Saturday, February 16, 2019

Chariton's Mary Cushman wins General Grant's heart

Back in the day when railroads ruled, Lucas Countyans rarely were surprised when luminaries passed through and good crowds at one or another of the depots were assured when called for.

That certainly was the case on Monday, Nov. 3, 1879, when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, paid a call, albeit a brief one.

If you paid attention in history class, you'll know that Grant served two terms as U.S. president after the Civil War, leaving office during March of 1877. Two months later --- on the 16th of May 1877 --- the Grants set out from Philadelphia on a round-the-world marathon and extended diplomatic mission that lasted two and a half years.

Finally --- on Sept. 20, 1879 --- the Grants returned to U.S. soil in San Francisco and after a month of perambulating the West were ready to head home, first to Galena, Illinois, for a brief visit, and then to Philadelphia, which they reached on Dec. 16.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, recognizing a public relations coup when it saw one, offered a special train --- bedecked with flags, flowers and evergreen boughs --- to transport the Grants and their entourage across southern Iowa from Omaha to Burlington.

That train left Omaha at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 3, was greeted by Iowa Gov. John H. Gear at Union Depot in Council Bluffs, then made its way whistlestop to whistlestop through Glenwood, Red Oak, Villisca, Creston, Murray, Osceola, Chariton, Albia, Ottumwa and Fairfield before arriving in Burlington at 10 p.m., where a major reception was held before the exhausted Grants headed on to Galena.


Chariton's two newspaper editors found themselves at disadvantage when planning coverage of the Grants' stop in Chariton. Patriot editor George H. Ragsdale was a good Republican and an honored Civil War veteran. He was invited --- along with Capt. A.U. McCormick --- to join the presidential train in Council Bluffs and accompany the party to Burlington. George didn't even try to report on the trip, leaving his staff in Chariton to pick up reports filed by others for republication in The Patriot of Nov. 5.

Chariton Leader editor Dan Baker was neither a Republican nor a veteran. None of those in charge of arranging the Grants' reception had any incentive to move him close to the action and he ended up standing so far away that he could neither see nor hear what was going on. 

"The Patriot says that Col. Dungan made a reception speech when General Grant stopped here the other day," Dan wrote in his edition of Nov. 8. "Well it is the first we have heard of it, but don't doubt it, and know that it was a good one. We were so far back in the crowd that we could not hear anything, and we're now convinced that we didn't see General Grant, for we had our eagle eye affixed on a fellow all the time as the General, and since then we've convinced ourself that it was the porter of the sleeping car."


The special train arrived in Chariton at about 4 p.m. and was greeted by what was a described by a huge crowd with Col. Warren S. Dungan heading up the welcoming delegation. Here's how a reporter for The Burlington Hawk-Eye described the festivities:

"Chariton was more pretentious in its decorations and reception. The train there was welcomed by a band and by one of the largest crowds that we had yet seen. In an enclosure near the station the public school children were assembled. As soon as the train stopped, General Grant was almost bodily seized and conducted to the enclosure, where he was received with unbounded enthusiasm by the children. He was introduced to them by the superintendent of the public schools, who bore in her arms a pretty little girl of four or five years, who in a very pretty little speech, which she delivered in a very fascinating and embarrassed manner, welcomed the general to Chariton, and in the name of the school children presented him with a bouquet of choice flowers. The general seemed more pleased with the little girl's words than with any of the lengthy addresses with which he had been received at any of the other places, and after bestowing a fatherly kiss upon his little admirer, he began his return to his car, a ceremony which, owing to the dense crowds and the numerous people who wish to shake hands with him, was quite and undertaking."

Another report identified the little girl as Mary Cushman, 6, and quoted her speech as follows: "General Grant, will you please accept these flowers from the schools of Chariton to show you that we will always love and remember you and our country."


And finally, here's Dan Baker's Nov. 8 report from the fringe, published under the headline, "General Grant at Chariton."

"On Monday this celebrated old hero of a hundred battles passed through our city on a special train. A large crowd of people had gathered at the depot to give him a greeting. About 4 o'clock he arrived, and was immediately seized by the enthusiastic mob of men, women and children and towed around promiscuously among them until the good natured old fellow began to think that Chariton was the most dangerous place for enthusiastic friends he had ever struck. After the women had all hugged him, and the children kissed him, and the men had touched the hem of his garments he was reluctantly permitted to proceed on his journey eastward.

"The old general was looking very well, in fact was as hale and hearty as though he had been well fed through all of his travels. Of course we Democrats were all as enthusiastic for Grant, as any one.

"The General met some of his old army companions at this place, and doubtless was glad to see them. No doubt he will forever appreciate his visit here because he was not bored with a speech nor asked to make one. We wish General Grant a happy trip homeward, and a long peaceful life, such as his honored predecessors had before him. Grant was elected president, hence we honor him for his well earned laurels."

Friday, February 15, 2019

Stagecoach Days 5: The end of the line at Red Oak

Buckskin Tracy's tombstone in Evergreen Cemetery (Find a Grave photo by janicet)

I started to tell this tale of the Western Stage Co. route through southwest Iowa earlier in the week. It revolves around two of the men instrumental in establishing it --- Perry B. "Buckskin" Tracy and Stephen Clark. "Stagecoach Days 1: Buckskin Tracy & Stephen Clark" is here; "Stagecoach Days 2: Commodore Perry's Namesake," here; "Stagecoach Days 3: The Rise and Fall of Lagrange," here;  and "Stagecoach Days 4: Tallahoma." here.

When Clark and Tracy were last heard from --- during 1860 --- Stephen was Western Stage Co. station agent in Chariton and Buck was company line agent for south central and southwest Iowa.

Two years earlier, during the spring of 1858, Buck had set out from Osceola to blaze the company's route connecting south central Iowa to the Missouri River. According to his obituary, he did this while driving a buckboard. 

The end of the line was Trader's Point, along the Missouri River northwest of Glenwood and across the river from Plattsmouth, Nebraska. The usual date for commencement of stage service between Chariton and the point is July 1, 1858.

