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


Although there were different kinds of mills which the first settlers needed, the most important was one to make corn meal and wheat flour. If one could bring together all the kinds of machines used by the pioneers to grind up their corn and wheat it would make a very interesting collection.

There were hand mills, not much larger than a coffee mill, which cracked wheat and corn fine enough to make bread. Such coarse meal or wheat grains would do when no one could hope to have fine white flour. In time of great need a coffee mill might be used in place of this hand mill, and many housewives were glad to make corn cakes, or �corn dodgers� as they were called, from the coffee mill meal.

If a mill could not be found, a grater made by punching holes through a piece of tin, something like a nutmeg grater, might be used. If the corn was too old and hard, it had to be softened first to make it grate well. New corn, of course, was easily prepared in this way for baking into bread. Mills run by horse power followed the hand mill; and these were among the first in the country. Sometimes such mills only cracked the corn, and so they were called �corncrackers�.

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In building small mills along the streams men sometimes used the large stones or boulders found on the prairie. The two stones, like the upper and the lower stones in a real flour mill, were cut out of the rock. They were then set on a spindle so the one would turn upon the other, and as the corn or wheat dropped from the hopper between the two revolving stones the grains would be crushed. Such flour would need to be sifted to take out the coarse part called bran.

When mills were built upon the streams, dams had to be constructed. These were soon built in many places, although at first men had to drive many miles to get their meal and flour. Some of the people who came first crossed the Mississippi into Illinois to go to mill. Ox teams were often driven fifty, sixty, or eighty miles and families were left alone sometimes for two or three weeks while the father went to mill.

Even after reaching the mill he might have an unhappy time in waiting his turn; for since a great many men had come from many directions at the same time, they had to be served in the order in which they reached the place. A kind miller would always run his mill night and day so that the journey home could be begun as soon as possible.

Suppose people now living in Marion County had to go to Burlington, one hundred miles away, to mill; or those at Fort Dodge had to go to Des Moines or Oskaloosa as they did at one time; and in going suppose they had to drive a slow ox team. In these hurried days they would probably think that a great hardship. When mills were built near enough to permit a man to go and to return with his flour on the same day, it was getting quite comfortable to live anywhere.

The water mills, to be sure, could not run all the time; for the water might be low in the hot summer season, or it might freeze deep in the winter. When anything interfered with the water power mill the miller had to use the old horse mill until there was enough water again. After steam power was used to run mills there was no more trouble of that kind.

It was about 1848 that the first steam mill was put up in Davenport, and when it was ready to grind wheat a grand opening was held. At the feast of good things served to those who were invited the bread was made from flour ground that very day in the new mill. The new bread perhaps was much better when eaten with roast turkey and chickens and roast pig, and the pies and cakes which the three hundred guests ate, than bread would have been when eaten alone.

The Iowa counties which had good streams had plenty of mills after they had become well settled. Scott County, for example, had many more than any other county near it, and people came from all directions with their �grist�, or grain, to be ground. The �Honest Miller� was a nickname once given to the owner of a mill who in this early time always took just his rightful share of the flour; for the miller received his pay for his work in a small part of the flour made.

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