This story was written by my great, great, grand aunt, Mary Ellen Jewell. She passed this story to my grand aunt; Mabel Jewell who in turn gave this typed written story to me sometime in the mid 1970’s. I had started to show an interest in my family tree as a pre teen child and my aunt Mabel passed this treasure on to me. It has sat in my collection all these years and I finally decided to take on the task of retyping this story on my computer to be able to share it with anyone who finds history as entertaining as I do. I believe it was written sometime around 1928 in Onawa, Iowa. Please enjoy this story about a time not too long ago, but which was so very different from the world that we live in now. Even Mary herself, as she wrote this story in the late 1920’s, described the world that she was living in at that time as the inventive age. If she could only see how much the world has changed since then?
This was rewritten in Mary’s own words and without corrections by Dennis Lee Petty in October of 2015.
RECOLLECTIONS OF A PIONEER MOTHER
To my four granddaughters, Gladys A. Mobley, Leona M. Bader, Bonnie G. Bader and Isabel Adams, I affectionately dedicate these memoirs.
I will try in a simple way to tell you of some of the incidents of those times when they occurred in my family which I think did not differ materially from other pioneer families.
But if grammar and spelling are incorrect, please remember the college professor was not an instructor in rural schools, my schoolmates and I attended.
My father, William Jewell and my mother (Betsy Dates Jewell) were New England people. They became acquainted and were married while they were both employed as help on a farm owned by Colonel Kingsbury of the Revolutionary Army.
My father received fourteen dollars per month. My mother, seventy-five cents per week. If wages were small, land was cheap, and from their meager wages they managed to save enough to buy a farm.
Migration seems to have had an overwhelming influence in my father’s life, for from Pennsylvania he moved to Illinois, from there to Buchanan County, Iowa. Again in the spring of 1855, he with his family started out to seek a new location.
The family at that time consisted of my parents, three sons, Howard, Rockwell, Anderson, and two daughters, Orileta and Leila, the latter being married still lived in Illinois. Another daughter died and was buried in Cayuga, New York.
Their wanderings in search of a home suited to father’s idea of what would be a paying investment and the best outlook for the future of his sons, brought him to Nebraska where they stopped for a few days on the banks of the Elkhorn river in order that mother could do some baking and laundry work.
It was while in camp at this place that he had a valuable horse stolen by Indians. The trail was plain and broad, showing they were quite a large band. For this reason father could get no help from the few white men there, in recovering his horse. They, wiser than he, knew the murderous disposition of the red men. Father, at that time, knew little of Indians, never having lived where they were in great numbers. Though the horse was a great loss, he was obliged to go on without it.
His next stop was Omaha. At that time it could scarcely be called a town. A few cabins, mostly saloons and gambling dens, where the rougher elements from Council Bluffs or Kanesville, as it was then called, found refuge from the stricter laws imposed on the citizens of Council Bluffs, which was a thriving little village. The Government land office was situated there, two or three stores, a Mormon church, and a much better class of citizens. Although saloons held a prominent place, they were kept under better control.
Evert inducement was brought to bear on the family to locate there. Father was favorably impressed, not so my mother. She had sons and the saloons did not appeal to her. So once more they moved on, finally arriving three and one-half miles south of Onawa, Iowa, July 1855. Here on the banks of Guard Lake, under the spreading branches of an elm tree, they pitched their tent.
Onawa was not in existence then, nor for two years afterwards. The post office and such business as was needful to the county was done at Ashton.
My parents being agreed as to location, they purchased 80 acres of prairie land where their camp was made, for which they paid the Government $1.25 per acre. The deed was made out at Kanesville, sent to Washington, D.C., and there signed by Franklin Pierce, President of the United States of America.
Timber land was of greater value, bringing, I believe, $2.40 per acre. Father purchased one hundred acres of timber land which proved rather a poor investment, as the ever shifting channel of the Missouri River soon made big inroads on the timber, and as the river cut faster then the one saw mill owned by Jack Thompson could saw, and the small demand for lumber, made the expense greater than the profit. Some of it was rafted and sold to Omaha dealers in the form of logs, but a big per cent found lodgment in the river, where it was a constant menace to the steamboats.
As previously stated the homestead was located on the bank of lower Guard Lake. That summer father and his sons, with the aid of the neighbors, who were few indeed, built a three room log house. I wonder if the carpenters of today could use the broad axe as our fore-fathers were forced to do. No mills were here at that time. After sawing a log to the length desired, the broad axe was used to split boards to the proper thickness, then smoothed with an adze. Holes were bored and then fastened by wooden pins into similar holes in the log beams, Our furniture was fashioned in the same crude way. The spaces between the logs were chinked with wedge-shaped pieces of wood and filled in with dirt mixed with ashes, moistened to the proper consistency. The soil being gumbo, stuck all right.
