Pioneer Life in Delaware County
By: D. R. Witter
of Council Bluffs
An Early Pioneer
of Delaware County
Back in old Virginia lived my
grandparents, Jacob Miller and wife. Owning a large number of slaves, but
having been taught in the Dunkard church, of which they were members, that
slavery was wrong. Mr. Miller, for conscience sake, set them free. This
act left himself and family cooperatively poor. They emigrated to Union
county, Ind., in 1810, opened a farm by clearing the green beech woods and
later built a saw mill and tannery. Some years later the Miller and
Witter families emigrated to northern Indiana, locating in La Porte
county, where in the early forties, on a farm, the writer of these
reminiscences began his earthly career as a Hoosier American.
I call to mind the old stage coach that passed our home
daily from "down east" to Chicago, stopping at the tavern for refreshments
and passengers. A single line of telegraph carried the rapid news. The
singing of the wires I was told by the other juveniles, was the passing of
a message. My father hauled grain to Michigan City, twelve miles distant,
then a rival of Chicago. There I saw the great white sails of many ships
in the harbor. My uncle, Samuel Miller, was one of the founders of
Michigan City, and his brother, another uncle, was one of the earliest
settlers of Chicago.
My earliest and first school day was one I well remember. The school
master, a Mr. Steele, filled me with awe, perched behind his high desk, an
absolute monarch and as John Milton wrote, "fierce as ten furies and
terrible as hell" to my young mind. Within easy reach behind him lay
several rods of correction. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" did not
obtain in that school. I was anxious to go home and asked for my cap,
which hung on a nail, high up, but I was detained. However, my mother kept
me home until summer. I made a start to a lady teacher, with some
misgivings, but presto! the dear creature kissed me and cuddled me up with
candy. I think my "ma" had given her a pointer, so upon returning home I
exclaimed: "O ma, I like that woman preacher." The only public
personage I knew was the preacher, down at Campbellite meeting house, near
About this time Cobb's spelling book came along, with Peter Parley's
geography, followed by Olney's with maps. Webster's elementary spelling
book, McGeoffrey's reader's, and later Adams' and Colburn's arithmetics.
Quill pens were used, the school teacher mending them as occasion
required. Well in 1849, my father sold out and loaded the family and
necessary household goods into two wagons, drawn by four fine farm horses.
The wagons were of the old lynch-pin type. The tar bucket was hung under
the rear axle and the feed box for the horses hooked on the rear end of
the wagon box. Bows for the canvas covers of the wagon were made of ash or
hickory saplings. The perforated tin lanterns with candle, hammer, saw,
augur and axe, were in their proper places, ready for immediate use. Also
the old rifle, powder horn and bullet moulds had their places in the
wagon. All equipped, we started for "beyond the Mississippi." It was
rather hard traveling along the lake shore on the sand dunes, but reaching
Chicago we rested several days with my uncle John Miller, who lived on
Dearborn street, between Clark and Wells.
I remember that uncle took us all out to see the new water works system.
Chicago had a population at that time of 23,000. James H. Woodworth was
mayor. They were without a railway from the east. The first to enter the
city from the east was the Michigan Southern, now called the Lake shore &
Michigan Southern, in February, 1852. At an earlier date, however, a few
pioneers decided to build a railroad to Galena, Ill., a lead mining town,
170 miles to the northwest. They secured a charter for the Galena &
Chicago Union railway. This was the key note for Chicago. In November,
1848, the Galena & Chicago ran its first trains ten miles west of Chicago,
to Harlem. Rails were not obtainable, so strap iron was laid upon parallel
wooded sleepers. In 1854 the line reached Freeport, and in 1864 was
consolidated with the C. & N. W.
Well, in due season we pulled out of Chicago. Yes, "pulled" is the word,
for the mud was dreadful across the flat country contiguous to the city.
Traveling in a southwesterly course we came in sight of Mt. Joliet, a
landmark some 35 or 40 miles from Chicago. Grand prairies and more
prairies were crossed, streams forded, teams doubled up to pull out of
some difficult places, camping by springs and timber sometimes for a day,
to rest up. We finally arrived at the banks of the Mississippi, opposite
Burlington, Iowa. There were converging at this point scores of covered
emigrant wagons, awaiting their turn to cross on the small ferry boat,
which was propelled by two horses, working upon a tread wheel. We soon
stepped upon the shores of the young Hawkeye state.
