The Illustrated Historical Atlas of Sioux County Iowa

Part III Section 2 Page 4

Click on the pictures for a larger image 
(use your Back button to return to this page)
Back to Part III Section II main page

Previous Page    Next Page


     To dwell on reminiscences of former day life and experiences is something we all love to do; the veteran soldier loves to recall, and relate the many thrilling adventures of battles in which he took part, and the striking incidents of camp life. The old time sailor can interest and amuse a whole company with an account of his many remarkable experiences on the deep. The traveler, or explorer delights to rehearse what he met with in his journey through several parts of the world. The student also has no greater delight than in amusing you, and relating in detail the adventures of school life. And so, early colonists also take a special delight in dwelling upon the various difficulties and privations connected with pioneer life, as well as upon the many pleasant experiences that are met with.
     The early settlement by the Hollanders of Sioux County in general. and of West Branch township in particular, was of such a nature, and attended with such striking incidents also, that one will find it a no less pleasant task to dwell awhile upon the reminiscences of those primitive clays. The writer, having been requested to compile some of those reminiscences of those primi­tive days for this atlas, realizes that a more competent person might have been chosen for this purpose, as he is not one of the earliest settlers and did not arrive upon the scene until many of the most remarkable difficulties and struggles connected with the settlement of this particular colony had become a thing of the past, is mostly from accounts received from others, given indeed when they were still fresh in the memories of those who related them; but at best, they must be regarded chiefly as second hand statements. If therefore, some incorrect statements should be made or some incidents should be related somewhat varying from the actual occurrences, or lacking in all the particulars, it will please be kindly pardoned.
     We may divide the reminiscences of these days into different classes; for instance, mention can be made of some that have a more direct bearing upon the religious life of the early settlers, and of others in connection with their temporal circumstances; some may be given that. are of a sad and pathetic nature, while others have a tendency to amuse and create merriment. To begin with such incidents as were more particularly in connection with the religious advantages of those early colonists, we know of nothing that was more frequently referred to, and rehearsed with the most intense delight, and is even to this day often mentioned with feelings of deepest appreciation, than the fortnightly mid­week preaching services, rendered in schoolhouses by the faithful and zealous pastor of the Orange City Church, Rev. S. Bolks. No matter how cold or stormy it might be, or how rough or muddy the roads, or how deep the water in the sloughs, he was always at his post; his prompt presence and his earnest efforts for the spiritual welfare of the people could always be depended upon. His words of wise council, of kind admonition, and of encourage­ment and good cheer in the days of severe struggle and afflictions are ever remembered with gratitude and sincere regard; in many, many instances he was used as an instrument in God's hand not merely for encouraging and helping on these pioneers with sound words of comfort and advice in their struggles for temporal existence, but especially also to bring sinners to a sense of their lost condition, and from that to a saving knowledge of Christ; and also to strengthen the faith of God's people, and aid them in their spiritual struggles and development.
     To mention another incident in this particular line, we might refer to the lack of sufficient accommodation and room that had to be contended with, as long as the services were held in the building that was first erected to serve as a house of worship. Its length, and breadth, and height were in accordance with the financial capacity of their purses, and in a very short time its seating capacity was taken in, and with the weakest effort the voice of the speaker could fill the whole space. No up-to-date ar­chitect had been consulted in its construction, nor an accomplished carpenter engaged in its erection; the seats too were not of the cushioned and easy backed kind, nor symmetrically arranged, and the aisle at the center could only be passed through in some­thing like a serpentine motion, on account of the different length of the seats. None of these were fastened to the floor and they were not immovable or firm, and the writer can call to mind one instance, when he had his catechumens gathered in the seats, by some quick turn of one of the pupils in the front seat, it fell back­ward with all its occupants, and it overturned the next one, and that again the third one, until all my pupils were on the floor. It goes without saying, that this occurrence for awhile did not tend to make the minds of the children more receptive for the instruction of the hour. At the regular Sabbath services, in the summer time, the people, to make up for lack of accom­modations would bring the spring seats of their lumber wagons, which were the only means of conveyance to church at that time, and place them on available floor space inside the building, or, they wheeled their wagons near the open windows outside, in­creasing the seating capacity of the Church, and be as attentive listeners to, and as quiet partakers in the solemn worship as the occasion allowed. This method was all right and satisfactory while the balmy days of summer lasted; but when autumn came, and the cold, raw winds drove the pew holders on the outside of the building to seek shelter within its walls, the strength of the seats, and the capacity of the building were taxed to the utmost. Every Sabbath afternoon, after the writer and his family, who always brought their chairs with them, had been crowded into the church, every inch of floor spa., and even of the speakers platform was taken in. Every Monday morning, hammer and nails were brought to use in repairing seats that had given way under the loads and pressure of the previous day.
     Having recalled some of the incidents of the early church life, we will next take a look at, and into the homes that afforded shelter and comfort to the pioneers of the seventies; they were of course far inferior to the large and commodious dwellings of the present day, but happiness and contentment reigned within them to no smaller degree. Nearly all of the first settlers dwelt in dugouts for some time; these were very ingeniously built into the east or south side mostly of a slope, to secure protection from the northwest blasts. One night be walking down a slope, and very unexpectedly, without having seen it from a distance, land right down on one of these abodes for the pioneer s. Or they made mud huts, constructed of the sods of the broken prairie, forming of them thick, substantial walls, to close out both the icy cold breezes of winter, and the burning heat of summer; generally these sod houses had one opening for a window, and one for a door: one man told the writer of having constructed such a sod house after an outlay of only $1.28, for the door and window. In most cases these homes consisted of but one apartment, that serving as parlor, living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen, cellar and all. The more elaborate ones had one room partitioned off by a sod wall, which did service as a bedroom, where berths were arranged against the wall, sometimes two or three, above another, according to the number of occupants that had to be accom­modated. The furniture of these homes was also very simple and limited, a drygoods box placed in the center of the room was often used as a wardrobe, a cupboard and a dining-table; the walls were so dug out that a seat all the way around, about the height of an ordinary chair was left, this obviating the necessity of buying chairs. The fuel of these clays consisted of slough grass, very ingeniously and tightly twisted, in order to last longer in the fire.