In that old log house, on one of the coldest nights of the winter, so I have been told, January 7, 1857, I was born. Here I grew to womanhood. Here in the newer house built from lumber sawed from father’s own timber, I was married to Almon Adams. Here our three children were born. Three of our grandchildren were born here also. Three generations have been married in the same parlor. Here my parents died, also my husband and son, Guy. As I write the changes that have taken place, it spreads like a panorama before me. Again as a child, I seem to see a vision of myself, seated on father’s knee, listening with absorbing interest, to the tales of adventures and hardships encountered on new or unknown trails, as related by travelers stopping for the night (for every man’s house was an open inn) or to incidents in our own family, as related by father or some older member, before I was old enough to be an observer of events myself. Unlike the child of today I had no beautifully colored books of fairy tales from which mother read to me at night. So the bedtime stories were the actual happenings as experienced by the hardy men and women of that day. During the recital I shared with the narrators all the thrills they, by any possibility could have experienced.
Among the happenings as related by my father, was this bit of court proceedings as conducted by the Omaha Indians:
The first winter our family was here the agent on the Omaha reservation sent word to the settlers to meet on a certain day at the agency and present any claims for stock, known to have been stolen by the Indians. My father and a few others from the Iowa side of the river went over at the specified time.
Beside the agent, Fontenelle (the war chief), White Cloud (the tribal chief), a crowd of Indians, and a few white men, from the Nebraska side of the river had assembled when the party from Iowa arrived. When fathers case was called he told the agent of the loss of his horse while in camp on the Elkhorn, it was interpreted for the Indians.
White Cloud sprang to his feet and began to make a fiery speech in the Omaha language. He finally came to a halt and father was asked what tribe of Indians had stolen the horse. That father did not know. White Cloud angrily told the agent that the claim could not be allowed, for it might be Omaha, or it might be Sioux or any other tribe of Indians which was quite true. The rest of the Indians grunted their approval, and the next case was called. During the conversation that followed White Cloud became more and more excited. The Indians were getting restless and the agent uneasy. Not liking the appearance of things and his business ended, father came home. The council usually covered several days. The other men stayed over until the next day.
During the next days proceedings White Cloud became more and more unmanageable, and the Agent several times made him sit down. At last a claim was allowed, and the excited and angry chief sprang to his feet and began a vigorous protest. Others of the tribe began to show an ugly approval, White Cloud hurled defiance at the agent refusing to be seated when ordered to do. At this juncture, Fontenelle, who up to this time had been a quiet spectator, slowly made his way to the side of White Cloud. Suddenly drawing his hunting knife, with one quick stroke, he completely severed the chieftain’s upper lip, saying, “White Cloud talks too much.”
Needless to say White Cloud did not again interrupt the meeting which soon thereafter came to a close. After this White Cloud was easily indentified by the buckskin patch which he always wore in lieu of the missing lip.
Other bed-time stories, in which the settlers run a close shave in their dealings with the red men, which for the limited space allotted me, must remain untold.
We never suffered for food or fuel in those days. Wild Fowl and deer were plentiful. The streams were full of fish, and though fruit did not grow in such a variety as in other places, it also was plentiful.
Farming was done on a limited scale, in the most laborious way, and if the dissatisfied people of today were forced to transport the products of their farms as the pioneers were forced to do, they would have a kinder feeling towards the transportation concerns of today. While I concede that freight charges are high, transportation by ox teams or river were so much higher, and when the river became frozen over, we were dependent upon the freighter and his team for supplies, over muddy roads on through blinding snow storms which completely blotted every land mark. Perishable goods were unattainable. As an incident: I once heard an old German freighter tell an experience of his which will explain the situation perfectly.
One winter potatoes were a scarce article, so for speculation he bought a load of potatoes in St. Louis and hauled them to Sioux City. Upon arrival there he rented a cellar, and when he emptied them in the bin, he said they went rattle, rattle, but after he had advertised them and customers began to arrive; to use his own words: “By golly them potatoes were all soft, and I could not sell one of them.” St. Louis was the trade center as Chicago is now.
Farm products consisting of pork, wheat, oats, lard, honey, beeswax and tallow, were hauled to Council Bluffs, and there exchanged for the barest necessities.
We were forced to live within the means provided by the farm from which we manufactured articles for the most of our needs. After the vegetables were safely stored for winter, and the butchering was done. Beeves were killed, the tallow melted and run in molds. This furnished the lights for long winter evenings. Bees were robbed, the honey extracted by pressing through a cloth. This furnished sweetenings for cakes and pies. Sugar was a scarce article indeed. Peas, roasted and ground, rye, and even corn was roasted to almost a charred condition. This furnished our morning cup of coffee. Tea at three and four dollars per pound, could be kept only for visitors or sickness. Once I heard a boy remark, “that when Ma had tea for dinner he knew that it was Sunday.” After the honey was extracted the comb was soaked in water, and carefully strained into kegs to ferment for vinegar. The comb was boiled in water, and wax, when cooled, rose to the top, the refuse sank to the bottom. The wax was once more melted and run in molds to be sold, as it was used in the manufacture of candles for commercial use.
We had no schools in the rural districts or anywhere else, until the citizens of Onawa organized, and secured Mr. Wright of Sioux City, as an instructor with the exception of one winter when Aaron Cook, father, and one or two others hired an old gentleman named Bowen, to teach the boys who were sadly in need of an education.
Mr. Cook placed a small log hut at the disposal of the teacher and he received a small sum of money per pupil, and his board and lodging.
