City's Past

Fickle - An Honored Name in Pioneer History

When a person decides to research the early history of our community, he may experience a sensory feeling of becoming personally acquainted with the folks who laid the foundation for our way of life. Their personalities seem to radiate from the history books and stories told by descendants, who in most cases have pictures to graphically bring them back to life. Their works have touched our lives in many ways weather we realize it or not.

Those of us who feel that our generation is all that matters, perhaps should take a second look at our sense of values and hope that following generations do not ignore or discredit our works in a like manner. We all know that a most highly styled, beautiful home has no more value that the foundation upon which it stands.

When looking into our community's past, I find many people whose strength of character and arduous dedication to the future was predicated on their love for God, family and friends. Religion and patriotism were foremost in their culture. I find records of people whose willingness to make unselfish sacrifices for the good of others to be something our affluent, easy living generation should never cease to appreciate and hopefully will copy.

Yes, life in early Calhoun county was hard, but history tells us our pioneer fore bearers were happy people who left a more comfortable life to accept the challenges of a wilderness where rich prairie land could be acquired for $5.00 to $15.00 per acre or in many cases by a simple homestead grant.

Today's article is about a respected pioneer family whose lifestyle indicates that most members of the various generations were hard working, compassionate folks whose desires and objectives subscribed in many ways to the philosophy of the Bard who wrote: "Let me live in my house by the side of the road and be a friend of man."

The First Lake City Fickles

William (1828-1891) and Prudence Peabody Gouldin Fickle (1832-1899) settled in Jackson Township, just west of Lake City where they rented a primitive farm on May 1st, 1868, only four years after our first settler, Ebenezer Comstock, built a lonely cabin for his large family near the banks of lake Creek, on the west side of what is now Lake City. When the Fickles arrived, Lake City had a small wood-frame court house, one general store and five or six homes, Most early settlers lived on the land they acquired, not in the village.

The Fickles with their nine children moved from Ohio through Boone county to their final destination west of Lake City. Prudence had been previously married to a man named Gouldin who passed away leaving Prudence with a baby boy who became part of the Wm. Fickle family.

Wm. (Bill) and Prudence worked hard developing and farming rented land for 20 long years. By 1888, they had saved enough money to purchase eighty acres in Jackson township on which they established a permanent home. From this large family, we will select one child, who, with his descendants, will be our subject.

John Marion Fickle was born November 27, 1853. He was 15 years old when his family arrived. John attended local schools and after graduation, taught in Wilcat, Elm Grove and Camp Creek rural schools for several years. During his teaching career, stories are told about John and another teacher walking to Manson and Pomeroy to attend Teachers Institute training seminars. On one occasion they were caught in a blizzard so blinding he and his friend became separated. John luckily found shelter but his friend's body was not found until after the snow melted the following spring.

John Fickle was a civic minded citizen. He served as secretary of the Lake City Board of Education for 34 years. He became obsessed with the idea of creating better educational opportunities for children that he was privileged to share.

John lived with his parents until he was 28 years of age, when he was united in marriage to Miss Louisa Mishler. The year, 1861. Louisa was the daughter of John and Mary Blair Mishler, natives of Germany, who, after Louisa was born, migrated to the new world and finally to this area. John and Louisa had four sons, Frank W., Henry B., Clarence R., and Robert R. Fickle.

After marriage, John rented a farm in Elm Grove township which he and his wife worked for 10 years. In 1881, they purchased three acres of land adjoining Lake City where they established their permanent home with a fruit and vegetable farm. They sold their produce to the local market. Remember, in those days, people lived on locally grown food, vegetables, fruits, meat, etc.

John Fickle's service to this community included serving 20 years as city assessor and seven and a half years as city clerk. He and his family were members of the Methodist church, taking an active part in church functions. John was a 50 year member of the Odd Fellows Lodge, having held high offices in both organizations. One of John's many talents was writing. During his later years, John was employed by the Lake City Graphic as a columnist, writing interesting stories about the past, entitled:"Reminiscences of The Old Man."

John's talent for writing included a sharp memory enabling him to recall from his subconscious mind, numerous life experiences which he so ably translated into human interest stories. In his 76th column he told of a prank, which if done today would be considered a felony act subject to criminal punishment. He told of an incident 50 years earlier, in 1875, "J. J. Hutchison owned a piece of ground where the emporium building was built later, on the corner of Main and Illinois Streets." Note: the lots in question now include the self-serve coin laundry and the Wagon Wheel Caf. "Some town loafers got together and leased the lots for a croquet ground. A row of cottonwood trees grew along the south side of the lots bordering Main street. The men cleared all the trash from the lots making the ground smooth as a floor. They installed benches around the perimeter for spectators and players. One day a prankster by the name of Bill cook who ran an implement business on the west side of the square, liked his toddy and when he was about 50 percent in the breeze, decided to have some fun with the croquet players.It seems that the G.A.R. had given the town a civil war cannon for use during celebrations and when not in use was stored in back of Russell & Smith's blacksmith shop. So, Bill goes over to the blacksmith shop with a sack of stones, four pounds of powder and quietly charged the cannon. He pulled the big gun to the front door which was across the court house park from the croquet ground, setting it about 45 degrees and set it off, shooting the stones into the trees, causing limbs and leaves to fly in all directions accompanied by a blast of noise that sounded like the end of the world. Everyone ran for safety, thinking the whole town was blown up. No one was hurt and Bill had his belly-busting laugh. The names of some of the scared ducks were: Billy Townsend, Sam Hutchison, Cyrus Clark, Mark Smith, Oscar Smith and Bill McKane, who incidently were some of Lake City's prominent citizens."

As we continue the Fickle story beginning with pioneer William, his grandson, Henry Baton Fickle and his descendants will be our subject. Henry was born on March 18, 1884 in a farm house west of Lake City near the old Cottonwood school. Shortly after Henry's birth, the Fickles purchased a small acreage in Lake City for their permanent home. The Danny Campbell family presently occupies the site.

Henry attended Central School for both elementary and high school training. After graduation, he attended a special school in Des Moines, where he received training to become a telegraph operator. Henry, like his father, remained single until age 28, when he married Miss Leta McCrary, a popular young lady and a daughter of one of Lake City's leading physicians.

Henry and Leta McCrary Fickle had two sons: Henry (Jack) McCrary Fickle, born December 21, 1917, and Rodney Fickle, born January 4, 1922. Rodney lost his life in World War II. Henry (Jack) was born in the beautiful Victorian home built by Dr. Delbert McCrary just before the turn of the century, located on the corner of Main and Michigan Streets.

Jack's father was a railroad man, stationed in Clarion for several years before being transferred to St. Paul, Minnesota. Jack attended school in Clarion until the 10th grade after which he finished his education in St. Paul. Jack joined the U.S. Navy in 1940 and served during World War II, returning to civilian life in July, 1946.

After being mustered out of the Navy, he accepted the position of parks superintendent and chief forester for the city of Monterey, California. Jack followed his profession until retirement. Five years ago in 1977, he moved back to Lake City where he was born and now resides in Lake City.

In the writer's opinion, Jack Fickle and his cousin Dr. Ashton McCrary are proud of their roots and the community of their birth. Such is their heritage.