Burlington in early days was called Flint Hills. It was the county seat of
Des Moines county, when in 1834, as Michigan territory, Iowa comprised two
counties. All of the territory running north of a line and thence west
from Rock Island was Dubuque county, and all south of said line to the
Missouri river was Des Moines county. In 1838 Iowa Territory was organized
with Burlington as its capital.
After leaving that little city we journeyed through Mt Pleasant and on up
the country keeping on the north side of Skink river to near the hamlet of
Brighton in Washington county, where we located for the winter in a log
house in the woods. A family by the name of Horner and the Dillons were
our nearest neighbors. The log schoolhouse where the children of the
pioneers attended was quite primitive -- slabs for seats, two inch augur
holes in walls, long pegs driven in at the proper angle, and planks laid
on them for desks. There was a large box stove in the center of the room,
and it constituted the equipment for the school. When spring came and the
close of school an exhibition was given, as was usual in those days. As I
attended, I remember the platform in one corner. A drop curtain of a sheet
or other material was furnished by a patron. For music we had a fiddle and
a bass drum. Recitations and solos were given. My juvenile mind was
aroused by the theatrical recitation of "The Beggar's Petition," in
costume, by Ike Smiley. The first lines were, "Pity the sorrows of a poor
old man whose trembling limbs have borne him to your door." We would call
him a tramp or a hobo in these days. A song, "Captain Kidd," completed the
My father heard of the fine country to the north and in the spring loaded
up our belongings and started out, crossing the wide prairies, fording the
streams, excepting when a rope ferry as it was called, afforded passage.
This was a cable stretched across other river, upon which was a running
pulley attached to a barge or flat boat. We passed through Iowa City, the
new capital, and on north, crossing Cedar river at or near the present
town of Mt. Vernon, reaching Colony or Colesburg in Delaware county in due
season. This was the oldest settlement in that region, some 35 or 40 miles
west of Dubuque. Thos. J. Cole, J. B. Moreland, Samuel Malvin, James
Bolsinger and C. McNamara were among the pioneers of that town.
There my father died in 1850 and lies in the little graveyard "where the
rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep." My mother was left with six
children to stem the tide in a new country. My father had settled 360
acres of good land several miles west of Colesburg, 160 acres of which was
timber -- white and black oak, hickory, maple and some red cedar. A log
house was built near a fine spring and operations begun to open a farm.
The settlers secured their lands and built their cabins near or in the
timber, and along the stream. Some, as I remember, lived under their wagon
covers or built shacks of bark and brush until logs could be cut and a
The illustrations herewith shows a typical log cabin, for the portrait of
which I am indebted to Mr. McKinney of Logan, Iowa. The illustration
shows three styles of pioneer fencing, a grain cradle, an "A" harrow, a
single shovel plow, a grindstone, shaving horse, ox yoke, iron wedge, axe
and maul, watering through, the old oaken bucket on the well sweep, the
big iron kettle, rake and log chains.
The pioneers worked together to build the log hoses. The logs were rolled
up and one man on each corner notched them down on one side and scored
them to fit on the other, when proper height logs for rafters were laid
and then covered with clapboards, riven with a tool called a frow, out of
logs three of [more] feet long. A log or pole was then laid along the
boards to hold them on. There were puncheons of split logs, made
smooth with an adz or broad ax, for the floors. Doors were made of rough
boards or split stuff, put together with pegs and hung on wooden hinges,
and a wooden latch, raised by a buckskin string passing through a hole in
the door, was attached. A stick chimney must be built, with a jamb or face
of stone or split logs running up some four feet. Hard wood sticks, split,
were laid at right angles and plastered with mud or mortar made from the
native soil and instead of hair, grass was often used to hold the mortar
An incident of chimney building I will relate. Our first stick chimney was
built by an amateur. He drew in the structure from the base, and by the
time the top layer of bricks was reached the chimney aperture was very
small. Consequence, no draft smoke all poured back into the house.