The old gentleman got along very well with reading, writing and spelling, but after passing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, to use a riverman’s expression, “he struck a snag.” So he told the boys as they would probable all be farmers or woodsmen, the remainder of the book would be a waste of time to learn: they might as well discontinue that study. So the boys, having learned to read, and write a little, the school came to a close.
Later on a school district was founded which since has been divided into three districts, and at the present time consolidated schools have taken the place of the rural schools and warm conveyances take the children to and from school, over roads where once their grandparents waded through mud and snow, arriving at the school with sodden shoes and wet feet which our teachers allowed us to warm and dry while we studied our lessons. Overshoes were unknown to us then; so at night before retiring a dish containing tallow was melted and our shoes rubbed and worked into a degree of softness for the next day.
Every farmer had brought cattle with them, in fact the luxuriant grass and pea vine was the inducement that brought many of them here. Durhams for beef; Dabonshire, for dairy, were the two predominating herds. There was scarcity of hogs for a time until later arrivals relieved the situation. Chester Whites, Suffolks and Essex were the breeds most in evidence. They were turned out to forage, and soon became so numerous they were a nuisance. The older ones were a menace, and more than one man was forced to step lively or climb a tree when he encountered a drove of them. In the fall each man selected enough, bearing his mark, to roundup and fatten for home and market. Sometimes they were killed without penning, having helped themselves to corn from fields poorly protected by rails. In that case several farmers joined forces. A man on horse back accompanied by a dog, selected a drive, singling out a hog. At a command from his master the dog seized the hog and held it until the man dismounted and struck the hog, the dog guarded his master from assault by the remainder of the herd. A man with a team and wagon followed up and collected the hogs which were left to bleed to death by the man on horseback. When enough had been killed in this way to keep the rest of the butchers busy who had been left to heat water and erect a frame to hang the hogs to cool, the Wagon returned, unloaded the dead carcasses and returned for more; another man being sent to relieve the sticker, as the man who killed the hogs was called. Enough hogs were butchered to cure for home use and market, rarely bringing more than two dollars and twenty-five cents per hundred after being hauled to Council Bluffs of Sioux City which had become a commercial rival of Council Bluffs.
Others drove the hogs to market and shipped by boat to St. Louis which was a very expensive form of shipment as well as uncertain, for the river was full of hidden snags which might have at any moment tear a hole in the side or bottom of the boat. If there was insurance on shipments I never heard of it, for the loss was sustained by the shipper, or that was the impression I had from conversations I heard.
Just how dangerous river transportation was, perhaps you may understand, for at a dangerous part of the river between Onawa and Blencoe, seven steamboats sank. I can only recall the names of three of them at this time. The steamer Nora and Virginia City, passenger boats owned by a company, and the freighter, Jacab Sass, named for the owner who had charge of the boat when it sank.
The channel, at this point, ran around a bend in the river and I have seen boats going north, delayed for two or three days. The crew working as hard as they could to pass the curve against the swiftly running current, burying logs to which ropes were attached, windlassing, snubbing to trees and by every device known to river men. When a boat was sunk they always tried to salvage the boiler and engine and as much of the furnishings as possible. The insurance company was notified and the furnishings were usually auctioned off.
Much of the cargo was lost, however, and floated down the stream, and what a scramble there was when such articles were seen afloat by people living along the river, just as people of today hustle for the wreckage of a train.
To witness and share in the labor of converting the prairie into cultivated fields is a joy. The memory of a pleasure; for each and every child had some work to do in which we took the greatest pride. The tasks taught us self reliance. Sickness and suffering, endurance. Dangers taught us courage, for we were often left alone when our parents were forced to make the long tedious drives for supplies, and to market the products from the farm.
We were taught how to protect our homes from the destructive prairie fires which was such a menace in the fall, by back fire. How to care for cuts and burns; how to stop excessive bleeding, for there was no doctor that a telephone could summon in those days. For the first resident doctor who stayed longer than a few months was Dr. Ordway, who lived on a farm in the Maple Valley, who besides his fee demanded that his patient should furnish a man to take the doctor’s place in the field. He brewed his own remedies from herbs and acted as nurse until he considered his patient well on the road to recovery; and as his pills and bills were both large he was not called until home remedies had failed. Then as sometimes happened his services were of no avail, and the sick one died.
Never will I forget the death of a little boy, a schoolmate whose kind and loving disposition endeared him to us all. His illness was brief; his death sudden, caused from a congestive chill, the fatal ending to malaria. Mother and other neighbors made his burial clothes, and Frank Oliver, who was a carpenter, made the plain, wooden casket, and he was laid to rest by sympathizing neighbors in the cemetery in Little Sioux.
When the next term of school began (for he died during vacation) by mutual sympathy and respect among his schoolmates, the peg where he hung his hat; the place on the shelf where his dinner pail was always placed each morning; the desk where he sat; was kept vacant by silent consent of each little pupil during that term. A silence, unusual among children, subdued our play for many days, but like all healthy children, we soon began to play with our usual enthusiasm though dear little Willie Hartly was sadly missed.
