Saturday, February 11, 2017

A few words from Barbara Molesworth Spiker

I've been cataloging this week items in a batch of documents passed during 1974 to the Lucas County Historical Society by the Chariton Free Public Library, accessioned as a unit, then archivally boxed and stored away. Many are original drafts of brief memoirs prepared for delivery during meetings of the Lucas County Old Settlers Association at the turn of the 20th century.

They were collected by Warren S. Dungan, association historian, who also organized Lucas County's first historical society. When both the Old Settlers Association and the historical society faded away, the the collection of documents was placed in the library for safekeeping, then eventually passed on to the current historical society.

While always accessible --- I've transcribed and posted several of the memoirs here over the years --- the 1974 accession really did need to be broken down and its components cataloged and refiled. So that's what I've been doing and will continue to do as winter winds down.

Anyhow, one of those memoirs was written by Barbara (Molesworth) Spiker, born near Belinda in Pleasant Township in 1859 and a veteran school teacher who lived near Williamson in neighboring English Township with her husband, Henry, until moving to Arkansas in 1920. It was prepared for and delivered during an Old Settlers meeting in Chariton during August of 1900.

What follows is roughly two-thirds of the text of a quite long presentation. After a strong start, Barbara trailed off into generalities that contain nothing of historical interest. So I've not transcribed that part of the text. Here's Barbara, speaking again after all those years:


Someone has said that all our knowledge is obtained from something we have seen, read or heard; that is, that we have no inherent knowledge and I think they might with propriety have included all of the physical senses.

Be that as it may, sure it is that I am dependent for what I shall say today, for the most part at least, upon what I have read and heard. As to my seeing, I was not a pioneer in the true sense of the word, although I came to this county when it was in its infancy, so far as improvements are concerned, yet am not so antiquated as might be inferred from the fact that I am called upon to say a word before the "Lucas County Old Settlers Association."

I came to this county --- from the mysterious unknown land --- in 1859 and having been born and raised here in fact, with the exception of some three or four years that I was in school work outside the county, it has been my home all these years.

This being the case I feel I have a claim with the "Old Settlers Association" as an old settler if not a pioneer. But for all that, what I shall say in my rambling disconnected talk in regard to the earlier settlements in the county was told me by my parents.

My mother (Mary Jane Kiger) came to Iowa with her parents (Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Kiger) in 1848, settled in Jefferson county, was there a year when they moved just over the line from Lucas County in what is now Marion County. When they landed here in the spring of 1849 they had three sheep, three pigs, one cow and 50 cents in money. Here, father had to go about eight miles to get work of any kind at any wages. He worked for 50 cents a day, paid $1 a bushel for corn for bread for a family of seven.

My mother says she remembers of doing without bread but once. Her father was expected home from mill, did not come, so for their breakfast, potatoes had to take the place of bread.

My mother was the oldest of the family and upon her devolved many cares and much hard work, both indoors and out in the fields. She would do a fair day's work in half a day in order to get to go to school the other half. But for all that she received an education such as enabled her to be capable of teaching others.

My father (Alfred Molesworth) came from Harrison County, Ohio, to Lucas County in 1851, entered the land in Pleasant Township which forms the old homestead where my parents still reside, and where quite a family of girls were born and grew to womanhood. He returned to Ohio --- came back in 1854 and has been here permanently ever since.

Father and Mother were married in 1855 and then began the making of a home under difficulties which would have discouraged less brave and courageous souls.

Their house was log, of course, but not a mere cabin. It was a hewed log house of good size in which I was born and which I still remember very well although replaced years ago by a more modern structure.

They raised their own meat, also their corn, which in some form formed the principal part of their living. Sometimes they would grate the corn on a tin grater. My mother says that for two months at one time, when she was still with her parents, they first steamed the corn to toughen it and then grated all the meal they used.

Father and Mother would shell corn each evening and set it aside until they got a full load shelled, then Father would go either to Eddyville or Marysville to mill and with his slow plodding ox teams, with streams to ford, storms to brave, and what with waiting their turn at the mill, was sometimes gone a week or more, with Mother and we little ones at home doing as best we cold with the wolves prowling about to frighten one occasionally for there were plenty of wolves, deer, &tc. when my father first settled here.

They made their pumpkin and watermelon molasses and when later on they raised cane and made sorghum they thought they were rich. I remember the old fashioned cane mill where Father and Mother made molasses when I was a child.

My father hauled saw logs to a saw mill in the eastern part of Pleasant Township run at that time by Stotts and Riddle. John Riddle, the father of your former fellow townsman, Stephen Riddle.

They sawed for a share of the lumber. Father hauled most of his share of the lumber to Chariton, which lumber helped to form some of the first buildings in Chariton, for instance the old frame building which stood on the southwest corner of the square and which was only recently torn down. (The Hatcher House Hotel on the current site of the U.S. Bank driveup.)

They found a market in Chariton for almost anything they had to sell. I have heard my mother tell of taking wild grapes, green beans, melons and meal when they got more of a grist than they needed for immediate use. They could always find a market for it in Chariton --- in fact anything to eat.

There were always those there who had lately come from the East who had money and wanted these things and would pay any reasonable price for them.

Father kept sheep; mother spun the yarn, colored it with barks and other homemade dyes, and from it was woven the linsey and flannel of which most of our clothing was made.

