Monday, March 26, 2012

Joseph Braden's Chariton: Part Two

Here are two views of the Melville house, one of the finest in Chariton when it was built prior to 1869, the probable date of these photographs. The house stood at the intersection of Court Avenue and South Eighth Street, a block east of the southeast corner of the square --- now a grassy lawn where a service station once stood. This house was replaced during the early 20th century by the newer Melville house, also for a time the Melville Funeral Home, which still stands just beyond a board fence south of that grassy square. The newer house, according to Chariton lore, was built facing north on the footprint of the earlier house, then moved south and turned to face east when this intersection became a popular location for filling stations.

The second half of Joseph Braden's memoir, published in The Chariton Herald of April 3, 1902, is not quite as interesting as the first (which is here) to me, at least, because it is more general. But there's a lot to think about none the less.

How near to bare subsistence most Lucas Countyans lived during those first years, ca. 1847-1867, for example. That's the 20-year period when all of my ancestors arrived here and settled on farms. Cash, as Braden points out, was neither abundant nor much needed. Barter sufficed for most farm families.

How long it took to get anywhere --- three days by stage to Burlington, for example, in the earliest days. We're accustomed now to driving into Des Moines in under an hour. Des Moines then was a muddy village with few attractions; Iowa City, the capital; Burlington and Keokuk, the nearest cities of any sophistication. All eyes (and feet) turned toward the Mississippi River. Trains, stalled at the Des Moines River in Ottumwa by the Civil War, did not arrive until July, 1867.

How Chariton sat during those earliest years astride the busy main trail across Iowa, blazed by Mormons in 1846 and used by thousands headed for newer settlements in western Iowa and, beyond Great Plains "Indian territory," to the Great Salt Lake, the Pacific Northwest and the gold fields of California and elsewhere. Selling to emigrants was a growth industry.

And finally, the circus. I'd never thought of that --- but imagine circus wagons rolling across the prairie toward Chariton, accompanied by elephants, camels and exotic performers. I can almost see an elephant on the horizon now.

The Chariton Herald, April 3, 1902

Reference has been made to the enviable hospitality of the early settlers, and I must add my testimony to them. The doors of all the houses were always open to the strangers, as well as acquaintances and friends; tramps were unknown then, (all) were received with most cordial hospitality and treated to the best the home afforded. There were literally no locks on the doors, or if there happened to be a lock, the key had been lost of thrown away; the stranger on entering did not see on the walls in a fancy frame the word “Welcome,” but could see it written in every lineament of the face of the worthy hostess.

I have referred to our mail facilities being so poor; daily newspapers we never saw, and weeklies when they reached us were probably two or three weeks old. Accustomed as we are today to see the fast mail rushing along to Chariton at the rate of from 50 to 70 miles an hour, delivering to us the great morning dailies of Chicago at 10:00 a.m. --- receiving messages from our friends in distant states by the lightning’s flash --- conversing with our neighbors, perhaps separated by miles, through the telephone, it is somewhat difficult in looking backward to realize what discomforts we old settlers in those days “enjoyed.”

Yet we remember those old weekly newspapers were, when we received them by the one-horse mail, read by us with as much avidity as we now read the great Chicago dailies which reach us with the printer’s ink hardly dry upon them. A letter received from the distant ones at home, so long a time on its journey to us, I believe we then prized more highly than we do now the postal cards we receive the day or two after it is written, and I believe we then greeted our friends, when we would meet them, far more heartily as we would take them by the hand then when we now sound the “Hello, give me No 26” over the telephone.

When the Burlington & Missouri River railroad began pushing its way west from Burlington, the hope of closer connection with the old folks at home and better facilities for reaching a market for our surplus products made us all look forward with hope in the anticipation of its reaching Chariton, as we then could be bound together with the balance of the world with bands of steel. Railroads are now-a-days pushed forward, into uncultivated regions, and settlers are expected to follow the road; in those days the road followed the settlement and oftimes we thought very tardily. Strong inducements had to be held forth to the company to get a move on them, representations made as to the largeness of the settlement to be reached, figures given of the number of acres of tillable land adjacent and tributary to the proposed road and estimates as to the probable shipments over the road when completed.

