IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
The twenty years following the Civil War form the middle period in the story of Iowa. This was a time of changing conditions. The pioneer days, about which you read in earlier chapters, were gone, and the prosperity of the new century had not yet begun.
During the war few people came to Iowa to live, but the soldiers began to pour into Iowa again. In 1865 Iowa had a population of 754,732. Ten years later the population had increased to 1,350,544.
Most of the new settlers came from states to the east, but many also came from overseas. Settlement in northwestern Iowa was delayed in this period by grasshopper plagues. Year after year these insects appeared in such numbers that they destroyed the crops and ate everything in sight. Finally in the late seventies they disappeared as suddenly as they had come.
In the north-central counties of Iowa vast tracts of land partly under water delayed settlement of that region for some time. These swamps were the homes of muskrats and millions of marsh birds. Later when these lands were drained they proved to be the most fertile of any in the state.
Farming was the principal occupation of the people of Iowa in this middle period, but the farmers did not prosper. Mowing and reaping machines, wheeled plows and cultivators, seeding and planting machines, improved harrows, and horse-drawn hay rakes, which the farmers began to use in this period, made it possible to raise larger crops; but prices were low. Corn sold as low as ten or twelve cents a bushel, and wheat as low as thirty-seven cents a bushel. Enough potatoes to last a family all winter could be bought for two or three dollars. Eggs sold for eight or nine, and sometimes for no more than five or six, cents a dozen. The trouble was that with so many new farms and the use of new machinery the farmers raised more than they could sell.
Wages, too, were low. Men in town worked for a dollar a day. Rural-school teachers received from fifteen to twenty dollars a month. College graduates taught in high schools for thirty dollars a month or less. Board, though, was cheap. Two or three dollars a week would pay for both board and room.
In this period new fences replaced the rail fences of pioneer days. The osage orange was brought into Iowa and miles of hedge fences were planted. Then the invention of barbed wire solved the problem of fencing for the farmer.
The use of barbed wire brought a change in farming. The open cattle ranges in western Iowa were cut up into farms. Cattle were then kept in pastures and fattened in feed lots. Grain growing had been the principal occupation of farmers, but the coming of chinch bugs in the late seventies ruined the wheat crops. This caused the owners of flour mills to cuffer. Up to this time nearly every town had supported a flour mill, but soon many owners were forced to abandon their mills.
Many of the newcomers to Iowa in this period began to keep dairy cows instead of trying to raise wheat. The first creamery in Iowa was started at Spring Branch in 1872, and in 1876 Iowa butter won first prize at teh Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Farmers also began to raise better cattle, hogs, and horses on their farms. At this time, too, farm papers or magazines were started in Iowa to tell the farmers how to get better results.
This was a period, too, when better houses replaced the homes of the pioneers. Pine logs from the forests in Wisconsin and Minnesota were rafted down the Mississippi River to Dubuque, Clinton, Davenport, Muscatine, Burlington, Fort Madison, and Keokuk.
Here these logs were sawed into lumber and shipped by rail throughout Iowa. The log schoolhouses of pioneer days were also replaced by frame buildings, some of which are still in use.
Most of the homes in Iowa during the middle period were plainly furnished. The kitchen of the farm home was often used as living room, dining room, and bathroom, as well as a place to prepare the meals. Some homes had feather beds, but ticks filled with straw or corn husks were more common. There were few pictures on the walls, and seldom did a home have more than one rocking-chair. Sewing machines and washing machines run by hand were used, and oil lamps had replaced the candles of pioneer days. Most of the houses had mosquito netting or wire screens to keep out the flies.
Those who were wealthy had larger houses and more furniture in their homes. In the towns the houses were generally better furnished than in the country, and in some places were lighted with gas. Wax flowers in a glass case were thought to be very elegant, and a push album could also usually be seen on the center table in the parlor. The organ was the favorite musical instrument, although here and there a piano might be found.
During this middle period factories were established in Iowa. Iron works and lumber mills were started in the cities along the Mississippi River. George Douglas, assisted by John Stuart, brought the process of making oatmeal to Cedar Rapids and began to make a brand of oatmeal which is used to-day throughout the world. Packing plants, too, were started at Sioux City, Ottumwa, and Cedar Rapids.
The clothes worn by men and women in those days look queer to us now. Women wore long dresses with waists that buttoned up to their chins. Men wore store clothes, boots, and paper collars when they dressed up for special occasions. Dresses for girls were very plain, and boys often wore suits made from cast-off garments of their elders.
In those days the little folks went to school in the spring and autumn, and the older boys and girls in the winter months. At recess and during the noon hour the smaller children played "drop-th-handkerchief," while the older children played "blackman," "dare-base," or "pom-pom-pull-away." Fist fights among the boys were not uncommon. On winter evenings singing schools and spelling schools were popular with the young folks.
Girls in those days learned to sew and to cook and to help with all the household work. Boys, by the time they were nine or ten years old, had to help with the work in the field and with the chores. But even with all the work they had to do, boys and girls still found some time for play. With a gun on his shoulder and a dog by his side a boy could still find plenty of quail and prairie chickens in the stubble fields and along the hedges. In the spring and again in the fall many wild ducks and geese could be found on the ponds and streams. In the summer there were berries in the thickets, and wild cherries, plums, and grapes in the timber. Boys and girls in the middle period spent happy hours in the world of out-of-doors.
On rainy days there were yellow-backed novels to be read in haymows or attics. Teacher an parents frowned upon these books filled with hair-breadth escapes and thrilling adventures, and so boys had to read them in secret.
Fourth of July celebrations and picnics were enjoyed by boys and girls in the middle period, but the coming of a circus was the greatest event of all. In those days many of the circus companies travelled along the wagon roads, and compared to the shows of to-day, were small indeed. But to the boys and girls of the middle period they seemed wonderful. Open-eyed they watched the bareback riders, the daring trapeze performers, the spangled acrobats, and the funny clowns. And for weeks after the circus moved on, all the acts were imitated by boys in sheds and barns before an admiring audience of little girls.
In the larger towns lecture courses brought such men as Horace Greeley, Henry Ward Beecher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many other noted speakers to Iowa. In most of the cities throughout the state opera houses were built and noted players such as Joseph Jefferson, Helena Modjeska, Lillie Langtry, and Lawrence Barrett delighted Iowa playgoers. Church sociables and lodge suppers were very popular in those days. Baseball was probably the favorite sport for men and boys, and croquet for girls and women.
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