Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Ashbys and the Norwood community, Part I

This slim volume published in 1925 for family members and friends by Newton B. Ashby is among family histories in the Lucas County Historical Society collection. While many such histories cause the eyes of those outside the family circle (and some within) to glaze over, this booklet contains fascinating stories of early Lucas County and serves, too, as a history of the earliest days of Otter Creek Township's village of Norwood and its neighborhood.

So I'm going to extract three sections of the history, not necessarily on consecutive days, and at another time will have more to say about the author --- at the time widely known in state and national agricultural circles and former consul during the Cleveland Administration to Dublin. He also was a talented writer and skillful story-teller.

Suffice it for now to say that Newton was sixth in the large family of William Henry and Margaretta (Boyer) Ashby and came west to Otter Creek Township from Indiana with his parents and siblings during the spring of 1861. The Asbys were, for their time, affluent people and settled on a 280-acre tract of prairie that William had purchased the previous year (he also had purchased 100 acres of timber on Otter Creek to the west). The later village of Norwood --- named by Margaretta Ashby --- developed in the southwest corner of that farm, where a school already was located and a Methodist church soon was built.

The map at the top, taken from the 1875 Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of Iowa, gives an idea of the lay of the land. When the Ashbys arrived, long-vanished Tallahoma was the nearest post office and store. Lucas, some distance to the south, had not even been dreamed of.

What follows are accounts of the trek from Indiana to Iowa and a few anecdotes about the war years as told on pages 12-19 by Newton Ashby and his older brother, Thompson "Tom" Ashby.


It was in April of 1861 that the family set out for its new home in Iowa, that father had bought the year previous. The family at that time consisted of father and mother and their children, Elizabeth, Mary, Abram, John, Thompson, Newton and Luckey. Lewis and Elmer were born in Iowa.

In relating what follows, I give only details as I remember them. I was a child in my fifth year, but a number of things were impressed on my memory. I have said that we started our journey April 10, 1861. There was a covered wagon mounted on springs in which mother and we smaller children rode. In addition there were three covered wagons of our own filled with provisions, household provender and machinery. And there was a wagon with Milt Harrison and family. This Milton Harrison was a cousin of father's and a son of uncle Eli (who had settled earlier some distance to the west in Clarke County). We were delayed in starting because brother John was missing and was only found after some search. He was in hiding, determined to remain behind and not face the terrors of migration into the wilderness. We had a big shaggy Newfoundland dog, Ponto. I saw Ponto chasing a goat through an old deadening. (A deadening was where trees had been girdled to kill them previous to clearing the land.) This was an old deadening and the bark had fallen off leaving the great trees grey and ghostly. I did not know anything about goats and so I craned my neck out from under the canvas expecting to see the goat treed. I recall that one night we were greatly in fear of horse thieves and kept a watch all night. I recall piles of great rails at all the broad sloughs, which were many, to enable the unfortunate mover who got mired to pry his wagon out of the mud. We were so well equipped in horses that we had no trouble but often stopped long enough to help less fortunate travelers.

When we came opposite Burlington, the Mississippi was out of its banks so far that we could not reach the ferry dock on the Illinois side, and so had to go down the river to Shockacon. I remember it as a straggling, dirty village, crowded with movers' wagons waiting to cross to the Iowa side. I remember seeing two brawny men fighting in the streets. When the ferry boat came to the dock and the bars were opened, the crowding and shouting of the teamsters were terrifying. Each one was anxious to get across without delay and there was not room enough for all upon the ferry. Cousin Milt was a timid man and allowed himself to be bluffed and jockeyed out of line, and did not get across until the next day. Hence we had to wait on the Iowa side for them to arrive.


(I asked your Uncle Thompson --- Tom --- to write me his reminiscences and the following is his very interesting story:)

"It has been so long since I have thought much about our trip to Iowa that I don't remember a great deal about it.

