AN IOWA FARM
And so it was that the Brown family came to Iowa.
"How did it seem to you when you got over your excitement
about the gold and looked around you?" I asked Grandmother Brown.
"Oh, my heart sank. 'Don't let's unpack our goods,'
I said to Dan'l. 'It looks so wild here. Let's go home.'
But we had bought the farm and there we were.
"We lived there fourteen years, and I was never reconciled
to it. I had never lived in the country before. The drudgery was
unending. The isolation was worse. In time, we knew a few families
with whom we had friendly relations, but they were very few. At first we
had the Oliver Browns across the way. They were always great readers, were
educated and sent their children away to school. But they were
frontiersmen by nature, always moving West, and a couple of years after we came
to Iowa they sold their farm and moved on.
"We had a good farm of rich black soil. But it is
people that really make a country, not soil. Those who had settled in that
neighborhood were of American stock, but it was poor in quality. I like to
be with people who know something, who want something. One of our
neighbors let three years go by before she came to see us. 'I woulda come
before, ' she said, 'but I heard you had Brussels carpet on the floor!'
Why, she should have come to see what it was like. She was mistaken
about the carpet anyway.
"Soon after we came to our farm there was a Fourth of July
celebration not far from us in a grove on Lost Creek. I packed a picnic
luncheon and took my children over. Long tables were set for dinner.
There was plenty to eat of a kind - but the people had no more manners
than so many pigs. They stared not only at us, but particularly at the
jelly cake I had set on the table. Without apology, they grabbed at my
cake and gobbled it down.
"The nearest town to us was Augusta," continued
Grandmother Brown. "It was about tow miles away on Skunk River, a
narrow winding little stream not entirely without beauty. Augusta once
showed some signs of life, though not a very cultivated life. It had tow
mills and two blacksmith shops, and several stores. But not it's a strip
of desolation, all grown up with weeds. You can't find it on the map.
"It's not quite so bad as that, Mother," interrupted
Gus, "but I drove past our old farm the other day, and I must say things
didn't look as prosperous out that way as they did fifty years ago. The
road past our farm, which was once a main highway, is not a bypath only. Where
a double row of shade trees ran along the road, a half century ago, one sees now
only rows of stumps. We had three bearing orchards when we let and a
fourth coming on. Where are they now? To be sure, we knew nothing
then of the pests that prey on fruit trees. But nowadays one sees few
flowers and gardens about the houses. And the fields seem deserted. To
be sure, with all the new machines not so many men are needed to work the
fields. But it does seem as if all people care for out here now is to get
the crop. There is less pride in the way things look. Perhaps the
bad Iowa roads have something to do with it. But the road that runs past
Denmark - which the railroads have missed all these years - is part of the
system of permanent State roads, and perhaps in time this part of the world may
look like something again."
"Denmark was a pretty village, a really charming town in
some respects," Said Grandmother Brown. "It had an air of
refinement. It had been settled by educated people from the East. They
had a fine academy and a good church there. But it was five miles from us,
and five miles in days of bad roads was a real barrier. We could not often
spare the time or use the horses to drive so far to church. The first
Sunday we were at the farm we drove to the poor little church on Lost
"It used to had two front doors," quoth Gus, "Men
went in one and women in the other. When a man and wife from town came in
and sat beside each other, the children giggled."
"And what a woodsy congregation it was!" sighed
Grandmother Brown. "Lizzie kept whispering that first Sunday: 'Oh,
Mother, I'd rather be in Ohio. I'd rather hear Aunt Ann sing!' It
brought tears to my eyes and a homesick lump to my throat to hear her carry on
so. It was just the way I felt. The next Sunday we drove over to the
Congregational Church at denmark. The singing was better there, and Lizzie
whispered: 'Oh, Mother, there's an Ann here!' A later Sunday when we
were there they were doing something in the church, and held services in the
schoolhouse. I set Gus up on a desk in front of me. Over in the
corner sat a square-faced old lady, lovely old Mrs. Houston. She tossed me
a cooky for my baby, Right in meeting! It kept him quiet. That sweet
old lady - to think of her tossing that cooky to my baby!" mused
Grandmother Brown. "She and her daughter Rowena and her two sons used
to drive over to see us sometimes. And so did Pastor Turner, the good
Congregational minister. But it was only once in a great while that we
could go to church. If the horses were used all week, they needed rest on
Sunday. And we were tired ourselves and glad to be quiet at home. It
was a lonely life. Practically no close neighbors or associates for
"Oh, there was one bright spot I must not fail to mention.
Good old Dr. Pickens of Athens who had married my Grandmother Culver had a
grandson, Mr. Chauncey Perkins Taylor, who was a Presbyterian minister and
preached in Fort Madison while we were living on the farm. The first time
Dan'l and I went into the Presbyterian Church in Fort Madison, the service had
not begun. Mr. Tayor came down from the pulpit and shook hands with us and
seemed to be so glad to see us. After that we exchanged visits often, and
had the best time ever talking about our grandparents being married in their old
"There never was a nicer family than that of the Reverend
Taylor's, but visiting with them or anyone else in Fort Madison was restricted
while we lived on the farm. When Ma took leave of me after seeing us
settled on the farm she said to me, rather solemnly, 'Now, Maria, you'll be
tempted to grow careless, living off here away from everybody. People who
live in the country seldom change their dress in the afternoon, the way you've
been brought up to do. Now keep on doing the way you've done all your
life. after dinner, take a bath and clean up and keep yourself nice, even
if there's no one to see you.' And so I always did. Coming in,
Oliver Brown would say, 'Going some place?' 'No.' 'Company coming?'
'No.' They learned after a while that it was my way. I could
sew and I could wash and iron, and so I was independent always in the matter of
wardrobe. I always had plenty of clean white wrappers and fresh cuffs and
collars. I can't help but think that children have more respect for a tidy
mother than for a chatty one. Webster says a 'slut' is a careless, dirty
woman, or a female dog.
"And it took the same sort of watchfulness to keep from
sliding backward in other ways. The work of the farm interfered with
regular family worship, but Dan'; always asked the blessing. I had been
brought up to keep the Sabbath Day holy, and it seemed to me that my children
should be taught to do so also. On our farm were many acres of hazel nuts.
The boys gathered them and laid them out on top of the woodhouse to dry.
Charlie wanted to climb up there and shell them out on Sunday. 'Can't
I shell them out on Sunday, Mother, if I sing a hymn all the while?' he
teased. 'Seems to me I'd have let him do it,' Sister Libbie said.
But I wouldn't. I'll not compromise when I think a thing is
"Was your land virgin soil?" I asked Grandmother Brown.
"Much of it had never been broken," she
answered, "but the farm was twenty years old when we bought it. It
had been entered with the Government by old Uncle William, Oliver Brown's
father. He sold it to a man named Thompson, and we bought it from
"Father paid $17.50 an acre for that farm," volunteered
Charlie. "There were 202 acres, which was about the average size of
the farms in the neighborhood. The two acres were thrown in extra. Eighty
of the 202 acres were timber land, a grove of walnut trees on Skunk River.
The timber had been used most wastefully. The best logs had been
cut. There was an old log house on the place that had a siding of walnut
boards and a roofing an inch thick made out of walnut logs. The granary
and barn were also made of wide walnut boards. Such wastefulness!"
"Just think," said Grandmother Brown solemnly,
"if Dan'l had only been a financier, those eighty acres of walnut trees
would have enabled him to die a rich man. But then, what's the use of
frettying about it now? We lived and worked and had our being, and burned
that nice walnut wood in our stoves, and kept our house warm and comfortable.
Otherwise there was no wastefulness in that house of ours." she
went on grimly. "Four rooms with cellar and attic was all we got.
It was a well-built, good house painted white, but without a single extra
thing. No shutter's no porch, no closets. Not even a nail to hang a
dish rag on! Just house!
"The biggest room was used as joint kitchen and dining
room. In it we installed our good St. Louis cook stove. I missed the
open fires of Ohio. I remember that I thought it pathetic when Gus asked
me one time in his childhood what a 'mantelpiece' was. Across the tiny
hallway was a sitting room from which a door opened outdoors. The two
other rooms were bedrooms, and sometimes we had a bed in the sitting room, too.
In the attic there was a window at either end. On either side of
each window we put up beds - those at one end for our boys, those at the other
for hired hands, when we had them.
"All about the house, at first, was a tangle of hazel
brush. It grew so close about us that the cows couldn't get between it and
"Oh, well do I remember that hazel brush," exclaimed
Lizzie, "and the thorn-apple trees which grew in a circle near the
back door. They had the sweetest smelling blossoms. Father made me a
playhouse out there, not twenty feet away from the kitchen door, but so dense
was the brush that I couldn't see the house. Mother tied a clothesline to
me, spread my playhouse with an old red-bridled sheepskin, and put Gus down on
it beside me inside a horse collar turned upside down. Baby pens hadn't
been invented then; the inverted horse collar served just as well. I
had some of Mother's fine dishes to play with, ones I had broken for her. But
once or twice, before she tied me, I'd follow some other path and get lost in
the hazel brush. Oh, there must have been forty acres of it. And
beyond was a grove of wild crab apples. Father cultivated them and Mother
mixed them with pumpkin and cinnamon, and they really made pretty good apple
butter. Father's cousin wanted to know where she got her apples for
"Yes, it was wild enough when we first came there,"
assented Grandmother Brown, "But when we left, after fourteen
years, it was pretty much all under cultivation. All our stock was under
shelter. At first we had only a log barn, but later we built two new
barns, one with fine stone basement with room for our carriage and with five
stalls for horses. Once we had reached the farm we had very little use for
our carriage and for our silver-mounted harness - a rarity in Iowa. One of
the first things that Dan'l did was to get me some muslin in Fort Madison, and I
made a cover for that beautiful carriage. We set it away on the threshing
floor and kept it clean and bright until we had a chance to sell it later years.
"Another useless luxury in the first years was our Brussels
carpet. Until we had walks and fences and an orderly domain, it was folly
to spread out carpets. I was thankful if I could keep my bare floors
clean. I can remember how Charlie would say in the harvest time: 'Come
on, boys, turn down your pants and shake out the chaff; don't carry it
upstairs.' But, oh, how Grandpa Brown would stamp in with chunks of mud
hanging on his boots! And so it was several years before the Brussels
carpet was unrolled. Not until we had a nice board fence all around the
house and garden.
"In time the place came to look rather nice. No
amount of cultivation could make it beautiful in the sense that the hills around
Athens are beautiful. It was doomed to be flat and uninteresting by
comparison. On the farm one could see a mile in every direction. The
first morning there Lizzie looked about her and exclaimed, 'Oh, Mother,
isn't this a wide town!'
"Our road drove in past an orchard which was half grown
when we came there. Later we planned others, and had a nice selection of
fruit. At the left of the barn grew a clump of jack oaks - they have one
smooth leaf, you know, not the leaf with scalloped edges like the big oak.
There we had a box for the martins. And there was a rather pretty
tree near the house, a silver poplar with white leaves that were always shaking.
In the hazel brush the wild violets were as thick as could be. How
Gus loved to gather them! He would come with his fat little hands full of
the blossoms, and Ma would put them in water for him. He was so fond of
her, and Lizzie would be jealous, because she was fond of Grandma, too, and
wanted her attentions.
"We had so many more birds then than we have now. One
time I shall never forget. I was washing outdoors on the shady side of the
house and I heard a bird with an unfamiliar note. I left my washing and
followed it into the orchard, where I saw it quite plainly. I rushed into
the house and consulted the bird book I had bought for my children. A
Baltimore oriole! They build their nests of thread. Isn't it
wonderful how a bird can do that - take thread and weave a nest for its babies
and line it soft and nice with feathers from its own breast?
