Volume 1


Fourth Edition Printed by the Clio Press Iowa City, Iowa 1920
Copyright 1917 by Clarence Ray Aurner

Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, submitted April, 2013


The building of the first cabins without hammer or nails, and the making of furniture out of the trees that grew near by taught the new settler that he could do many things with a few tools. The first houses did not cost very much; the first clothing was very plain, yet no one found fault with it.

With the simplest home and the homeliest clothes the first real step in advance came when the farmer planted his first crop of corn. The sod was turned over with a plow which perhaps had been brought along in separate parts from his old home. The fixing of the iron and wooden parts in their proper places was called �stocking� the plow. An old gentleman who came to Iowa in 1837 said that he had to borrow the tools to put his plow together, or to �stock it�. If it was necessary, a shovel plow could be made of wood. But this would do only for cultivating in the soft ground; for a very strong plow must be used to tear up or to break the tough sod which must always be plowed before any crop could be grown.

pg 95

It has been said that along the edge of the woods the sod was more readily turned than in the open prairie. But perhaps the corn was planted the same way in either place. This planting was most easily done by using an ax to cut a gash in the sod into which the kernels of corn were dropped by hand. There were no machines then to which horses could be hitched and which could be drawn over fields to drop the corn. The whole family of boys and girls would go into the field to drop corn.

The soft ground was marked out into little squares about three feet each way by markers drawn by horses; and just where the lines crossed the three or four kernels for each hill were dropped and covered with earth by means of a hoe. Of course, on the first sod turned no such marking could be made; but one could follow along the furrow marks to make a straight row. By and by the ground was plowed again, and every year the sods were broken up into finer particles. In the old farms of today there is no more native sod, nor are there wild flowers.

About the new farm and the growing crop the owner built a fence. Since he had come from a place where all farms were fenced with rails laid up one above the other at an angle like those in the cover picture, he planned the same kind for his Iowa farm. That was one reason for selecting a claim, or farm, near the woods. Men could make rails by splitting logs up with iron or wooden wedges and a wooden maul. It has been said that it took 6400 rails to fence a field of forty acres. Nowadays no one in Iowa would even think of making rails, because there are better and quicker ways of making a fence.

pg 97

In all farm work oxen or horses were hitched to wagon or plow and the farmer made his own ox yoke; or he made a harness from rope and chains or other material. For the indoor work the hand loom for weaving was made; and in one county during the winter of 1839 at least nine looms were built. The ax, the drawing knife, the auger, and the saw were all the tools the settler had in manufacturing these looms. The same tools served to make spinning wheels and reels on which to wind the yarn. Such tools were used also to make many things needed about the new farm when there were no shops near by. Shops would not be built until there were more settlers.

In harvesting the wheat and oats and rye or other small grain crops, the scythe and the cradle and the strong arms of men were the tools used. It took a long time to find out how to make horses or engines do all the hard work. A cradle was like a scythe with fingers extending from the curved handle or �snath� to hold the grain. It could then be laid in a �swath� or bundles and bound with straw by men who came behind the �cradler�, or the man who cut the grain. Perhaps if the crop was very small, only a few acres, a hand sickle might be used. But that was a very slow way to harvest.

After the grain had been cut and bound into bundles, and after it had become fairly dry, it was threshed and cleaned in the following very interesting way: a piece of clean level ground was chosen and packed hard; the sheaves of grain were spread out in a circle with the heads turned toward the center; then as many horses or oxen as could be used were brought into the circle and caused to walk around and around on the heads of the grain. From time to time the grain was turned and then tramped again, until by repeated turnings and trampings the grain was about all separated from the straw.

Grain Cradle
pg 99

But all the chaff and perhaps some dirt remained mixed with the grain. If the wind blew, both the chaff and dirt could be blown out by tossing the grain several times in the air. Sometimes a fanning mill, which had been brought along by some thrifty settler, served a whole neighborhood of Iowa farmers. A mill of this kind had a hopper into which the grain could be poured. It ran down over a sieve, or maybe two or three sieves, and was shaken back and forth by a crank turned by hand. The crank was so attached that it turned a wheel with large fans which blew over the sieve, or sieves, and removed the light chaff and dust. Many boys who have grown old since then remember the long hours they spent in turning the fanning mill crank.

The scythe was the first machine used to cut hay. In the summer time the oxen and horses could graze on the rich grasses near the settler�s home, but in the winter there must by a supply of hay.

This was cut and carefully dried in the warm days of summer. The new mown hay was stacked near the hay-covered stable and when fierce storms blew across the prairies it was carried to the stock safely sheltered within. The fragrant dried grass, when kept well, was sufficient to keep horses and cattle through the long winter. Sometimes one reads about the fragrance of the new mown hay; but it does not mean very much unless one has really smelled it in the field or mow when it was being made in the summer time.

The farmer swung his scythe close to the ground in a wide circle, and laid the long grass at his left side in a smooth windrow. Men and women or boys and girls came behind and with a wooden rake spread the grass out thinly over the short, sharp stubble. The hot sun dried it and, when cured, it was quickly raked together and gathered under cover or in stacks which would shed the rain. If, when the hay was ready to bring in, a rain should suddenly come up, there was a great hurrying of the work by all hands. For if the dry hay should be wet its fragrance would be largely spoiled.

The modest way of harvesting and haying by such simple machinery was soon changed. Horse machines were used to mow hay and to cut the grain. A mower was invented and the sharp sickle running rapidly back and forth on a long bar caused the grass to fall in a small swath behind it. The hay could then dry without being spread by hand; and it could be raked into windrows by hand rakes or by a horse-rake, which was likewise soon invented. A wooden horse-rake was not hard to make and, as he made other useful apparatus, the farmer put together his own or bought a patent one.

The first reaper for grain had a platform which caught the falling stalks. A man came along behind or rode on the machine and when a bundle was big enough, he pushed it off on the ground. Other men and boys, four or five perhaps, followed and bound up the sheaves with a straw band. A single machine at first was made use of by a good many families in the same neighborhood, because they could help each other in binding up the sheaves and gathering them into shocks. By and by when all the grain was cut by machines and stacked in one place, and when machines to thresh the sheaves had been invented, the neighbors would help each other thresh the whole harvest at once. No one refused to help unless he had some misfortune which would excuse him.

To find a market for the crops was one of the most important things for the first settlers. There was no way to get wheat or meat to the towns on the Mississippi where boats could carry the produce away, except by teams. And the bad sloughs, which heavy loads would scarcely cross, made teaming very hard. Only by going together with several loads and by helping each other could men reach the market.

For a short time there was great hope that boats would run regularly on the Wapsipinicon, on the Cedar, on the Iowa, and on the Des Moines Rivers. These rivers could be used then to carry away the farmers� crops. The boats did run and in some cases on the Cedar as far up as Waterloo, on the Iowa as far as Iowa City, and on the Des Moines far up into the State. A good sized boat ran clear from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to Cedar Rapids. Down the Ohio and up the Mississippi and the Cedar Rivers it journeyed without any mishap; and when such a trip could be made, people believed that Iowa rivers would be navigable.

Cargoes of flour were taken down the Cedar River to the markets at St. Louis. Passengers were carried down the Iowa river on several occasions, and once a cargo of corn which was being towed down stream on a flat boat was lost in the river because the flat boat broke into two pieces. But the hope that this trade would continue was soon given up and attention was turned to getting a railroad.

A good many years went by before the things needed in the new home were made in factories. And some persons have believed that it was a happy time in the history of the United States, and of our State, when almost everything one needed was made at home. All persons seemed contented, unselfish, and glad to help an unfortunate neighbor.

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