Saturday, August 18, 2012

Isaac N. Threlkeld has his say

Isaac N. and America "Mate" (Bryan) Threlkeld are buried just west of this tombstone in a southerly area of the Chariton Cemetery overlooking the Chariton River valley.

Lucas County has a rich resource in multiple first-hand accounts of early life here written by pioneers and preserved, but Isaac N. Threlkeld's is one of the best in terms both of detail and quality of writing. It's hard to stop reading once you start.

Isaac, born during 1852 in Warren County, Illinois, was a son of Stephen and Susannah Threlkeld, who brought their family to Iowa in 1855, joining other family members who already had settled here. The elder Threlkelds died during 1890 and 1891 respectively and are buried in Ragtown Cemetery along with many other pioneers of the neighborhood just east and southeast of Chariton.

When this was written, Isaac and his wife, America "Mate" (Bryan) Threlkeld, were preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their marriage, which occurred Aug. 26, 1874. The piece was published in The Chariton Herald-Patriot of Aug. 30, 1934.

This map, taken from the 1905 Lucas County landowner atlas, covers "Threlkeld country," which stretches along what now is U.S. Highway 34 east of Chariton for about three miles, commencing at the top of the hill just beyond the east boundary of Red Haw State Park. In 1905, when this route still was ungraded dirt, the Isaac N. and Mate Threlkeld farm included much of Section 34, Lincoln Township, with their home along the highway in its northwest corner. A mile and a half beyond is another later landmark cited by Isaac, the twin bridges across source branches of Little White Breast Creek. One of the twin lakes that provides Chariton's water supply now stretches north from these bridges, occupying a major part of the west half of Section 26. The boundary road between Sections 34 and 35 leads south to the Blue Grass Road and Ragtown beyond. Highland School, once located along this main road, had by 1905 been moved half a mile north. The current route of Highway 34 still took a slight detour through the southern part of Section 26 in 1905, but has since been straigtened to head due east. John May's "new" brick house, mentioned by Isaac, still stands on a hilltop  north of Highway 34, still with its red tile roof. The John May farm originally was the farm of Isaac's uncle, Noah Threlkeld. Beyond this geographical orientation, Isaac's account speaks for itself. So here it is:


When I was about three years of age, my father traded an eighty acre Illinois farm for a tract of land in Lucas county. Here he decided to establish the family home at a time when this was considered the frontier. Consequently, in the latter part of January or the early part of February, 1855, two covered wagons started from our old home near Roseville, in Warren county, Illinois, on what, at that time, was a long, long journey. Some said it was "among the Indians," but there were no Indian camps in this immediate vicinity at the time. Not far to the west, however, there was an Indian settlement. I never learned just where it was located, but occasionally Indians came through this section.

The wagons in which we came west were the old fashioned, wide track, linch-pin wagons. They had no iron skeins with taps to hold the wheels in place, as we have on the wagons today. Instead, the wood went through the hub, with a hole in the outer end in which to insert an iron pin to hold the wheel in place. From this the name "linch-pin" is derived, the name by which this type of wagon became known.

Part of the regular equipment on all of these wagons was a tar bucket. This was a container which swung from the coupling pole and held what was always referred to as "tar" but which, in reality, was some sort of lubricant used for greasing the wagons. It cost about five or ten cents per gallon. No wagon was complete without it. When the tar supply was exhausted, travelers made an emergency grease by mixing flour and sorghum molasses.

The wagons that came out of Roseville were pulled by four yoke of oxen, the driver walking by the side with a long whip to keep them speeded up. The members of our party, so far as I can recall at this time, all of whom were moving to Iowa, were my father and mother, my grandmother Threlkeld, my half-brother Oliver, my sister Betty, and myself. In the second wagon (there were two wagons in our train) were Anna Wayland, Lisa Wayland, and Oscar Wayland, all of whom were our cousins. With them were Uncle John Davis and family, and a few others whose names I do not now recall.

We left the old home in Illinois early one morning and crossed the Mississippi at Burlington the next evening. There was no bridge and the ferries could not operate until the ice went out in the spring. We crossed on the ice. The weather had been a little warm for a few days, and water was running on top of the ice in places. It looked rather dangerous, but if we waited it might get worse, so we concluded to make the crossing that night. The outfits were strung out some distance apart in order to distribute the weight. We camped that night in Iowa. The next morning we resumed our journey westward toward the new home in Lucas county. We were several days on the road.