He had to pull it all down and rebuild at other angles. Experience is a
good school, but sometimes expensive. Many were the evenings that we
children baked our faces by the big chimney fire, in winter, learning our
first white settler came to this region in 1836 and settled in Eads Grove.
Settlements in Colesburg and Scotch Grove followed about 1847. Manchester,
formerly Burrington, was located in 1850, a little west of the center of
the county. Bowen's Prairie, now Sand Spring, was located about 1856.
Hopkinton, situated on the Maquoketa, about ten miles south of the center
of the county, had a settler locate there in 1838. The town was located in
1850, and a collegiate institute was established in 1857.
The old Bitner mill was a landmark in upper Eads Grove for many years.
Among the pioneers of that section were "Billy" Roe, the Malvins and
Tomlinsons. Some of the old times of Elk township were the Drybread
families, Job Odell, Job Gildersleeve, John Correll, Samuel Lowe (who
owned a pack of hounds, used in his hunting excursions), Samuel Balch, A.
Eitter, Batten Pilgrim, Talcott Hutton, Lawrence Grice, and I remember a
Hoag family also. M. LeLacheur, formerly of Prince Edward's Island,
represented our district in the legislature in an early day.
Delaware county was so named in honor of John M. Clayton, a senator from
Delaware. Delhi was the county seat, located in 1841, and remained such
until the Illinois Central railroad "passed" by on the other side",
when by vote it was removed to Manchester.
Among the first things in Iowa were these: First schoolhouse, at Dubuque
in 1833, first newspaper, at Dubuque in 1836; first railroad, at Davenport
in 1854; first locomotive to reach Des Moines was the Marion No. 11, over
the Des Moines Valley lines; first locomotive to reach the Missouri rive
was in 1867, at Council Bluffs. Before Dubuque and Sioux City railroad
reached us, grain and produce were hauled to Dubuque. About 1856 this road
reached Nottingham, now Earlville. Judge Earl was the first grain buyer.
Ben Thorpe and his brother were the merchants in Earlville then and
Cummings Sanborn was post master.
The Dubuque Times, republican, and the Dubuque Herald, democratic, were
the chief newspapers in circulation in our region. J. L. McCrary, at one
time our superintendent of schools for the county, was later connected
with the Times and wrote the immortal poem of oft-disputed authorship.
"There is No Death." Our earliest postoffice was Poultney, kept by a
Mr. Cooper in a farm house. Near by was a little grocery kept by a fine
old gentleman by the name of Lakin, and there was an old log schoolhouse
just beyond the playground, where a Mr. Turner taught "the young idea hot
to shoot." There was a post office at Plum Spring, four miles west , where
mail was supplied by stage, the postmaster being a Mr. Hutton and the
office in a log farm house upon the site of which now stands the residence
of Jerome Baker in the town of Greeley, a namesake of Horace Greeley.
Delaware county was blessed with some of the finest springs in the state.
A grist mill was built about 1856 in Elk township by Job Odell, the stone
for the building being quarried on the site. The mill was run by water
from one spring near by, carried in a race to an over-shot wheel. Saw
mills became numerous along the streams, with upright saws in use. The
earliest sawing was the "pit" saw, by hand, the log being placed upon a
frame above the pit in which was a man, with another man above using a
long saw of the cross-cut type. Rails were used for fencing, as timber was
plentiful. The "old Virginny" work fence was quite common, small fields
being enclosed by picket fences. After the "hog law" was passed mortised
posts with three or four rails were used or flat stakes driven in the
ground, two or three feet high, upon which was laid a line of rails, worm
fashion, stakes and riders above. Sod fences were built, especially upon
steep hillsides, by digging a ditch and piling the tough sod upon the
inner side. Later Mills gave us fencing boards twelve to sixteen feet
long, nailing three or four to the posts.
In the spring the breaking plows were busy, drawn by three to six yoke of
oxen and cutting from sixteen to twenty-four inches. Solid and rod mould
board plows were used. A straight coulter was always used except, perhaps,
in smooth, tramped out sod, where a rolling coulter could be used. A
lever was used on the heavy plows to gauge the depth and throw the plow
out of the ground when necessary. Plowshares were often drawn out cold by
applying heavy hammers, then filing. This saved going long distances to
some shop. Where sod was pastured out three of four horses were often used
on a sixteen-inch plow, with a rolling coulter. The sod along the
slough was tough and slow to set and old buffalo wallows were numerous
along the edges of the swampy places. From about the 10th of May until the
15th of June was the most favorable time to break prairie sod.