"At night it used to make me so lonesome, sitting at the
front door in the dusk, - we had supper at five o'clock, - to hear the prairie
chicken calling over the meadow, 'Boo-hoo! Boo-hoo! Boo-hoo!' Charlie
could make a noise exactly like their three calls.
" 'T was sufficiently settled up in Iowa by the time we got
there so that there were no prairie wolves about. It wasn't like Chicago
when my cousin Mary Harper went to live there. I have heard her tell how
one time, when Mr. Harper lay very sick, the wolves howled about the house all
night. But I did see three wolves go past our house once - just once - on
the lope. They went the length of our farm as far as I could see. I
don't know where they were going, and I guess they didn't know either.
"We were too late for the Indians, also. They too had
gone before we came. But once, driving home from Fort Madison, Dan'l did
overtake two braves. he asked them to ride. When he reached home
they sat down under a tree in the yard. I fixed up a big tray full of good
things to eat and sent it out to them. There they squatted in paint and
feathers, showing their nakedness as they ate. They were the first Indians
I ever saw.
"One thing we did have in Iowa that was terrifying. That
was thunder and lightening. I don't remember that the Iowa storms ever
hurt our crops, but the lightening tore a splinter out of a walnut tree and tied
it around a little tree in the yard. I never shall forget the crash that
shook the house when that happened.
"But Iowa was ahead of Ohio in one respect. It had no
poisonous snakes. In Ohio, when we were in the country, we were always
afraid of the snakes.
"That first year must have been very hard for you, dear
Grandmother Brown," I said.
"It was, especially after Ma left to visit Brother John.
I don't know how I could have gotten through it if it hadn't been for
Liddy Ann, Dan'l's good old-maid sister. She joined us in the fall. She
was a lonely, sweet-natured woman and a great comfort to me. She was quite
good-looking, but had suffered terribly with neuralgia, so they drew out her
teeth to ease her pain, - such pretty teeth! - and it made her face fall in.
"Like Grandma Hatch, Aunt Liddy Ann humored Gus to death.
She would give him biscuit dough to ;lay with and he'd wallow it around
and have a fine time on baking days. In the morning she'd usually say to
me: 'Now you get the children washed and dressed and combed, and I'll get
the breakfast.' We tried to pay her when she left in the spring, - she was
far better help than we could get around there for two dollars a week, - but she
said, 'Oh, I can't take it! The idea!' But I insisted on her taking
"Oh, those were busy days! Besides the everyday
routine of cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, and baby tending, there were
many things to be done that nowadays women might consider extras. I never
did any gardening - that was thought to be men's work in our house - and I never
milked any cows or made the cheese. But I looked after the chickens and
eggs and butter. We stocked up with big Shanghais, but we couldn't afford
to live on chickens that first year. I would never sell all our cream, but
always saved enough to make good butter. I never made soft, runny butter;
you could always cut a slice off my butter. Only the other day, Lizzie
said to me: 'I can just see how you used to work your butter, Mother.
I can see you shaping the roll, tossing it over and over and rolling it,
and tapping it at the ends, making it so pretty!'
"I often did the washing with and without help. There
was no running water in the house in those days. Still, we women had it
pretty convenient with a well on the porch and a good cistern. In summer
we washed under the cherry trees.
"There was always enough cooking to be done, and at
threshing time we had to lay in unusual quantities of food to feed the extra
hands. The men of the countryside helped each other in their harvesting,
and the neighbor women took turns helping each other feed the men. Often,
at those times, Dan'l would let Charlie come in the house to help me. Until
Lizzie was twelve years old, Charlie was my chief assistant in ironing and
making pies. He would take the molding board down cellar where it was
cool and where flies didn't bother him, and would roll out as fine a batch of
pies as threshers ever ate.
"One of my best helpers in time of stress was my neighbor,
Mrs. McChord. She was the loveliest woman. There never was such a
neighbor. She used to help me pick hog guts all day long. The men
would bring in the whole entrails of a hog they had butchered and lay them on
the table before us. There is a leaf of solid lard above the kidneys, you
know, which is considered the best. All along the entrails is fat which we
would pick off. This gut fat is just as clean as any of the animal, but I
had a notion that it didn't go in with the other lard and always put it by
"And the sewing we had to do! We could get almost
nothing ready-made, and sewing machines had not been invented. Men's
shirts and underwear, as well as women's clothes, had to be made at home by
hand. I think I had more faculty for that sort of thing than most women
have, but, goodness knows, it was hard enough for the most skillful of us.
Probably it was I who made the first knit underwear for babies. At
least I used to feel very proud of the beautiful gauze-like shirts I'd make for
my babies out of the tops of my old white cotton stockings, and I never knew any
other woman who thought of doing it.
"I even made the men's clothes at times. Dan'l came
home from Fort Madison, one day, bringing cloth for a suit. 'Why, Dan'l, I
never cut out a man's coat,' I told him. 'Well, if you can cut a coat for
the boys, why not for me?' he asked. Emma Farnsworth was to come and help
me; her mother had been a tailoress. She was amazed. 'You don't mean
to tell me you cut out this coat!' she exclaimed. 'Are all these chalk
marks yours? Why, he'd have sold a cow before he would have done
that himself.' I suppose I was a big simpleton to do such work.
Oh, no. I guess it was right. It didn't hurt me, and it saved
money. We got ahead.
"But I really had to draw the line at making clothes for
the neighbors. Once when I was making a suit of clothes for Gus he wanted
me to make a suit for his friend Henry, a little German boy, whose mother was
dead. 'But, Gus, I can't buy clothes for outside children,' I
remonstrated. 'Why, sometimes you can find old clothes around the house to
make new ones out of,' he told me. 'You'd have to make the suit,' he went,
'cause Henry's sister Julia couldn't do it.' But I didn't see how I could
undertake to make clothes for Henry, and had to say so. When I washed and
dressed Gus for Sunday school, putting on the new gray suit, he heaved a big
sigh and said: 'Oh, dear, I'm going to talk to Henry more than ever
to-day, because I'm afraid he'll think I care 'cause my clothes are better than
"When everything else was disposed of, we women always had
knitting to do. Everybody's stockings had to be knitted by hand, and so a
ball of wool with the knitting needles stuck through it was carried around in
one's apron pocket or set up on the kitchen window sill ready to be taken up
when one had a moment free from more pressing duties. mrs. Glazier in
Amesville told me that in Ireland it was the men who did the knitting, the women
the sewing. That seems to me like a fair division of labor. Of
course the men were pretty tired in the evening after a day in the field, but
the women were just as tired after a day of cooking and ironing.
"Our work had to go on after dark by light that was
none too good. We had only candles on the farm at first. I had an
iron candlestick with a hook on it that hung on the back of my chair, so I could
get light on my work. The wicks of those candles were as thick as your
"Making the candles was part of our work too, winter's
work, for candles must be made in cold weather. I remember that once we
dipped four hundred candles in four hours. We brought our candle rods with
us from Ohio. First, we laid down paper to keep the drips off the floor.
Then we brought in the scantling and set it up in rows. Next the
wash boiler, with hot water in the bottom and hot tallow on top. We took
up a candle rod with wick hanging from it, dipped it once, straightened the
wick, dipped again, and laid on the scantling. After a while the tallow
grew thin. Then we poured in beeswax and moulded the candles in candle
moulds. A dozen at a time. We laid them away in the coldest part of
"The first lamp I ever saw Will brought home from Denmark
when he was a young man. It was made of glass, and it exploded. Dan'l
and I had gone to bed when Lizzie came downstairs into the sitting room carrying
the lamp in her hand. I heard a pop and an exclamation. I rushed to
the door and saw her still holding the lamp in her hand. The wick had
blown out over the top and half the oil was gone, but scattered in so fine a
spray that we couldn't see any shadow of oil in the room.
"Just think what I have seen in my lifetime in the way of
development in illumination! When I was a child, the only kind of lantern
known was th tin can with holes punched in it to allow the checkered candlelight
to shine through. Lanterns, candles, oil lamps, electric incandescents - I
have seen them all.
"I suppose that the most unusual piece of work I ever did
while we were living on the farm," continued Grandmother Brown,
"was to make a casket for a little dead baby. It was my
brother's child, and had been born dead. My brother himself was ill at the
time and had little money. 'You can't afford to buy a casket,' I said to
him. 'I'll make you one.' 'You! How can you?' he
exclaimed. 'What's that dog lying on?' I asked him. 'A pair of
old pants!' He shooed the dog away. The pants were of fine
broadcloth and were lined. 'Rip out the lining!' I said. The
inside was like fine black velvet. I looked about and saw some thin boards
that had been laid down to step on, to keep the mud out of the house. Brother
John cut them out the proper shape for a little casket and tacked them together,
and I covered them with the black broadcloth. I lined the box with cotton
batting, tacking it neatly in the corners. I had an old white dress of
thin stuff. I folded it in pleats and tacked it over the batting.
I covered a board for the top in the same way. Brother had some
pretty little white tacks that looked like silver. I tacked them in around
the edge like a finish. And then I made a pillow of the white stuff and
laid the baby on it. Brother John wept, and said: 'My! Sister!
What can't you do? 'Better that,' I told him, 'than
buying a casket when you have so little money.' We buried the little baby
on our farm.
"Whatever the work to be carried through to completion,
whether for the dead or the living, one's children must not be neglected. Gus
used to follow me around sometimes, those first years on the farm, saying
doggedly: 'Mother! Mother! I've got me some tiredness, I
want to be took.' Poor little fellow! it was only a little while
after we went there that Will and Charlie had him out in the barn one day
sitting on a box, and he fell off, striking his head. A great lump raised
up on the soft place in his skull. I sat up all night long, night after
night, and dripped water on to his head. Grandpa Brown said he hoped he'd
never get well, as he wouldn't have any sense if he did. But Grandpa was
"It seemed as if the only time when I felt justified in
taking up a book or paper was when I sat down to nurse my babies. I always
nursed them till they were pretty big. I couldn't bear to wean them - they
kept so fat and pretty as long as I fed them at the breast. And so it
happened that Frank would sometimes pull at my skirt and hand me a newspaper, as
a hint that he would like to be taken up and nursed. Herbert declares he
can remember the last time I nursed him, and perhaps he can, for it was
the only way I could quiet and comfort him. It was one day long after he
had been weaned and was running around independently in house and garden, when a
bee stung him. (I was stung by a bald hornet once, and I never had
anything hurt me so much in all my life as that did.) Anyway, for many
years all my household tasks were performed with an ear cocked for the cry of a
waking baby. How often I used to think: 'What happiness it would be
if I had nothing to do except take care of my babies!' There was
one terrible period when, for two years, I carried my little sick Carrie around
with me on a pillow as I went from stove to table or from room to room, doing my
"Such a way of living is hard, hard, HARD.
The only thing that can make it endurable for a woman is love and plenty
of it. I remember one day on the farm when Dan'l was going up to
Burlington. I remember that before he left he kissed me - kissed me and my
little sick baby lying so white on her pillow. I had many things to do
that day. But, my! how the work flew under my hands! What a
difference a kiss can make!
"Outside in the fields the men folks had their full share
of trials before our farm was well under cultivation," went on
Grandmother Brown. "To begin with, soon after we arrived Dan'l began
shaking with fever and ague, having got infected on the river as we came here.
I myself never had a chill in my life, but Dan'l suffered one season
terribly. He always claimed that he cured himself eating wild plums.
"Then the weather was very trying during our first years on
the farm. The summer of '57 was terribly wet. Soon after came a
summer that was just as terribly dry. The grass actually crackled when we
walked over it, and the corn shriveled and dried up in the stalk. Then the
winters of '58 and '59 were unheard of in their severity. For months the
snow was knee-deep between the house and the outhouses. To cultivate and
develop a farm in a new country when the weather is unfavorable is no easy task.
