Monday, July 31, 2017

A pioneer version of, "Come on baby, light my fire"

Charles F. Noble, who died in Chariton during 1933 at age 97, was a good story-teller --- and that's fortunate. He arrived in Lucas County during 1857 to open a blacksmith shop in LaGrange, then the county's second city, now a location marked by a cemetery and a couple of houses just north of U.S. 34 at the Lucas-Monroe county line.

He knew many of the first settlers and left behind a variety of stories concerning them. Some of his stories were included in a January 2017 post here entitled Charley Noble: From Lincoln to Roosevelt.

Here's another set of stories, published in The Herald-Patriot of Dec. 30, 1920, under the headline, "Memories of an Old Settler of Lucas County, State of Iowa."

A separate story, told by W.H. Sellers, concludes the piece. There's no accompanying explanation of how or why the stories were gathered.

Whatever the case, after reading this you're invited to think the next time you flick a match or a lighter in order to start a fire about the days when, if you let your fire go out, it would be necessary to hitch up the oxen and drive seven miles in order to "borrow fire" from a neighbor.


The writer of the following lines was born in Canada, in the year 1836, of Scotch parents. In his eighteenth year he got leave of his father to go from home and learn the blacksmith trade. He came to Lucas county, Iowa, October 22, 1857, with a cash capital of fifteen dollars. He soon became acquainted with many of the first settlers, among whom were the following:


Jesse Anderson was the first settler in western Monroe County. He related to the writer some of his adventures. He stated that when they fried their meat in the chimney in winter that the wolves would come up to the door of his cabin to get meat. He kept two large dogs that would fight anything; and one night they were fighting a very large wolf at the cabin door.

Mr. Anderson's dogs were getting the worst of it and he caught the wolf by the hind legs. The dogs then let go and the wolf turned on Mr. Anderson. Still holding on to its hind legs and kicking with his right and left foot as the case demanded, he called to his wife to bring the butcher knife and cut the wolf's ham strings (which was a job that the old lady had never promised to do) and was compelled to let go and lose the wolf.

I was told by Mrs. Alonzo Trowbridge that Mr. Anderson came to their house in the winter of 1851 (the first winter that they were here) and Mr. Trowbridge was sick, and he (Mr. Anderson) brought them the hindquarters of a deer and some honey. Mrs. Trowbridge says, with many others, that Mr. Anderson was a good-hearted and honest man.


William McDermott, supposed to be the first white settler in Lucas county, stood in my shop hearing Mr. Anderson relate his encounters with the wolf; and he asked Mr. Anderson if he remembered when he, McDermott, went to Mr. Anderson's for fire one very cold day after a snowstorm. When he got up that morning, his fire was out and the only show for fire was to go to his nearest neighbors, which was seven miles distant. 

He left his wife and children in bed and yoked up his oxen to the sled and took a large kettle of chips and wood and started over the hills to Mr. Anderson's. After a hard day's work breaking through the snow drifts, Mr. McDermott got home a little after sundown and started a good fire in the fireplace, then started a long distance to water his cattle and feed them.

On his return to the cabin he found two lazy wolves in the path wanting some of his meat that was frying in the fire. He used his vocal organs with such power that his wife, hearing an unusual melody outdoors, opened the door and the light from the fire drove the wolves away, and he went to get his breakfast with his family.


Mr. Samuel Prather, an aged lawyer and surveyor from Indiana, came to this county in the year 1850 or 1851, and got forty acres of land twelve miles east of Chariton. He surveyed it off into town lots and named it LaGrange, which for fifteen years ranked second among the towns in the county in population and business. Mr. Prather sold town lots and got a horse and wagon and went to peddling notions over the county.

While resting in one of the first stores in Chariton, he got in an argument with a farmer on some point of law. The merchant, being a young lawyer, disputed Uncle Sammy's judgment of law. This was too much for Uncle Sammy, and his said, "Mr. O. L, I don't want any of your counsel." This so aggravated the merchant that he said, "If it was not for your gray hair, I would kick you out of the store." To this, Mr. Prather replied, "Never mind the gray hair, pay no attention to my gray hair, Mr. O.L." This so bluffed O.L. that he said, "I shall treat you with silent contempt, sir." Mr. Prather said, "It is a pity that you did not think of that sooner, before you made such a damned fool of yourself."

