AN IOWA VILLAGE
"Fort Madison in 1870! What was it like?" I
asked Grandmother Brown.
"In 1870," said Grandmother Brown, "it was a town
of perhaps five thousand people, with about forty saloons and no plumbing.
It was hot in summer down here between the river bluff and the river.
Only tow or three families had then thought of building up on the hill.
But, after the farm, it all looked good to me.
"It was several years before we had a home of our own
again. For the first few weeks we lived on Front Street. The life on
the river fascinated me. Steamboats carrying passengers and pushing raft
boats plied up and down the stream. I was never tired of watching them.
I would get up in the night when I heard a boat coming; I use to think it
a beautiful sight to see one steaming up the river at night, all aglow with
lights. Come to think of it, the very first electric lights I ever saw
were on a river steamboat.
"Next, we lived for a couple of years in a house next to
Dr. Toof, the dentist, on Third Street. Dr. Toof stuttered. He came
across to get some water from our well one day when I was on the back porch
cutting Dan'l's hair. 'Th-th-at's the w-way you s-s-ave your d-d-imes, is
it?' he ha-ha'd as he went by. Why, of course I always trimmed Dan'l's
hair and beard. I cut the boys' hair also as long as we lived on the farm.
I did it well, too.
"When Herbert was about five years old we bought this old
home, and I have lived here now for over half a century. It had been built
in 1841, the year that the Court House was erected. Two stories in front
one at the rear. Back of that were the washhouse, woodhouse, and stable,
with a warehouse above. Gus said that the house 'looked like a cow lying
down.' It wasn't much. We bought it of an old seafaring man who had
a wife as rough in her speech as he was. When I made some criticism of the
house, she said, 'I'm not selling you the damned old house. I'm just
selling you the lots.'
"Those were beautiful. The trees - fine old
oaks full of squirrels - would have made any corner beautiful. Then Dan'l
planted a maple tree at the back which shaded our kitchen so nicely for years
and years. I hated to have Gus cut it down when he made over the old
house. Herbie - the little baby boy - had held up that maple tree while
his father was planting it. But it offended Gus; a limb fell down and
broke his bird basin. He tore down the grape arbor, too, that used to
flank the house just outside the dining room and he closed up the well. I
think the way we had it with the brick pavement and the grape arbor just outside
the dining room was nice. It was pleasant and cool to sit there in summer
and look out into the depths of the garden in the days before we had given Will
two of the lots to build his house on, when the garden really was something.
'T was a beautiful place those first ten years.
"The corner of the fence was just full of roses. And
to the left of the house there was a row of hollyhocks; they were like great
double roses. At one time we had quantities of sunflowers at the back.
I remember how Herbie trimmed our Jersey cow from horn to horn with little
sunflowers, a wreath around her neck and a girdle of big ones across her back.
The he drove her down to the watering through in front of the Democrat to
show her off. Oh dear, oh dear!
"We always kept a cow, of course, and a few chickens and
turkeys; at first also some white pigs and a hive of bees. I was amused
one time when we had nine little turkeys. Coming home from church Sunday
morning, I found the whole nine sitting in a row on the front porch as if
waiting for me. We ate some of them, but Herbie didn't like the idea.
'It's just a shame to pet them and then eat them!' he said.
He was like Lincoln with his pig. We had one turkey that kept going
over into the neighbor's yard where there was a high bunch of weeds, higher than
your head. The turkey made her nest there. Dan'l told the neighbor
about it and asked him to spare her, but he was a sour old man - cut down the
weeds, and spoiled her nest. She flew up on the fence and never would come
down to eat; stayed up there until she fell off dead. I had no idea a
feathered fowl could be so sensitive, but she was. We couldn't tempt her
with any kind of food. She just sat there until she died.
Well, I'm happy to say I never borned a child who would harm a bird.
We had guinea fowl, too, and a couple of peacocks. The peacocks use
to like to strut across the front porch and look at their reflections in the
long parlor windows.
"There was a bluebird's box on a pole at the back of this
place when we came here. I haven't seen a bluebird for years, but Will
tells me they have them in South Dakota. When I was a little girl, I used
to think there was nothing so lovely as a bluebird.
"We had a house for martins, too. They're interesting
birds to watch. You know they make their nests of mud. One spring it
was so dry after they came that there was nothing for them to work on. Gus
made them some mud, and you should just have seen their excitement. They
could hardly wait to get it.
"I always had a wren box, too. One year a wren
arrived just as I was getting ready for church. I saw him flying around
the grape arbor. I thought I'd hurry and get a home made for him before I
went to meeting. I always had things to do with, my own saw and hammer and
nails. I got the box - a little cigar box - all tacked up on the grape
arbor before I was off; I had a little short stepladder. The wrens weren't
a bit afraid of me. When I came home from church, there they were al
started to housekeeping, the two of them. I love to watch them courting
and to hear them sing, so clear and sweet.
"Among our Fort Madison livestock I shouldn't forget to
mention our house dog, Benny. His box stood in a corner of the sitting
room. We use to think so much of him. He was a little black and tan
dog that Will had sent to Frank from St. Louis. He knew just as much as
folks. he got mad at Dan'l once about something - we didn't know what -
and stayed over at the market house with Al Casey for several weeks. But
one day he came running home and whimpered up to me as I was lying on the couch.
And, only a few days before, Dan'l had said, 'I met Benny on the street
and he wouldn't speak to me.' Once Herbie harnessed Benny with white and
red strings and tried to drive him to a little wagon. But Benny got away.
Gus was singing in the Episcopal choir. Benny smelt his tracks and
ran clattering into the church in his harness with the wagon at his heels.
What a commotion! Larer, Benny got into a fight and was so hurt that
we had to have him killed.
"Our house was reconstructed according to my directions.
Mr. Emerick, the carpenter, seemed amused one day when I called to one of
the men who was working on a joist, 'You're pushing your crowbar wrong. It
should go to the left.' He said to my neighbor, Mr. Doerr, 'She's the best
architect in town. She knows what she wants done and she can tell the
workmen how to do it.' Well, why shouldn't I know something about
building homes? My mother's brothers were carpenters. It's always a
pleasure to me to make and mend. I want things smooth. If a pane of
glass got broken, I'd put a new one in myself. How silly to call a man!
