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1880 History
Trading Points, Trapping and Hunting

Trading Points

It has already been remarked that quite a number of business houses for the sale of dry goods, groceries and general merchandise had been established in various parts of the county prior to the year 1846, when Iowa became a State.; but up to that time, and for many years afterward, Burlington and Keokuk were the chief trading points for Keokuk county. Some trade was carried on at Muscatine, but this was chiefly confined to lumber. There was very little farm produce which needed to be marketed for a number of years, the home demand being sufficient to exhaust the supply. The first hogs taken to market from the county was a drove of two hundred head, which was bought up in various parts of the county in 1848 by J. B. Whisler and driven to Burlington. The next season the same gentleman drove about four hundred hogs to the same market. In 1850 Mr. A. E. Lowe engaged in the stock business, and continued in it till 1855. Mr. Lowe's operations the first year were confined to hogs; he bought about three hundred and fifty head and drove them to Burlington; they averaged 240 pounds, and brought, in the Burlington market, $1.75 per hundred pounds. The basis upon which operations of this kind were carried on in those days forms a marked contrast with the basis of such operations in this day of quick returns and small profits. The dealer bought up the stock and gave his note for the purchase price. After he had accumulated a drove sufficiently large he started for the market, and this, owing to the great distance and the slow movements of the fattened stock, often required weeks for the round trip. There was indeed one circumstance which expedited business. In the language of Mr. Lowe, "The hogs were good travelers." After disposing of the drove and returning, the stock dealer again made the round of his circuit and paid for the stock. If his venture proved a fortunate one, he could pay all his bills and have something left as a compensation for his trouble; if not, some of the stock raisers had to wait until the drover made another trip. The money which the drovers thus circulated through the country was principally bank-bills on the State banks of Ohio and Indiana.

An incident peculiar to these times, illustrating the status of commercial operations, is related of a gentleman who may or may not have resided in Keokuk county, but the authenticity of the statements can be vouched for. Mr. M. was proprietor of a store where was sold a line of general merchandise. Mr. M. carried on quite an extensive trade with the farmers of that section, and was doing a flourishing business. However, as is generally the case with establishments of that kind, there accumulated quite a large amount of old goods, out of style and out of date. Under these circumstances, some merchants would have offered the old goods at "less than cost," or employed a loquacious auctioneer to dispose of them to the highest bidder - but not so with Mr. M. He proceeded as follows: It being a prosperous year with farmers, he entered the field early as a hog-buyer, buying hogs of all sizes and descriptions; bought late and early, and bought continuously for a number of weeks, giving his note for the purchase-money, as was customary in those days. After he had bought all the hogs in the county which were for sale, and which were old enough to travel, the word was passed around that all hogs thus purchased should be delivered at the county-seat on a given day. The hogs came, filling the town and the region round about. Mr. M., in the meantime, had employed quite a force of medium-sized boys and vocal men, who, on the given day, were to take charge of the hogs and drive them to Keokuk, Mr. M. accompanying them.

Upon arriving at Keokuk, Mr. M. concluded that the St. Louis market was preferable to the Keokuk market, so he chartered a large boat, after dismissing all of his employes except a few who were in his secret, put the hogs on board, and, having given final instructions to the remaining employes, dismissed them and himself set sail for St. Louis. Upon the return of the first delegation of drovers, there was some little uneasiness on the part of Mr. M-'s note-holders. The former persons could give no satisfactory account of Mr. M., and it was whispered among the latter tliat he had lost heavily by the transaction. After a few days the rest of the drovers returned, and on being questioned appeared to know as little of Mr. M. as those who had preceded them. Soon it was whispered around that Mr. M. had failed and most likely would not return. One by one came the persons of whom Mr. M. had bought hogs and turned in their notes for goods at the store, and soon the crowd became so numerous that they could not be waited on by the force of clerks then employed; more clerks were employed, and Mr. M.'s establishment was so thronged that it resembled a rush at a savings bank in time of a panic. All styles of dry goods and clothing, which had lain on the shelves for years, were bought up with avidity; boxes containg groceries which had not been opened for months were soon emptied and were heaped up in the rear of the building; all kinds of cutlery, hardware, agricultural implements, jewelry, musical instruments and toys were carried off by the wagon-load. In short, there was a pressing demand for everj'thing and anything which farmers could eat, drink or wear, both useful and ornamental, and at the end of a week Mr. M's entire stock, including all the old goods which had long been a drug on the market, was disposed of and the shelves bare. At this supreme moment Mr. M. returned with a large stock of new goods and his pockets full of money. He pretended to be greatly surprised when he found his store-room empty and manifested great feeling when informed of the reports which were afloat; he even threatened to prosecute the parties who originated the story of his insolvency. Mr. M., however, took no steps to discover the names and location of his traducers; he even regained his accustomed urbanity, and it was a matter of surprise to many how quickly Mr. M. rallied from the fit of gloom and despondency which seized him on his first return. Mr. M. continued to buy stock for many years thereafter, but his patrons never made another run on his store.

There were persons in every settlement who made a business of freighting, making regular trips to Burlington and Keokuk, while stage lines were operated to and from the principal cities for the accommodation of the public.