No church with its clanging bell called us to service, but occasionally some wandering minister would hold a nightly service for a week in the school house or some times of a Sunday, and I think I have listened to ministers of nearly every denomination, but my regard and sincere respect goes to Jehile savage, a minister of the Latter Day Saints Faith, a branch of the Mormon church. For he not only preached charity to all, but practiced it. He lived among us for many years, preached when the few people here at that time could attend. His congregation consisted of barefoot children, calico-clad women, and homemade clothed men. He himself dressed in the clothes his wife made, even to the straw hat in summer, and the coon-skin cap in winter. His feet were clad in moccasins purchased from the Indians. If a farmer needed help, he answered the call in sickness; he acted as nurse. If his garden furnished vegetables his neighbors lacked, he placed them at their disposal. He helped the needy, and his home was always open to homeless ones so long as they care to stay. He lived to ripe old age, then passed on to a better world I hope, and in which he firmly believed existed for those who did their best to make this world a little brighter.
Many incidents in the early life of the pioneers of Monona County have become history and are recorded in the county history; but as I intended this as a personal review of my life, I will try to conform to the theme more strictly and do less rambling.
I have often thought that my advent into the family was rather disconcerting to the other members, who were considered older than myself. My sister, Orletta, was eight years old, and was the youngest child until I laid claim to that honor. Always in the way, a hindrance in the busy life of the household, I became the pal of my brothers who took me with them whenever possible, and the nature of their work permitted riding on the homemade farm tools, fashioned by my father and hauled behind an ox team; for my father had traded his horses immediately upon his arrival here, for cattle; so I can follow the slow evolution of our homestead from prairie to cultivated fields. The methods employed did not permit a large acreage, only enough being used to supply the needs of the family and occasionally a small surplus.
First the ground was plowed, of course, by a factory made article, and thoroughly dragged with a homemade affair, which was shaped like a capital A. Even the teeth were fashioned by a blacksmith. This was followed by a marker fashioned like a sled if the land was to be put in corn which was run lengthwise then crossed, thus forming squares in which children with small pails filled with corn, dropped three or four kernels in each check which was covered by other children with hoes. We were tired boys and girls by the time a cloth hoisted on a pole announced that dinner was ready. And such a dinner as our mothers set before us; corn bread, or perhaps biscuits fresh from the oven, with butter and honey, sausage and fried ham, home cured from the log smoke house, sweet milk or cold water drawn from the open well by a windlass and rope; preserves made from wild fruits preserved in honey or sorghum molasses, custard pie or pumpkin pie which was made from the dried vegetable; all made from the products of the farm by the family’s labor. An hours rest and once more the work began. When finished the ground was rolled with a wooden log. When the corn had to be cultivated it was done with one broad shovel and the corn was cultivated two ways, which left very few weeds to be hoed later on.
If the crop was to be wheat the land was prepared in the same way baring the marking. The farmer with a sack over his shoulder in which he carried the wheat, staggered over the field with his load broadcasting the wheat using both hands after which the ground was harrowed both ways and rolled. The ripened grain was cut with a cradle and bound by hand, requiring three operations; first the cutting, then raked into bundles with a homemade rake, then bound with a band made from the grain itself. Finally, after stacking it was flailed out with another homemade tool, and winnowed by pouring from one vessel into another, or by letting it fall on to a board floor during a strong wind. If the grain was to be sold it was put in grain sacks and sewed with a sack needle. A large bent needle fashioned like a surgeon’s needle.
The next advance in farming methods was made by George Erb who bought a fanning mill run by hand, and borrowed or hired by all his neighbors until wore it out. John Dingman and his partner, Abe Mosher, brought the first improvement in corn planters by introducing a hand planter which operated by filling a small hopper with the corn and was released by a slide shutter which opened when pushed in the ground and closed when pulled up, and was considered a big improvement. They also brought the first McCormick reaper which cut the grain and dumped the unbound bundle to be bound by the old method which necessitated a harvest crew of twelve men to keep up with the harvester.
Morrison followed this improvement by the purchase, a few years later, of a Marsh harvester which was operated by three men who rode on the machine.
The first mower was bought by Timothy Murphy Sr., during the Civil War and was run by his son Timothy Jr., who, I am told paid for it, by cutting hay for his neighbors the first year. But I remember while cutting hay for my father he broke the sickle by running into a deer’s antlers which laid in great numbers all over the prairies. This made a long delay. For he had to send to Council Bluffs or St. Louis for repairs. We had no railroad at that time and you can imagine the vexatious delay; but at that time it beat cutting with a scythe, as had been done so long.
The first men to interest themselves in Horticulture were James McWilliams and Frank Oliver, Sr., and later by my brother Anderson Jewell and Henry Kratz, who suffered many failures and disappointments which did not cool their ardor. Until the time of their death they were still active in the pursuit for new varieties, and my brother was a proud man when he succeeded in growing a few peaches by banking the trees with straw. Henry Kratz became successful as a grape grower as well as the other fruits. Prior to this now, and then, a nursery man used to come from Nebraska with his nursery stock packed in a wagon box filled with moist sawdust, and peddled his trees to those who wanted to buy.
As to grain; spring wheat, buckwheat and corn of an early variety, much like Minnesota corn was grown until John Barcus, Sr., brought from Ohio the first Yellow Dent which was in favor among the few farmers who when horse driven corn planter were being used, had increased the acreage.
The first winter wheat to prove a success was sown by John Tyron, Sr., in Sherman Township and was of the Turkey Red variety.
