Written by Adolph Witt in 1934.
This is a historical account written by Pioneer Adolph Witt. To give proper credit, it belongs to my Mother-in-law, Helen Muth, formerly of the LeMars/Akron area. Adolph was her Grandfather on her mother's side. Helene's maiden name was Knaust, and she grew up in the Montrose, South Dakota area. She is now 94 years old and resides in a Sioux Falls nursing home. She is truly pleased to know these memoirs are valued and will be shared with the Iowa community.
Many of the names Adolph mentioned, I've found in the online cemetery listings for Sioux County. It's wonderful in its own way, to see that info and make further connections to the pioneers he writes about. We think his story is quite interesting and probably helpful to those exploring their genealogy. As a child, my husband recalls Aldolph playing a fiddle on the front porch of a family home in Missouri.
Isn't this a great find??? I have to marvel at his recollection of names, dates, and other in-depth details, plus the fact it's written with a certain amount of skill - indicating to me he was fairly well-educated for a man of his time. What foresight to have kept so many years' worth of diaries. I think it's likely he translated it from the original German into English. Above all, themes of hope, hard work and perseverance are illustrated throughout these writings.
We are pleased to share these memoirs and hope others find them as fascinating as we have.
Dennis and Lori Bell
Transcribed by Debbie Clough Gerischer
(Typographical errors on the original and copy have been corrected)
October 30, 2005
PIONEER - - DAYS - - HAPPY - - DAYS
The following true story of my life is not a form of literary merit. It has been designed with a purpose. It is to account for what a few pioneers in common endured. However, it has not only been my leisure to relate these subjects, but also for the next generation to come. Therefore, I dedicate it to my dear children who have suggested and prompted me in the preparation.
My father, Herman Witt, Sr., in whose memory this has been written, was a native of Germany and with his wife and four small children took passage on a sailing vessel in the spring of 1868 to come to America. The sailing vessels of that day were not to be compared to the gigantic palatial steamers of today. And where the sailing vessel held only a few hundred people, the floating palaces now hold thousands. We had been out of the English Channel about three days when we were overtaken by one of the worst storms. The captain said that it was the worst he had seen during all the years he had been on the ocean. It lasted for two days and two nights and everyone was so frightened and the tears kept rolling down the cheeks of both men and women for they surely thought they would never see land and homes again and that all would have a watery grave. All were kept below and no one could walk without holding onto something but after the wind went down and got quiet the vessel lay in a calm for three days. When a breeze sprang up and the sailors worked day and night setting sails as we were far off our course. We could see other vessels going before the wind with all sails set as they too had gotten off their course. My father was very seasick as were most of the five hundred but my mother was in good spirit during the whole trip across that wide ocean nearly thirty five hundred miles. The Lord surely guided us safely to land for we were seven weeks and four days but with a full moon and after the storm it was just beautiful to look around and see water as far as one could see. The captain was in his crow's nest looking through his powerful glasses most of the time to see if they would soon be coming in sight of land. For it had been many weeks since they had seen it and many were getting anxious. But the captain said it would not be long until they would see New York.
Everyone began to show the joy they felt and to be thankful to the good Lord who cared for them and guided them to a safe harbor. The pilot vessel came a half day ahead and took charge of the vessel and led them safely into New York Harbor. Most of the people were coming here to find new homes for themselves. We were not sorry to say good-bye to the boat as it would be left in New York Harbor and never make another trip across the ocean. The horrors of the storm and trip on a boat that was going to be abandoned when we got to the journey's end and the uncertainty of getting safely to land can never be forgotten by those who made the journey. After staying over a day or so to rest, we then left for the city of Chicago going directly to the west side.
Father could find no work there so he moved to the north side where he found work. During the fall of 1868 he was employed in the blast furnace on the West Side. They had been repairing it and after getting it to work again there was something wrong with the water circulation which caused an explosion which threw hot iron all over most of the men who were working there. Some were burned to death and others died later from their burns and hurts. My father got the iron in his face and eyes and he suffered terrible and had to stay in a dark room for several weeks. After he got well he did not work there but did piece work and did fairly well so he decided to buy him a small town property on the North Side and he lived there and worked every day until the Chicago fire broke out on October 8, 1871.
The city of Chicago was first lighted by gas in September, 1856. The great fire of Chicago started on Sunday night, October 8, 1871. There had been on the previous night a disastorious conflagration on the West Side involving a heavy loss of property in the lumber district. Within twenty four hours after the flames began to spread, that portion of the South Side, north of Harrison Street nearly all of the North side was consumed. The total area swept by the great fire was about three and one-third square miles; eighteen thousand buildings were destroyed at an estimated loss of $190,000,000 and about 200 persons perished. One year after the fire many of the best business blocks were rebuilt. Five years after the fire the city was more handsome and prosperous than ever. Ten years after the fire all trace of the calamity had disappeared.
My father lost everything he had during the Chicago fire. Then he built himself a new house and remained there until 1875, when he was then tired of working by the day and decided to go for a farm. Father went several places but could not find what would suit him; later he got acquainted with a lumber firm by the name of Mr. Strate and Mr. Shefield who lived in Chicago. They had a half section of land in Washington Township, Sioux County, Iowa. They would trade or sell it. They advised my father to go and look it over so he went back as far as Sioux City to see what was there but it was too rolling for him. Then father went back to Orange City and looked up Mr. Lewis and Pierce who were the agents for this land. Mr. Lewis drove father all over this land and told him what it was and how many acres it contained. My father said he had a trade on for this land and could trade his town property of it in the deal. Then Mr. Lewis said he had better take the half section as the town property would probably be worth more than the land. Father considered the deal and said to Mr. Lewis he would go back to Chicago and see how he could trade with Mr. Strate and Mr. Shefield.
