HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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THE PLATTING OF ORANGE CITY
DURING the winter months of 1869 the selection of Sioux County as a site for a new Dutch colony received much publicity in the Dutch newspapers of America, and especially in Pella's Weekblad. Henry Hospers wrote many articles to encourage interest in the colonization movement. As the leader of the emigrant association, he assured people that the progress and development of the new settlement in Sioux County was bound to be phenomenal, because there was no land under the sun more fertile. All winter long the favorite topic of conversation at Pella was emigration, and careful preparations were made for the approaching journey.(121)
In the spring of 1870, in the months of April and May, Henry John van der Waa headed the first emigrant train of five families to northwestern Iowa, completing the journey in nineteen days. A second train consisting of several families of Frieslanders was piloted by Jelle Pelmulder. Leen van der Meer and Dirk van den Bos conducted a third group, while other families of Hollanders followed during the spring and summer, some even coming from distant Chicago, so that during the year sixty-five or seventy families settled upon Sioux County homesteads.(122)
In this way commenced the settling of the virgin prairies of northwestern Iowa. The favorable situation and fertility of land in the vicinity of Pella, the presence of coal mines, a railroad and good markets, and above all the industry and thrift of the Dutch inhabitants - all had conduced to the purchase of unsold Marion County lands by speculators who hoped that as the population of Pella and vicinity increased they might reap profit from the Hollander's growing thirst for good land. Had Americans not prematurely raised land prices, the Hollanders of Pella would have made themselves masters of an area of country much more extensive than that occupied today. Young married men just starting out in life and many other ambitious men were forced to look toward the vacant public lands of Sioux County for better things, and thither they steered their ox and horse teams, driving herds of cattle before them, eager to set up homes for their wives and children.
Numerous pioneers who had lived in or near Pella since 1847 left the comforts of their town and country homes to undergo once more the discomforts connected with the reclamation of a new country. For some months they lived in tents and used their covered wagons for sleeping purposes. Despite the fact that the new colony possessed railroad connections at Le Mars about eighteen miles to the south - a convenience which Pella had lacked for seventeen years - many of the Sioux County pioneers either had no desire to haul lumber so far or else they considered frame dwellings beyond their means, for after spending several weeks preparing the rich soil for the first season's crops, they began to build houses as far as possible without lumber.
Five months after taking possession of their lands the Sioux County Hollanders still lived for the most part in "dug-outs" or sod houses such as many of them had first become acquainted with in Marion County. Some found their wagons sufficiently comfortable during the warm summer and autumn weather, and so continued to devote all their time to ploughing or "breaking" their prairie farms, the main object being to get them in readiness for seeding in the spring of 1871. Few colonists lived in frame houses during the first year.
To recall the nature of the first human habitations upon that vast stretch of rolling prairie region, now dotted everywhere with commodious houses and barns sheltered by groves of trees, reveals much of the community life of those enterprising Dutch pioneer fathers of Holland Township. Usually a dugout was constructed upon the eastern or southern slope of a hill to secure protection against northwestern blasts in winter. Excavations were made and four walls of thick prairie sod were then raised to an equal height and a roof of long slough grass was added. Generally these sod. houses had two openings, one to serve as window and the other as door, both of which required an outlay of little more than one dollar.
In most cases, it is said, "these homes consisted of but one compartment which served as parlor, living-room, dining-room, bed-room, kitchen, and cellar. The more elaborate houses had one room partitioned off by a sod wall, which did service as a bed-room where berths were arranged along the wall sometimes two or three above one another. The furniture of these homes was also very simple and limited: a dry-goods 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 round about the height of an ordinary chair was left: this obviated the necessity of buying chairs. The fuel of those days consisted of slough grass, very ingeniously and tightly twisted in order to last longer in the fire."
