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Iowa Historical Record Quarterly

Published Quarterly by the State Historical Society, Iowa City, Iowa


Volume XII, October 1896, No. 4



     In the number of THE HISTORICAL RECORD for July, 1894, I began this notice of our pioneer preachers. My writing since has been interrupted by press of business until now. Mr. Brier, whom I was last writing about, was a man of great force of expression, and possessed a stentorian voice. When about to depart from this city with his train for California he preached a farewell sermon in which, with almost prophetic power, he outlined the dangers of the trip. How true his picture of the trials to be overcome on their way, was made manifest to his suffering and dying companions as they dropped exhausted upon the desert or the rocky slopes of the mountains, there to die unattended, and forever lost to relatives and friends.
     Bishop Matthias Loras came among us ministering to a small flock of Roman Catholics, faithful to their church, who had cast their lot among us.
     He was a most remarkable man; born in France, his family aristocratic, he grew to manhood surrounded by an atmosphere highly refined by wealth, learning, and devotion to religious duties. From his home thus exalted he, in the year 1829, came to Mobile and there began his labors which soon led him to the frontiers of the Louisiana Purchase. Here he came into contact with the degraded white men associated with the lowly Indians, and at a time too when the spirit of evil was much more rife among these ignorant and vicious classes of humanity than has since been the case. He established himself in the town of Dubuque in 1839, he having been ordained Bishop of the see of Dubuque the year before. At this time began his great labors among the people of the frontier, establishing missions among the Sioux, Sauks, and Foxes, and the Winnebagoes. His missionaries traveled among the Indians in this early day from Green Bay to Ft. Pierre on the Missouri and from these northern outposts southward to Missouri, a great field of labor. He, by the means of these missionaries, discovered the great extent to which the whiskey traffic had grown among the Indians of this vast field and to his efforts in great degree was due the action of Congress in making the sale of whiskey to Indians a felony, which action soon checked the trade and has finally very nearly abolished it.
     He early grasped the idea that the magnificent territory of his see was destined to invite and support a great and prosperous population, and early engaged in calling attention to the fertility of its soils, the healthfulness of its climates and the grand opportunities which it afforded for comfortable homes for all who would come, and in a spirit of industry take them. Thus he became the guide and counselor to the tide of immigration which flowed from Europe to our shores in the forties and early fifties, bringing to us many valuable citizens from the German States.
     Bishop Loras frequently visited this city, at the time it was being staked out and immediately afterwards. He was in those times frequently my father's guest; their friendship was begun in New York City during the cholera epidemic of 1832-3. These visits of his gave me the opportunity to know him, and I well remember his kindly genteel manners and his often expressed zeal in plans for the development of the then Territory of Iowa. He purchased a tract of land adjoining the city plat at its northeast corner.
     It was upon this tract that the first Catholic burial ground in Johnson County was laid out. To Bishop Loras belongs the credit of the erection of the first church building in this city, the date of which is 1841, the corner stone being laid July 12th of that year.
     There is scarce a city or settlement in the valley of the Mississippi above the State of Missouri having its beginning in the territorial times in Iowa, but that, in those times, felt the impulse of improvement coming from his effort and enjoyed the kindly impress of his presence. While the writer was a school boy, enjoying the aid of Dr. Wm. Reynolds as his teacher, somewhere about 1844, the Doctor, who then officiated in the basement of the old blue church on the site of the present Christian Chapel, called attention of his scholars, and told us that on the coming Friday forenoon, an accomplished and highly educated gentleman direct from New England would appear before us and give us a talk upon good manners, the proper pronunciation of words and correct grammar talk. Well the day came and the Doctor ushered before us a rather tall, slim, gentleman with a most decided New England air about him, and introduced him to the school as the Rev. Samuel Storrs Howe, who had come to Iowa as a missionary, and brought with him unbounded learning from the schools of the east.
     Mr. Howe at once took the platform and in the first sentences of his lecture told us that "in the east it was understood that the people of the west were ignorant and sinful, that he had come among us as a missionary and had found these conditions much worse than he had expected." "Why," he said, "since I have been in the Territory of Iowah, (putting the accent upon the vowel o) I have not heard a person pronounce the name of the Territory correctly." Said he, "in the east it is well known that the name is from the Indian language, and that its correct pronunciation is I-o'-wah." He dwelt upon this as a sign of the dense ignorance of our people and said much more, all of which aroused not only the scholars whom he was addressing, but also the Doctor, who as soon as Mr. Howe closed, gave us the lead by remarking that while the schools and learning of the west could not be compared with that of the east, yet he felt that a good beginning had been made and that as a very large bulk of the grown up people of the west had but lately come from the east he thought that they in learning, intelligence, and morals, would very favorably compare with later arrivals from that illuminated point. He then called upon us to reply, as we saw fit, to the remarks of Mr. Howe. The debate on our side was opened by Otis Gower who controverted the statements of the gentlemen from the east and wound up by pointing out several ungrammatical expressions used by him and called attention to his habitual mispronunciation of words, in particular pronouncing stairs as
stahs, etc.