Sod corn was planted by using an axe or spade, cutting into the sod at
every third furrow, dropping in the corn and closing the incision by foot
pressure. Another method was to follow the plow and drop the corn in the
furrow, close to the inner edge, to be covered by the plow, but this was
not very satisfactory.
The striped squirrel or gopher was a pest in the corn fields. Their
burrows were in the prairie sod. The writer has snared scores of them
about the fields. Their habits are similar to the prairie dog. They run to
their holes, defiantly stand upright until one is near them, then dodge
down. In a short time the little animal will quietly poke his head out to
reconnoiter, and in the meantime the boy places his snare, a long
fish-line cord with a noosed end, about two inches down in the hole, then
lies flat on the ground and to the rear, and when the point of the
gopher's nose is seen "pulls the lanyard" and he has him.
The "prairie schooners" were ever in sight on the old stage road in the
early '50s. They were usually drawn by oxen, as they were less expensive
than horses, would subsist on grass en route and at the end of the journey
were used on the breaking plow. I have often seen several cows yoked
together before a wagon. Wild game was plentiful. There were deer and
bears in the timber and wild turkeys, geese and ducks in seasons, together
with wild honey and bees with a few stings in them, quail and prairie
chickens. Thousands of pigeons came one year, and the sky was clouded at
times as they passed to their roosts in the timber.
Deer licks were made by placing salt at favorable points on their trails ,
hunters lying in ambush for the timid creatures. Bears and large gray or
timber wolves and wild cats were found in the timber and rocky regions,
and large yellow rattlesnakes were numerous. Bears were caught with heavy
steel traps or by a pit and log traps. I shall never forget the scar of my
life. A neighbor had caught a half grown bear and chained him to a stake
near a fence. I ran between said bear and the fence and he sprang for me.
I just escaped the graze of his paws. Many deer were caught by the timber
or gray wolves one winter of deep snows, when three different crusts had
formed. The deer would break through, while the pack of wolves could run
on the surfaces. Corn left in the fields late in the winter was the resort
of thousands of prairie chickens and quail. Traps made of poles or slats
with swinging doors were the kind most in use, but Witter boys made traps
of rails in form of a pen some two feet high., covered with rails. On the
top center a balanced trap door was placed, and over this door upon a
cross bar hung a few ears of corn. Mr. Chicken stepped over to pick at the
corn was quietly dropped into the pen. Upon my return from school I would
often find a dozen birds in one pen, strike them on the back of the neck,
killing them, hang them out of doors to freeze and sell them to the
chicken man from Dubuque, who cam around regularly.
Dried venison and prairie chicken meat were most excellent and palatable,
and without a cent to pay. Quail and rabbits were plentiful in the groves
and were caught usually in the "figure four" box or slat traps. Fish
were plentiful in the streams. After the spring farm work was done a
fishing party was made up. We would go into camp for three or four days,
over on the Turkey and Volga rivers. Seines, gigs or spears and hooks were
used, although some old fishermen used traps by cutting a side ditch for a
current of water. At the upper end of the ditch was placed a screen so
spaced that the smaller fish passed through, as in the spring they were
running up stream, out of the Mississippi. The large fish were then seined
out. I often waded in the river at night, carrying a torch of red cedar
and accompanied by an expert spearsman who would strike for the large pike
or other fish, which seemed somewhat blinded by the glare of our torches.
We had fine fish bakes at our camp fires under the old trees by the river
side. We did not return home with just a half dozen little fishes on
a string, but often with a tub or barrel full of fine fellows salted down
for future use.
We boys had the "old swimmin' hole" so well described by Whitcomb Riley.
It was down under a shelving rock on Elk creek, and we had fine sport
there after a hard day's work on the farm.
cattails so tall --
|Fell over it
mottled the water
glad lilies rocked
ripples that rolled,
ghost of a daisy
of the sky.