Our first home in Lucas county was a double log cabin located just west of the Bryan orchard on the south side of the road. This cabin consisted of three rooms and was equipped with an old-fasioned fireplace. On many a winter day I have helped chop the back logs and roll them into that fireplace. On winter nights we would sit there in front of the fire roasting our feet and freezing our backs. The roof on that old cabin was rather poor. Overhead was a loft made from laying loose planks on a few log joists. When a snow storm came, the snow would drift through that roof and we would have to keep it swept down. Otherwise, it would melt and drip through on the beds and furniture in the house.

What fences there were in those days were built of rails and only a few small patches were fenced. Livestock, horses, cattle, hogs and sheep, were turned out in the prairie. When evening came the only guide to the whereabouts of the cattle was the tinkle of the old-fashioned cow bell. Every herd had a "bell-cow" which for some unknown reason seemed to keep the herd together.

Wild game was very plentiful. Deer, wild turkey, and prairie chickens very frequently graced the Sunday dinner tables of the pioneers. Wolves and rattlesnakes infested the prairies and, sometimes, the howls from a pack of wolves made the nights hideous.

At Eddyville was our nearest railway. In fact there was the western terminal (until after the Civil War, FDM). We hauled our wheat and corn there to get it ground. By the way, it was mostly corn. We had wheat bread only once a week and that was in hot biscuits for our Sunday morning breakfast. The balance of the week we ate meat, soup beans, corn bread, sorghum molasses and rye coffee, with a little bit of what was called "extract." The "extract" was made by boiling sorghum molasses in a skillet until it burned black. It was then broken up into small pieces and a small chunk was placed in each cup of coffee. The taste was not so bad. Try it.

The livestock was driven on the hoof to Eddyville not only from our immediate neighborhood, but from many miles to the west of us. How far they came, I do not know, but they passed by the thousands and thousands. Texas long horn cattle, driven by cowboys, would pass in drove after drove, hundreds in a drove. These cattle had horns about two feet long and were wild. It was not safe to be on foot when a herd was passing. They were driven and handled altogether by men on horseback. The drivers never went into a herd except on horseback.

Thousands of head of hogs were driven by our pace to the Eddyville market. Owners of these droves would usually buy farmers' hogs along the way and, by the time they arrived at Eddyville, they would have large droves. We had no modern scales but on our farm we had a large square box perhaps four-foot square with a heavy iron ball on top. Hogs to be weighed were run in through a door in the side. One large hog, or two or three small ones, could be weighed at one time. The weighing device was operated as follows: A forked pole driven into the ground served as a fulcrum for a much longer pole (something like a well-sweep but heavier) and from the short end of the long pole, directly over the square box, hung a steelyard. By raising the long end of the pole the steelyard could be lowered so that its hook engaged the ball in the top of the box. Then by pulling down on the long end of the lever pole the box could be swung clear of the ground. With the box in position, the balance on the steelyard was adjusted and the weight of the load thus obtained. There were no five or ten ton scales in those days!

These hogs were driven by a bunch of hired men and boys, and were always accompanied by two or three wagons to pick up the cripples. It required four to six days to move a drove of hogs from here to Eddyville.

Along about this time, I do not remember the year, gold was discovered in the Pike's Peak region and in a short time the Pike's Peak rush was on. This was the main highway leading west to the golden mountains. For protection and mutual assistance in crossing the plains the prospectors traveled in wagon trains. The wagons were usually pulled by from two to five yoke of oxen or by cows when a sufficient number of oxen could not be obtained. A good many of these teams were cows. I do not recall ever seeing a horse-drawn wagon in one of these Pike's Peak wagon trains.