I always had a putty knife by me and a scraper for taking paper off the
wall. If a lock wanted fixing, I'd take it off and fix it. I carved
to do things.
"I couldn't do much in the next dozen years," lamented
Grandmother Brown. "During the while of Herbie's childhood I was a
poor, sick thing."
"But you got well, dear Grandmother; and look at you now,
with a record that few can equal! I've heard Herbert say that his mother
was like a fine watch she couldn't be dropped, but handle her gently, and she'd
"He didn't see it that way, of course, when he was a little
boy. I remember that when he was about five years old he looked at me
disapprovingly one day and said, 'When I get me a wife, I'm going to have one
with red cheeks - a stout, strong lady like Mrs. Case!' Mrs. Case was the
grocer's wife, a nice, pretty woman. But she died years ago, and here I
"Living in town was a very great change from the farm, a
welcome change. I was glad to be relieved of the farm drudgery and happy
that my children could have the advantage of better associates, of better
schools and churches.
"The children met for school in the basement of the Baptist
and Methodist churches. But not long after we came a building was erected
on Fifth Street, and Nelson Johnson, the superintendent, graded the pupils.
Up to that time, mothers would bring their children and say they wanted
them put in Miss So-and-So's room. One teacher taught all classes from the
First Reader to the Philosophy Class.
"I was glad of all town advantages, but sometimes I felt as
lonely as when on the farm. And I had more time to think. The two
oldest boys were married and in their own homes. After five years
both moved to Missouri, Charlie to a farm near Revere and Will to St. Louis,
where he was in the employ of a lumber firm. Gus and Lizzie soon became
absorbed in the affairs of the town and entered into all the doings of the young
people. Gus was always a great cut-up - when he wasn't down in the dumps,
for he swung both ways - and was soon in demand at all the dancing parties and
sleighrides and amateur theatricals. He had a period of acting, when
he was the funny man, singing the comic songs of all the shows given in town.
"Dan'l and Gus were at the store all day and often they
were there at night, though I must say that when Gus was at home he'd fuss
around me like a girl; sometimes would fix up a tray of food himself to tempt my
appetite. 'Now, Mother, I'm going to poach you an egg and have it just
right,' he'd say. Lizzie was my mainstay at home, but she went to
school for a while after we first came to town, and later had her natural
interests with the young people. Frank, too, was in school. And so
there were a great many days and weeks at that time when I lay in bed all day
with only my baby boy to keep me company. For a good while, life seemed to
pass me by. I felt old and worn. I thought that I looked prematurely
old. My hair was white. Stung by Mrs. Johnson's amazement at my
having a baby after my hair had turned, I dyed it, using a recipe that I found
in a paper."
"You with dyed hair! You, Grandmother Brown!
I can't believe it."
"Yes, I was just silly enough to do it. I continued
to keep it dyed for a while after we came to Fort Madison. And then I
suddenly came to my senses and saw that my face didn't match the dyed hair.
A servant girl who came to us stared at me and then at Dan'l. She
had only one eye, but she should have been better than that. 'Be you his
wife? I thought you was his mother,' she said. I decided to let my
hair be any color it would. But I suffered a lot in my pride before I had
it all white again. Slowly, so slowly, the clean white streak got wider
and wider, while the rest was a dirty green.
"I got rather melancholy, being in poor health, and
alone so much. And I wasn't happy in my church associations. I
wanted to unite with the Presbyterian church, where I belonged, but I had
persuaded myself that it was my duty to go with Dan'l to the Baptist church.
When we were living on the farm, a minister of the Baptist church came out
to the schoolhouse near by and preached. Dan'l and Charlie united with the
church. Later, Will and Charlie and Dan'l and I were all immersed in the
Fort Madison church. In black alpaca slips with bare feet! Why, the
whole front of their rostrum was a bathtub!
"Dan'l was religiously inclined all his life; seemed to
like to go to church. All his people were Universalists, but at Amesville
we went often to the Presbyterian church. However, was long as he was with
those Universalists, he never came right out.
"I thought it didn't make much difference what church we
went to, so long as it was a Protestant denomination. But I always thought
that the Close Communion of the Baptists was wrong. I used to wonder what
I'd do when my mother came to see us some Communion Sunday, and, because she was
a Presbyterian and not a Baptist, would have to be excluded from the
communion table where Dan'l and I would be welcome. I worried about it
quite a bit. And then, when such a Sunday came and we were on our way with
Ma to the Baptist church in Fort Madison, a terrible rain cloud appeared in the
sky. We whirled around and drove home again. And that was the way of
that. Afterward, in Fort Madison, Sister Ann and her husband, both
Presbyterians, were visiting us on Communion Sunday. When they got up to
go out, I went with them, stared at by the whole congregation.
"It's just like this: We've no right to say who is
worthy of Communion. If Jesus were here on earth now, there would be a
multitude following Him all the time, just as there was then! Every
request a poor soul made of Him was granted. No place would be big enough
for the crowds, unless the park. He would bid them all come to Communion.
It's what the heart feels that counts.l It reminds me of what Hedel
Schultz, a girl that worked for us, said to me. She had been to
confession. 'God is the only one that can forgive our sins,' I told her.
She answered: 'Mrs. Brown, you don't know how I am inside. I'm
praying when I am peeling potatoes.' I've had so many Catholic girls
working for me who wee exemplary in every way that it doesn't become me to say
anything against Catholics, even though I am a Presbyterian. There was
Mary Voigt! I said to her: 'Why, this isn't Friday! You've
eaten no meat. You've hardly touched your breakfast.' And she
answered, 'Well, Mrs. Brown, if you must know, I'm fasting while I pray for a
friend.' Now that's real. Ah, there's lots o' good in
Catholicism. Remembering Lent's a mighty good thing. And so I
decided that Close Communion wouldn't do for me. It isn't right to say who
shall and shan't commune. Let God be the judge!"
