This is the second in a series of biographical sketches written by Thomas M. Dunshee between 1903, when he collected the material, and 1910, when he finished entering the sketches in a small blue "tablet" notebook now in the Lucas County Historical Society collection. The subjects all were fellow pioneers in the Newbern neighborhood of English Township, Lucas County.
By Thomas M. Dunshee
Isaac Graves was born in Bartholomew county, Indiana, Sept. 23d 1829; he was married to Samantha Jane Baker of the same county the 11th of April 1850. Mr. Graves is of English descent (Son of John Graves of Ohio and Rebecca Newsom Graves of North Carolina; they were married in 1825).
Mr. Graves says that improving a farm without money or material was slow business. Native lumber was the only kind and it was hard to obtain as there were but few mills on the frontier.
"The first house we built had but one room 16 feet by 16 feet, was not plastered; in the winter time we spread carpet on the joists overhead to keep out the cold. We stuck the stove pipe out of the window. If the wind blew hard from any direction we would move the stove to the opposite side.
"I hauled my salt from Keokuk, a distance of one hundred and forty miles. All the market we had for hogs was sellling the pork to emigrants.
"There was but four log cabins between Newbern and Chariton. The owners of these houses were R.A. Mason, Vanmeter, John Williby and Jessie Spray. The public road followed the divide. There were no school houses. The township had not been organized into school districts. This was done in 1856. The Graves held their first school the same year, taught by Sarah Ann Wood in a cabin that stood west of the present school house.
"In 1856, I went to Red Rock to mill with a grist of wheat. It was the custom for neighbors to send with anyone going to mill for a sack of flour as a number of them did at this time. When I arrived at the mill, found them behind as usual. There was a party of Hollanders from Pella that had got their grinding and were about to return home. From these men I purchased flour to fill out my orders. Mr. Mathews, the proprietor of the mill, promised to grind for me the next morning. When morning came we were told that the boiler had sprung a leak, but if we would assist in hauling water from the Des Moines river a quarter of a mile distant in barrels he would try and run our wheat through. But in the mean time, the leak increased to such an extent that we had to abandon the idea of any further grinding. So the miller bought my wheat and I returned home after an absence of three days.
"A good many farmers raised wheat, but the distance to mill and the uncertainty of getting work done were some of the difficulties that confronted the settler. Corn was the main dependence of the pioneer. This was taken to Ramseys mill on White Breast in Liberty township. This mill consisted of two nigger head rocks that were dressed to resemble burrs and with a hopper home-made was a rude outfit for crushing and grinding corn for meal and chicken feed.
"In the fall or winter of 1856, Samuel Carpenter, Alec T. Graves and myself went to Eddyville to mill, a distance of forty miles. The miller advised us to go to Oskaloosa on account of being so far behind with work. But we concluded to wait and take our turn. This was Friday evening. On Saturday the weather had grown colder, the ice was beginning to float in the (Des Moines) river, which made us anxious to get our grinding so that we might get back before the ice closed. We made this proposition to the miller --- to run our grist through on Sabbath morning. He said 'I have never done the like and don't want to commence,' but that evening he came and told us he would do so. On the next morning the mill was started bright and early and towards evening we loaded our grinding and started for home, fording the river which we found almost impossible on account of ice. After traveling about six miles we stopped for the night. Building a fire out of logs, we had supper, after which we moved the fire to one side and scraped the ground with a shovel, and made our bed where the fire had been, and took the feed box and placed for our heads, sleeping with our heads in the box, covering ourselves with the blankets and sleeping thus until morning. It was quite cold; the ground was covered with snow, but we managed to get a pretty good night's rest. Arrived home that evening after an absence of four days. My conscience has never condemned me for this act and I often have thought of the kind-hearted miller whom we persuaded to violate the fourth commandment.
"When I first came to the township there was 80 acres of government land joining me on the north, which I was anxious to own at the government price, $1.25 per acre. But I could not raise the money without placing a mortgage on my home. This I did not think prudent to do, and the land was taken during the summer. I afterward bought the east forty acres at five dollars per acre.
"The first year I hired Francis Wooley to break twenty acres. The second year, had John Poush break ten acrs and the third year, had Rufus Murry break twenty acres. This breaking was done with the prairie plow and four yoke of oxen at $2.50 per acre. I tell this to show how slow we moved in those days. A good part of this labor was paid for as best we could, some money and some trade. The soil on these new lands was rich, crops were good.
"Stock was scarce. Plenty of good pasture was at our door, but we could make but little use of it.
"In 1860, A.T. Graves and myself went to Burlington to purchase a threshing machine. We drove to Ottumwa; from there I went by rail to Burlington, leaving Alec to look after the teams. The machine was purchased, not having the money to pay all down, the agent shipped it to Joseph Braden, Chariton. We brought the machine home and the next day went and settled with Mr. Braden. This was the first threshing machine owned in the township."
Mr. Graves is one of the oldest settlers in the community, is well and favorable known. He is a Republican in principle. Mr. and Mrs. Graves are members of the M.E. Church of Newbern. They have many friends in the community in which they live and have plenty of this world's goods to enable them to spend their declining years in peace. They have three children living, John Samuel, Mary Catherine and Isaac Thomas. Since giving the foregoing, Mr. Graves died.
Isaac and Samantha Graves and many of their family members, including his parents, are buried in the Newbern Cemetery. This photo of their tombstone is taken from the Web site, "Find a Grave."