-- Down by the Old Swimmin' Hole.
Prairie fires in the spring and fall were often awe-in-spiring, extending
for miles and miles, and at night lighting up the whole country
roundabout. The flames were confined to the prairies as much as possible,
but very often they would cross all barriers and do great damage to timber
and the property of settlers. I remember the case of a new comer who
started a fire near the timber. The wind was blowing in the direction of
the woods, and several boys had strung a belt of fire which in a short
time became a roaring furnace half a mile wide. It swept into the heavy
timber and was not extinguished for three or four days, when a heavy fall
of rain put it out. Threats were made against the offender, and bur for
his inexperience and innocence he would have fared hardly.
Schools were soon established in the new settlements. The old log
schoolhouse with its roaring box stove fire was a welcome sight to the
youngsters after a long walk through the deep snow, perhaps of two or
three miles. Often a farmer would fill his sled with hay or straw, drive
around and gather up the children and take them to school. Fine times were
had at spelling bees, adjoining schools entering into a contest, once a
week as a rule. The writer herof and his elder sister were often among the
victors, doing the old McGuffey spelling book from first to last and then,
perhaps, resorting to the dictionary. It was not uncommon for a sled load
of boys and girls to go ten or fifteen miles to contests, school
exhibitions or singing schools. Two terms of school were taught in a room
of my mother's new house before a schoolhouse was built in the district.
Eugene Wheeler was the teacher. I remember the Wheelers, the Talcotts,
Sims, Huttons, Robinsons and John F. Merry lately deceased and formerly
department commander of the G. A. R. These all attended this pioneer
Some of the popular songs of early days were "Daisy Dean," "Barbara
Allen," "Capt. Kidd, " "Old Rosin the Bow," and "Yankee Doodle." The old
stage coach, drawn by four horses, passed our farm regularly on its way
from Dubuque to the northwest, and proud was the boy when the driver would
let him ride on his seat as far as the tavern on his way to school.
However, the long whip lash out back at the boy who was stealing a ride on
the boot in the rear. I remember one cold winter night when the wind had
drifted the lanes and gullies full of snow. The stage, loaded with
passengers, was installed, with horses and all down. Near our house they
had gotten off the beaten track. The horses and driver returned to the
stage station, while the passengers all came into our house and bringing
buffalo robes with them laid down on the floor for the night, around a big
wood fire. They were very glad to get in out of the storm.
Prairie wolves were numerous. They would often come up about our sheep
corral at night and howl. A wolf hunt was always an exciting time.
Men and boys went on horseback with horns and other noise-producing
instruments or articles -- anything to make a noise. They would encircle a
township or two, beating the bush, and end with a variety of game, but may
be not a wolf. It was fun just the same.
We made our hay from the finest of the prairie grasses and by the swing of
the good old scythe. There would be three or four mowers, perhaps, and the
man or boy who could cut the other out took the lead. The swath, if heavy,
was scattered with a pitchfork, then dry raked into windrows with hand
rakes, or perhaps a heavy pole with wooden teeth, drawn by a horse, was
used. Hay was often stacked on the prairie, and to guard against
fires a furrow was plowed some distance away, about the stacks. An inner
furrow was cut in the same was and the grass in the area was burned over.
The J. H. Manny and the McCormick reapers were the first introduced in our
region. It was no play spell to bind grain from the ground after these
machines, yet the writer preferred it to raking and binding after a stout
man swinging the grape-vine cradle.
The first reaping that I recall was in my father's fields. The men with
the sickles cut through, then swinging the sickles over their shoulders
and binding to the place of beginning. The first threshing machine that I
recollect, superseded the flail, was the "ground hog" machine, consisting
of a cylinder and gearing located on a screened barn floor and propelled
by horse power. The wheat fell to the floor below, to be cleaned by a
handpower fanning mill. The next thresher, I remember, was a "traveler,"
so called, used in my father's fields. It was drawn by four horses. The
power was applied by a gearing attached to one of the ground wheels. Loads
of sheaves were brought alongside in wagons, and the straw was scattered
over the field to be plowed under or raked up for other uses.
Stationary machines, with Jack and eight or ten horsepower, came later.