"But how about 'the elect' of the Presbyterians,
Grandmother?" I questioned. "Doesn't that doctrine bother
you?" I questioned. "Doesn't that doctrine bother you?
Such ideas disturbed your Herbie. I've heard him say that when he
left home you extracted from him a solemn promise to go to the Presbyterian
church every Sunday, and he meant to keep the promise, but one day the minister
whose church in Kansas City he was attending chose to expound the doctrine of
'infant damnation.' And then Herbert reached for his hat, got up, and
walked out, never to return."
"I don't blame him!" said Grandmother Brown, warmly.
"Just think! A little innocent one that has never lived to do
either right or wrong condemned to eternal punishment! Oh, no! We
know that Jesus loved little children. So does His Father. The
little ones are safe in His arms. I think these lines are so pretty: -
"How I wish that His hand had been laid on my
head. . .
How I wish that I could have been there when He said:
'Let the little ones come unto me!'
You see, it's this way. There's so much I don't understand
in all the churches. I pass it over. I just live by what I
understand. I understand what love means - that's enough."
"But you weren't happy among the Baptists!"
"No, I wasn't; I was very unhappy. But all the time I
did my duty. Dan'l was a pillar of the church for many years, and I stood
by him, going to meetings when I felt able and feeding generously all the
brethren he brought home. All the visiting deacons and itinerant preachers
stopped with us when in town. It makes me think of what Georgiana
Rochester said when my brother drove her home from a party and the chickens all
began to fly as they turned in at the gate: 'Dear me! they think it's a
preacher coming!' The fatted calf we killed for preachers in those days
was usually fried chicken.
"I remember once when Lizzie expressed herself freely, to
the horror of her father and great satisfaction of her brothers. We had a
houseful of Baptist preachers. Lizzie went and slept crosswise n bed with
Hedel Schultz and someone else, I don't remember whom, so that a preacher could
have her room. In the morning he told at table about some home at which
he'd been entertained where the mattresses were lumpy and there were pin
feathers left in the chicken. I could see that Lizzie was getting redder
and redder as he talked. Finally she burst out: ' 'T wouldn't do for
you to go away and talk about how you'd slept or what you'd eaten here.
I slept crosswise, three in a bed, last night, so you could rest easy in my
bed. And I was up at five o'clock this morning to dress the chickens you
see before you, and, believe me, if you ever speak a word of criticism of our
hospitality I hope it's the last time you will enjoy it.'
"For a while the Baptist minister and his wife lived at our
house and boarded with us. They did a good deal to wean me from their
church. In the first place, Brother Jones - that name will do for him as
well as any other - was always preaching Temperance, and he was one of the most
intemperate people I ever saw. He used to get all tea'd up on tea - the
strongest anyone could drink, cup after cup. And then how he'd carry on,
berating everyone! He had ten weeks of 'protracted meeting' that winter;
about wore us out, scolding and scolding. One night he got hold of a nice
comfortable text. It was so restful for a change that I rose in meeting
and made a speech myself, saying that we were so glad to be praised a little
after having been scolded so much. Once while he was having meetings Gus
had a carbuncle and I stayed to dress it. I came in late. And then
Brother Jones knelt down and scolded away to the Lord about my being so late.
That's no way. God is Love. He doesn't rave and go on at us
"My dissatisfaction with the Baptist church worried me for
years, but finally I made up my mind to go back where I belonged. We were
visiting a cousin, Sarah Glazier, who had married a man named John Patterson.
John had been brought up a Quaker and had the nice Quaker ways. The
Wednesday night prayer meeting we led by John. On the way home, John and
Dan'l lingered behind, talking together. Next morning, Sarah said to me:
'Dan'l told John that he expected you leave the Baptist church and go back
to the Presbyterian, and that if you did he meant to follow,' Well, it
didn't take me long to change over after that.
"It took years to work out my church relations."
said Grandmother Brown. "In the meantime, I had a long struggle
with ill health. My little boy, Herbert, was my closest and most constant
companion in those difficult years. I wasn't equal to any more hard work.
When I could sit up, I occupied myself as usefully as possible with
my needle. I made dozens of yards of carpeting. At one time I had
four rooms and the stairs and hall upstairs all covered with my own carpeting.
I was particularly proud of the stair carpet. I made it so that the
strips - made of bright colors - ran up and down the stairs. I bossed the
weaving of it, invented a special way of having it done, and got the women who
did it to follow my instructions, so that every step looked just like every
other one. I've had more people admire that carpet and wonder how it was
"While I sewed, Herbie was always at my side. He was
the best-natured child I ever saw. As he grew older he always wanted to be
working. I'd say, 'Go pick up some chips.' 'What I do next, Mamma?'
'You may cut out some papers for cleaning the carpet.' (We used to
moisten scraps of paper to scatter over the carpet when we swept. They
helped to pick up the dust.) 'What next?' he'd ask. 'Cut them
smaller.' And so he kept me busy, thinking up jobs he could do.
"One result of Herbert's being by my sick bed so much was
that he learned to spell at a tender age. It was one of the games I had to
think up to keep him amused. He soon knew all the letters on his blocks.
Then I began teaching him to spell the names of things round the room.
Before he was five years old he could spell about two hundred words - hard
words, too, like 'bureau,' 'cupboard,' 'biscuit,' though they were words that he
used all the time. And so it happened that he spelled the town down when
he was only five years old.
"You see, they were having a spelling bee in the Court
House. Herbie heard it talked about. I listed the words that I knew
he could spell, and I said to Gus: 'Now I want you to take Herbert to the
spelling bee. You tell Mr. Johnson, after the school has spelled, to call
off these words and hear the baby spell.'
"It was a warm night, and the windows were open. After
a while, I could hear a terrible stomping and shouting. I said to myself,
'They like the baby's spelling.' And so they did. But Mr. Johnson
hadn't done just what I had asked. He had put Herbie in the class with the
others, and then he had given the class Herbie's list of words. One after
another missed a word and sat down, finally Herbie stood there alone - or sat,
rather, for Judge Van Valkenburg held him on the desk, standing beside him.
