Volume XII, October
1896, No. 4
PREACHERS OF IOWA
BY C. W. IRISH, IOWA CITY
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
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
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"
portion of his reply to the speech of Professor Parker on that occasion. He
"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
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,
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
"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 campus
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
WIVES OF THE BRIGADE
AN ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE EIGHTH BIENNIAL REUNION
CROCKER'S IOWA BRIGADE, AT MARSHALLTOWN,
SEPTEMBER 24, 1896
BY MRS. MORTIMER A. HIGLEY, CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA
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
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
"But if peace whose snow-white
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
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!'"