Knowing these facts and desirous that the road should be extended here, we held meetings large and small, but always enthusiastic, passed many resolutions, appointed committees to confer with the officers of the road and left no stone unturned that we might have a railroad. At these meetings the citizens were drummed up by a boy perambulating around the square ringing a dinner bell. One meeting, I believe the last public one we had, many of us had become discouraged and through discouragemet somewhat indifferent, and it required more than the usual amount of effort to get the public together, notwithstanding assurance had been given to our committee that a representative of the company would meet us on that day.

It was necessary that if he come we should make a good showing in regard to numbers and enthusiasm, and thus make a good impression. After considerable persuasion and button-holing, a goodly number were gathered in the court house. Mr. O.L. Palmer, the most prominent business man in the county, opened the meeting with well chosen words welcoming the coming of the railroad representative, Mr. Joy. He announced somewhat like this: “We, the citizens of Chariton and Lucas County, have become disheartened and discouraged by the delays of the railroad and the suspense the delays have caused which has caused us to doubt whether we would have a railroad through the county. Now in the midst of our discouragements, when our hearts are saddened, we look up “for Joy cometh in the morning.” (alluding to the representative of the road, whose name was Joy).

Alas! Alas! Hardly had Mr. Palmer uttered these words when a drum and brass band was heard in the distance. As the sound came nearer the cry was raised “The circus is coming,” and before one could say “Jack Robinson” the room was cleared, in order that the elephant and clown might be seen in the procession passing along the street. Railroads might wait, but circuses never. After the procession had passed, some of us gathered together again, and eventually the road was completed to Chariton. I remember my first trip on the road soon after completed --- my first railroad ride in the state of Iowa. We started at 7 o’clock a.m. and reached Burlington at about 5 p.m. --- 10 hours ride. The last time I had visited Burlington, the trip occupied three days and nights by stage; today one can go and return same day.

The problem that now occupies our attention is not how we can improve our facilities for reaching the great centres of the United States in less time and more comfort, but is, how can we reach the railroad depot in Chariton with our surplus products with less labor, time and expense --- in other words, the improvement of our county roads and highways.

In the early settlement of our county, as I have said, we had no roads and not much use for them, save for going to mill for our grist and visiting our neighbors --- no surplus products to ship. In the 1850s our hogs were slaughtered and cured at home; a ready sale was found for any surplus we might have to newly arrived settlers and to the large emigration passing through the county to California and Salt Lake.

Many of your will remember with me that throughout the spring and summer months, companies would be continually passing through Chariton, traveling, with wagons drawn by horses, oxen, milch cows, and some afoot, with go-carts, and so closely did some of our farmers sell, that before the season was over, would run out of meat and come to Chariton and re-purchase the meat they had sold; and here, speaking of home competition, reminds me of the first fresh meat I tasted in Chariton. Word was carried around several days in advance that on a certain day a beef would be killed, near the public square, all who wanted fresh meat must be on hand early in the morning. Most of that beef was consumed for our breakfasts that day. After the railroad had commenced pushing towards us, our surplus hogs and cattle would be driven in droves to the nearest depot.

I have tried to ascertain in what year the first work was done on our public roads, but have not been able to obtain the record. I have somewhat of an idea how the work was done. In the early 1850s I was called upon to work on the roads in Dubuque county, this state. Never having been accustomed to outdoor labor, I thought I could do more efficient service by sending my team with a man who was then working for me. In the evening he reported that the neighboring farms were not at all pleased with my action; as a newcomer amongst them I was evidently stuck up and not sociable. To show them they were wrong in their estimate, the next day I went with team myself. It proved to be the easiest day’s work I had ever done in my life; the greater part of the time was spent socially and in friendly political discussion, and an attendance at a royal feast set up by a neighboring farmer. There was some three teams and six men besides the supervisor, and I candidly believe two men and one team could have accomplished far more work than the whole outfit that day, saving and excepting our work at the dinner table. This you remember was at an early day.