He valued the land at $2.25 per acre and paid father $1,500 in money and would give father until March 1, 1876 to move. Father had the $1,500 in money then he went back as far as LeMars, Iowa and rented 80 acres from Mr. Charlie Stregle for the coming year of 1876. Father then went back home and got himself ready for the next spring of 1876. He bought a team of horses, a wagon, spring wagon and what lumber it would take to fill the car. The first of March we left for LeMars, Iowa. The first night we got as far as Waterloo, Iowa. The next morning was Sunday and we stayed there over Sunday and looked over the village on both sides of the river and left early Monday for LeMars, Iowa.
When we arrived at LeMars we got the team wagon and rigged it up and left the car for the next day and went to the farm. We were unable to get in the house as it was built from logs and would leak through anywhere; we stayed at Mr. Charlie Newton for the night. His mother owned the George Cox farm across the Sioux River. He was an uncle to the Wm. Newton who lived in Hawarden, Iowa.
After we got the house fixed then we went to the place. As the roof of the house was covered with a foot of dirt, father took what lumber it would need and covered the roof with it to make it do for that year. A few days later we went about a mile southwest to look over the country. We found it all alike; here and there stood a log cabin. Why it looked as idle around as it did? Must have been on account of the grasshoppers taking all their crop. How lonesome it looked around. Eighty rods south lived a family by the name of John Goodno; next to his family one by the name of Egan; also a family by the name of McAlhaney. He died not so many years ago. His son, Frank, lives about ten miles south of Hawarden. Another family by the name of Ward lived a mile or so from the little village called Merrill on the Illinois Central Railroad. There was also a family by the name of Givens and all he had was a team, wagon, cow and a few hogs that one could see. The yards and buildings were all covered with straw except the house. But they all seemed to enjoy themselves.
LaMars was then a small village as there was one grist mill owned by Mr. Galen and a brewery next to the Floyd River Bridge that Mr. Diamond had been operating, and another grist mill stood farther up town owned by Burns Brothers where the postoffice now stands was a grocery store owned by Hart & Brozehart. Later they sold out and went to California and a hardware store owned by Spring Brothers, a blacksmith shop and an implement owned by Pew and Lerue. East near the river bridge remained unsettled. Most lots fit for residence were vacant. Likely inhabitants were dwelling in the country around. In my opinion people were perhaps frightened away by some sort of catastrophe. Few had remained scarcely supplied with farming accessories. One would find each possessed of a team of horses, two or three cows, a very few hogs. Still the adjoining neighborhood offered additional aid in time of need and the days of harvest required more assistance. The soil in this country was extremely rich, more so than the present day. Sometimes people grew very impatient with pests as the grasshoppers which destroyed and checks abundant crops. Yet folks took their misfortune as a mere happening. My father had brought a team of horses with him from Chicago but was later dissatisfied with them and traded them to a man by the name of Abraham Delawn who owned a quarter section of land in Sioux County. Just where I do not know. In the trade my father obtained four oxen, a cow, horse rake and also got some cash. Later father got another team of horses; a few cows and hogs; with these cattle we did our spring work. When we came here it looked very desolate. All one could see was corn stocks. It surely looked lonesome coming from a city like Chicago. But later we got fairly well acquainted. Then father got a double hand corn planter and when we got through planting our corn, father said: "Boys lets go to Sioux County and break up some land." Father, my brother and I loaded our wagon; put the breaking plow in, blankets, some provisions and went to our land. We tied one yoke of cattle back of the wagon and bossy would bollow. We took bossy with us for our milk supply. We left bright and early the next morning, crossed the west branch creek of LeMars and headed northwest and where we did not know as there was no road in sight and no house to be seen that one could go to and inquire as we took our own chance of getting there not knowing where our land lay. There was plenty of grass along the road for our cattle. Water we would give them when we would come to a creek. For shelter we had nothing with us. Should it rain or storm we would have to lie under our wagon. Whether we would get there that day, we did not know as we took a great chance of getting to our land. We traveled northwest about ten miles or more then we came to a road which we followed and it later disappeared. Then we had nothing to follow. We stopped and looked around to see where to go. We then went back for some miles and came to a road that led north. We followed this road for some miles which led us between Mr. Jack Earle and the NcNally Bros. farm on the Sioux and Plymouth County line. We followed this road going north for some miles. We later got to a house and inquired if it was the home of Mr. John Whalen and he advised us where to go to find our land. Finally we got there late in the afternoon. We unhooked our cattle from the wagon for the night as they were tired from their journey. Then father looked around to get his bearings, having been there in the fall of 1875.
The next morning we laid our land out and began breaking up the virgin sod. After we go fairly started breaking, father went back on foot. He came back a few days later with some provisions for us. I surely got homesick when our father had gone as we were all left by ourselves in this wild country. I was but fourteen years old then and had taken with me a brother for companionship. He was six years younger though little consolation. I was practically alone in this wild land and at times I would grow very homesick. Anyone knows what it is who has been affected with this malady. All this must not however, interfere with our duty. Yet I sometimes wonder that my parents ever dated or had any sympathy leaving us here alone. When we had broken up enough of sod the same material was used to build a hut; a very strange structure and not so comfortable. At the close of day I would sit outside its door leaning against the wall and there indulge my mind in childish meditation - just home-sickness. The country looked beautiful. We would let our cattle go where they liked. They would stay around the wagon most of the time. As we became short of provisions my folks came over with more. Most of the time we would have to live on bread and milk. A few days later, a friendly sort of fellow, Mr. Ben Sheets came up one day. He visited with us as well as to make an inspection of our task. He did not admire the plow! He said it wasn't fit to do good work so at his suggestion we took the lay to Mr. Reese, who was a blacksmith in Calliope, a distance of five miles. The last commanding words from Mr. Sheets were to keep the lays plenty sharp; good advise from two boys who are very ignorant on the job.