Trader's Point was the creation of legendary French-American trader Peter A. Sarpy and home to Sarpy and his wife, Ni-co-mi, of the Ioway tribe. Buck reportedly counted Sarpy among his friends and at least some of his trademark buckskin outfits were said to have been purchased from Sarpy at Trader's Point.

Back in Montgomery County, what now is Red Oak was just emerging. The principal stage stop in the county was Sciola, near the county's eastern edge, but at some point during 1858 a ferry across the Nishnabotna River began operations at Red Oak and a town began to develop. During 1862, Buck established a major Western Stage Co. stop here --- at a hotel operated by Lazarus N. Harding and his wife, Mary.

The Hardings remained lifelong friends. Buck reportedly began boarding with the Hardings as soon as the stage stop was established and lived with them off and on for the remainder of his life. The Hardings cared for him during his final illness in 1886 and he died in their home and was buried from it.

Also during 1862, Stephen Clark moved west from Chariton to become station agent in Red Oak and held that post until it was discontinued not long after the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad passed through.

The two men also formed enduring friendships with Hilman W. Otis, a Red Oak land agent. Buck and Otis shared office space in a building Buck owned after stagecoach days had passed and he was dabbling in real estate, too. It was to Otis that both Buck and Stephen turned as their ends were approaching to handle their estates.

Another mutual friend was John Chaney, one of Osceola's best-known attorneys, who grew up in Lucas County and probably got to know Buck and Stephen when they were living here, too. Chaney went on to study law with Chariton's Warren S. Dungan, then opened his practice in Osceola. He was serving as judge in Iowa's Third Judicial District, which included Red Oak, at the time of Buck's passing.


It is possible to find buried in southwest Iowa newspapers a few memories of Buck in his heyday as Western Stage Co. agent.

Elizabeth Gans Harding (1849-1939), of Red Oak, writing in a story published on July 1, 1929, in The Red Oak Express, remembered Buck as line agent for the Western Stange Co. during December of 1868, at a time when Afton was the end of the line for the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad. Elizabeth had married William A. Harding on Dec. 1, 1868, at her parents' home in Springfield, Illinois, and they set out for Red Oak soon thereafter.

After arrival in Afton by train, they boarded a Western Stage Co. coach --- described by Elizabeth as an open vehicle resembling a buckboard --- for the balance of the journey during a very cold and snowy period. When they reached Queen City in Adams County (just east of Corning, the current Adams County seat), they bought a blanket to put over their heads to protect them from the snow.

"We spent the night in Queen City," Elizabeth wrote, "and started the next morning for Sciola, arriving there late in the afternoon. The writer was carried into the stage station, with feet nearly frozen, and we remained there snowed in for two days and nights. By that time, Buckskin Tracy, the stage coach manager, arrived on the scene, as he had heard that neither passengers nor mail had been able to get out from there. So the stage coach was shoveled out of the snow and the journey was resumed, no men being allowed to ride, but the driver. The snow had to be scooped out many times, and many were the arguments, profane and otherwise, between French Tom, the driver, and Buckskin, himself, the stage manager, as to why neither one of them could "keep up on the divide."


J. D. Davis, by 1919 a resident of Watonga, Oklahoma, was visiting in Corning during that year and during an interview with the local editor recalled Buckskin as a highly accomplished master of profanity. The interview was published in the Adams County Union-Republican of June 4.

"Mr. Davis drove a stage coach from Afton to Sciola in the early days of this county (Adams), 1859. In fact, it was so early that there was no city of Corning in those days. Queen City, just east of Corning about two miles, and Brookville, now known as Brooks, were the principal cities of this vicinity in those days," the Union-Republican reported.

" 'Yes, I drove a stage for Buckskin Tracy, the stage agent of those days,' said Mr. Davis to us. 'He was the most picturesque adept at swearing that I ever heard. Say, when Buckskin got really down to business at cursing, it was the very last word in that accomplishment. Well, Buckskin got peeved at something the Queen City authorities had done, and so he wouldn't allow us to stop at that point. I remember that I stopped (after that) at the home of John Antill, somewhere around there.' "


It's generally agreed that the last Western Stage Co. coach left Red Oak during December of 1869. Coach traffic increased as rails advanced and the end was nearing; four-horse Concords were in common use at the time.

Both Stephen and Buck had invested in farms near Red Oak. Once stagecoach days had passed, Stephen settled on his and little more was heard from him. Buck continued a very active life, however, dabbled in real estate and lived for varying lengths of time on his farm too. He also collected some of the coaches left behind in Red Oak and built a barn to protect them. One of these was added in 1900 to the State Historical Society of Iowa collection.

When the 1870 census of Red Oak Junction was taken, Buck's occupation still was listed as stage agent and he was living independently in the city with his sister-in-law, Martha (Peacock) Tracy, as housekeeper. Martha had been a widow since the 1850 death in Chautauqua County, New York, of Buck's brother, Jedediah Royce Tracy, and Buck reportedly had helped support her and her family of six children. Nephew Perry T. Tracy joined his uncle at Chariton in 1860, drove four years for Western Stage, then settled on a farm near Red Oak, too. And at some point in the late 1860s, Martha Tracy moved west to join them. This housekeeping arrangement was not permanent, however, and Martha eventually moved to Nebraska to live with children who settled there.


During 1877, Buck was offered the opportunity to take over operation of a stage line from Kearney Junction, Nebraska, to Deadwood, Dakota Territory --- and seems to have jumped at the chance although by this time he was well into his 60s. The plan didn't quite work out, but Buck seems to have enjoyed himself anyway, if this report from The Red Oak Express of Dec. 27, 1877, is to be believed:

"Mr. P. B. Tracy was warmly greeted by his many friends on his return home to Red Oak a few days ago from the west. It will be remembered he went out to Kearney last spring to superintend a stage line from that place to Deadwood. After making one trip, he became convinced that the line could not be made profitable, and contrary to the urgent solicitation of the proprietors, he abandoned the enterprise. Subsequent events proved the correctness of his judgment in reference to the matter. He then went to Cheyenne, Custer City and Deadwood; looked over the Black Hills country; and decided to invest in the town of Spearfish. Built one or two houses and returned to Cheyenne.