Charlie can tell you some of the difficulties the men encountered."
"The first piece of ground Father undertook to break,"
said Charlie, "was a twenty-acre piece that proved to be full
of bumblebees. One boy always had to follow along behind the team with a
shovel, smothering the bees with earth wherever the plough turned them up.
The horses used to get panicky. Old Sal wanted to run off, and our
sober Bob was so scared by the bees that he jumped and cut his foot on the
plough. Grandpas advised us to buy a yoke of oxen. We did so, but
they'd twist their tails when the bumblebees flew out about them and run just
about as fast as the horses did. People used to say that clover wouldn't
grow unless there were bumblebees about to carry the pollen, and Father always
kept half a dozen swarms of bees; but I don't believe it. The bees stung
me on the face once so that I had to stoop over close to the earth and cut for
the house. Mother was frightened. But finally we got that field
"I wonder if Charlie remembers that time our threshers
disturbed a skunk?" said Grandmother Brown. "He came
rushing toward the house, smelling to heaven. I called out frantically,
'Don't come in the house!' But he did. Spoiled the butter and
everything with the scent he carried on him. Isn't that a strange weapon
of defense for an animal to have?"
"We kept those oxen four or five years," continued
Charlie. "Good, honest old beasts they were. I've hauled many a
load of logs with them. Most of the neighbors used horses in their work -
with the exception of old Miss Moon at Augusta, who ran a saloon. Oh, yes,
she had a husband, but he was a kind of cipher - so we always called her
"Old Miss Moon.' She used to drive her oxen past
our place on her way to the Fort Madison distillery for whiskey. They'd
take all day for the trip. Slow, but sure."
"I wonder if Charlie remembers how he and I made one of our
good oxen cry one day," remarked Grandmother. "All the men
were gone when he came driving in the oxen. I went out to the barn to help
him unyoke them. We didn't know that the right way to do was to take the
bowpins out of both sides of the yoke before releasing either ox. Instead,
we took the bowpin out of the right side of the yoke and let that ox walk away.
The yoke fell clattering down about the shoulders of the left-hand ox.
Charlie couldn't lift the heavy yoke high enough so that I could loosen
the bowpin on that side and release the poor beast. There that ox stood
crying great mournful tears all the time. Finally Charlie gave the yoke a
might boost, and I got the bowpin out. I've often seen cows cry when their
calves were taken from them, but this was the first time I ever saw an ox weep.
"Our poor old bossy! When she wanted her calf and
would cry for it, the tears would run down her hairy face. Many times I'd
go to the barn and try to comfort her!"
"Father was looking out for any kind of help he could get,
to do the farming," Charlie went on. "He bought the first
mowing machine I ever saw, one of the first lot ever shipped west of the
Mississippi. It was made by Walter A. Wood and Company and cost about $65.
The first hay put up in Iowa was cut with a scythe. We didn't have
much meadowland on our farm - not more than about three acres - because of the
difficulty of cutting it with a scythe. A traveling man who had met the
agent for the mowing machine told Father about it. 'If there's a machine
like that, I'm going to have one,' said Father. It cut four feet wide.
The mowers nowadays cut six or seven feet.
"In Ohio, where the soil is very stumpy, we had used
cast-iron ploughs. In Iowa, steel ploughs made in Moline were considered
the best. But they were not polished - were made of raw black steel.
We had to polish them ourselves - go into the road and drag them up and
down. It used to take a week to get them so they'd work.
"The first farmers of our Middle West ploughed the land too
much. They loosened the ground so thoroughly that it wouldn't hold the
moisture. When the rains came the good deep soil ran off and left the clay
banks. And then, they had no idea at that time of rotation of crops.
"We didn't have any reapers until a year or two before I
was married. The first was a Buckeye reaper and mower combined. McCormick
put out a harvester about the same time, but it was no good for mowing.
"The Atkinson self-raker we had when we came to Iowa.
That raked, but did not bind. We had to bind by hand.
"In Ohio, folks used a threshing machine that was a 'chaff
piler' - that is, it ran the grain through the machine all together, scattering
the wheat and oats about. After the machine was gone it was necessary to
take a fanning mill and run the grain through it to get it clean. For
threshing buckwheat they used a hickory flail. In Iowa, we tried to thresh
with a treadmill. It didn't work very well, because Jule and Sal, the
horses, got rebellious."
"I don't blame 'em!" ejaculated Grandmother
"We finally attached the horses to poles and drove them
round and round. That was threshing by socalled 'horse power,' "
explained Charlie. "Of course no motors were dreamed of in
"We had a good deal of stock at times," remarked
Grandmother Brown. "We kept sheep for a while. Always we had
hogs, which we butchered ourselves and sold. We always saved enough hogs
for our own use. Fine hams and shoulders came out of our smokehouses - not
hams like the soft white things these present-day ones are. Father used to
drive a wagonload of his hams and shoulders up to Burlington. Or perhaps
he would drive the hogs up there on foot. In the fifties there were no
railroads in Iowa. It was some years after we came to Iowa before there
was a bridge across the Mississippi or even a railway between Fort Madison and
Burlington. In disposing of farm products we were not much beyond the
period of barter and exchange that we had known at Amesville. Dan'l was
more of a trader than he was a farmer. When our boys had raised things, he
could drive a bargain with them."
"What did the children do for schooling in this Iowa
wilderness?" I next asked Grandmother Brown.
"Schooling!" she echoed, with a sad shake of her
lovely white head. "That was the great mistake in our moving West.
There were no educational facilities on Skunk River that could compare
with those in Athens or Amesville, and even such as there were my children could
not take full advantage of.
"There was a little white schoolhouse a mile up the road
from us where children could receive instruction three months of the year.
I remember only once when there was a four-months term. Our children
went to school there, when their father didn't have something on the farm for
them to do. If there was any work going on in the fields or orchards at
which the children could help, Dan'l seemed to have no scruples about keeping
them out of school to do it. It is a very poor way to educate children.
The work of the farm always seemed to Dan'l more important than that of
the schools. Nothing I said would change him. I never could
understand why he was so blind on this one subject. Generally speaking,
too, the Browns were a bookish lot and set great store by education. That
was one thing I liked about Oliver Brown. He sent his children away to
"Well, Father believed in education," commented
Will, "But he had the idea that if a person had it in him to profit
by any particular kind of training he'd reach for it himself. Just as Tom
Ewing did, who lived on the next farm to Grandfather Brown in Ohio. He
knew from earliest childhood that he wanted to be a lawyer and go to Congress.
He never gave up the idea, but kept studying by himself until he actually
made himself ready for college and realized his ambitions, becoming a United
States Senator and member of two Presidential cabinets. Father thought it
was not necessary to force on a child anything beyond the ability to read and
write and cipher. The rest he could get for himself, if he wanted it badly
enough, and if he didn't want it why waste education on him anyway? The
pioneering, self-made man was the hero of Father's day, the typical American of
that time. Father himself had a logical, active mind and a natural faculty
for reasoning out a problem. He used to say that he could solve any
mathematical problem he ever heard of by the Rule of Three. Fact was, he
could think straight, straighter than most of the young men around Athens or
Ames whom he had to cope with, including those who had been to college, and I
think he knew it, modest as he was. He could write a better letter than
any of them and he was an easy talker, too, and could beat them in an argument
if he set about it. He was interested in public questions, and that was
one reason he like to keep a store. He was a good mixer, Father was, and
enjoyed drawing people together under his roof in a group for sociability's
sake. He felt equipped to meet the life of his time. He honestly
thought he did his children a service by forcing them to stand on their own feet
at an early age. He didn't realize that times were changing and his
children would have to meet competition in a very different world from the
pioneer society he had helped to make, a new world where technical information
would be at a premium."
"Indeed he didn't realize it, and I couldn't make
him," said Grandmother Brown broodingly. It is probably the
subject on which she felt most deeply. Other disappointments and sorrows
were softened by the years, but nothing ever reconciled her to the fact that her
children were denied "advantages" they might have had.
"But I must say this for Dan'l," went on
Grandmother Brown. "He felt differently late in life - after his own
children were grown up and gone. He was eager to do for Lizzie's children
what he never thought necessary for his own. He saw, too, that his own
boys were resentful of the way he had let them scramble for an education or go
without, and it hurt him. He grieved over it a good bit at the last,
especially over Herbert, who was having a hard struggle about the time Dan'l
"I know, too, that Dan'l didn't feel things just the way
some of the children did and so he couldn't understand, because when he was a
boy he hadn't wanted the kind of things some of them wanted. But
I knew that Willie wanted to make music the way I had wanted t make pictures
when I was a little girl. And I knew that he loved birds and bugs, too,
the way I did, and would have liked to study about them. And Herbie was
crazy over machinery of all kinds and should have had an engineer's education.
All my sons are better mechanics than Dan'l was. They get that
faculty from me. I always liked to invent ways of simplifying my work.
For instance, long before I ever saw an egg beater for sale in a store I
had made one for myself. I took heavy wire and bent it into the shape of a
spoon, and bound it together with lighter wire. If there was any tinkering
to be done about the house, 't was I who did it. Dan'l wasn't so much
interested in finding out ways to make things run slick and smooth. But my
boys were. Charlie always contrived to have everything conveniently
arranged where he was working. While selling sewing machines, Will
invented a ruffler that another man patented and made a fortune out of. In
the paper mill Gus invented a machine for putting up paper in rolls instead of
packages. He got a patent on it and made a good many thousand dollars out
of it, until someone invented a better machine. At another time he
invented a machine for working over leather scraps. Frank has experimented
with numerous devices to facilitate the work around the ice plant, and Herbie
began when he was just a child to work out mechanical short cuts of one kind and
another. Why, I remember, when he wasn't more than ten years old, how he
rigged up a piece of old board with some burlap and wire and hitched it to the
back of the lawn mower to save himself the trouble of raking the lawn. A
few years later he built himself a snow plough. To this he hitched his pony
and so he saved himself the work of shoveling off the walks. And when he
began to use a typewriter he worked out a touch system of his own - a new thing
then - that made him very proficient. Oh, my children all had special
talents that nowadays parents would delight to develop.
"Well, back in Amesville, Willie had teased hard for a
little fiddle which his father had brought from Philadelphia and had for sale in
the store. Dan'l said, 'I can't afford to give you that, Will.' Sister
Kate was there at the time, and how she laughed when Willie answered, mimicking
a Quaker friend of ours: 'Didn't thee know, Pa, when thee got me, that I'd
need fiddles and things?' Sure enough! He should have known. But
later, on the farm, Dan'l did get Will a fiddle, and taught him to play it.
He was soon playing better than his father."
"Well I remember the day when Will go this fiddle,"
said Charlie. "I remember Father bringing it home one night
from town, and scraping away at it, letting Will try it. And the next
morning I remember Will going into Father's room where he lay in bed - it was
hardly light - and getting him to tune it. Why, within a week Will was
playing all sorts of things. He could make up as he went along,
"Yes, Yes," cried Grandmother Brown. "Often
I'd hear Will playing after I went to bed. Just making it up as he went
along! Oh, it would be beautiful. He should have had violin lessons.
"Then, Willie shared my love of living things. On the
kitchen at the farm was a lean-to, in the corner of which an old spider built
her web. I used to want to sweep it away. But Will would always stop
me. 'Don't, Mother, I want to watch her!' And at noontime he'd sit
and watch the spider. Once Dan'l called to me to see what an undutiful son
I had. 'See that boy Will,' he scolded angrily, 'squatted down
in the road there. I sent him up to the barn an hour ago. What's he
doing?' 'I s'pose he's watching a tumblebug,' I answered. Tumblebugs
are very interesting. They lay an egg in a little manure, roll it around
in the dust until it gets to be a good-sized ball. 'Never mind about
Will,' I told Dan'l. 'Morning after morning, he's out cutting hay
before you and Charlie are out of bed. I never have to call him in
the morning.' He did his share of work on the farm as all my children did
- but I think he might have been a naturalist if he had had encouragement.
