Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sister Gabbott: England to Grave Hollow, Part 2

Looking west into Grave Hollow on Monday, August 23.

The first installment of Sarah Gabbott's story ended during early October of 1846 when a rescue company of some 20 wagons and a like number of men captained by Orville M. Allen reached the "poor camps" along the Mississippi above Montrose where Mormons driven from Nauvoo during September had found refuge --- of a sort. The wagon train had left western Iowa on Sept. 17 and, traveling light and rapidly, backtracked on the Mormon Trail through Chariton over the course of 20 days, picking up provisions, volunteer teamsters and additional wagons along the way.

By some estimates, more than 600 Mormons driven across the Mississippi from Nauvoo during the second half of September had found refuge in these scattered camps stretching for perhaps two miles. A few had wagons and some provisions but were too sick to travel. Others had nothing more than what they could carry and the makeshift tents under which they sheltered. Others had only the clothes they were wearing. By the time the Allen company arrived, an estimated 300 remained, others having found shelter elsewhere.

A view southwest toward hills rising west of Grave Hollow.

Sarah and Edward Gabbott and their two children, John and Sarah Ann, were among those still camped here.

Also camped nearby, but with wagons, were Thomas Bullock, his wife, Henrietta, four children, and other family members. All were too ill to travel, sick with "the ague and fever" for more than a month.

During late October on the trek west, Thomas would record in his journal Sarah Gabbot's death at Chariton and burial the next morning in nearby Grave Hollow. Whether or not the families had known each other before leaving Nauvoo can't be said.

Capt. Allen had received specific instructions from Brigham Young to fetch Bullock and his family --- Thomas's services were needed in Winter Quarters, on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River. In some other cases, wagons, teams and men had been volunteered for the relief effort in return for promises that efforts would be made to locate loved ones and evacuate them. But other families and individuals were gathered into the wagons, too; and those with wagons and oxen of their own were welcomed into the company.

Looking northwest from a little farther down in the hollow.

Surprisingly, Allen was forced in some instances to cajole refugees into joining the company. Rumors had spread along the Mississippi that fall --- facilitated by dissident Mormons contesting Brigham Young's right to head the LDS church --- about threats from natives along the Missouri River, where living conditions were reported to be worse than they were in eastern Iowa. These rumors were not true.


Like the Gabbotts, the Bullocks were English --- but more affluent and, in Nauvoo and later in Utah, considerably more influential.

Thomas was born during 1816 in Leek, Staffordshire. He left school as "second-best scholar" during 1830 and went to work as a clerk in the Leek law office of John Cruso, a position he remained in for eight years. He then was appointed exciseman for the government of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, a well-paying position he held until leaving England with his family some years later.

Thomas had married Henrietta Rushton and they were converted by LDS missionaries at Leek and baptized there on Nov. 20, 1841.

During late February of 1843, Thomas and Henrietta and their family along with her parents set sail for America on the ship Yorkshire, arriving in New Orleans during May, then traveling upriver to Nauvoo by steamboat, arriving on May 31, 1843.

In Nauvoo, because of his skills and experience, Thomas snagged the plum position of personal clerk to Joseph Smith Jr., Mormon prophet and president, which he held from October, 1843, until Smith's assassination on June 27, 1844. After that, Thomas went to work as deputy recorder for the city of Nauvoo, a position he held until the city dissolved into chaos.

Both the Gabbotts and the Bullocks had remained in Nauvoo until the bitter end. The Bullocks, too ill to leave voluntarily and plagued by unspecified personal difficulties, were driven out and finally managed to get their wagons across the river on Sept. 20, 1846. It isn't known when the Gabbotts left, but Sarah's youngest brother, William, was baptized in Nauvoo on August 20, 1846, suggesting that the extended Gabbott family may have been forced out during September, too.


Orville M. Allen, captain of the relief company that had returned to the Mississippi from western Iowa during late September and early October, 1846, was a native of Missouri who married Jane Wilson during 1825, converted in Missouri during the late 1830s and arrived in Nauvoo in 1840. He had served for a time as a bodyguard for Joseph Smith Jr. and also as an officer in the Nauvoo militia.

The Allens were among those who had crossed the Mississippi during February of 1846 and moved west with Brigham Young and the 500-wagon Camp of Israel, beginning in March.


The Allen relief company arrived at the poor camps near Montrose on Oct. 7. Three days earlier, Bullock had counted 17 tents and eight wagons in the immediate vicinity of his encampment, but other encampments were scattered nearby.

Upon arrival in the camps, Allen began to organize those ready and willing to leave immediately, assigning those who had no wagon to one of the 20 brought from western Iowa and placing families with wagons, like the Bullocks, in the lineup. When all was said and done, there were 28 wagons and 157 people plus an assortment of livestock in the wagon train that moved west across Iowa commencing two days later, on October 9.

Friday, Oct. 9, is remembered, too, in LDS lore for an event recorded by Thomas Bullock in his journal and referred to since as "the miracle of the quails." On both the morning and afternoon of the 9th, according to Bullock and the accounts of several other people, flocks of apparently exhausted quail flew near and into the camps, landing there and elsewhere along the Mississippi by the hundreds. Some were so exhausted, they could be picked up. Others were easy targets for sticks.

Once these birds were dressed and cooked, the departing Saints had all the meat they could eat for a change --- and a powerful omen. Capt. Allen directed that the saints harvest no more quail than they could eat and about 3 p.m., the train headed west.


Because of Thomas Bullock's trail journal, we are able to track the Allen Poor Camp Company across southern Iowa to Chariton during that long-ago October.

On the evening of the camp's Oct. 9 departure, after a new camp had been established some three miles west, Bullock wrote: "Captain Allen called out my Wagon to take up the line of March for the West, when I left the banks of the Mississippi, my property, Nauvoo and the Mob for ever, and started merrily over a level prairie, amid the songs of Quails and Black Birds, the Sun shining smilingly upon us, the cattle lowing, pleased at getting their liberty. The Scene was delightful, the prairie surrounded on all sides by timber. All things conspired for us to praise the Lord. The company traveled three miles and then camped for the night."

The following day, the company reached Sugar Creek --- departure point in the spring for the Camp of Israel --- and Bullock noted that "The trees begin to cast their leaves and begin to show like autumn."

On Sunday, Oct. 11, a beautiful autumn day to begin with, the company reached the banks of the Des Moines River at Bonaparte in pouring rain, crossed and camped on the far side. The company remained in camp because of heavy rain on Monday morning, then when it cleared some of the men went into Bonaparte to purchase supplies and, in camp, women washed clothes.

On Friday, Oct. 16, still traveling and camping in Van Buren County, a woman named Joan Campbell died overnight after giving birth to a stillborn infant. Capt. Allen sent men back to Bonaparte for lumber, a coffin was constructed and mother and babe were buried together along the trail on Saturday, the 17th. A worship service was held that evening, ending as those assembled sang, "How Firm a Foundation."

The first snow of the season fell Friday night, but melted; and the first hard frost of the season was evident when the travelers arose on Sunday morning, Oct. 18.

Monday, Oct. 19, was largely wasted as a day of travel because of a persisting problem --- cattle and oxen straying from the camp during the night. It turned into a beautiful day, but the missing cattle weren't found until 3 p.m. and by then it was too late to travel.

The party passed through the tiny pioneer village of Mechanicsburg, due west of Keosauqua not far from the Van Buren-Davis county line, at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 20. Some two miles beyond, Bullock noted something he thought remarkable:

"After a mile or two journey, an extraordinary sight came in view --- a whirlwind was passing over an immense field of corn. It was curious, yet wonderful to see the blossoms, leaves and pieces of Corn Stalks shoot up in the air some thirty feet, as if shot from some gun, and then whirl away round and round to about 200 and 300 feet high, keeping aloft like so many Sky larks and then again descend with a whirling motion to within 20 or 30 feet of the ground, when they would again reascend, and repeat the same whirling journey."