     Other scholars took him up on his pronunciation of the word Iowa, as we all had more or less association with the young Indians, and had picked up much of their language and knew that their pronunciation of the word was Ioway' with a strong accent on the last syllable. The writer took up this part of the discussion and pointed out the error of the reverend gentleman in that regard. Knowing Parson Howe for many years after, the writer found him holding to the I-o'-wah pronunciation, and discovered that the old gentleman did not know of the great differences between the tribal languages of this country, but that he all his life believed that they were all of one stock, and that the languages spoken by the tribes of King Philip in Massachusetts, or Powhatan in Virginia, and Blackhawk in the valley of the Mississippi were one and the same. Hence his continual misrepresentation as to the pronunciation and meaning of the name of this State.
     He lived long among us, was quite a vigorous writer, but never a successful preacher, and to the day of his death believed that New England held the lead of the west in the matters of learning and morals.
     Doctor W. W. Wood came early to Iowa, bringing his family to this city and making his home among us. By his efforts the "South Presbyterian Church" (the stone structure) was built in 1845. It was thus called to distinguish it from the brick structure built in the north part of the town by Mr. Hummer. I am not able to, at this time, give such sketch of Doctor Wood as I wish too, and must leave it to a future writing.
     Other preachers came and went in the territorial days; among them was the man to first preach the doctrine of Universalism to us. His name was Westphall. He was a good scholar and a first class controversialist, which gave him great power when debating differences of doctrine with ministers of other denominations, which he was often called upon to do. His labors gave to his sect a rapid growth in the new west, and brought about the construction of our first Universalist Church in 1842.
     I will not dwell upon the career of Hon. Jas. Harlan who, came among us a circuit rider of the Methodist Church, and became in succession a school teacher, Superintendent of Public Instruction, a cabinet officer, and United States Senator. Nor can I stop now to more than mention Rev. Dexter P. Smith, who labored many years among us as pastor of the Baptist Church in this city.
     In the time from 1851 to 1858, the writer was engaged upon surveys for the construction of a railroad from the Mississippi to the Missouri. Our headquarters were at Iowa City and Lyons and our lines terminated on the Missouri at Council Bluffs or near there. In the early portion of the period mentioned we passed beyond the substantial settlements after leaving the town of Marengo. The prairies were altogether in a state of nature from the mouth of Bear Creek just above that town onward to the "Big Muddy" as the Missouri was then generally called. Some cabins and small fields were to be met with on the outskirts of groves of timber, but in general the groves w ere wild and the ax had never yet been laid at the roots of the trees composing them. 'They were the abode of the wild beasts of the plain, and west of the river Des Moines herds of buffalo roamed at will over the green grassy slopes of Iowa accompanied by bands of Indians, their companions in traversing the great plains further west.
     We soon became used to daily contact with the wild denizens of the prairies and found the best spots for our camps, and always repaired to them when upon our yearly journeys with rod, chain, and stakes.
     Among these favorite spots was Sugar Grove on the line of Poweshiek and Jasper counties. This grove grew upon the heads of Sugar Creek and here we had the purest of spring water, plenty of grass for our beds and our horses and enjoyable shade from the trees.
     The grove had its inhabitants, some of which were migratory like ourselves, these were deer and elk with now and then a few buffalo. Its permanent inhabitants consisted principally of a pack of the large, dark-gray, timber wolves, daring and ferocious—so much so, that on the occasion of our first camping at the Grove, they killed and partly ate a saddle horse belonging to one of our engineers. The horse was a small pony and the favorite of his master who greatly mourned his loss and we all did our best to avenge his taking off, from time to time succeeding in killing members of the tiger-like band, which killed him. We found that the carcasses of the wolves which we killed were invariably eaten by their companions. After the death of the pony our horses were kept under guard when grazing by day, and at night were brought to the camp and there guarded until dawn. We procured some strychnine, then just coming into use among trappers and hunters for the wholesale killing of wolves, and with it soon reduced the ferocious pack to a few individuals.