At leisure times and to remedy homesickness I would go about endeavoring to discover many unknown plants and flowers. Their origins were learned later. I considered the shy little violets, wild roses and sweet williams; water lilies with yellow centers as large as a common coffee cup and buffalo berries as large as hazel nuts. Down the slough were cat-tails and wild cane that stood eight foot tall. Strawberries were plentiful; shoestrings as tough as sole leather. These prevented easy breaking of the land. Patches of wild redroots of an enormous size proved a torture to any implement.
There were many birds flittering around; plobers and meadowlarks; curlews; snipes and bob-o-links; and an immense flock of black birds were common; wild ducks and geese. Game was not protected by law in those days. Sturdy old cranes by the score; wild prairie chickens were abundant. Early morning near 3 o'clock these chickens would awaken us; at first we could not imagine what this low inarticulate sound represented. Sly old fox was hardly seen but the sneaky old wolf and his clan frequently visited. They never interfered but sometimes they would approach mighty close. And snakes of all kinds have been there. But I have never seen a rattlesnake all the time I have been here and not a fox. I have seen deer roaming not so far from our place as we never intended to kill them. And herds of buffalo have been here as I hold in my possession a skeleton head I unearthed back in 1896. It looked as though it laid there for one hundred years. He must have been left back by the herd and mired down in the mud and unable to get out and had perished.
There were no Indians around that one could see. The mail traveled three times a week from Alton, Orange City and then to Corn Valley, which was at Mr. G. H. Root's home seven miles east of Calliope. A few years later the mail stage was stopped. As far as the neighbors were concerned they were very scarce. Mr. Harry Launts lived two miles east; another three miles southeast and somewhat farther east it was more settled. Two miles west lived Mr. Ben Sheets where Elmer Abbey now resides. Mr. Sheets must have come in the early seventies. Down the six mile creek Mr. Ed Ellis lived on the place now owned by Nick McCabe. There was nothing south of Mr. Ellis but prairie as far as one could see. The prairie fire would come and circle for miles and miles around and would consume everything in its path. Many had to burn a fire guard around their farm and hay stacks to keep them from burning.
It happened the home folks came to see us. It was at this time mother cheerfully asserted it won't be long until my boys come home. What a jolly sentence that was to my ears. We had been away for over six weeks at a time and managing our own task as best we could. A week passed and a day in July, father came and almost the first words he said was "well, boys get yourselves ready, we will go home tomorrow." He stayed to help us get ready to leave. We had pulled the yoke and plow in to the case; it was troublesome transporting these implements form place to place. But we arrived at our destination near midnight the same night of the day we departed, because cattle were our only means of transportation.
The vacation was short; harvest then began. Father got a McCormick reaper and more combined to cut our grain with. A yoke of cattle hitched to the tongue and a horse on the lead. We began cutting our grain. We progressed nicely until father had to nurse a felon. We had about twenty-five acres of wheat and oats, the rest was in corn. It had taken a long time to bind this grain by hand. Father was able to assist us in shocking. Since the straw was quick to dry the binding became more difficult and we increased our length in hours arising at four o'clock each morning and continued until late at night. Generally it was one o'clock when we rested. In case the straw was too cry, damp straw was selected from within the bundle. Fingertips became mighty sore and tender at the finish.
On August the 20th, 1876, the grasshoppers invaded. It was our first experience. We noticed a cloudlike form coming from the north. It was the largest of anything I've ever seen at one time. They settled upon the corn stalks and stripped every leaf of the surface. The ears were eaten into from one to two inches deep. However, kernels were in the first stage of maturity otherwise the damage might have been greater. Small grain in quantities was little impaired and left us a fair crop that year. But gardens were totally devoured. These uncomparable insects were such a menace on the ground there was hardly space to set one's foot. The sun was scarcely visible and tops of huts and sheds were completely covered; and still they multiplied after completing their destruction; they ascended with the northern winds. It was quite difficult to convince father of the damage these pests did; it was not until he had seen with his own eyes that he became suddenly excited. He became discouraged and wanted to return to Chicago; it was my mother who resented and coaxed us to remain - to stay and face any problem. The grasshoppers still kept on coming all that afternoon; something we had never seen before. My father was asked if he was not afraid of the grasshoppers. He did not believe in any such stories as he heard but he surely saw what they were. Father was much discouraged. The corn stalks looked like standing fish poles. After these grasshoppers were here long enough to finish the corn they up and left and flew south. I never saw anything in all my life that could be compared with them . The flew like swarms of bees all that afternoon. Where they came from I could not say. There surely must have been plenty up in Sioux County or farther north. Had the corn not been as hard as it was they would have taken it and all vegetables along the line.
Father looked at these grasshoppers and said to my mother he was going up to Sioux County and see if he could rent some land near his place as he had a chance to rent the Jack Earl's farm near the Sioux and Plymouth County line for the coming year of 1877. When he came back home father and I went up to Sioux County to cut some hay for the coming year. When we were getting close to our land father said he would see if we could stay with some farmer for the night as it was getting late in the afternoon. Father asked one farmer and he had no place; when we went back a mile and inquired at the next farm house. In the yard stood a young man who said that his father was in the house. Father asked this man if there was any chance of staying overnight for we had blankets with us and we could stay around the stacks for the night. But this good man said we must certainly come in the house for the night. The house was rather small as there were five in the family with the old folks. There was a young man about twenty-two years old as near as I could say and two girls, one about seven or eight and the other about sixteen or seventeen years old as near as I could say. The old folks were so accommodating and what blankets we had were laid beside the young man's bed and we slept well during the night. When we left we asked Mr. Sargent what we owed him but he answered nothing at all. We thanked Mr. Sargent when we left as we were both strangers.
If we had not found a place there we would have had to lie under our wagon for the night and wrap ourselves with what we had. Later the old folks had gone somewhere east and gone to the great beyond. Some years later the oldest girl of the two became the wife of T. W. Serle.