'Good for you, Herbie. Don't be frightened!' he kept saying. And
Herbie wasn't the least bit frightened, but spelled steadily away, not only the
words others had missed, but all on his list.
"Then some of the people said he had no right to the prize,
as he didn't go to school. But Mr. Johnson said that that made his right
all the better. The prize they gave him was a handsome book.
"After that, Herbert used to ask: 'What for does John
Van (as everybody used to call Judge Van Valkenburg) say, "Hello, Noah
Webster!" when he meets me on the street?' 'I suppose it's
because Noah Webster made a dictionary,' I told him. Well, mothers
are foolish things. They're so wrapped up in their children.
"I did let Herbie do some things that the rest of the
family scolded about. For instance, let him use the sitting room at times
for a workshop. He had a fine time making a bird house there for the
martins. He made it of old shingles that had come off the house. It
had nine rooms. He took great pains making it. Dan'l was away at the
beginning. When he came home, he said, 'A pretty-looking place!' 'It's
all right, Father,' I told him. 'I know where my boy is.' Later,
Herbie made a turning lathe - made it himself. I let him set it up in the
dining room. What a good time he and Leon Rizer did have turning things!
I had for years rolling pins and potato mashers that they turned. Herbert
was always handy with tools of all kinds. This was about the time that he
made Jennie Mason a bedstead and bureau for her doll.
"But Lizzie objected to the mess, and said I was 'humoring'
Herbie. 'It's all nice clean shavings,' I told her. 'And when
he's here I know what he's about.' Later, when she had children of her
own, I noticed she 'humored' them quite as much as I ever did Herbie. Herbert
and Frank were never away from me an hour when they were boys when I didn't know
where they were. Gus laughs and says, 'You couldn't keep tab on me that
way.' But he forgets that he grew up on a farm and not in a rough river
"Sometimes Dan'l felt it necessary to take Herbie to the
woodshed and administer justice in the old-fashioned way. 'Spare the rod
and spoil the child,' Solomon said, but Solomon wasn't always wise. Herbie
was likely to holler, 'Help! Help! They're mur-r-r-dering me!' on
such occasions, and Dan'l was rather afraid the neighbors might think he was
doing violence to the child. I never thought it did much good. I
tell you how I feel about disciplining children. If I had it to do over
again, I'd be might slow to spank a child. I'd piece to my patience an
inch or two and wait longer before I spanked. When one is overtaxed and a
child makes trouble, it is easy to use the rod. I think it is wiser often
not to seem to see - to be looking the other way. Children get tricks that
don't last. It's one thing this week and another the next.
"Herbert really needed a little extra support at
home," continued Grandmother Brown, "for the other boys in the family
- not only Gus and Frank, but Sister Mary's boys, too - were all so much older,
and they used to tease him unmercifully, and treat him pretty roughly. They'd
torment him until he'd say something smart, - his only adequate weapon, of
course, was his tongue, - and then they'd roar. 'First they devil me and
then they dance,' he'd complain to me.
"It really was funny, one day, when he came home from the
store crying over a special outrage. The big boys had pinned a Democratic
badge on his coat so that he couldn't get it off, and he'd run home all the way
with his hand over it so no one could see it. 'What would any of my folks
think, if they'd see me with that on?' he raged.
"He got to be pretty sharp at defending himself. Even
as a baby he was determined not to be imposed upon. I remember once, when
there was a lot of company, and the table was pretty full, Gus bribed him with a
nickel to wait until the second table. But when Herbie heard them all
pulling up their chairs and smelled the good dinner, he came around the table to
where Gus sat and slapped the nickel down beside him, saying: 'Here!
Take your nickel and wait yourself!' Everybody shouted, and then
they squeezed up and let the baby's high chair in.
"Once his father laughed at some smart thing he'd said, and
remarked, 'I guess you'll make your mark in the world.' Herbie set up a
howl. 'I won't do it! I won't do it! I'll learn to write my
name to-day.' He had seen men at the store who couldn't write and had to
sign their name with a mark. He didn't intend to be one of them. Fact
is, he soon astonished everybody by learning to write forward and backward and
with either hand - all kinds of ways.
"No, Herbert didn't like rough play. He liked to go
to school, but he wouldn't stand for being imposed on there, either. He
would never snowball anybody. 'I don't throw snow in anybody's neck,'
he used to say to me, 'and I don't want it in mine.' On snowy days,
he'd wait until the last bell rang before he left. I can see him standing
in the kitchen window with his books in his arm waiting until the bell had rung
and the boys had formed in line. He could see the schoolhouse door from
the kitchen window.
"He was always looking for peace, but when attacked I
noticed that he was ready to defend himself well. I think he had a strong
sense of justice that kept him from doing things that many boys do to show off -
the cruel, tormenting things. And he'd hold on to his own ideas, however
much he was tempted or tormented.
"There was a show in town one day, and he was very anxious
to go to it. He pulled out his money at the gate. 'How much is it?'
he asked. 'That's what it is - what you have there,' the ticket man said,
trying to take advantage of him. 'Now you've lost the whole thing - I
won't go at all,' said Master Herbie, and he put his money back in his pocket
and came running home with the perspiration just rolling down under his hat.
'There'll be other shows,' he told me, stiffly.
"We used to sell some of our milk. Herbie was always
worried about what Mrs. Hesser got. He'd always give her a quart and then
some. Our girl Betty would say, 'A quart is a quart and that is enough.'
But a quart didn't fill the pan Mrs. Hesser had set out, and away Herbie
would go, carrying some more over. That was just like my father -
everything must be well supplied and generous. Father was uneasy if he
didn't do his part, and that was way with Herbie.
"I never knew a family with a number of children where
there wasn't some bickering. Children, like other people, have to have
their ups and downs. Charlie used to aggravate Lizzie, and Lizzie used to
worry Gus. Lizzie doted on Frank, and was good to Herbert, and adored
Will. Frank and Herbert were really devoted to each other, but they had
their quarrels, too. Once Gus put a log of cordwood lengthwise in the bed
where they slept. 'To keep you apart!' he told them severely, when they
complained. The next night he found it laid crosswise, under the sheet, in
his own bed.
