Sunday, January 19, 2020

The end of the line for Sumner Smith (Part 3)

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.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Sumner Smith before and after Shiloh (Part 2)

This is the second of three installments, transcription of the text of a long memoir headlined "Early Experiences of Sumner Smith" and published in The Albia Republican of March 14, 1912. I'd planned to do this in two posts, but three seems like a better idea. Part 1 is here.

Sumner and his family lived in Melrose, just over the Lucas-Monroe county line to the east, from 1873 until his death during 1913. Health impaired by service during the Civil War, he had given up trying to farm while teaching school and gone into business, for many years as a grocer. He continued to teach now and then, however, and was widely known in Lucas County in part because of that.

Born April 25, 1838, in a cabin on the current site of Keosauqua in Van Buren County, he moved with his family to the vicinity of Montrose, along the Mississippi in Lee County, as a boy, and both of his parents died there. This installment picks up his story during the winter of 1854 when he moved from Lee to Louisa County with a sister and brother-in-law.

It includes his service as a sergeant in Company K, 8th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, during the Civil War. The photo here is of the Shiloh battlefield monument to the 8th Iowa, which incorporates a bronze plate that reads in part as follows:  "The regiment held this position from about 11 a.m. April 6, 1862, until about 4 p.m. when it changed front to the left and held this second position until about 5 p.m. when nearly surrounded it attempted to retreat, but finding all avenues of escape cut off, surrendered about 6 p.m. The regiment entered the engagement with an aggregate of about 600 men. Its loss was killed 40, wounded (18 mortally) 113, missing 340; total 493."

Sumner survived Shiloh and several weeks thereafter as a prisoner of war, but those experiences when combined with typhoid fever ruined his health, he was discharged for disability during February of 1863 and returned home to Louisa County weighing 90 pounds. This certainly was a defining aspect, if not the defining aspect, of his life.


We moved from Lee county to Louisa county in the winter of 1854, and went into our new house on the last day of December, 1854, and up to that time there had not been any snow, and the ground had not been frozen a particle; but on the 17th day of January, 1855, there came a terrible blizzard and the snow drifted very badly. We could drive with heavy loads over rail fences as the snow was packed very solid. Our nearest neighbor was a mile away, and we on the open prairie with no fences, or other improvements.

During that winter we could see from where we lived great droves of deer, and they would come up close to the house, so we got a rifle, and my brother-in-law stood within fifteen feet of the house and shot a fine buck.

In November, 1856, I quit working for my brother-in-law and started to school at Crawfordsville in Washington county, which was seven miles from where we lived. I remained there for five months. Some time the first part of December there came a snow of about three or four inches, then it turned into sleet, and the whole country was a glare of ice. I remember that on the day before Christmas I went home and skated all the way back.

That was a very cold winter, but there was not very much snow on the ground. I worked on the farm in summer and went to school in the winter until 1858, when I started to the Iowa Wesleyan university, at Mount Pleasant.

In the fall of 1859 I began teaching school and continued to teach until I enlisted in September 1861. I had a school engaged at forty dollars per month, but gave it up to go into the army to be shot at for thirteen dollars per month; you see it was for the money that I enlisted, not.

When we went south, we drilled at Benton Barracks in st. Louis and from there we went to Syracuse, Missouri, on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Here we spent about two weeks in drilling.

Now right here I want to relate a little circumstance that occurred while we were at this place. Gen. Steele was at this time our colonel, and as he was the oldest colonel at that place, he was in command of all the troops, which left the command of the regiment (8th Iowa Infantry) to Lieut. Col. Geddes. Steele had given very strict orders that no stock should be killed, and as we had had no meat for several days, we were all getting mighty hungry for meat. One morning as the guard was sent outside of the camp to fire off their guns, so they could be ready for inspection, one of the men, whose name was Amos L. Graves, and a member of my company, shot the head off from a yearling wether, and it was short work to dress that sheep. Some of the boys told him that he would be tied up by the thumbs, but he said he was going to have mutton for dinner that day, so he shouldered the dressed sheep, and just as we were entering camp, the Lieut. Col. came riding along, and as he saw Graves, he said, "don't you know it is against orders to kill any stock?" Graves saluted and said, "Yes, Col., but I wasn't going to let any damned sheep to bite me." At this the Col. rode away, his sides shaking with laughter. I saw Geddes in Des Moines a good many years after the war, and he told me that was the funniest thing he had ever seen or heard.

About the middle of October we started for Springfield, Mo., under Gen. McKinstry, with the 6th Iowa, and the first Nebraska infantry, making the brigade. There had been no provision made as to our rations, and when we got to Pomme de terre or Potato river, the rations we started with had become exhausted, and for five days we got nothing but fresh beef and navy beans, without a particle of salt. I would like to see some of the people who are always and eternally complaining about the pensions that old soldiers are getting, have to live on that kind of diet for five days, just to see what would happen. During those five days I did not eat anything but parched corn, but had to keep eating about all the time, as it made a rather light diet.

The place where we camped was on the river bottom, being a nice blue grass pasture, but to the west was an old field and the cockle burrs were about eight feet high and as thick as they could stand, and the 6th Iowa being in the lead, they were marched into that cockle burr field, and five of the companies of the 8th Iowa got the same treatment, but as I was in Company K, it being well in the rear, we were left in that blue grass pasture. I don't think I ever saw madder men than those who were in the cockle burr field; their clothing being of wool and they were a sight to behold. I don't believe they ever got all the burrs out of their clothing. Some of you who are very skeptical might ask Harry Hickenlooper, for I think he still has some of those burrs, but if he has none of them, he can tell more about them than I can, as he had the actual experience, while I was only an onlooker.

We went from here to Springfield, on a forced march, over the Ozark mountains, and if there is a more God foresaken country on earth than what we passed over, I have never seen it.

On that march we made seventy-five miles in two days, and carried our knapsacks, and I believe we lost more men on that march than we ever lost in a battle. We only remained at Springfield a few days, as Price had withdrawn his troops, then we went up to Sedalia, and were there only three days when two companies, E and K, were ordered to go as a guard for a train of teams and wagons to Fort Leavenworth where they were going into winter quarters.

