Mahaska County Biographies

Aaron W. Mattix

as recalled by his grandson, Don Mattix

Hi, I'm Don Mattix,

I've been asked to say a few words about my grandfather,  Aaron Mattix, and his collection of Indian artifacts and other relics of bygone days, as well as some of his other hobbies and interests.

He was a friendly old man, who, (as they say), never met a stranger. He would strike up a conversation with anyone, anytime, and place.

Our house was in the same yard as our grandparents so we were quite close while we were growing up.

Of course, he was collecting things long before I was born. He claimed to have over a thousand arrowheads, besides several tomahawks, at least one war club, and a couple of mortars and a pestal [sic] that Indians used to pound their grain into meal. There was also a peace pipe, made of some kind of red stone. Some of the arrowheads and tomahawks were found on the homeplace, which adjoined the Des Moines River, or on neighboring farms. He found many of them by tramping over the fields after a hard rain. Some were donated by family members and friends. Several came from relatives in other states. When an acquaintance or family member was going out of the state he would ask them to bring him a souviner; [sic] surprisingly enough, many of them did.

Most of the better tomahawks were suspended in an old buggy wheel with the spokes removed. The flat copper windings from a Model T Ford magneto coil were strung in four or five double strands across the rim. These were probably a little less than ¼" wide and quite strong. The tomahawks were inserted between the strands and held in place by copper wire ties between each one.

Many of the choice arrowheads were sewn in geometric patterns on green felt, backed by cardboard. They were displayed in antique picture frames. In the living room was an old secretary with the curved glass door on the left side and a drop-down door and drawers on the right. Some prized arrowheads, he them the bird points, were kept in there.

He also had a collection of odd rocks of various sizes, shapes, and colors. He displayed a lot of these on two concrete shelves that he had built. One was rectangular and the other round, each with three shelves. He made concrete gateposts and corner posts, many of which are still standing as straight and true as they were seventy years ago, which is about as long as I can remember.

Late September and part of October was molasses making time, a very busy time for grandpa and my dad. My brothers and I helped when we were not in school. They ran two pans and made two batches a day in each of them. Most nights it would be close to midnight when the last batch came off. In a good year they would turn out over a thousand gallons which sold for a dollar a gallon.

Most years we had a taffy pull during this season. People came from all around the neighborhood and from Oskaloosa as well. Besides pulling and eating taffy we young people played party games out in the yard. We had a great time and who knows how many romances began this way.

Another of his accomplishments was caning chairs. He would go to the timber and select a straight hickory tree, not too large, cut it, and peel the bark in narrow strips to weave the seats. In fact, this was instrumental in the establishment of the Mahaska County Historical Society.

Here I quote, in part, from an article by Mary Palmer, printed in the book on Mahaska Couty [sic] History.1

A chair led to the establishment of the Mahaska County Historical Society. An old homemade rocker in the home of John C. Bradbury needed repair. In June 1940, Bradbury took it to Aaron Mattix, a pioneer settler in East Des Moines Township, to have it reseated with hickory bark. Mattix showed him a collection of Indian and pioneer relics so interesting that Bradbury thought it should be where it could be seen by others. Mr. Mattix thought it should remain in Mahaska County.

The following month the annual meeting of the Community Memorial Day committee was held at the Bradbury cottage on the Des Moines River near Rochester. Bradbury suggested to the group a War Memorial Building which could include a historical museum. Stillman Clark, who was chairman of the group, appointed Mr. Bradbury to form a committee to make and implement plans for such a building.

On November 26, 1940, Bradbury held a meeting attended by representatives from thirty-three groups, plus several unaffiliated citizens and elected officials. They formed a temporary historical association with Bradbury as chairman.

To make a long story short, in 1953, after much work by Bradbury and the committee, the Mahaska County Historical Society was incorporated with fifty three charter members, with Mr. Bradbury as the first president. It was authorized to collect and preserve historical items and archives. The first acquisition was the Aaron Mattix collection, offered as a memorial gift by the Rev. Charles Mattix, Aaron’s son, and executor of his estate. Temporary headquarters were set up in the basement of the court house.

The Society slowly acquired other items which needed to be preserved. Later on, these things were moved to the third floor in the courthouse. After the Society acquired the Roy Nelson farm, the membership grew dramatically and many improvements and additions were made. Finally, in 1964, the museum building was completed and the exhibits were moved in, where they may be seen today.

1The History of Mahaska County, Iowa: 1984. Curtis Media Corporation, 1984. pp. 21-23.

Transcribed from personal Mattix family history documents by Susie Keller-McCain, Don's granddaughter. No one in the family can recall who requested Grandpa write this letter or when. My best estimate is the letter was written in the mid-to-late 1990s, when Grandpa was in his 80s.