Then we went to cut our hay what we wanted and borrowed Mr. Harry Lantzs rack and wagon. When we go through we took our mower as far back as Jr. Jack Earle and left it there for the next year. When we got back I had to start in moving everything over to our next place. It was about twenty-five miles and would take one quite a long time to move it over. We had beautiful weather in moving it over but a weary old ride as it was so far. But I finally got it over in good shape when the later part of February, 1877 had come, my folks wanted to go ahead with their load and I would follow up with my yoke of cattle and take the rest on my wagon. Everything came out fine. Got there late in the afternoon. Mother said there are many more living here. There were a few families living on the north edge of Plymouth County line, including Mr. Eastman, Mr. Hamon, Mr. DeBoyce, Mr. Pke, Mr. Wilcox and Mr. Brunskill, father of John and Sam Brunskill. His folks died many years ago and Charlie Walrod. There were also many old homesteaders living in Washington Township. They must have been here in the early seventies. There were all here when I came here. They included Mr. Jack Earle, McNally Bros., Mr. Willey, Mr. Frank Earle, Joul Morey and the O'Meara Bros, Mr. Charlie Whalen; Mr. Will Harvey; Will West; Simon Percy; George Whalen and John Whalen. The old gentleman, Mr. Walrod, Jim Walroc, was not here very long, only one year of 1877; then the French Bros. and few of the boys and their father up the line lived the old gentleman, Sargent, where we stayed over night. Then A. J. Whitney, John Chenowith; Charlie Tarbox, Gordon West who owned the southwest quarter of Section two in Washington Township; Mr. G. H. Root, being the last on the line.
Mr. Root had a daughter living in Calliope in the early days by the name of Tubs. Later they moved, where I could not say. Mr. Root had a son-in-law by the name of Harry Launtz; he had two girls named Effie and Pearl; where they are I could not say, being in the year of 1877 when we moved on the Jack Earl place. We got our hand corn planter and were ready to plant our corn and had not more than started to plant when the grasshoppers started coming as bad as any time before. They destroyed the grain fields from two to three rod around the corn they had not touched. When we got to plowing the third time through, we hooked one ox on a single corn plow and put a mouth basked on him. One would hold the plow, the other would lead the ox and I would use the one row plow with the team. We were all busy for a time but we made it count in spite of the grasshoppers.
The grasshoppers had left all the small grain the year before and left us a fairly good crop of wheat and oats the fall of 1877. We had two years experience with these pests and should they come every year we would have to go somewhere else but as long as we're here we decided to try and make the best of it. When we threshed we did not get quite as much as the year before but we got a fair crop. We had threshed early that fall and had nothing else to do. Then father and I went down to Elk Point, South Dakota and got a few loads of poles to build some straw sheds for our stock. We set all the posts the fall of 1877 and got a few loads of cottonwood fencing for the yards. When we got through building our sheds we started to build our house for the coming year of 1878.
When we got the house fairly well enclosed we left it for the coming spring. We threw the corn on the ground and made a place for it when we would come on our own place. We were all busy that spring - we had not quite enough of wheat to sow. Then father and I went to a neighbor who lived south of the Dry Creek by the name of Mr. Wm. McClure and asked him if he had any wheat to spare; he said he had wheat but none to spare. Father had quite a talk with Mr. McClure. He said what he had gone through when he first came here. There were a few children running around and they looked spry and happy. Their mother, Mrs. McClure, was about the house and not so many years after she died; one of the girls married a man by the name of Wm. Cone. She was the oldest and her name was Grace. They lived east of the Dry Creek then. I think it was in 1890 that they left and where I don't know. Mr. McClure had a brother by the name of Frank. He lived up along the Dry Creek and later he moved his house near the road where John Tieden now resides. I knew Frank well - many times I would visit Frank when I would go hunting for prairie chickens. Later Frank moved away to South Dakota where his wife passed away
and in a few years Frank also died. Frank must have come here when his brother Will came here in the grasshopper times and he sold his farm to someone and John Tieden bought it later. Those grasshopper times were no pleasure to anyone. Then the farmer would sow his grain and the grasshoppers would come destroy it all the people had nothing for their work. One man told me when he came here he had to leave his family take care of the farm and he had to take his team and work on the railroad to provide for them. They would make coffee from dried shoestring leaves and buffalo berries and still this man stayed in Sioux County and got to be a well-to-do man and not so many years since died. But they all had to suffer enough through the grasshopper times. I think there are not many here today that would want to go through such hardship as the old settlers went through. Most everyone has what their hearts desire but they all went through as though there was no other place for them to go; there was some reason why they had stayed in Sioux County. Take it back in the sixties and perhaps in the seventies, when the grasshoppers plague appeared and destroyed nearly all grain that had been sown, it surely caused much suffering and distress among the settlers. Many had to give up their homes and others did not have enough to get away with. For this reason so many had to stay in Sioux County and now own the best land in the State of Iowa.
There are many today who can't realize what happened in the early says when the people had to get along best they possibly could when the grasshoppers would take every bit of grain that was sown and not leave enough to buy clothing for the winter. I can remember when my father had raised quite a few potatoes and would take from ten to fifteen bushels to LeMars to get provisions and the rest would be left for what clothing it would buy. No one could take more than what money he had to pay for. Many things one would like to have but had to go without. The money was not spent in the early days as it is nowadays as everyone had to live as saving as they possibly could but they got along very well. Those old pioneers had a very strenuous time to go through as long as the grasshoppers were here.
All grain would be taken to LeMars and most of it would be left for exchange. In the year 1878 we had raised a fairly good crop of small grain which would have been much better if the grasshoppers had not destroyed the most of it. Father and I had taken some wheat to the grist mill. Mr. Otis had a grist mill west of Chatsworth on the Dakota side. We took it over on a ferry boat. One day I went to get our flour and had to ford the Sioux River at Calliope. After I had crossed the river and had caught up with Mr. McClure, I asked him where he was going and he said to the mill after my flour and that's where I was going after my flour. When I got there, I had quite a talk with him. He told me what he went through when he came here. He was a kind-hearted old gentleman. He would do most anything to help his neighbor but they were all in a distressed condition, all caused by the grasshoppers destroying their crops. If they would continue coming they would all have to leave; he said, when we got our flour this was the first white bread we had since early spring. The most of the time we had to live on corn bread.