In the afternoon, the company passed Richardson's Point and continued to a camp site on the Fox River

On Friday, Oct. 23, the Poor Camp Company reached the current site of Unionville in northeast Appanoose County, descended precipitous hills to cross Soap Creek and camped on the other side. A company meeting was held the next morning, Saturday, Oct. 24, and Capt. Allan gave the men work assignments that were carried out during the remainder of the day --- blacksmithing, hunting, trading, etc. The company remained camped on Soap Creek through Monday, Oct. 26, continuing work assignments in preparation for the next leg of the journey.

The company departed Soap Creek at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 27 ---  climbing steep hills from the creek valley into woodland and heading west-northwest along the prairie ridge to the current site of Moravia. Leaves now were fully turned and the prairie still was smoking from a recent fire.

The company traveled some 15 miles that day, passing through the current site of Moravia and camping at sundown to the west, on the trail --- more or less now Appanoose County Road J18 just to the north of Lake Rathbun --- to what now is Iconium.

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the company traveled 18 miles, passing Dodge's Point west of Iconium and turning northwest into the southeastern corner of Lucas County where camp was made by moonlight in a wooded area. The vast prairies of what now is Washington Township had burned recently.

The next day, Thursday, Oct. 29, the company got off to a late start because of runaway livestock, but started northwest at 10 a.m. and traveled 12 miles across blackened prairie to reach what Bullock called Wild Cat Grove along the east flank of the Chariton River --- now more commonly referred to as Chariton Point --- in the evening. "In many places," Bullock reported, "the burnt prairie is covered with the webs of Spiders which has a pretty gauze like appearance.”

In the grove at Chariton Point, the Poor Camp Company found "five new log houses which had been recently built by some Saints." In the evening, a cow was slaughtered, cut up and the meat distributed to the camp and  Capt. Allen called the camp together for a meeting.

It is worth noting here that according to Lucas County lore those five cabins shouldn't have been there during October of 1846. The prevailing story is that members of the Nickerson family party, after becoming stranded at Chariton Point while tempting fate while traveling west some weeks after the Poor Camp Company had departed, were forced to overwinter on the Chariton River bottoms, then came up into the groves along the east flank of the river during the spring of 1847 to stake claims and build the first dwellings at Chariton Point. I'll write more about this another time.

After breaking camp the next morning, the Poor Camp Company rounded Chariton Point on Friday, Oct. 30, and descended to the north shore of the river to water its livestock in the river. It was while exiting the river valley later that morning that Sarah Gabbott was killed.

Here, again, is the excerpt from Thomas Bullock's journal describing that event.

"... (Edward Gabbott's) wife Sarah Gabbut (sic), attempting to get back into the Wagon, laid hold of a churn dasher which being cracked, gave way, and she fell against the Oxen, which so startled them, that they started off at a full run. She fell to the ground and the Wheels of the Wagon passed over her loins or kidneys. She exclaimed 'Oh dear, I am dying.' She lingered until 5 min. to 1 and breathed her last. We continued over hill and dale until we came to one of the tributaries of the 'White Breast'... Laid Sister Gabbut out in her robes, and part prepared a grave."

Sarah's family and fellow travelers finished the grave and buried her the next morning in what has since been known as Grave Hollow.

Looking east from half way up the big hill on the west side of Grave Hollow.

To make their way out of the hollow, the company had to climb what was described as the steepest hill encountered thus far on the journey west from the Mississippi River, then most likely traveled southwesterly down the narrow ridge above it to a junction with the main route of the trail. After 10 miles, traveling with a prairie fire in sight across hills to the south, the company camped for the night at White Oak Spring.


To carry the journey west forward more rapidly now, the Allen Poor Camp Company reached Mt. Pisgah on Nov. 4 and Winter Quarters on Nov. 27. Two other rescue companies had been sent back to the Mississippi to gather up remaining poor Saints and take them to shelter before winter set in --- one from Garden Grove and another from Pottawattamie County.

The extended Gabbott family, including the widowed Edward and his two children, remained at Winter Quarters until the spring of 1848 when they set out for Utah, arriving at Salt Lake City on Sept. 22. Included in the 224-member company with which they traveled were Edward's mother-in-law, Susannah Rigby, and other Rigby children and grandchildren. Little Sarah Ann died at Salt Lake City during 1851, but son John lived to age 84.

In Salt Lake City, Edward married as plural wives the widowed Jane Schofield Smith in 1854 by whom he had another son, Amos Smith Gabbott, and Elizabeth Haslam in 1859. He died a highly respected pioneer at his farm in Sugar House Ward on July 22, 1876, age 73, and was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Upon arrival in Winter Quarters, Thomas Bullock went to work as a clerk for the church leadership, including Brigham Young. During early spring, 1847, Young assigned Bullock to accompany the First Pioneer Company to cross the Plains as company clerk and to track the journey in a journal. He departed Winter Quarters during April and arrived in Utah during July.

In Utah Territory, Bullock served Salt Lake County recorder, clerk of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, clerk to the Utah Territorial Legislature and was an occasional clerk to Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He also served as chief clerk in the church historian's office. From 1856 to 1858, Bullock returned to England as a missionary for the church.

Bullock died Feb. 10, 1885, in Coalville, Utah, age 68. His plural wives were Henrietta, who accompanied him from England, Lucy Clayton and Betsy Howard. Henrietta, who was first, outlived them all, dying on Oct. 19, 1897, age 80. All are buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. There were 23 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood.

A covered wagon of another sort climbs out of Grave Hollow on Monday, August. 24.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Internet and Grave Hollow: New collides with old

I'd intended to post the balance of Sarah Gabbott's story this morning, but the Internet was down and it took a while to get that sorted out. And since I work on the blog online, we both were dead in the water.

But I'll finish that post up for tomorrow.

In the meantime, here's a photo looking west into Grave Hollow --- or a small part of it. As the years passed, the name "Grave Hollow" came to encompass a big area, stretching south from U.S. 34 along a small White Breast tributary and its feeder streams way back into the hills. This photo is looking down into Umbenhower country along the only road that passes through the hollow.

There's no way of telling exactly where Sarah's grave is located in the hollow, although it most likely would be somewhere in the neighborhood of this road, due west of Chariton and a straight-line westward extension of U.S. 34, or to the south, closer to the high-prairie route of the main branch of the Mormon Trail.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sister Gabbott: England to Grave Hollow, Part 1

This is the first half of a two-part followup to a Lucas Countyan post entitled, "Whose grave is in Grave Hollow, you ask."  It provides more information about the Mormon Trail route through Lucas County (I've added that route in red to the 1875 Andreas Atlas map of the county, above) as well as about Sarah (Rigby) Gabbot, accidentally killed at Chariton on Oct. 30, 1846, and buried the next morning somewhere in a valley west-southwest of town called Grave Hollow.

It's necessary to back up a ways in order to understand why Sarah (Rigby) Gabbott, her husband, Edward, and their two children, Mary and Susanna, were at the future site of Chariton about noon on that Friday, Oct. 30, 1846, when she was crushed by an ox-drawn wagon, then died.

So let's go back to Nauvoo, Illinois, during the summer of 1844 when word reached the city of some 12,000 people --- comparable in size to Chicago --- that Mormon prophet and president, Joseph Smith Jr., and his brother, Hyrum, had been murdered by an anti-Mormon mob at the jail in nearby Carthage on June 27.

In the aftermath of that tragedy, tension increased although both Mormons and the Illinois establishment attempted to resolve issues peaceably. Anti-Mormon sentiment continued to run high and hot and it soon became evident that mob violence could not be contained.

In September of 1845, raiders burned about 100 homes and several farmsteads in the Nauvoo vicinity and Brigham Young, now presumptive Mormon leader, promised Illinois officials that the Latter-day Saints would leave Nauvoo and outlying settlements and farms and move west the following spring.

