Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Ashbys and the Norwood community, Part 2

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

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

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

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

By Newton B. Ashby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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