By Mrs. T. E. Bradley

In looking back over a period of thirty-two years of life in Lyon County, there comes mingled with the grief and sorrow, privations and hardships, many sunny spots which will ever remain vividly impressed on the tablets of memory.  And after so many years have passed and I attempt to write down these memories, it is the funny things which come thronging for recognition first.  Time softens grief and sorrow, but the pleasant experiences and amusing incidents make a more lasting impression.  Were it not so, this world would become a dreary wilderness from which we would willingly seek release.  With all our privations and hardships we also had our peculiar joys, and our early experience in Lyon County only goes to prove that after all happiness is pretty evenly distributed the world over. 

While the day laborer is worrying over the support of his little ones, the millionaire is worrying because he has no children of his own to support, or because his investments are not bringing him as much as he hoped they would, and as the years roll on we are beginning to find out that there is also less difference between the saint and the sinner.  Much of the difference being accounted for by heredity, environment, or early training, and we know that an all wise Father will take all of these things into consideration and judge everyone accordingly.

The privations, which we had to endure in an early day, were often the source of much amusement, some of which I will try to record.  The deep snow and storms in winter, the swollen streams and muddy roads in summer, often delayed the freight trains for days after they were due, our supplies all having to be freighted from LeMars and Sioux City.  These delays often found us without such common necessities as salt, soda and sugar.

On one such occasion the neighbors had all been invited to share a feast of venison, which had been bought of an Indian trapper, with the expectation of the arrival of the freight teams early in the afternoon with all the needed supplies.  The feast was being prepared when it was found that there was no salt in the house to season the meat and vegetables, so a boy was sent on horseback to a distant neighbor to procure some.  He soon arrived and the feast was '‘seasoned.”  The guests were seated and generously served to meat and vegetables, but alas! a look of disappointment and misery was seen on the faces of all that had partaken.  Finally one brave fellow broke for the door, exclaiming, “Excuse me, please, I don’t believe I am very hungry.”  He was soon followed by the whole company.  The boy was called in and questioned, which disclosed the fact that he had asked for “salts” instead of salt, and evidently gotten what he asked for.  When we had sufficiently recovered we managed to make out a square meal on cheese, crackers and tea.

On another occasion the preacher and his family were invited among other guests to a feast with the expectations of the freight teams bringing sugar, meat and other groceries.  The teams were stuck in a slough many miles away and we had gooseberry pie without sugar, no meat, and coffee sweetened with Orleans molasses.  The preacher when asking the blessing, said, “Lord, we thank thee for what thy bounty has granted, and may we look forward with an eye of faith to the future, hoping that the light afflictions may work out for us a far more eternal weight of glory.”

Pathetic as it was at times, many amusing incidents could be written, of the time when the grasshoppers were here, which lasted for three years.  The pioneers sowed each year with the hope that they would not return, but again and again they were doomed to disappointment.  They took everything before them, and had it not been for the timely aid of friends in Sioux City and other large places in furnishing seed wheat and other garden seeds the farmers would have been obliged to give up and move away, indeed some had to stay, for they did not have enough to get away with.  Those who stayed and kept their land are now among the most wealthy and prosperous farmers in Lyon County.  One fellow having a fine cabbage patch, which his thrifty wife had raised, said, “It is all nonsense to allow the hoppers to eat up all the garden ‘stuff’.  Why don’t they cover them over with slough hay so they can’t find them?”—which he very promptly proceeded to do, with a knowing twinkle in his eye and visions of sauerkraut and boiled dinners looming up before him.  Then confidently waited results, hoping to show his neighbors what ingenuity, thrift and industry would do.  Imagine his consternation and disappointment upon uncovering them after the hoppers had left, to find only a few stumps remaining to show where they had been.