The journey was often long and wearisome. The sloughs were not bridged, and in the spring it was no uncommon thing for a passenger on the stage to make his journey on foot and carry a rail with which to help pry the stage out of the mire. This was "high-toned" traveling, and from this may be imagined what sort of a journey was that of a lone settler and an ox team.

Sigourney was quite a pioneer town itself then, and accommodations were limited: It is related that on one occasion the boarders at a certain house had rather a late breakfast. It happened in this wise: The landlord had noticed that his larder was running low, but he was in hourly expectation of supplies. One evening the pantry was bankrupt, but the host was in hopes his team would come with provisions before morning. But "hope deferred maketh the heart sick" at every dawn. The landlord looked wistfully down the divide in vain. Finally he mounted a horse and rode to a house down the road, where he secured a little meal and half a side of bacon from a settler and started for home. The half-dozen hungry boarders sat in front of the cabin pining for the flesh-pots of civilization, and soon their spirits arose and "their mouths began to water, for away to the south came the plucky landlord, riding like a Jehu, and holding aloft the half-side of bacon as a sign of relief."

For a long time the post-offices at Richland and Sigourney, receiving a mail twice a month, afforded all the mail facilities there were in the county, and from these offices the mail was sometimes taken in bulk to the country store and kept in a dry goods box marked, as likely as not, "Smith & Co., Burlington, Iowa," from which the gentlemanly shopkeeper distributed the precious missives to the anxious inquirers who had traveled, perhaps, many weary miles on foot to receive from the rude box the long delayed letter that brought a message of love from the dear ones far away.

The towns which had been laid out being so small, and the means of transportation to them being so limited and irregular, they were unable to supply, regularly, the now increasing demand from all around them, and settlers in these parts thought themselves happy if they were not compelled to go on far beyond there to Keokuk or Burlington to obtain the necessaries of life.

In order to secure many of the necessaries of life they were often under the necessity of going to Burlington and Keokuk to supply the wants of their pioneer homes. After stores and trading-points began to be established in this connty, the merchants for many years were in the habit of going to these distant points on the river to purchase their stock of goods and bring them through by wagon transportation.

Occasionally a number of families in a community would club together, make out a list of what they needed, and send off to the trading-post as many men and teams as necessary, or as could be obtained, to procure and bring home supplies for all; and thus to a great degree they worked together and to one another's interest as one great family.

In this way, also, they took turns in going to mill, to the stores, for the mail, etc., and when a cabin was to be raised, or a neighbor assisted in any way, all within reach or hearing turned out with one accord, quite willing to lend the helping hand, and enjoy in common the feast and frolic that was sure to accompany all such gatherings.

In this isolated condition, pioneer life here, as elsewhere, was one of stern realities and serious trials, especially for the sick and aged ones while so far removed from points of supply and almost completely cut off fromi communication with the outside world. If a stranger from any distance came into the new settlement he was treated with unusual cordiality and questioned with unabating zeal with regard to the great world-matters without; and if he saw fit to accept the urgent invitation of the settlers to share their humble hospitality in welcome for many days, he might rest assured that he must pass through that long siege of innocent questioning by the inquisitive settlers, from which he would often derive as much pleasure and profit as they.

Trapping and Hunting

The sports and customs of the early settlers were not so numerous and varied as at present, but they were no less enjoyable and interesting.

Hunters now-adays would be only too glad to be able to find and enjoy their favorable opportunities for hunting and fishing; and even travel hundreds of miles sometimes, counting it rare pleasure to spend a few weeks among the lakes and on the wild prairies and woodlands in hunt and chase and fishing frolics, where not half so good hunting and fishing sport was furnished as was in this vicinity twenty-five or thirty years ago. There were a good many excellent hunters here at an early day, too, who enjoyed the sport as well as any can at the present.

Wild animals of various kinds were found here in abundance during the time of the early settlement. The prairies, and woods, and streams, and various bodies of water, were all thickly inliabited before the white man, and even for some time after the white man came.

Serpents were to be found in such large numbers and of such immense size that some stories told by the early settlers would be incredible were it not for the large array of concurrent testimony which is to be had from the most authentic sources.

Deer, turkeys, ducks, geese, and various other kinds of choice game were plentiful, affording freely and at the expense of killing what are now considered the choice and costly dishes in the restaurants. The fur animals, also, were abundant, such as the otter, beaver, mink, muskrat, raccoon, panther, fox, wolf, wild-cat and bear.

Deer and elk were quite numerous on these prairies for some time after the first settlements were made. These various kinds of game afforded not only pleasure, but profit, for those among the early settlers who were lovers of hunt and chase; and skillful hunters were not scarce in those days in proportion to the number of inhabitants. Many interesting incidents and daring adventures occurred in connection with these hunting excursions, which the old settlers who still remain seem never tired of relating, and we here propose to insert a few of these reminiscences, related in the language of the actors in them.

