Jefferson County Online
A part of the IAGenWeb and USGenWeb Projects
Society, Churches, Schools, Etc.

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa", Pages 368-372, published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago in 1879.



Rough and rude though the surroundings may have been, the pioneers were none the less honest, sincere, hospitable and kind in their social relations. It is true, as a rule, that there is a greater degree of real humanity among pioneers of any country than there is when the country becomes older and richer. If there is an absence of refinement, that absence is more than compensated for in the presence of generous hearts and truthful lives. They are bold, courageous, industrious, enterprising and energetic. Generally speaking, they are earnest thinkers and possessed of a diversified fund of useful, practical information. They are void of hypocrisy themselves and depsise it in others. They hate cowardice and shams of every kind, and above all things, falsehood and deception, and maintain and cultivate a sterling integrity and fixedness of purpose that seldom permits them to prostitute themselves to any narrow policy of imposture or artifice.

Such were the characteristics of the men and women who pioneered the way to the country of Cedar Creek and Skunk River. Those who visited them in their cabins in a social capacity, or settled among them as real occupants of the soil, were always welcome as long as they proved themselves true men or women. The stranger who came among them and claimed shelter, food and a place to sleep, was made as welcome as one of the household. To tender them pay in return for their hospitality, was only to insult the better feelings of their natures. If a neighbor fell sick and needed care and attention, the whole neighborhood was interested. If a cabin was to be raised, every man "turned out," and oftentimes the women, too, and while the men piled up the logs that fashioned the primitive dwelling place, the women prepared the dinner. Sometimes it was cooked by big log fires at the site where the cabin was building(.) In other cases, the meal was prepared at a cabin near by, and at the proper hour was carried to where the men were at work. If one neighbor killed a beef, a pig, or a deer, every other family in the neighborhood was sure to receive a piece of it, and a welcome remembrance it often proved. One of the few remaining pioneer settlers of 1836-37 remarked: "In those days we were neighborly in a true sense. We were all on an equality. Aristocratic feelings were unknown and would not have been tolerated. What one had, we all had, and that was the happiest period of my life. But to-day, if you lean against a neighbor's shade-tree, he will charge you for it. If you are poor and happen to fall sick, you may lie and suffer almost unattended or go to the poorhouse, and just as like as not the man who would report you to the authorities as a subject of county care, would charge the county for making the report." This declaration was made, not because the facts exist as he put them, but to show the contrast between the feeling and practices of the pioneers forty years ago, and the people of the present.


"You raised these hallowed walls; the desert smiled,
And paradise was opened in these wilds." -Pope.

The first religious services (preaching) were held in the winter of 1837-38, and were conducted by Rev. Mr. Kirkpatrick, who came here as missionary under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Conference of Rock River, Ill. -- probably from the vicinity of Galesburg, in that State, although it is not stated as a fact that he came from that particular locality. Our informant had lost her reckoning on that point; but from the fact that, as erly as 1836-37, that Conference sent missioniaries to Cedar and other counties in that part of Iowa, it is fair to presume that Mr. Kirkpatrick held his commission from the same organized body. Be that as it may, it is certain that the services were of the Methodist order. But there is nothing strange about this, for that people are noted the civilized world over for their zeal and energy in prosecuting religious works. Wherever mankind has gone, the Methodists have gone -- first as missionaries to spy out the land, next as circuit-riders, with Bible and hymn-book, and an energy, industry, perseverance and faith that never "give up." Singing their songs of praise, chanting choruses of glory to the great Head of the Church, and shouting defiance at the archenemy and tempter of mankind, they not only followed close on the heels of the pioneers to every part of the "Great West," but have gone wherever humanity has exsted that it was possible to reach -- to the islands of the sea--

"From Greenland's icy mountains,
To India's coral strand"--

wherever the master's work was needed to be done, there have the truths of this branch of the Christian Church been carried. And so came Rev. Mr. Kirkpatrick to the "flowery plains" of Iowa at the date mentioned.

The cabin of James Westfall, who lived on the place now owned by Perry B. Hulse, was improvised as a meeting-house. There were not more than a dozen people present, and they were there without regard to fashion or display. Some of them walked from their houses to the place of meeting; some of them rode there in ox-wagons, and some rode there on horse-back -- two of them, especially the women, on one horse. The services were held on a Wednesday. The preacher occupied a place behind a common table, in one corner of the room. There was neither organ nor organized choir to add vocal melody to the occasion. The preacher gave out the hymn, two lines at a time, something after the following manner:

"Before Jehovah's awful throne,
Ye nations bow with sacred joy;"

then, raising his voice, the preacher led in singing. When these two lines were rendered, he lined the next two --

"Know that the Lord is God alone,
He can create, and He destroy;"

and resuming the last measure of the tune, completed the stanza, and so on, to the end of the hymn.

At that meeting, the seeds of Methodism were planted in Jefferson County; the planting, carefully and industriously cultivated, ripened into the fullness of a plentiful harvest.

After preaching, a class was formed, consisting of the following-named persons: James Westfall and wife, James O. Kirkpatrick and wife, and Eli Jones and wife. Eli Jones was appointed to be Class-Leader. There may have been two or three others, but if there were, their names have escaped the memory of our informant.

