This is the third (and final) installment of a memoir written by Sumner Smith, of Melrose, and published in The Albia Republican of March 14, 1910. Part One is here and Part Two is here.
Sumner was born April 25, 1838, in a cabin on the current site of Keosauqua, grew up on a farm near Montrose in Lee County and moved as a young man to Louisa County where he enlisted for Civil War service in Company K, Eighth Iowa Volunteer Infantry.
He survived Shiloh, but was taken prisoner, then after exchange came down with typhoid fever, and was discharged for disability during late winter, 1863. He returned home weighing 90 pounds and, for several months, unable to work.
During 1865, he married Louie Stewart in Louisa County and for the next 10 years alternated farming during the summer with teaching school in the winter, eventually relocating to Monroe County. In 1873, the Smiths moved to Melrose where he went into business and still was living when the memoir was written. The last installment ended as he returned home, health shattered, during 1863:
Now right here I want to break off this story and go back to the earlier days, as there are a few things which I forgot to say, which may, and again which may not, be of interest to the reader and if it don't interest you, it can be skipped.
I began plowing when I was ten years old, but of course I could not do much of it, but when I was twelve years old I plowed most all the time while breaking up ground for corn. The first plow I ever used was a cast iron one, which would scour all right in the sand where it was used, but if such a one was used here in Monroe county it would not scour while going two feet. I have also seen plows with wooden mould-boards, but I never used one of that kind.
After the ground was all plowed, it was then marked off both ways with a single shovel plow, the marks being about four feet apart. Then the corn was dropped by hand and covered either with the shovel plow or by hand with a hoe. It was always my part of the planting to drop the corn, and I was called an expert at it as I could drop four grains in a hill, which was the number always wanted, nine times out of ten, and I have dropped ten acres a day many times, but we were out in the field by sun-up and did not quit till sundown or after. There was no such thing thought of as working only ten hours a day.
When harvest came, we had to cut our grain with a cradle and it was then raked in bundles and bound by hand. there was no such thing as a threshing machine which cleaned the grain, but we usually threshed it with a flail or tramped it out with horses.
After a while there came into our neighborhood a ground hog machine which threshed the grain, but the grain, straw and chaff all went out together and had to be separated with rakes and forks. then the grain and chaff would be placed in pens made of rails, and when we got time we would get a fanning mill (there was usually one in each neighborhood) and clean the chaff from the grain.
Our grass was cut with a scythe, and scattered with a pitchfork to dry, then raked into windrows and shocked. Oh but those were happy days, never to return I hope.
In the town where we did most of our trading (Montrose) there were four stores, a drug store, a distillery and several saloons. In these stores you could buy green coffee, New Orleans molasses, New Orleans sugar, calico, muslin, pine tar, whisky and a few other articles.
I have no doubt but what a great many would like to know what pine tar was used for, so I will just say it was used on the old linch pin wagons, just the same as axle grease is used on the present day wagons.
There was scarcely a store but what sold whisky and you could buy it by the gallon or barrel just as you liked; by the gallon it was 25 cents and by the barrel it was 16 cents per gallon, and as it was so much cheaper by the barrel, there were many who bought it that way. My father was a strict temperance man, and would never allow it in his house, but there were many good church members who kept it in their houses all the time.
In addition to the other business transacted in Montrose at that time, was a distillery, which was run by a man by the name of George Coleman, who was an elder in the Presbyterian church.
As I have told of a number of things which we could buy at the stores, I will tell of some of the things which we could not buy. There was not a store in Iowa in which could be bought a pair of shoes or boots, a pound of granulated sugar, a pound of roasted coffee, a suit of clothes, a pair of mittens or gloves, a gallon of coal oil or gasoline, a pair of overalls, a pair of overshoes, a ready made shirt, a ready made dress, a can of any kind of fruit or vegetables, a bar of soap, a can of lye, and many other things which are in daily use at this time and --- among the most useful of those things --- the corset. I often wonder why it was not sooner invented as our mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers died without knowing anything about its great usefulness.
I was married to Miss Louie Stewart in Louisa county, on October 25, 1863, and to this union have been born two sons and one daughter; one son lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, one in Omaha, and our daughter lives on a farm seven miles northwest from Chariton, Iowa.