It was the same proposition with our fuel. We had to go down to the Sioux River where Charley Keehn now lives to get our brush or what one could get to keep us from suffering. There was plenty of wood on the Dakota side but it was all protected by the homesteaders. It would take quite a long time to cut enough to make a load. The wind started to blow and I loaded my load as fast as I could. The air was heavy clouded and when I was about half way home the snow began coming with a gale. When I got home I unhooked my team and went to the house. The snow kept coming so that one could hardly see his hand before his eyes. Pity the man that would get out in a snow blizzard for he would surely perish.
The snow kept coming all that night and part of the next day. I had quite a lot of brush on hand as we did not suffer. Mr. Charlie Tarbox came over the next day and asked my father if he had any corn to spare but he said he had no corn. Mr. Tarbox said he would have to close the school. It was the only school around. Mrs. Tarbox was teaching the school. My father said it was a sin to burn corn but what could one do when he could get nothing else to burn so one could keep from freezing. The thermometer would go down to 30 degrees below zero and 35, and as far as 40 below zero. And get so bitter cold that no one could stand to be out doors. We would do all our chores and go to the house. The water would freeze in the pail when we would take it to the house. Many had to draw a line from the house to the shed and other buildings to get to their stock. Pity the man who would lose his hold. He would surely freeze to death in the blinding snow storm.
I had a man tell me he went down as far as the Rock River for a load of wood and got half way home and the snow storm over took him. He unhooked the horses from the wagon and held them by the lines as long as he could and then he lost his hold and got frightened and then he began to call and his wife heard him and she opened the door and called back. He was standing close to his house and didn't know it. The next morning he went out to see where his team was and they were standing next to his straw shed; anyone going that distance would take his own risk of getting back.
Many of the settlers have been caught in such snow storms as these. This country was subject to such snow storms. I know I got caught in a snow storm myself going home. My horses wanted to turn off and I pulled them back on the road, when I was about a quarter of a mile away the storm began to break and I saw that I was on my road. If I had left my horses go they would have taken me home.
This country sure was a snow desert when a snow storm would come. There were no groves to break the winds as there are now, as the pioneers said. It was no pleasure for anyone to be here when they had to go after fuel that distance and not get what they would want but had to take what they could get. So many many had to twist hay for fuel so as to keep from suffering. The old pioneers surely did got through all kinds of rough weather. And no one here would want to go through what the old pioneers did. But poverty forces good many people to do what they did during the early days. I can sympathize with those old pioneers that have gone through their hard times and not knowing when it would get any better.
The following spring we all went back to our spring work. I had sown 100 acres of wheat in the spring of 1879 and we never thought of ever getting a backset. When we began planting our corn the grasshoppers were as bad as ever. They destroyed more wheat around the wheat fields. Some places it was much worse. Father had rented some land to sow into small grain. The small grain looked well about the latter part of June then the grasshoppers began destroying it in places. The bottom of the hills was all damaged by them and all we cut was around the side hills. All we threshed was 66 bushels from 100 acres of wheat. What hot weather didn't destroy the grasshoppers finished. Thirty-five acres we never touched as it was all damaged. The other grain such as barley was fairly good. Our ground was somewhat older and produced better corn. We had saved some wheat from the year before.
I can remember riding through and looking over the country and discovered that their many pieces of land had been broken up and grown back in bluejoint. The people must have been frightened away by the grasshoppers as there were many pieces of land that lay in the same way. The homesteaders must have broken this up in the real early days, perhaps in the sixties or seventies as near as I could say. I was told the grasshoppers were as far southwest as Elk Point. They cleaned every bit of corn that was there. I had four years experience in the grasshopper years from 1876 to 1879. After that year there have never been any since. How it was that they all left and not one was to be seen back will be seen later.
After these grasshoppers had all disappeared then the pioneers began to get up courage again, for they would get something for their labor. One man told me he had a splendid garden of vegetables and an nice patch of onions and wanted to save them and threw a lot of long slough hay all over the patch; when he went to look - for he had a great surprise. The grasshoppers had taken the onions and all the garden truck to the ground and not a single thing was left!
Around Ireton it was more thickly settled and many more farmers had broken up pieces of land to sow some small grain for the coming year. I think these pioneers all homestead their land before 1876. When I came here I could see log houses that had been built; sheds and other yard buildings. They were all covered with straw except the house. They probably had a team so they could prepare themselves for the winter. They perhaps had no tax to pay until they became owners of the land. These pieces of land which they had broken up were small pieces and when the grasshoppers would come they would take every bit of grain that had been sowed, and leave nothing for provisions for the coming year. When these old pioneers lost their grain which they had sown it left them in poverty. Then it would be up to them for they had to do something if they intended to make this their home.
As LeMars was their nearest trading center and was a good place perhaps they stayed there for that reason. Then they stayed in Sioux County for there was no other place for them to go. As many of the old settlers were in a destitute condition perhaps they all hung onto their homestead until they became the owner of the land. And many had no way of getting through these grasshopper times and were forced to borrow what money they could get on their land. It would be but a small amount - say not over $200 a quarter section at that time. But they hung onto it but many had to sell not being able to hold it any longer. There were no buildings on this land that were of any value. Nothing was seen east of Hawarden along the graveled road except the county farm which was about fifteen miles northeast of here and in the latter years they moved it north of Orange City.