We remained in western Missouri and eastern Kansas for three months, fighting Quantrill and other bushwhackers, and did not return to our regiment till the later part of February 1862. During the time we were away from the regiment we never got a letter from home.

About the 10th of March, we started for St. Louis, where we took a boat for the south and arrived at Pittsburgh Landing on March 23rd, or just two weeks before the battle of Shiloh.

Early in the morning of April 6, we were awakened by hearing the roar of artillery and got out of our tents in a hurry. We did not even have time to make coffee, but put in our haversacks just what we could get, and did our eating while making double quick time to the fire line.

We went into the scrap about 8 o'clock in the morning and continued till about 6 o'clock in the evening, at which time we were surrendered as prisoners of war. I had always been called a real good shot with a gun, and I distributed forty-eight pounds of ammunition during the day. I have been asked many times if I knew positively that I ever killed a man, and I have always said that I did not, and did not want to know. I was wounded about 15 minutes before we surrendered.

We were taken to Corinth on the next day, and from there to Memphis, then to Mobile, Ala., where we took boats up to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. where we were confined for more than a month, and from there we went to Montgomery, and after some time we were paroled and sent to Chattanooga where we were turned over to the Union forces.

Soon after we took a boat at Mobile, I felt that I must be breaking out with the prickly heat, as I itched so badly, and asked one of the boys to look down my back and see if it was the heat. He only just give a glance, then yelled with laughter, and said it was gray backs (lice; also a reference to Confederate troops) that were biting me.

After we were paroled, we were sent to Nashville, and from there to St. Louis. Soon after we got to St. Louis, I was taken down with typhoid pneumonia and was sick in the hospital for more than two moths.

While we were in prison, Henry Wirz was in charge of prison and he was practicing on us, so see how much misery and meanness we could stand without killing him. He is the same old scoundrel who was in charge of Andersonville later on and who was hung after the war. We were nearly starved while in prison. I have often though that if there was one place in hades that was a good deal hotter than another, and where the brimstone was more plentiful, that Wirz should have the full benefit of it and there sizzle throughout all eternity.

Our regiment was reorganized on January 1, 1863, at which time our exchange took place, but as I had been sick so long and was only just able to get around, I was sent to the hospital again and on February 19, I was discharged, and when I got home I weighed just 90 pounds and was not able to do anything at all.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The pioneer life and times of Sumner Smith, Part 1

I wrote yesterday about Sumner Smith's response in 1910 to a question from Chariton Leader editor Henry Gittinger about the timing and circumstances of his birth to Cynthia (Porter) and William Smith, very early Iowa pioneers, during the late 1830s.

Looking further into that, I stumbled upon a memoir that Sumner wrote two years later, published in The Albia Republican of March 14, 1912. Horace Barnes, the editor, devoted a full broadsheet page to the memoir --- plus two columns on the next page. It is very long. But it's well written, loaded with the details of pioneer life in Iowa and quite funny now and then. I especially enjoyed Sumner's story of how he learned to stop blushing every time he sighted calico and another story, this one about a near fatal encounter with chewing tobacco.

Sumner was born on the current site of Keosauqua, Van Buren County; moved when very young to the vicinity of Mount Sterling, also in Van Buren, then to the vicinity of Montrose in Lee County, where his father died. The family's next home was Louisa County, where he enlisted for service during the Civil War and married Louie Stewart once the war was over. The couple, both of whom were school teachers, brought their family to Melrose in 1873. Sumner went into business there and Melrose remained their home until his death during 1913.

That's Louie and Sumner, above, in a somewhat battered snapshot probably taken near Chariton with their granddaughter, Beatrice Rickey, and daughter, Diantha Mae (Smith) Rickey. The Rickeys moved to Montgomery County, Kansas, not long after the photo was taken.

I've divided the memoir into two installments and hope to post the second tomorrow. If this seems to you a bit much, I'll offer the same advice Sumner did more than a century ago: "If anyone who attempts to read these memories should get real drowsy and sleepy, I would suggest that you put the paper down and take a good nap and you will feel lots better."


For a long time I have observed that most books, and papers like these, have something to start with, which is called a preface, so in order to be in correct fashion, I will write one, too.

On January 3rd, I received a letter from Horace Barnes, editor of The Republican, asking me to write a sketch of my life, for use in The Republican. At that time we were having zero weather right along, and it kept me very busy toting in the wood and keeping up the fires, and I wrote him that as soon as the weather got good and warm, I would try to write a short sketch for him, thinking that I could possibly get about half a column that would be readable. So I began to make a memoranda of certain things which I wanted to write, and soon had about 12 pages made, which I put away for future use, and when I began to write, and wanted those notes, I couldn't find them anywhere. I just went ahead and wrote, and soon found that I would have to whittle it down, or it would all be dumped into the waste basket, and I am not certain but that is where it will land anyway. If anyone who attempts to read these memories should get real drowsy and sleepy, I would suggest that you put the paper down and take a good nap and you will feel lots better. Now in concluding, I wish to say that if I have said anything in these ketches to hurt the feelings of anyone, I freely forgive you.


The first year I resided in Iowa, I was engaged in the dairy business, and made a great success of it, as I more than doubled my original capital, which was seven pounds avoirdupois weight; and right here I want to observe that it was all wrong to calculate my wright by that table, as all real precious things are calculated by troy weight.

I was born on the 25th day of April 1838 in the first log cabin built where the town of Keosauqua in Van Buren county is located. This event occurred before all the roof was on the house; of course I don't have any recollection of this and am telling it from hearsay.

At this time the country was new and sparsely settled, and probably not more than 150 people lived in the county. Iowa at that time was a part of Wisconsin territory, and there was not a railroad or a flouring mill within its boundary and even the little corn grinding mills were very scarce and the people had to live on such things as they could get. Game was plentiful, such as turkey, deer, prairie chicken, quail, pheasant, etc.; and those who were expert with the gun had plenty of that kind of food.