"I think Charlie perhaps was kept out of school the most.
He was such a good little helper on the farm, such an honest,
conscientious little boy about everything he did. Fact is, I think he was
about the most honest child I ever knew. We used to sugar cure and dry our
hams at home. They were might good. Often Charlie would take his
knife and cut out pieces around the bone. I heard him in the pantry once
and called out: 'Charlie, what are you doing?' 'Oh, I had to work at
this ham again,' he told me truthfully, though he knew I'd scold. We used
to keep two kegs of sugar in the pantry, one of granulated and one of Orleans
sugar. I heard the tramp of feet there one day, and called, 'Charlie, what
are you doing?' 'Oh, I'm going to get some lumps of sugar for these boys,
' he told me. Mrs. Akins was sewing with me, and she said, 'Are you going
to let him do it?' 'Why, of course,' I told her. 'I wouldn't
spoil all that good time for a few lumps of sugar, especially when he's so
honest about it.' And Charilie has certainly made his life an example
before men as good as a man could make it. He has never tasted liquor,
never smoked. And his father said that he never told a lie. I
remember that Charlie was once summoned to court here in Fort Madison as a
witness. When Dan'l heard of it, he said, 'Well, whatever Charilie tells
them will be the truth.' But the truth is, I guess, that Charlie was most
too conscientious for his own good when he was a little boy. He did his
work at home as well that it was hard to spare him when school time came. He
kept a record of his school attendance one season and found that he'd been to
school only thirty days that year. That wasn't right. And then, when
he was older, Dan'l sent him over to Denmark to be apprenticed to a blacksmith.
The idea! One of our neighbors said to me that it would have been
more to our credit if we'd sent him over there to attend the Academy, and so it
"And what did that blacksmith business amount to?"
commented Charlie scornfully. "I received my board and $4
a month. I was there a little over a year, earned $52. My clothes
cost me $72. Finally, one Saturday night, I went home, telling the
blacksmith that if he couldn't raise my wages I wouldn't be back. I quit
anyway; I was afraid he would raise them. I learned some things
from him, it is true, that I found handy to know on a farm. No, I never
did any horseshoeing, I never drove a nail. I was allowed to take the
shoes off the horses and pare their feet, but I never got to putting them on.
We used to make our own horseshoes then. Now we buy shoes for horses
just as we buy shoes for folks."
"My Charlie's done remarkably well in the world!"
exclaimed Grandmother Brown proudly. "All my sons have done
well. 'All's well that ends well,' I suppose."
"Yes, Mother," was Charlie's comment, "but I've
always felt kind o'cheated. I didn't realize myself, when I was a young
fellow, how much I needed an education. I've prospered in a worldly way,
but I'm shy with people. I notice when there's a big meeting people don't
want for chairman or chief speaker someone who isn't trained in school ways.
I see now how I might have got more education by my own efforts, but I
didn't see it then. At the time I was sent to Denmark I could have earned
my living as a farm hand and gone to school part of the time. Men offered
me a dollar and a half a day to cut corn for them."
"What could a little boy do on a farm?" I asked.
"The first work I ever did," answered Charlie,
"was to cut cornstalks with a nigger hoe. We cut the stalks close to
the ground, raked up the stalks into rows, and burned them."
"It was too hard work for him to carry that heavy
hoe," declared Grandmother solemnly. "He used to get so
tired. Once he said to the hired man, 'Elias, will you kill me? I
want you to,' Ilias told me about it. Wasn't that dreadful? 'I
took the back of my knife, Mrs. Brown,' he told me, 'and just sawed around his
neck. "It's too hard, Charlie," I told him. "I
can't kill you." '
"Sometimes there wouldn't be more than half a dozen
children at school," observed Lizzie. "The rest would be
dropping corn. That gave me more of Het Mullen's time. She was the
teacher. She took me through long division and compound numbers by the
time I was eight years old. We worked through McGuffey's Readers and
Spellers and Ray's Third Part Arithmetic with her. She taught
mental arithmetic, geography, and history as well. Sometimes we stood up
and had a spelling contest. But Father and Mother weren't much for having
us go around at night. I went only once to a spelling bee. When I
was fourteen they sent me over to school at the Denmark Academy and later to
Ohio. Will attended school at Denmark one winter, too.
"The Denmark, Academy was probably as good as any school in
Ohio," continued Grandmother Brown, "but we were not so situated
as to be able to take advantage of it. Mr. H. K. Edson, the man who was
principal of the Academy, was a remarkable person and some well-known men came
from that Academy. At one time they had an enrollment of several hundred,
the children of Illinois and Iowa farmers. The people of Denmark were
unusual too, known, far and wide, as abolitionists. Denmark was famous as
a station on the underground railway in the days before the war. Unfortunately,
we didn't live in Denmark, but five miles from it, and the roads of those days
were often almost impassable. When children were sent to school in
Denmark, they had to board there."
"Those first years of yours in Iowa were the bitter years
just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Grandmother. Did any of the
bitterness and excitement reach you off there in the country?" I
"Yes indeed. We were abolitionists, of course. It
was bred in our bones to hate slavery. Both Dan'l's people and mine were
clear on that point. We were accustomed from our earliest youth to seeing
runaway slaves along the Ohio River, and advertisements offering rewards to
anyone who would return them to their masters. I remember seeing slave
owners coming over from Kentucky with chains and whips, looking for their
slaves. I remember, too, my horror at the sight. I remember
particularly, one time when we were living at the Brice House, seeing a man
there who had caught his slave and was taking him back handcuffed. The
black man had to eat so, weighted with irons. Think of a nice little girl
standing in the dining-room door seeing that pitiful sight! Someone said
the other day that the negroes were better off in slave days than they are now.
How could that be, when now their children are taught and they are treated
like human beings? See what good ministers some of them are! One of
them preached a fine sermon here in our Presbyterian Church not so long ago.
"Oh, I never could have been anything but an abolitionist,
a Whig, a Republican. Once, Mr. Richey, a very pleasant man who boarded
with us, a Democrat, said to me: 'You don't know the difference between
the Whigs and Democrats. You're just a little girl!' 'Yes, I do.'
'What is it?' 'Democrats believe in buying and selling people, and
Whigs don't.' 'You're just about right,' he acknowledged.
"Dan'l felt the same way. Once, coming home from New
Orleans, he saw a slave sale in St. Lewis; saw men and women exposed for sale on
a block in front of the courthouse, saw the auctioneer trying their agility and
running his finger around their mouths exactly as if they were horses. We
all hated slavery. My father helped many a slave get away on the
underground railway, and Dan'l's folks did, too."
"Don't I remember what Uncle Jack Brown did in that
line?" exclaimed Will. "You know, Albany, where Uncle Jack
lived, was quite a station on the underground railway. Uncle Jack was a
big fat man. He used to drive about in an open phaeton with Aunt Susan
sitting up beside him in a poke bonnet that had a green veil hanging over it.
Aunt Susan always made a great fuss over me when I was a little shaver.
One day they drove up to Father's store in Amesville. Uncle Jack
called Father to one side and they talked together very earnestly. But
Aunt Susan never answered a word when I threw myself upon her. Rebuffed, I
hurried home to Mother and told her about it. 'Sh!' she said. Later,
I learned that it wasn't Aunt Susan behind the green veil that day, but a
runaway slave, whom Uncle Jack was helping to get away."
"Naturally our children imbibed our feelings in regard to
slavery," Said Grandmother Brown. "That meant trouble for
them almost from the first in the country schools of southeastern Iowa. Denmark
was an exception with its abolitionists and fugitive slaves. We had a
colored cook from Denmark once, Old Tishy, who had been a slave and a runaway.
But in Augusta and most of the other places near the Missouri border
Southern sympathizers were numerous. It was soon discovered in school that
the Brown children were abolitionists."
"I remember how mad I was," said Lizzie,
"when some children at school called ma 'a black abolitionist' and sang: -
" ' Douglas rode a white horse,
Lincoln rode a mule;
Douglas is a wise man,
Lincoln is a fool.'
But when I wept about it at home, Father said: 'Why, of
course you're an abolitionist, a black abolitionist. You don't want
slaves.' He explained it all to me, and I went back to school and said to
the children, 'I am what you say I am, and proud of it.' And when they'd
abuse Lincoln I'd fairly yell and dance with rage. Lincoln didn't know I
was such a booster. During the war there were continual rallies in Fort
Madison and Denmark. Often a Copperhead would make a slighting remark
about Uncle Sam or about Lincoln, a soldier would resent it, and then there
would be a fight and much excitement."
"There were about as many rebels along the Missouri border
as there were Union men," said Charlie. "Our countryside
was very unsafe in those days. They would drive off each other's cattle,
steal anything they could lay hands on. When the Lincoln and Douglas
campaign was on, Will and I joined 'The Wide-Awake Boys' in hip-hurrahing for
Lincoln. We'd get together down in Augusta and march back and forth,
carrying lamps filled with crude oil. It looked rather pretty as we
described figures in our marching. There was a tonguey lawyer over in Fort
Madison making speeches for Douglas, but nothing he or anyone else could have
said about how Kansas should come into the Union changed our allegiance to
Lincoln. We were thoroughly grounded in the principles of the
abolitionists. Father and Mother had read aloud to us Harriet Beecher
Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, as it came out serially in the paper.
We'd just get 'raring' mad over that story. I'm sure that book was
most influential, indirectly, in freeing the slaves. And over in Denmark
there was a good man named Cable, who had known Grandfather Foster back in Ohio
and worked with him helping slaves get away. I remember his driving over
to our farm one day and telling us about his experiences. We boys sat on
the edge of our chairs taking it all in. He told about staying some where
one time in Kentucky and being wakened in the morning by the sound of terrible
groaning. He looked out of his window and saw a poor black man tied to the
ground while a white man was lashing him. 'Oh, massa, hab mercy! Hab
mercy,' the slave cried. But the master whipped him until he brought
the blood, rubbed salt in his wounds, and then started him off towards the
field. Mr. Cable said that back in Ohio he had always kept a horse and
carriage ready to come to the aid of any fugitive slave who appealed to him for
"It seemed afterward as if we had seen that war coming all
our lives," said Grandmother Brown, "but at the time when Fort
Sumter was fired upon we were as excited as if the course of events had been
wholly unforeseen. Feeling against President Buchanan was very strong with
us. He was clearly a Southern sympathizer. He had allowed the
Treasury to be robbed. he had let the arsenals be stripped of their guns
and be put in the hands of Democrats. Fortunately, a great many
Republicans had their own guns. Dan'l had his.
"Lincoln's call for volunteers reached many of our folks in
Ohio, but our own particular family in Iowa was hardly subject to call at first.
Will was only fourteen years old when the war broke out. But before
it was over he and Dan'l both went up to Burlington to enlist. I couldn't
eat that day. I felt that it was no worse for my men than for thousands of
others all over the land, but, oh, how glad I was when they came home again
after only a day's absence! Both were rejected. Dan'l had broken his
arm and shoulder when he was a young man, and they had been so set that he was
never again able to straighten out his arm completely. And a chisel had
fallen on Will's foot when he was a child and cut off two of his toes. The
doctor had sewed them on again, but Willie had worked one toe free from the
bandage so that it turned under his foot. He could never have tramped like
"Back in Ohio there was great excitement among our
relatives. Sister Libbie's husband, Nelson Van Vorhes, and Sister Kate's
husband, Reed Golden, - he was a Democrat, but not a Secessionist, - went around
with Brother John getting volunteers for the 92nd Ohio Regiment, of which Nelson
was to be colonel. Reed was a cripple - one leg shorter than the other -
and couldn't go to war, but he had an eloquent tongue and was good at drumming
up recruits. As for Brother John, his forte was another kind of drumming.