Previous to this time churches had been organized and the home missionary of various denominations was amongst us, to be supported, and as one fellow said, while circulating a subscription for one, “They are here through no fault of ours, but if we don’t want them to get to stealing we have got to feed them.”  With the help of the annual missionary box and barrel we managed to keep soul and body together until better times.  When the contents of these boxes were distributed among them, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these preachers.  You would see a short thickset fellow with a long-tailed Prince Albert coat; the tails flapping as he proudly ascended the pulpit.  Then again you would see a tall slim fellow with a bob-tailed coat, and trousers which were evidently “cut too soon” coming inches above his shoe tops.  Then there would be the fat jolly good-natured fellow with a coat and vest that “wouldn’t go half-way round” sometimes a tall silk hat would be found and the preacher who happened to be there when the box was opened always got it.  It was sometimes too large, but his always were on hand to hold it up.  If too small it had to be stretched.  This preacher was the envy of all the others.  Then there would be boxes of women and children’s clothing for the preacher’s family.  Bonnets which for their antiquity might have belonged to Noah'’ wife, and gowns which were fearfully and wonderfully made, but the dear women adorned themselves in them and were very thankful to get them, and we were glad to have them get them, thus relieving us of much anxiety as to their comfort, especially if winter was coming on.  God'’ richest blessings on the dear New England women, who with thoughtful care, packed the missionary box.  These preachers were noted for their social characteristics and made frequent ‘pastoral visits’, and inevitably each one brought with him his wife and five or six beautiful and interesting children, at least the children made it interesting for us.  They played cars and horse with every chair in the house, even if we all had to stand up.  They scared off the setting hens and broke the eggs to see the little chickens; they threw the kittens in the well for amusement, untied the calves to ride them, and committed every other depredation that a preacher’s boy is capable of.  At mealtime they were first at the table and sometimes on top of it.  Mark Twain was once dining with a lady where the children were clamorous and ill mannered at table.  The lady said to him, “Mr. Clemens, do you believe in corporal punishment for children?”  After some moments he replied (intently eyeing one youngster who was then half way across the table) “Madam, there are occasions when I have wished I had a revolver with me.”  Who under like circumstances has not felt the same way?

Our meetings of all kinds were held in the school house lyceums, where we debated and settled all the knotty questions which tried the intellects of the greatest statesmen at Washington, and preaching from representatives from every known denomination on earth.  A Presbyterian would preach one Sunday, impressing his hearers with the doctrine of predestination and foreordination.  Then the next Sunday the Methodist preacher would preach “free will and free grace.”  Then would come a Baptist preacher and he would preach “Ye must be plunged beneath the flood or all else is of no account.”  Then would come a Universalist preacher to preach “The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and hope for his children both here and hereafter regardless of dogma or creed.  Then would appear upon the platform a disciple of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to expiate upon the reasonableness and beauty of the prophecies of some of the great Mormon apostles.  Next would come a Catholic priest to tell us of the mother church, which is the only true church on earth.

We, however, managed to live through it all, for by this time we were used to trouble.  And it is not to be wondered at if some of us got a little mixed in our religious views under such a variety of teachings.

During all these years do not flatter yourself with the idea that the office seeker and astute politician were absent from the scene, for they, as now, canvassed the country every year for votes.  They kissed all the dirty babies, praised the women’s cooking and the farmers’ cattle and made himself just as agreeable (?) as he does today.  One fellow not noted for his piety, stayed overnight with a farmer in grasshopper time who was very destitute, but with true hospitality welcomed him and gave him for his breakfast potatoes and milk gravy.  After breakfast the host proposed family prayers and after reading of the scripture asked the guest to lead in prayer, supposing from his pious air that he was a deacon of some church.  This was a new experience for him, but down on his knees he went, and concluded his prayer in this way, “Oh Lord, send to this most estimable man and his wife and children thy richest blessings.  Send them a barrel of pork, a barrel of flour, a barrel of beans, a barrel of salt and a barrel of pepper.”  Realizing his mistake in the proposition of pepper he concluded “ a little too much pepper, Lord, but send them enough any way to keep them warm through the coming winter.”  In a very early day the fleas were very numerous and at times almost drove some people out of the country.  Some of us were obliged to sleep in hammocks hung high from the floor to get any rest at night, and the school house where our meetings were held, was especially infested with them, and to listen to a long sermon was simply torture, unless we were imbued with much Christian fortitude, and utilized the torture for penance.  On one occasion when the preacher had gotten as far along as sixthly, the torture became unendurable.  First one woman would show signs of uneasiness, with misery depicted on her countenance, then another and another, until they could endure the torture no longer, and one after another went quietly out until the seats were nearly empty.  The preacher, a good natured fellow, and probably suffering himself, concluded his remarks with, “Behold the wicked flee, when no man pursueth, but the women are more brave and pursue them to the end.”  Let us conclude our services with the appropriate hymn, “Oh Where Shall Rest be Found.”