Over the winter of 1845-46, the Saints began to plan for the orderly exodus of some 15,000-17,000 people. Money, maps and supplies were gathered, sturdy wagons built, people were grouped into companies and routes westward explored. Work also continued on the Mormon Temple, which the Saints hoped to leave behind complete.

During early 1846, rumors of an impending raid prompted Young to evacuate the families of key church leaders into Iowa, hoping that their departure would avert further attacks on Nauvoo by demonstrating that the Saints planned to keep their promises. The first Mormon wagons were ferried across the Mississippi on Feb. 4, 1846, and a camp established at Sugar Creek. Soon thereafter, the river froze and more wagons crossed on the ice. By late February, the forward company in Iowa, the "Camp of Israel," had grown to approximately 2,500 people.

On Sunday, March 1, 1846, the Camp of Israel began to roll westward in a train of some 500 wagons. This first party, with Brigham Young as its leader, blazed what is known today as the Mormon Pioneer Trail. That trail led from Montrose to a Des Moines River crossing at Bonaparte, then northwesterly across Van Buren and Davis counties to Drakesville. Near Drakesville, the Pioneer Trail turned southwest to a Chariton River crossing southeast of the current site of Centerville, then passed across southern Appanoose County near the Missouri border and angled northwest through southern Wayne County to Garden Grove in Decatur County.

One reason generally cited for selection of this rough and troublesome route was the fact that northern Missouri was already settled and supplies for people and grain and hay for livestock could be purchased there.

Meanwhile, as the grass began to grow and nature provided adequate forage for livestock, a majority of the Saints in Nauvoo began to cross the river in orderly fashion and move west. Some 10,000 Saints were involved in this second phase of the journey which, for the most part, passed through Lucas County.

The Brigham Young party reached Garden Grove via the Pioneer Trail on April 24, 1846, and two days thereafter began to build what would become the first semi-permanent way station along the trail west. At the same time, Young sent scouts back to eastern Iowa to meet the companies of refugees that were following. The  Pioneer Trail had proved to be very rough and difficult to navigate. Instead, Young instructed, use thereafter the northerly route that followed the great ridge in Lucas County that divides the Missouri and Mississippi river drainages.

Commencing in early May, thousands of Saints began to follow the new route, traveling west from the current site of Drakesville to Unionville (Soap Creek), then northwesterly to Moravia, almost due west through what now is Inconium (Dodge's Point), then making a great arc through Lucas County north of the Chariton River with its apex at Chariton Point and passing directly through the current site of Chariton. The Saints exited Lucas County southwest of Last Chance and, at Smyrna in Clarke County, could continue west to Mt. Pisgah, established in May of 1846, or turn south to Garden Grove.

By the time the Gabbotts and 150 other members of the Orville M. Allen Relief Company reached Chariton Point late that fall, the trail was well established and already had been followed by hundreds of wagons, thousands of refugees and countless head of livestock.

Iowa Mormon Trails Association

Both Sarah and Edward Gabbott were natives of an industrial region in northwest England. Their hometown was Leyland, Lancashire, today a small city that forms the northern point of a triangle with Liverpool to the southwest and Manchester to the southeast. 

Significantly, Leyland is just south of Preston, where the first seven LDS missionaries to reach England established the first English LDS congregation during late July and early August, 1837. Today, Preston is the oldest continually existing LDS congregation in the world.

Edward was born Feb. 28, 1803, in Leyland, and Sarah, on Feb. 7, 1811, perhaps in the village of Hoole, southeast of Liverpool. They were married Nov. 24, 1833, in St. Michael's Church, Hoole, then settled down in Leyland. Edward was, by trade, a weaver and also a bleacher of fabric.

More than a year after the LDS congregation had been organized in Preston, the Gabbotts were converted, and on Nov. 11, 1838, were baptized by Heber C. Kimball in the chilly waters of the River Bibble near Preston. Other early converts included Sarah's parents, Edward and Susannah Rigby, and several of her siblings.

The first children of Sarah and Edward were sons, William and Edward, both of whom died young during May of 1837. Daughter Mary was born during April of 1838 and Susanna, during 1840.


During the early winter of 1840-41, the Gabbots and their children as well as the Rigby family began to prepare to leave England and join their fellow Saints at Nauvoo. They were among 235 converts who sailed aboard the ship Sheffield from Liverpool on Feb. 7, 1841, and arrived at New Orleans on March 28.

From New Orleans, the Saints traveled upriver to St. Louis, commencing April 1, aboard the steamship Moravian. At St. Louis, the party transferred to the steamer Goddess of Liberty and, at Warsaw, Illinois, to the smaller and more maneuverable Aster, arriving at the docks in Nauvoo on April 18, 1841.


Upon arrival in Nauvoo, Edward and Sarah, as well as the Rigbys, were given land (the Gabbotts received an acre) and such assistance as could be provided in building homes for themselves, then set about building new lives for themselves in a new land.

Edward farmed, worked at times as a carpenter and, along with most men in Nauvoo, joined the workforce then building the Nauvoo Temple. Sadly, the two daughters who had accompanied them from England died and were buried in the Nauvoo cemetery. But two additional children were born, John, on Oct. 4, 1842, and Sarah Ann on Feb. 28, 1845.

As the situation in Nauvoo deteriorated during 1845, the Gabbotts began to prepare with nearly everyone else then living in the city to cross the river and move farther west, but they were not affluent people and isn't clear when they left Nauvoo. Their presence in Nauvoo was recorded for the final time when they received their endowments in the still incomplete Temple on Feb. 7, 1846.

By August of 1846, an estimated 700 Mormons remained in Nauvoo and outlying settlements. It seems likely that the Gabbotts were among them. Most were too poor, too sick or too infirm to travel. During September, those who remained were simply driven out by anti-Mormon raiders. Some found refuge on the Illinois side of the river; others fled across the Mississippi to camps in the vicinity of Montrose.

Thomas Bullock, who would record Sarah Gabbott's death at Chariton in his journal as October ended, was among the last few hundred Saints in Nauvoo during August and September, 1846. He, his wife and four children all were too sick with "the ague and fever" to travel, even though two wagons to transport the extended Bullock family had been acquired.

According to a letter he wrote two years later, some 2,000 anti-Mormon forces marched into Nauvoo on Sept. 17 intent on forcing all of the remaining Saints out. Bullock and his family finally were able to cross the river with their wagons on Sunday, Sept. 20, and went into camp with more than 100 other "poor Saints," some equipped with wagons, others sheltered by tents, where they remained for some 17 days.

It seems likely, although can't be proved, that Edward and Sarah Gabbott and their children also were forced across the river from Nauvoo during this time and were camped with, or near, the Bullocks.

As the final Saints were being driven from Nauvoo, Brigham Young --- then in western Iowa --- was arranging for relief companies to return to the banks of the Mississippi with teams and wagons and bring the poor Saints stranded there west.

Orville M. Allen, captain of the first relief company, arrived in the "poor camps" on October 7 and began to organize the Bullocks, the Gabbotts and others for the trek west.

To be continued ....

Note: My principal source for biographical information about the Gabbotts has been Sandra Gibson Bryson's brief family history narrative that is available here in full at FamilySearch.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Taking time to smell the lilies ...

Well, actually not. I'd have needed waders.

But Saturday's was the first afternoon in a while when the high was in just the 70s, the humidity was relatively low and the breeze was cool.

The perfect day to wander around a little at Red Haw and admire the Fragrant Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata) now blooming in inlets and here and there along the shoreline.

Elsewhere, everything is intensely green --- a little too early for the autumn show to begin.

But I did find a yellow swallowtail, colors distorted here because of backlighting, willing to pose briefly.

