Leon Journal Reporter - l933



For some time we have been collecting fragments of history concerning
the little rural churches of Decatur County.  The records of their
foundings are very obscure indeed, in fact all, but forgotten.  It is
even difficult to determine just which one of these isolated little
churches was established first.  But so far as we have been able to
determine yet, Bethel, near the "Hatfield Settlement", is the oldest.

Of those in the southern and western parts of the county, Riverview, New
Salem, Holden, Bethel and Fairview, the majority, if not all, it seems
were Baptist associations.  Is this true, and was it the same the county

We hope there are those among our readers who can give us facts
concerning the early histories of these passing institutions for today,
they even more than the little schoolhouses, are but "ragged beggars

This week we will mention a few of the curious things associated with
our pioneer days and give an anecdote or two concerning some of the
earliest settlers.

Are there any yet living who can remember goose yokes, turkey bells,
"bustles" and "rats"?  We recall hearing HORACE L. MCCLARAN, a business
man of Davis City, say that once they were part of the pioneer
merchant's stock in trade.  Think of it--long rows of smooth, shiny
goose yokes; strings of tinkline turkey bells; piles of great, springy
"bustles", and heaps and heaps of big fluffy "rats", and they tell us
those things were useful pioneer commodities.

Imagine the costernation if one were to make inquiry today for one of
these forgotten objects in a modern department store--say GRAHAM's, for
instance.  The politely bewildered clerk would probably refer you to the
striped paint department.

And in the drygoods section who would recognize such terms as plastron,
quipure insertion and passementerie?  Yet a pattern of no earlier than
l898 features each of these terms, and calls for ten yards of material
besides "garnitures".

But to go back to the goose yoke which really seems to have been a
contrivance of much value to the pioneer of Decatur County and his

In those days geese, it is to be assumed, were as clumsily helpless as
they are now.  And since fences, for the most part rail, were
practically few and far between, it behooved the pioneer farmer if he
wished to see his geese live to the adult stage to restrain them from
wandering afar.  For a possible wolf lurked behind every bush and a fox
behind each stone.

Most families, however, managed to raise large flocks of geese and very
few were the pioneer homes that were not well supplied with fat feather
ticks and pillows.  Thus the advent of the goose yoke.  Years later we
surmise it was pushed on into oblivion by the introduction of the modern
woven wire.

So it seems that the early settler, with only his froe to split
clapboards, his mattock to grub hazle brush, and his flintlock to afford
himself meat and protection, had no delicate job in this pioneering.

Now according to some who remember it was also the custom in the early
days to drive the live stock across the country to Osceola, as it was
then the nearest market.  In those days turkeys, because of their
ability to shift for themselves, were a very profitable source of income
to the pioneer.  It was not uncommon then when traveling along the wagon
trails in the fall of the year to meet a drove of several hundred
turkeys going to market.  The farmer and his boys did most likely vie
with old Job for the title to patience, but at length they usually
arrived safely.  Obviously it was a matter where haste would not only
make waste but disaster.  For when the old bell gobbler or lead turkey
became frightened or saw fit to rest for the night--pouff! and the whole
flock settled in the surrounding trees.

Turkeys, like cows, were belled to be more easily found in the
underbrush.  Then, too, the tinkling of the bell might have afforded
some protection from wild animals.

And speaking of wild animals--here is a news item appearing in the
county paper, July 30, l868:  W.C. AKERS, living three miles east of
Leon killed a lynx.

And quoting from another published in a later day recalling pioneer
incidents:  "I have seen as many as 30 deer in a drove.  One winter in
time of deep snow, a deer was chased into our horse lot and killed with
an ax."

"Wolves were very numerous.  I have seen them passing among our cattle
hunting for calves as they wouldn't attack large cattle."

In those days corn was yet more or less a stranger to our Iowa soil, but
the early settlers managed to raise hogs after a fashion, and at that it
wasn't so bad for the animals fatted readily on the mast under the
trees.  Wild fruits, hickory nuts, hazle nuts, black walnuts and
chicka-pins (acorns) were very plentiful.  And 'tis claimed that the
meat of hogs so fatted was far superior to any we get today.

And 'tis said, too, in those early days there were no cockleburs in the
county.  Great Shades! but that is hard to believe when one has
traversed some of the thin pasture lands and baked clay hills of--say
Eden Township, for instance.  One were more apt to conclude that they
had been seeded during the reign of Noah.

The scattered settlements and adverse conditions of the early days
tended to develop outstanding qualities in the people.  The most
noticeable, perhaps, was extreme friendliness and an over desire to be
sociable.  In those days there was small chance of becoming sated with
human companionship.  And in order to dispel the hunger that arose from
the lack of human intercourse we find the pioneer families gathering for
"log rollings", "husking bees", "quiltings", and in communities where
too strict religious beliefs did not ban them, dances.

These last presented a difficult problem indeed to the pioneer hostess.
But she, when called upon to entertain the countryside at a social dance
in the home, which more likely than not consisted of a single room l8
feet by 20 feet, showed her resourcefulness by adopting the only means
humanly possible, that of first emptying the room of all furniture, even
the stove.

What matter if it were the dead of winter?  She knew full well that with
the first whine of the fiddle her guests would gladly forget the cold
and soon the heat from the laboring bodies would make the small room
quite warm.

Just space for a word about one pioneer who was known all over the

GEORGE ACTON was a gigantic fellow who lived in the hills north of
Pleasanton.  He was everybody's friend and was known far and near for
his amazing endurance in walking.  His shoes were number elevens and
probably came the nearest thing to the "seven league boots" this county
has ever seen.

In his frequent cross country pilgrimages, he always carried a long
staff that reached a foot or so above his head and this besides
assisting him in his gigantic strides, also enabled him to cross dryshod
most of the smaller streams he encountered.  It is more than possible
that he was Decatur County's first pole vaulter.  He was noted also for
his chivalry.

Once he walked to Osceola on business and planned on taking the stage
back to Leon.  But at the last minute before the stage left, a woman
came hurriedly and seemed much distressed when told that the stage was
already overcrowded.

MR. ACTON, stepping forward gallantly, bowed his long frame and kindly
assured her she would oblige him by taking his place.

"But, sir," she exclaimed, "what about yourself?  The next stage doesn't
leave for so long."

"That is quite alright, madam, "he assured her.  "I shall be waiting at
the station to meet you when you arrive in Leon."

The astonished lady could only gasp, for she did not know GEORGE ACTON.

And true to his promise, he was there.  His speed in walking plus the
short cuts he was able to take advantage of, put him in Leon some time
ahead of the stage.
Shared by Larry McElwee
Dodge City, Kansas