The first threshing machine to thresh on this farm was a tread power owned by a Mr. Philips, which piled the wheat together with the chaff at the side and dumped the straw at the rear where it was hauled away by means of a long pole with a rope attached to each end; a whiffletree hitched to the knotted ends of the rope and hauled by a horse to keep the straw away from the machine. The next was a horse power bought at Council Bluffs by the Brooks brothers who lived near the Woodbury County Line, and on their way home they threshed enough to pay for the machine.
The household was run on the same economical lines. The few clothes we had were all sewed by hand. Shaker-bonnets which always reminded me of a covered wagon in its style; and sunbonnets furnished our head covering in the summer, while the men wore straw hats, braided from oat straw by the deft fingers of the women.
The present mayor of Onawa may well feel proud of his industrious mother who could fashion the straw hats in so attractive and well fitting forms that they found favor among the young men of the neighborhood.
She also lined and trimmed the caskets her husband made for the last long sleep of our loved ones, and mingled her tears in loving sympathy with our own when the death angel entered our homes. The dear old lady and her husband have passed on, but their friendship and neighborly acts still linger in the hearts of those who once knew them.
And did not life become a bore, you ask me; and did you not nearly die of the monotonous tasks? Was there never any excitement?
And I answer that where ever healthy, clean-minded young folks gather there is plenty of excitement and lots of fun, and social life was as keenly enjoyed as it is now with less perhaps, of strife and envy; and where we had the tasks to do I do not think it was more fatiguing than the endless round of club affairs and social duties the younger generation feels it incumbent on themselves to bear.
At least we were acquainted with our families, and no house was too luxuriously furnished to permit an occasional frolic or dance. It was, though simply furnished, a HOME, and not the occasional meeting place for the entire family.
Indian massacres and raids in the states of Minnesota, the Dakotas and around Spirit Lake, Iowa, kept us in constant dread of a like attack, for we did not have the protection of a fort, and as Indians outnumbered the white population, our families were careful in their dealings with them and put up with their thefts rather than rouse their ire.
I have heard my parents tell of an incident that came near to a tragedy innocently brought about by my father. One day in late fall, after the first snow, Indians making a drive on deer for a killing, which was done by circling the herd by Indians on ponies and on foot, yelling, beating tom-toms, and frightening the deer. They narrowed the circle until the terror stricken animals would rush into the nearest woods and were there slaughtered by their hidden foe. It was during such a drive my father, taking his rifle, told my mother that the deer were heading for the wood-lot a few rods south of the house, and he was going to try and get one. Hiding behind a tree he had not waited long before a young doe made her appearance and father, though a good shot with a rifle, merely wounded her, but as she bounded away she left a big trail of blood which father knew would soon cause her fall. He soon came to her carcass which two young Indians were preparing to skin. Father told them that was his deer, at the same time stepping between them and their guns which they had left leaning against a tree. They could not speak much English but kept repeating “me kill um.” After a brief argument father grabbed a club dropped his rifle and started towards them. They immediately took flight, leaving their guns which father did not touch or go near. After skinning the deer he picked up his rifle and came home, giving no thought to the matter after telling the family of the affair. But the following afternoon Mr. Sumner, an early settler, and Indian trader, who understood and could talk their language and an angry chief called father out of the house and gravely told him unless he could explain matters to the satisfaction of the chief, that father and his family were in grave danger, at the hands of the Indians. Father told Sumner every detail which was interpreted to the chief who demanded to be shown where the deer had been killed. Taken to the place he carefully went over the ground, found the guns and told Sumner the white man had told the truth. So closed an incident that might have had a different ending.
This incident so prejudiced father against the Indians coupled with the loss of his horse, that it made him determined to have nothing further to do with them. So a few weeks later when the weather had turned into a blizzard, a wet, cold Indian came to the door and started to enter the house without the formality of knocking, which was the Indian custom. Father told him to leave. He dropped his head in such a dejected manner that father, who was really a kind hearted man, could not turn even an Indian from his door on such a stormy day, now nearing sundown. So calling him back he took him into the house and mother gave him a warm supper for which he tried, by signs to show his gratitude. Having dried his clothes and got thoroughly warmed, he started to leave. Father and mother told him to stay, but by the sign language he made them understand that his family would be looking for him if he did not get home. The next day, being Sunday, father and mother went to pay a visit to the Cook family. Shortly after they had gone, the Indian, whose name proved to be Yellow Smoke, returned with the heart, tongue and liver of the deer he had killed, and owing to the storm, had buried in a snow bank. The portions mentioned he considered as the choicest portions of an animal. Besides the meat he brought a pair of moccasins as a gift to each member of the family; and thus began a friendship that lasted during Yellow Smoke’s life time. Each year he paid our family a visit, never failing to express his regard and friendship for each and all of us.
While on the subject I may as well tell of his tragic ending, much to our family’s regret when we heard of it. We were told that some men who had camped for the night on the river found that three or four of their horses were missing so part of the men went in search of them, the remainder staying in camp. Yellow Smoke, happening along was questioned and in his broken English told them the horses were grazing a short distance away. The men told him if he would bring the horses to camp they would give him $5.00. He immediately went after the horses, and on the way back he met the other men who had gone in search of the horses. They believing he had stole them, or that the only good Indians were dead ones, shot him to death only to learn on arriving at camp of their cruel mistake.