Orange City was then a small place with not more than a few hundred people, most all the old settlers have passed on one by one. Outside of the settlement of Calliope, lived the Bellesfield family, about fifteen miles north Calliope next to the Rock River, as Sioux County was then a deserted prairie land. As I went down to Calliope to view the town, there was nothing to see, but a log house standing next to the Sioux River bank and a store in which Mr. Tibles kept his merchandise. Mr. Tibles became the local postmaster and also acted as agent for the Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad Company. A year or so after the railroad was built through to Calliope, perhaps in 1874 or 1875 as I can remember, Sioux County had a remarkable growth and was recognized as being one of the best counties of Iowa. One can hardly realize this when we look back from 1879 and the grasshopper times as it all came on so gradually. The old gentleman, Charley Home came in the fall the grasshoppers disappeared and built him a home in our neighborhood. He also owned the 80 acres which Harvey McAninch occupied. Mr. Hon's family consisted of three boys, Jessie, Will and Charlie, Jr.; and four girls, Lottie who became Mrs. A. C. Freeman and her sister, Eunice, who later married J. e. STiles, and after not so many years she died. Two of the girls came a few years later, Mrs. J. E. Jones and Mrs. E. A. Drew. In 1881 Charlie Hone, Sr., died. After his death Mrs. Hone made her home with Mr. E. A. Dre in Hawarden. The old gentleman came here to make a home for his family and they have been here ever since.
Will Searl and Ed Stiles came here in the spring of 1880. They broke up the balance of his land that took care of sheep and cattle and were building sheds for his stock. They had not quite finished their buildings on the 14th day of October, 1880, when we had one of the worst snow blizzards we had ever seen. Followed by rain and sleet and falling temperature and lasting about two days. The snow drifted around the sheds and stables with their contents of livestock. The October blizzard was long remembered by the settlers for it was their first winter in the valleys in many respects the worst as well. The snow of this term did not melt in the valleys until the following May, 1881, being many times covered during the storm, were fairly happy. But for men who much find their way to a hay stack and there pull and twist hay to keep their families from suffering the case was different. The discomfort and danger from freezing hands and feet was added to the peril of becoming lost in the blinding snowstorm. There was no chance of making for a hay stack and an equal risk to find a dwelling for it was impossible to keep ones bearings in a real blizzard and many a settler learned from severe experience. But this storm and others had finally abated and the sun appeared high and powerful for it looked like months of bearing the winter. The animals being without food during the reign of the storm were a sorry looking group when entrance was gained to the barn and feed administered. This was accomplished by shoveling directly down to their heads which took hours of shoveling and still more to a way for their exit and we were without train service for some time. In fact for considerable time there was no communication as the snow hardened; the roads were covered and then we had fair transportation service; for several weeks merchants stock had become low and these were stored and coal secured at the yards. During the winter country roads were built up by frequent accretion of snow and traveled until it became impossible for teams to pass each other; the one giving right-of-way would surely be swamped. These roads could be seen for days after soft snow had disappeared; appearing as dikes to separate winter; digging it out of the snow.
For fuel we used corn; a portion of the winter digging it out of the snow drifts in the fields. Men would tie sacks over their shoulders, put on barrel staves for shoes and proceeded by following the row taking every ear that poked its point through the snow and when the sack was filled the family was sure of a nights comfort. A bushel of corn would almost last a day in a common cook stove which was the only kind in use besides hay burners. Great suffering was experienced in portions of this new country and extra ordinary means were resorted to alleviate the suffering somewhat. It was several times reported that ranchers were tearing up the railroad to get some ties to burn but there was no truth in this.
In some cases animals smothered in drifts. It was not extremely rare to see several hogs lying in there beds frozen to death i the blizzard of 1880.
But spring at last came and the snow all of a sudden turned to water and all the valleys were a lake - a lake of solid bottom for the ground had no chance to thaw.
Hunting with a team was safe and wild game, geese and ducks were plentiful. This was late in the month of March 1881. The break-up was sudden. The water rose over the railroad tracks and began cutting away the thawing grades. Train service ended, and on the last of March was started until sometime in June for all the river bridges were destroyed. It was one of the worst snow blizzards we had ever seen.
The wind was blowing quite a gale from the northwest. Will Serle and Ed Stiles had not yet taken their cattle out of the herd at that time and their corral was filled with snow up to the top of the fence and all of their stock went in to a neighbors corn field and around their buildings for shelter. We had taken one head on our straw shed and covered her with straw and blankets that she might overcome her chills but she died the next day. The boys lost many cattle and sheep through this snow blizzard as nothing could be done to save them from perishing. The boys had enough hay but no way to get to it. Their hay stacks were covered with snow from top to bottom and with tow feet of snow on the level. The boys had much work on their hands to keep their cattle and sheep from suffering.
Father had threshed quite a lot of straw the fall of 1880 and the boys had to feed some straw and some corn. There was no one around that had any straw that they could get. Later the boys broke through the snow to a haystack, a hard matter to undertake for all the hay stacks were buried under seven feet of snow. They even had to make a tongue on their hay rack so they could haul their straw. It kept them busy that winter to get feed to their stock as there was not much to get anywhere. Many sheep, a few days later they discovered were buried in the snow drifts and were alive. Some were down and were found dead. It looked as though it was impossible for anyone to get their sheep and cattle though the winter with what little feed there was outside of what they had. The snow was so deep that it was impossible to get through anywhere. I can remember tying a rope to a box and would go and get every year of corn that poked a point through the snow to get some feed for our stock. We had quite a lot of corn on sod as there was no one that had any corn they could get.
When spring came it got to thawing and all the water was coming down the bottom with such force it would pile ice chunks seven feet square and block all the streams. Snow and ice was seen along until the middle of May, 1881, but it was not long until we had forgotten the hard winter and when spring came on we all went back to our spring work. Everyone had experienced on the hardest winters known.
Will Searl's buildings were mostly all on the bottom not so far from the creek. Should the water rise higher there stock would have to be moved to higher ground except the house. Their haystacks were all under one foot of water. May stacks were seen coming down the six mile creek and railroad ties and much lumber could be seen coming down the Sioux River - probably had been torn from the Railroad bridge.