During the gold rush my father, Holmes Rowland, and two other men whose names I cannot recall, got the gold fever and prepared an outfit to join one of the wagon trains for Pike's Peak. They acquired four yoke of oxen as the motive power for their wagon and purchased all of their supplies and provisions, including picks, axes, butcher knives, and guns. The rifle my father purchased to carry with him on the trip is now in existence and is owned by J.R. Bryan. Their equipment was all assembled, wagons covered, supplies loaded, and they were ready to start for the golden west when the word came of an Indian outbreak on the plains. The Indians were murdering the immigrants, stealing their cattle and provisions and burning the trains. The trip was indefinitely postponed. Later they sold their oxen, divided the provisions, dismantled the wagon, and decided that Iowa was a pretty good old state after all.

Our present paved highway, U.S. 34, in the early days was known as the state road although it was little more than a poorly maintained rutted trail. It was the gateway to the west, and over it rolled the overland stage coaches drawn by four head of horses, with stations at Lagrange, Chariton and Osceola. Horses were quickly changed at each station by waiting hostlers. The arrival of the stage coach was as eagerly looked forward to by the curious idlers of that day as were the passenger trains of later days.

I recall the names of practically all of the neighbors of the early days. Just east of Chariton on the McDougall farm lived Milton Douglas. The next one east was Isaac Dixon, who lived on what we now call the Allen farm. Ely Larimer lived where we now live. On the Poush farm just a quarter of a mile east lived W.K. Larimer, next was Freeman Moore; on the Bryan farm, Stephen Threlkeld; just across the road to the north on the Larson farm, Hiram Moore. Then Samuel Ross and son John on the north side of the road just west of the two cement bridges which we refer to as the twin bridges. They ran a carding machine for a number of years. Next in line was the Highland school house built of logs. East of this was the Uncle Noah Threlkeld home, which was located about a quarter of a mile north of John May's new brick home. On the Ed Moore farm lived Uncle Joe Youtsey and on the Blanchard farm, a man by the name of Erickson. A little farther east was the Philo Prather home. On the road running south and east from the twin bridges was the home of Hugh Larimer, and beyond on the Shirer farm was Uncle Billy Maple. On the Bluegrass road south of us were the Badgers, Hustons, McKinleys, Whites, Rodman, Woods, Samuel Gookin, Holmes Rowland and Uncle John Davis. These were the old pioneers of this section of Lucas County. They built the log houses and the rail rences, and drove the ox teams that pulled the huge thirty-inch breaking plows, which turned the native sod in the state where the tall corn grows. These were the pioneers who sacrificed their old homes and came west to build a new civilization on the frontier and to leave their stamp of morality, righteousness, and manhood upon the generations that were to follow. They have all passed on, and the second generation is fast folowing in their footsteps. Only a few more years and that generation, too, will have gone to join their forefathers.

The old Highland school house was built of logs, very much the same as the old-fashioned houses. On two sides a section of log about eight-by-ten-inches was cut out and window glass was inserted in the openings. We had no cushioned seats. The seats used were made by splitting linn logs about eight or ten feet in length. Holes were bored in the under or curved side, in which were inserted wooden pegs or legs. The split side, on which was sat, was not planed any too smoothly. For writing desks, holes were bored in the logs at the side of the building and wooden pins were driven in, upon which were placed planks. These served as writing desks. This was the schoolhouse, which all of the children for miles around attended. Here the children of those early pioneers learned to read and write. Many of them received no further education.

I have mentioned the Ross farm which was located on the north side of the road just west of the twin bridges. Mr. Ross operated a carding machine at this location for a number of years. Those were the days of home-made clothing. Everyone kept a few sheep. In the fall after the sheep were sheared the wool was taken to the Ross's carding machine to be carded into rolls. Then our good old mothers got out the spinning wheel and spun it into yarn, after which it was placed in the hand-made loom and woven into cloth. One kind of cloth was called flannel. From it was made blankets, winter shirts, etc. Another kind was called jeans. From this, which was a much heavier cloth, was made men's coats and trousers especially for winter wear. As a boy, I well remember those suits of clothes my mother made from the wool which she herself spun and wove into cloth.