Besides doing the knitting for the family, Mother also knit socks for market at 50 cents a pair.


My father's farm was originally fenced with the old stake and rider rail fence. This brings to mind an incident in connection with John Ballard, who is believed to be the oldest settler in the county.

Father owned a piece of timber over in English Township near where Ballard lived. Father was at work in the tember when John Ballard and his son, David (who died in Chariton only recently) came to him with a small piece of paper, a goose quill pen and some homemade ink --- and asked him to draw up a note for them (neither of them being able to write), the son wishing to borrow some money of his father to be paid Charitmas.

Father smoothed a rail as best he could to form a smooth surface on which to write, drew up the note, read it to them, payable Dec. 25, &tc., when John Ballard interrupted him with "that's not right by God. I said I wanted that paid Christmas."


Lucas County --- the whole of Iowa in fact --- had no gold, silver or minerals that offered unearned fortunes to adventurers or speculators. In the beginning Iowa only offered homes, hence Iowa's early settlers were homeseekers, not mere fortune hunters. but the offer was not to the over-dainty nor the indolent. Privations that could only be endured and hardships that could only be overcome by an unflinching purpose and fortitude and long, paitent, hard toil.

A sickly, squeamish hysterial woman that had not the humility to live in a cabin, nor the strength and will to grate corn meal on a tin grater or grind buckwheat in a coffee mill (as my mother did) and the strength of stomach to live uncomplainingly for a while, her only bread made from such meal or cakes made from such flour, and meat only such as her husband could precariously procure in a hunt, at once returned to her mother.

And the man who lacked pluck, and was fretful and impatient under rprivations and could not work with a vim and a will, soon abandoned his claim and went back to his wife's people.

As a result our early settlers, or forefathers, were brave and strong young men and women who came and stayed. Do we, the descendants of Iowa pioneer settlers, fully appreciate their worth and what they did for us? What a heritage is ours, of pluck, perseverance, endurance, stick-to-it-ive-ness and "fight-it-out- on-this-line-if-it-takes-all-summer."

The general level of intelligence among Iowa people is higher than among those of any other state. Are we proud of such an excellence? Then let us give credit where credit is due and recollect that our free school system was founded by pioneers a way back in 1840.

I, then a mere school girl, attended the first teachers institute ever held in Lucas County in 1875 with Andrew Day as county superintendent.

Up to this, I had never attended school, other than our country district school, but the following year I attended school in Chariton kept by Prof. Simpson and Mrs. S.F. Stewart who taught together that year. Their school occupied the second floor of the brick block on the south side of the square known as the Bonnett building. (The Gasser Block, most recently occupied by Sportsman's Bar, built 1875.)

And speaking of schools, we must not forget the fact that in just such schools as we have described, some of the most noted men and women our country has ever known received the foundation of their education.

In those days the school boy was not a mere automaton, but a live, wide-awake lad who had to think for himself --- so I am led to say that in my opinion there is too much red tape as it were in the shcool work of today. The pupils are treated too much as if they were machines, not living, thinking accontable beings. This being the case, some of the modernisms I like, some I do not.

There are some things we cannot afford to relegate to the rear. Obedience, steadfastness of purpose and truthfulness are some of these. Without respect for law and authority there is no making good citizens to say nothing of good Christians.

Our forefathers looked the devil in the face and told the truth. We want men and women to tell the truth, and men and women whose work is as good as their bond. Men who are true enought to form their convictions and tell them. We do not realize the rapidity of the advancement of civilization.

Even those in our audience whose career has virtually covered the greater part of the most wonderful century in the history of the world as well as that of the United States; from the tallow dip to the electric light, from the plodding ox team to the pacific express, the howl of the wolf long since drowned in the whistle of the locomotive.

But for all that these pioneers were happy --- neighbors were neighbors though miles away. They would take the family in the sled and go to see neighbors, maybe 4 or 5 miles away, to stay to bed time and have a general good time.

My mother had the first sewing machine in our neighborhood and sewed more or less for all the neighbors. Now you find a sewing machine in almost every house.

My father had the first reaper in our neighborhood and be assured that it went early and late. Those were busy times, they worked hard, at heartily, slept soundly and were content with themselves and the world generally.


After this, Barbara begins to ramble into generalities and a surprising number of complaints about the unappreciative younger generation of Lucas Countyans during 1900 (she was only 41 when these remarks were prepared).

She does note father on that as of 1900, three families still were living on the land they first entered 50 years earlier in Pleasant Township --- "my parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. Molesworth, and the widows of two pioneers, Mrs. Harmony and Mrs. Rudisill."

Barbara and Henry Spiker had no children. During 1920, they moved from their farm near Williamson to Springdale, Arkansas, where Barbara died at age 74 on Sept. 24, 1934. She was buried in Friendship Cemetery at Springdale.

Henry returned to Iowa after that, to Hedick where he made his home with his brother, Verne E. Spiker, until his own death two years later, on July 7, 1936. His remains were buried beside those of his parents in the Chariton Cemetery.

Alfred and Mary Jane (Kiger) Molesworth are buried not far from where they lived, in the old Strong Cemetery back in the fields northwest of old Belinda and southwest of what once was Belinda Christian church. Mary Jane's parents, the Jacob Kigers, are buried in the Columbia Cemetery.

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