Of these pioneer representatives of Jefferson County Methodism, James Westfall and wife and Mrs. Kirkpatrick have gone

"Where the saints of all ages in harmony meet
Their Savior and brethren transported to greet;
While the anthems of rapture unceasingly roll,
And the smile of the Lord is the life of the soul."

James Kirkpatrick lives in Brighton, Washington County, and Eli Jones and wife were living in Allamakee County at last counts. The Rev. Mr. Kirkpatrick, the preacher of the occasion, subsequently returned to Illinois.

In later years and until church buildings were erected, meetings were held at the house of Mr. Lambirth.


When the settlers came to the wilds of the "Forty-Mile Strip," they brought with them that love of education which seems to be a part of every true American; and as early as the spring of 1837, they made arrangements for a school for the summer and winter of that year. There was no schoolhouse, as a matter of course, nor school districts, nor school money. Educational affairs were in chaos -- without form or organization -- and the pioneer fathers were left to their own resources and management.

A central location, as to the convenience of the neighborhood, was selected out on the prairie, now included in the farm of B. F. Bower, where a log building was erected for a schoolhouse. Each settler who had children large enough to "go to school," volunteered a certain amount of work toward its erection. It was neither large nor pretentious. There was one window in each side of the structure, and a door in one end. The furniture was of the most primitive kind. The floor was made from puncheons -- at least, it was commenced with puncheons, but school "took up" before it was finished. The seats were made of the same stuff, or, may be, from a suitably-sized tree cut in suitable lengths, and then "halved," i. e., split in two. The split sides were dressed down with a broad-ax. Holes were bored near the ends of the rounded sides, with an inch-and-a-half or two-inch auger, and pins driven in for supports. Writing "benches" or desks were made by boring slanting holes in the logs, in which supports or arms were driven, and on which a wide plank or puncheon, with the upper side dressed smooth, was laid, and held in place by a shoulder that was cut on the lower ends of the supports. This completed the furniture, unless, perhaps, an old splint-bottomed chair was added as a seat for the teacher.

The school was attended by about eighteen scholars, and was continued three months. The teacher was not very particular about the kinds of books, other than as to the character of their contents; and, even if he had been somewhat imperious and exacting in this regard, it would have been a waste of desire to arrange his scholars in classes to economize time and labor, for there is a probability the parents had not the means to buy such books as were necessary to the formation of classes. They used such books as they had, teachers, pupils and parents bowing in submission to circumstances and exigencies that surrounded them, and glad to have a school if every individual scholar had a different book. The principal books used in that first school were the English Reader (the best reader ever used in American schools), Daboll's arithmetic, Kirkham's grammar (the author of which fell victim to intemperance and died in a state of intoxication in a Cincinnati still-house) Olney's grography and Webster's elementary spelling-book; hence, the course of study was orthography, reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar and geography.

Orthography was the first great principle of education, for the people in those days were of the opinion that no one could ever become a good reader or a good scholar unless he was a good speller, and, as a consequence, children who were ambitious to become good scholars and noted and honorable men and women, were ambitious to become good spellers; and no higher honor could be bestowed upon a girl or boy than than (sic) to say they were the best spellers in the neighborhood. Spelling-schools, or spelling-matches -- who of us don't remember them? -- were frequent. But why distress old fogy minds by recalling those happy days, when they used to meet at the old log schoolhouses, choose their captains (the best spellers), who would toss up the "master's ruler" for "first choice," and then "choose up" their lieutenants, commencing with the ones they they (sic) regarded as the best spellers, more likely the prettiest girl, and so on until all the boys and girls were arranged on benches on opposite sides of the house? Then the fun commenced. The "master" "gave out" the words from side to side. How quick a "missed" word would be caught up! Those were happy days, and days that are sacred in the memory of the gray-haired fathers and mothers who took part in their exercises. It would be a pleasing reflection to them if their children, their children's children, and the children of their neighbors were permitted by the modern system of education to indulge in the same kind of old-fashioned orthographical exercises.

The school system of the spelling-school period, and even up until within a few years ago, in many localities, was fully described in the backwoods vernacular of "Pete Jones," in Eggleston's Hoosier Schoolmaster, "Lickin' and larnin'," the "lickin'" being the indispensable requisite. The perfect or ideal teacher of those days was a man of strong muscular development, with an imperious frown, a sonorous voice charged with terror, punctual in bringing "hickories" into the schoolroom, and endowed with a liberal disposition to frequently use them as back applications.

As rude as the schoolhouses were in their architecture and finish, as unpretending as were many of the old-time teachers, many of the first men of this nation graduated from them, and without any other education than what they received there, have gone out in the world and made honorable and noble records among the distinguished and representative men of the civilized nations of the world.

James T. Hardin was the teacher of the first school above mentioned, and is well remembered by the old settlers of that period. When the gold fever reached here from the Pacific Slope, he fell victim to the mania, and about 1850, 1851 or 1852, went to California. Some time after his arrival there, when passing from one part of the country to another, he found a watery grave, by drowning, while crossing the Sacramento River.

This page was created on 21 September 2014 and is copyrighted. This page and/or its linked data may be copied and used for personal purposes but can not be republished nor used for commercial purposes without the author's written permission.

I am the County Coordinator and the Webmaster, the one who is responsible for the IAGenWeb project for Jefferson County, Iowa. Please contact me if you would like to contribute to this database or if you note any problems with these pages.

Return to the 1879 History of Jefferson County Contents Page

Return to the Jefferson County Main Page