I have a picture of the old log cabin that was originaly built on Uncle Noah Threlkeld's farm in 1851. In connection with it there is quite a family history.It was originally built by Noah Threlkeld, father of Anna Threlkeld, Nelson Threlkeld, and Eliza Ann McKinley, and a brother of my father's. Then they built a frame house just about a quarter of a mile north of the John May home, which still stands, and which for many years was their family home. Father and Uncle Noah had a brother, Washington Threlkeld, who lived with his son and who was looking for a place to locate. This was just before the outbreak of the Civil war. My father bought the log house and moved it over to his farm just a quarter of a mile east and a quarter of a mile south of where we now live. Uncle Washington and his son and family moved into the log house just before the war broke out. The son enlisted in the Union army and Uncle Washington cared for his son's family and farmed, for about two years, when the son was furloughed home on sick leave. Uncle Washington continued to live in this log house until the time of his death. Then the house was occupied by William Moore and his wife, who was a Threlkeld. After them came Bent Thompson and family, Mrs. Thompson being a cousin. Next my sister Betty and her husband lived there several years. Still later the house was occupied by my sister Isador and her husband, J.R. Bryan. If I remember correctly, all of their children were born in this log house. After the death of my father and mother their farm was divided and I got the part upon which was located the old log house. It became my family home. All of our children lived there with us, until the new home was erected where Erle Thompson now lives. The old log house was then idle for a number of years. Then we dobbed up the old logs and pressed the cabin into service for a few months for my son Herman and his wife while we were building for him a new frame house out on the highway. The old log house, which withstood the storms of more than eighty years, was torn down just a few years ago. I have often wished that it might have been moved and rebuilt in one of Chariton's parks as an old landmark in memory of the pioneers of Lucas county.

My wife, "Mate" Bryan-Threlkeld, was born in Kentucky, went to Missouri with her parents when a small child. When she was about six or seven years old her mother died. Her father took her, with her brother and two small sisters back to Illinois to live with their grandmother and uncle, where she lived until she was about fifteen. Then they moved to Iowa. They lived about six miles north of Chariton for a few years, then moved to the farm where Artie Hutchinson now lives. That is where we first met. They lived on this farm only a few years, then moved back north of Chariton near where they had first settled in an old, double log house near the Milt Brennaman farm, and that was where we were married, on August 26, 1874. We lived with my father that fall and winter, then rented the place where Hutchinson's now live, and lived there in an old log house one summer. Then father's folks moved to Chariton and we moved back to the old home place, where we lived for more than twenty years. Our next move was to the old log house in the field, which I have mentioned before, where we lived for five years, after which we built the new house where Erle Thompson now lives, and occupied it for five years. We then built our present home. We have moved five times, and never got more than three-quarters of a mile from the first old log house where I lived as a boy.

Now let me tell you a little about the system of farming employed by the pioneers seventy-five or eighty years ago. I can well remember when there were no mowers, reapers, or corn planters in the whole county. When the ground was plowed and ready to plant the farmer took his single shovel plow and marked off the rows both ways. Then some member of the family, usually some of the women-folks, would take a bucket of corn and, by hand, drop from three to four grains of corn in each cross. Some other member of the family followed with a hoe and covered the corn.

We had no alfalfa or clover fields, our only hay being the prairie grass which grew wild and which was cut by hand with an old-fashioned scythe. When dry enough it was placed in shocks, and later, at some convenient time, it was hauled in and stacked for winter feed. Some millet was raised, which was harvested in the same way. The wheat and oats were cut by hand with an old-fashioned cradle and threshed out with a flail, or by cleaning off a good-sized circle of ground and putting the grain down about two bundles thick. A boy was placed on a horse leading another horse. They started on an endles journey around and around that circle until the wheat or oats was trampled out of the straw. The straw was then raked off and more bundles of gran were put down and the horses were kept going for an indefinite time. At last it was finished. The straw was raked away, the grain run through a fanning mill, and the threshing was done. The picture of threshing in my mind has always been vivid, as I was the boy who generally rode the horse at our house.

What changes have taken place in the last eighty years! From the ox teams and the wide tread linch-pin wagons and the stage coach to the steam railroads, the automobiles, and the aeroplanes. From the scythe and cradle and single shovel plow to the self binders, tractors, and modern time and labor-saving machinery. I pause and wonder what improvements future generations will witness in the next eighty years. I hope that whatever changes they may witness in the way of improved methods and equipment may be accompanied by improved living conditions and better times for all.

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