One could see most anything coming down the river. I can remember the snow blizzard we had the 12th of January 1888. Up in South Dakota a school teacher had dismissed the school and all the children had started home and were overtaken by the snow blizzard and lost their way and were later found frozen to death. Even the school teacher lost her way and got blinded in the snow storm and perished and was found a few days later. There were many others who perished in that terrible blizzard.
L. H. Serle came into our neighborhood to make his home. In the spring of 1880 there was built a grain elevator for some grain company in Calliope. Wilson Miller was in charge of it. We then had a ready market for our grain.
Early real estate dealers that were here were Burlingame and Son and Gearhart and Mass. These firms used pony drawn vehicles to show their lands. They made many sales at such low price as about five or ten dollars per acre.
Bankers were Robert Hale and Company and Jim Rpss; each did good business. Interest rates were high and demand for loans was good.
Doctors were W. A. Quigley and Brown and Ellis. Each owned a drug store. The Quigley Building was later moved to Hawarden and was occupied by Dr. W. E. Hodgen who ad established himself in the lumber business and erected a dwelling southeast of the C. M. St. Paul Railway depot in the fall of 1880.
A few years later the town built a two-room school building which was for some years the pride of the town. In it all church services for a time were held and it is thought more citizens appreciated and took advantage of the opportunity to hear the gospel preached than do in these days and age with all the modern edifices and means of travel at hand and were just as attentive to their church and Sunday School in their old age as when in the active affairs of life here.
In the fall of 1881 they had surveyed for the Northwestern Railroad to Hawarden. The following summer of 1882, it was laid to Hawarden; when they had come that far they stopped for a while then they started to build a round house, depot and many other buildings that would be needed. When they had completed the road, they run the fist stub train from Harwrden to Alton! LeMars! and Sioux City! and back at night. The first passenger train was fun about November 20, 1882. The spring of 1883 they continued the road farther west.
The Northwestern Railroad was quite a help to this part of the state, I am what it is today as the land began going up in price after that and we had a market for grain and stock. Land sold for $5 and $10 an acre, but some places it was much cheaper, gradually coming up in price.
In the spring of 18821 the small pox broke out around Ireton and farther west and it was very bad from the first. They did not know what it was but all were anxious to know. Some thought it was the measles and were anxious to get a doctor from LeMars. When the doctor came he said that we all had gotten the black smallpox. Everyone made a rush for outdoors. Some never came back. Some got frightened for fear they would get it. Not long after a man by the name of Charlie Tarbox was the first to get it and in a few days he was dead and also one of his daughters. One middle-aged lady got it and she died and her husband went insane and a few weeks later had to be taken to the insane asylum. Another lady got it and she passed away and also her little child, for both had it at the same time. There were very bad cases at Ireton and some as far west as Calliope.
I can remember when D. B. Horton was the nurse in the pest house at Calliope. Finally they got it under control and later some got vaccinated to make the cases light but it was very bad when it first appeared. Many kept getting it. The older people were not alarmed over it as there were not many here at that time. Those that were here were D. B. Horton; Estes Storch Legget, who kept a hotel in Orange City in recent years - where his brother Ed is I do not know. There also was Dave Gearhart, Sr., his sons, John and Dave, Jr. and Charlie; Will McGuire; H. H. Rudd; Dave Stevens; Alex Johnson; Sam Heald and his sons, J. K. Bucy, father of Mrs. Ben Sheets.
Mr. Ben Sheets bought a quarter section of land in 1883 seven miles northeast of Calliope. There was also Wm. Ross and his brother who kept a small general store. Wm. Reese; Dr. Quigley; Tom Dunham, who as county sheriff at that time and Charlie Lewis, the county surveyer.
Very few have experienced in their lifetime the great transition from wild sparsely settled modern home and farms as fell to their lot. Hardship they endured, it is true, but they had their compensation in the friendship and neighborliness of the early settlers who were drawn to one another by common bonds. Those living close around the Dakota side were Adam Scott, Jesse Akens, Nat Edwards and his son Peter; Jim Green; and Will Green. There were a few more whose names I am unable to mention. People began coming here after 1882 when the Northwestern Railroad was built and the country had a steady growth and land was selling from five to ten dollars per acre and in some places it was much cheaper. Many who are here do not know what the old pioneers, brave courageous men and loyal women endured. The latchstring was always out and anyone invited to their hearthstone and table. The thoughtful pioneers would place a light in the window to show a refuge to many belated ones and many a good deed was done to strangers and has never been recorded but has earned its reward some place. The sod shanties on a bleak prairie without a tree for shade and the many vissisitudes of the homestead days in the northwest will long be remembered. These old settlers have all experienced a hard time but they all had faith in old Sioux County.
I also knew D. O. Stone when I first came here. He was then a young lad about nineteen years of age. He had a brother by the name of Fred who he favored very much. I never met their father. D. O. Stone was a newspaper man and for some years I took his paper, the Independent , and have been taking it since 1889. It was a splendid home town paper which has never changed hands, only passed from father to son and still the best paper to the home folks.
After the Northwestern was built in 1882, the Colose Brothers from LeMars were buying much land near Ireton and farther west and built houses on them and made further improvements and would hold them a few years and sell them at a fair profit. One man told me he wished he had kept his land a few years longer as he could have gotten $20 an acre and everyone began to do better.
As soon as the grasshoppers disappeared they all began to prosper. Some had enough so they could get through and others remained here as long as they could and then they moved away.
In the spring of 1882 my father bought the south half section four in Washington Township in Sioux County for $12 per acre. He had it mostly broke up and sowed it into wheat and it produced 20 bushels to the acre and sold for $1.00 per bushel. Barley produced well and oats went as high as 75 bushel per acre. Flax went as high as 20 bushel per acre and sold for $1.50 per bushel. Then many of the farmers began improving their farms and the land began to advance in price.
In the spring of 1883, father bought 400 acres at $6.50 per acre in Eagle Township; had it partly broken up and produced 20 bushels per acre and sold it for $1 per bushel and threshed 2400 bushels. Some years later he bought 160 acres in Eagle Township for $12 per acre as they had more joy in farming and began to feel themselves more independent and could sell their grain at the Calliope market. One could look here and there and see a house going up and also other buildings which were needed.
