The History of Keokuk County, Iowa



Traveling, last summer, through the Western counties of Iowa, and one day becoming somewhat weary, I put up, a short time before night, at the principal inn of a little town which for the present incident I shall call Cambridge. Supper not yet being ready, and finding my hotel somewhat deserted, I concluded to take a stroll through the village, and, seeing quite a crowd collected about a common covered wagon which stood in the direction I had taken, I soon mingled among them, hoping to gain some information, or, perchance, to see some familiar face. My acquaintance, however, did not embrace any of the crowd, though I cannot say I did not receive some information.

The wagon contained two men: one a regular-looking, out-and-out frontiersman; the other a merry son of Erin, who seemed to enjoy everything and rejoiced that he lived, which perhaps was the result of himself and his companion being fully "half-seas over."

They were on their way, or rather intended to proceed, to the land-office at Fairfield to secure the title to some government land, and, as is sometimes the case with men in their condition, were very independent citizens: plenty of money, whisky, good span of horses and a wagon, they felt themselves a little above the ordinary, and of course only condescended to hear what some of the crowd had to communicate to them.

It seems, as I learned from a good-natured Hoosier, and a clever fellow (I always stick to first impressions), who stood looking on, that the team had then and there been stopped by the good citizens to "argue the question," as Jack Easy has it, as to the propriety of their entering the certain tract of land for which purpose they had started, upon the ground that the "claim" belonged to another person.

Through the influence of this other person, the citizens generally had given judgment in his favor; and if Judge Lynch was not presiding, it was because the "committee" were not present to order summary justice to be done, all governments, I believe, taking measures to prevent the commission of offenses as well as to punish the offender.

Our teamsters were quietly requested to return and abandon their purpose, expostulated with, and even threatened with subsequent punishment if they persisted in and accomplished their designs, but all to no purpose; go they would, and as yet they had done nothing more than declare their intention, it was deemed sufficient to administer to them but light specimens of retributive justice.

Accordingly, some half-dozen began quite a pleasant conversation with our patrons of the liquor-dealer at the front end of the wagon, while the hinder wheels, through the quiet efforts of some half-dozen more, were undergoing the process of losing their linch-pins.

This being accomplished, they were permitted to proceed in the even tenor of their way.

Nature seems, and wisely too, to have constituted all men differently, and, allowing the "claim-jumpers" to have been "tenants in common" and alike partakers in the contents of the jug, the effect produced upon them fully justified that, even in this case, there was no exception to the rule,—the one being in his opinion much more intelligent, wealthy, generous and capable than the other, and in consequence of thus being the tighter, as a matter of course insisting in his ability, took command of the team, and they thus proceeded on their "winding way," anxiously watched by a number of urchins and "big boys" to witness their discomfiture.

Now it so chanced that when they had driven about a mile the horses seemed inclined to take a right-hand road which diverged from the right one, slightly at first, but finally led off and was lost in the bottom timber, such as is very common in that region, and which more than once betrayed me, ere I knew it, into a settlement of stumps.

They proceeded on their wood-road out of sight without any disaster, much to the chagrin of many of the watchers, and after a short walk I returned to the hotel.

About sunset my attention was arrested by a shout of boys, and, stepping to the door, I discovered, in the same direction it had come in the afternoon, the wagon—minus, however, both hinder wheels, by reason of which the axles were doing ample justice in the moist earth.

The wagon being again surrounded, the soberer inmate recognized a face among the crowd.

“Hallo, Young," said he, "is that you?"

"Aye, aye," replied Young.

"How long have you been here?"

"Do you mean since I came here?"

"Thunder! yes."

"About three years."

"Thunder, Young! you needn't think I am drunk. Didn't I see you in Cambridge to-day?"

"You did. I think you must have made a quick trip to Fairfield."

"To Fairfield! Why, Young, you must be drunk. Ain't we in Fairfield?"

"Fairfield! No, sir; you are in Cambridge."

"Cambridge—the devil! Why, Young, you know there's no hillside like this in Cambridge—no, siree! I'm not that drunk yet, Young."

"Indeed, sir," said Young, "your hind wheels are gone; you are on the level ground—it's only your wagon-bed."

"Oh, Young, don't be trying to fool a feller this way? That cuss didn't get you to come here to keep us from entering that land?"

"Just stick your head outside your wagon-cover and satisfy yourself where you are," replied Mr. Young.

Crawling up to the end-gate and taking a view, he began to realize the truth, drunk as he was, that they had only been winding about through the timber, and were no further advanced now than in the middle of the afternoon.

Turning to his companion, "Patrick!" shouted he, "we've played the devil! Here we are in Cambridge yet, and the hind-wheels gone—stir up here!"

Patrick, however, who had some time before released the reins, was close bordering on dreamland, and only muttered out to " dhrive on, and don't be a-jawin' thravelers."

Patrick's companion, finding himself called upon to exercise some judgment to extricate themselves, signified his intention to return on the track of his axles in search of his wheels.

Sundry remarks from the crowd, that they, the men of the two-wheeled wagon, were puppies, dogs, cowards, etc., had the effect of bringing Patrick's companion on terra firma, and there, divesting himself of coat and vest, very unsolemnly made oath that he could whip any man that said such things of them, and thereupon elevating both feet from the ground at the same time, made an effort to smack his feet together."

Finding that no one would brave the danger of making any of the charges to his face, he gathered his apparel and started in search of his wheels.

Tracing in the dust, and by the aid of a friendly moon till he could no longer observe the marks, he set about a search for the wheels, and after a fruitless search of an hour or more returned to town to find his wagon upset, and Patrick still in it and occupying the bows for a pillow; he seemed, however, to be slightly opposed to the inverse plan of bedding, for on the reappearance of his companion with a "Hallo, Patrick," he only stammered out something about a "long trip" and "rough roads."

The truth is that when some of the boys found that the wheels were to be looked for they made a forced march, found the wheels and hid them away in the grass so that a sober man, in day time, would have been excused for not finding them.

To cut short the facts of the incident, for facts they are, the two teamsters were taken to a convenient branch and there threatened with immediate immersion if they did not renounce their intentions, which they unhesitatingly did. Patrick, however, was scarcely responsible for his promise on the occasion, even taking the duress out of the question, for on going to the branch on which he required a "right and left scene supporter" he complained that there was a "divilish crowd wanten land."

Having, however, obtained their solemn promise not to meddle with the "claim" they were conducted to my hotel and provided with comfortable quarters.

Next morning they were duly sober, wagon top undermost, two wheels gone, horses missing and jug broken.

The same men who but yesterday had helped to do all this now assisted to restore everything that could be done by them, and the horses having strayed home the real owner of the claim who had been "about" all the time, actually lent them his horse and procured another from mine host, who, by the way, took no small part in effecting a reconciliation of the parties. They rigged again their team, and claim-owner and claim-jumpers, side by side, started to their several homes.

Transcribed by Pat Wahl. Thank you, Pat!


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