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Family History
Hack-Williams


The life of Hiram P. Hack is that of a typical pioneer Iowa farmer, and within the sixty years which he has spent in Shelby county, Iowa, there is comprehended practically the whole history of his own county and that of this section of the state. He was born October 20, 1853, in Fountain County, Indiana, and is a son of Albert and Mary (Abernethy) Hack. Albert Hack was a native of Kentucky and removed to Fountain County, Indiana with his parents when he was a small boy. He was reared to manhood and married in Fountain County, and came to Shelby County, Iowa, in the fall of 1854 with a number of other settlers. He bought the farm on which Hiram P. Hack is now living in Fairview Township, and resided there until his death, June 29, 1859. His wife died December 28, 1898, at the age of 72 years. Albert Hack and wife were the parents of four children: John, who died in infancy; Hiram P., whose interesting history is here related; Margaret S., who died at the age of seventeen; and Hannah, the wife of Otis Preston.

Hiram P. Hack was educated in the rude log schoolhouse of his home township and has spent his whole life upon the farm where he was brought when he was 13 months old. At the age of 18 years, he took charge of the home farm and managed it for his mother. At the age of 24, he bought forty acres of land and began farming for himself. He kept adding land as he was able to do so, and is now the owner of the old homestead of 162 acres, which is one of the most productive farms in the county. He has improved this farm in every way and can point with pride to his elegant home and his commodious barns and out buildings. At the age of 21, he was elected school director and the following year was elected President of the Board of school directors, serving on the board of education for 13 years. In 1878 he was elected township clerk and served in this capacity for two years, after which he was elected township trustee, serving in this important office for nine years. In 1906 he was elected county treasurer and lived at Harlan during the four years of his term.

Mr. Hack was married November 29, 1877 to Phoebe S. Williams, the daughter of John Z. and Laurahannah Williams. Mrs. Hack was born in Illinois and was the second child in a family of ten children. Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Hack are the parents of three living children, Venie A., Nora F. and Paul W., unmarried and living with their parents. Lula L. died in infancy. Mr. Hack was a member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons at Avoca, and has served as senior and junior warden of his lodge No. 297. He is now a member of the Harlan lodge. He has also served for 15 years as secretary of the Anti-Horse Thief Association of his county, an organization which has done effective work in the apprehension of horse thieves in the county.

The father of Mrs. Hack, John Z. Williams, was born in Butler County, Ohio, in 1834 and died February 16, 1914. His wife, Laurahannah Daggett, was born in Warren County, Illinois, in 1837 and died February 12, 1905. After their marriage, John Z. Williams and his wife located in Warren County, Illinois, and lived there until 1872. In that year they moved to Shelby County, Iowa, bought a farm and began to improve it. In 1881 the Williams family moved to Crawford Co., Iowa, and lived on a rented farm there until 1886. They then returned to Shelby County and remained here until 1891 and then left the county for 16 years, returning here in 1906. Mr. Williams was an active Republican and took an intelligent interest in political matters. He and his family were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. There were nine children born to Mr. and Mrs. Williams, as follows: Elda, Phoebe, Almiron (deceased), John (deceased), Minnie, Howard, George, Ira and Bertha.

This brief summary of the life of Mr. Hack indicates only the mere landmarks in his interesting career and is only introductory to the subjoined article. The Iowa Homestead, one of the best agricultural papers in the country, in its issue of May 7, 1914, submitted in detail the interesting history of the 60 years of Mr. Hack's life in Shelby County, and because of its light on the pioneer history of the county, it is here reproduced in full:

It was Will Carleton's idea that the man who would appreciate heaven well should have first some fifteen minutes of the other place. Possibly it is upon this theory that H. P. Hack, of R.F.D. No. 1, Avoca, Iowa, a resident of Shelby County since 1853, makes such extravagant claims for his section. He saw western Iowa when it was the wildest prairie, with Indians in camp in the river bottoms, and herds of deer running wild throughout the country. He endured every hardship of the early pioneer. He frankly admits that he does not tell all the hard luck stories that he has stored away from early experiences, because some of them are so bad the people now wouldn't believe them. And Mr. Hack has preserved a record for truthfulness and integrity in his neighborhood for so long that he will not take the chance of being pointed out as an exaggerator.

Because Mr. Hack has been for 37 years a loyal reader of The Homestead, one of the kinds of Iowans who have inspired the publisher to build up this great institution, he was visited a few days ago by one of The Homestead editors. It put new spirit into the writer to see and talk with this ideal type of successful Iowa farmer. It was a glimpse into the lives of our fathers. Landmarks on the Hack farm tell the story of early hardships and mark the steps of progress to the present day of prosperity and plenty.

I would scarcely know how to farm without The Homestead, said Mr. Hack. I read it from cover to cover every week and have secured from it for many years valuable and practical ideas to aid me in my farm work. I think every man I know in this entire community, at least all who own their farms are regular subscribers to The Homestead and many of them have been on the list for a long term of years. For the benefit of the older readers of this paper and the enlightenment of the younger generation, The Homestead, with the kind permission of Mr. Hack, is able to tell a story which should be of great interest to every reader.