For ten years after our marriage, I farmed in the summer time and taught school in the winter, but as my health was not good, I moved to Melrose in 1873 and have lived here since that time. I was in the grocery business here from March, 1873, until July 25, 1895, at which time my store with all the other buildings on the west side of town burned. As I was left alone (my children had all left home) I went into the real estate and insurance business, and continued at that till about a year ago, when I sold out my business and am now doing very little of anything, just loafing around.
When I was 14 years old I began carrying the mail on a star route from Montrose, Iowa, to St. Francisville, Mo., on the south side of the Des Moines river. At that time the pre-payment of postage was optional with the sender; but if pre-paid, either with money or stamps, it cost 3 cents per one-half ounce, but if paid by the receiver, it cost five cents; and when a letter was forwarded, it cost 3 cents, and this continued till 1864, as shown by letters I now have in my possession.
While I was in school at Mt. Pleasant, I had the honor of being in the same classes with a few men who afterward became pretty well known and among the number were Hon. F.M. Davenport of Oskaloosa but I believe now of Mt. Pleasant, the late Capt. T.J. Zollars of Ottumwa, Hon. John A.T. Hull of Des Moines, and Hon. William A. Clark, late United States senator from Monana. I suppose there are a great many people who would feel proud and stuck up if they had been the daily associates of these men, but not so with yours very truly.
The people where I have lived have suffered me to hold the following offices --- school director, three terms; township clerk, one term; justice of the peace, three terms; assessor of Melrose, three terms; postmaster of Melrose, eight years; secretary of the Melrose school board, twenty consecutive years and I absolutely refused to serve any longer as I had equaled the time that John W.H. Griffin was clerk of the district court, and I thought that long enough.
In January, 1869, I was appointed by the twelve apostles (old board of supervisors) to fill an unexpired term of justice of the peace, and up to that time I had never had a code of Iowa, or any other law book in my hands. Within a few days after I had qualified, a suit was commenced before me, and as I was then teaching the Melrose school, I set the day for the trial on Saturday, so it would not interfere with my school duties.
I knew that there would be quite a few who would want to see how I would behave at the trial. I set the place at the school house, and the hour at 10 a.m. When the time came the house was well filled. Tom B. Stuart, of Albia, was just beginning his practice and was attorney for the plaintiff and uncle Billy Bernard was attorney for the defendant.
The plaintiff had filed a petition and defendant had filed an answer and with a great deal of solemnity I read them. Then Tom sprung a new one on me by filing a demurrer and asking me to file it, which I did, by dating it and marking "filed" on the back. I got up and told those wise men that they would have to enlighten me, as I was totally ignorant of the meaning of the word "demurrer." They both laughed and Tom said, "Billy, tell him." and Billy told me, and Tom said he had given me the right definition. Then they both had to make their arguments.
I said that plaintiff claimed the defendant owned him a certain amount of money and the defendant denied that he owned him that amount, but a smaller sum, so I overruled the demurrer. At this, Tom said, "call a jury." The house was well filled with men and I walked to the door and locked it so they could not get out and began to call men by naming them to take seats on a bench and when I had got six men and was calling more, the lawyers said I had enough to begin with.
Up to this time I had never been in a justice's court, and was never in a district court but once, and then only about fifteen minutes or just long enough to give evidence. I was entirely ignorant of the way juries were obtained, but I got one just the same. There were only three witnesses and the jury was only about ten minutes in bringing in a verdict for the plaintiff. Then the defendant appealed to the district court, and I have always been proud of that decision, in overruling the demurrer, as the same question was brought up at Albia, and Judge Tannehill gave the same decision that I did.
In concluding these sketches, I will just say that any man holding as many offices as I have ought to be rich beyond compute, but I am not in that condition by a long shot. Most cordially yours, Sumner Smith.
Sumner was in good health at age 75 when he traveled into Des Moines during June of 1913 to attend a reunion of the Eighth Infantry, spending several nights with nieces and nephews who lived in or near the capital city.
One night, while staying with a niece, he apparently turned off the bathroom light and attempted to make his way back to his bedroom in the dark. Taking a wrong turn, he fell down the stairs and subsequently died of his injuries on June 14.
His remains were returned to Melrose for funeral services and burial in the Methodist Cemetery on the north edge of town.
After that, Louie moved to Kansas to live with their daughter, Mae (Mrs. John) Rickey. She died in Montgomery, Kansas, on Jan. 17, 1924, and her remains were brought back to Melrose for burial beside Sumner.