When I was about two years old, my father moved to the south side of the county, near the little village of "Dog Town" (what a beautiful name). It's name has been changed to the more appropriate one of Mount Sterling. If I remember correctly, it is located about one-half mile from the Missouri line; at that time there was a blacksmith shop run by a man by the name of Pfoutz, a little store run by a man by the name of Andrews, and a saw mill run by George and Horace Woods. This mill could not run except when the water in the Fox river on which it was located was at a high stage. A year or so before we moved from there, they had added a pair of small buhrs (about 18 inches in diameter) on which they ground corn into meal; this was thought to be a great convenience to the people, who formerly had to go to Augusta, near the mouth of the Skunk river, to get any grinding done.

I well remember when I was about 4 years old, there was at one time quite a number of Indians came and camped near our house; they were quite friendly and brought with them a great many things to trade for corn and pork. They had buckskin hunting shirts, buckskin trousers, moccasins, dressed buckskins, and furs of various kinds, all dressed. They had no trouble in disposing of their goods and when they left, they seemed well pleased with their bargains. One of the chiefs had a little boy about my age, and we played together every day. One day, the chief asked my father to trade papooses with him, and I don't know which of us was the worst scared, the little Indian lad or myself. I have often thought that if I had been traded to the chief, I would long since have been a big chief.

We lived about a mile east of Dog Town, and the school where my brothers and sisters attended was two miles northwest from the village, so they had to go three miles to school. Among those who attended that school were the children of the late Dr. John D. Elbert, the mother, uncle and aunt of Hon. Fred Townsend. This school was so far away that I could not attend, but I was taught at home, as I was the youngest of six children, and my brothers and sisters gave me a great deal of help, as well as my father and mother; and before I ever attended school, I was a good speller and could read well in McGuffey's third reader, which was the book I began to use when I started to school.

In those days there would be a spelling school at the school house one night in every week during the time the school was running and then there would be spellings at private houses at which a  few of the nearest neighbor children would go. We used the old blue-backed elementary spelling book, in which there were a number of pages of reading matter. About eight or ten pages in the back of that old book were taken up with Latin words and phrases, with their meaning in English; and I expect that nearly all the boys and girls who studied those Latin words and phrases got all their knowledge of Latin right there.

Almost every family kept some sheep, the main object being for their wool with which to make our clothing, and the secondary consideration being their meat for food. We kept two looms and two big wheels and one small wheel. My mother and sisters spun the yarn from rolls made at a carding mill, then wove the yarn into various kinds of cloth, such as flannel for dresses for mother and the girls, and for blankets for the beds, and jeans for clothing for father and the boys. There was nothing shoddy about the kind of goods they made, as for instance I have today a coverlet, or bed cover, which was made 69 year ago, and it has been in use every winter from that time to the present, and I have slept under it every night this winter. It is is a good state of preservation, considering the time it has been used. My mother and sisters spun the yarn from which it was made.

Wolves were a great menace to those who kept sheep, and during the summer time we children had to watch the sheep during the daytime and at night they were placed in pens made of rails. These pens were quite high, probably seven or eight feet, then staked and double ridered, and the wolves could by not possibility get into the pens; for about three or four feet from the ground, the rails were notched down, so the wolf could not get at the lambs. One night a little lamb got up against the fence where there was a small crack and a wolf killed it; so father made a small pen, about 4x6 feet, and had it notched close. It was about three feet high and covered with heavy logs laid lose together. Then he made a very curious shaped pen around it, being circular in form and about forty feet in diameter, and it was drawn in from the ground so a wolf could run up on the fence and jump over, but by no possibility could get out.

Just about dusk, father caught a young lamb and put it in the small pen and its bleating could be heard for quite a distance. We then shut our dog up and everything was in readiness to receive Mr. Wolf. As soon as the day began to break, we boys were out to see how it worked and we found three of the biggest kind of timber wolves in the trap. Father took his gun and soon disposed of the wolves; those big black timber wolves are about twice the size of the common prairie wolf, and it takes a mighty good dog to kill one of them.

While we still lived in Van Buren county, one of our neighbors, who was a great hunter, was out in the timber with his gun when all at once he heard a great noise and commotion near where he stood and began to investigate and soon found a big timber wolf and an old male hog with long tusks in a very hard combat. He could have shot the wolf, but thought he would wait and see how it would terminate. He said it was the hardest fight he every saw. The wolf would try to get the hog by the throat, but as the skin was very tough, he could make but little headway, and the hog would gash the wolf at every chance with his long tusks. Finally the hog gave the wolf a terrible slash in the side, when he fell over dead. The hog was not yet satisified, but kept on goring the wolf, and he said he had never seen anything like it before.

Every farmer had an ear mark for his stock, as all stock were allowed to run at large, and in the spring we would turn out our hogs and a great many  would not see them again till time to butcher, when they would start out and hunt them up, and all those which had the right ear mark would be caught by the dogs and taken home and butchered.

My father would look after his hogs, and keep them from going wild by giving them some corn during the summer, and would get them up in the fall and feed them about four or five weeks before killing them. We had pork in plenty, and lots of corn bread, and how I would love to have a good fill up on some of the sweet pone like my mother used to make. We did not have any wheat bread for quite a while as there were no mills where we could get the wheat ground, but finally there was a mill built at Farmington, and after that we had wheat bread part of the time.


My father moved to Lee county in the spring of 1846, when I was eight years old, and settled about four miles a little southwest from the town of Montrose, which is opposite the Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois. These towns are on the Mississippi river.

The house into which we moved was a round log cabin, about twenty feet square, with a fireplace occupying about seven feet at one end the the room. It had a puncheon floor, with clapboard roof and a clapboard door. The fireplace not only answered the purpose of warming the house, but by its fire all of our cooking was done, both in winter and summer. There was no such a thing as matches and we had to cover the fire in warm weather, till we wanted to do some more cooking; and if the fire went out, one of us children had to go to one of the neighbors to get some to start up again.