"Then concluded on a pleasure excursion with a company of ladies to Laramie Plains. This necessitated his sending home for his buckskin suit; it was forwarded to him by Mr. Otis, and received in due time. This excursion over, he again returned to Cheyenne, and from there went to Denver. After a short stay at the latter place, he came back to the capital of Wyoming, where he remained during the session of the Legislature, of which body his brother, Judge D.C. Tracy, is an influential member. He is now with his friends in Red Oak, and will remain here during the winter, when he will again return to the west.

"Mr. Tracy is one of the pioneers of this part of Iowa. He was the first mail contractor and ran the first line of stages in this part of the state. He is now past his three score years but is hale, hardy and as active as one of half his years. He is a man of extraordinary endurance. With the old settlers he is held in high esteem."


Buck's health began to fail during 1886, when he was 72. He suffered a stroke during July of that year and died on Aug. 8, 1886, in the care of his friends, the Hardings, one day short of his 73rd birthday.

His obituary, obviously written by those who knew him well, was published in The Red Oak Express of Aug. 13 and contains this description of his character:

"Mr. Tracy was a man of marked traits of character. He was greatly attached to his friends and never forgot nor failed to appreciate a kindness. His acquaintance with H.W. Otis was formed in 1869 and ripened into a close and intimate friendship. The same was true of his associations with L.N. Harding, Stephen Clark and others. His convictions of honesty were of that sturdy kind which never wavered a hair's breadth. As expressed by Mr. Harding, he was so upright in his dealings and in his desire to do justice that he leaned backward. Mr. Otis informs us that on the day he was taken sick he owned no man a dollar. He was scrupulously careful to render justice to his fellow men and held to the belief that there was no necessity for differences in dealings where both parties wanted to be honest. His acts of benevolence were many, but were quietly done. One of the last was to deed to the poor boy Carlson the little home in the south part of town. Mr. Otis says in deeds of charity no man in Red Oak has done more. He was very fixed in his notions of dress and up to his death had never forsaken the buckskin clothes. He had in his possession a suit which he had kept for thirty-four years and he said a few weeks before his sickness that the coat and vest were yet very good, but the pants a little soiled. He was never married, owing much no doubt to the use of his means during the many years of his early life in befriending his widowed sister-in-law and her six children. Perry  B. Tracy has passed over to the great beyond, but his sturdy will, unflinching purposes of right and warm heart will live in the memories of all who knew him as tender recollections."

The "Carlson boy" was the 9-year-old son of P. O. and Mary Carlson, tenants on Buck's rural Red Oak farm. Mary, while intoxicated, shot herself to death on Aug. 3, 1886.


Buck was buried, following services at the Harding home, in Red Oak's Evergreen Cemetery and a year later, during December of 1887, The Red Oak Express reported that, "H. W. Otis, administrator, has just erected a fine monument to the memory of P.B. Tracy. It is the largest in the Red Oak cemetery and Mr. Otis has exhibited good taste in design."

According to his obituary, Buck had prepared a will --- and then destroyed it not long before his death, leaving a substantial estate to be distributed among his heirs according to the rules of intestacy. His old friend, Hilman Otis, may not have had quite so grand a tombstone in mind --- but another old friend, Judge John Chaney, stepped in.

The Red Oak Express of Dec. 24, 1886, reported that "Before adjourning court last week Judge Chaney ordered Mr. Otis, the administrator of the estate of the late Perry Tracy, to erect a monument over his grave costing not less than $1,000 nor more than $1,500. Judge Chaney has been a firm friend of the deceased for twenty-five years."


Buck's old friend, Stephen Clark, died four years later, on Oct. 3, 1890, after an illness of about two years. In failing health, he had moved from his farm to the Central House hotel, where he was cared for during his final illness.

Although Stephen selected Hilman Otis, too, to administer his substantial estate, Mr. Otis seems not to have known as much about Mr. Clark as he did about Buckskin Tracy. The obituary, published in The Express of Oct. 10, is brief and somewhat enigmatic:

"Stephen Clark, long a noted figure in the history of Red Oak, died Friday afternoon last at the Central House of consumption of the bowels. He had been ailing for over two years past, and was expecting the final summons. the funeral was held Sunday afternoon, conducted by W.W. Merritt. Mr. Clark was a peculiar man, and while he had been a resident of our city for over thirty years, took little part or interest in its affairs. In the early 1860s he was connected with the stage line running through this section, and after the railroad was well under way, bought some land southwest of the city on which he spent many years. He was never married, and at his death was in his 76th year. Very little is known of his early history, as he lived a very retired life, making few acquaintances or friends. His relations consist of a brother and two sisters in New York, to whom his estate, amounting to over $30,000 will go."

Stephen does not seem to have left a will either, so Otis was left with the task of tracking down his surviving heirs. But he did ensure --- apparently without judicial prodding --- that Clark had tombstone in Evergreen Cemetery that came close to matching Buck's in size and grandeur.

Stephen Clark's tombstone in Evergreen Cemetery (Find a Grave photo by dolph72).
And so that's how these two old friends came to rest in comparative splendor within sight of each other in an older section of Evergreen Cemetery.

Mr. Otis survived until Feb. 11, 1908, when he died at his Red Oak home, age 81, and his wife, Eliza, some years later. They had no children. And although buried, too, in Evergreen Cemetery, their graves are unmarked.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day, beekeepers

Perhaps you were not aware, distracted by the commercial frenzy of candy, hearts and roses, that St. Valentine also is the patron of beekeepers. So happy Valentine's Day to all those contemplating their hives and our fellow creatures within as we move toward spring.

And everyone else, too, of course.

In honor of the bees, the flowers here were plucked from the woods at Red Haw State Park, but during late March rather than mid-February.

The words are from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, most often associated nowadays with romantic love since they're commonly used at weddings, but in the original sense, agape --- or universal and unconditional love.

