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Life and Works of Mr. and Mrs. W. T. John

Story County

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THE MAXWELL TRIBUNE, Maxwell, Iowa, Thursday, July 25, 1901.

MARRIED LIFE NOT A FAILURE. LIVED HAPPILY TOGETHER FOR A HALF CENTURY. A Brief Review of the Life and Works of Mr. and Mrs. W. T. John, of this City. Nearly seventy years ago on the banks of the Wabash down in Indiana a boy and a girl were born within a few weeks time of each other and only a few miles apart. Each was the child of highly respected but poor people and neither was fondled in the lap of luxury, and from the home-made puncheon cradles both were brought up in the ways of industry and frugality as had been their parents before them.

The girl born near Delphi, January 9, 1833, was a beautiful little cherub and the pet of the rural neighborhood, her name was Annie Jane Brown and when quite young she suffered the loss of her father, whose death came as a mighty blow, and left the family to struggle with adversity. After a few years of the greatest hardship the widow, mother of little Annie, was married to John B. Olinger, of Carrol county, Indiana, who became the natural protector of the home and a true father to the children.

The boy mentioned, born February 5, 1833, had laughing blue eyes, indicative of good humor; a rich growth of curly hair adorned his shapely head, and by the time he had learned to toddle he had learned to whistle and has been filling the world with music ever since. His name was William Tipton John, then lovingly called little Tip, afterwards just Tip, and now it’s Uncle Tip with everyone, and good strong accent on Uncle.

This little boy and girl grew up in their humble homes, met, became playmates, learned to love each other and wee married July 24, 1851, at the age of eighteen; an early age and a long time ago, but they are still lovers and life has been full of happiness with them, their pleasant companionship being grace sufficient to bear them up in times of adversity and sorrow which they have been called upon to suffer many times.

The young couple remained in their native state about a year and a half after their marriage and then decided to try their fortune in the much talked of Iowa, then on the extreme western frontier. A daughter had been born to them which was a source of great pleasure to them but added to the difficulties of the long overland trip to a new and wild country. All their belongings having been loaded into the big wagon the start was made, with no conception of all the dangers and obstacles that lay in their way. After a few days drive they were pretty well out of the settled country and found that they must rely pretty much upon nature and their own resources to provide means of sustenance. Crossing the broad prairies of Illinois many obstructions were found in the way, mostly being swamps, and as a result their path was devious rather than in a direct line. Habitations were few and far between. Often whole days and nights were passed without seeing any other human being except it be an Indian. About this time they had a scare that probably was beneficial to one of the pair at least as it taught him to guard himself more closely. Having a good team of horses, which were in that early day very valuable, they were constantly in danger of being attacked by horse thieves. One night as the husband was sleeping and the wife with babe in harms was dozing with one eye and one ear open, a man approached the wagon. When asked what he wanted he requested to be given a drink. Mr. John went with the stranger a distance of twenty rods to show him a watering place he knew of and returned to the wagon. All this was done without his knowledge of it, he having made the walk in his sleep. No harm came from it but it served to keep him awake at the right time for the remainder of the journey. The Mississippi river was reached at Burlington, which was then a straggling village or trading post. Crossing the “Father of Waters” on a crudely constructed ferry boat, the journey was continued on toward the setting sun bearing just a little to the north as they proceeded. Through Iowa traveling became more difficult even than it had been in Illinois. All the low places were swamps and every patch of timber a wilderness. The steams which are now but little creeks were then rivers, and bridges were almost unknown. To ford a stream the nature of which nothing was known was a somewhat dangerous undertaking, but such had to be done many times.

Fairfield, a frontier trading post was the next settlement reached. At Ottumwa the couple stopped for a few weeks with acquaintances from the Hoosier state who had preceded them. Here the horses were traded for two yoke of oxen and a heifer. Only one pair of the cattle had been broken and to attempt making the balance of the trip with the new beginners required considerable pluck. Uncle Tip says he was nearly divested of all wearing apparel by being dragged through the brush, before reaching Fort Des Moines, which then consisted of a few log cabins on the banks of the river of the same name. At Pella, which was a Holland settlement, they stopped and purchased some salt and meat and then learned that the colony was afflicted with the cholera plague. No such thing as quarantine was then known and the thought of their exposure made the hair stand on end, but no harm came of it other than the scare.

At a settlement where Rising Sun is now located they again found friends and enjoyed the hospitality of John Mullen, father of Mrs. J. D. Gamble, who had come out the year before. Story county was the objective point, a colony of Hoosier settlers having located at a point three miles east of Iowa Center, which was then a thrifty burg consisting of three log cabins. The inhabitants being the families of Heckathorn, Tom Davis and Jerry Cory. Heckathorn did blacksmithing after a fashion and Davis kept store, his entire stock being kept in a box which he shoved under the bed, and as this was then the only town in the county competition was not very sharp and prices about what he saw fit to ask.

