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Chapter I

Only once in the history of the University of Cambridge (England) have three brothers attained the distinction of making the varsity crew, (48) and that was about fifty years ago. Eight times they rowed against Oxford in the annual races on the Thames. These celebrated oarsmen, two of whom were presidents of the Cambridge University Boat Club, were John. Brooks Close, James Brooks Close, and William Brooks Close. A fourth brother, Frederick Brooks Close, having elected not to go to Cambridge, joined a friend farming in the backwoods of the Alleghany Mountains in Virginia. (49)


It was in the year 1876 that William B. Close received an invitation to bring to the United States a university four to compete in the cen­tennial regatta at Philadelphia. He persuaded some Trinity College men to make the journey. Upon their arrival in America in August, the visitors were given quarters in the middle of the Quaker city (not in the country as the Centennial Committee had promised), with the result that before the races took place all the young Englishmen came down with malarial fever, and consequently they failed to make much of a showing. What happened then may be told in Mr. Close's own words:

Nevertheless, one day while practising and rowing a course, I found my slide in the boat became very stiff. I completed the course with the result that I bruised myself so badly that I could not sit down without the help of cushions. The crew went to Cape May for a, week-end; and while the other boys were out for a training walk on Sunday afternoon, being unable to join them for the reason above stated, I sat down on a vacant chair on the verandah and entered into conversation with a gentleman who I soon found out came from Quincy, Illinois - Mr. Daniel Paullin. He had a son and a daughter with him. In the course of conversation on that day and next week-end he told me how he had made his fortune by buying lands in Illinois in the early sixties, which had grown very much more valuable, and stated that he was going to start his sons in Iowa in the same way as the same opportunity occurred. He in­vited me to go West to pay him a visit at Quincy, and volunteered to lead an expedition into Western Iowa. Accordingly, when I had recovered from this bad attack of malaria a couple of months after, together with my brother Fred, who came from Virginia to join me, we made our way to Quincy, Illinois, and shortly afterwards with one of his sons we went through Des Moines to some of the western counties, hired a buggy, and for about a week we traveled from village to village taking in the general topography of the country. On my return to Quincy I became en­gaged to Mr. Paullin's eldest daughter. (50)


Assured by Mr. Paullin that the West offered stronger inducements to a young man than any country across the water, the brothers returned eastward, William spending, the winter in England; but in May, 1877, they were out in Iowa again. They looked carefully into the subject of land investments and in the end were fully convinced of the desirability and safety of putting part of their capital into lands. (51) During that year they also studied pioneer farming and stock raising in all their aspects, and then bought nearly three thousand acres at $3.50 per acre in the neighborhood of what is now the town of Ricketts in Crawford County. (52)

This purchase of land proved to be the first of a long series in northwestern Iowa, then the most sparsely settled portion of the State. Why the young men chose to begin operations there in preference to other parts of the New World was later very interestingly set forth by William B. Close in an English periodical:

When I left Cambridge several years ago I had already made up my mind that if I left England and engaged in stock raising and farming generally, it was to the North American continent I should go. No other part of the world, it seemed to me, offered the same advantages; but the question as to what part of that continent to settle in, I thought it best to decide after I had taken an exploring trip through Canada and the States.
     My sympathies naturally inclined me towards Canada, as being under the British flag, but dismissing from my mind all thoughts of settling in a country where "clearing" has to be done, and where the best portion of a man's life is spent in getting his farm fit for cultivation, I soon found that for stock raising and sheep farming Canada could not compete on equal terms with those States and territories where winters are shorter, and where maize or Indian corn is grown, in addition to Swedes, turnips, peas, &c. Had I, however, intended to go in only for wheat growing, I should undoubtedly have chosen the Red River valley, in Manitoba, but as I was more bent on stock raising, I turned my back on Canada and went to look up a brother who had a small stock farm in the backwoods of the Alleghany Mountains, in Western Old Virginia. I did not stay long there - good lands were scarce and dear - and although more than fifty miles from a railroad, were held at £14 to £16 per acre.
     Nor did I stay long in the eastern part of the State. Virginia is, as the Yankees would say, "played out," tobacco has exhausted the soil, and I was offered some fine-looking estates with large trees and grand old mansions at a much less rate than good lands in the back woods. Also I formed a very bad opinion of the lower class of population; everywhere I went I saw far too much loafing about at the saloon doors, and the blacks would only work just sufficiently to keep themselves from actual starvation. So, with my brother, I turned towards the Western States, passing through and stopping in Pennsylvania, where, again, good lands are very highly priced, and in Illinois, which was too settled for my purpose. At Quincy, Illinois, I met a very well-informed American gentleman, who strongly advised me to visit North­Western Iowa, and informed me that when his two sons had finished their education at Harvard University he intended to settle them there. On our way we passed through the State of Missouri, a magnificent country, but cursed with a most wretched and shiftless population, and I then made up my mind I would have nothing further to do with the South with its "low whites and coloured gentlemen." The eastern part of Kansas and Nebraska we liked more than any country we had yet seen, but fever and ague we found too prevalent in Kansas, and in Nebraska water was not as plentiful as it should be for stock; wells were frequently over 100 feet in depth.
   We then moved into North-Western Iowa, and were at once enabled to endorse the favourable opinion given us by our friend in Illinois. After a long and careful investigation we made up our minds we would not spend more time and money in seeking f or a better region for stock raising and sheep farming, North-Western Iowa combining it seemed to us every favourable circumstance. My brother at once resolved to leave Virginia, and, after settling matters at home, we bought lands in Crawford County, and have no hesitation in saying that neither of us have for a moment regretted our choice. (53)

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48 Statement by William B. Close in a letter from London, November 30, 1921.

49 The middle name of the four brothers is that of their mother. John, who subsequently became John Brooks Close-Brooks on being made a partner in his uncle's bank in Manchester, was born on June 9, 1850; James, on July 30, 1851; William, on May 6, 1853; and Frederick, on December 7, 1854. Frederick B. Close began farming in Virginia in the year 1872. See Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 2.

50 In his letter of November 30, 1921, Mr. Close appends the following observation:
     " I go into these details because they all lead up to the reason why we settled in Western Iowa, and here we may pause to note how very little events turn the trend of one's life into a career that otherwise would not have been followed. For if a man at Birmingham had not made a faulty screw, and if the builder of our racing shell at Newcastle-on-Tyne had not happened to put this faulty screw into the bars supporting my slide, I should never have had the bruise; I should have gone out with the boys at Cape May on the training walk; I should never have met Mr. Daniel Paullin, who well advised me as to my business career; and I should never have married his daughter!"
     See also Poultney Bigelow's version of the story in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. LXII, p. 764; and Mr. Close's reference to the advice of his fiancee's father in Land and Water (English periodical) for November, 1879.
     In a letter from London, February 14, 1922, Mr. William B. Close wrote the following about Mr. Paullin:

     "Mr. Daniel Paullin was not an Englishman by birth or descent. I believe he was descended from the De Paullins - Huguenots, who escaped from France. His ancestors on both sides had long been settled in England. He married a daughter of Jonathan Turner, one of the earliest settlers in Illinois and the first to adopt the present system of schools now found throughout the West. Books have been written about him."

51 Letter of Wm. B. Close, November 30, 1921; Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 16.

52 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 17.

53 Land and Water, November, 1879, quoted in Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 15.

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