     In the early part of May, 1854, we reached our Sugar Grove camp on a Saturday night in a rain storm.
     The following Sunday was bright and clear, and we saw by its early morning light that we had been preceded to the grove by men with wagons, and while we were at breakfast were surprised by a visit from a well dressed gentleman who after inquiring our business and destination, told us that he was a Congregational minister, that his name was Grinnell, that he had but a few days before landed upon the heads of Sugar Creek with a colony of people from New England and New York to found a settlement in Poweshiek County. He said that while he took the deepest interest in our work, and the great advancement of the country which was to certainly grow out of it, he would not stop then to discuss it with us out of deference to the day, but would invite us to come and hear him preach at two o'clock that afternoon. Calling us to the door of our dining room tent, he pointed out the top of a large oak tree and said that the services, to which he invited us, would be held under that tree.
     We all repaired, at the proper time, to the place and there heard divine services, for the first time in our experience, resounding through the grove and awakening its echoes. What a contrast to the conditions which we had always before met with here, for aside from the lovely picture of its prairie surroundings in the midst of which it arose and stood out against the sky back ground a thing of beauty in shape and color, it otherwise had all the attributes of a savage wilderness; lonely and alone, it had stood from prehistoric times the habitation of savage brute and man until the advent of the blossoms of the year 1854, then to be awakened to a new order of things. For now as the swelling buds and blossoms of that year foreshadowed the coming of the fruits of its later seasons, so this gathering of courageous men and not less courageous women, listening to the words of the preacher under the widespread branches of that monarch of the grove, together with the accompaniment of sacred song swelling and resounding through the forest was the forerunner of the grand empire of improvement, of the learning, and accomplishments which have followed their coming among us in that eventful spring.
     The next day we ventured out to get acquainted with the colonists. Mr. Grinnell showed us around and introduced us to many of them and we found them to be a people very much the superior in intelligence and refinement to the general run of the immigrants of that time to this State.
     There were doubters among them, and also those who claimed that they had been deceived, many of them were already homesick, but in general they took with their pastor a rosy view of their surroundings and of the future in store for them.
     I found them living in all sorts of shelters, some made houses of the covered wagons in which they had come to the grove, others had taken the wagon beds off of the running gears, and had placed them across logs to keep up from the damp ground; others had tents, while some had succeeded in building rude log cabins for temporary homes.
     They had procured a portable circular saw mill and a power, such as was then used to impel threshing machines, and had, with eight horses begun to cut lumber from the trees of the grove. As I wandered about the grove inspecting the camp I came upon a quaint looking log cabin nestled among the trees upon a little knoll overlooking a babbling spring branch which made its way among the grasses and flowers in front of it. The roof was of rough lumber; the door of the same material was standing partly open, smoke was curling upward from a stove pipe which came through the roof. Near by a young man was chopping upon a tree body which had been uprooted by a tornado storm of the preceding year. As I stood looking at the scene a dog discovered a rabbit and gave chase, whereupon the young fellow caught up his gun with as much excitement in his manner as if he expected to see the rush of a band of deer from the cover of the nearby brushwood. These features of the scene made such an impression upon me that I drew forth my sketch book and pencil, and as well as I could do so, transferred them to paper. I then inquired of the young man the name of the owner of the cabin. "Why," he said, "it is the home of our minister, Mr. J. B. Grinnell." I have now by aid of the photographic art transferred the drawing, made more than forty-two years ago, to these pages. The title being "A Pioneer Home Out West."
     Mr. Grinnell's attempt to colonize the prairies of Iowa we all know was crowned with the greatest of success.
     We now behold the fruits of his labor in the magnificent agriculture, the grand town bearing his name, with its renowned college, and public schools, the important system of railroads traversing its borders, and the riches and happiness of a highly educated, prosperous community which have taken the place of the wild scenes and savage wilderness, which I have above described, and all within less than half a century.
     I will let himself relate his experiences during the early days of the Grinnell Colony. I quote from
"The Silver Wedding of Hon. J. B. Grinnell and Wife" a portion of his reply to the speech of Professor Parker on that occasion. He said:
     "The eloquent historical allusions of my friend Prof. Parker, I may notice to say that he too was a pioneer; himself and lady our earliest instructors in the Grinnell University, and long esteemed teachers after the removal of Iowa College to Grinnell. As to 'cheap preaching,' I thought for years
that was the fact most highly appreciated for I was expatriated from an eastern city by hoarseness, and my professional engagements were of a ludicrous nature—ready as a minute man to do the marrying in all the country round, gratis, with a remote prospect of return to a landowner trusting the maxim that 'population is wealth.' Then teasing a rattlesnake on Sunday morning in front of the rude meeting room, to learn more of the nature and power of the 'original serpent;' watching and spearing at Sunday noon, while the family were at dinner, a gopher that had sacrilegiously undermined my walk while away at service.