In that house there was not a particle of nails or other metal; there was a window of six glasses, each glass being 8x10 inches in size, and they were held in place by short pieces of sharp thorns driven in the sash. We three boys slept up in the loft, but there was no light, except what came through the roof, and in summer we would knock out some of the chinks, and when it began to get cold we would put them back and get some mud and daub them over. I well remember one morning when it had snowed quite hard the night before. When we went to get up, we stepped in snow nearly up to our knees, which had been blown through the roof during the night.

In 1847, my father built a two-story hewed log house, being 18x24 feet, and he had shingles for the roof, and they were nailed on. This was the best house in the neighborhood and we felt mighty proud of it. I was 10 years old before we ever had a cook stove in the house, and I thought it was something wonderful that we could have hot biscuits without using the old dutch oven.

From where we lived we could see the cupola of the Mormon temple at Nauvoo, and when the temple was burned down in about 1847 or 1848, we could see the fire very plainly. The fire lasted for two days and nights, and it was a great sight, and nearly all the people were mighty glad it was burned. When my father moved to Lee county, he bought out a Mormon by the name of Crow. This man Crow had three wives, and they all lived in that log cabin, which was about 20 feet square. I don't remember how many children they had, but there were a lot of them.

Up to this time I had never gone to school, as there were no free schools as we now have, and few school houses. In the winter of 1846-47, I started to my first school. I was then nearly nine years old. My first teacher's name was John A. Nunn. He was about 45 years old and he was as bald-headed as any person I ever saw. the house was made of round, or unhewn, logs about 20 feet square and had a puncheon floor, a clapboard roof and the door was made of clapboards; not a particle of metal of any kind entered into its construction. It had two widows, each having six glasses, 8x10 inches in size. The seats were made by splitting basswood logs and hewing the split sides, and boring four holes in the half logs, two at each end. Into these holes were driven pegs about 18 inches long which were the legs of our seats. Now when one had been seated on one of those benches for three or four hours at a time, with no rest for the back, he got pretty tired. There was nothing above in the room except the roof, and when it would come a good snow, with a good strong wind, there would be plenty of snow in the room.

The books used in those days were the old elementary, or blue back spelling book, McGuffey's readers up to the fourth and there were a few who had slates and arithmetics. We had to pay the teacher a stipulated sum for our instruction, as there were no free schools at this time.

The next year, or in 1847, the people concluded to build a hewed log school house, which should also be used for meeting purposes for the different churches or denominations. There was a floor of sawed lumber and a shingle roof, nailed on, and the people were mighty proud of that new school house, for it was a dandy at that time. Up to the time I was 14 years old I had never studied anything except reading and spelling, and had done a little writing. My greatest ambition at that time was to be the best speller in any of the schools near where I lived, and when I was 14 years old I could spell correctly every word in the old blue back book, and was thought to be a good reader, as I was selected to read the Declaration of Independence at a 4th of July Sunday school celebration where there were several schools met when I was but 16 years old. 

I got an old speller, in which I found the declaration, and committed it to memory; but as I had never yet appeared before a large audience, I thought it would be well to have the book with me. After the committee had apprised me of what I had to do, I began to think of my clothes, as my old shoes were about worn out, but I took them down to the shoemaker and asked him to patch them up as good as he could and told him why I wanted them, as I had always gone bare-footed to such places before then. He told me that I could get them by Saturday night, so when I went for them he said the old ones were not worth fixing, so he had made me a new pair, as he had my measure, and quite a good deal of our leather, as we always left the leather with him; and when the 4th came, I was about the proudest boy of the whole bunch, and when we got to the ground where the celebration was to be held, I thought there was a terrible big crowd.

First there was some singing, then more singing, then one of the preachers prayed, and I kept repeating the declaration to myself, till I really think I had said it about 223 times. After the prayer was over, the head push got up on the platform and said in a very loud voice, "now the Declaration of Independence will be read by Sumner Smith."

I got on the platform, and stepped to the front, and as I looked around, It seemed to me that there were at least two million people present. I kept my eye on the book and began to read, and as I heard the sound of my voice, all fear left me and after that I never looked at the book again. After the reading, came the dinner, and there were lots of folks wanted me to eat with them. I tell you that was a proud day for me.

I took a great deal of delight in going to spelling schools, and when I was 15 years old, a boy who had formerly lived in our neighborhood, but who then lived about six miles away, told me there was going to be a spelling at their school on the following Monday night and asked me to go down, which I agreed to do. Now this boy was larger than I was, but he could not spell the simplest words. When we got to the school house, there were two young ladies choosing sides, and had got about all chosen, and as we went in, one of them asked if we wanted to spell. I told her that was what we came for, so she looked at us, and since my friend was the largest, she chose him, so I was Hopkins choice for the first time in my life, but thought I would wake them up before they got done spelling.

They began by standing up, one on each side, and when a word was missed, the one missing had to sit down. The girl on the other side from which I was to spell had the first choice, and she got the best speller in that neighborhood, and it was not long till they began to go down on my side like sweet potato vines after a frost. When the poor spellers were reached on my side, the teacher began to pronounce easy words; when it came my time, I got up and walked right up to the teachers's desk, placed my hands behind my back, and told the teacher he could pronounce any of the words in the book. The young man who had spelled all the others on my side down was about six feet tall and was very large. He looked at me with a good deal of contempt and thought I would go down like the rest. The teacher began to pronounce the hardest words he could find, and gave to my opponent the word "separate," which he missed, and I caught it. He looked rather dazed, but the teacher said, "John, you missed it." Then he sat down and I had my own fun.


The day I was 14 years old, I went to work (they didn't call it accepting a position in those days) for my brother-in-law, A.F. Bemis. I was to work for him till I was 21 years old, but after working for four and a half years, I quit to go to school. I had contracted to work the seven years for one hundred dollars and a good horse, which at that time was probably worth about $65, and was to get nine months schooling.

Up to the time I was 16 years old, I was the most bashful boy that ever came down the pike, couldn't even look at calico, even if it was on the counter in a store, without blushing a scarlet red, and this is the day I was cured of that terrible disease. One of our neighbors had a girl about 17 years old who was very large and strong as an ox and one day she came over to our house when there was no one present but my sister and as she passed me, she caught me around the body with both her arms and pinioned my arms as though they were in a vise and then kissed me in the mouth.

