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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




No store or mill was within fifty, or perhaps a hundred miles, for many early Iowa pioneer families.  They could not have to eat what we have today.  Indeed, they thought they were well off if they had enough of the very plainest foods for their large families.


The first thing that an Iowa pioneer family did after choosing a site for the new home was to mark off a "claim."  Until a settler could buy the land from the Government and get a deed for it, his and was called a "claim."  The settlers measured their land by "stepping it off."  They marked it with stakes or, if it was timbered land, by blazing trees along the lines of the claim.

As soon as the land was marked off, the first crop was planted.  Sometimes the settlers came too late in the spring to plant corn and wheat.  A "truck patch," as it was called, of potatoes, turnips, and a few other vegetables, was planted.

Corn was the first regular crop.  The roots of the cornstalk, it was believed, loosened the soil better than the roots of any other plant.  Thus the land was put in shape for other plants.  Only a few acres could be cleared on timbered land for planting the first season.  Each year, however, the farmer tried to clear a few more acres and have them ready for planting for the next season.

The first year was usually the hardest.  The crop was small.  The flour or meal that the pioneer had brought with him often gave out before the first winter was over.  There was one thing they could do to get food.  Wild game was plentiful.  As long as their ammunition lasted they could get plenty of meat although there might be very little bread.


The pioneers brought but little farm machinery.  A plow, a shovel or a spade, and a hoe were about all they brought.  They did not have room for more in the covered wagon.  Often they used their axes to chop holes in the ground in which to plant their first crop of corn.

Many of the plows that they brought from the East were too light and too weak for use in Iowa.  It took a big strong plow and from four to six yoke of oxen to turn over the tough prairie sod for the first time.


What a task it was to harvest the crop!  Only the simplest tools were used.  The idea of a corn-picking machine would have seemed ridiculous then.  The corn, stalk and all, was stored in the barn.  Later a "husking bee" was held.  The neighbors came to help.  Games were played and, if a "fiddler" could be found, a dance was held.

Major Byers in his poem on "Iowa Pioneers" says,

"The husking corn, where many a bright eye shone---

The kiss to him who found the lucky ear."


Binders and threshing machines were unknown.  The grain was cut with a "cradle."  The cradle was like a scythe with several long wooden fingers attached to it.  These fingers held the grain together in a bunch after it was cut.  The grain was then tied into bundles by hand.

To thresh the grain, a small plot of ground was cleared and the earth pounded down hard.  The sheaves or bundles of grain were laid in a circle upon this plot of ground.  The sheaves were unbound.  Then horses or oxen were driven around and around on this circle of bundles until the grain was well trodden out.  Another layer of bundles was then put on the first one and the horses or oxen were driven around again.  After the grain had been trodden out of several layers of bundles the straw was raked off and the grain heaped up.

After the grain was partly threshed in this way it had to be separated from the chaff.  Windy days were best for this.  The grain was poured slowly from one pan or box to another so that the wind could blow away the chaff.  This was done a number of times.  When there was no wind a sheet was waved to make a breeze.

Some of the grain had to be ground into flour.  Only small and simple mills were to be found, and they were often far away.  Sometimes the pioneers ground the grain into meal themselves.  They would grate it over a rough iron surface, or they might pound it into meal in a stump that had been hollowed out by burning a hole in it.


The early farmers put up much wild hay.  Their stock needed it for the long, hard winters.  The hay was cut with a scythe and  raked over by hand to dry.  When it was ready to store away it was piled in a stack beside the barn.

The pioneers depended, for much of their food, upon the things that nature gave them.  Bees were common in the woods of Iowa.  One man tells us that when he was a boy his father and neighbors gathered honey from twenty trees and stored it in a barrel.  The honey was used in place of sugar.

Hunting in early days was not just a sport.  It furnished most of the meat for winter.  While the buffalo had moved farther west, ahead of the settler, deer, bear, and smaller game were still plentiful.

The pioneer's life was hard but most of the people were healthy and happy


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