The stables and sheltering places for cattle were no more adequate or pretentious than the dwelling places for man, and one can hardly understand how in but a little more than a quarter of a century such immense changes could have come about, both as to the fine, handsome homes than can now everywhere be found, and as to the huge barns and extensive stables with all the modern equipments, that have taken the place of mere hovels of former years.
     The most exciting and thrilling stories can be related con­cerning combats with prairie wolves, and fierce prairie fires that would sweep across the country and lick up everything in their path; and of fearful blizzards that in these days would break very suddenly upon the early settlers in winter time. Many narrow escapes from death could be placed on record, and many happy reunions after hours and even days of anxiety on account of husbands or sons that on their way were overtaken by such violent storms, when they were brought back in safety to the dear ones at home. In winter time a line was generally stretched from the door of the dwelling place to the door of the stable, to prevent any one going from one to the other from loosing his way in these blinding snowstorms; or the good housewife would stand in the door of the house, while her husband or son went to feed the cattle, and call out loudly from time to time so as to let him know the direction he must take through the storm to find his home, just as the fog whistle on the pier guides the vessel to the harbor in a heavy mist. While these fierce snowstorms have been the occasion of loss of cattle in a number of instances, the writer has no remembrance of any human life that was lost thereby in this community, and we may well note the protecting hand of Providence.
     One of the sad reminiscences of these days is the drowning of two men, Gerrit Vleuvers and D. J. Wesselink in the Rock River. As was very often done by the early settlers, these men had gone to the Rock River to hew some trees from its banks, to be used either for fuel, or for some building purpose; in cross­ing the stream, they must have been caught on some whirlpool that abound in some parts of this river, and lost their lives. The former left a wife and three daughters almost grown up, to mourn his untimely death; the latter a wife and several small children to battle alone now with the great proposition of pioneer life.
     The saddest and most pathetic reminiscence is the death of a little girl by prairie fire, which occurred on a spot very near to where now the residence of John Mouw is located in the town of Sioux Center. It was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Koster, (Mrs. Koster is still one of Sioux Center's inhabitants) who lived but a few rods east from the spot, on the other side of the road. When the heartrending cries of the child were heard, and the parents flew to its rescue, the flames had already done their hor­rible work, and the child died shortly afterwards. This child was the first to be interred in what afterwards became the ceme­tery of Sioux Center. Often have we heard the mother relate with aching heart and streaming eyes the terrible pangs of this awful tragedy, the saddest of all the early accidents in this settlement. We have however, also been permitted to note in this very in­stance the allsufficiency of God's sustaining grace; not only for herself did the mother taste of this, but she was after this sad experience enabled to convey consolation and encouragement to others also in times of sorrow and bereavement. The writer and his wife can speak of this by experience; when, arriving here perhaps about two years after this sad incident, we were led through a way of mourning and grief, her frequent visits with us, and her words of solid truth and comfort were a balm to our aching hearts, and they will ever be remembered with profound appreciation and gratitude. And now it cannot be amiss further to name one or two instances that will give evidence of the genuine good-will and kindly feeling that was generally experi­enced by the early colonists toward one another, and the disposi­tion to bear each other's burdens. When any one was in distress, or in need of aid, all hands were joined together; and while most of them were about equally penniless, and unable to open their empty purses in rendering assistance, they all found some way of serving one another. They helped build each other's houses and stalls; they watered each other's cattle; they took charge of each other's