We left on the tenth day of April, 1861. I was seven years old two days before we started. We started about nine in the morning, I think, made a short drive and stayed over night with relatives in Crawfordsville. The next day we made another short drive into Tippecanoe County where we stayed overnight with aunt Zarilda and uncle Ike Martin, mother's stepsister.

From there we started full blast for Iowa under a full head of canvas. I think it was the next day that Milt Harrison and his wife and children joined us. Levi Martin and Frank Dickenson --- they each drove a wagon and besides the wagons we had a large covered spring wagon in which mother, the girls and some of the smaller children rode. Some of the bigger boys rode in the wagons most of the time.

I don't remember much about the trip through Indiana. It was very rainy and the roads were deep with mud. In some places we had miles of corduroy road, which made rough traveling. We crossed the Wabash river at Covington. The river was out of its banks. We drove through water some distance before we reached the bridge and also after we crossed it.

I had never thought there could be so much water. I do not know how wide it may have been but in my remembrance it seemed miles wide.

As we got into Illinois we began to see soldiers drilling in the towns we passed through. First we saw the "Home Guards" and later companies of regular soldiers. Decatur was the first large town that I remember passing through in Illinois. There were several companies organized there and they were drilling. They had guns with bayonets which impressed us boys very much. I thought almost all the people in the world were gathered together in those companies of soldiers and didn't see how there could be any left to fight for the South.

We came to the Vermilion river one day early in the afternoon. We had had a very hard rain the night before. The river was much too high to ford and the people told us the bridge wasn't safe to cross, so we went into camp. The next morning the river was some lower. Some men came along and tried fording it. Their wagons were washed about badly and as we didn't want to get our goods wet the men decided to test the bridge. Father and Milt Harrison and the rest of the men walked across the bridge and shook it about and finally decided they would try it with one wagon. One man walked across and stood ready to catch the team which was started from our side of the river. As the team arrived without accident, a rope was attached to the end of a wagon tongue and the team that was on the opposite bank hitched to the rope and the wagon was pulled across. Then the other wagons and teams crossed in the same way. The people in our party all walked across. Our motto was, "Safety First."

The next large town that I remember was Bloomington. We couldn't make a straight line in our trip as we had to make for the towns where we could cross the rivers. I think we struck the Illinois river at Pekin. Then we followed the river up to Peoria where there was a bridge and crossed there. From Peoria we went to Knoxville and from Knoxville to Monmouth and from there to Oquaka, seven miles above Burlington to find a landing. As there was no bridge, a steam ferry boat was used in crossing (the Mississippi). They landed us at Burlington about five in the afternoon, that is the first section.

The second section was landed about eight in the evening and was met and taken out to the camp the first party had made just west of Burlington.

The next morning father left us and took the stage and hurried ahead of us to Lucas County. He had paid $1,000 on the place and the balance was due the first day of May. The roads were very muddy and heavy and he thought it would be impossible to make it through in time with the wagons.

From Burlington we followed the stage coach route going through Mt. Plelasant, Fairfield and Ottumwa. There was no bridge at Ottumwa so we had to go up the river to Eddyville to get across the Des Moines river. The next town was Albia and the next, Chariton. Father came back to meet us and joined us near the place where Russell now stands. We had just gone into camp.

The next morning we came through Chariton, drove on to White Breast where we stopped and ate dinner. After dinner we drove to Tallahoma, stopped and bought groceries and arrived at our new home at about five on the afternoon of May third. There was some tall hollering done when we got there. Milt Harrison and family went over to old uncle Eli's (his father's) that evening. While we were getting supper ready Mr. Danner and Mr. Pedigo came to see us and so we began to get acquainted with our new neighbors.

We had a large one room log house. It had a loft and pegs driven into the wall for a stairway. That fall father had the stairway built and the house plastered. The next year he added one or two rooms or rather built a connecting room between our house and another log cabin which stood nearby but was in bad condition.