And we chased each other for about five minutes.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Whose grave is in Grave Hollow, you ask

The story of Grave Hollow --- all or part depending upon time frame of that lovely little valley west and southwest of Chariton that cuts down northwesterly from the great Mormon Trail ridge to White Breast Creek at the  base of Highway 34's "White Breast Hill" --- is as old as Lucas County itself.

If you've not heard it, go to the interpretive panel next to the giant Mormon Trail marker at the southwest corner of the Lucas County Courhouse lawn and read it:

"West of the city of Chariton, one of the scenic roads of Lucas County passes down through an area known as Grave Hollow, a declivity between the wooded hills, gradually sloping down to the Whitebreast River. Grave Hollow came by its name by an unfortunate accident.

"A family named Gabbut was making the long trek along the Northern Trace of the Mormon Trail in October, 1846. After crossing the Chariton River, Sarah Gabbut tried to get back into her wagon but slipped and fell. Startled, the oxen bolted and the heavy wagon ran over her abdomen. She lingered for an hour and then died. The company carted her body until the end of the days' travel and buried her at their camp in Grave Hollow." 

There are a couple of inaccuracies in this account. The White Breast is a creek, not a river, for example. And the party of Saints that Sarah was a part of did not cross the Chariton River --- the entire point of the Mormon Trail route through Chariton was to avoid crossing our namesake stream --- but did water their livestock in it. Finally, Sarah's surname is misspelled and that makes tracking her down a little complicated.

Sarah's death was recorded in his journal by Thomas Bullock, another member of the party, and a shortened version of that entry dated Oct. 30, 1846, also is part of the interpretive panel --- now somewhat difficult to read because the fiberglass that covers it is badly deteriorated:

"... his wife Sarah Gabbut attempting to get back into the Wagon, laid hold of a churn dasher which being cracked, gave way, and she fell against the Oxen, which so startled them, that they started off at a full run. She fell to the ground and the Wheels of the Wagon passed over her loins or kidneys. She exclaimed "Oh dear, I am dying." She lingered until 5 min. to 1 and breathed her last. We continued over hill and dale until we came to one of the tributaries of the 'White Breast'... Laid Sister Gabbut out in her robes, and part prepared a grave."

Sister "Gabbut" actually was Sarah Rigby Gabbott and she along with husband, Edward, and children were among the 157 or so people and 28 wagons that constituted the Orville M. Allen relief company, sent back to Montrose --- just across the river from Nauvoo --- by Brigham Young from Winter Quarters during the fall of 1846 to gather up and bring west before winter "poor saints," refugees from Nauvoo who did not have sufficient resources to travel on their own.

The Allen company left Montrose, headed west, on October 9 and on October 30, reached the current site of Chariton, coming in from the southeast on what we now call the Blue Grass Road.

The livestock was in need of water, so instead of following the usual route --- northwesterly through what now is Chariton, crossing near its head the small stream that now dammed forms Crystal Lake and then turning southwest again across what now is the Chariton Airport grounds --- the party turned down a draw to the river bottom. Just a guess, but the Saints could have taken the route to the bottoms currently followed by Highway 34 just north of the Chariton Cemetery. 

After watering the livestock, the company made its way across the somewhat marshy bottom and was climbing the hill on the far side to the trail ridge when the fatal accident occurred.

Mrs. Gabbott's remains were placed in a wagon and carried onward that afternoon until camp was made that evening in what became known as Grave Hollow.

Exactly why the Allen Company descended into this valley just isn't known. The Mormon Trail's primary route was a short distance to the south, always on the high ground of trail ridge until it exited Lucas County west of Last Chance and entered what now is Clarke County. In that manner, nearly all hills were avoided.

As the journal entry states, that evening a grave was partially prepared and Sister Gabbott laid out in her robes. On the morning of October 31st, before continuing on their way, the grave was finished and funeral services were held.

The intimidating hill the party had to climb in order to exit the hollow was part of the collective memory of Sarah's fellow travelers. And if you want to get a little idea of what they faced, drive out west of town, first on Highway 34 and then on the county road, 480th Lane, pause in front of Lisa and Alan Umbenhower's place deep in the hollow and look up to the west. It's still an intimidating hill.

The location of Sarah's grave has long since been lost, of course, and by now most have forgotten that a place called Grave Hollow still exists. The Allen Company reached Winter Quarters safely during late November, 1846, and eventually most of those who had traveled with it through Lucas County reached Utah.

In Lucas County, we're more likely to remember the Freeman Nickerson party, another company of poor saints, who left the shores of the Mississippi River not long after the Allen Company had departed but too late to reach Winter Quarters before winter closed the trail west. The Nickersons were forced to stop at Chariton Point and spend the winter, thus entering Lucas County lore as the first non-natives to live here for any length of time.

I'll follow this up with a couple of other posts, one about the Gabbotts' long journey from England to Grave Hollow; and another about some of the permanent settlers who eventually made Grave Hollow their home.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Newton B. Ashby and the prairie landscape

Compass plant, summer on the prairie.

This brief meditation on the prairie as Lucas County pioneers found and experienced it is the final excerpt from Newton B. Ashby's slim 1925 volume, The Ashbys in Iowa. Here are links to three earlier excerpts: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

The Ashby family arrived in Otter Creek Township from Indiana during the spring of 1861 and settled on a prairie farm that later would be the site of part of the village of Norwood. William H. and Margaretta Ashby purchased 280 acres of prairie, part of which had been broken by previous owners, and 100 acres of timber along nearby Otter Creek.

At the time, much of Lucas County still was prairie interspersed with areas of savanna and old-growth timber along streams or in enclaves protected by marshland and sloughs from prairie fire. Only remnants of that remain; Iowa's landscape, because of its agriculture productivity, is among the most altered in the United States.

I've interspersed Ashby's narrative with photos I've taken over the years in our county's prairie remnants.

Prairie Blazing Star, summer on the prairie.

By Newton B. Ashby

I can not describe to you the charm of the prairie. It always had a charm whether it was the ripple of wind over the green grass or a lazy autumn day windless and the air glistening with suspended webs of gossamer, and the prairie like molten gold with rosin weed blossoms and golden rod. The season round from May to October brought its flowers so that the prairie was continually decked as for a fete. In June the field lily was everywhere. About the edge of the hazel thickets we gathered orchids.

Rosin weed, late summer on the prairie.

In  the autumn, after killing frosts, came the prairie fires. You may have seen attempts to reproduce a prairie fire in the movies, but it isn't the real thing any more than are representations of the eruptions of Vesuvius put on at our State Fair. You saw an arc of fire coming on over a front of two or three miles. As the fire gathers headway it creates its own driving power by the suction of cold air pouring into the heated area. It moves very stately over the hill where the grass is short, then it comes on like a race horse when it strikes the low ground with tall grass.

Goldenrod, late summer on the prairie.

The whole heavens are aflame and the darkest night is alight like mid-day.

A plowed fire break, unless very wide, affords very little protection from a great prairie fire because the burning grass is lapped up and carried forward by long leaps. The only safe protection was the back fire. As soon as a prairie fire was seen approaching the settlement every available man and boy turned out to fight fire. All the sloughs then had plenty of water in deep holes. We filled a bag with grass dipped into a water hole, and then the back fires were started and as the firer ran along with his torch the wet bag was dragged behind the line of defense while others followed to beat out any fire the crossed over the dead line. When the advance of the fire was not too rapid we came off easy victors, but at other times after hours of fighting we came off hot, and with faces blackened and scorched.

Butterfly Milkweed, early summer on the prairie.
Hazel nut bushes grew everywhere on the rough land, and produced abundantly. Most of these valuable and bearing bushes have been ruthlessly destroyed. If I owned rough land in southern Iowa today I would encourage the hazel nut growth and expect a fair revenue from the nut crop. 