I have learned through my early experiences that the Indian’s disposition is no worse than his white brother’s, and I once heard a trapper, who had lived among Indians much of his life, say that the massacre at New Ulm was caused by an agent who was supposed to look after the interest of the Indians, but instead cheated them out of hundreds of dollars and allowed others to do the same, and the trapper explained this way. The Indian uprising that cost so many lives was during the Civil War when our President Abraham Lincoln, ordered the treasury to issue paper money for the carrying on of business. As every one knows it was not on a par with gold.
And under the treaty with the Indians by our government they were to receive that portion of their annuities which called for cash which was to be paid in gold. As wards of the nation they were to receive, besides the stipulated amount of cash, blankets and other clothing, also so many cattle for butchering.
The agent paid them the depreciated money instead of the gold and pocketed the difference; and such articles as the Indians purchased from the white man he paid double for every article he bought, for it was not considered a sin to cheat an Indian.
The beef supply came from New Mexico, Texas and other cattle ranges, and were started as soon as grass began its growth in the spring, on the ton, Randal, and wherever an army sent to guard the settlers, had headquarters. I have seen the long lines of cattle as they passed over the state road laid out in October, 1855, now known as the Kings Trail or K.T. as it is more commonly called. A moving mass of cattle, miles in extent, driven by Mexican cowboys, with their cook-wagon bringing up the rear. Arriving at their destination early in the fall, in fairly good condition for range cattle, but as was to be expected, many of them were poor in flesh, crippled and foot sore. The distribution of cattle was then made, and again the Indians had the white man receive for his share the best of the herd, while sick and crippled stock was their share. In common justice then could you blame the Indian for the feeling of revenge that rankled his savage breast? The pity of it all – his revenge was taken on innocent parties who, ignorant of the cause, blamed the Indians, who in turn were driven here and there by the encroaching white, and corralled like cattle on reservations; once the proud and conservative owners of all this land. For they were conservative to marked degree. They never killed for the love of the sport, the wild game as the white men do – just enough was slaughtered for their good.
And I sometimes wonder if the people who drove the red men to destruction are not being driven, by the ever increasing hordes allowed to enter our ports NOT HOME SEEKERS, but criminals who seek to enrich themselves by graft and robbery and other criminal acts to the same slow destruction once given the Indian by our forefathers.
One summer day in 1866 or 1867, two men dressed in the latest style clothes stopped at our home for dinner. They drove a fine stepping span of horses hitched to the finest carriage I had ever seen. They introduced themselves as Mr. Blair and Mr. Walker. They talked a great deal to my father about crops and transportation and valuation of land and the attitude of farmers and business men on railroads; whether they considered it would be cheaper means of transportation than the methods then is use. We did not know that we were entertaining the president and vice-president of the first railroad to pass through this and adjoining counties, known as the Sioux City and Pacific R.R. One of the gentleman was tall and straight as an arrow, and had very little to say and looked to be about 45 or perhaps 50 years of age, and wore a brown suit. The other dressed in black, was much shorter, and was stout in build and did most of the talking. I do not now remember which was Mr. Walker or which was Mr. Blair. The next spring surveyors staked the road which was changed several times before the final stakes were drove and grading began. Adjusters, if I remember right, paid the farmers $5.00 per acre where the road bed ran through cultivated land, though I am not sure on that point. And the first passenger train was run over the road in 1868. How fascinating to me was the work as I watched its growth from start to finish. The boarding shanties, the crews who done the grading with the sweating teams and men; the cutting and hauling of ties which had been going on all winter, which stripped our forests of its stately Elm trees; the laying of ties and the final spiking of the rails to the ties; the construction train with its kegs of spikes and rails; the clang of the hammers all contributed to the excitement which filled my childish mind. And the first house rats were brought in with the first construction train.
The engines were not nearly so large and were fashioned differently than the ones now used; and each bore a name which was directly under the window of the engineer’s cab. The passenger engine bore the name of the superintendent, which was Charles E. Vail; the freight was called Phoenix.
In June of 1871 Andrew Richardson, son of Francis Richardson and Leila (Jewell) Richardson, and brother to Elton Richardson of Blencoe, who was 2 ½ years old, was killed between Jewell Brothers residence and the W.W. Scholes farm. The little fellow had slipped away from the other children and got on the track which at that time was not fenced. Hearing the whistle of the approaching train which sounded so different from the usual call for crossings, that I ran to the high rail fence built around the yard to keep the children from getting on the track, only to see the little fellow running towards home in the center of the track. Calling to my sister-in-law, I climbed over the fence and keeping in the ditch, hoping he would see me and leave the track, which he seemed to do. The engineer had climbed around to the front of the engine and clinging with one hand to the rod by the cow-catcher, was reaching in a vain effort to grab the child. Never can I forget the horror of that scene, or forget the grief of the engineer, Frank Briskett by name, who that night left the service of the Sioux City and Pacific R.R., and never ran over this road again. At that time my sister and her husband were renters on my brother’s farm and both families lived in the same house. Mr. and Mrs. Richardson had gone to Onawa that morning leaving the children at home, and for the first time in his life the child left them and strayed off on his own.