Many of us have mixed views about the Bible, that ancient mix of myth and magic anglicized so memorably in the KJV, in some cases because we've experienced it as a weapon and/or a rallying point for tribalism. But in this instance, there's no arguing with old St. Paul.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Stagecoach Days 4: Tallahoma

This series of posts is headed eventually toward wrapping up the saga of Perry B. "Buckskin" Tracy and Stephen Clark, south-of-Iowa pioneers in the stagecoach story of southern Iowa between 1853 and 1871, when the Western Stage Co. was driven out of business by iron horses.

I wrote a little yesterday about Lagrange, located on the Lucas-Monroe county line, one of three Western stage stops in Lucas County. The others were Chariton and Tallahoma, the latter the most obscure of the three. Never even a village, Tallahoma consisted of the Edwin C. Rankin home, which doubled as an inn for travelers and perhaps housed the Tallahoma store and post office, too. There also would have been a Western Stage Co. barn and perhaps a free-standing blacksmith shop.

The map (above) shows the approximate location due north of Fry Hill Cemetery and on high ground some distance west of the old White Breast Creek crossing on what once was the principal road west to Osceola from Chariton.

In the very early days, residents of a wide area around Tallahoma, stretching west into Clarke County, would have had to travel to Tallahoma to pick up their mail and, most likely, pick up a few necessities at the store as well. The next stage stop to the west, en route to Osceola, was at Ottawa. 

If you drive west from Lucas on U.S. 34, you'll still pass through Ottawa but probably won't recognize it (Google street view above). Not much left. The turn-off south (left) into Woodburn is here. Woodburn, like Lucas and Russell, was platted along the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad line when it passed through, leaving Ottawa to dry up some distance to the north.

Tallahoma was a joint commercial enterprise of East Tennessee natives John Branner and his protege, Rankin, who arrived in Lucas County during 1853 with military land warrants purchased at discounted rates from Mexican War veterans and, using them, acquired thousands of acres of land. Branner, who located in Chariton, was the major player; Ranken, acting on his own behalf and as Branner's agent, located at Tallahoma as overseer of Branner holdings in that part of the county.

The name was derived from a town in Tennessee, Tullahoma, familiar to both Branner and Rankin. But the postal department inadvertently spelled the name with an "a" rather than a "u" and Tallahoma it became.

Rankin was named postmaster on Aug. 23, 1853, and held the post for 10 years before passing the torch to Moses N. Marsh during 1863.

Marsh, a native of Massachusetts, arrived in Jackson Township during the same year Branner and Rankin, did --- during 1853 --- along with his wife, Maria, and their older children, and settled just southwest of what became Tallahoma. By 1860, he was prospering --- the owner of real estate valued at $7,000, a considerable sum at the time.

Sadly, Moses had very little time left to serve, once appointed, as postmaster. He died at age 42 on Sept. 8, 1863, and his remains were brought into Chariton for burial in the new cemetery just established on the south edge of town.

Without a postmaster, the Tallahoma post office was discontinued on Oct. 16, 1863, but re-established on Nov. 28 of that year when David Webster was appointed to fill the vacancy. A year later, on Dec. 15, 1864, Edwin Rankin was reappointed and continued to serve until June 7, 1875, when the Tallahoma post office was discontinued for good. He packed up his family and headed farther west.

By this time, Lucas was a thriving village and the Norwood Post Office had been established, too. Passengers who once traveled by stage coach now traveled in considerably more comfort aboard trains. Those who once had purchased goods at the Tallahoma store now shopped in Lucas --- or Chariton, or Norwood --- instead.

And Tallahoma became little more than a footnote to Lucas County history.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Stage Coach Days 3: Rise and fall of Lagrange

I started out with the best of intentions --- to wrap up in three parts the modest saga of Perry B. "Buckskin" Tracy and Stephen Clark, then became preoccupied with freezing rain and snow. So here instead is a brief account of Lagrange, the most easterly of three Western Stage Co. stops in Lucas County between 1853 and 1868. This is taken from the 1881 history of Lucas County, compiled by Dan Baker, editor of The Chariton Leader until he resigned to take on the history project.

The map shows the approximate scale and location of what now is a ghost town astraddle U.S. Highway 34 at the Lucas-Monroe county line. If you know what you're looking for, it's kind of obvious a settlement of some sort once was located here, but the only signage is at the cemetery just north of the highway along the county line road.

In addition to the amenities mentioned in Baker's description of the village, a school, a Christian (Disciples of Christ) church and a Cumberland Presbyterian church also were located at LaGrange. 

Here's Dan Baker's description of Lagrange:


Mr. Samuel Prather, of Cedar township, owned the south-east quarter of the south-east quarter of section twenty-five, adjoining the county line of Monroe. Foreseeing that the county would be populated, and that towns must exist, he concluded to lay out a town. He employed Nelson Wescott, on the 17th and 18th of October, 1852, who surveyed and platted his forty acres into twelve blocks, containing eighty-eight lots, and an additional large lot containing over three acres. This lot he called on the plat, "lone tree lot," because of a large oak tree, which for many years stood on it, and was the only tree of any size in the neighborhood. The blocks were designated by the letters of the alphabet. The town was christened Lagrange.

On the first day of October, 1856, James Robinson and Noble Olmstead employed W.K. Larimer, then deputy county surveyor, to survey and plat a part of the south-west quarter of the south-east quarter of section twenty-five, and part of the north-west quarter of the north-east quarter of section thirty-six, into twenty-one town lots, which they called Robinson & Olmstead's addition to Lagrange.