He drilled the musicians. On one occasion, after Reed Golden had
spoken Brother John was called on, and created a great laugh by saying: 'I'm
no speech maker; just a plain musician; but I was born with drumsticks in my
hand and my mother was singing "Yankee Doodle"!'
"Brother John organized a drum corps. At the
beginning, when soldiers were being mustered from town and country, he and his
drummer boys were put on a steamboat that headed a procession of boats down the
Ohio to Cincinnati, every boat loaded with soldiers. All the way they kept
playing rallying tunes, such as "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and:
We're coning from the hillside
We're coming from the shore
We're coming, Father Abraham,
And many thousand more.
"When they played 'The Mocking Bird,' they would tap on the
side of their drumheads to accentuate the time of the chorus. It was
"Brother John was never in much danger from the enemy,
because when the battle began the musicians were always sent to a safe place,
since they had no arms with which to defend themselves. But he succumbed
to camp diarrhoea, developed asthma, and came home after a year. He was
never in really good health again, although he lived to be an old man. The
war, you might say, left him his life, but ruined it.
"With Brother John was his eleven-year-old son, Eben.
After John returned home the boy stayed on, drumming through the war.
He saw many hard battles, but was not in them. He marched with
Sherman to the sea and was mustered out at Columbus with the rest of the Ohio
veterans at the close of the war. In all that time he did not grow an
inch, The little drummer boy's jacket he wore when he went in fitted him
when he came out; but afterward he made up for lost time and grew to be six feet
"Wasn't that a terrible experience for a little boy? I
never could see how his mother allowed it. I've heard Brother John tell of
how once, when they were fleeing for their lives, crowded together in a wagon,
Eben hung on to the feed box of the wagon at the rear. Brother John could
hardly see him in the dark, and every time he could make himself heard he would
call out: 'Are you there, Eden, are you there?'
"Oh, that was a dreadful war! Soldiers weren't
provided with doughnuts in those days. Often they had nothing but wormy
hard-tack and black coffee. The worms would float to the top of the
coffee, but the best they could do was to skim them off and swallow the coffee
thankfully. They used to beg in their letters for onions, for most of the
soldiers got the scurvy for lack of fresh vegetables. Like the Irishman,
they might have said: 'I prefer onions to strawberries; they're more
expressive.' No one sent then things in packages or cans; we didn't have
canned goods in those days. No one knit socks for them. We scraped
lint for them; now army surgeons use absorbent cotton.
"As the war went on, everybody grew more and more anxious
about their loved ones," went on Grandmother Brown. "Those who
weren't killed by shot and shell seemed doomed to die by camp diseases. We
got a Cincinnati paper every week and followed the movements of our Ohio
soldiers as best we could. How anxious we were, looking through every
paper for news of our people! I worried over Brother John and his boy Eben.
Dan'l was always looking to see if Austin Brown's three boys were among
the dead or missing. One of them did die of smallpox contracted in the
"When my brother became so ill, Ma went to the hospital in
Kentucky where he was and brought him home. He was too sick to walk.
He told Ma that Corwin Culver, one of her nephews, was in the next ward
shot through the wrist. She hurried to see him. Poor boy! Such
a pitiful story! He had thought that he was not severely wounded and he
had sent the doctors to wait on others. But they let him go too long.
Gangrene set in, and he died. Just think, there were no
disinfectants then no anesthetics. What those boys must have suffered!
I had no sons in the ranks. I had one day's experience
only. I don't know anything about the real agony of war mothers. In
the World War, a neighbor's son came in to tell me good-bye. A tall,
straight, fine-looking young man in his brown suit. The work of a good
woman. Isn't it terrible that he was there to be shot at?"
said Grandmother impressively.
"Once in Iowa we thought that the war might touch us.
It was reported that Denmark was in the line of Morgan's raid, that he was
sweeping on toward us."
"He did come over the stare line from
Missouri," remarked Charlie. "There was a little battle on the
Des Moines River. Everybody in our neighborhood got out his gun and promised
that Morgan should be sent back on the skedaddle."
"Yes, I remember that Dan'l too his gun and went
over to Denmark with the rest," narrated Grandmother Brown. "But
Morgan probably heard that Denmark was ready for him. He never appeared.
After scouting around for hours, Dan'l came home about frozen, got into
bed, cuddled up to me, and gave me the awfulest cold I ever had in my life.
"When the reports of Lincoln's assassination reached us, we
were sick. The sad news just flew!"
Charlie took up the story. "It was as blue a day as
ever I experienced," said he. "I was about seventeen years
old at the time and was working in the shop of the Denmark blacksmith. Our
leader was gone. The governor of Iowa issued orders that every cannon
should be fired. There were no cannon in Denmark. But I shot off
anvils every thirty minutes that sad day after Lincoln was assassinated. I
turned the anvil bottom side up, filled the hole with gunpowder, put on top
another anvil, and shot off the powder. Lincoln was dead, and who knew
what to do except make a big noise?"
"Oh, that was a sad, sad time!" mourned
Grandmother Brown. "But the Lord was on our side. Lincoln was
his instrument. Against all odds, we conquered, and Lee had to surrender.
If the Lord is on your side, you're bound to win. It's all summed up
in the words: 'Do right and fear not.' The Southerners thought of
slaves as property - in so thinking they did evil and not right in the sight of
the Lord. He would not uphold them."
"But, Grandmother," I argued, "if the Northern
climate had permitted us to raise cotton, we too would have had slaves up here
to work our fields. Property of that kind was not economically profitable
in the North, and so the Northerners had no interest in slave holding."
"Nonsense!" declared Grandmother Brown with energy.
"Every farmer could have used the slaves. The Lord led us to
victory because we did right in His sight and turned from evil."
"There was quite a space, wasn't there, Grandmother
Brown," I asked, "between your two groups of children, your
little Buckeyes and your little Hawkeyes?"
"Yes, six years; it was four years after we came to Iowa
when our blessed little Lottie was born. We never meant to give her the
name of Lottie. It wasn't pretty enough for her. But while we were
trying to choose a name, Gus, who was very much in love with a little girl in
school named Lottie, began to call her that. She was born in the afternoon
of a lovely April day. That evening, Dan'l took her up and held her to the
light. 'Did you ever see anything prettier, Mother, in your life?' he
exclaimed. Dan'l was always anxious to see our babies. Lottie was
beautiful enough to please the most fastidious father, and she never did
anything but what was beautiful in her short little life.
"She must have everything in order. When the boys
pulled off their shoes and left them by the stove, she would say: 'Oh, may
I put them away?' If the corner of the rug was turned over, she must
wriggle down off your lap to turn it back. The boys would often disarrange it
just to tease her. When she undressed at night, she would hang her little
clothes on the knobs of a chest of drawers. She would run in her nakedness
to hang them up. 'Put on your nightie first,' her father used to say, as
he watched her. But she could not bear to drop the garment in an untidy heap and
must hang it up at once.
"She was a happy little thing. She love beauty.
She noticed that the leaves of the smartweed all have that same little
heart in the centre. I had never noticed that, although I was accustomed
to use the leaves of the smartweed to color things yellow.
"Down by the garden gate grew a bunch of four o'clocks.
Gus said to her, one day before he went to school: 'Don't pick any
of them until I come back, and I'll make a wreath for your head.' Before
he came, hundreds of them were out. 'Go pick them, Lottie,' I said. 'I
deth couldn't do it,' she answered, 'when my Duthie thaid to wait.'
"Another time, when she and Gus and I were walking along
the road, Gus found three little blackberries and gave them to her. 'Eat
them, Lottie, eat them,' he said. But she held them in her hand. 'No,
one for my Papa, one for my Libbie, and I eat one then,' she answered.
"Ah, she was such a loving little soul. The whole
family were her slaves. 'My Papa! My Mamma! My Will! My
Cha-Chu! My Libbie! My Duthie - all tho good to me.' I
think we felt at times a premonition that we could not keep her. I used to
feel impatient with Het Mullen when she called her 'Little Angel.' And I
remember one lovely morning waking early to find her and Gus sitting together in
the doorway. They slept together in a trundle-bed that was pulled out from
beneath our bi bed every night. There they sat in their nighties, on the
doorstep flooded in the summer sunshine, Gus with his arm around Lottie. Just
them Will rushed through, stepping over Lottie as he went. 'She's my
morning-glory,' Gus called out. 'They fade too quick. Call her a
rose or something that lasts longer.' Oh, before those same
morning-glories had faded she was gone.
"That spring of 1862 we went back to Ohio, Dan'l and I and
Baby lottie, two years old. It was our first visit back after an absence
of six years. We left in February, driving in a sleigh up to Burlington
and across the Mississippi River on the ice. Since we had come West the
railroad had crept to the river's edge. There was a box-car station on the
Illinois side where we bought our tickets. We took the train for Chicago.
We had to sit up all night, Lottie sleeping in my lap. At Chicago,
we had to wait until evening to get a train for Cincinnati. It took us
four days to go from our farm to Athens, but that was considerably shorter than
the twenty days it had taken to go from Ohio to our farm six years before.
"Coming out of the Athens depot, we met Reed Golden on the
street: 'Good Lord, Dan!' he exclaimed. 'What are you doing here in
war times? Most of the folks are up at our house. Let me take the
baby and go on ahead. I'd like to see if they know whose 't is.' He
walked off limping, and Lottie went with him, not the least bit afraid. She
had on a little crocheted cap that matched her dress, and she was pretty as a
picture. 'Mighty nice-looking baby; might be one of your own, Reed,' said
Sister Kate when he set Lottie down in the middle of the party. But they
didn't know whose child she was. 'Come in, folks!' called Reed then, and
that brought them all out in the hall to fall on Dan'l and me. My mother
kissed me and kept patting me on the arm. Suddenly a little voice piped
up: 'I don't want my mamma 'panked.' And everyone turned then to
look at lottie, all exclaiming: 'Why, she can talk!'
"The following summer, on our return to Iowa, she died.
She had diphtheria. With any fair treatment, she would have pulled
through. But old Dr. Farnsworth gave her terrible doses of Quinine and
cayenne pepper. She would say patiently: 'Is this like the last,
Mamma? Oh, I can't take it.' But she would. Or sometimes she
would say, 'I want something to look at, when I take it. If I could hold a
rosy in my hand!' And we'd bring her a flower from the garden.
"When the last night came, Mrs. Johnson, a good neighbor,
was there to help me. 'Let me hold the baby,' she said. But I could
not give her up. 'I'm not tired,' I would answer. And then the
child herself said: 'Mamma, you let Mrs. Jossie hold me and you rest a
"We never got over the sorrow of losing that sweet child.
Dan'l just worshiped her. After she was buried, he said to me it
seemed to him as if he just must dig her up. We buried her not far from
the house and put a little white fence around the lot. Every day, as he
came from the field, he used to stop there.
"It seemed to me I could never be reconciled. The
child was continually with me in my mind for years. I dreamed, one time,
that I came into a great light rotunda and Lottie came towards me. 'Come
this way, Mamma, I'll show you,' she said. Light was shining down the
stairs. Her figure was as plain as could be. She seemed to lead me
up and up, a long way, but before I got to where I could see into the Above I
woke up. She was gone."
"Isolated as you were, dear Grandmother Brown, you must
have had many anxious hours when sickness came." I said.
"Yes," she answered. "The country doctor of
those days wasn't much help. I learned to rely on myself. When my
little Lottie was dying I just did everything the doctor said. But after
she was gone, I said to myself: 'Never again! When the next trouble
comes, it will be between me and my God. I won't have any doctor.' I
recalled the old saying: 'I was sick and wished to get better, took physic
"I had a pretty hard test. Three of my children,
Charlie, Lizzie, and Gus, came down at the same time with scarlet fever.