     "Later being a contractor and builder of the first school and meeting house which was such 'open work'—yet fashionable at that day, save for houses—that the falling rain would moisten the minister's manuscript without the requisition of a parasol—Friends those deferred payments I am now ready to receipt for in full with compound interest, a church debt canceled with
silver before resumption.
     "You have hinted at my fanaticism and I gloried in the cognomen when of each of you I could say--'you are another;' giving me your united suffrage as legislator for free schools at Des Moines, and against slavery and for the Union at Washington; and I now frankly confess to be no more worthy of the designation, having been invited by both parties on the same day in the late canvass to take the stump on the battle field of Indiana. Besides I am a conspicuous failure as a dignitary, you all know, but I have the autographic letter and praise of old John Brown, who was my guest, and his best picture is in my parlor, and the bed is safe which has rested many a way-worn traveler of doubtful politics; and the Family will survive the odium incurred by their parents who were designated as 'keepers of a negro boarding house,' on account of the numerous arrivals by the subterranean railway.
     "An abiding faith in our city, and loyalty to friends and home I have ever held, and am thankful for the humble part borne in our history, and grateful to the Almighty for successes. Iowa College, the oldest in the State, with halls tasteful in architecture, and richer in the endowments of a Christian people, supplanting before our eyes the wolf and the reptile on the ornamented
rising hundreds of feet above the Father of Waters—The town with three railroads and thousands of people, and never tolerating alcoholic beverages, and never publicly sold—makes an exceptional landmark in American progress; where 'opportunities for education are abundant, and for intoxication none,' a fact which may truthfully be emblazoned. Then numerous churches planted and prosperous without sectarian rivalries, and the earliest vexed with a home moveable as the Tabernacle borne in the wilderness, now the largest of its class in the State, and near to the building of a new edifice so comely that 'heaven shall look down to see'—all give promise of a trinity of blessing in education, morality and religion, in which each have part and give brilliancy to the crown jewels of a State which it is our pleasant duty to burnish and defend."


SEPTEMBER 24, 1896

     One day last month when the thermometer showed the mercury to be prancing about in the nineties, I received a hurriedly written letter from your worthy President Col. Rood, asking me to reply to the sentiment, "The Wives of the Bridge," on this occasion.
     As a result of my affirmative reply, I find myself here tonight a victim of circumstances!
     I'll take you all into confidence enough to assure you I am not in the least like one of our presidential nominees. I don't want to talk whenever I see an audience, besides the audience might object. Especially, when the pressure of every day life has pushed one on, from duty to duty, with no time left for adequate preparation. Silence would much better befit me. But, after all, it doesn't make much difference, for if I were gifted with the tongue of an angel I could not do full justice to those assigned me to remember in words of tribute tonight.
     We can well afford to recall the "Wives of the Brigade" with tenderest memories and crown them anew on every occasion, when we meet to do honor to the brave men who gave up life, and all that men hold dear to maintain the Nation's honor unsullied.
     Gentlemen, I never meet a Union Soldier, I never have on clasp my hand without a peculiar feeling of thankfulness passing through my heart, the vicarious offering made for all loyal women living in our beloved land through the dark days of the early 60's and for those who have lived here since then, should make women in deed and in truth loyal friends of the "boys in blue."
     The "boys in blue" are synonymous with our nation itself. They staid destroying hands and preserved to us a land worthy of the occupancy of the highest manhood and womanhood. The responsibility of guarding this high trust rests upon those who stand at the fore front today.
     The trend of our civilization for several decades past has fostered intense individualism. Out of this prevailing thought has sprung a restlessness, and unreasonable discontent with existing conditions, that can only be likened to a smothered fire. It embraces within itself embers easily fanned into roaring flames, and the arch traitors to the real good of humanity today., and all that humanity holds highest and best, are those who stand ready (like the uncanny witches in "Macbeth") to stir the boiling cauldron and then turn, and misquote the utterances of great and good men to justify their diabolism.