The town of LaGrange, an outgrowth of Cedar township, was on one of the main thoroughfares running east and west through the state, and on the line of the Western Stage Company, who had a station at that point; and held for many years the position of the second town in the county. In addition to having the station of the stage company, there were the post office, two hotels, four dry goods stores, one drug store, two blacksmith shops, one wagon and repair shop, one chair  shop, a cabinet maker and furniture shop, a shoe shop, and three doctors. A large  amount of business was transacted. But in 1866, the railroad, which makes and unmakes towns, came along and left the town a couple of miles in the country. Since then the town has gradually been on decline, while her rivals, Russell and Melrose, being on the railroad, have waxed strong. Some years ago a large part of the town plat of Lagrange was vacated, and changed back into farming land; and some of the present owners are talking of vacating parts of the balance; and unless the Wabash, or some other railroad happens along that way, it will eventually follow Ragtown to the shades of oblivion.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Commodore Perry's namesake: Stage Coach Days 2

This is the second in a three-part series about stage coach days in south central and southwest Iowa that focuses specifically on two men who were among its pioneers --- Perry B. "Buckskin" Tracy and his partner, Stephen Clark. Part 1 may be found here.


Stagecoach days on the main east-west line through Lucas County lasted only about 15 years, from July of 1853 when regular routes west from Fairfield were established, until 1868 --- when the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, which had reached Chariton during July of 1867, established a depot in Osceola as it marched steadily west toward the Missouri River. 

Dan Baker, in his 1881 history of Lucas County, sets July 1, 1853, as the precise date stage service began and gives credit for establishing the line to the Western Stage Co. although it actually may have been established by that company's predecessor, John Frink & Co., which sold out to Western during 1854.

The reason for 1853 interest in the heart of southern Iowa was the fact the government land office had moved from Fairfield to Chariton during February of that year, turning just another muddy county seat village out there in the middle of nowhere into a major destination --- and something of a boom town, too.

Even then, however, as it was expanding west across Iowa, the stagecoach industry was dying, pushed west out of territories where it had originated and across the Mississippi by the ever-expanding U.S. rail network.

The stage company established three stops in Lucas County, one at LaGrange on the Lucas-Monroe county line, the second in Chariton and the third at Tallahoma, located northeast of the current site of Lucas in Liberty Township. LaGrange and Chariton were the major stops, where fresh teams of horses would be hitched to the coaches and rested drivers might climb aboard. Tallahoma, most likely, was more of a rest stop where passengers could stretch and mail for the surrounding rural neighborhoods would be delivered and outgoing letters picked up. A blacksmith would be on hand in case the horses or the coach needed attention, however, and fresh horses would have been available.

Passengers, once aboard a coach, usually were there for the duration of their journeys. Unless roads became impassable, travelers rarely disembarked for a good night's sleep.


The Western Stage Co. had originated about 1840 in Pennsylvania as Moore & Co. The advance of railroads pushed it west into Ohio, where it became the Ohio Stage Co., and prospered until those pesky trans pushed it west again into Indiana and Illinois, where it became the Western. The rapid advance of rails in Illinois then pushed it across the Mississippi into Iowa, where during 1854 it purchased the assets of  John Frink & Co., which previously had been the industry leader here.

When the Western moved into Iowa, it was assumed that it would continue west into Nebraska and Kansas once our state's rail network reached the Missouri. That, however, didn't happen. Iowa proved to be the end of the line and the Western Stage Co. ceased operations after a final coach reportedly was dispatched westward from Des Moines during July of 1871.

The two gentlemen around whom this series of posts revolves, Perry B. "Buckskin" Tracy and Stephen Clark, apparently signed on with Western during its earliest days in Pennsylvania.

Leander Sickmon, another veteran stage driver who ended his days in Red Oak, died there on Aug. 6, 1902, age 87. His obituary in The Red Oak Express of Aug. 8 contains the recollection that prior to 1850, "for a number of years he drove stage between Erie and Waterford, Pa., his fellow workers being P. B. Tracy, familiarly known in later years in this county as "Buckskin" Tracy, and his partner, Steve Clark."


Mr. Clark, as noted in an earlier post, was a reticent man --- so we know next to nothing about his early years. Mr. Tracy, however, was gregarious and outgoing, so we know a lot more about him. He also had a number of close friends in Red Oak at the time of his death during 1886 who saw to it that an informative obituary was published in The Express of Aug. 13 that year.

Perry was born Aug. 9, 1813, at Colt Station, just outside Waterford, in Erie County, Pennsylvania --- not far from Lake Erie --- to Jedediah and Mary "Polly" (Royce) Tracy, but moved with his family in 1815 to Mayville, in adjoining Chautauqua County, New York, where his parents operated a public house for many years. So he would have grown up there. And it is entirely possible that Stephen, also a New York native, had been a friend from boyhood.

Oliver Hazard Perry
Buck's obituary contains this little story about his name which Mr. Tracy most likely had told many times: "His birth place was in Pennsylvania on the border of Lake Erie where Commodore (Oliver Hazaard) Perry landed and where the historic battle was fought. from this event he derived his name. Being but a babe when the trouble occurred his mother hid him in a hollow log where she might shield him from the Indians. After the battle was over the citizens were invited onto the vessel by Commodore Perry, and Mrs. Tracy with her infant son was among the number. The Commodore was greatly pleased with the boy and named him Perry, afterward giving him a little monkey cap which he retained for many years and prized very highly."

The obituary goes on to state that, "When he came to years of boyhood he left the restraints of home and started out as a stage driver. From this he came to be the manager of the stage line and established routes westward, following the 'Course of Empire' as the railroads superseded him," ending up eventually in Chicago.


There are tales out there of the caravans of coaches and veteran drivers that traveled into Iowa from Illinois once Western had purchased the assets of Frink & Co. in 1854. It's tempting to speculate that the partners, Tracy and Clark, were among them.

When the 1860 federal census was taken, Stephen Clark was enumerated in Chariton as "stage agent," resident of a hotel managed by Allan M. and Ellenora Wilson. This most likely was Henry Allen's old hotel on the southeast corner of the square which had doubled as the Western Stage Co.'s stop when routes were established in 1853.

Five stage drivers also were enumerated as hotel residents: Michael Yonkin, William Wiles, George (illegible), Charles Trotts and George Bohan.

We have no way of knowing how long Stephen had been serving as depot agent in Chariton, but do know that during 1858, Buck Tracy, by then the company's regional road agent, had blazed the Western Stage Co. route west from Chariton to the Missouri River through Montgomery County --- driving a buckboard.