All but Will were ill, and I was expecting another baby. Nevertheless,
I nursed them through without the help of doctor or nurse, as I later did my
brother's son, after we moved to Fort Madison. I didn't call the doctor
until the baby was almost there. 'I can't have that baby now,' I
thought desperately, 'while these children are so sick.' I had my bed set
up in the sitting room, where I could direct an old woman of the neighborhood in
nursing the sick children, while I lay in the next room with the new baby.
I gave them no medicine and no food except the juice of grapes and of
canned peaches. When they began to get better, I gave them a little egg
soup - that is, egg beaten up with salt and hot water. I kept them cool
and clean. One good thing about the old house was that you could let the
windows down from the top. I had a clothes horse hung up with wet sheets
to cool the room. I kept a bottle of slippery-elm water sitting in the
well curb all the time and gave them some of it frequently to soothe and heal
their parched mucous membranes. I never gave them water that had stood in
the house, but took it always fresh from the well. 'You make such hard
work of nursing,' Dan'l used to say; but it is care with the little hard
details that makes the difference between good and poor nursing. Dan'l was
not to be depended on in illness, because he could not keep awake. If
anyone was sick, it was Will who helped me through the nursing.
"When Charlie began to dry up, after scarlet fever, he was
yellow all over. Old Doc Farnsworth came over for potatoes one night.
'Now you can go in and see the boy, if you want to,' Dan'l said. But
Farnsworth wouldn't look at him. He was mad because I had ignored him
throughout the illness.
"I had plenty of opportunity to test the strength of my
resolution to get along without doctors if possible. The locality was
recking the malaria. Water stood all through the prairie grass in the
pools of Lost Creek and Skunk River. Nobody had screens to keep out the
mosquitoes; in fact, nobody knew then that there was any connection between
mosquitoes and malaria. Dan'l, Charlie, and Lizzie all shook with fever
and ague. Doc Farnsworth, called in to look at Lizzie, left some of his
black physic. He called himself an 'eclectic.' He gave no calomel,
but was generous with quinine and 'black physic' - which was the root of the May
apple. He gave a good deal of aconite, too. I distrusted the
medicine he left for Lizzie. I knew he had two other patients down on the
bottom lands of Green Bay, which was a terrible place for typhoid and malaria.
'How are the little girls at Green Bay this morning?' I asked.
'One is dead and the other soon will be,' he answered shortly. So,
with prayer and trembling, I took his dose and divided it. And yet, even
so, it physicked the child so that she was too weak to hold her head up.
"More and more I came to rely on my own judgment in
illness. When there was a smallpox scare, we called on Dr. Farnsworth to
vaccinate us all. Three more babies came to us for him to usher into the
world. But the rest of the time I ministered to the family myself. That
is, with the help of good Dr. Gunn. Dr. Gunn was the author of a big book
entitled The House Physician, which told how to care for the sick and
make them remedies from the herbs that grew all around us. Whatever the
ailment, from hiccoughs to tapeworms, I consulted Dr. Gunn.
"I think I have an instinct for nursing. When my
youngest sister was a new baby, only a day old, she had a spasm. I was
just fourteen years old and had never seen anyone have a convulsion. My
mother was in bed, of course, and there was no one about just then except
Sister Libbie and a servant girl. I called them to bring a pail of water,
and I dashed it on the baby's head. Soon she relaxed and was all right.
'Child, whatever put that into your mind?' said Ma. I don't
know; I just instinctively seemed to know what to do when people are sick.
"Whenever one of my children was ailing, the first thing I
tried to do was to clean him thoroughly, inside and out, to open skin and
bowels, and then put him to bed. The warm bath would bring out any latent
trouble. Of course we had no stationary bathtubs in those days. But
I had a large wooden tub. I put a board across it and made my child sit on
it, gave him a washcloth, and took another with which I washed his back and
feet. Then he'd climb into bed and usually sleep off his disorder.
"Once Dan'l and a girl named 'Liza, who was working for us,
were taken sick the same day. 'Liza wanted the doctor. He came and
looked at them both. 'They're in for about three weeks' sick spell,' he
said. I didn't give Dan'l the doctor's medicine. Instead, I put him
through one of my scrubbings and gave him some grated rhubarb. When the
doctor came next day Dan'l was out chopping wood, but 'Liza was in bed. Sick
for three weeks and more - sure enough!
"One time I came to Eben Foster's house when he was very
sick with bloody flux - every low indeed. I went to the drug store and
bought some slippery elm and laudanum, grated the slippery elm and beat it to a
fine cream, added fifteen drops of laudanum, got my brother to give his son an
injection with a baby syringe, put a hot plate on his abdomen. He
rested all night. 'Good morning, doctor!' he called to me when daylight
came. I just knew that slippery elm was very cool and healing, that
laudanum was soothing. And it worked!
"Surgery has made great strides during my lifetime. It's
wonderful. Just see what the surgeons have done for Gus - given him a new
opening to his stomach. But they don't know much more about drugs than
they ever did. Except that they've learned to use them less. That's
"I've done a little surgery myself in a modest way. Once
my baby Herbie touched his hand to a hot stove lid that I'd taken off the stove
and put on the floor. He burned himself cruelly, and I was afraid that his
fingers would be drawn up when they healed. I made a splint out of a thin
board and bound the fingers to it."
"That wasn't the only time Mother saved my fingers,"
commented Herbert. "I cut off three of them one time when I was
cutting sheaf oats for my pony in a cutting box. I rushed into the house
with the ends of my fingers hanging by shreds. Mother washed them, fitted
them together carefully, and bound them up so that they grew into perfectly good
fingers again. Another time she saved my foot. I was running
barefoot down the street in front of the Court House. They were repairing
the roof, and the sidewalk was covered with old shingles. I ran a rusty
spike straight through my foot. Mother pulled out the spike and syringed
the would with hot salt water and hot soda water until she washed away every bit
of the rust. Saved me probably from lockjaw."
"There was one time," reflected Grandmother
Brown, "when I was forced into performing a really important surgical
operation. While we were living on the farm a woman came to live
temporarily with our neighbors, the McChords, while her husband was in the war.
She was about to have a baby. Dr. Farnsworth was away. No
midwife could be found. All the help the poor woman had was what three of
us neighbor women could give her. She had had children before and said
that none had ever been born to her without the help of a knife. She
begged us to help her. Oh, it was terrible. I could see that the
body of the child was unable to break through into the world. She suffered
horribly. None of the other women would do anything. 'It can't be
born without a knife. It can't be born without a knife,' the poor thing
kept saying. I was afraid to use a knife for fear of sticking it into the
baby's head. Finally I just plucked up my courage and tore the membrane
with my finger nail. The baby was released and the mother relieved. That
night Dr. Farnsworth stopped to see me. He had been to see the mother
after being told, on reaching home, that she had sent for him earlier in the
day. 'I came to congratulate you,' he said to me, 'for having had the
moral courage to do something. That woman couldn't have lasted much
longer. She would have gone into spasms and died.' The baby lived to
be an old woman, and died her in Fort Madison only recently."
"Tell me about the baby who arrived in the midst of your
scarlet-fever epidemic," I urged.
"Dan'l had hoped that this baby would be a little
girl," answered Grandmother Brown. "But it was another
boy, and we named him Frank. With Will now eighteen years old, Charlie
sixteen, Lizzie twelve, and Gus ten, he was very much a baby in the family.
He was a cheerful little fellow, who slid off my lap the day he was ten
months old and stated to walking. Round and round the room he ran in great
glee; but the next day, of course, he was tired out and hardly stirred. He
was always light on his feet. A Fort Madison neighbor said to me, later:
'Does that boy ever walk? I never see him except on the run.' One
Christmas, I remember, he said he wanted for presents a Bible with flexible
binding and a pair of dancing pumps.
"Ma came to visit us soon after Frank began to run around.
Every night she would rock him to sleep. She had a nice voice and
was a good singer. There was one song that he always demanded, 'The
Pony Song,' that took a great deal of action. Much prancing and
Ha-ha-haing! I wonder if children know it now: -
"One bright morning early,
My pony I bestrode,
And by my Anna's cottage,
I took the well-known road.
There stood my gentle Anna,
For 't was my greatest pride
That she should see me ride.
Then prance, parnce, prance, Pony,
Prance, prance, prance waggishly!
"There stood my gentle Anna
Beside the blooming bower,
Training the opening roses,
Herself the sweetest flower,
Then prance, prance, prance, Pony,
Prance, prance, prance waggishly!
"To show my skillful riding
I spurred him very sly,
Alas, he reared and threw me
Into a ditch hard by.
Then off he went like wind
And left me there behind.
Stop, Stop, Stop, stop,
Stop, stop, Pony, amicably!
"On hands and knees I scrambled
To reach at length dry land,
And, oh, in such a pickle
Before her face I stand.
But worse than all by half
To hear my Anna laugh,
Ha, ha, ha, ha!
Ha, ha, ha, ha!
"I can't remember that my son Frank ever made anybody any
trouble," said Grandmother Brown. "That is, after he was
once weaned. he has always been correct in every way, as baby, boy, and
man. But he was very reluctant to take up a new line of diet.
Finally, Will took him upstairs and made him sleep with him; but every time
Frank came downstairs he did want his mother's dinner. One day, one of our
mares had a colt, and then Dan'l told the baby that he'd give him that colt if
he'd give up his dinner and eat like a man. He said he should have a ride
the very next morning if he didn't cry for me that night! That evening our
neighbors, the Stevensons, came to call. Frank circled around them
announcing: 'I don't suck any more. I've dot a pony.'
"From that time on he never was a bit of bother, and,
necessarily, he was rather a lonely little figure in the household, as the
others were so much older. But he like to be busy, and I'd give him a
paper of pins and a tack hammer and he'd be happy for hours pounding the pins
into a pine block.
"He seemed to be a very outspoken little boy, because
he often repeated the speeches of the older people around him, speeches not
intended for repetition. How we laughed one time when he gave Newt Tyndall
a piece of the family mind! Newt had once worked for us, but he went away
and learned to be a dancing master, and never did any real work afterward.
Sister Mary sat in front of the fire one day, with her baby on her knee.
'Oh, dear,' she said, 'this fire's pretty nearly out. If anyone will
hold this baby, I'll go get more wood.' And then Newt said: 'I will
hold the baby.' And Sister Mary let him, and he let her bring in the wood!
Dan'l complained about Newt to me. 'He comes here and never does a
stroke of work. The lazy dog lies in bed and lets the boys get up and milk
the cows and never offers to help.' That night, Frank, the solemn baby,
walked around and around Newt eyeing him severely, as he sprawled in front of
the fire.'What's the matter, Frank?' the man finally asked. 'Newt, you
lazy dog, you like in bed and let the boys get up and milk the cows, and
you never do a stroke,' piped the child. Oh, dear," giggled
Grandmother Brown, "I always had something to laugh at!
"Frank used to stand up on a chair by the vat to watch the
cheese making. One time a new man we had helping us kept coming to me to
ask what to do, and every time I'd tell him he'd say, 'That's just what the boy
said.' When the cheese would get the size of kernels of wheat or small
grain, Frank would come running with a few grains in his grimy little hand for
me to taste.
"One time when he was a little older, Frank used to sit in
front of the beehive, laying sticks up against the hive for the bees to climb up
on. He said the bees had such heavy loads on their legs that they were
tired. (Of course they could fly in!) 'You'd better look out,
Frank, the bees will bite you!' said a visitor one day. 'You'd better get
a bee and look it over and you'll find out where its needle is,' answered Master
Frank rather contemptuously."