There were abundance of black walnut trees along the Otter creek bottoms, and wild plums and blackberries grew wherever a little protection offered. Crab apples were abundant and served in place of apples. Gathered and put in pit over winter, they came out in the spring golden yellow and mellow. I am fond to this day of an occasional crab apple.

The prairies were covered with thousands of prairie chickens. In the spring the mornings resounded with the boomings of the cock birds as they ruffled their plumage and strutted to and fro. In the fall after the corn was in the shock they were so plentiful as to be destructive and were shot and trapped beyond the needs for food. Indeed prairie chicken was not a rare dinner delicacy then for a hunter could shoot in an hour more birds than he could carry.

Prairie Gentian, midsummer on the prairie.

Rabbits were plentiful, squirrels were found in the woods rather sparingly, and there were wild turkeys. There were a few wolves but not enough to be destructive to any great extent.

Bottle Gentian, autumn on the prairie.

Old Jim Nyswanger, a hard drinking Dutchman who was our greatest nimrod, boasted of an occasional deer. I remember joining in a wolf hunt one night when we caught five coons but had no luck with wolves. One night when there was to be an eclipse of the moon at three o'clock a.m. some half dozen boys of us went wild turkey hunting to be sure and see the eclipse. We saw the eclipse and bagged one turkey.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Ashbys and the Norwood community, Part 3

Doris Chrisensen/Find a Grave

Find a Grave
This is the third of four excerpts from Newton B. Ashby's 1925 The Ashbys in Iowa, which also serves as a history of the earliest days in what became the Norwood community in Otter Creek Township. You may find Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The fourth part of this, which will follow later in the week, is principally a meditation on the prairie landscape the Ashbys found when they arrived in Lucas County from Indiana during 1861.

This segment is populated with a few of the interesting characters who were Ashby neighbors during the latter half of the 19th century and I've borrowed tombstone photos from Find a Grave to illustrate it. Those are the tombstones the Ashby patriarch and matriarch, William H. and Margaretta, in the Norwood Cemetery (top) and of Newton and his wife, Harriet, and their daughter, Nanette, in Des Moines' Woodland Cemetery just below.

As noted earlier, Newton married Harriet Wallace, daughter of Iowa ag pioneer "Uncle Henry" Wallace, during 1888. At the time, he was writing for the Iowa Homestead, edited by Henry Wallace.  He then became an organizer for the Iowa Farmers Alliance  and a noted lecturer (and author) on agriclutural issues with a national audience. After a stint in Cedar Rapids as part-owner and editor of the monthly Farmer and Breeder  --- a publication later sold to the Wallace family, moved to Des Moines and renamed Wallaces' Farmer --- with Henry Wallace as editor, Newton snagged a political appointment as consul to Dublin during the Cleveland Administration and the family lived in Ireland until 1898.

The Wallaces returned to live on a farm near Des Moines, then in Des Moines, while he continued his career as author, lecturer and editor. The Wallaces retired to Tucson, Arizona, where he died during 1945 at the age of 88.

By Newton B. Ashby

I have promised to tell you about the modus operandi of cattle feeding in these early days. The raiilroad terminus was at Ottumwa, 60 miles distant. There was no market for corn except to the cattle feeders. Father's and Parrish's plan, and I believe all feeders followed a similar procedure, was to choose a location where there was abundance of water (at our place was a great never failing spring), buy all the corn in the neighborhood in a circumference about the feed yard as far as it could be hauled profitably from the shock, and have it cut up in September and put in shocks. The cattle were fed on the ground in open yards and hogs enough to clean up the waste followed the cattle. The shock corn was hauled by ox teams from the field to the feed yard. The men who did the feeding suffered almost unendurable hardships in severe winter weather as we had none of the modern methods of protecting feet and bodies from the storm. I have seen great holes in the feet of the feeder mentioned by your uncle Tom, where the flesh had sloughed off because of frost. When the feed was fed up, the herds of cattle and hogs were moved to the next station, and so on until they were ready for market when they were driven the sixty miles or more to the nearest railway shipping point.

Your Uncle Tom speaks of the cold winter of 1863 and 1864. The day before New Years of 1864 the herd of 150 to 200 feed steers accompanied by a great drove of hogs reached our place. They arrived late in the afternoon of a balmy day like April. The herds were scarcely in the yards when a blizzard struck from the northwest almost as sudden as one could clap his hands. We had huge stack yards of hay --- all that could be done was to open the fences around the stack yards and let the stock shift for themselves. That night and the next day was one of the stormiest and coldest southern Iowa has ever known. There were ten or twelve men with the herd and next morning all turned out to make the stock as comfortable as possible. They were out not more than an hour and everyone came in more or less frost bitten.

Our winter sports outside of steer breaking consisted chiefly of snow balling and sleigh riding. Our favorite method of sleigh riding was to fasten one bob-sled behind another and fill the two sleds with the young folks of the neighborhood. The boxes were well filled with straw in which we sat with warm blankets drawn over our laps. The most popular driver was the one who could make the most overturns in the drifts.

In the spring we went swimming and fishing in the Otter creek. The fish were an occasional mud cat, but chiefly Red Horse. If we caught a fish more than 6 inches long he was a whopper. The swimming was confined to late spring and early summer, because the water became stagnant and covered with a green scum soon after hot weather set in. After a freshet when the Otter creek got on a rampage and spread out over its bottoms, as usually happened every spring, we would take our horses and swim them across the creek and through the Bayous. It was a dangerous and fool business, but we had fool's luck, and no one of us or the neighbor boys ever came to harm.

There was quite a little settlement when we arrived, and mostly fine people of the best pioneer sort. There were James and Wm. Busselle, brothers from Tennessee, Mr. Danner, J.G. Woodward, a very well educated man who sometimes taught our district school, Wm. Pedigo and the Dad Wells family. A little after our arrival, came the Ferguson family who had bought out the Creightons on our east, and the Conrad and Uncle Tommy Wallace families who had been living in Mahaska county. Wm. Miller came later. A mile north of us was Wm. Pennington and a brother and in the timber west, the Young family. Among the other old settlers of the township were the Edwards, the Lambs, and Kecklers. In the timber along the creeks were some squatters not regarded as of very high repute. John and Judge Pedigo, John and Luther Danner and Roland Harris, an orphan boy, made up our list of early cronies. Later we added the Wallace boys, Oscar, George, Will and John, and Fitch Conrad. It was with this crowd of boys we fished and swam, broke steers, swam horses in the creek, raced horses on occasion and sleigh rode in winter, and had a most healthful, robust, happy time. It is a coincidence that John Ashby, John Pedigo and John Wallace, each died as a young man when just in their twentieth year.

Pedigo tombstone in the Norwood Cemetery. Photo by Doris Christensen/Find a Grave

In speaking of neighbors, Wm. Pedigo was a genius. He was a carpenter capable of first class work and of inventive turn of mind. But he was of a restless mind. He was fond of telling that he had journeyed back and forth between Iowa and Indiana so often that he could borrow corn meal anywhere on the road with the promise of repaying on his return in the spring. He took down the great wooden and upright saw mill on the Whitebreast eight miles away, moved it up and put it up on our farm for a barn. It still stands. It is a two story frame building, the main building 60 feet long and 22 feet wide. The posts and girders are of oak and black walnut from 18 to 24 inches, squared with a broad ax, all tongued, mortised, braced and pinned together. The whole country turned out for our barn raising.

Solomon "Sod" Carmichael is buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery near Primghar. Photo by Jane Austin, Find a Grave.

