It is probable that the arrival of the mail was, from the first, looked for with just about the same eagerness as now. Human hopes, desires and affections are unchanged from one generation to another, and while, on one hand, tidings then came more seldom, and might, therefore, presumably be more highly prized, the greater intensity of modern business life, and wider spread of interest in the world's affairs, due to the telegraph, has made the morning and evening mail almost as much of a necessity as was once the tri-weekly, or even less frequent one. The first news of importance, of foreign or domestic events, usually arrived in New York papers during the era before Chicago dailies began to reach Clinton County by nail. As America was more provincial before the war than after she then passed at one bound into national maturity, there was undoubtedly, relatively, a greater interest in foreign affairs than can now possibly be developed. Since the West has grown to be the' fullest exponent of the national life, its citizens are not likely to experience anything like a repetition of the American enthusiasm over the Hungarian revolt, or the exploits of "Liberator Garibaldi." Any possible foreign war since the rebellion seems petty by comparison with that colossal struggle. There was probably far more excitement over the news of the Crimean battles and of Solfenino and Magenta than there has been over the news of any similar events since, except when the Northwestern regiments hewed their way to the sea. When foreign news arrived by steamer, frequently one would bring the tidings of two weeks' events that changed the map of Europe and affected the price of commodities in the remotest hamlet of Iowa. But now news comes in such light daily installments that is not nearly so impressive as it was then. But it is probable that a larger proportion of financial business and political advices were received in Clinton County previous to the completion of the telegraph line and advent of Chicago dailies, in sealed letters, than there has been since. Accordingly, the post office was the general exchange and forum where neighbors expected to find each other, as a matter of course, upon the arrival of the mail, and, when it was tardy or long distributing, the long hours of waiting were beguiled in discussion and argument, carried on with a zest unknown in these days of ubiquitous newspapers, and enlivened by spicy stories and practical jokes. The post office, then as now, was a favorite trysing place for swains and lassies, and the corn-colored and fantastic envelopes of the time, decorated with Cupids, turtle-doves, etc., carried as expressive missives as those contained in to-day's artistic covers. Among the other towns on the river between Davenport and Dubuque, it was a great day for those in Clinton County when they knew that Uncle Sam had arranged to give them a mail three times a week. One Mark Westlake, who kept the Ohio House, upon the river bank in Flat-Iron Square, since the Five Points and cholera-nest of Davenport, was the opulent mail-contractor who, for the sum of about $400, furnished a horse and boy carrier for that portion of the route lying between Sabula and Davenport. Six dollars per month was the boy's salary, and for this sum Boy No. 1 arose at 3 A. M., took a cold lunch and, "rain or shine," rode till noon, when, at Camanche, he met Boy No. 2, who, with another horse, continued the journey to Sabula, and returned. 

The summer of 1851 was a wet season, and the raging Wapsie for two months held the upper carrier to his end of the route. He made headquarters at the famous Camanche boarding-house of the bustling Madame Aubrey, where the celebrated Uncle Johnny Doolittle (whose name was well deserved), a grey-haired bachelor, made fires and did chores, occasionally presenting his landlady with the deed to a piece of real estate, in order to hold the situation. During that season of high water, one boy was withdrawn and the other carrier made an occasional trip to Davenport by the Illinois shore, or on a friendly steamer, and in those cases continued .to Sabula, which town was reached by a horse ferry-boat. At one period of this flood, two weeks elapsed with no mail, and the topic of debate in the circles of wiseheads that gathered at Pearsall'a store at Camanche, McCoy's tavern at Lyons, at Billy Haun's, at Hauntown, and at Stein's Hotel, at Sabula, was, who should foot the bills of the extra mail-service performed by these extraordinary routes not specified in the original contract. The mail-boy thus left with all the responsibilities of the situation, in order to make up his financial deficit, sewed grain-sacks at Burroughs & Prettyman's warehouse, at one cent per sack, till he had earned $6, which the Fagin-like contractor deducted from the lad's salary at the final settlement. But the contributions by the citizens for the extra mail service were never allowed either by Government or contractor.