It was in 1853 that thirty prairie schooners left western Indiana. This was a colony of home seekers looking for a new dwelling place west of the Mississippi River. A few stopped in Illinois, having wearied of the journey. Some went on to Monroe County, Iowa. The father and mother and uncle of H. P. Hack pushed on through the wilds, over the Indian trails, fording the unbridged streams until they reached the West Nishnabotna River, near the Pottawattamie and Shelby County line. Here on a strip of land which afforded good timber, Albert Hack, the father, pre-empted a quarter section of land, the foundations being laid for the present farm upon which the son lives. The senior Mr. Hack erected the third log house that was built on the strip between the Nishnabotna rivers. The house was built November 2, 1853, and it was regarded as a palace. The land upon which the house was built cost only one dollar and a quarter an acre. There were many farmers in the neighborhood today who would not sell for two hundred dollars an acre.

H. P. Hack was only thirteen months old when his baby eyes first saw the light of western Iowa, and for the first few years he had to be watched closely for fear he would stroll away and be kidnapped by the Indians. The Pottawattamies were frequently in the country and often camped four or five hundred strong in a big grove not far from the Hack homestead. In those days farm living was of the most meager sort. It was forty-five miles to Council Bluffs, the closest store. Mr. Hack, senior, couldn't even get a match or a candle any closer. To make the trip by wagon took four days, two each way, and marketing in town was done only twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall to lay in the winter supplies after disposing of the crop. One year, 1867, dressed hogs were taken to market and sold for one dollar and a quarter a hundred. Wheat sold in Council Bluffs at thirty-five cents a bushel. Mr. Hack remembers working for some days shelling corn by hand and then hauling the corn to Council Bluffs, forty five miles, to be sold at twelve and one half cents a bushel. He also remembers one trip where the farm crop of one year was hauled to the Bluffs and sold on the market there. After paying for the keep of their horses at the livery stable and for their board at the hotel, the Hacks had fifteen dollars left to show for their summer's work and purchase provisions for the winter.

In these days of plenty, the young folks cannot understand the hardships suffered by the pioneers. For five years, Mr. Hack's father struggled against debts and bad weather. he finally broke down. The nearest doctor was forty-five miles away, and he could only be secured by advancing one hundred dollars cash for the trip. It was much harder to get that one hundred dollars before the sixties in Iowa than it is now to get two thousand with which to buy a new automobile. Hack was in debt because he could get no market in which he could dispose of a crop if he raised one. In the winter of 1856, the hardest winter Iowa has ever seen, he walked to Council Bluffs to get a loan of a small sum of money to tide him over. For this money he paid forty per cent interest. He was five days making the trip. There were no roads and no good trails. About every time a man went to Council Bluffs, he made a trail of his own. The location of roads was governed by the points at which the streams were most easily forded.

In this same winter of 1855-56, the Hacks and their neighbors suffered from the intense cold and lack of food and water. The snow came on deep before the corn had been gathered and their entire patch of corn was covered so that not even the tops of the stalks could be seen. It was a case of digging out enough corn to eat. The deer running at large in the neighborhood soon got wise to this granary under the snow and made away with a large part of the crop, as practically everything which they usually ate was covered with snow. The snow as three and one half to four feet deep on the level and in many places drifted higher than a man's head. Two women named Overby, living west of the Hacks, started out in a storm one night and losing their way, were frozen to death. A fourteen year old lad who was with them managed to find his way back to the house, but his legs and hands were frozen stiff when he was found. During that winter, the Hack family larder ran low. Groceries gave out entirely. There was a supply of buckwheat in the house, and corn was gathered by digging in the snow covered fields. Occasionally, Mr. Hack's father bagged a deer and the family enjoyed a feast of venison. For months they had no tea or coffee. They had no ground meal in the house and no chance to get to market. A hollow place was dug out of a log and used as a mortar in which to crack the corn and grind it as best they could so that it was fine enough to make into cakes.

A good idea of the rugged pioneering can be secured by a glimpse back at the school house in which H. P. Hack got his first smattering of education. There being a few children growing up in the neighborhood, it was decided to erect a school and the settlers gathered and burned brick from mud. A brick building was erected and a teacher by the name of Miss Randall, from Shelby, hired to take charge of the school. For three years there was only one book, an elementary speller, used in that school. Each morning and afternoon the scholars were put to work mastering page by page of this spelling book. That speller was the sole equipment furnished the teacher by the school district. There wasn't a blackboard, lead or slate pencil, desk or chair; no writing paper, no pen, no ink; in fact nothing but the speller. First slabs from logs were taken and placed flat side up with pegs underneath for school benches. The flat side of the bench where the boys and girls sat proved to be very rough. As there were no planes and no sandpaper near at hand in those days, it was a problem to solve the removal of the splinters. The boys at last hit upon a plan. There were many brickbats left from the building operations and the benches were taken into the yard before school each day and given a thorough scouring with the brick bats. This soon reduced the rough timber to a smooth surface and made it possible for the boys and girls to squirm about on their seats without disastrous results.