I yelled like a whipped pup, but she continued to kiss me and called me her little darling. I found it was no use to try to get away from her and my sister told me if I would kiss the girl she would quit, so I tried it and found it was the sweetest thing I ever tasted, and from that time on, I could look at calico without blinking an eye.

I was a slender stripling of a boy, but was always in good health, was not strong physically, but could run as far in a day as the road was cut out; the day I was 14 years old, I weighed 70 pounds, a little more than half the weight of most boys of that age.

I was a great hand to trap quails and prairie chickens and one winter I had fifteen quail traps and four chicken traps and caught over five hundred quails and about fifty chickens. I sold all the quail that we didn't use, and got 15 cents per dozen for them. It is amusing to me to hear people say a person cannot eat a quail a day for 30 days in succession. I would eat one for my dinner every day I was in school, then one for my supper, and another one for breakfast; but I was then a growing boy, and was always hungry.

About all the people went bare-footed from six to eight months of the year. As soon as the grass began to show, we would turn our feet out, and most of us would not put our shoes on again till the ground began to freeze, and sometimes I would have to go without shoes till nearly Christmas, as I was the youngest and we had to have our shoes made by a shoemaker. There were from one to three of them in every neighborhood, and when they were not busy making shoes, they would work at anything they could get to do. We had to get the hides from the cattle which had been butchered for beef and have them tanned at the tannery, as there were a number of them in the country. It took about a year to tan a hide; there was no such thing as going to a store to get a pair of shoes or boots, as there was not in all Iowa a store that kept them for sale. When we went bare-footed so long, the skin on the bottom of our feet was nearly as thick as common sole leather and I could go into a blackberry patch and tramp down the bushes and never get my feet hurt. Those were joyous days, never to return. I and about every other boy had our share of stone bruises on our heels, and frequently we would stub our toes against a rock or the root of a tree, and very likely the nail would come off, and then we would have to have our toe tied up for some time. I will say right here that no boy knows how to enjoy life till he has had his toes stubbed a few times and lost the nails.


Some time ago I gave The Republican an account of my experience in smoking tobacco, and since then I have been asked many times if I ever learned to chew, and if so if I had quit, and if it was as hard to quit chewing as it was to quit smoking. Now I am going to answer those questions in their order. First --- I learned to chew tobacco. Second --- Yes, I quit its use. Third --- You judge for yourself.

When I was past 12 years of age, there were several boys in our neighborhood, from 15 to 18 years of age, who thought they would soon be men if they learned to chew tobacco and could spit at a fly a rod away and hit it nine times out of ten. Among those boys was one of my brothers and another boy by the name of Ed Petty. I had watched those boys for a long time, and it seemed to me as though they were getting a whole lot larger, and it occurred to me that it might be a good idea for me to begin to learn, as I was in a  mighty big hurry to be a man.

So one Sunday evening about the first of January when it was real cold, Ed Petty came along and asked me if my brother was at home and I told him, no, so I thought as Petty was going to church I would go along. Just as we got down the road, he was taking a chew of tobacco and I asked him if I couldn't have a chew, too. He handed me the plug and I took a good big bite and that was my first experience. I found it was very sweet, being sweetened with licorice and up to that time I was very fond of licorice, nearly all the time having some licorice root in my pocket. I chewed away at that tobacco and of course I swallowed a good deal of it.

As we went into the house, I was pretty cold and sat down near the stove, which was red hot. In less than two minutes everything began to turn green and I got real dizzy and started for the door and just as I reached it I concluded I had more supper than I needed and began to give some of it away. Oh, no, I wasn't sick --- but just felt bad, that was all.

About that time some of the boys had found out what the matter was, and began to console with me, but I just told them to go away and leave me alone. Then I started for home, but every little bit I would have to stop and give away some more of my supper, but it was soon all gone. Then, I began to give away my dinner, but I finally got home, all the time trying to throw up, and when Mother saw me she asked what was the matter and I lied right there and told her I didn't know but I was awful sick. The last part of my story was true.

I got to bed and every little while would try to give away my breakfast; my poor loving mother sat by my bed all night, trying to comfort me, as she thought I would surely die before morning, and I was awfully afraid I wouldn't die. I was so sick and believed I would ever be real well again. From that day to the present time I have never had a chew of tobacco in my mouth, but there are times when I think I can taste that tobacco. The kind of tobacco used was called dog leg; it was about as black as could be and the plugs were about 10 inches long and as crooked as the hind leg of a dog, from which it derived its name.

To be continued

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Who was the oldest Hawkeye of them all?

Find A Grave Photo
Robert R. Blanchard died on April 1, 1916, at his home in Woodburn --- located in Clarke County not far west of the Lucas County line --- a few days short of his 79th birthday after a long and productive life. Among his claims to fame, as noted in the obituary, was self-proclaimed status as the "oldest Hawkeye living at the time of his death."

By that he meant the oldest child born in Iowa to permanent settlers who still lived in the state --- a claim difficult to prove both then and now.

Six years earlier, Robert's claim had been noted in The Osceola Sentinel during early January 1910. Henry Gittinger, editor of The Chariton Leader, picked up the paragraph reporting the claim and reprinted it on the front page of The Leader of January 10 under the headline, "How About It, Sumner?" thus challenging his old friend Sumner Smith, of Melrose in Monroe County just to the east, to respond.


"R.R. Blanchard of this county (Clarke) is believed to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, living native born residents of Iowa who has lived in the state continuously. He was born in Des Moines county, in Yellow Springs township, fourteen miles north of the present city of Burlington, April 27, 1837, and is now in his seventy-third year of his residence in the state. His father and mother came to Iowa, crossing the Mississippi at Fort Madison, in 1836, (according to) The Osceola Sentinel."

"The Leader," Henry wrote, "will wager that Sumner Smith, of Melrose, will run Mr. Blanchard a close second if not forcing him to the rear. Mr. Smith was born in Van Buren county, Iowa, about that time. How about it, Sumner?"