At the trial that followed it developed that the train was running short crew and the engine was out of repair, and the engineer had quarreled with the master mechanic and had been ordered to run it over his protest though he could have done it if it had been proper condition.
Attorneys Currier and Colonel Wilson, of Sioux City, and McMillan, of Onawa, took the case for my brother-in-law, and Judge Hubbard presided. The case went against the railroad though the case dragged through several terms of court.
At this time there was no fence along the right-of-way, which was weed grown and full of rank growing cockleburs. There was no herd law, and cattle roamed at will, coming in great droves to quench their thirst from the waters of Guard Lake or the slough along the track. Roused by their souls from the sound of the approaching train they would make a wild plunge for the open track, and then were slaughtered by the locomotive. Which no efforts of the engineer could prevent. It was no unusual occurrence for the section men to find three or four dead or crippled cattle in the ditch. Owners were informed and the dead once buried. The railroad company refused to pay for stock or make good the damage until Lason Morris, Peter Riley and a few others brought suit for loss and damage, and after a long drawn out law suit won out in the courts which forced the company to fence their tracks.
Later on the more progressive citizens appealed to the legislature for the enactment of a herd law, which at last was put to a vote of the people.
Bitter opposition was made to the proposed law by the owners of the large herds, whose unruly stock fattened in the corn fields poorly protected by rail fences. But those in favor of the law won the day, thereby relieving the strained relations between old friends and neighbors.
And now let us take a trip over the K.T. in the early sixties. No automobiles made a rapid transit over paved roads. Instead, long trains of covered wagons, drawn by ox teams, with the indispensable tar bucket suspended from a hook fastened to the hind axle, swinging like the pendulum of a clock. (Tar being the best lubricant then on the market). The wheels of the wagon were fastened by a linchpin instead of the hub cap no win use.
It only required a light rain to make the mud cling to the wheels which like a snowball, increased at each turn of the wheel. If they sought relief from the mud by driving on the grass, they soon had a miniature hay stack attached to each wheel and only a few rods could be traveled before a halt had to be made and the wheels freed from mud. Or if the wagons were heavily loaded the teams were doubled. The stage coaches fared no better; and to lighten the load, passengers were forced to alight and plow through the mud a rod or two or assist the driver to pry the heavy coach loose or remain stuck in the mud hole for hours.
Imagine, if you can, the condition of my fathers yard when the wide tire wheels of the Government supply trains, drawn by eight head of mules, pulled in on their way with provisions for the Forts: Benson, Sully,
Guard Lake was a favorite camp ground, owing to the water supply for both the supply trains, cavalry and infantry troops.
At such times the settlers grain and hay was commandeered and taken with or without their consent and paid for with Government vouchers or in other words, a promise to pay, which caused endless trouble to collect if they were EVER successful. My father was fortunate in being able to sell his vouchers at a big discount to a hotel keeper in Sioux City, named Fuller, and the last we heard of it, he was still besieging the Treasury at Washington for payment.
The cavalry was made up of men and boys, who from disability or age were unfit for the battle fields in the South yet able to guard the forts and do scout work. Although there were several regiments from Nebraska, of able-bodied men, which comprised the infantry. The cavalry-men furnished their own mounts. One of the Packwood boys, well known here, enlisted with the cavalry troops and was killed while on scout duty. He and his companions were led into an ambush by the Indians. His horse, slower than the others, was unable to keep up, and the last seen of him he was dismounted, but valiantly fighting for his life. That he was taken prisoner was certain as his body was never found.
I think the period during the Civil War and for five or six years afterword, were the most exciting times in the life of our people. Money was scarce; credit hard to get; farm produce lower than ever, and such articles as we were forced to buy, exceedingly high. As an old bill among father’s papers attests. The goods were purchased from Robert Fairchild, and bears the date of January 1865.
Unbleached Muslin, or once called “Domestic” a yard----- $ .85
Credit was given for two yearling steers at $18.00 each.
That same year under the Excise Law, he was taxed $2.00 for hogs slaughtered, which was paid to William S. Joy, Sioux City, Iowa, revenue collector for this district. While land tax for the same year on all land owned by father, was only $20.02, Charles Holbrook, Treasurer. And the same year of my birth, taxes were only $15.40. William Burton was treasurer. And the old tax receipts show a steady increase, although his land holdings grew less. Why the increased cost? Because business did not require an accounting of court house officials. The treasurer, auditor and the clerk of courts was collectively in charge on one man. As population increased it became necessary to increase the offices, consequently there was no loafing on the job, by the one official.
During the war, father had in his employ a family of Winnebago Indians, the agent having given permission to the Indians to leave the reservation, and as they were not permitted to keep or carry fire arms, were accepted as help by the farmers. As most of the young men were in the Army, help was very scarce, as well as money, and the Indians were willing to take flour, meat, etc., in exchange for their labor.
They proved to be good help in the harvest fields, and husking and hoeing the corn. The above mentioned family consisted of Charles Mix, his wife, Louise, and small daughter Margaret, and his brother Frank.