Mr. Prather left here in April, 1859, all alone with his horse and wagon, to try his fortune in Kansas. He was taken sick and died before he reached his destination. He was a very honest man.


Mr. James Robinson related to me when I first came here, that he and Milton Allen, Andy Allen and James Roland came on ahead of their families in the fall of 1848, I think, to put up their cabins and make rails. They brought with them their oxen. It was a very hard winter, and during a very severe storm they ran out of provisions and had to live on hominy.

When the storm was over, they took two yoke of oxen to go out east and hunt for provisions. They poured all their hominy under the cabin floor for the chickens and started to break the crust of snow before their oxen on every east hillside. They worked till nearly night and only got four or five miles for home, and had to return home after night and get up a fire and boil more hominy before they could get a bite to eat.

They started the next morning and got down near Albia to a place, I think the name was Zimmers. Mr. Roland was a very corpulent man, and breaking the crust before the oxen all day he was hardly able to speak. Mrs. Zimmers had a large dish of steaming pork and potatoes on the table; and when asking Mr. Roland questions, who they were and where bound, Mr. Roland kept his eyes on the steaming dish and said, "Mrs. Zimmers, if you will be so kind as to give me some of those potatoes and meat, I will be more able to answer your questions, to which she agreed.


After this a few years there was a very wet season and very little raised. Mr. Roland's oldest son, Thomas, got $20 from his father-in-law and went over to Red Rock and laid out in meal to sell to his neighbors at a dollar and a half a bushel.

Mr. Lawson Rymer, a neighbor with five small children, was entirely out of bread, and went to young Roland to get a half bushel on time, and he would not let him have it. Mr. Rymer then went to Uncle Jimmie Roland to get him to intercede in his behalf. Mr. Roland went that night over to John Long's, as he had a good yoke of oxen, to get him to go over to Red Rock and invest in meal all the money he could find in the neighborhood the next day, and let Tom keep his old meal. Also, he promised to send a boy over to plough corn for J. Long while he was away. John Long returned from Red Rock after three days hard driving with oxen with enough meal to answer present wants at a dollar a bushel, and let the neighbors have in on time.

John Long had two acres of good rye that he cut with a cradle and threshed out with a frail and divided out with his neighbors until wheat was ripe. The same year (I think about 1859), Mrs. Dukes, with her son, John, a boy of about 17 years, lost their cow for want of feed. John skinned the old cow and took the hide to Chariton and sold it for two dollars and fifty cents, then went clear to Red Rock and got two bushels and a half of meal which saved them from suffering for want of food. This is about the last of the real hard times for provisions that I have any knowledge of among the farmers.


W.H. Sellers, who lives southeast of Chariton, told us Saturday how about sixty years ago he obtained a Fourth reader which was necessary in his school work. At the time he was 12 years old and lived twelve miles northeast of Chariton. 

The money for the reader was earned in chopping up a load of wood and bringing it to Chariton by ox team. His father chopped the wood and spent a half day in that task. Then the ox team was driven twelve miles with the load, which required all day. The wood was sold to a cobbler, who had his establishment where Dunshee Bros. Hardware store now is located, and who paid the elder Mr. Sellers one dollar for the wood. Then the two went to W.H. Maple's store on the west side of the square, where Ensley's store is now located, and paid 75 cents for the reader.

In speaking of the distance traveled to get live coals with which to start a fire, Mr. Sellers tells of a neighbor of his father, named Louder, who related that he once drove an ox team to Lovilla and back in order to start a fire. The drive was sixteen miles each way, or a total of thirty-two miles covered in order to perform a task that a single match will do now; but that was in the day before matches had been invented.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that every household didn't have flint and steel with some dry tinder. The bucksinner reinacters (representing fur trade times prior to 1840) make a sport of fire starting in that way.

Bill H