Sumner, who had arrived in Melrose, where he operated a grocery store and served as postmaster, rose to the bait. His response was published in The Leader on January 17 under the headline, "Keeps History Straight."

Melrose, Iowa, Jan. 15, 1910
H.W. Gittinger, Chariton, Iowa

My Dear Sir: Answering your query of the 13th, will say that Mr. Blanchard takes the cookery, so far as I am concerned, as he lacks but two days of being one year older than I am, as I was born in the big bend of the Des Moines river, where the town of Keosauqua is now located, on April 25th, 1838. I have lived in what is now Iowa all my life.

Mr. Blanchard is not the oldest white person in Iowa. Mrs. Abigail A. Gray, of Albia, Iowa, was born at Flint Hills (now Burlington), Iowa, January 1835. Eleanor Galland, a sister of Hon Washington Galland, of Fort Madison, Iowa, was born at the pace where the town of Galland is now located, on the Mississippi river, about half way between Keokuk and Montrose, in June, 1830, and she is undoubtedly the first white child born in what is now Iowa. She is married and resides at this time in Wisconsin.

There is no doubt whatever but what the Hon. Washington Galland has been a contiuous resident of Iowa longer than any other person living, as he came with his parents, the late Dr. Galland and wife, to Fort Madison in 1827, when but about two weeks old, and has lived in Iowa ever since.

You were wrong in giving the residence of my daughter, Mrs. John G. Rickey, as Jackson township, as she lives in Whitebreast township.

Now, 'Henri,' I may not be a descendant of the late Capt. John Smith, whose life was saved by Pocahontas, but I am a direct descendant in the ninth generation of the late Hannah Dustin, one of the greatest heroines of ancient or modern times.

Sincerely yours, Sumner Smith


Sumner had mentioned other Hawkeye contenders for the title "oldest" in his attempt to school Henry, including Abigail A. Gray, of Albia, born at Flint Hills (Burlington) on March 3, 1835, to John B. and Eliza Jane Gray. She came into Monroe County with her parents as soon as it was opened for settlement in 1843 and married William Gray (no kin, but conveniently with the same surname) on Dec. 18, 1853, also in Monroe County. They had lived at Albia since 1863.

And Eleanor Galland, born during 1830 just north of Fort Madison, who had disqualified herself by moving to Wisconsin. Eleanor has been widely recorded as the first child born to permanent settlers in what became Iowa, although there are other contenders for that honor. Eleanor's brother, Washington Galland, couldn't qualify in this race because he didn't arrive on Iowa soil, according to Sumner, until he was two weeks old, but certainly deserved honorable mention.

Whatever the case, Robert was the last pioneer standing in this small field when he died during 1916 at Woodburn. Abigail Gray died in Albia at age 76 on Feb. 3, 1912 (buried Oakview Cemetery); Sumner fell down a flight of stairs while visiting in Des Moines during June of 1913 and died as a result on June 19, age 75 (He is buried in the Methodist Cemetery at Melrose); and Washington Galland died April 22, 1915, at Fort Madison (He is buried in Keokuk National Cemetery).

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tombstone Iconography: Albert Gilbert's U.S. flag

U.S. flag images traditionally have been used sparingly on tombstones in Lucas County and in nearly all instances help commemorate young men who died while in service to their country. The earliest date from soon after the Civil War; a majority of the later ones, from immediately after World War I.

This flag appears on the worn cenotaph in LaGrange Cemetery, Cedar Township, of Albert Gilbert, who died at the age of 26 of typhoid fever on Dec. 26, 1862, at Prairie Grove in far northwest Arkansas, in the days following the Dec. 7 Battle of Prairie Grove. Although that battle ended in stalemate, it did secure northwest Arkansas for the Union.

The inscription, weathered after 150 years of exposure to the elements, identifies Albert as a private in Company H, 1st Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, as the husband of Philena and as the son of William and Elizabeth.

Albert's remains would have been buried initially near where he died, but most likely were recovered after war ended and reburied among the unknowns at Springfield National Cemetery in southwest Missouri. The LaGrange cenotaph, one of many across Lucas County, was erected to ensure that he was not forgotten. His name also appears on the Civil War memorial erected immedately after the war in Evans Cemetery, some distance to the south at the intersection of Lucas, Monroe, Appanoose and Wayne counties and commemorating men of the neighborhood from all four counties.


Albert was a native of Indiana, born Jan. 6, 1836, and came west to Iowa with his parents and siblings when he was 18, in 1854. The family lived east of LaGrange --- located on the Lucas-Monroe county line --- in Jackson Township, Monroe County.

On Aug. 26, 1858, he married Philena Goltry, daughter of Nathaniel and Elizabeth, in Lucas County and they settled down to farm in Jackson Township, near his parents. Their two children were born there --- Ira Jacob on Jan. 20, 1860, and Elizabeth J. on July 11, 1861.

Albert enlisted as a private in the 1st Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Cavalry on Aug. 18, 1862, at Chariton, and was mustered into Company H on Sept. 30, 1862, at Davenport.

Like most volunteer cavalrymen, Albert provided his own horse and saddle and when he died three months later, both were listed on the inventory of personal belongings sent to his widow. Most likely, both were sold to another soldier in his unit.

During the third year after her husband's death, on Sept. 12, 1865, Philena married James H. Sellers. They became the parents of three children, Ella (married Amhra E. Whitten), Margaret (married George K. Hellyer), and William D., who married Alma Hall and raised a large family in Lucas County.

Margaret Gilbert died at the age of 9 on Nov. 26, 1870, and was buried near her father at LaGrange. Ira married Emily Ann Lewis and lived with his family first in Monroe County and then near Russell in Lucas County. He died Aug. 19, 1926, and is buried in the Russell Cemetery.