Old Dad Wells was a character of his own kind. He was the father of 24 children and before his death had his fourth wife. Another character was Solomon Carmichael. Everyone called him Sod, and his family was known as the Sod family --- Johnny Sod, Martha Sod, etc. He was a little man, very excitable and nervous, but a good man. He was the neighborhood stacker of grains despite the fact that he was in almost nervous collapse from the time the stack got above the bulge until it was finished and he upon terra firma again. He was passing a house one day when he was bitten by a dog. Unfortunately for Sod's peace of mind the dog was poisoned the night following. The owner was a rather boisterous hard swearing man and a great lover of his dogs of which he kept a number. He claimed that Sod had poisoned the dog, and swore he would shoot him on sight. Sod was in a state of mind for several days much like spark Plug's Heebie Jeebies.

The school house was on our land only 40 rods from our house. It was a plain frame building with three windows on a side, and heated by a wood stove that stood in the middle of the room. For many years only the older children had desks, and that really only for writing. The smaller children sat on puncheon benches without backs and so high that their feet could not touch the floor. Our school district was 2 miles by 3 and hence some of the children had to walk 4 and 5 miles. It was only in the most severe winter weather when snow was deep or drifted that people thought it necessary to drive to school with the children. Your uncle Luckey and I and two girls of about our age --- I think I was 9 the summer --- made up the total attendance at one spring and summer term. The big boys and girls only attended school in winter --- the first a 12 weeks' term and the latter 16 weeks. The school ages ranged from 5 to 18 or 20 and hence the same teacher had from primary to the most advanced classes. Most attention was given to reading, writing and arithmetic, and later on algebra for those who wished it. However, I went in 1874 from our district school to the Chariton High School and was able to classify as Senior B, corresponding to the present junior, but of course our high school curriculums were not then so spread as to require a little smatter of the universe.

Our school sports were simple like our studies. We played base, fox and geese and town ball. Town ball is a sort of simplified base ball. It was our favorite sport. In winter when the snow was soft we built snow forts and fought battles. Our sports were democratic and were planned to include all the children of the school. Head lice and itch were almost universal afflictions. There was no time that there was not some child in the school infected with lice and itch. The fine tooth comb was a necessary part of the household equipment and the mother who was particular about what her children had in their heads needed to use it daily. Some children wore bags with asafoetida about their necks as a charm against itch and colds. Gum chewing was in fashion. It was a wax gathered from the resin weed, and was more tasty than our present commercial variety. We did not know anything about the germ theory then and the children often swapped cuds. When the child got tired of chewing, the gum was stuck on the under side of the seat for the next day's use, and anyone finding it was welcome to chew until tired, provided the cud was replaced.

The study of greatest emulation was spelling. A spelling match was one of the features of every Friday afternoon. Spelling matches at the school house of an evening was of frequent occurrence. The different schools in the township issued challenges to each other and the crack spellers of each school were pitted against each other in most exciting contests. A champion speller was almost as distinguished as a modern football hero. We usually organized a literary society each winter which met weekly. The debate was its chief feature. George Washington Keckler, a debater sui generis, was our most spectacular debater and had a rough eloquence very entertaining. He chewed tobacco, and when excited in debate would toss back his head and expectorate over his shoulder. His audience were careful to keep beyond the moist zone. It was said of one of our ambassadors to Paris that he was chiefly distinguished for being a dead shot at a spittoon. Wash cold have qualified, but his special target was a red hot stove.

George Washington Cackler (spelled "Keckler" by N.B. Ashby) is buried in Fletcher Cemetery. Find a Grave photo by Becky Pennington.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Ashbys and the Norwood community, Part 2

This is the second installment of what, as it now turns out (I can only type so fast), will be four excerpts from Newton B. Ashby's slim 1925 volume, "The Ashbys in Iowa." The introductory installment may be found here. The Ashby story is woven into the fabric of Otter Creek Township's Norwood community and the sections that I've lifted out are of more general than specific family interest.

Newton Ashby was born July 7, 1856, in Indiana and moved to what became Norwood during 1861 with his parents and older siblings. He was educated in the rural school on the family farm, then enrolled at Chariton High School during the fall of 1874. That phase of his education was cut short the following spring when his father died suddenly and he returned home to help out.  During the fall of 1878, he entered the two-year preparatory program at Simpson College. His education was interspersed with farm responsibilities, so he graduated with an A.B. degree in 1885 and, during 1890, received his master's degree from Simpson. 

After receiving his A.B. degree, Newton taught for a time at the high school in Winterset and there met a senior student named Harriet Wallace, whom he married during 1888. Harriet was a daughter of one of Iowa's agricultural royal families --- that of Henry Sr. "Uncle Henry" and Nancy (Cantwell) Wallace. At the time Newton and Harriet met, Henry was editing the Iowa Homestead magazine. During 1886, Newton went to work at Iowa Homestead, launching a career in ag journalism.

The composite map (top) of Norwood is taken from Lucas County's 1978 history, which does not identify the map-maker or the person who wrote the chatty history of the community that it contains. Landmarks old and new are identified on the map without regard to whether or not they still were there in 1978. The angled route of Highway 65 is relatively new; the old Chariton-to-Des Moines road followed section lines to the Norwood crossroads where it turned north at what then was the Methodist church. That church, now Assembly of God, remains, but there are only a few houses left now. Out on Highway 65, the long and narrow Skinner Store building still stands, but hasn't served as a store in decades.

By Newton B. Ashby

When we reached Iowa, the family consisted of father and mother and the children: Elizabeth, Mary, Abram, John, Thompson, Newton the Luckey. Lewis was born in September following our arrival, and Elmer was born in 1866. The new home was a single room log house about 18 by 20 or 24. The logs were about eight inches square, squared by broad-axe, built up pen fashion and notched at the ends so as to make a comparatively tight fit. Crevices were closed by driving in wedges of wood and the seams between the logs were calked with clay. The door was at the west end of the house, and the east end was taken up by a huge fire place. This was the only means of heating and cooking except I believe there was a brick oven for baking outdoors. The house was a single story with a third pitch roof. A loose floor of rough boards separated the attic from the room below. It was the sleeping room for the boys of the family and was reached by pegs driven in the wall. We had lots of room. There were only nine of us in the family and two hired men. The Edwards family from whom father bought the place had fourteen in the family and always had spare room for entertaining a traveler or friend. Trundle beds were then in fashion. They were beds on short legs that could be trundled under the larger bed during the day.

Father had a regular floor laid overhead, a stairway built and had the house plastered inside. It was a most comfortable house and it was most unfortunate when it burned down. In 1862 father bought another log house standing unused on a neighboring farm, had it moved and set up about sixteen feet west of our other log house Then he had the two houses connected by building a room between. This was constructed by brick between the studding, weather boarding outside, and plaster within. The west room now became the kitchen and dining room. It was a large room and was equipped with a cook stove. The middle room became the living room, and the original house was devoted more and more to sleeping purposes. We were now by far the best equipped family in the neighborhood for room.

We were sixty miles from the railroad. The Q. road then had its terminus at Ottumwa and did not come through our country until 1867 or 1868. Hence we were largely dependent upon our own resources. There were thousands of sheep in southern Iowa during the war period. Every farmer had his flock. Woolen mills for carding wool and preparing yarn were numerous. Every family had its own spinning wheel for preparing yarn. The women folks knit all the stockings and mittens for the family and usually made all the clothing out of homespun which was woven in the neighborhood. Most of the shoes were made by neighborhood cobblers who also did the repairing. Shoes in that day had to last and hence were often resoled many times.

There were also flour and grist mills. The custom was to take the wheat or corn to the mill and wait for it to be ground. The miller took an agreed portion of the unground grain for his toll and the owner of the grist mill got the balance including the bran and middlings. I remember  going with father to mill once on the Chariton river. We stayed all night with the miller and got our grist in time to get home about nightfall the next day. It was not uncommon for a man to go to mill on horseback, carrying his bag of grain before him on the saddle.