"Frank used to tease Herbert by calling him 'Mr. Trill.'
Herbie loved to whistle and he did it better than anybody I ever heard.
It was just like the birds themselves. And his whistling to a song
was like a violin accompaniment. Why he should have minded being called
'Mr. Trill' I don't know, but it was a sure way to make him flare up. Dan'l
used to scold Frank for getting among his tools. 'Call him Mr. Tinker-Tonker,'
advised Hedel Schultz, always Herbie's friend. 'That will cure him!'
And sure enough, it did.
"The two boys used to sleep, when they were small, in the
little room adjoining ours. Through the open door one night, Dan'l and I
saw Frank on his knees saying his prayers and Herbie standing over him, saying
severely: 'Frank, while you're praying, I just wish you'd ask the Lord to
make you treat me a little better!'
Like Will, Herbert had an ear for music; but he didn't
appear at all interested in learning to play by note. As soon as he could
reach the piano he was picking out tunes. He had a few music lessons.
But when he had heard his teacher play a piece once - while he perhaps
stood whittling a stick - he knew it and could play it as well as she could.
'If I ever want to play, I'll just do it,' he used to say. And so he
went through childhood playing everything he heard, but learned nothing about
"There wasn't much opportunity to hear good music in Fort
Madison. But one night, when Herbert was in his teens, beginning to be a
big boy, a troupe came to town singing a comic opera - Pinafore, perhaps.
Herbert cam home about midnight with his head full of the melodies, walked
into the back parlor, sat down at the piano, and began to play the whole thing
through. He was having a beautiful time, just going it, when Dan'l woke up
out of a sweet sleep. 'What in thunder? That boy again! Waking
us up at this time o'night.' And he went hurrying downstairs to put a stop
to it, I felt so sorry for Herbie. But what could I do? Can't you
just see them? Dan'l all het up, standing there in his nightshirt and bare
legs, - my turkey-red stitching all down the front of his shirt and across the
pocket, - and Herbie, blinking at his father without an idea why Dan'l should be
"Herbert was always very intense about anything he did,
very persistent, especially about any kind of task or problem that was
mechanical or mathematical or had to be puzzled out. It seemed as if he
just never would give up trying until he'd got a thing to running smoothly or
until he 'had the answer.' He seemed fascinated by every kind of a
machine. I remember that when he was just a baby he used to insist on
climbing up in Lizzie's lap to watch her at the sewing machine. She was
afraid he'd get hurt, and naturally his presence didn't facilitate the work.
'Oh, Herbie,' she finally said, impatiently, 'you bother me so, and I'm
trying to make you some nice dresses. You're just naked!' 'What's
the matter with these aprons?' he asked. 'They're good enough.
I want to see the 'sheen!'
"Once, after he had started school, but was still just a
little fellow, he came in late for dinner. 'Herbie, it's almost time to go
back to school again. Why are you so late?' 'Can't help it,' he
answered. 'I heard a woman near the school say her sewing machine wouldn't
run, so I stopped to fix it for her.' 'You!' 'Why, yes! I've
got it so it runs fine, too.' He ran mine to good purpose often,
especially when I wasn't well. I still have a petticoat he tucked for me;
and when he was about fifteen he made up several nightgowns on the machine for
"There wasn't a clock or a lock or a piece of mechanism
about the house that he didn't have a part and put together again, to its own
improvement. I lay down on the sofa, one afternoon, while he was playing
the piano. When I awakened, he had the whole works out on the floor.
'Why, Herbie, what will your father say?' 'Never mind what he says.
I'll get it together again and it'll sound better than ever.' And it
"Herbie always used to take great interest in my getting
things just right. He was very proud of a fine little overcoat I had made
him out of his father's old one. It was beautiful. At that
time, too, it was the fashion for clerks in stores to wear knit coats. Gus
had one which he had discarded. I took it apart, stitch by stitch, and
made it fit Herbie. Mrs. Angier admired it and asked Herbert where his
mother bought it, because she'd like a coat like that for her Benny. 'Oh,
Mother made it out of Gus's old one,' he bragged to Mrs. Angier. 'She
saves all our old clothes and makes new ones out of them.'
"Indeed, I always took pride in making things nice. So
they'd bear the most careful inspection! I took pride in seeing him have
the same pride. I made him some leggings once that were equal to
anybody's. I put a paper up to his leg and cut out a pattern. I made
the leggings of a heavy dark gray pants' cloth; lined them with fine blue
flannel. I wanted them so he could go in the snow and not get wet; so when
I had finished the sewing - with buttons all along the outside - I sent Lizzie
to a German shoemaker to have soles attached. 'Where your mother get her
pattern?' asked the man. 'Ach, nein! no woman ever cut that out
without a pattern.'
"Herbert was the most prayerful of all my sons,"
continued Grandmother Brown with an apparent change of subject. "It
was part of his persistence, I guess."
"Oh, really!" I exclaimed. "Well, if
he went in for praying, I know he'd do it hard, carrying the thing through with
the Lord if he could."
"Gus came home from St. Louis with the typhoid fever,"
said Grandmother. "He was ill for weeks and weeks. I nursed him
myself. It was a terrible time for us. One day the doctor said to
me: 'I've done all I can for your son, Mrs. Brown. I cannot give you
any hope.' Herbie was in the big closet off the bedroom, while the doctor
was there. He had heard our conversation. When the doctor had gone,
he came to me and said: 'Wipe your tears away, Mother. I've prayed
to God. There in the closet. Gus will get well.'
"He was a strong believer in prayer when he was a little
boy. Did I ever tell you how he got his pony? No? Well, there
was a man named McCutcheon who used to work for Dan'l, selling sewing machines.
Dan'l had added to his bookstore and picture-framing establishment an
agency for the Domestic sewing machines. McCutcheon drove around the
country with a cart and a couple of ponies selling machines for Dan'l. In
the final settlement between the two Dan'l was left with the ponies on his
hands. One of them was a very fine little creature, - we called her just
Pony, - but the other, named Bronco, was much inferior - a mustang with an ugly
disposition. Dan'l tried hard to sell the ponies and get his money out of
the deal. But Herbie had set his heart on having Pony for himself. His
father wouldn't listen to him; said he couldn't afford to lose the sale;
couldn't afford to keep a riding horse for Herbert, anyway. But Herbert
never gave up hope, and he prayed steadily.
