IAGenWeb Project

Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



Grandmother Brown's Hundred Years




"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 run forever.

"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 still am.

"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 like that.

"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 made!

"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 town.

"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 music.

"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 so indignant.

"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 me.

"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 did.

"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 growing up!"

"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 him."

"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 forehead!' "

"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 Herbert.

"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 that.

"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!"


back to History Index