After harvest father paid them off and besides the provisions they received a small amount of cash. With this Charles proceeded to get gloriously drunk; and the first our family knew of it, Louise and Margaret sought admission to our house, saying Charles was trying to kill her; and had fought with his brother Frank who had been trying to keep him quiet and having been badly bitten in the struggle had left. The household was again aroused by the screams of my brother Rockwell’s wife, who during his absence in the Army, with her blind mother occupied a small house near our own. Father and my brother, Anderson were soon on the scene, and found the drunken Indian with a table fork in his hand chasing my sister-in-law around the table and chairs, never permitting her to reach the door. Upon the following morning, after an all night vigil on the part of the men who had seen him finally crawl off, and thinking him asleep, came in to breakfast, and Louise and the little girl having gone home, I started in search of my little playmate of the summer (a warm friendship existing between the Indian girl and myself which still lingers among the happiest days of my life). I soon discovered Louise in the grasp of her husband, and thinking they were having a romp, I laughingly called father to enjoy the fun, and was surprised to see father run and grab Charley and give him a shaking and a punch or two that sent him skulking away. Louise again returned to our house where she kept hid. Charles soon reappeared, this time with a knife, peering in the windows still in a fighting mood. Father, his patience exhausted, loaded a double barreled shotgun, went to the door and aiming it at the Indian told him to leave, and if he came back he would kill him. That was the last I saw of him until many years later an old blind Indian led by a young squaw, called to see me and introduced himself as Charles Mix and my squaw.
Louise and Margaret joined the rest of the Indians who were returning to the reservation and while crossing the river, were fired upon by a hunting party of Sioux, and she and little Margaret were killed or drowned as their canoe overturned, together with their companions, six in all so we were told.
The Sioux dashed through the camp, frightening the Winnebago, who rushed to Onawa, telling the people they met, that Sioux were massacring the whites. A general alarm was sent by mounted messengers all over the settlement, and the families began to flock to Onawa. The women and children were corralled in the hotel, kept by Mr. Bigelow, I believe. The men armed themselves with guns from the array kept by an eccentric old gentleman named John Elwell, and a watchful guard kept a vigil through the night. The next morning a scouting party was sent out to view the situation, but before starting, it was thought best to try out the guns, but aside from the ones brought by the settlers, only two of the guns from Elwell arsenal responded. Many amusing incidents were related and still cause a laugh among the valiant guard of that eventful night.
An old quotation, “That true love never runs smooth” holds true in ye olden days, for how could a lover propose and drive a yoke of oxen or make love in a one room house with the family present.
But here is the story as told by my brother Howard who figured as the hero. Among the new arrivals was a pretty girl who attracted the admiration of all the young beaus. Howard anxious to gain favor, arrayed in buckskin pants, fringed of legs; coat to match; coon-skin cap, and high-top boots, called on the family one Saturday evening in winter. Having arrived late in the fall the family had only been able to fit up one room comfortably against the winter storms. Another room had been built but had not been chinked or plastered. The family used this room as a milk room and for storage, also for a bedroom in the summer. A calf pen had been built and joined to one side of the house as Indians sometimes drove cattle and horses away if they were caught from sight of their owners, and as calves will stray it was the general custom. Howard was warmly welcomed by the family and time passed swiftly. Ten o’clock arrived, also a raging blizzard. The head of the house insisted on my brother staying all night, and he finally went to bed in the store room. How the wind howled, piling the snow on the coverlet and pillow. Unable to longer endure the piercing blast he crowded his buckskin suit in the cracks of the house to shut out the wind. He finally fell asleep, no doubt dreaming of wedding bells. Awakened at last by a call to breakfast, he hastily jumped from bed, but the cherished suit had vanished. Hearing his host approaching he scrambled back in bed, and telling the man he was sick and could not eat a mouthful. The hostess joined her husband with anxious inquiries as to the nature and location of his ailments. Howard did not know but thought it might be rheumatism or a heart attack. With motherly solicitude she enveloped him with hot blankets and not irons. At last he feigned sleep until the milk had been brought in and strained. With his healthy appetite of a boy of 18 he could not resist taking a drink of the warm milk, just as the man of the house entered the outer room convulsed with laughter, and was joined by the rest of the family, the young lady laughing hardest of all. Howard only had time to crawl into bed when his host again appeared with the chewed up remains of the buckskin finery, remarking, “I guess these belong to you. Them goll darned calves must have got hold of ‘em but I guess the women folks can fit you out with some of my duds.” This was done and a pressing invitation given to call again; But with all the coaxing and bribes he never revealed the name of the family.
Those were the years of adventure in which my parents and their sons and daughters lived while I, the only surviving member of the family, together with my children, Joseph A. Adams, Oak E. Bader and the family of my deceased son, Guy, the granddaughters to who I dedicate this sketch, the great grandchildren, Joyce Mobley and Daryl Mobley, are living in the inventive age. And in closing I would like to impress on your minds that a nation is what its people make it.
The old settler, like the wild life that once roamed over the prairie and stream, are passing on; though a beneficent law protects the animals and fowls, the adventurer’s spirit is gone, and man and beast are corralled, and domesticated by the inventive genius of the oncoming generations; and to them we are content to leave the future welfare and prosperity of the homes where in peace and comfort we sit and dream of by-gone days and friends.
~Submitted by family researcher, Dennis Petty