"Frank was too little, I suppose, while you lived on the
farm, ever to help with the work," I suggested, drawing Grandmother
back to our main theme.'
"I think he did his share of corn dropping," she
"Indeed I did," said Frank. "I was less
than seven years old when we left the farm, but I remember that plenty of work
was found for me to do. I remember starting to school one day with a lunch
basket into which I had watched Mother put a little jar of the peach preserves
that I liked so much. But I didn't get to school with it, for as I passed
along the meadow where Father was at work he spied me and set me to dropping
corn. How I hated it! Then I often carried cool water or buttermilk
to the men at work in the field. And after we moved to town, and Charlie
was running the farm, I used to spend my summers there. I used to drive a
team of horses hitched to a stalk cutter - a dangerous business for
"Did you make any money from your farm, Grandmother
Brown?" I asked.
"Yes, as time went on we became quite prosperous,"
she answered. "The thing that set us on our feet was cheese
making. Our neighbor, Mrs. Andrews, had a kettle vat big enough to make
small cheeses in. I borrowed it once and made a few little cheeses. I
pressed them under the fence rail with a weight on top. They were very
nice. It put Dan'l in the mind of cheese making on a larger scale. He
concluded to sell the fine carriage which we had brought with us from Ohio and
so seldom used and to buy cows with the money we received from the sale. We
kept increasing the herd until it brought us an income of about $300 a month for
cheese. At that time, $300 looked bigger than it does now. The 'Dan
Brown Cheese' made quite a name for itself in southeastern Iowa. A good
deal of it went to the Union army.
"Cheese making itself was not heavy work. A boy could
do it. The hard part was caring for the cows and milking them. The
older boys did that. Gus stayed in the cheese house more than any to the
others. One thing that I did not like about cheese making was that it kept
someone at work every Sunday. We couldn't let all that cheese spoil;
the cows gave milk on Sunday the same as other days.
"I found it interesting to watch the process of cheese
making. We used to strain the milk, put the rennet in, and then go to
breakfast. When we had finished breakfast, it was time to cut the cheese
lengthwise of the vat, then crosswise, later to drain off the whey, gather the
cheese into hoops, and cap it. One has to be awfully clean with cheese,
scraping out the corners of the vat thoroughly in washing it, or the cheese will
be sour. I never made the cheese; merely fixed things so they'd be clean -
the vat, the frames, the cloths - and so the work would be easy.
"Oh, yes, I did make one cheese. It became a family
joke - 'Mother's Cheese.' I read in a magazine that one could make good
cheese of skimmed milk. I followed the recipe. When I thought the
cheese should be ripe I tried to cut it - but, goodness, it wouldn't cut any
more than a piece of wood. So Charlie tried to cut it, first with a knife,
then with a hatchet, finally with an axe. Half he gave to Dash, the dog,
who was delighted, at first, to have for once all the cheese he wanted. But
Dash grew quite melancholy working over that cheese. He had it around for
months. He even buried it in a manure pile, hoping to soften it, but his
hopes were never realized. The boys used to pass the other half at table
to all newcomers. It looked like cheese, it smelled like cheese, - and
elegant smell! - but it might as well have been rubber."
"As you became prosperous, weren't you more reconciled to
life on your farm?" I asked Grandmother Brown.
"No," she answered. "I took satisfaction in
the improvements we had made, but it seemed to me that our life grew more
burdensome each year. The family was larger. It seemed to take more
strength to keep things going, and I had lost some of my courage when our little
Lottie died. And I couldn't see much opportunity in that part of the
country for my children.
"When Frank was about a year old, I had a bad sick spell
and was very miserable. One day I suddenly lost consciousness. Dan'l
was away at the time. Will, who was with me, was much alarmed. After
putting a hot iron to my feet, he jumped on a horse and rode off for the
doctor and then on over to Denmark to get Charlie. He thought I was dying.
In the meantime, Dan'l returned. When Sister Kare came in, he was on
his knees beside the bed. 'Get up and do something,' said Kate. 'She's
dead,' he answered. But after a while I came slowly back. 'Don't
touch my feet. They're glass. They'll come off,' I shrieked. They
they looked and they found that my feet were cooked. The hot iron had
burned them. But it was the shock of the burn that probably saved me.
'I've seen some very sick people,' the doctor said, 'but I never saw
anyone else go so far around the corner and come back.' I was needed for
something, I suppose, as here I am yet, nearly a hundred years old.
"Poor Will was just about broken-hearted when he saw that
he had burned me. But, oh, he was so good to me. Sister Kate took
hold and ran the house for a long time. Lizzie, a big girl of thirteen by
this time, looked after the baby. She would put Frank in his little wagon
- a chuggy, solid little wagon with iron wheels - and trundle him all around the
fields after her father. That suited her much better than staying in the
house helping Aunt Kate.
"Gradually I got better and took up the burden again.
But Will came in one day when I was about to scrub the floor and just took
and emptied everything, put away the brush and mop. Didn't say a word.
Charlie would say, 'You'd better not do that, Mother.' Will's way
would be to walk off with the things so I couldn't work, and say nothing.
"But, oh, one couldn't baby one's self long. There
was so much to do all the time in the house and in the fields. i remember
once, at harvest time, I suffered terribly with the toothache. But no one
had time to hitch up and take me in to town to the dentist's. Besides, all
the horses were needed for the work. In the daytime I didn't mind my
aching tooth so much, but at night I could hardly stand it. So, one
evening, I went out on the porch with the shears and an old looking-glass and
just pried it out. I had cut my wisdom teeth when Willie cut his first
ones. We were teething together. I was just beginning to get my
senses about that time, I suppose. The tooth came out all good and smooth.
I took it in the house and dangled it before Dan'l in the light. 'Why,
Mother, how in the world could you do that?' he exclaimed. But it
"When Frank was four years old little Carrie was born.
'Brown, come here,' Dr. Farnsworth called to Dan'l. 'She's a
little Venus. I've brought a good many babies into the world, but never
one of prettier shape.' It seemed for a while almost as if our lost Lottie
had come back. Yes, she was a little beauty, but she was never well.
The nurse bathed her till she was chilled. It was the Fourth o'
July, but it was a cold day. And then the baby nursed my hot milk.
It seemed to poison her. I weaned her, - tried cow's milk, goat's
milk - nothing helped. Twice a doctor came all the way from Burlington to
see her and advise me. But she never thrived. I tried in every way I
could to tempt her appetite. I made her the daintiest food I could devise;
made it taste nice, look pretty. Trimmed her tray and dishes with flowers.
'Baby want some more?' I would coax, but she would always shake her
head. She understood everything I said to her. She loved me. But
she never talked or walked. She was just too weak. I carried her
about on a pillow. As I went about my work I used to think my heart
would break as I looked at her lying there, so frail and beautiful, and I so
powerless to help her. To have lost one lovely little girl so suddenly and
then to watch this one die so slowly - oh, it was more agony that I deserved!
She breathed her last one morning at daybreak, when everyone else in the
quiet house was sleeping except us two. And when she died, I knew that in
seven months I should bear another child."
"Surely there are some pleasant spots in your memory of the
farm, Grandmother Brown," I said.
"A few," she acknowledged, but without
enthusiasm. "I look back to those years on the farm as the hardest
years of my life. But there are of course some happy memories of the life
there. Always where there are growing things - plants and children - there
is beauty. Though I had not much companionship with the people of the
neighborhood, we had visitors from time to time from Ohio. Once, dear old
Uncle Hull came. Dan'l was always hospitable to my sisters and their
families. He love a houseful. And though their coming made more
mouths to fill, it also brought more hands to help with the work.
"Sister Libbie was not there so often. She spent a
number of those years in Columbus and Washington, for Nelson went first to the
Ohio State Legislature and afterward to Congress. But Sister Kate (her
husband, Reed Golden, was the leading Democrat of that time in the Ohio Senate)
and Sister Mary visited us frequently, both before and after their husbands
died, on the farm and later in town.
"For the children it was great fun to come to the farm.
How they'd romp and play! It was Sister Kate's idea, when she first
came, that her children should do all their playing in the morning and must be
washed up and put into starched things when afternoon came. She held to
that idea for a while, but later she let them go more recklessly than I did
mine. One afternoon her little daughter Frankie was playing with Lizzie in
the creek at the bottom of the garden, each child smearing her legs with black
mud to see how high their garters should go, when who should drive in at the
gate but Frankie's father, Reed Golden. Mischievously, I sent Frankie in
to see him just as she was. 'Good Lord, Kate,' he exclaimed, 'how are you
living here?' That was mean of me, but I thought Kate had gone to the
"And so they never had to think of their clothes, but were
allowed to climb and jump and roll around with all the freedom that children
love. Once, however, when Lizzie didn't have any too many clothes on, she
was caught in the apple tree with her skirt hanging over her head, and had to
stay there until rescued. The boys took their time about it, too. The
maddest little girl in all Iowa she was that day, scolding and crying a waving
her white legs above her soiled feet while the rest of the children roared.
Poor Lizzie! She had a standing grievance, too, that they always
made her be the candlestick in the 'teeter' and gave preference to Gus and
Frankie on the ends of the Flying Dutchman.
"The boys had their own fun, too - sometimes a little rough
and dangerous. They used to have a good deal of sport with a certain billy
goat. Once when Nel Golden, Sister Kate's boy, was visiting there, they
took an old ram out in a ploughed field, and offered Nel a ride, telling him to
hang on tight to its hair. The ram made for the fence, butting against it
to the terror of us elders, who heard the commotion and rushed to see what it
was all about. But Nel happily tumbled off before his brains were butted
"Sometimes the boys slipped off for a swim in Skunk River.
There was a shallow place below Augusta that made a good swimming hole.
And occasionally they went fishing. The river was dammed in those
days at Augusta and the fish couldn't go above it except in high water. Our
boys would dip nets and catch buffalo, catfish, red horse. The first time
Nelson Van Vorhes ever visited us at the farm, Dan'l took him fishing over on
Skunk River and Nelson caught a very big and beautiful pike; we had never seen
anything like it before. I baked it in the oven and it was the subject of
"Hunting never interested my family much. As far as I
know, the only time Gus ever went hunting he killed a mother squirrel, and that
took away his appetite for killing. He and one of Sister Mary's boys
started out for a day of sport. When Gus shot into a tree and a mother
squirrel came tumbling down at his feet, he felt so grieved that he lugged up
the tree and brought down her three little ones. It so happened that out
old cat had just lost her kittens. Someone had closed the cellar door one
night when she came up for a turn in the fresh air; she couldn't get back to her
babies and they perished in the cold. She brought them up and put them
under the kitchen stove, but they didn't come to. You could just see how
the poor thing felt about it. Well, Gus brought the little squirrels home
and put them in a basket back of the stove. I was sitting there with
little Carrie on my lap. The cat roused up and began purring the way cats
do when they are in good humor. She got into the basket and tucked the
squirrels up against her. I called Gus. 'See, kitty has got into the
basket with your squirrels.' In the morning we found that she was nursing
them, but one poor little squirrel had been shot and the milk ran out of a hole
in its stomach. The other two lived and thrive and afforded us much
"It was interesting to watch the cat play with them. She'd
bring in a mouse; they wouldn't touch it. But they'd urn up on the dresser
and eat hazel nuts nd hickory nuts they found there. They'd eat cookies,
taking them in their hands as little babies do. The old cat would seem to
look on in amazement. But they were very playful with the cat, rolling and
tumbling with her, and at times it seemed, when she watched them jumping from
limb to limb of a tree, as if she wanted to say, 'Haven't I remarkable children?
I myself am astonished!'
At first the squirrels would sleep with the cat. I put
them in an old tea chest under the stairs. But later they wanted to get
away. They nested in a bag of scraps that hung on the sewing machine.