"One night Dan'l came home, saying, 'Well, I sold the
ponies to-day.' 'Don't tell Herbie until morning,' I begged him. 'It
will spoil his night's sleep.' The next morning I went through his room
before he was up, and said to him, 'Father sold the ponies yesterday, Herbie.'
'Then I'll have to pray some more,' he said, and down he flopped on his
knees. The man who had agreed to buy the ponies backed out at the last and
refused to take them. 'See?' said Herbie. 'I prayed.' But
still Dan'l wouldn't listen to his pleading. He decided to send the ponies
down to Charlie's for pasturage. Herbert took them, riding one and leading
the other. It was a distance of about thirty miles. I felt a little
anxious about letting him go alone, but the pony he rode was gentle, Herbert was
a good rider, and was familiar with the road. He got the ponies there
safely and came home again. He went on praying. He had only been
home a few days when, one morning, came a telegram from Charlie saying that
Bronco had been struck by lightning. Herbert's excitement was intense.
'There, Father, you said that if anything happened Bronco I could have
Pony.' And so Dan'l gave in at last. I guess he thought it was
useless to hold out any longer, if the Lord was on Herbie's side.
"At first, Pony couldn't drive single. One morning,
when Dan'l and I were eating breakfast, I looked out of the window and said to
Dan'l: 'Look there, will you? That is a triumph for Herbie! Tom
teaching Pony to drive single!'
"This Tom, a neighbor of ours, was a middle-aged man with
some admirable traits of character, but cursed, too, with a fearful temper,
which he vented, at times, on any poor animal that might be about. One
day, when Herbert was in the valley and Frank in the barn milking the cow, they
heard Tom beating his horse. Herbie called out: 'I wish someone
would kick you behind, sir - kick you till your nose bled.' My, just think
how hard anybody'd have to kick to do that! Wouldn't that take a lot of
kicking? Naturally, Tom was angry. 'Em, hold this horse,' he called
to his wife, a nice, gentle woman whom everybody liked. Herbie rushed
through the barn where Frank was milking, shouting, 'Tom's after me.' 'That
boy, damn him!' cried Tom to Frank. 'I'll tell your father of his
impudence.' 'Well, sir,' answered Frank, very deliberately, getting up
from his milking stool, 'I don't think you'll get much sympathy from Father.
We all think that you are cruel to your horses.' Tom went home.
And there, a few days later, I looked out of my window and saw him
teaching Herbie's pony to drive single!
"How much that pony meant to Herbert all the years he was
"He was an excellent source of discipline, I know,"
said Herbert, "as anything is that one has to take care of. I
remember that one night Father said to me, 'Did you have a drink of water
to-day?' 'Why, yes,' I answered in surprise. 'Well, your pony did
n't. I found her bucket dry. If that happens again, young man
"I don't imagine it did happen again," said
Grandmother Brown. "I know that Herbert kept Pony's coat like satin,
her stall like a lady's bedchamber. We got a little phaeton, and he used
to drive me about town. His one grief in connection with Pony was
that I would not let him take her out on Sunday."
"I 'm afraid you were too pious in those days,
Grandmother," said I.
"She was," declared Lizzie, "but, just the same,
she did n't want me to be a Crusader."
"What was that?"
"Did n't you ever hear of the crusade against strong drink
that was started in Ohio by women who went around to the saloons praying? It
was the beginning of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union."
"Oh, yes. Tell me about it."
"We 'd been having a series of revivals here in Fort
Madison. They wound up with a Temperance Crusade, a union-meeting affair
including women of different denominations. They went from one saloon to
another praying and singing. The older women did the praying, the girls
the singing. This went on for about two months. About twenty-five
women were in the band that visited the forty-two saloons. They did n't go
every day, but very frequently.
"Father came home from the store, one day, and found Mother
and me arguing about it. Mrs. Angier wanted me to join the band. She
was the doctor's wife, a wonderful woman, Mother's friend. 'A good
counselor,' Mother always called her. I was much surprised when Mother did
n't approve of her suggestion. She said it was casting pearls before
swine. But Father said: 'You can't stand straddle of the fence!
It's come to the point where you have to show your hand in this town.
If she's any girl of mine, she 'll go.' I fairly shouted.
"We met at the Presbyterian church. We went first to
Billy Pranger's saloon down on Front Street. He was alone. Even the
barkeeper was not there. We prayed and sang. Missouri Spatch and I
led the singing. We were big strong schoolgirls with big loud voices.
Like calliopes. He told us that he did n't like the saloon business;
indeed, he later went into the livery-stable business. Then we went to
Charley Froebel's saloon. That was filled with the toughs of the town.
They stood around in a circle drinking. When Mrs. Coleman knelt to
pray, somebody threw a beer glass at her. John Atlee, Father, Gus, and
other friends had been following us from place to place. John Atlee caught
the beer glass, so that it did n't hurt her. Then the toughs tried to rush
us, football fashion, but our men protected us. Some of the boys started a
hymn, 'Revive us again.' We took it up, and, believe me, we did sing.
People pressing. The street was crowded. Extra police were
called out. It was very thrilling. We girls took it as a lark; but I
was really very earnest.
"The Crusade lasted from the latter part of January until
sometime in April. As a result, ten or fifteen saloons went out of
business. That was cultivating public sentiment. A few years later,
Murphy lectured here and started the Red Ribbon Movement. Everybody who
signed the pledge wore a red ribbon.
"Temperance societies were started in the Sunday schools.
We used to sing: -
" ' Wine is a mocker
Strong drink is raging
Whosoever is deceived thereby
Is not wise.'
"I remember how old Judge Beck would come in with the bass
- Judge Beck, who, Gus said, was 'the right foreleg' and Father 'the main hind
leg' of the Baptist Church: -
"For it biteth like a ser-r-rpent
And stingeth like an adder."