Philena died at the age of 77 on March 5, 1918, at the home of Ira and Emily, and was buried not far from Albert's cenotaph at LaGrange. James Sellers was buried there beside her after his death on March 5, 1920, at the home of his daughter, Ella, in Greeley, Colorado.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Meet the John Clarkson Seward family

Yesterday's post centered on the death of a young man named Burton Seward, claimed by scarlet fever a week before his 17th birthday back in January of 1910. This caught the attention of Mary Kay Jensen, of Omaha, whose great-grandmother was Burton's younger sister, Zora. And she very kindly shared this photograph of the entire Seward family so that we could see what Burton looked like. He's the young man with the bow tie in the center here, age 13, since this image dates from 1907.

Mary Kay's paternal grandparents were Clyde L. and Zora E. (Seward) Simmons; her maternal grandparents, Michele and Maria (Corso) Della Betta. I met Mary Kay several years ago when I wrote about her uncle, Prosdocimo "Dutch" Della Betta, a young man from Chariton who gave up his life for his country while in service to it during 1944.

The photograph was taken on the front porch of the Seward home at 330 Orchard Avenue in northeast Chariton, a street so named because it passed through what once had been the Waynick family orchard.

There were 10 Seward children total, but one --- Martha Odella (1881-1898) --- had died of tuberculosis, also age 17, before this photograph was taken.

Shown here (standing from left) are Fern C. Seward (1890-1920, married John F. Butcher), Florence Daisy Tomlinson Seward (1862-1940), John Clarkson Seward (1859-1936), John Burton Seward (1893-1910), W. Porter Wagner (1876-1956, a son-in-law) and Dale Helen Seward (1888-1968, married Glen A. Anderson); (seated from left) Margaret J. Seward (1900-1987, married William A. Schindler), Ruth M. Seward (1903-1988, married Harold Shirer), Zora E. Seward (1898-1977, married Clyde L. Simmons), Ida M. Seward (1883-1953, married W. Porter Wagner), Minnie P. Seward (1885-1955, married Harry E. Downing) and George A. Seward (1895-1929, married Lucille Hutchinson).

And here's J.C. Seward's obituary from The Herald Patriot of Feb. 27, 1936:

J. C. Seward, for fifty years a resident of Chariton, and who was active in public affairs, died at his home, 633 Orchard avenue, on Saturday night, Feb. 22, 1936, near midnight, at the age of 76 years, 3 months and 16 days, following a stroke of paralysis which he suffered the previous Wednesday.

He had been in failing health for about two months but not bedfast, and for several years had not been strong physically.

Funeral services, conducted by the Rev. F. H. Wipperman, were held Wednesday afternoon at two o'clock at the Beardsley funeral home and burial was in the Chariton cemetery.

John Clarkson Seward, son of John and Lydia Seward, was born in Lucas county, Iowa, near Newbern, on Nov. 6, 1859. Most of his boyhood days were spent near Ackworth and Newbern on farms with his parents.

On March 17, 1880, he was united in marriage to Florence D. Tomlinson. To this union ten children were born.

Mr. Seward had been a member of the local Methodist church for about forty years. He had filled public positions for forty years, serving as clerk of courts two terms, mayor of Chariton two terms and was justice of the peace for 32 consecutive years, until Jan. 1, 1935. Recently, he announced his candidacy for the republican nomination as justice of the peace in the June primaries.

Mr. Seward is survived by his wife, who has been in ill health for some time and has been spending several months in Lead, South Dakota, with her children, and by six children, Mrs. Ida Wagner, Lead, S.D., Mrs. Minnie Downing, Omaha, Nebr.; Mrs. Dale Anderson, Lead, S.D.; Mrs. Clyde Simmons, Chariton; Mrs. Margaret Shindler, Council Bluffs, Ia.; and Mrs. Ruth Shirer, Russell; six grandchildren, and one half-sister, Mrs. Pearl Morgan, of Alliance, Nebr.


Another thing I find interesting about the Seward family is the fact that nine of the 10 children, even though several of them lived out their lives elsewhere, came home in the end. Only daughter Fern C. Butcher is buried elsewhere, at Bronswood Cemetery, Oak Park, Illinois. The rest are buried in the Chariton Cemetery.

Monday, January 13, 2020

A scarlet fever scare at Chariton High School

Burton Seward was a student at Chariton High School and just a week short of his 17th birthday when he died at home of scarlet fever on Saturday morning, Jan. 8, 1910, after becoming ill at school on the preceding Thursday.

Burton's parents were John C. and Florence Seward and he was near the middle of their family of 10 children and had been working as a delivery boy for the Curtis Grocery Store when not in school.

He was, according to The Chariton Leader of Jan. 13, "a bright, energetic young man, loved by all who knew him, always polite and courteous."

Scarlet fever was a communicable disease, so funeral services before burial in the Chariton Cemetery were private and the family home was placed under quarantine immediately.

Although a few cases of scarlet fever had been reported previously in Chariton after the new year, none had proven fatal and two other families remained quarantined in the hope of preventing its spread. 


Although Chariton's physicians believed Burton had not been suffering from the fever long enough to be contagious while attending school, extraordinary precautions were taken --- as described in this report from The Herald-Patriot of Jan. 13:

"As Burton was a student at the high school, the rooms were thoroughly fumigated on Saturday, and on Monday Dr. John Stanton, who is both city and county physician, went to the high school, accompanied by Drs. J.A. McKlveen and Albert Yocom and members of the city council and school board, and every student underwent a strict medical examination for any indication of sore throat or fever.

"Several were sent home to recover from bad colds, but they have all returned, and with Supt. Roberts and the high school faculty closely watching the situation, the high school is probably a safer place for the students than some of the poorly ventilated homes in Chariton.

"There is no need for alarm over the situation, it would seem, as no other cases have been reported and the families where the disease originated --- the Logsdon and Wright families --- are quarantined and all the children are getting along well."


There seem to have been no other cases of scarlet fever in Chariton during January and February, although a few were reported in and near Russell.

There is no anti-scarlet fever vaccine still, but efficient tests and the development of antibiotics have for the most part made it a disease that parents in Lucas County need not worry about. So this January we can for the most part focus our attention on the flu.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

What's going on inside the A.J. Stephens House ....