Happiness and contentment reigned within those simple homes to no small degree. Good-will and kindly feeling prevailed among their occupants. "When any one was in distress or in need of aid, all joined hands; and when most of them were about equally penniless and unable to offer their empty purses in rendering assistance they found some way to serve one another. They helped build each other's houses and barns; they watered each other's cattle; they took charge of each other's children . . .and assisted in every kind of work." (123)
In such inartistic huts most of the first settlers lived for many months, because the expense was trifling and no less because they had no time to build more substantial houses. House-building stood second upon their program: prairie-breaking came first. Some of the settlers were fairly well-to-do financially; most of them, however, had sunk their limited wealth into the soil. Their chief capital at the outset was willing hands, which they were glad to apply without stint to the production of an excellent harvest, after which they would plan bigger and better things.
As the winter of 1870 approached, and sheds, cribs, and fuel came into demand, the Hollanders found that they must either go to Le Mars about eighteen miles southwest, a station on the Iowa Falls-Sioux City Railroad, or else journey with teams and wagons to the Rock River twenty-five miles to the northwest, since the supply of willows and boxelders upon the banks of the Floyd River had been exhausted. The colonists chose to haul their firewood, logs, and posts from the river without cost rather than go into debt by paying handsome prices to the lumber dealers at Le Mars. A few squatters in that region of Sioux County, claiming to be owners of the land, met the Hollanders with pitch-forks and axes, but these weapons did not deter the Dutchmen from getting what they wanted: they would not be thwarted after making such a journey through blizzards and freezing weather. The squatters, therefore, adopted other methods: they removed bolts from the wagons while the Dutch settlers were busy chopping. But the meanest thing perpetrated by them was to put powder in pieces of firewood so that explosions frequently occurred in the cook-stoves of the Dutch housewives.(124)
Merchandise and other products of the civilized world were hauled overland from the railroad station at Le Mars. Hollanders who became county officials in 1870 and 1871 were obliged to travel on foot twenty-five miles westward to the county seat, Calliope, to attend to county business: snow-drifts and the absence of bridges made progress with teams and wagons well-nigh impossible, and walking in the winter time was warmer, more comfortable, and more rapid.
In the year 1870 the colonists saw fit to perpetuate a name which Hollanders have always carried with them wherever they have settled, whether in North America, South America, Africa, or Asia. The Dutch immigrants who founded Pella had suffered so much at the hands of King William and his government that they were in no mood to remember the name of Holland's Prince of Orange by inscribing it upon the map of their settlement in Marion. County.
The founders of the Dutch colony in Sioux County, however, had forgotten the persecutions instigated by their Prince, and like all Hollanders they prided themselves on being "Orangemen": they recalled the political cry of their ancestors, adherents of the House of Orange-Nassau, "Oranje boven !" (Orange forever!) Accordingly, the title of the Dutch royal house, obtained originally from the city and district of Orange about twelve miles north of Avignon in southern France, was placed upon the map of Iowa as "Orange City", in Holland Town ship. (125)
When the emigrants organized their association at Pella in the spring of 1869, they decided that all who wished might subscribe ten dollars in order to become entitled to a share in the site of a new town to be laid out in Sioux. County. At first they considered it best that Henry Hospers should have one-half of the town lands and that the association should retain the other half. Later when sixty prospective emigrants had bought shares in a town to be called "New Holland", the members of the association resolved to grant one-third of the town-site to their agent Henry Hospers to reimburse him for all his activity in behalf of the colonization project.(126)
The town of Orange City, which was laid out soon after the Hollanders arrived from Pella, at first embraced a quarter-section of land in the middle of the rich farming country selected for the colony. The emigrant association at once set apart one block for a public park, staked off lots most of which were fifty by one hundred and twenty-five feet in size, and decided to lay aside one-fifth of the proceeds of the sale of lots as a college fund. It was stipulated in all conveyances that the purchaser should plant shade trees fronting his lot, whether buildings were erected or not. That these lines of trees might be planted with uniformity and regularity, furrows were plowed at the proper distance from the lots along all the streets, thus also preparing the ground for the setting of the trees. The streets running north and south were named Sioux, Pella, William, Washington, and Prairie.(127)
One of the first two buildings in the prairie village of Orange City was a schoolhouse, and the population in 1870 consisted of a carpenter and his wife and son. In the spring and summer of 1871 a few houses were built, and an inn-keeper, a shoemaker, a barber, and a blacksmith came to town. Hospers also sent a contractor to build the first colony store. Here, it is said, butter and eggs were received in exchange for merchandise, and on account of the general scarcity of money among the settlers, no credit was given for a time until the leader of the colony invented "store orders", the drawer of which bound himself to break a specified number of acres of prairie soil. These orders or promises to work circulated quite extensively for a time.