The following poem by Elmer E. Monfare, in the Deadwood Pioneer, may be of
interest to the old timers:
|O yet swift-fleeting
|Let us dream o'er the
|Of those old pioneers
|Those days fast
|From memory's view
|When hardships were
|And comforts were
|Yes, backward once
|To that home on the
|When hope urged us
|And lofty our aim;
|Those homes -- ah,
|We recall them today
|Long since they have
|And now passed away.
|How memory clings
|To that home, though
|With its carpetless
|And its unpapered
|But loved ones were
|Its comforts to
|Likewise in our
|Their burdens to
|With their "honks"
and their screams
|Aroused us so rudely
|Or frightened our
|But the faithful old
|Old "Nell" and old
|They took us our
|Though not quite so
|In the old lumber
|With its clatter and
|The "spins" were all
|By the girls and the
|Through woodland or
|O'er plain and o'er
|It answered for auto
|To meeting or mill
|Oh, where are the
|Of those days long
|A few are remaining,
|But many are dead.
|They laid down the
|Which they patiently
|And have joined the
|On eternity's shore.
|In the days that
|As the years roll
|And the old pioneers
|Have joined the great
|Let those who come
|In the oncoming
|Forget not the days
|Of the "Old
Among the amusements of pioneer days for the days were these: Two or three
"old oat," "two to four bases, a batter and a catcher at each base;
mumblety peg, crack the whip, jumping contests, marbles, kite flying, foot
racing for a mile or two, at times, base ball or a one-striking base.
Horse racing was often indulged in to try the mettle of their young
barefoot and saddleless steeds.
Say, who remembers the great comet, "Donatis," that switched his tail up
in the northwestern heavens in the winter of the deep snow, 1857-8?
About this time a bob sled load of boys and girls drove over to Manchester
to an entertainment. A balky horse was before that sled, but what did we
care. We could appropriately sing "We Won't Go Home 'Til Morning, Let the
Critter Rest," and he did.
Here are a few pioneer personals: "Uncle John" Martindale was ideal
of a Christian minister. He served the people long and well, teaching from
the Great Book and by precept and example. The Martindales were the
singers of the community. Cattron & Taylor and Jas. Wilson were the
earliest merchants of Greeley. Henry Clay Drybread was the "village
blacksmith." Elisha Jones, farmer, always drove like Jeru of old. Aaron
Miller grew the finest watermelons. Jonathan Fusselman, a cripple, drove a
pair of large dogs attached to his wheeled vehicle of sled, when attending
school. Ed Correll had his feet so badly frozen, on cold winter, that
amputation was necessary. Al Wheeler was a "top notch" ball player.
In those days all men wore boots, sometimes with fancy tops and tassels,
variegated vest, but "shingled" or close cropped hair was not in vogue.
Hooped skirts, mantillas, Dolly Varden prints, Shaker bonnets, and
nature's cheek bloom were feminine belongings. Our old Doctor Fuller said
he would "cure all ills with his puffs and his powders, his syrups and
squills." John F. Merry was something of a ladies' man, and why not? All
the girls were good looking -- handsome, smart and knew when to "present
the mitten." Frank Odell was the weather man. His observatory was a
small building on a point of bluff near his home, where his instruments
were located. As a boy I was much interested in him, and later I was for
ten years volunteer observer for the Smithsonian institute and the U. S.
Dr. Jenkins was the "poet of the prairie." During the Pike's Peak gold
excitement a party about to depart was serenaded by an original song
|I am going to Pike's
|'Tis my fortune that
|For I am told that I
can find it
|By going to Pike's
|I've got my oxen all
|And hitched before
|And all that I have
got to do
|Is to crack my whip
Fine! But many a seeker came back with his wallet on
his back, footsores and alone.
A fine old gentleman by the name of Mallory kept a tavern down yonder by
the Griffin schoolhouse. He has a large sign swinging to the breeze, on
which was painted a prominent figure of a horse, under which was "The
White Pilgrim." It was the custom for school teachers to
"board around," and they were often partial and tarried longer the the
allotted time with certain of their patrons, as was my experience in later
years. Som bad boys always stayed with us. A familiar trick was to place a
board on top of the chimney and when the teacher came to build a fire,
smoke him out. At another time "Aunt Betsy" Jones was lured into a
hornet's nest while out gathering wild plums.