(We had sewing machines by this time.) Finally, they made a nest for
themselves in the trees, though for a long time they'd go to the woods every
day but return to us at night. Gus wanted to make a cage for them, but I
wouldn't let him. I always feel sorry for the animals in shows. Of
course, we'd never have the privilege of seeing wild animals if it weren't for
menageries, but it's punishment for them to be shut up. So the squirrels
were allowed to go and come as they pleased, and finally they failed to return
at all. Gus had put bands of red morocco around their necks. A
neighbor once told us that he had seen a squirrel in the woods who wore a red
"And so our good old cat lost her adopted children too.
That was the smartest cat I ever saw. I could praise her when she
came with a mouse. She'd make a peculiar noise, as if she were calling me,
and I would say to her, 'Kitty, that's a good kitty to catch the mouse.' And
she'd seem glad to have pleased me.
"Indeed, all my life I've been amazed at the understanding
of animals. On the farm I was continually noting it. Our farm dog
Jack, for instance, a big black dog with a white ring around his neck, often
showed that he knew what we talked about. We'd usually drive him back if
he attempted to follow us - that is, unless we had gone considerable distance
before discovering him. And so he adopted strategy to get ahead of us.
If he heard us say, for instance, that we were going to Burlington the
next day, and we started off early in the morning, lo and behold, when we got to
the first rise of ground, there would be Jack waiting for us. If we said
we were going over to Mrs. Johnson's, off he'd go, and she would say when
we got there, 'Well, I knew some of you were on the way, because Jack
"Most of your family pleasures seem to have been found at
home in those days, Grandmother," I commented.
"Yes," she answered, "young people didn't do as
much going then as they do now. But there were nice concerts and ice-cream
sociables at Denmark sometimes. I remember Lizzi going once to a picnic
that Denmark young folks had down in our walnut grove on Skunk River. Afterward
she brough them all home to supper, about twenty of them. The boys made
ice cream and I stirred up a warm cake, and the evening ended in a big sing.
There was always singing at our house, especially after we got our piano.
Many came from Denmark then to play on it and join in the singing. Dan'l
taught Lizzie to sing by note when she was a little girl of eight or nine, and
later she and Charlie went to singing school at Augusta. Lizzie says she
knows the words and tunes of at least a thousand songs and hymns, and I expect
she does; she's been singing all her life. I feel sure she could recite
the whole hymn book. She memorized easily; she had Aesop's Fables by
heart as soon as she could read. Before we had the piano, she used to sing
to Will's violin accompaniment, and he was always so delighted to have her sing
with him, going higher and higher. 'Hear, Mother, hear!' he would say.
'Just listen to Lizzie!'
"Then there were nights on the farm, especially in the
earlier days, when we danced. Dan'l would play the fiddle, and then Will
and Charlie and Lizzie and I would make a French four. I used to think
that people passing would think, 'How funny! They're there by their lone and
they're dancing!' But I think that's a very nice entertainment.
It's one of the happiest things I remember about our life on the
"How did you happen to leave the farm?" I asked
She thought awhile. "I think it was the coming of the
piano that made the big change in our lives," she answered, "the
change that eventually led us away from the farm. Will and Charlie were
young men by this time, reaching out towards a life of their own. Restless.
Looking for entertainment, of course. Fine looking young men, both
of them. Both were fond of horses. Each wanted a nice team to drive.
They used to go over to Stevensons' a good deal, where there were
young people fond of music. One son played the violin, another the bass
viol, a daughter played the piano. Will would mount his horse and ride
over with his fiddle under his arm to join them. And Charlie was off with
a horse or team to see his sweetheart, Lyde McCabe. Why, Will even wanted
to have a horse to go off riding round on Sunday. Charlie was a more
serious nature and wouldn't have done that, but Will would. It got so that
when Dan'l wanted a horse he almost had to ask the boys for it."
"Yes, he threatened to sell the horses," laughed
Will. "Don't I remember? And just then there drove into our
years a strange man and woman, agents for the Chickering piano and the Wheeler
and Wilson sewing machines. We made a deal with them for a piano worth
$700. Father turned over in payment a team of horses worth $150 (fine
scheme to keep us more at home) and the rest in cash."
"Which included $300 that had come to me from my father's
estate," interjected Grandmother Brown.
"The day that piano was brought in was a great day,"
said Will. "We sent word to the Stevensons to come over and bring
with them Libbie Knapp, who was going to school at Denmark Academy and played
the piano. How we made the welkin ring! The Stevensons could read
music. I couldn't read a note, but once I got the melody in my head, I
could keep up with anybody. We played and sang for hours that day, and the
old lady who had sold us the piano, and old lady named Mrs. Cole, leaned back in
her chair, listening to us and watching us all. Before she left, she
suddenly pointed to Charlie Stevenson and me, saying, "I want this boy and
this one' - Charlie to help her sell pianos and me to sell sewing machines.
"Well, we were ripe for such offers. Gus was big
enough by this time to help Father. I wanted to get away from the farm and
see what the world was like.
"Charlie Stevenson and I went with Mrs. Cole to her
headquarters in Milwaukee. She kept me there until I learned all about
sewing machines. Then she gave me a horse and wagonload of machines and
sent me through the country to sell them. I spent a couple of years
driving thus over the State of Wisconsin. Charlie and I met regularly at
the county fairs and then we had a great time, Charlie playing the piano and I
the violin. We drew crowds of rubes around us, and when we had attracted
the crowd we 'demonstrated' the sewing machine.
"After that I never went back to the farm for any great
length of time, although I would have stayed in the country, as Charlie did, if
Father could have bought the Andrews farm for me. It was next to our place
and Father offered Andrews $40 an acre for it, but Andrews held out for $45,
and Father wouldn't pay that much. I went to firing on the new railroad
that ran between Fort Madison and Keokuk, but not for long. About that
time I heard that a bookstore in Fort Madison, which had a branch store in
Keokuk, was for sale. I remembered that on a farm just outside of Fort
Madison lived Libbie Knapp, whom I had known at Denmark Academy. I
persuaded Father to buy the bookstore in hope that he would let me run
"That fall we all moved into town except Charlie,"
said Grandmother Brown, taking up the story. "We were all glad to go,
even Dan'l. Gus had broken away the year before and come to Fort Madison,
where he got a job in Schaefer's drug store. Charlie was married the
January after we left, Will the next June. Dan'l took Will and Gus into
the bookstore with him and he rented the farm to Charlie for five years until
Charlie could finance the purchase of a farm of his own in Missouri. Then
Dan'l sold the farm - sold it for $10,000.
"I've often thought," said Grandmother Brown, speaking
slowly and with conviction, "that a considerable part of that $10,000
surely belonged to me. All our married life I was just saving, saving.
We shouldn't have had anything if I hadn't been saving. The secret
of the whole thing was just dimes, dimes. I never got anything I didn't
need, and, when I had it, I took care of it. A neighbor who saw me
patching an old dress said, 'I'd never try to save an old calico dress!' Well,
I would. I'd save anything that could be used. Our neighbor, Mr.
McChord, said to brother John: 'Some of the rest of us could own a farm
and store and move into town if our wives knew how to save the dimes as your
"We received $10,000 for a farm that had cost us only
$3,500. But it had cost us, in addition, fourteen years of our lives and
most exhausting labor. It had been little better than a wilderness when we
took it; we left it in a good state of cultivation. Those fourteen years
seemed a long time to me, a big price to pay. We had buried there two
children, and our youth was gone. Eight months before we left the farm our
last child was born there, a boy whom we named Herbert Daniel."
"Tell me about the coming of your last baby, dear
Grandmother Brown," I begged. "I'm specially interested in
"It was while Will was in Milwaukee that Herbert was
born," she made reply. "Will came home just after that. I
was very sick and I remember how nice it seemed to have him come in and show
such an interest in me and my little boy. He was in his twenty-fourth
year, as much older than Herbert as Dan'l was older than him.
"The eighth child in a family is, of course, no novelty.
This one did not seem to be needed at all. Then, of course, our boys
were farmer's sons and knew something about stock breeding. They knew that
the little baby I had lost, the year before, had been born to a mother who was
too tired to nourish her offspring properly. They naturally did not want
to see a repetition of that experience. i felt that they regarded the last
baby as an unwelcome addition to the family circle. But Will looked him
over very kindly. 'I wonder if these little hands will ever milk a cow,' he
said. We had so many to milk just then.
"That last year on the farm had been terribly hard. I
had nineteen in the family most of the time. I don't know how I could have
got through it all, if it hadn't been for Lizzie. She had always been a
wonderful help for a little child. She was only four years old when we
came to Iowa, but the next year I could put a dishpan on a chair beside the
table and she'd wash the dishes for me. She'd wash out the dishpan
properly, - we always used soap freely, - rinse and wipe the dishes, and do them
well. I could go with my work. They'd all be nice and shiny. She
very early learned to use a needle. She made a man's shirt - with a bosom
- at a tender age; I'm quite sure she wasn't more than eight. And when
Dan'l and I went back to Ohio on that first visit she was only ten, and we left
her knitting her own long woolen stockings.
"Before Herbie came, Lizzie said to me, 'Don't worry,
Mother. Don't cry. I'll help you.' And she did. I had
childbed fever, and, for a good while couldn't nurse him. She took all the
care of him, wash and dressed him and fixed his food. Before he was born
she had said hotly, 'I hope the baby will be a boy - a homely little boy. We
don't want any more pretty little girls to love and lose.'
"But, with all Lizzie's help and thoughtfulness, it had
been a very hard year. Before we had any thought of moving to town we had
commenced to enlarge the house and build it over. The carpenters who did
the work boarded with us for months and were just so many more to feed. And
there were the harvest hands part of the time, besides all our own family.
The young folks seemed to get a good deal of pleasure out of the
excitement, but for me it was only drudgery."
"There were often jolly times in the noon hour and the
evening," explained Lizzie. "Pen Sharp, a fiddler who
worked for us every harvest, had his fiddle along as well as his scythe. He
was a great, strong fellow. Even Father, who prided himself on being able
to outdo any harvest hand, couldn't keep up with Pen. We had a swing in
the new part of the house, a swing that went way up to the upper joist. The
harvest hands would swing us girls in the noon hour way to the roof. Father
said it looked as hard work as pitching hay. And Pen Sharp said yes, it
was, but lots more fun."
"As for me," said Grandmother Brown, "I
didn't care about having an ark of a house in the country. I didn't want
to live in the country, even though by this time w had things fixed pretty nice,
outside and in. The Brussels carpet and piano made a big difference and I
had other pretty things. There was the walnut table with harp legs that we
bought at Burlington. Dan'l had brought home an ugly table at first, but I
grieved over it so that he took it back and bought this one. It always
gave me joy to look at it. Still, I didn't want any more house in the
"When I felt the first birth pangs at the coming of my last
child I was on my knees scrubbing the pantry floor. To give him birth
caused me almost as much suffering as my first child has caused me. But he
was the last.
"I was nearly forty-three years old, and my hair was gray
by this time. My neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, said she'd be so ashamed she
wouldn't know what to do if she had a baby after her hair was gray."
"She did, did she?" I asked fiercely. "What
became of her, I'd like to know?"
"Why, she died after a while," said Grandmother Brown,
and then, with a flash of humor, "I don't know what became of her.
Everybody around here has died except me. She was a very kind
neighbor really - after hanging off three years on account of my Brussels
carpet. But she was there when my little Lottie died. Only - I'm
proud of the baby of my old age that Mrs. Johnson told me I ought to be ashamed
of. He's a useful man down there in Washington."
"Yes, he is, Grandmother," I agreed, "he
is saving dollars for Uncle Sam just the way you saved dimes for Uncle Dan'l.
I think he learned the way of doing it from you."