After that we had the largest house in the neighborhood, and partly because of this and partly because of our parents' hospitality we entertained most of the preachers and other prominent people who happened into our neighborhood.

There was a school house on our land just west of the old home where we had three months of school in winter and three in summer. As time passed, more people arrive in our community and the prairie began to settle up.

The winter of 1863-64 was one of the coldest we ever had and the people suffered a good many hardships from the severe weather.

Father and a man by the name of Parrish had a large drove of cattle that we were wintering. They arrived at our place between Christmas and New Years. We had one of the worst storms about this time that I ever knew. Our roads were drifted full from the top of one rail fence to the other. They used ox teams to haul shock corn to the cattle for feed. A man named Jake Camerine, whom father had hired to help with the feeding, froze his feet so badly that some of his toes came off.

We boys used to invite the neighbor boys in to help break the steers to work. We had great times at that.

We had to go to Tallahoma for our mail until about 1867. We went for mail every day during the war and usually did afterward, but were not quite so anxious after the war closed. One person would bring mail for the entire neighborhood. It was usually distributed from our place. I think the Norwood post office was established in 1867 and as you know it was at our home and was named by mother. Betty had named our place "Priaire Home," but after the Norwood post office was established that name was not much used.

The Norwood M.E. church was built in 1867. Father donated the land for the church and the same church is still standing although remodeled considerably before now. The railroad reached Chariton in 1868 (1867, actually). Before the railroad reached us we drove our stock to Eddyville and Burlington or Keokuk.

Of the two men who came to Iowa with us, Frank Dickenson had promised to stay with us a year but he got "war fever" and only stayed a few days after we arrived. Levi Martin and he both went back to Indiana and enlisted in the army there. They were both taken prisoner. Dickenson was never heard of afterwards. Martin lost his left arm and was captured. He was in two southern prisons and was almost a skeleton when exchanged. He recovered his health however and after the war was over he visited us in Iowa. He served as county treasurer in Montgomery County, Indiana, for a number of years. (He was a son of Uncle Ike and Zarilda Martin. --- N.B.A.)

From the time we came to Iowa until after the close of the war was an exciting time. So many of the young men enlisted in the army that the scarcity of able-bodied men made us fear an attack from the "bushwhackers" who were active in Missouri. The Republicans had an organization called the Union League. They held their meetings secretly at the homes of the members and met once a week. The Democrats, whom we considered Southern sympathizers, called their organization the Knights of the Golden Circle. There was strong feeling on both sides.

One Fourth of July, I think it was 1863, we celebrated in what we called the Lamb Grove. Gov. Stone was the speaker of the day and during his speech a man named Nels Case cheered for Jeff Davis. Then you bet there was real excitement. They gathered round him and I think he would have stretched hemp if it had not been for a few of the older men. Mrs. Wells said if any one would give her a gun, she would shoot him. One man, home on a furlough, gave her one and she would probably have used it but others took the gun away from her. Case was one scared man. The older men felt they were averting a neighborhood war from which no good could come and much harm was certain to follow.

(Note: "Mrs. Wells" probably was Mrs. John (Ruth) Wells. Her son, Jesse, had been killed at Shiloh on April 6, 1862; and her stepson, Silas, had died of disease contracted during his service on Nov. 3, 1862. It's not difficult to understand why Mr. Case's southern sympathies would have outraged her. F.D.M.)

I must not forget to tell you of one incident of our trip to Iowa. One night we camped somewhere in Illinois. I'm not sure where. We were told that there were horse thieves in that vicinity. Father had some very good horses so when two men came into our camp and were very friendly and interested in our horses we were suspicious. Our men got out their guns, of which they had quite a number, and started target practice. One of the men was a crack shot and the others not bad. They made quite a flourish with their fire arms. Either the strangers were frightened by our military display or were not what we suspected for although someone stood guard all night nothing came of it and our horses were not molested. (signed) T.D. Ashby.

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