A gentleman who formerly lived on South Skunk, near the forks of theriver, says that in early days the grass and weeds along the river were so tall and the wolves and rattlesnakes so plenty that it was necessary to proceed with great care, and it was not prudent to even start out to liunt the cows without being provided with a large club or other weapon of defenceagainst these noxious animals. "Often," says he, "have I gone through the Skunk river bottoms in search of my cattle with a large club in one hand hand a bowie-knife in the other, the wolves howling on either side and for miles not out of the hearing of the rattling and hissing of snakes." Mr. Adams informs us that he once stopped over night with two old batchelors who were living near the Washington county line, that during the day had killed two hundred twenty-five rattlesnakes, and who were not in the least damaged in their numerous encounters save as to their appetite, the remembrance of the slimy reptiles, after returning from the slaughter interfered with the enjoyment of their frugal evening meal. Capt. Baker says that there was formerly a rattlesnake-den in Richland township where the serpents of all sizes and species seemed to congregate. On a certain occasion a number of persons undertook to exterminate them; they put in an entire day and in the evening they had three large piles which resembled brush heaps, the rattlesnakes in one heap, the black-snakes in another heap and a third heap composed of common garter-snakes. Mr. James relates the particulars of an encounter he once had with a rattlesnake. It was in the summer of 1843, about three miles northwest of Sigourney. He was assisting one W. H. Harrison in digging a well. They had gone to the depth of fifteen or twenty feet when night closing in they suspended their labors till the next day. No settlers and no stock being in the vicinity the well was left quite uncovered. On the next morning it was the lot of Mr. James to first descend into the well. Before being lowered he discovered that the well had fallen in all around for a few inches above the bottom and that in spots water was visible. Taking, therefore, only a tin cup he was lowered to see the state of afiairs. Wlien he arrived at the bottom he directed the bucket to be hoisted out of the way in order that he might make a fuller and more accurate inspection. There were good indications of plenty of water and Mr. James fancied that he heard the gurgling of water coming in at the side. Turning his gaze in the direction from which the sound proceeded he beheld the curled up form of an immense rattlesnake, the gurgling noise proceeding from the snake's rattles. The rapidity with which the reptile revealed and concealed its malicious tongue convinced Mr. James that in its fall it had not lost its deadly power of attack. For some time he stood and viewed his adversary. But one short step could be taken in retreat and he did not [think] best to take it. Without taking his eye away from the serpent Mr. James directed the bucket to be lowered with the spade. This was promptly done. He then took hold of the rope with one hand and the spade in the other and requested to be raised a short distance. As soon as he came in reach of the snake he dealt it a blow with the spade which severed its head from the body. The prairie rattlesnake never grew to be very
large; this one was three feet long and had seven rattles.

Wolves were very numerous and troublesome. It was impossiable to raise sheep, and hogs as well as larger animals were not safe from the attacks of these gaunt and ferocious wild beasts. On account of their many and persistent depredations, as well as the fact that the State ofiered a premium on their scalps, systematic and continued efforts were made by certain indivduals to capture them. In some instances poison was nsed, in other cases steel traps, and others had resort to their dogs and guns. In 1844 Mr. A. Covey invented and manufactured a wolf-trap which proved to be quite successful in its way. During the month of February that year, Covey caught in that trap sixteen wolves and among the number a very large one which had made itself notorious for years and which many hunters had vainly tried to capture. The trap was on exhibition at a recent Old Settlers' reunion and will probably be well cared for during the life time of the inventor.

"Quincy" Adams, John W. Snelson and G. B. Cook were the most renowned deer hunters. Mr. Adams says that it was no unusual occurrence to see from forty to fifty deer within a radius of one mile from Sigourney. In those days Mr. Adams never thought it worth his while to leave the shop for a hunt unless he brought down at least four or five deer. Mr. Cook had a peculiar way of shooting deer; his plan was to climb a tree and await the coming of the game, when he would fire upon them from the tree. He is said to have been very successful in this manner and seldom returned from the hunt without bringing home an abundant supply of venison.

Samuel Hardesty, who since 1843 has resided on the divide between the two forks of Skunk river, says that for many years his cabin was never without a good supply of venison. He regarded it a very easy task, at any time, to take his rifle and kill three or four deer. He generally went on foot and when a deer came in range it generally was his meat; it was immaterial whether the animal was standing still or running. Sometimes, especially when there was snow on the ground, he would go on horseback, and when he killed a deer it was lashed to his horse's tail, and then, mounting the horse, the rider set out for further conquests. When another animal fell before the unerring aim of his rifle, it was tied on to the other deer, and some times he might be seen returning from the chase dragging three or four deer, all lashed to the caudal appendage of his horse. Mr. Hardesty also frequently took part in the circle-hunts. The plan was for some two or three hundred men to surround a considerable area of country and gradually close in, thus driving the wolves into a very small area, where they were slaughtered by the hundred. These circles frequently had for their centre a point in the Skunk river bottom not far from the place where Mr. Hardesty now resides, and said ravine proved to be the last ditch for hundreds of these predatory quadrupeds. It was not long after the State offered a premium on wolf scalps that these troublesome representatives of the canine species were exterminated.

Transcribed by Pat Wahl.

Source: The History of Keokuk County, Iowa, A History of the County, Its Cities, Towns, &c., Illustrated, 1880