They wintered in a 14x16 log cabin with the family of John Thomas and the next spring erected a cabin of their own on the forty acres now known as the Selby farm. This piece of land Mr. John preempted by payment of $50.00. The $50.00 was earned by teaming from Keokuk at $2.00 per ewt.

No furniture could be bought and all that was used in the cabin had to be hewed out of native timber of which there was a great sufficiency. Peoria over on the edge of Polk was also picking up. Another settlement was founded at Cory Grove, one at Four Mile and then came Fort Des Moines. Although everything planted grew abundantly yet crops were not profitable to raise as there was no market. Sometimes varmints and birds took the crop as happened once to Mr. John, his entire crop of corn being taken by black birds; the ground was so swampy he could hardly get hay and as a result his horses nearly starved.

Sugar was way too much of a luxury to find its way to the tables of the early settlers and the only available sweets were sorghum and pumpkin butter. Molasses making and pumpkin butter boiling were great social events in those days and people came for miles to join in the festivities.

Land was cheap enough to satisfy most anyone. The five acre tract where the State Capital now stands together with a large log house was offered for an old mare and rattle-trap buggy. After living on the preempted place two years Mr. John sold it for $200.00 and then lived on rented land for a number of years. The winters at that time were much more severe than now and it was no uncommon thing for the cabins to be buried with snow. Such happened once to the John cabin while the man of the house was away on a teaming expedition. The house was buried with its occupants and after two or three days of heroic shoveling Mrs. John got communication with the outside world. Mr. John was snow bound and did not get home for twenty-one days.

Another way of earning money besides teaming was breaking prairie. This Mr. John also did at $3.00 per acre, which made him considerable money although expense of repairs were high. An ordinary plow lay cost $10.00 and could not be had nearer than Des Moines. As an example of what could be made teaming Mr. John hauled two ton of salt at a load from Keokuk at $2.00 per ewt., thus making $80.00 a trip, but the trips were hard to make and fraught with danger. The country continued to fill up and there was a demand for church and school. The first church established was the Cumberland Presbyterian, organized in a barn belonging to John Wood, father of our worthy citizens W. K. and J. R. Wood. Meetings were held at different barns and houses and people came for miles to worship.

Thos. Hall and John B. Olinger had moved out and settled on the farms which now adjoin Maxwell on the east. A large log school house was built on the Hall farm to which all were welcome to come. Nothing like school districts then having been established. As a rule the discipline of the early school master was rigid but nevertheless good students and excellent men were turned out of this primitive institution of learning.

The next piece of land owned by Mr. John was a part of the farm now owned by W. II. King. This he bought for $5.00 per acre and after living upon it for seven years sold it to Joseph King for $15.00 per acre, which then seemed quite a price for Iowa land. The next place purchased was that, two and one-half miles northeast of Maxwell now owned by J. M. Olinger. The purchase price of this place was $15.00 and after four years sold for $25.00 per acre. After selling this place Mr. John bought the Jesse Socrider farm and lived thereon one year. The C.M. & ST. P. R. R. having been built and the town of Maxwell laid out, land was now in demand and prices looking up. This last farm was sold to A. J. Marshall, the present owner, and the couple who had now passed the prime of life bought the beautiful home in Maxwell, which they have occupied for the past eighteen years, and retired from farm life.

Many humerous incidents and thrilling adventures might be related but lack of space forbids their rehearsal. Times were very hard during pretty much all the early history of Iowa, but all fared alike and everybody was happy and enjoyed life in the new country not withstanding the many hardships they endured. In the vernacular of Uncle Tip, the people “pastured out a good bit.” Altho game and fish were plentiful they sometimes got hungry.

The hog was not introduced for a long time, no grease could be had for frying the wild meats and even bass and pickerel, wild turkey and prairie chicken breast, dried or baked became stale eating after too long a time without variation. The first Iowa hog Mr. John owned he received in exchange for a fawn he had caught. Deer were more plentiful than swine at that time. Reverting to the price of farm produce, he once took a load of corn to Des Moines and could not find a buyer for it at any price. He then took the load farther down the river to an Irish camp and disposed of it, bring home in exchange for it two cheap pairs of little child’s shoes. Such was Iowa in days gone by. Behold her glory of today, one of the foremost states in the union. The fifty years have passed and in commemoration of the happy event which made the couple one, their golden wedding was celebrated Wednesday, July 24, 1901, in the beautiful park adjoining their home city, Maxwell. A large number of relatives and friends were there to help make the event one to be remembered for another fifty years. The day was spent in singing, social converse and reminiscences. The old settlers took delight in recollections of the past and all was merry even as the wedding day when the two stepped out to face the world with elastic step and sparkling eye.

The honored pair was the recipient of a few valuable gifts including a liberal purse of gold coin from their nephews and nieces and a cook stove from their own children and the brothers and sisters. May they still live long to enjoy their pleasant surroundings. Twenty-five years more of wedded life and then the diamond wedding. We hope they may live to see it.

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