Among the instructions by the Davenport Postmaster was that ten minutes was the limit of time for changing mail. Postmasters would, however, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the carrier, while selecting the matter directed to their offices, leisurely examine, criticise and remark upon the various packages for other offices. Had postal cards then been in use, the mail would probably have had to make up much more lost time. It was not at all uncommon for the papers en route to be coolly opened and the news read and discussed. At other times, it was necessary to wait for a customer to be served, or a game of cards to be finished. One day, arriving at Stumbaugh's store at Princeton, the faithful Mr. United States official, who now lives in Clinton, found the Postmaster and waiting citizens all swimming in the river, while their clothes were piled on the rocky shore in front of the post office. Standing on the steps, he warned the plashing triflers that time would soon "be no longer," and, after waiting a full ten minutes, reloaded saddle-bags and journeyed on. That happened to be an unusually important mail, and, by the time it had made the round trip to Dubuque, the Princeton folks had held an indignation meeting. lasting several days. and when the boy returned, like "Bill Nye," their "remarks were frequent and painful and free."

One of the most ludicrous incidents that diversified the early history of the county was the laying-out in 1842 of a Territorial post-road from Davenport to Dubuque. Edward Barrows, of the former city, a brother of Dr. Henry Bar-rows, well known to many of the old residents of Clinton, obtained from the United States Government, during Tyler's administration, the commission to establish the route between those two important settlements, by the way of the evidently growing ones of Clinton County. In order to fulfill his commission with proper eclat, Barrows secured a four-horse coach, well filled with commissary stores, both solid and liquid, and engaged about a dozen kindred spirits as "assistant surveyors." They went about their task in much the same spirit as that later corps whom Gov. Nye, of Nevada, instructed to survey across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, then "bridge the ocean, and then return and report." With due form and gravity, the Barrows engineering corps surveyed until well out of Davenport, when they mounted their coach and drove merrily along the emigrant road till they arrived at the wire ferry on the Wapsie, southwest of Camanche, kept by Follett, who happened to be away from home. The Chief Engineer politely accosted Mrs. Follett a perfect type of the strong-armed and resolute pioneer woman, and blandly informed her that in order to lay out a new Government road it was necessary to drive a stake directly in front of her door where the road would have to pass, at the same time expressing his regret at thus being compelled by official duty to spoil their primitive homestead and door-yard. At the same time, one of the assistants solemnly produced a stake of a magnitude equal to those at which martyrs were wont to suffer. But, as the lady was busily engaged in making soft soap, she was not in humor to take any of that article' from the strangers who proposed such a desecration of her grounds, but, on the contrary, prepared to give them a liberal supply of her manufacture. Dipping a brimming ladleful from the boiling caldron, she stood forth defiant and prepared to slush down with the scalding mixture any rash individual who dared to drive a stake near her door. Of course, a weapon with such a scatter compelled a masterly retreat out of its range. After some parley, the insinuating Chief Engineer obtained permission to drive a much smaller stake merely as a guide-mark, promising that her inclosure should be. respected by the road. But scarcely had the comedy been finished and the-party disappeared than the vigilant Amazon repented even her partial concession, tore up the stake and cast it into the river.

The engineers drove on to Camanche where, on making known their errand, they were received by the settlers with open arms. Summoning a meeting of the neighborhood, the "Commissioners" consulted the citizens as to their wishes concerning the location of the proposed route. After that had been satisfactorily settled, and a night of conviviality, the next morning, watched by an admiring assemblage of settlers, the surveyors, with due formality, laid out a road until out of sight, when they remounted their coach and drove gaily along the frail past the future sites of Clinton and Lyons, exchanging greetings at the latter place with Elijah Buell, Daniel Hess and the Aikmans, and other neighbors, and thence to Bellevue, where the same farce was essentially repeated. Through Clinton County they followed the romantic road, already well worn by emigrant wagons, following the base of the bluffs, which is now occupied by the Midland and C. D. & M. tracks, and superseded by the new boulevard between Clinton and Lyons. Wherever Barrows and his party were overtaken by night, on their extremely easy journey toward Dubuque, they camped and made the woods echo with merriment. Game was plenty and the larder was well supplied. At the end of thirteen days, they arrived at Dubuque, made and forwarded their report, and the entire party received pay for that time as employed in the arduous labor of establishing a post-route over the emigrant road. Time late James Hazlett, afterward an esteemed merchant and lawyer of Lyons, was one of this party of bold explorers, and frequently created mirth by relating it to an applauding group, and having it confirmed by Buell, Hess, or any other "grey-haired sires who know the past" who might happen to be at hand. But the excursionists did their duty,. at least, for the mail was eventually carried over that road, so artistically and scientifically laid out.

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




Back to Table of contents