The community was coopeative. Men turned out for miles around to assist at house and barn raisings. Enough farmers joined together to harvest and thresh without hired help. The reaping machine served several farms. Threshing time was a sort of festival time for the neighborhood. The neighborhood women came in to help in the kitchen and the dinner tables groaned under the load of viands. We had some harvest customs then that have gone out of use. One of the necessary appurtenances of harvest was a boy on a horse as water boy. He made the round of the field meeting the binders as they came. Another feature was the bundle carriers. Two boys not yet able to make a hand at binding were allotted this task. It was their business to carry together 12 bundles for each shock. They had to be pile six one each side with the butts turned toward the center and space left sufficient for the shock. 

We depended in a large measure upon sorghum molasses for our sweetening, and the cane mill was a common farm accessory. Sorghum making with its taffy pulling parties afford another round of neighborhood gaieties. Then there was an occasional corn husking party. Revival meetings were held in the school house and the community turned out in such number that the house was crowded to almost suffocation. There was a mourner's bench up in front where the penitents knelt. Often exhortations had to be made to the crowd, "not to crowd the mourners." The school house was the neighborhood meeting place for all gatherings until later on when the Methodists built a church on our farm. And a little later the United Brethren built a church a mile north of the M.E. church.

My first memory of our new home in Iowa was the big road in front of our house. We were on the north side of the state road between Chariton and Des Moines, and on one of the main traveled roads for emigrants bound for Kansas and Nebraska. This road ran east and west for a mile and was fenced upon both sides except the 40 acres in front of our house. Looking out over this open space the prairie stretched away for miles to the south, southwest and southeast, broken only here and there by a solitary farmstead. It is this impression of solitary vastness that I still retain of pioneer iowa. Later I came to know intimately every phase of that prairie's landscape, first as a herder of sheep on foot and later as a herder of cattle on horseback.

The farms on the north side of the road were continuous and after father had fenced the open prairie on the south, the road was a lane with a high worm rail fence on each hand and higher than a tall man's head. After a great storm in winter this lane was packed full of snow piled high above the stakes which held the fence together and supported the riders. (Such a fence was called a stake and rider fence. It was a worm fence built six rails high, stakes set in the ground and crossed over the intersecting corners and then two heavy rails called the riders built up in the crotch.) The drifting of the roads full of snow was of frequent occurrence for the great storms of winter came rolling down from the Dakotas with no windbreaks to check their violence, and a storm would sometimes last three days before it blew itself out. As long as the snow remained packed and frozen, teams and sleds went over the drifts and roadways without respect to fences. It was only when the thaws set in that it was necessary to open the roads. When the road was opened it was then a lane between high banks of snow.

A ludicrous incident happened at one of these times when fences were drifted under. The Creighton Brothers owned the farm on the east of us. Theykept a great bunch of mules. We had a great acreage of corn in the shock in the fields. The mules crossed over the fences and were doing great damage. Father was away from home. The Creightons were rather overbearing and selfish. They paid no attention to our complaints. Finally our hired men rounded up the mules into a great log stable we had, barred them so close together with poles that they could not kick and then proceeded to plait old tin buckets and cans into their tails. When they were turned out they stampeded, kicking with both heels at every jump. They ran themselves down before they stopped. The Creightons took the matter good naturedly, and said they wouldn't drive the mules toward our fields afterwards.

The log stable served as it were as our work shop. Our place was one of the feed yards for Parrish and Ashby. The feed was shock corn, and was hauled daily from the shocks in the field to the feed yard. Ox teams were used entirely in the feeding operations Your uncles and myself, usually aided by John and Luther Danner and John and Judge Pedigo, put in our leaisure time in breaking steers to work. We had a team of gentle old oxen --- Dick and Lion. Lion was an immense beast, probably weighed 1,700 or 1,800 pounds. Our method of operation was to choose a wild quick stepping three or four year old steer, get him into the stable alongside of Dick or Lion and build him in tight, then get them yoked together, tie their tails together, this latter to prevent the wild ox for turning the yoke, and turn them out. It was remarkable how quickly old Lion could yank a wild steer into a decent work animal. As soon as the steer was reduced to some measure of discipline, a second steer to mate the first was put through the first degree, then the two were yoked together with Dick and Lion in front. After this team was graduated, they were made leaders and put in the front. In this way we kept up a plentiful supply of work oxen and had a world of fun, sometimes bordering on the dangerous.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Ashbys and the Norwood community, Part I

This slim volume published in 1925 for family members and friends by Newton B. Ashby is among family histories in the Lucas County Historical Society collection. While many such histories cause the eyes of those outside the family circle (and some within) to glaze over, this booklet contains fascinating stories of early Lucas County and serves, too, as a history of the earliest days of Otter Creek Township's village of Norwood and its neighborhood.

So I'm going to extract three sections of the history, not necessarily on consecutive days, and at another time will have more to say about the author --- at the time widely known in state and national agricultural circles and former consul during the Cleveland Administration to Dublin. He also was a talented writer and skillful story-teller.

Suffice it for now to say that Newton was sixth in the large family of William Henry and Margaretta (Boyer) Ashby and came west to Otter Creek Township from Indiana with his parents and siblings during the spring of 1861. The Asbys were, for their time, affluent people and settled on a 280-acre tract of prairie that William had purchased the previous year (he also had purchased 100 acres of timber on Otter Creek to the west). The later village of Norwood --- named by Margaretta Ashby --- developed in the southwest corner of that farm, where a school already was located and a Methodist church soon was built.

The map at the top, taken from the 1875 Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of Iowa, gives an idea of the lay of the land. When the Ashbys arrived, long-vanished Tallahoma was the nearest post office and store. Lucas, some distance to the south, had not even been dreamed of.

What follows are accounts of the trek from Indiana to Iowa and a few anecdotes about the war years as told on pages 12-19 by Newton Ashby and his older brother, Thompson "Tom" Ashby.


It was in April of 1861 that the family set out for its new home in Iowa, that father had bought the year previous. The family at that time consisted of father and mother and their children, Elizabeth, Mary, Abram, John, Thompson, Newton and Luckey. Lewis and Elmer were born in Iowa.

In relating what follows, I give only details as I remember them. I was a child in my fifth year, but a number of things were impressed on my memory. I have said that we started our journey April 10, 1861. There was a covered wagon mounted on springs in which mother and we smaller children rode. In addition there were three covered wagons of our own filled with provisions, household provender and machinery. And there was a wagon with Milt Harrison and family. This Milton Harrison was a cousin of father's and a son of uncle Eli (who had settled earlier some distance to the west in Clarke County). We were delayed in starting because brother John was missing and was only found after some search. He was in hiding, determined to remain behind and not face the terrors of migration into the wilderness. We had a big shaggy Newfoundland dog, Ponto. I saw Ponto chasing a goat through an old deadening. (A deadening was where trees had been girdled to kill them previous to clearing the land.) This was an old deadening and the bark had fallen off leaving the great trees grey and ghostly. I did not know anything about goats and so I craned my neck out from under the canvas expecting to see the goat treed. I recall that one night we were greatly in fear of horse thieves and kept a watch all night. I recall piles of great rails at all the broad sloughs, which were many, to enable the unfortunate mover who got mired to pry his wagon out of the mud. We were so well equipped in horses that we had no trouble but often stopped long enough to help less fortunate travelers.

When we came opposite Burlington, the Mississippi was out of its banks so far that we could not reach the ferry dock on the Illinois side, and so had to go down the river to Shockacon. I remember it as a straggling, dirty village, crowded with movers' wagons waiting to cross to the Iowa side. I remember seeing two brawny men fighting in the streets. When the ferry boat came to the dock and the bars were opened, the crowding and shouting of the teamsters were terrifying. Each one was anxious to get across without delay and there was not room enough for all upon the ferry. Cousin Milt was a timid man and allowed himself to be bluffed and jockeyed out of line, and did not get across until the next day. Hence we had to wait on the Iowa side for them to arrive.