This is the A.J. Stephens House in picturesque mode during yesterday afternoon's light snowfall. Designed and built during 1911 by Chariton contractor Andrew Jackson Stephens for his family, it was refurbished and opened to the public as the first building on the Lucas County Historical Society campus during 1967. Since then, six more buildings have been added --- but this is the one visitors and those who drive through see first.

The architectural historian who prepared nomination papers that earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places many years ago agonized over exactly what to call it. He finally decided on "American Vernacular." I'd probably call it "Classical Revival" --- because of the porches.

Whatever the case, I shared a few snapshots yesterday on the society's Facebook page, taken and/or posted by Casey Peasley, of some of the work Cameron Shriver, of Shriver Painting and Finishing, has been doing there during the first days of the new year --- restoring and repainting wall surfaces that in some cases, I'm guessing, haven't been touched since 1967.

Second-floor hallway.

The areas involved include the entrance hall, front stairwell, a small hallway that divides the entrance from the dining room, the back stairwell and the back hall downstairs; the hallway, bathroom, dressing room, dressing room closet and a ceiling or two upstairs.

Entrance Hall

Some of these areas, especially the back stairwell, present major challenges as they stretch upward two full stories.

Cameron at work in the back stairwell.

Once Cameron's finished, we'll return furnishing and accessories to the public areas, archived costumes and such to areas that are used for storage.

We're also preparing to move the bulk of the society's toy collection, currently displayed inefficiently in two bedrooms, to a newly designated toy display area in the Lewis Building's Crist Gallery. And anticipating the arrival of a new showcase (purchased with memorial funds) for the dining room for fine glassware. 

Hopefully, we'll have all of this done --- plus a few other projects in the Lewis Building --- by the time we reopen for regular hours on May 1.

As anyone who deals with a vintage building knows, their natural inclination is to fall apart unless consistently maintained. Without going to the books, I guesstimated the other day that we've spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000 on the Stephens House during the last 10 years --- rewiring the entire building, a new roof, new roof drainage system, attic insulation and a variety of smaller projects. Our partner in major projects, gratefully acknowledged, has been the South Central Iowa Community Foundation, which in several cases has matched expenditures from historical society funds.

There's still a lot we'd like to do, but progress is incremental so we'll just keep plugging away.

The Lucas County Historical Society is governed by a board of sixteen. The office currently is open 10 a.m.-3 p..m. Tuesday-Thursday and tours of climate-controlled buildings (and others, depending upon weather conditions) may be arranged at any time by appointment. We'll open for the 2020 season on May 1. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Peace on earth ....

Took me a while on a chilly and ice-covered morning to find this video, shot during September of 2015 at Pope Francis's Interfaith Prayer Service and Remembrance in Foundation Hall, Ground Zero museum, New York City.

The performers form the Young People's Chorus of New York City. The song itself was composed by Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller during 1955.

And the sentiment is as appropriate now, if not more so, than then.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Xury & Polly West: Lucas County's first Methodists

It's not clear why the venerable Xury E. West's parents saddled their son with that given name back in 1796. Had they overdosed on Defoe? Were they reading "Robinson Crusoe" at the time? Who knows?

Whatever the case, they turned from the Bible to what sometimes is called Defoe's spiritual autobiography when in search of a name more than 200 years ago and gave Lucas County a first settler with a distinctive moniker. 

So far as I know, there were only two other Xury Wests in the world. One was his nephew, who lived and died in Indiana, and the other, his son --- Xury A. West, who died in 1846 during the Mexican War while serving with a unit of Indiana troops.

Two years later, during May of 1848, Xury and his wife, Mary (always known as Polly), brought their family west to Lucas County's most southeasterly township, Washington, and built a cabin in Section 13 --- along the route of the Mormon Trail. This branch of the trail had been established during the summer of 1846 when Brigham Young directed LDS pioneers streaming west from Nauvoo to avoid the initial trail route through southern Wayne County and follow the ridge north of the Chariton River in Lucas County through Chariton Point instead.

Here's Dan Baker's account, taken from his 1881 history of Lucas County: "The first settler in the township was Mr. Xury E. West. He was born in South Carolina in 1796, and was taken to Kentucky while young, and after he reached man's estate, moved to Putnam county, Indiana,  where he lived until the spring of 1848, when he came west with his family, and located in  section thirteen in what is now Washington township. In the fall of the same year, Samuel McKinley and his family came and located in section twenty-four, near Mr. West."

The Wests were not the first permanent Lucas County settlers to arrive --- the Ballards already were living near English Creek in the northern part of the county and the McDermotts, at "Ireland" in Cedar Township. But they were very early settlers.

In 1852, Xury, Samuel McKinley and Aaron Kendall had a village they called Greenville platted and, in 1853, Xury was named its first postmaster (the post office was discontinued in 1864).

Dan Baker also noted in his 1881 history that, "the first religious services in the township were held at the house of Xury E. West, in the fall of 1848, by Rev. Pierce, a Methodist minister." So far as we know, these were the first Methodist services held anywhere in Lucas County and that gives the Wests the distinction of being the county's first Methodists.

Xury was in his 85th year when he died at Greenville on June 9, 1880, and his passing was noted in The Chariton Leader of June 12 as follows:


Xury E. West, the subject of this sketch, was born March 23, 1796, died June 9, 1880, near Greenville, Lucas county, aged 84 years, 2 months and 16 days.

Mr. West was the father of four sons and two daughters, all living except one son, who died in the Mexican war.

His companion died in 1875, nearly five years ago.

He moved into Iowa in 1848, and in the fall of the same year influenced a minister of the M.E. Church to come from Albia, who preached the first Methodist sermon in his house that was ever preached in Lucas county.

He was a faithful attendant on the means of grace until age prevented, and was carried to the grave and buried according to the form of the service of the M.E. church, of which he had been a member for over 50 years.

A large number of people were present to pay tributes of respect to this veteran of Lucas County and father of the church.


Xury and Polly West are buried in the Greenville Pioneer Cemetery, where they share a modest stone that remains in good repair.