Clinton County Pioneers

This article appeared in the Clinton Herald 26 Oct 1938:

Clinton Co. Pioneers -- Found Life Dangerous and Arduous in 1840's

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is written especially for The Herald's Centennial edition by Mrs. Charles Tietjens, the paper's Teeds Grove news correspondent. She heard the story on numerous occasions from the lips of her grandmother.

Because there are few people living today who suffered the rigors and hardships of Iowa's early pioneer days, the younger generation has difficulty in visualizing the Hawkeye state before the days of concrete highways,  hot dog stands, movies and populous cities.

So let us go back to the early 1830's and consider the life of one newly-married couple, Lewis Frederick Rogers, a staunch young man of Canada with French-Dutch blood in his veins, and Sarah Maria Boynton, a teacher in Vermont. (Editor's Note: This couple was the paternal grandparents of Mrs. Tietjens).

When I say the new bride was a school teacher, it does not mean she had a school, but merely boarded in the various homes for two weeks at a time and there the neighboring children gathered to learn the rudiments of the three "R's" and sewing.

Decide to Go West

After their marriage they lived several years in the old French town of Montreal, Canada.

In 1845, this couple decided to "go west".  They disposed of most of their property and bade adieu to old friends.  With a yoke of oxen, a covered wagon, their four small children (all girls), and the bare necessities of food and clothing they headed west.

The pioneer's rifle always was the means of providing meat and one of the principle foods was cornbread for which the corn had to be crushed and ground between two large flat rocks.

Food Cooked Outdoors

The food was cooked out of doors over an open fire.  Matches were unheard, and the fire was started by striking two flint rocks together.

After three long weary months of traveling, the Rogers family reached the Mississippi river.  There then was a small settlement on the west side of the river.  It was the old town of Lyons.  Elijah Buell having reached there a few years before.

The travelers from the east were taken across the Mississippi on a flat boat at night.  They landed at a point now Twenty-Fifth avenue north, but at that time it was only a patch of hazel brush.

Move Northward

The next morning they wended their way northward with no fences or roads to guide them.  When about six miles north of Lyons they chose the site for their future home.  In due time they hauled together enough logs from the adjacent timber to build a cabin.

The spot they selected was a short distance east of the school house in district No. 1, Hampshire township.

Then to their dismay they found they had no water supply as they did not have the facilities or the necessary knowledge for drilling wells.

However, they discovered a bubbling spring farther north, and so undaunted, they hauled their logs to this place where they put up a one story, one room cabin with a dirt or ground floor and an outside stairway leading to the attic where the children slept.

Ventilated Roof

When awake, they could watch the stars  twinkle at them through the chinks in the roof.  If it snowed they were covered with a cold white blanket.

It was not an unusual sight for these people to see a snake calmly crawling along on the wall or when they arose in the morning to see a snake peaking perkily from a shoe top.  Wolves were plentiful and a herd of buffalo was seen now and then.  Deer also were seen on rarer occasions.

The Indians did not bother the Rogers family, only coming at times to ask for corn.

It was at this time that Mr. Rogers took up a claim of 400 acres.

No merchandise of any sort could be bought nearby in those days.  The Rogers family was forced to go with their oxen to Galena, Ill., for foodstuffs and clothing.

When a buffalo or deer was killed, meat was not only provided, but the skins were tanned at home and made into jackets, caps, shoes and other articles of clothing.

It took four days to go to Galena.

Build New Home

In 1849, the family built a new home.  It was a three story home of brick.  The bricks were made on the place.

By this time relatives and friends were coming from the east and the gold rush of '49 was the topic of the day.  Many decided to go to California.

Mrs. Rogers' mother, Mrs. Boynton wished to join the crowd.  She drove her own rig, a horse and two wheeled cart with a top on it very much like the top buggies used years later.  

Of course she had to change horses many times and also carts, but it is said she drove the entire trip in her own rig.

This Mrs. Boynton lived in the brick house, now "pebble dashed," a short distance north of the Six Mile house.  When the caravan in which she was a part reached DeWitt they were met by another caravan from the south.

At night they would place the wagons in a circle with their oxen and horses in the center to graze; while the men and women alike in shifts, with rifles ready, watched through the night for the feared attack of the Indians, who by this time were becoming hostile.

The Lewis Rogers family of seven girls and two boys stayed on its farm here in Iowa.

In later years, Mrs. Rogers made several trips by rail to California to visit her mother and five sisters.

In 1850, she received a letter from her brother in California telling the other boys to stay in Iowa.

This letter came by stage coach or pony express, with $10, the cost of carrying.  Envelopes and stamps were unheard of at that time.

The letter was simply folded up with a drop of sealing wax to hold it tightly closed.

The third floor in the Rogers' brick house was used as a dance hall and in the horse and buggy days of 75 years ago the young people gathered there, many coming from DeWitt.  They paid $2 per couple for dancing and supper.

Helped Neighbors

Mrs. Rogers was well versed in the use of medicines and, like the Indians, she could use various herbs and leaves for the cure of many ills.

She often went in the dark of night on horseback to care for the sick for "Nurse" Rogers was known far and near.

In later years she was active in helping the needy in her own way as there then were no relief organizations.  On Decoration day it was her great joy to cut every flower  in her garden for the G. A. R.'s who came for them to decorate the graves of the Civil war veterans.

Mr. Rogers was handicapped for the last 25 years of his life the loss of his eyesight.  He died at the age of 80 years.  Mrs. Rogers lived to be 93 years old.

Thus to an end came the lives of the two sturdy pioneers.