"Grandfather Brown's animosity to alcohol did n't extend to
tobacco, did it?" I queried. "Not, at least, when I knew
"Unfortunately not," answered Grandmother Brown.
"He never smoked much, but he liked a little quid. He
grew up in an age of chewing and spitting. It seems as if habits follow
fashions. Now, in colonial days - my grandfather's youth - it was the
fashion to take snuff."
"Yes, even the women did it," I reminded her.
"Dolly Madison, the President's wife, used to carry a specially big
hanky to sneeze into, besides her tiny lace one for show."
"And in my girlhood," went on Grandmother Brown,
"all the men chewed and some of the old women smoked corncob pipes. Nowadays,
everybody is smoking the filthy cigarette. Even the young girls. I
never knew that Dan'l chewed tobacco until we left the Van Vorhes house after
our wedding to drive to Amesville. He handed me the lines to hold while he
took out a paper with quid tobacco all cut up in it. 'Why, Dan'l Brown!'
I said. 'I did n't know you chewed tobacco - I thought I 'd found a
man without a single fault. And here you chew tobacco!' "
"Why, Father's folks raised tobacco on their
farm," observed Herbert. "I remember hearing him tell of how
sick he got the first time he tried to smoke. He was just a little boy and
thought it would be smart, one day when his mother was away to twist tobacco
leaves into a roll and smoke them. He made the experiment in a little
outhouse adjoining the kitchen, where his sisters were ironing. He blew
the smoke in through the keyhole and laughed to see the girls cough and wonder
where the smoke came from. But suddenly he felt very sick, and then they
opened the door and had the laugh on him."
"Probably his mother would n't have worried much if she had
been there." commented Will. "I know that she smoked a pipe
herself, both she and her sister, Aunt Betsy Dickey. Perhaps it was part
of her advanced ideas to smoke like a man! Anyway, smoking was common
practice among elderly women of the pioneer strain."
"No tobacco for me!" declared Grandmother Brown,
"Snuffing, chewing, smoking - I think ill of it all. I have always
felt about tobacco just the way your Constance felt. Once, when she was
visiting us and Dan'l was about to kiss her as he left for the store, she said:
'Hold down here, Grandpa. Not a place I can kiss but on your
"I suppose tobacco chewing did n't seem so much out of
place then as it would now," I ventured. "I fancy most of the
Fort Madison gentlemen of the seventies had their little quid."
"Indeed, they did," asserted Grandmother Brown.
"Nothing about Fort Madison society was particularly
elegant in those days. but it was no worse than the other river towns.
There was a rough life everywhere along the river fronts. Liquor was
plentiful, and that coarsens life on water or land. I tell you there isn't
anything to destroy the comfort and happiness of life like whiskey. No one
thing in the world ever did so much harm."
"I suppose the river life had its picturesque side,"
I remarked. "The rivers of those times bore the traffic that
the railroads and the automobile roads now bear. It was a phase in this
country's development that will probably never come again. I fancy that
the bosom of the Mississippi looked quite different then."
"Yes, it did," said Lizzie. "After I was
married I went up and down the river between La Crosse and St. Louis a good many
times. My husband, Church, worked for a firm that had a fleet of raft
boats on the river, and he used to take me with him until the children came and
kept me at home.
"It was interesting to watch the river life. There
were sawmills in all the big towns along the Mississippi - in Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Iowa. McDonald Brothers of La Crosse, for instance, had a fleet
of raft boars bringing down rafts to points all along the river where there were
mills that sawed the logs into lumber. Here at Fort Madison, for instance,
were the Atlees getting rich with such a mill, and at Burlington the Rands and
Hedges. Knapp, Stout, and Company also started a sawmill here about ten
years after we moved to Fort Madison, and they sent Will up from St. Louis to
have charge of it."
"When Knapp, Stout, and Company sent a raft down from the
pineries," interrupted Grandmother Brown, "Mr. Knapp wouldn't allow it
to be moved on Sunday. It had to be tied up from Saturday night until
Monday morning. He got to be worth millions, too."
"You couldn't be an hour on the river," continued
Lizzie, "without meeting a steamboat pushing a raft ahead of it - some of
them, say, two hundred feet long. The woodsmen used to go into the
pineries up north during the winter months, cut down the trees, roll the logs to
the nearest creeks, float them down to the main stream when the spring freshets
came. They bound the logs together in rafts, floating them endways down
the river, using cross logs for binding with logs arranged in cribs at the front
of the raft. The logs between were laid in loose, but the men who worked
on the raft learned to run over them like squirrels - without a mishap. When
they wanted to turn the raft, they would wind the lines around a big spool that
was called 'the nigger.' One of the engineers was the 'nigger runner' and
kept the raft in the channel. When they wanted to tie up, they made the
raft fast to what was called 'the snubbin post.' All sorts of things could
happen coming down the river on a raft boat - collisions, explosions, mutinies.
One never knew!"
"I fancy that there was more life and stir throughout the
whole valley in those days," I ventured, "than there is
to-day. Wasn't there?"
"I think so," answered Grandmother Brown. "I
know that there were many tramps going about the country. They came to our
back doors asking for food, sometimes for work. And there were thieves
abroad, too. This house has been burglarized pretty often while we slept.
But the worst time was when I distinctly heard them coming, and nudged
Dan'l to tell him that someone was in the house and creaking up the stairs.
He jumped out of bed and grabbed the knob of the door just as the burglar
on the other side of the door seized it. There was a horrible banging and
scuffling, and I nearly died of fright, because Herbie, who was just a little
boy, was asleep in the room across the hall and, roused by the noise, rushed out
there, bumped into the burglar, and, naturally, screamed. I was afraid he
would be killed. Fortunately, the man turned and threw himself clattering
down the stairs. While Dan'l made a light and looked around, Herbie crept
trembling into bed with me. It was all pretty dreadful.