(I asked your Uncle Thompson --- Tom --- to write me his reminiscences and the following is his very interesting story:)

"It has been so long since I have thought much about our trip to Iowa that I don't remember a great deal about it.

We left on the tenth day of April, 1861. I was seven years old two days before we started. We started about nine in the morning, I think, made a short drive and stayed over night with relatives in Crawfordsville. The next day we made another short drive into Tippecanoe County where we stayed overnight with aunt Zarilda and uncle Ike Martin, mother's stepsister.

From there we started full blast for Iowa under a full head of canvas. I think it was the next day that Milt Harrison and his wife and children joined us. Levi Martin and Frank Dickenson --- they each drove a wagon and besides the wagons we had a large covered spring wagon in which mother, the girls and some of the smaller children rode. Some of the bigger boys rode in the wagons most of the time.

I don't remember much about the trip through Indiana. It was very rainy and the roads were deep with mud. In some places we had miles of corduroy road, which made rough traveling. We crossed the Wabash river at Covington. The river was out of its banks. We drove through water some distance before we reached the bridge and also after we crossed it.

I had never thought there could be so much water. I do not know how wide it may have been but in my remembrance it seemed miles wide.

As we got into Illinois we began to see soldiers drilling in the towns we passed through. First we saw the "Home Guards" and later companies of regular soldiers. Decatur was the first large town that I remember passing through in Illinois. There were several companies organized there and they were drilling. They had guns with bayonets which impressed us boys very much. I thought almost all the people in the world were gathered together in those companies of soldiers and didn't see how there could be any left to fight for the South.

We came to the Vermilion river one day early in the afternoon. We had had a very hard rain the night before. The river was much too high to ford and the people told us the bridge wasn't safe to cross, so we went into camp. The next morning the river was some lower. Some men came along and tried fording it. Their wagons were washed about badly and as we didn't want to get our goods wet the men decided to test the bridge. Father and Milt Harrison and the rest of the men walked across the bridge and shook it about and finally decided they would try it with one wagon. One man walked across and stood ready to catch the team which was started from our side of the river. As the team arrived without accident, a rope was attached to the end of a wagon tongue and the team that was on the opposite bank hitched to the rope and the wagon was pulled across. Then the other wagons and teams crossed in the same way. The people in our party all walked across. Our motto was, "Safety First."

The next large town that I remember was Bloomington. We couldn't make a straight line in our trip as we had to make for the towns where we could cross the rivers. I think we struck the Illinois river at Pekin. Then we followed the river up to Peoria where there was a bridge and crossed there. From Peoria we went to Knoxville and from Knoxville to Monmouth and from there to Oquaka, seven miles above Burlington to find a landing. As there was no bridge, a steam ferry boat was used in crossing (the Mississippi). They landed us at Burlington about five in the afternoon, that is the first section.

The second section was landed about eight in the evening and was met and taken out to the camp the first party had made just west of Burlington.

The next morning father left us and took the stage and hurried ahead of us to Lucas County. He had paid $1,000 on the place and the balance was due the first day of May. The roads were very muddy and heavy and he thought it would be impossible to make it through in time with the wagons.

From Burlington we followed the stage coach route going through Mt. Plelasant, Fairfield and Ottumwa. There was no bridge at Ottumwa so we had to go up the river to Eddyville to get across the Des Moines river. The next town was Albia and the next, Chariton. Father came back to meet us and joined us near the place where Russell now stands. We had just gone into camp.

The next morning we came through Chariton, drove on to White Breast where we stopped and ate dinner. After dinner we drove to Tallahoma, stopped and bought groceries and arrived at our new home at about five on the afternoon of May third. There was some tall hollering done when we got there. Milt Harrison and family went over to old uncle Eli's (his father's) that evening. While we were getting supper ready Mr. Danner and Mr. Pedigo came to see us and so we began to get acquainted with our new neighbors.

We had a large one room log house. It had a loft and pegs driven into the wall for a stairway. That fall father had the stairway built and the house plastered. The next year he added one or two rooms or rather built a connecting room between our house and another log cabin which stood nearby but was in bad condition.

After that we had the largest house in the neighborhood, and partly because of this and partly because of our parents' hospitality we entertained most of the preachers and other prominent people who happened into our neighborhood.

There was a school house on our land just west of the old home where we had three months of school in winter and three in summer. As time passed, more people arrive in our community and the prairie began to settle up.

The winter of 1863-64 was one of the coldest we ever had and the people suffered a good many hardships from the severe weather.

Father and a man by the name of Parrish had a large drove of cattle that we were wintering. They arrived at our place between Christmas and New Years. We had one of the worst storms about this time that I ever knew. Our roads were drifted full from the top of one rail fence to the other. They used ox teams to haul shock corn to the cattle for feed. A man named Jake Camerine, whom father had hired to help with the feeding, froze his feet so badly that some of his toes came off.

We boys used to invite the neighbor boys in to help break the steers to work. We had great times at that.

We had to go to Tallahoma for our mail until about 1867. We went for mail every day during the war and usually did afterward, but were not quite so anxious after the war closed. One person would bring mail for the entire neighborhood. It was usually distributed from our place. I think the Norwood post office was established in 1867 and as you know it was at our home and was named by mother. Betty had named our place "Priaire Home," but after the Norwood post office was established that name was not much used.

The Norwood M.E. church was built in 1867. Father donated the land for the church and the same church is still standing although remodeled considerably before now. The railroad reached Chariton in 1868 (1867, actually). Before the railroad reached us we drove our stock to Eddyville and Burlington or Keokuk.

Of the two men who came to Iowa with us, Frank Dickenson had promised to stay with us a year but he got "war fever" and only stayed a few days after we arrived. Levi Martin and he both went back to Indiana and enlisted in the army there. They were both taken prisoner. Dickenson was never heard of afterwards. Martin lost his left arm and was captured. He was in two southern prisons and was almost a skeleton when exchanged. He recovered his health however and after the war was over he visited us in Iowa. He served as county treasurer in Montgomery County, Indiana, for a number of years. (He was a son of Uncle Ike and Zarilda Martin. --- N.B.A.)

From the time we came to Iowa until after the close of the war was an exciting time. So many of the young men enlisted in the army that the scarcity of able-bodied men made us fear an attack from the "bushwhackers" who were active in Missouri. The Republicans had an organization called the Union League. They held their meetings secretly at the homes of the members and met once a week. The Democrats, whom we considered Southern sympathizers, called their organization the Knights of the Golden Circle. There was strong feeling on both sides.

One Fourth of July, I think it was 1863, we celebrated in what we called the Lamb Grove. Gov. Stone was the speaker of the day and during his speech a man named Nels Case cheered for Jeff Davis. Then you bet there was real excitement. They gathered round him and I think he would have stretched hemp if it had not been for a few of the older men. Mrs. Wells said if any one would give her a gun, she would shoot him. One man, home on a furlough, gave her one and she would probably have used it but others took the gun away from her. Case was one scared man. The older men felt they were averting a neighborhood war from which no good could come and much harm was certain to follow.

(Note: "Mrs. Wells" probably was Mrs. John (Ruth) Wells. Her son, Jesse, had been killed at Shiloh on April 6, 1862; and her stepson, Silas, had died of disease contracted during his service on Nov. 3, 1862. It's not difficult to understand why Mr. Case's southern sympathies would have outraged her. F.D.M.)

I must not forget to tell you of one incident of our trip to Iowa. One night we camped somewhere in Illinois. I'm not sure where. We were told that there were horse thieves in that vicinity. Father had some very good horses so when two men came into our camp and were very friendly and interested in our horses we were suspicious. Our men got out their guns, of which they had quite a number, and started target practice. One of the men was a crack shot and the others not bad. They made quite a flourish with their fire arms. Either the strangers were frightened by our military display or were not what we suspected for although someone stood guard all night nothing came of it and our horses were not molested. (signed) T.D. Ashby.