Before the country began to fill up, the roads were better than they afterward became. At first, when a farmer started to market with a heavy load, he had the option of the entire prairie for a turnpike of nature's paving. Swampy places could be avoided, and dry and level ridges followed for long distances. The firm sod prevented the wheels from sinking in many places where the soil was saturated with water, and after the heaviest rains there was no mud to impede journeying. But as section after section was occupied, and the roads were crowded into straight lines surveyed for them, they frequently became, especially in the spring, almost impassable quagmires, that have in many places required an amount of work for ditching and grading sufficient to construct an equal length of railroad embankment through similar country.
During the days before railroads, many men followed transportation as a business, using ox, horse or mule teams. It is amusing to hear, as it must have been vexatious to undergo, how loads of hay, corn or wheat would often "bog," and then wait, sinking deeper and deeper into the mire, until assistance arrived in another teamster's cattle, and the doubled force successively hauled the wagons to firmer ground. Old settlers agree that during the "early fifties" the roads were most horrible, but at no time were they much, if at all, worse than during the detestable open winter of 1877—78. As the country has been more thoroughly settled, the rivulets wash both fields and roads much worse, bringing down much debris from the cultivated acres, to the great detriment both of them and of the highways.
How difficult and sometimes dangerous it was to travel, even short distances, across the prairies, when they were whitened with snow to dismal monotony, Scarcely less depressing and bewildering than the Siberian steppes, it is scarcely Possible to now comprehend. Especially as snow-laden blizzards,
When the long dun wolds are ribbed with snow,
And loud the Norland whirlwinds blow,"
obliterated familiar outlines and landmarks, even the experienced resident was likely to miss his way and drive miles out of the proper route. Until when, in the sixties, fences became general, such misadventures were not at all uncommon. As the direction of the wind was often a guide, people were not seldom disgustingly led astray by its varying several points during their journey. Once a prominent lawyer, E. S. Hart, started during a storm to drive from DeWitt to Clinton, and brought up at Camanche, having madelee-way very much as if sailing.
In the severe winter of 1856—57, an adventure, of which H. V. Morrill, of the Lyons and Elvira firm of Gates & Morrill, was the hero, furnished "the boys" at the time with considerable fun at his expense. Having left his wife at a friend's house, near Mill Creek, about four miles west of Lyons, he started about 8 o'clock in the evening, to drive homeward during a severe wind and snow storm. His turn-out was a crockery-crate rigged upon runners, suitable to the irregular track the ground afforded, and, as he was well muffled in buffalo and bear robes, and the team was good, he expected to very speedily arrive in town. But as he drove busily on, no sign appeared through the driving tempest of city lights or of any of the familiar surroundings. Still he drove on, expecting every moment to be able to take his bearings. Finally it seemed that he must be north of Lyons, and nearing the precipitous bluffs which were then open. clear through to the wide prairies. Fearful of driving over some treacherous precipice, Morrill concluded that it would be wise to bivouac. Accordingly, he bound blankets on his horses and turned them loose. Then he tipped his sledge on its side as a barricade against the icy wind, and rolled himself up under its lee in many folds of warm fur. But the intense cold pierced through them all, so that he was often fain to rise and anticipate the long-distance pedestrians of future years, by walking in a circle to keep his circulation awake. After, as may be imagined, a long and dreary night, morning slowly dawned, and a barn became dimly visible through the snow. Going there, he found that he had passed the night within twenty-five rods of the house whence he had started on the previous evening, having, as may be readily supposed, actually driven in a circle. He was naturally invited to stay to breakfast, and, also, on the story leaking out among his acquaintances, the propriety of treating was delicately but forcibly hinted at.
The best road in the old times was the one which the ice afforded; an unbroken stretch for scores of miles over the congealed Mississippi, sheltered by the high bluffs from the west and northwest winds. A sharp lookout for air-holes was the price of safety, or at least, of comfort, though an adventurous citizen somewhat exalted by potations, once refused to go round half a mile, and, "accoutered as he was, plunged in," succeeding in crossing the dangerous icy pitfall. Caution was also exercised when the ice in spring began to rot and wear away underneath by the action of the swift current.

SOURCE: Allen, L. P., History of Clinton County, Iowa, Containing A History of the County, it's Cities, Towns, Etc. and Biographical Sketches of Citizens, War Record of it's Volunteers in the late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Clinton County, Constitution of the United States, Miscellaneous Matters, &c, &c., Illustrated. Chicago IL; Western Historical Company, 1879




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