Road agents were a step higher in the managerial pecking order than depot agents, but also led more active and harder lives. They worked the stage lines, driving or riding in coaches, recruiting drivers and blacksmiths, purchasing harness and other equipment, making sure the coaches were in good repair, supervising station agents, contracting with those who maintained stage stops that were not company owned and paying the bills.

Buck most likely was moving too fast for an 1860 census-taker to catch up with him, but his nephew, Perry T. Tracy, 18, who had come west from New York to Chariton that year to work for his uncle as a driver, was enumerated as such at the stage stop operated by Isaac Bolt at Sciola in eastern Montgomery County, the first Western Stage Co. outpost established by his uncle in that county.

I'll pick the story up here --- and conclude it --- another time.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Stagecoach Days: Buckskin Tracy & Stephen Clark

Red Oak Public Library

Somewhere deep in the bowels of Iowa's State Historical Building there's a vintage stagecoach. Not the Concord type most often associated with western romance. But a two-horse "jerky" --- a smaller coach designed for primitive roads and capable of carrying seven passengers, providing one rides up top with the driver.

The coach was collected in Red Oak during August of 1900 by Charles Aldrich, founding curator of Iowa' State Historical Department, who arranged to have it shipped to Des Moines for display on the basement level of the state's first Historical Building, then brand new, still standing but now rechristened Ola Babcock and used for other purposes.

State Historical Society of Iowa

I remember seeing it there --- trips to the museum were obligatory when I was kid, sometimes on school outings, at other times with my parents. The coach disappeared into storage when the collection was moved from old to new building.

The coach had belonged to the late Perry B. "Buckskin" Tracy, one of those great pioneer characters in the south and southwest of Iowa, now largely forgotten. He was a southwest Iowa divisional manager, headquartered in Red Oak, for the Western Stage Co. when that once-great transportation company folded --- officially on July 1, 1870, but actually in stages as Iowa's rail system expanded west to the Missouri River and put it out of business.

The last coaches left Chariton in 1868; Red Oak, about a year later. Both Buckskin Tracy and his longtime partner, Stephen Clark, had worked together in Chariton for the company before moving to what proved to be the end of the line, Red Oak, about 1862, where --- as in Chariton --- Clark was station agent and Tracy, road agent.

Perry salvaged six coaches not otherwise disposed of when the stage company ended operations 1869-1871 and moved these to his farm where he built a barn to cover them and maintained them as curiosities. After his death, the coaches became part of a large estate disbursed among about 20 relatives, including a nephew, Perry T. Tracy, also of Red Oak.

It was Perry T. Tracy's wife who gave one of the remaining coaches to the historical society in 1900.

When the Western Stage Coach Co. went out of business, both Clark and Tracy turned their attention to agriculture on separate farms west of Red Oak and to other business interests. They were astute businessmen and both prospered, but were considered somewhat peculiar by those who did not know them well in part most likely because neither showed any interest in many of the conventions of the day, including marriage.

Clark was described as reserved and reticent, even stand-offish; Tracy, known as Buckskin because of the clothing he had worn as a stage driver and manager, as gregarious and outgoing. He reserved a set of buckskins to be worn on special occasions after retirement.

Tracy died at the home of friends in Red Oak at the age of 72 on Aug. 8, 1886. Clark died there in hotel lodgings on Oct. 3, 1890, age 75. Both are buried behind substantial gray granite tombstones within sight of each other in an older part of the Red Oak Cemetery. Buck, a showboat in life, boasts what was described as the largest tombstone in the cemetery when it was erected; Stephen's is only slightly more modest.

During July of 1933, a United Press reporter filed a story about the old coach then on display in Des Moines, published in The Red Oak Express of July 31. One paragraph reads, "Possibly the most romantic article is the sturdy stage coach which once ran from Afton Junction, Iowa, to Denver, Colorado. According to the somewhat faded inscription on its side, this coach, commonly known as the 'two-horse jerky,' was owned by Buckskin Tracy, Red Oak, Iowa, and driven by H.A. Russel,  Hastings, Iowa. A one-way ticket from Fairfield to Chariton, Iowa, which is tacked on the side of the coach, indicates that the fare was $6.10 for this journey of almost 100 miles. The coach was abandoned about 1865."

Whether or not this old coach carried passengers from Fairfield to Chariton, too, I cannot say.  The ticket may just have been found along Tracy's belongings and attached to the coach for display. But it does bring us back to the beginning of stagecoach days in Lucas County and the arrival in Chariton as substantially younger men of Perry and Stephen, which is where I'll pick this little story up another day.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Lost Kingdoms of Africa

February is, among other things, Black History Month and I've been marking the start of that occasion by watching episodes of the BBC series, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, presented by Dr. Gus (Augustus) Casley-Hayford.

Fascinating stuff, and I'd recommend it. My access to the first of two series comes via Acorn TV, one of those low-cost streaming services that features a pleasant mix of BBC, Australian and occasional Canadian programming. 

While I wouldn't encourage digital delinquency, I did check --- pirated versions seems to be available on YouTube, too.

Casley-Hayford, currently serving as director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., is not only a scholar and a gentleman, but a top-notch presenter, too.

Give it a try. Besides, the African locales tend to be considerably warmer than ice-bound Iowa. You'll not only learn more about our remarkable world but appreciate the heat (without actually experiencing the extremes), too.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Dan Baker, Hamburg, fish & a plague of locusts

This is Part 2 of Chariton Leader editor Dan Baker's report on an excursion into southwest Iowa during early summer 1875. The first half, "Dan Baker does uppity Red Oak, then Hamburg," is here. His report was published in The Leader on June 12 and June 26, 1875. This segment was headlined, "Our Fishing Trip to Hamburg and Return."

Dan refers several times in these reports to the swarms of grasshoppers he encountered in southwest Iowa that year. These actually were Rocky Mountain Locusts, a species that had plagued U.S. farmers at intervals every 10 years of so but especially during the mid-1870s --- when they swarmed in unimaginable numbers --- since the late 18th century.