     God grant especial wisdom to every man who ever wore the "blue" to see the dangers lurking in the problems that vex us as a nation today. Do not thrust them from you my beloved brothers. Study them. Study them well. Not that I fear the wrong man will be called to the Presidential Chair, but there is a law of possibilities underlying things in this world we must take into consideration.
     This reminds me of a story:- An Irishman had a goat of which he was very fond, he was also the possessor of a brilliant red flannel shirt, which needed washing. He washed it carefully, hung it on the line back of his little cabin, and sat down to enjoy his pipe while it dried. Hearing an unusual noise, he looked up, found the goat had swallowed the shirt all except for one sleeve. Pat in his wrath exclaimed, "You hathen baste you have despoiled me of my clothes, now you shall die!" But Pat was a tender-hearted man and did not like to inflicted suffering upon his beloved goat, so he began to think of the most humane way to dispose of him. At last he exclaimed, triumphantly, "I have it now, you hathen baste, I will tie ye down good an tight to the railroad track, the cars will run over ye and end yer good-for-nothing life;" Pat tied his goat down and then retired to await the rumble of the approaching train. The goat in its frantic endeavors to escape threw up the shirt-flagged the train- and saved itself.
     Your bullets will not decide the battles of '96. But your ballots can, so put them in the right place.
     I fully understand the etiquette of this occasion, gentlemen, and would not overstep a courtesy by telling you where to put them.
     I was a school-girl in Washington City through the years from '61 to '65. My home in a city pastor's family, thus the war and its incidents were daily object lesson with me. In those days I saw many of the wives of the brave men who were "down at the front." I can recall these women as they impressed me in those girlish days, with my own larger experience of today I can now only look back upon them in awe, wondering how they ever lived at all through those days of heartache and anxiety. Only the comparatively few could come to Washington and be that near their hearts' idols. What of those who sat in the solitude of darkened homes, hoping bravely for the best? Can you not see them, going about their narrow round of household affairs, with smiling faces, but aching hearts; sitting down in the loneliness of the eventide, when the childish prattle was stilled, and the little curly heads were resting on their pillows to write the words of love and tenderness to "Papa" who was perhaps at that moment on the bloody field of Shiloh, or fighting under the very shadow of the battlements of heaven above on the clouds on Lookout.
     With the magnetism that binds a true husband and wife the dear ones in camp and on the field felt the current that came to them on unseen wires, and could read the home heartaches? But these heartaches were instantly transmuted by some subtle agency, into a force that gave them courage, patience and patriotism.
     The wives and babies were indeed the power behind the throne!
     Imagine if you can, a regiment of bachelors, utterly devoid of all sentiment, are they not? The ideal soldier must be a Benedict. There must be a wife and bairns, or we cannot enthuse over him. However plaintively the bachelor soldier may whistle "The girl I left behind me," we only half believe in his grief. On the other hand I wouldn't have you suppose marriage was necessary to the highest development of a man's combative faculties. Such an admission would be most damaging to the "Wives of the Brigade."
     We all, however, recognize the American home as one of our great national safeguards. Motives are mighty powers, it is on infinite importance to have them high and clear. The homes that dot our hillsides are silent sentinels guarding our country's ensign. it has been said that you can always trust a man to defend the flag if he had a wife, a baby, a little cabin, a cow and a few chickens. In such a man's heart there is no place for the demagogue. No place for the serpentine traitors who would betray a nation's honor. When a man has the true American home instinct in his heart he will know no sectionalism, no north, no south, no east, no west, only one common country, thrice blessed because governed by nature's noblemen, the common people. We believe in the common people-we trust them for we are all of them. But we cannot, we dare not shut our eyes to the fact that there is a great deal of nature in human nature, and that human nature is full of freaks and foibles. We have seen it can be swept entirely out of plumb occasionally by a tornado of words, or wind! But the pendulum soon swings back to rhythmic measure. Storms may come, clouds may threaten, but "God's in his Heaven, all's right with the world." So let us go bravely on, keeping in step in the march of civilization, always cheering the dear old "stars and stripes," and believing that we can soon attune our lives to the music of brighter, happier days!

"But if peace whose snow-white pinions
Brood over our land today
Should ever again go from us,
(God grant she never may)
Should our nation in her peril
Call for six hundred thousand more,
The loyal women would hear her,
And send you out as before.

"We would bring out the treasured knapsack,
We would the sword from the wall,
And hushing our own heart's pleading,
Hear only the country's call.
For next to our God is our nation,
And we cherish the honored name,
Of the bravest of all brave armies,
Who fought for the nations fame."
'The Crocker Brigade!'"


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