Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Ashbys and the Norwood community, Part 3

Doris Chrisensen/Find a Grave

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

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

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

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

By Newton B. Ashby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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