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Delaware County, Iowa  


History of Delaware County, Iowa and its People

History of Delaware County, Iowa and its People, Illustrated, Volume I.

Captain John F. Merry Supervising Editor. The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914 page 189-193


Chapter XXIV



Delaware County In The Early Days, cont:




      Our first mails were carried mostly upon horseback and came once a week. The carriers did not have as much mail as one of our rural carriers have now every day. The route was from Dubuque to Elkader, about sixty miles. Daily papers had not come into use among us, and there were but few weeklies. One paper was passed around among the settlers and served several families, as a matter of economy.




      Wild game was very plentiful. Bear, deer and elk were killed by the settlers and the meat and hides sold at Dubuque. A bear skin brought $10. Quite a number of bears were killed in Turkey Timber. Elk and deer were about as plentiful as sheep. A deer skin brought 50 cents. Wild turkeys were numerous, also prairie chickens, pheasants and quails were in unlimited numbers. Our people were well provided with meat, as wild game was so plentiful that it was had for the killing of it. Wild bees were found in every tree that has a cavity in it sufficient to hold a swarm. We were well supplied with honey from the forests and with Maple molasses, which we made from male trees that grew in our forest.




       Money was a scarce article. Deer skins, other hides and furs were a medium of exchange. If a man had anything to sell he managed to exchange with his neighbor at the price a fur buyer would pay for hides and furs when he came in the spring. Notes were given and they were used in the place of money. One of our neighbors had a yoke of oxen to sell. He made the sale to another man, the payment being in notes and deer skins. Among the notes was one for $5.00 that the man who sold the oxen had given to another party, and when it came to accepting his own paper he said, "Hold on; let me see the paper." After scrutinizing it for a moment, he remarked, "O yes, that is a good note. I can make something out of that." As the note had not been mutilated or torn, he was perfectly willing to accept it, considering only the value of the paper on which it was written. Had the note been torn he would have raised the objection that he could not pass it on account of being mutilated.



     Prices of our produce were very low. Corn was sold for 8 and 10 cents per bushel; oats about the same; wheat sold for from 25 to 35 cents per bushel and some of that wheat was hauled with ox teams over one hundred miles, to the markets on the Mississippi River.  Dressed pork brought from 1 to 1 1/2 cents per pound. Sheep brought 50 cents per head and the young lambs were thrown in to make the bargain good.  Labor was a very cheap commodity -- from $5 to $8 per month was the scale -- and in winter a man worked for his board. Cord wood was cut on the bluffs of the river for 25 cents per cord and sold to the steamboats. Cows sold for from $5 to $8 per head and other things in about the same ratio.



      Money was so scarce that a goodly part of our business was barter and exchange. We were almost destitute so far as money was concerned. Yet we had plenty of the necessities of life at that time, for the demand upon society was not to be compared with the present day. The first money that we had, that amounted to anything like a surplus, was obtained upon the return of the miners, who went to California in 1849 to 1850. About twenty-five men went to the gold mines in the two years mentioned; some remained and made their homes there. Several died of disease and exposure, while others returned, but only three of them brought any money. The amount that came into Colony Township was about $30,000, which, when it came to be used in our community, started us on the road to prosperity. The California emigration started a rise in the price of cattle, bringing as high as $150 per yoke. Cows were also yoked and driven across the plains to the Pacific coast.


       The writer remembers one nugget of pure gold, free from dross, quartz or any foreign material, that was brought to the Town of Colesburg by Horace Mallory; it weighed over 4 1/2 pounds and its value at the Philadelphia mint was over twelve hundred dollars. The people named the nugget Solomon's Moccasin Sole, it being shaped like the sole of a round-toed shoe. As gold was given in California by the ounce in exchange for miners' supplies, The Government coined at the San Francisco mint a $50 gold piece, for the convenience of handling, guaranteed to be so many ounces of fine gold of the value of $50. This was not a Government coin, as it did not contain any alloy. It was only guaranteed to be so many ounces. The piece was octagonal in shape and was called by our people a "slug." Some of the slugs were brought home by the miners.


      But alas! Our prosperity, after flourishing a few years, came to a sudden halt. The great financial crisis of 1857 stopped all progress. It seemed the gold and silver had taken wings and flown away. Our country was flooded with worthless paper currency, issued by private banks that had sprung up like Jonah's gourd. All over the then western states private banking, then not restricted by law, issued an unlimited quantity of paper money. It was brought from the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, scattered over Iowa with no security behind it and no law by which the quality parties could be punished. So that, we found ourselves stranded and it was quite a task to get hold of gold or silver to pay taxes, which had to be paid in coin of the country.  All articles of manufacture remained unsold. Products of the soil were disposed of for less than nothing or were not sold at all. All manner of business came to a standstill. Little improvement was made within the state. It was about all a man could do to make a living and hold on to what he had. Up until the Government issued currency to carry on the war of the great rebellion, prices remained very low. Just before the close of the war of the great rebellion, prices remained very low. Just before the close of the war, in 1864 and 1865, prices of everything went skyward. Hogs sold as high as $17.35 per hundred, and cattle, horses and sheep at about the same ratio. Common calico reached the enormous price of 60 cents per yard; coffee, 65 cents per pound, and sugar, three pounds for a dollar. Gold and silver were not in circulation. The Government resumed specie payment in 1879; when everything dropped to the lowest possible price; again our people labored under adverse conditions for some six or seven years, or until the silver coinage by the Sherman Act relived the situation.

       In 1893 our people went through another financial depression, which closed our factories and stopped the consumption of our products. Until 1896 the same conditions continued; then prosperity reigned until the present time, October, 1907. Now, again, we are going through another similar condition and we cannot tell when there will be another rally in prices. The writer predicts that the financial crisis will rival the condition of 1857. I have followed the carious conditions down to the present time, in order to show how regularly they have occurred -- 1857, 1863, 1893, 1907. Four great financial crises that have existed in the last fifty years!  Is there no remedy!                         


~ source: History of Delaware County, Iowa and its People, Illustrated, Volume I. Captain John F. Merry Supervising Editor. The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914, Chicago. Call Number 977.7385 H2m. Page 189-193.

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