children; they dug each other's graves, and assisted in every kind of work and way, so that no one need to run into debt for these common necessities of life. In that way the hearts were brought into close union with each other, and general peace and harmony prevailed in these days of common privation. To relate one instance; Mr. H. J. Teesselink's house was, one cold wintry night, destroyed by fire, and the occupants barely escaped with their lives; soon all opened their scant purses, and extended willing hands to obtain the necessary material for a new dwelling, and everyone applied saw and hammer, and built the same in a remarkably short time. Another instance was when a man with very limited means expressed a desire to start a general store over the Branch, this bringing articles of merchandise nearer to the people having settled here, all hands helped again to pro­cure the material, erect the building, and haul the stock; and so he was aided in the enterprise, and the people were accom­modated. That building, by the way, being the first dwelling to be raised on what was later platted into the town of Sioux Center, had but two apartments, and an attic; for a long time it served as a residence, store, hotel and post-office.
     GRASSHOPPER TIMES.--We have not yet mentioned the grass­hoppers, which for some years were sent annually by a wise Prov­idence to prove the people, and to reap for them their richly promising fields of grain, and to disappoint all their expectations and plans for paying off incurred debts for necessary implements they had purchased, or for improving their homes and their stables. It is safe to say that even under these circumstances there was more real contentment and gratitude in the hearts, and more heartfelt appreciation of the corn bread meal, than is now manifested with all the abundance and luxury that is possessed. The grasshoppers were indeed a scourge, a means of robbing the pioneers of a vast amount of the transitory and perishable things of this world; but they have also been used by Providence to create in many hearts a thirst after, and an earnest `seeking for the meat which perisheth not. Many of the pioneers here date the time of their new birth to these years of affliction and sore bereavements.
     Allow me now in conclusion to name a few items which will give evidence of the extreme privations to which the settlers were subjected on the one hand, but which also very amusingly show on the other hand how cheerfully they adapted themselves to their circumstances. In one instance we know of a family who, as has already been stated, had mud seats for the children fixed against the wall in their hut, and the parents had appropriated for their own use as seats the luxury of two huge pumpkins raised in their field. On one occasion the family received a friendly visit from two elders of the Orange City church to look after their spiritual needs; the father and mother now denied themselves the use of the pumpkins, and offered them to their visitors with the same cheerfulness and grace wherewith the luxurious easy chairs are now called to service for visiting friends. This man now is a retired farmer, has a comfortable home in the town of Sioux Center, and owns several quarter sec­tions of Sioux County land.
     Another family had for the second time been robbed of their sodhouse by fire and had succeeded in procuring now a small frame building, consisting of one room and an attic, the attic was to serve as a sleeping room for the half dozen boys, of whom some were fast approaching manhood, now there was an opening in the ceiling to the attic, but there was no stairway or ladder to climb up to it, as much on account of lack of space for it in the room, as on account of saving additional expense. The mother, a very tall, strong woman, weighing about two hundred and sixty pounds, was prepared for the emergency, and she would serve as the stairway; every evening at bedtime she arose and. . .

Continued on Page 5



Back to the 1908 Atlas main page

Back to Part III Section II main page



Copyright 2003. These electronic pages are posted for the benefit of individuals only who are researching their family histories. These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit or presentation by any other organization or persons. Persons or organizations desiring to use this material, must obtain the written consent of the contributor, or the legal representative of the submitter, and contact the Sioux County Coordinator with proof of this consent.