Another story is told of a Presbyterian deacon, a man remarkable for his piety and dignity, one Sunday morning starting for church a little late, arrayed in a black broadcloth long-tailed coat.  As they drove by a young calf, his wife exclaimed, “Why Mr. Il--, that calf hasn’t had his milk and he must be fed before we go.”  So back to the house he goes and got the pail of milk and set it before the hungry calf.  His belated meal caused him to plunge his head into the pail with much force, thus causing the milk to splash the deacon’s long-tailed coat and trousers from top to bottom.  He looked at the calf, then at his broadcloth, and somewhat vehemently exclaimed, “You son of perdition; If it wasn’t for the love of Jesus in my heart, I would break your d---d neck.”  This story was told by the hired man, who was hid behind the hedge whose duty it was to have fed the calf himself.

After a long cold winter of storm and blizzards how joyfully we hailed the first indications of spring.  The tender grass, the wildflowers, the return of the birds and the crowing of the prairie rooster told us that spring was here at last.  There was one thing, however, for which we longed to make our happiness complete, and that was the inevitable dish of greens which our systems seemed to demand in the spring. In our dire necessity someone to whom the honor has been variously attributed, conceived the bright idea of planting the seed of the leontedos (vulgarly called dandelion.)  They came, they multiplied, they “came to stay” and now behold them in their strength and beauty.  They turn our lawns into one brilliant flower garden, they lend grace and beauty to the wayside, their bright yellow faces greeting us on every hand.  It is true some people are so ‘unappreciative’ that they try to dig them out, but they battle every effort and still live on, until the lawn without dandelions is simply ‘not in it.’  Observation has taught us that leontodos is ever the handmaid of culture and civilization and not until reading clubs and libraries were organized did it flourish to any great extent, it never being found in a new country.  Long live the frisky little dandelion, the friend of the pioneer.

The question of good wells of water was a first quite a problem.  In many locations it was only found at great depth and then sometimes had a sulphurous odor and taste, which rendered it unfit for either man or beast to drink.  One man living near Rock Rapids had a deep well, which all at once seemed to contain some kind of mineral qualities different from all others, and which on being drank of freely, relieved the most stubborn cases of rheumatism, and many other ails of which the human family is heir to.  It was extensively used for bathing and the afflicted were coming from a distance to try its great curative qualities.  Bottles of it were kept in public places for examination, and the possessor of the well had visions of wealth and competence from the sale of the water to all who were afflicted with disease.

Preparations were being made to erect suitable buildings for a health resort.  The well was being cleaned out, when lo! and behold, among the first things thrown out was an old black cat which had been missing for a number of weeks.  The peculiar odor and medicinal qualities of the well soon faded away, and the man, much disappointed, again resumed his daily toil, his visions of wealth fading away as they came.

Another man got a pig somewhere, and as there was no corn to spare, he ‘fatted’ it on slough hay, and when he killed it he very generously distributed it nearly all amongst his neighbors, but we found it so lean that we had to send clear down to Sioux City to get lard to fry it in.

A story is told (though it sounds a little fish) of a certain man having caught some nice fish in the river, cooked them and placed them on the table, when there came up a rain storm and the roof leaked so badly that the rain flooded the table.  The fish at once imagined they were in their natural element and swam away.  The children pursued in great haste but they were not overtaken until they had reached the river and swam away.  Complaint was sometimes made that when the cows stood in the river the fish often sucked them dry and then followed them home at night.  As we kept no cow at that time, I cannot vouch for the truth of the story.

Of the days of trial and privation, caused by droughts and floods, blizzards and grasshoppers, and long severe winters, through which the early settlers struggled on and on, I leave for others to tell.  I believe, however, that Lyon County is, with it all, proving to be one of the most fertile and productive counties in the great state of Iowa.

Its people are enterprising and educated.  Its schools, its churches, and libraries equal to any, and superior to some.  Beautiful little cities have taken the place of the waving prairie grass, and we see on every hand the results of toil and industry, by an enterprising community.   Had it not been for the pluck and perseverance of the early settler the situation would have been quite the reverse.  Let us draw the veil of charity over their faults and shortcomings when we remember the adverse circumstances under which they lived, and show our gratitude today by striving to make Lyon County what it should be.


Compendium Index   |   Home

Webization by Kermit Kittleson - Aug. 2006