I have never worked on the roads in this county, so cannot say how the work was done here, but presume somewhat after the same fashion. Today we have in the neighborhood of 1,000 miles of roads, highways and cross-roads, not including streets and alleys in our town. In the county, a larger territory to cover, and we have stricter rules --- more work and less play; yet I think you will agree with me that with the money, something near $12,000, besides the labor, expended on our roads and bridges, our roads do not show a full adequate return for the amount invested each year; but I am reminded that my duties as historian are to record the past, not the present or the future.

I spoke of the circus parade breaking up our railroad meeting. Public holidays in those days were few and far between and the annual visit of the circus was looked forward to both by young and old with the most joyful anticipations. Early on the day the circus was to appear the boys, not all boys either, would walk several miles to meet the cavalcade coming to town. It was an event, and the day became a general holiday; there were very few who had any scruples as to attend the show, and many of those very few who had contentious scruples in regard to patronizing the show would visit the tent because of the instruction conveyed to their children, in seeing the wild animals; they, the poor children, had not the opportunity of visiting zoological gardens as the children in our cities had, and this was their only chance of seeing specimens of wild animals from all parts of the globe. After viewing the animals it was too hard to lead the dear children away when the performance commenced, so they also staid.

It is somewhat difficult for us to recall the monotony of the life we lived. We had but two general holidays, circus day and 4th of July. On the 4th of July we usually had a picnic, not on the public square, but in a grove near the city. The day would be ushered in with as much noise as possible, as it is now-a-days, though we had to content with firing anvils, firecrackers were scarce. I remember one of our citizens, Mr. William Tout, at one time was seriously injured by a premature discharge and came very near ceasing to be an old settler, but he is still alive and well and ready to fire again should occasion demand. We had the customary exercises, reading the declaration and public speaking, and closed the day with fireworks, not on so grand a scale as today. The fireworks consisted of balls of candle-wick steeped in turpentine, lighted and thrown from hand to hand.

Today scarcely a week passes but we have some kind of entertainment, conventions without number, club meetings, meetings of the different secret societies, concerts, picnics, church and Sunday school meetings and conventions, our 4th of July, decoration day, labor day, Christmas day, New Year’s day. You will recall days now kept, not forgetting “Old Settlers’ day.”

New Year’s and Christmas we had, but the days were not generally observed, so that being the reason that we so seldom met together in a general way, it was no wonder that the coming of the circus was an event not to be despised.

In those early days we had not much use for actual money. I will take that back; we had not much money for actual use. Money was scarce; while its legal rate of interest was 10 per cent, the actual rate often paid was 40 per cent, and here let me say that I myself have made more money out of cash for the use of which I paid 40 percent, than I ever have made at the legal rate, which is now 6 percent.

There was a great deal of bartering in those days; a farmer could manage ordinarily to get along through the year with very little money provided he had enough to pay his taxes, and taxes were not high. I remember meeting a farmer one day at the store door, who was on horseback; he handed over the bucket he had carried some 12 miles, with caution to “be careful as it contained eggs.” He traded those eggs, or rather those that were not broken, for three cents a dozen for groceries; the town was over-supplied. What use to us of Chicago quotations three of four days old? And had we enough eggs to ship, it would have taken two or three weeks to reach Chicago.

Eggs, butter, beeswax, furs and hides, wool, home-knit socks, jeans, blankets, wool dress goods, homespun, soft soap, rags, onions, provisions, chickens, bacon and hams, all legal tender at our stores, though the latter, bacon and hams, given at low prices of demand. Our stores in town did not make the elaborate display in their show windows they do today. They had no show windows to display their fine goods in nor fine goods to display. Our farmers’ wives thought it a luxury and extravagance if they exchanged their homespun flannel dress goods for dress goods at the store costing 35 or 40 cents a yard, not that they would not have appreciated a far more costly dress as much as their daughters and granddaughters do today, but necessity compelled them to economize, so that their daughters and granddaughters might be able, as they are able today, to indulge in fine dresses. We had no fresh fruit from abroad; what fruit we had, aside from dried and canned fruit, was wild grapes, plums and blackberries; not having facilities for preserving fruit fresh by putting in air tight jars and cans, our wives covered the plums with water in barrels and preserved them fresh a long time.

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