The teacher, Miss Randall, had a Bible from which she always read at the opening of school. There was no one who objected to the Bible in those days. After reading the morning scripture lesson, Miss Randall offered prayers. In these prayers, she always asked that the boys and girls in her school might live to see the time when they would have school conveniences, books, desks, pencils and modern equipment of a school room. As a student in those early days, Mr. Hack says that morning prayer made an impression on his mind. He resolved that if he were ever able, when a man, he would do something to make the schools better. And that boyish resolve bore rich fruits. For thirteen years, he served unselfishly on the board of education of his district after he had grown and established a home of his own. And today he takes a keen interest in the country schools, remembering often the time when he studied three years with the one speller as his only textbook. When the first district school had been established three years, slates and pencils were introduced. Thus the small boy progressed into the days of the slate and red-topped boots. One slate pencil was all a boy was allowed for a year. To keep the pencil from wearing away too fast, the scholars used keel, a sort of slate rock found along the banks of the stream, which would make a fairly good pencil mark.

In the years 1864 and 1865, the Hacks came into their first real windfall. For three years the corn crop had been cribbed. Cribbing in those days consisted of a covering of slough grass. About eighteen hundred bushels were accumulated and it was about this time many emigrant trains began passing through the country to the West. Some were bound for Idaho, others for California, and others to the Pacific Northwest. One morning as young Hack was standing out in front of the house near the trail, he spied one of these trains coming over the hill. He was stopped by the emigrants and asked if he would sell any corn. Replying affirmatively, he was asked the price. I didn't have the slightest idea what corn was worth, but my nerve was up pretty high that day, and I said fifty cents a bushel, says Mr. Hack. Well, they took some corn at fifty cents, and I tell you we were all pleased and excited over that money. Only a few days later another train came through. I asked these men one dollar a bushel for the corn and they seemed very willing to pay it. Before the winter rolled around, we had sold the entire eighteen hundred bushels of corn at one dollar a bushel and that was the first real money in any considerable amount that we ever had on the place. We had no bushel measure on the farm and simply called a sackful a bushel. Any man who came along with a grain sack was charged for a bushel when he had filled his sack.

When the Hacks first moved to Shelby county, their equipment of farming implements consisted only of a cast iron moldboard single-shovel plow and an old harrow with wooden teeth. As a young man, H. P. Hack often hired out at twenty-five cents a day to break prairie sod. And a day in those times began when the stars were twinkling in the morning and closed when they again appeared in the heavens at night. Young Hack wore sandals and had trouble with the heavy prairie grass cutting his feet. To avoid lacerating his feet, he had to wrap them and tied on the wrappings with grass. String in those days was seldom seen, and when a string did come to the house on a package from the store, it was saved as an object of great value.

Clothing for the Hack family in the early days was made by the mother with an old fashioned loom. The boys got a suit once in two years of wool cloth and were provided with cheap flax cloth for working clothes. Some time after 1860, the old-fashioned blue denim came into general use and the working clothes were made of it.

Farmers of Shelby county and western Pottawattamie did not have a market for their stuff until 1869 and 1870, when the Rock Island railroad was completed. Mr. Hack had advised his mother that he intended to quit farming. What's the use of working all summer to raise crops when there is no place to sell them, was his reason. He insisted that they move back into a country where there was a market. But early in 1870, he made a trip to Avoca. He returned with a new idea of life. He had learned that he could take in any amount to market and get cash for it on delivery. He took a load of corn to Avoca and sold it for thirty-five cents a bushel and was back at work on the farm in half a day. If that system can be kept up, he told his mother, I'll stay on the farm. Ever since the railroad came the farmers have had a market. Mr. Hack says the real days of prosperity came with the railroad, and that profitable farming since that time has been merely a case of working and attending to business.

It would be easy to fill every page of this number with interesting experiences heard from Mr. Hack. He now runs a farm on business and scientific principles. He is a close student of the farm papers and, while he says he can't agree with all the editors say, he has learned much and he wouldn't be without the farm paper. He lived seven years at Harlan where he held the position of county treasurer. When his term expired, he was soon back on the farm. For about seven years, he has not done any field work. For ten years, he kept a record of the corn yield on his farm and it averaged sixty nine and one half bushels per acre. He practices crop rotation, alternating clover and small grains with corn and wheat. He challenges any man to show better all around farming land than can be found in the seventy five miles between and on either side of the Nishnabotna river in western Iowa. He uses the most modern farm equipment, has engine pumped water in his house, and barns, bath rooms, and all modern conveniences. He can go to town in his car now in twenty minutes and to the county seat in forty minutes. He keeps accurate records of his farm operations and knows just where he stands every day of the year.

Extracted from Past and Present of Shelby County, Iowa, 1915, and submitted by: Mona Sarratt Knight, 2002.
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