"Several times the town was greatly excited over the escape
of prisoners from the State Penitentiary at the end of the street. Fort
Madison itself was said to have sent the fewest number of convicts to the
penitentiary of any town in Iowa. But at that time there were a number of
very desperate characters in the penitentiary - men like Poke Wells, for
instance, who had been a member of the famous Jesse James band of Missouri, I
believe. Such men didn't care to stay in jail if they could help it, and
did desperate things to get out. Now prisoners are treated so well that
I've heard they sometimes contrive to go back, because they'd rather live there
than outside. Peopl'es natures are so different! In those days, the
townspeople used to visit the prison church and Sunday school frequently. Everybody
knew Poke Wells and other notorious characters - by sight at least. Later
Poke drugged and killed one of the prison guards whom everybody knew here -
little Jimmy Elder. He and three other convicts that did it got away at
first, but were recaptured and brought back."
"Yes, we had plenty of excitement in those days," said
Grandmother Brown. "Crusades, revivals, burglaries, escapes from
prison! Something going on all the time."
"If I remember correctly," I said to Grandmother
Brown, "the times were good out here in our Mississippi Valley during the
eighties. The West was booming. Many of the boys about here were
restless to be off to Kansas City, Wichita, Denver."
"Yes, my boys too," she answered. "Dan'l
had sold the store and, in association with other business men, had erected a
paper mill here in Fort Madison. They made Gus superintendent, but there
wasn't room for any more of the Brown family in that enterprise. I watched
anxiously to see what prospects in life might be developed for Frank and
"Now you know that Dan'l and I had never agreed on the
subject of educating our children. I saw that they were always striving to
improve, and, as long as that was so, I believed they should be helped. I
had been rebellious all the time the older children were growing up that they
had had so little opportunity to go to school. After we moved to town, my
heart was set on the idea that the two little boys should have every educational
advantage that the others had lacked. For a time I had reason to believe
that Dan'l would do as I wished. They were such good boys, so faithful in
school, so well thought of by everybody, such a comfort to me at home! But
Dan'l seemed honestly to believe that he was doing them a good turn when he made
them go to work at an early age. Just as if they hadn't always - even when
in school - done their share of work! Frank sold papers when he was only a
tiny boy, and went every summer down on the farm to do his share of labor there.
They milked the cow and peddled the milk and cut the grass and hoed the
garden and cut the wood and did every chore about the place. If ever they
coveted any special thing that boys delight in, they expected to pay for it.
I ache when I think of how Herbie begged and begged for an express wagon
and how, after he had it, he trudged many miles delivering books and wall paper
and picture frames with it. The same way with Pony! I think how he
used to hitch a snowplough to her every winter and clear our streets.
"I wanted our boys to finish the High School and be sent to
college. I thought Dan'l could afford it. But, no, they must be put
to work! Oh, oh, oh! And so, when Frank was in the eighth grade,
Dan'l arranged to have him go to work for a paper hanger.
"The idea!" Grandmother Brown's scorn is at
white heat whenever she mentions this episode. "The very idea! Just
as though any son of mine would be content to go through life a paper hanger.
Oh, how blind Dan'l was! At one time he had encouraged Will to be a
fireman on the railroad. He had tried to have Charlie be a blacksmith.
And now he wanted Frank to be a paper hanger! He talked about the
advantage of having a 'trade'!
"For a while the boy couldn't help himself. And so he
trotted around, unhappily, with a pail of paste, when he should have been in
school. But he began, after a while, to study stenography - which was
rather a new thing then. He was always studying something.
"It was the same way with Herbert. He was in the High
School for a time, but wasn't allowed to remain there long. He was sent to
work at the sawmill, carrying lumber. I had not words enough then to
express my indignation, nor have I now. Oh, Father came to regret his
course, but he was obstinate enough at the time. I remember that Herbie
earned all of three dollars a week at that mill when he should have been at
school, - three dollars! - and once when we were away, Dan'l and I, he paid out
those same three dollars a week for his board.
"It wasn't that Dan'l didn't think the boys had ability.
He did. He sent Herbert for awhile to the business college which
Nelson Johnson started here. He fancied that he was disciplining them in a
way to bring out their ability and make good business men of them. He
thought me incompetent to judge of men and the business world. He talked a
lot about self-made men. And then, he was trying, at the time, to get
control of the paper mill, and he thought he needed all the money he had for
"Naturally, the boys broke aways as soon as they could.
The opportunities in the booming towns of the West were well advertised
among us. But, although I was not one bit reconciled to the programme my
boys had to follow, you mustn't think that the atmosphere about here was
especially blue in those days. We had many good times, especially during
the seven years when Sister Kate's daughter, Jennie, lived with us. Jennie was
dainty and pretty and loved to sing."
"There was always plenty of joking and singing and
carrying-on, whenever Gus was at home," remarked Lizzie. "You
know one of our family pleasures always was to sing. At another reunion, I
wish we could get together and sing as we used to do. You remember how we
used to sit around the base burner out in the hall, Mother, and sing and sing on
winter nights. Negro spirituals: Don't you remember 'These Bones
Shall Rise Again' and Gus's favorite, "Go down Moses': -
"Way down in Egypt land
Tell old Pharaoh
Let my people go!
Gus could sing exactly like an old darky uncle."
"Why, he can yet," said Grandmother Brown. "He
busted out once last fall. I rolled my chair out into the upper hall and
called to him: 'That sounds mighty good to me. Keep it up.'
"Well, Jennie went, after a while, to Kansas City, where
she met her Charl and began living happily ever after. And when he had
mastered his stenography, Frank went to Kansas City also, found employment in a
bank, and prospered.
"Lizzie and Gus were both married now and in homes of their
own. Will and Charlie had been married a long time. Only Herbert was
left me. And he began to talk of going to Kansas City, too. Frank,
who had always looked out for Herbie and shared everything with him, wrote to
encourage him and urge him to prepare himself to take a place in a business
office. And so Herbert began to pore over Isaac Pitman's pothooks, too.
"One morning - it was the fifth day of May, 1888 - he went
away. He was just a little past eighteen years old - my last baby. I
stood at the door to watch him go down the street. I cannot tell you how I
felt. It was a lovely spring morning, but I felt as if the end of the
world had come. No children in my home any more! The last one going
from me. Oh, oh, oh! And yet I would not have held him back!"