In the spring of 1886 the old gentleman, Isaac Metcalf, had bought a half section of land seven miles northeast of Calliope to make a home for his family. Later his barn burned down and Will Serle went around with a subscription to help the old gentleman as he lost everything he had. The neighbors gave him enough of all kinds of grain so he could get along for that year.
Later Mr. L. L. Younie, Sr., came in our neighborhood with his family of four boys, Alexander, James, David and Richard. Some years later Mr. L. L. Younie, died and not so many after, his wife went beyond. If he had no faith in Sioux County he would not have come here to make his home and his boys all had good farms and nice homes and were well-to-do.
Sioux County is a hard county to beat if there is one I would like to know where it is as they were all doing well. They had not forgotten the hardship they met when they first came here but it is so many years ago that it is more like a dream. Times passed and there was more happiness when they could get something for what they had sown, but there were many pieces of land laying idle. Much land laying idle north of here but it was not many years until it was all fairly well settled as we are living in as good a country as one could find.
In 1884, Fred Heuer, Sr., Hans Stoltenberg and Fred Schlumbom came into our neighborhood; after the Northwestern Railroad has been built and took advantage of the cheap land and bought many acres joining them, and started making improvements which made nice homes for them and they have been here ever since.
There were only two years that we raised a little short crop - other years we always raised a fairly good crop for anyone to be satisfied. I still lived on my farm when everyone began to feel dissatisfied. Why? Because they could not get enough no matter how much they would raise, although we ought to be satisfied with what we raised yet there are many here who never can be satisfied no matter how much they would get. Suppose we had a total crop failure then what? That has never come and I hope it never will.
I had a man stop at my place when I was on my farm and wanted a tittle of oats to feed his horses. I had him fill a sack. He said it was too much but I said you will have some for next time. Then he came back and wanted some hay. I told him to get what he wanted. Then he came back and asked what he owed me. I said nothing. I would give it to this man as I could see that he had a wife and children in his covered wagon. The man looked a little down-hearted, I could see. I asked him where he came from and he said Kimball, S. Dakota. He said he was there eleven years and he had $1,500 when he went there and in eleven years he had raised small crops enough so he could live. The last year he raised enough so he could get away and had come back to Iowa. I asked him where this man lived that he was going to and he said Dolton, Iowa. I asked him if he had any relatives at Dolton and he said his wife had an uncle by the name of Alexander Hune. I never asked this man his name but wished I had as he had threshed for my father in 1876 when we first came on Mr. Charlie Streagles farm at LeMars, Iowa, Alexander Hune and Al House owned a threshing machine together. Mr. Al House lived then in Merrill, Iowa, just think of what these people had gone through and had lost by staying at Kimball, South Dakota.
Their intention was to make a home for themselves but they lost what they had and then they had to come back to Iowa. We people here live in such a good country that always raised a crop of some kind. In those two years many were dissatisfied and why was it? It could have been much worse. Supposing we had a total failure - then one might feel uneasy. There is no reason to feel that way as I have been in Sioux County since 1876 and we are all doing well.
See what the old pioneers have went through. They could not depend on any crops whatever as long as the grasshoppers were here, but they all got along so in some way for it will be 58 years in the spring of 1934 that I have been here and we have never seen a failure yet and everyone got, if not a full measure, enough for anyone to feel satisfied. I think one living here is in as good a county as there is in the state of Iowa. I expect to live here the rest of my life. You can try some place else, perhaps you may like it better, but Sioux County is a wonderful county to live in. I lived the pioneer life for four years but no such neighbors now. They lived to help each other and always did to the very limit of their money and strength.
To tell and go into detail with regards to the early settlement of this country would require more time and space than I can give. There were only a few houses from Orange City west down to Calliope, along the graveled road in 1876. Land a that time lay in prairie grass from the beginning of the earth and waiting for someone to take possession of this wonderful country as it was just over run with all kinds of wild animals such as buffalo, foxes, deer and wolves. When I came here and was breaking prairie, the wolves would come so close to our wagon that I could throw and hit them with a stone and they would sit and howl, which would make one shiver but we had nothing to defend ourselves with. This country was inhabited by all such wild animals and wild game of all kinds was plentiful. When I first came here it was nothing but a wilderness but it was a beautiful country and there was nothing to be seen but a mail stage going by north of here from Orange City to Calliope.
Why people came here to this country to live I can not comprehend, when no one else could get anything else whatever they would sow, and the grasshoppers would come and destroy every bit of grain and leave one in poverty. Some had to leave and others did not have to get away with and still these old pioneers hung to Sioux County as there was no way of getting anything to markets.
Sioux City was such distance away from here that a few neighbors would have to go together and take loads of grain to these market and bring back what would be needed to provide for their families and no one would know whether they would get back home without getting caught in a snow storm or not as it would take two days for their return.
A history of the grasshoppers and their treatment has never been written for they were here when I came here. They were the most voraciousinsect that I have ever seen. No one was certain of ever getting anything of whatever one would sow as long as the grasshoppers were here. Why they all disappeared and not one remained will perhaps never be know unless they failed to lay their eggs in the summer of 1879 as there was no increase for the year 1880. They were here four years when I was here and they all disappeared in 1879 and the reason will probably never be known.
The sod shanties on the bleak prairie with not a tree for shade, they many vicissitudes of the homestead days in northwest Iowa will long be remembered. The hardships these pioneers and their families endured were not easy.
Fifty-eight years ago is nearly beyond comprehension. The heroic struggle of each settler deserves the sympathy of all. What danger, discouragement and desolation, hunger and intense dissatisfaction when the grasshoppers came, of many who remained they well deserve the prosperity that finally smiled upon them.
This is a true story of the past 58 years that I have lived in Sioux County, Iowa.
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