Friday, May 12, 2017

The weather and Dan M. Baker's watery laments

I call this one "Picnic in a Puddle" and the view across the back yard of St. Andrew's Church reflects the state of affairs in Chariton on Wednesday, a very damp day indeed. By now, however, the sun's come out, several clear days are in the forecast and we're all feeling better.

Iowa weather is a variable thing --- and that's always been the case. 

Case in point, the weather-related laments of Chariton Leader editor Dan Baker during May of 1877, 140 years ago and from the sounds of things a very wet spring.

Here's how Dan put it in The Leader of May 19, 1877:

The weather signs this year have confused the oldest prophets, misled the barometers and thermometers, and played sad havoc with all the signs known to this generation.

Sunday was the seventh Sunday since Easter, yet it rained, and has been flooding the country ever since. The moon changed on the 13th, still the wet weather did not let up a particle. The wind changed from the northeast to the southwest, and brought back with it a deluge that would have terrified a bolder man than Noah.

A scarcity of timber is said to be an unfailing cause of drought, yet the people over in Cedar and Pleasant Townships, northeast of here, have stolen all of Fowlers timber and stripped it clear as a desert, yet the floods come over from that direction with unabated vigor.

The heavy rains of Monday and Tuesday played havoc with the culverts and bridges throughout the county. In many places the roads are impassable on account of the fathomless depth of the mud.

The terrific rains of the past four weeks have set all the old pioneers to work brushing up the delightful memories of 1851. That year the flood began about the 10th of May and lasted two months.


Dan had begun his series of weather-related laments in the previous week's Leader. On Saturday, May 12, he wrote:

Friday was about as dismal a day as we ever saw --- cold, cloudy, rainy and muddy. It made every man look dismal, and everybody feel like he had been to a funeral. We felt in our usual good humor, and went around to see 'em.

Stopped at A. Solman's and inquired the price of coffins. His clerk, tickled at the idea of having a subject to prepare for the great unknown, asked us what size. We told him all sizes. "How many?" he asked. We told him enough to bury everybody in the county, and left him figuring on the wholesale price. If it clears up we will countermand the order.

"How's business?" we said to another happy cuss we met. "Dull as --- usual," said he.

"How's trade?" we said to another fellow. "Haven't seen any," was the cheerful reply.

"Trust in Providence," said we solemnly to a third man we met. "Trust!" said he. "That's what ails us; I wouldn't trust anyone. Cash or no trade hereafter" --- and he passed on, muttering something about trust and credit busting him.

"Have faith," we piously remarked to another trader. "Fath be d----d," said he; "Faith won't pay sixty-day bills," and then we glode away.

"A fine day," we observed in an absent manner to another fellow, who was making a desperate effort to whistle "Auld Lang Sine." "Yes," said he, "if a man ain't particular whether he is lying or not."

We passed away from his view; and thus we found 'em, every man cheerful, happy, and serene, and then we returned to our sanctum. Sat down on our easy chair (an old ink keg), lit a cigar that someone had given to us for our hopeful and inspiring remarks about the weather, and called our devil in. (Note: a printer's devil was the shop errand boy.)

"There hasn't a man called since we went out to leave $30 for us?" we asked him in our winning way. "Hain't see no such feller up here," said he.

A little disappointed, we tried again. "There didn't any one come and leave $17 on his account, did he?" "Not here," said he.

"No one left a box of pure Havana cigars for us while we were out?" "Nary," again he replied.

"Didn't any one call on urgent business?" we asked in astonishment. "Oh, Yes!" said he. "That feller was up here again, and said that if you didn't pay him that 30 cents you owned him, why, he'd see why, and that woman was here again and says her bill has got to be settled, and that saloon keeper came around again and says ....

"Never mind, Charley, never mind," says we. "Go back to work.

We guess that time are pretty hard, and we'll tend to things hereafter. Strange what a queer effect bad weather has on some folks.


Also on May 12, Dan --- with no experience whatsoever in farming --- had words of wisdom for Lucas County farmers under the headline, "Crop Prospects." Some of it may not have set very well with some preachers in the community, more inclined than Dan to trust in divine providence.

Here it is the 11th of May, raining slowly and steadily, and the ground so infernally wet that an alligator, if set down in the country, would think he had struck the finest swamp or lagoon in Florida. Not a grain of corn planted in Lucas county, and not more than two-thirds of the usual oat crop in. Not enough ploughing for corn done to raise sufficient corn to feed a dozen geese all winter, and God only knows when ploughing can be done. The outlook just now for everyone is the gloomiest we have seen in Lucas county for 25 years.

Should it ever clear up, we advise no one to wait to break his ground before planting, but simply furrow it out nicely and plant it at once, and try and get as early a start as possible. Late corn never ripens well, and is not marketable, while if furrowed out and planted early, and well cultivated, a good crop can be raised, and nothing under the Heavens but a good crop this year will save every class of people from the hardest times and greatest financial distress ever known in the history of the country.

It is well to be fully alive to this fact, for it is a ground-hog case this season. No crops, no money. Work, work, work, every day, every Sunday, every clear night, no matter what the occasion. Put in every fair day that you can, and a good crop can yet be raised. Remember that the Lord helps those who help themselves, and we never yet knew of an instance where Providence planted a man's corn while he sat in the house and thanked the Lord for it.


Within two weeks of this lament, however, the sun was out, the ground was drying, farmers were in their fields and Dan's mood had brightened considerably.

"Oh, the weather, the beautiful weather!" he wrote on May 26. "Another week of clear sunshine and bright spring days has made glad the hearts of the people and strengthened the confidence of our businessmen for the future. There is yet time for planting a large crop, and we look for immense yield. The people are taking advantage of the fine weather and seem determined to make up for lost time."

Whether or not they were plowing and planting on Sundays, I can't say.

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