But enough of this. Let me introduce the old stone mill near Greeley,
built by Job Odell. The stone was quarried on the site and the frame work
-- timbers and hewn logs -- from Witter's land near by. The race can be
seen in the rear of the mill, in the illustration herewith. The water
flowed from one spring, and the old log shaft of the original water wheel
is still to be seen. This mill, known as "Fountain Mill," is still
in operation by George strong, son of a Greeley pioneer, and the spot is a
favorite resort for picnic parties and campers, hundreds visiting it every
summer. The road leading to it is one of the most picturesque in this
I call to mind an execution. A man was to be hanged for murder. All the
county far and near assembled on the appointed Friday at Delhi, the county
seat, to witness the hanging. The poor culprit was taken from the jail and
marched between two officers away down to the corner of the court house
yard, where a scaffold had been erected. Pale as a ghost, the condemned
man ascended the scaffold steps, stood for a moment facing the multitude
of spectators, looking for the last time up to the blue sky, then the
black cap was drawn down and all was dark, the trap was sprung and the
poor soul entered into eternity. Then from the gruesome sight we turned
our faces homeward.
The Fourth of July was always a welcome day for us boys. "Hitch up old
Dobbin" and off ten or fifteen miles to town where the usual speeches were
made from a platform in the public square or a shady grove. Sometimes a
roast ox, the savory odors of which called us in that direction for
"eats," baskets of good things free for all; firecrackers, a pair of
blacksmith anvils for a cannon, perhaps a "calithumpian" grotesque parade,
Roman candles, bonfires, etc., for the night. I well remember among my
earliest Fourth of July experiences and old drummer of the war of 1812. He
was toothless and bald. He would sing or hum some old tune, while myself
and other youngsters looked on in wonder at his nimble drumsticks, tossed
in the air or over his head and keep up the rattle of the old snare drum,
that had probably cheered them on at the battle of Lundy's Lane.
Well, on down life's pathway the old is becoming new. Boys grown to
manhood, growing whiskers and mustaches as was the custom of the Civil War
days. In 1857 there dawned upon the nation "the rail slitter of Illinois,"
Abraham Lincoln, candidate for United States senator. His great debate
with Stephen A. Douglas, "the Little Giant of Illinois." Then the
campaign of 1860 and election of Lincoln to the presidency of the United
States. Many were the parades, speeches, torch-light processions, etc. I
cast my maiden vote for "Honest old Abe" Lincoln.
War clouds were rising in the south and on April 12, 1861, Ft. Sumpter was
bombarded by Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, the followed the clash of the blue
and the gray. Iowa, under her war governor, S. J Kirkwood, did herself
proud. Copperheads were rampant in 1862 and the "Knights of the Golden
Circle" and "Sons of Liberty" were organized and fathered by such men as
C. L. Vallandingham, and in our own state by Henry Clay Dean, M. W. Hill
and Dennis A. Mahoney of the Dubuque Herald, and Tom Claggett of the
Keokuk Constitution. They were arrested and locked up, the press, type,
etc., of the Constitution were carted to and dumped into the Mississippi
river by irate soldiers located near Keokuk.
The soldier boys had no Pullman coaches in which to ride in those days, no
motor drawn bakeries to follow up the forces in the field. Companies from
Western Iowa marched across the state to their regimental camps on the
Mississippi. Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, issued September 1862,
the siege of Vicksburg, the three day's battle of Gettysburg were turning
points in the war in 1863. Then on April 14, 1865 Lincoln was assassinated
at Ford's theater, casting a gloom over the north. Sherman made his famous
march to the sea and the surrender of Lee to Gen. Grant on April 9, 1865,
ending the war. The roar of battle in that great conflict is over and
forever, but thousands of the boys went down and are sleeping
|"Under the sod and
|Waiting the Judgment
|Under the one the
|Under the other the
A majority of the survivors belong to that most
fraternal of organizations and into which none can enter except he who has
worn the blue, the Grand Army of the Republic.
Now, if I have interested or entertained my readers in these few
reminiscent articles, I am satisfied. Goodbye.