The locusts had arrived in the rich Missouri River valley, especially western Missouri, during 1874 in time to lay eggs in vast numbers to hatch the following spring. When Dan arrived in Hamburg, the locusts were maturing and already devouring crops. Although western Iowa and western Minnesota would be affected (perhaps the best-known victims were the Charles Ingalls family --- think Laura Ingalls Wilder --- in western Minnesota), Kansas and Nebraska were especially hard hit. 

Baker refers somewhat disparagingly in this segment to Missouri Gov. Charles Henry Hardin who, concluding that the locust plague reflected divine judgment, had declared June 3 to be a statewide "public day of humiliation, fasting and prayer for deliverance."

This variety of locust had by 1900 inexplicably gone extinct, so we needn't worry about a new plague. Scientists are still scratching their heads about the vanishing act, but suspect pioneers and their plows were largely responsible as they altered the nature of preferred breeding grounds like the Missouri River valley.

In any case, here's Dan's report:


After having gazed upon the beauties of Hamburg to our satisfaction, we proposed to test our skill with hook and line in the large bayou running through the city. All things being ready we set out for the stream and soon found ourself conveniently located upon its grassy banks with hook gently resting in the water, while we gently leaned our care-worn frame against a tree and slept. When we awakened some hours afterward and found our hook still there, with the worm still wiggling on it, we made up our mind at once that it was the most pleasant fishing under the circumstances that we had ever done in our life. Nothing had disturbed our bait in the slightest, therefore we were not compelled to rebait our hook every few minutes.

The grasshoppers in the meantime had stolen a silent march upon us, and had marshalled their forces around us to an extent that was alarming. Huge platoons were stationed in a semicircle in a few feet of us, with the evident design of cutting off our retreat and forcing us to take water.

It was a strategic move that would have astonished Sherman in his happiest military days. Meantime Jake Smith, who had gone along with us to teach us the noble art, had maintained his original position upon the bank with a degree of composure and perseverance that was worthy of old Walton himself. For five hours he had set there without moving and without getting a bite, until at last, near sundown, with a whoop of joy he threw out a small sized fish called a shad. "Ah," said said Smith with a chuckle of exultation, "I guess I'm a thinning you out now." But the truth was the fish were just beginning to bite, the hoppers were jumping into the water by hundreds and the fish were as eagerly jumping at them and one had accidentally run across his bait and got taken in, pretty badly, too.

Smith's success was the signal for renewed efforts upon our part and rejecting the angle worm bait, we adopted the theory of feeding the fish upon their own kind of food, therefore we took grasshoppers. The idea was practical and worked like a charm, and e're long all of us, Smith, Devore and ourself, were slinging hickory backed shad out of that bayou at a rate that threatened their extermination.

Had the Disciples been there with their net at the time they were called upon to become fishers of men, in all probability they never would have figured in sacred history as the men of note they once were, but would most likely have been handed down to modern history as the champion fishermen of the Nishnabotna.

After piling up nearly forty pounds of fine looking fellows we concluded that for one afternoon's sport, that would do very well, and all of us adjourned home.

The next two days were devoted principally to eating fish and trying to catch some more, but not another one could we get. The weather had turned cold, wet and disagreeable, and the water was rising rapidly, which accounted to some extent for our ill luck in catching them, though it is barely possible we had caught all there was in the country. Smith however insisted that there were whales in the vicinity. We did see a nineteen pound cat a fellow had speared, but had our doubts about there being any more.

On Saturday after vainly trying to get a few more fish, we took a walk down into Missouri about a mile distant, to see what effect Gov. Hardin's proclamation had had upon the grasshoppers, and to our astonishment found that every mother's son of them were migrating northward into Iowa as fast as possible. We never would have believed it had we not seen them ourself. Such is the effect of an official order from headquarters. Every grasshopper had a pass from Gov. Hardin, a copy of his proclamation, and a map of Iowa with him. We would quietly suggest to (Iowa) Governor (Cyrus C.) Carpenter that possibly the executive of our sister state has violated good faith in thus turning loose upon us this scourge, but if it should turn out that he has a right to do so under the Constitution, then our Governor ought to recollect that there are verdant fields and pastures green in Minnesota, and he ought to issue his proclamation accordingly before the hoppers have done our State much injury.

Crops in the neighborhood of Hamburg not destroyed were looking finely. Corn was far ahead of anything that we had seen in the state, while small grain was excellent.

On Sunday, at 5 o'clock p.m., we took the train for Chariton but 150 miles distant. Heavy rains had almost overflowed the beautiful valley of the Nishna, yet the country was a marvel of beauty; beautiful little towns along the road had sprung up like magic in the past few years, while in every directions large farms could be seen in a good state of cultivation. Crops up the valley were rather backward owing to the heavy rainfalls and backward spring, but with a fair season, they will yet produce wonders in the grain line.

As next day was show-day at Red Oak, at every station crowds of boys, girls, men and women, got on the train for that city, determined to see Howes' Circus, whether farming went on or not.

To our great relief, we soon reached that city, and were e're long seated in one of the elegant and comfortable palace coaches of the B. & M., bound for home, which we reached in about four hours, feeling as much rested as though we had been out on a two weeks electioneering campaign.

Take it all in all, we occasionally enjoy a little trip of this kind and would advise those upon whom work and care have seized a strong hold, to just drop everything once or twice a year and seek some delightful retreat away from business, where they can luxuriate in the delightful occupation of doing nothing to their hearts content, and if they can't make money at it, they can at least enjoy the consolation of knowing what money was made for by spending it. It does a man good both in body and soul, and we have no doubt that if every man had the leisure time to devote to a little more outdoor amusement, he would, in the end, be healthier, wealthier, and happier, besides a better and wiser man.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Dan Baker does uppity Red Oak, then Hamburg

Dan Baker
Chariton Leader editor Dan Baker, back in late May 1875, loaded his family aboard a westbound passenger train at the C.B.&Q. Depot and headed out on an excursion into southwest Iowa's Montgomery and Fremont counties to visit old friends, go fishing --- and make mental notes that enabled him to entertain his subscribers with detailed reports when he returned.