After the severe winter of 1871-1872, when snowstorms had interfered very much with the tedious journeys to gather fuel along the rivers, the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad was completed through the eastern part of the new colony with a station at East Orange (now Alton), about four miles east of Orange City. No other agency proved to be so great a boon to the settlement's growth: it spared many a long wagon journey for fuel, and offered the settlers adequate and fairly convenient facilities for the transportation of grain, and the importation of lumber, farm implements, merchandise, and other necessaries.
The Hollanders had made themselves such a power at the polls that at the autumn election of 1872 a majority of voters declared their desire that the county seat be removed from Calliope to the eastern part of the county where most of the inhabitants lived. The Board of Supervisors thereupon resolved that the county records and property be transferred at once. Courthouse and jail were established in Orange City and a poor-farm was selected just outside the town limits. Henceforth official life centered in the Dutch colony.(128)
For three years the Dutch pioneers of Sioux County experienced steady progress upon their prairie farms. They had gathered a modest crop of wheat and corn from their newly-broken acres in 1870 and were abundantly blessed in the harvest seasons of 1871 and 1872. A bright future seemed to beckon to all Hollanders who were willing to be economical and industrious. They had contended with many hardships and had sacrificed much, but enjoyed the peace and harmony of a pleasant community life. They had learned to take a neighborly interest in one another's welfare and they aided one another with advice and practical assistance. They were communistic in spirit if not in fact. One hundred and sixty-three families had become housed within as many dwellings in Holland Township, and twenty-seven families lived at Orange City. The entire population of these two political divisions, not counting the Dutch settlers of Nassau and other townships, numbered over one thousand persons, or about one-third of the total population of the county.(129)
The founding of a "daughter" colony in Sioux County is perhaps the most noteworthy incident in the history of Pella, not only because an abundance of excellent farm land was discovered for so many of Pella's younger generation of inhabitants, who were thus saved to the State of Iowa, but also because Orange City and vicinity have come to be the third successful Dutch settlement in the United States.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(121) Pella's Weekblad, December 25, 1869; and vas. Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part III, p. 64.
(122) Pella's Weekblad, April 30, 1870; De Volksvriend, September 19, 1895; The Alton Democrat, September 3, 1910; Sioux Center Nieuwsblad, September 7, 1910; and an article by A. van der Meide in The Historical Atlas of Sioux County. The heads of families are named in The Sioux County Herald, July 6, 1876, and in van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part III, p. 64.
(123) See Rev. James de Pree 's interesting article in The Historical Atlas of Sioux County.
(124) See Mr. A. van der Meide's article mentioned in note 122 supra; A. J. Betten's article in De Volksvriend, September 19, 1895; and correspondence to Pella's Weekblad, December 28, 1872.
(125) The name "Orange" was
applied to townships in Black Hawk, Guthrie, and Clinton counties before
1858. Wherever one finds "Orange" as a geographical name, there
is good reason to suspect the presence of Dutchmen, but so far as can be
ascertained, the Hollanders had nothing to do with the naming of the
townships above referred to. - See Iowa Historical and Comparative
Census, 1836-1880, pp. 581, 582.
(126) Pella's Weekblad, April 13,
and June 8, 1869. The name "New Holland" was later changed to
(127) For an interesting article, obviously written for advertising purposes, see the Iowa State Register, August 10, 1870. For a series of articles on Orange City see Pella's Weekblad, February 25, March 4, May 20, 27, July 1, 15, 22, and August 19, 1871.
(128) De Volksvriend, September 19, 1895.
(129) For statistics on agriculture and population see Census of Iowa, 1873, p. 58. See also Pella's Weekblad, September 17, 1870.
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