What follows is the first of those reports, headlined "Out on the Road and among the Grasshoppers," published in The Leader of June 12. It's typical Dan Baker and I think you'll enjoy it.

Take note, too, of two of the old friends he encountered along the way. "D. Remick, the banker," is Brig. Gen. David Remick --- introduced to you on Monday in a post entitled "Brig. Gen. David Remick, a pony, a colt and Chariton." By now David had left the lumber business behind, remarried and launched a new (and successful) phase of his career as a banker and entrepreneur in southwest Iowa, then Nebraska and finally California.

"Old Buckskin Tracy" was Perry B. Tracy --- one of those great characters known then from one end of the south of Iowa to the other as a driving force in the Western Stagecoach Co. before the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad made that business obsolete in the years after the Civil War as it was extended west to the Missouri River. I'll have more to say about Mr. Tracy another day.

In the meantime, here's Dan's report of encounters along the way as he traveled through southwest Iowa in early summer, 1875:


On Saturday, the 29th ult., we threw aside dull care and boarded the train at this place for Villisca on a tour of fun, rest and observation. After passing over some of Iowa's rugged hills and smiling valleys we arrived at the pleasant village of Villisca, where we found our old Hoosier friend, Isaac Bolt, of Sciola, awaiting with a rig to carry us to his home on the Nodaway bottom, nine miles north of Villisca.

Next day being Sunday, we devoted to looking at the rich fields and improvements of that splendid country. Twelve years before, we had seen it almost a wilderness, and now we found it a thickly settled country with land held at almost fabulous prices, with but few buyers and the same number of sellers. The country, however, is hard to beat in soil or water and fully justifies round prices for land.

After spending a day or two in running around through the bottom enquiring for the best place to fish without going to the trouble to find out by experience, we started on Wednesday in company with John Bolt for the famous city of Red Oak.

We were agreeably surprised on arriving there to see the numerous improvements she has made in the last eight years and felt very much like congratulating her on her enterprise, but we abandoned the idea after we had interviewed a few of her knowing citizens. We verily believe that three-fourths of the residents of that city don't know that there is any other place one earth where a man can live outside of Red Oak and its vicinity.

It was exceedingly amusing to us to witness the patronizing air with which we were greeted when we tremblingly informed one of the natives that we resided in Chariton. "In Chariton? Ah, quite a little town, I hear, but not so large as Red Oak," would be the lofty reply. "Oh, yes, larger," we quietly replied. "What? Larger than Red Oak?" and the look of astonishment and pity that he would bestow upon us was awful to behold. "Well, of course you haven't as large a population" would be the next lofty assumption. "Yes, larger," said we gravely, and then the look of indignation and disgust which we received from our outraged interrogator was simply indescribable.

But Red is really a good business point and is in the heart of the richest soil and best land that lies west of the Mississippi river. Town property is held at enormous prices, and better still is sold at such prices.

"Old Buckskin Tracy," so well known to the people of Chariton as a stage agent, showed us thirty-two and a half feet of vacant ground on the southwest corner of the square which he sold a short time since for $3,500.

While here we met with a few familiar faces, among them were D. Remick, the banker, and Mr. Tracy, the old stage line agent. We visited the two potteries of the city which are turning out an immense amount of crockery and doing a thriving business. We also paid our respects to Mr. D. S. Stiger, editor of The Record, and found him a pleasant, agreeable gentleman and doing a flourishing business. He is running an independent newspaper with some strong Democratic proclivities.

Next day, after our trip to Red Oak, having shipped our better half and orphans home, we took the train for Hamburg twenty-nine miles southwest, in Fremont county. The road was all the way down the Nishnabotna river, and without exaggeration passes through the finest country we ever saw anywhere; a perfect earthly paradise, if winter did not last too long. Arriving at Hamburg in the night, we stopped at the Metropolitan Hotel until morning and then sought the residence of our old Lucas county friend, F. Devore. A heavy rain had fallen during the night, consequently the city was a little damp. After walking down Main street nearly a mile we found our destination and then prepared for a stroll.

Hamburg is the longest town we've seen in a good while and looks as though it will stretch through both Iowa and Missouri. It lies in as lovely a valley as we ever saw, and is between the Missouri and the Nishnabotna, the latter being near its eastern suburbs and the former about three miles west, at the nearest point. A high sand ridge ascends upon the west side so that a man can climb it and see all of God's creation for twenty miles around without straining his eyesight.

There is an immense quantity of timber in every direction while lakes, creeks, springs, bayous and rivers can be seen in every direction, presenting a most enchanting landscape scenery. From the pinnacle of this high ridge we saw Nebraska City, Otoe City, Percyville and Watson, scattered through the states of Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri.

The town of Hamburg is splendidly situated for manufacturing purposes, and has several mills, factories, and one of the best breweries in Iowa. We account for the brewery from the fact that the county is Democratic. We paid all of them a visit and even sampled the beer at the brewery, in order to be able to judge of its merit. The proprietors showed us through their premises and explained the noble art of making the necessaries of life. They had four hundred barrels of beer on hand and shipped at the rate of two thousand five hundred gallons a week.

After seeing all the public places of interest, we strolled out to see the grasshoppers, and we can safely say that we saw them. There were a few thousand million of them, but not enough in our opinion to do a great deal of harm, although we noticed several fields of small grain, some cornfields and gardens that they had stripped pretty successfully. Owing to the cold rains and the backward spring, they have been seriously retarded in their depredations and will prepare, a soon as they get wings, to visit pastures green elsewhere, which will be sometime next month. Then the people of western Iowa may expect a slight scald from the voracious insections, but from our extensive acquaintance with the little pests in Montana, we are inclined to the belief that they will not do any very serious damage in Iowa this year, and even then their ravages will be confined to stripping the corn, as small grain will be out of their reach before they are ready to fly.

Having renewed our old acquaintance with the grasshoppers, we next prepared to go fishing, the particulars of which we will tell about some other time.