Here's an idea for a modestly priced Christmas gift if you have friend or family interested in Marion County history: A DVD entitled "True Stories and Tall Tales of Rural Marion County." I picked my copy up for $10 Tuesday at The Next Chapter in Knoxville. Marion County is Lucas County's neighbor to the northeast.
Produced by The Rural History Buffs of Marion County, the DVD records a story-telling session held at the Peace Tree Brewery in Knoxville last January featuring six tales, most true but one fairly tall.
Rural History Buffs was organized a couple of years ago to research and mark sites of local interest --- ghost towns, traditional names of roads, locations of rural schools and more --- and the group's uniform brown signs placed in cooperation with the county engineer's staff now dot the county.
All of the stories are interesting. Dennis Murphy talks about the day in the 1880s when the village of Swan helped the then-infant Ringling Brothers Circus get back on its feet after poorly attended performances in Prairie City left it nearly broke; and Helen Boertje, about the Porterville neighborhood of eastern Marion County, where many of the area's earliest settlers alighted during or after May of 1843.
But I was more interested in Will and Sue Prather's presentation regarding the legendary village of Red Rock (now under the waters of the Red Rock reservoir) and the survey line extending north into Hardin County and south to the Missouri border from its namesake Red Rocks (or Painted Rocks as they were known by the Sauk and Meskwaki) along the Des Moines River.
That line, established after the 1842 purchase of the territory from the Sauk and Fox, determined exactly when much of central and southern Iowa was settled. Territory east of the line opened for EuroAmerican settlement during May of 1843; territory west (including Lucas County), during October of 1845. Marion County was divided almost in half by the line.
Megan McKay Ziller, of Peace Tree Brewery, talked for a while about the history of the brewery namesake, a giant sycamore in excess of 400 years old along the Des Moines River near Red Rock that attained legendary status with or without historic justification before it was killed by waters impounded by the Red Rock Dam. Remains of the tree used to be visible above Red Rock waters from Long Bridge when levels were low, but I'm not sure if that still is the case.
The story that really caught my attention, however, was Jill Beebout's "Columbia Ghost Story" --- the tallest tale among the bunch. You'll have to buy the DVD (or find Jill at Blue Gate Farm) to hear the story, but it involves a rock-lined well in Beebout timber, a borrowed shovel and the shade of Hiram Moon, who might or might not be amused by all of the attention. The territory involved is just west of the former Belinda Christian Church as County Line Road (Lucas/Marion) moves toward English Creek, passing Blue Gate Farm en route.
Hiram, generally recognized as the founding father of Belinda Christian Church (for more on Belinda, see Part One here and Part Two, here), arrived in the neighborhood on October 12, 1848, with his brothers Larkin, George W. and Simon --- among others --- a party of family and friends numbering roughly 21. The Church of Christ on English Creek was organized in the Moon cabin during June of 1849 with Hiram as its presiding elder.
Hiram, who was just 30 when Belinda was organized, was plagued with ill health and died on the Moon farm Jan. 27, 1860, just short of 42. His wife, Martha, died two years later.
I got to wondering Thursday after watching the DVD how Hiram was reacting to becoming a Marion County rock star in the field of ghostly endeavors. So drove out to Strong Cemetery, down a long lane in the middle of harvested fields just southwest of Belinda Church and southeast of Blue Gate, to see if there were signs of recent rotation in the area of his grave. There weren't, so he must be fine with all of this.
John G. Pierce, prorietor with wife, Joy, of nearby Pierce's Pumpking Patch and one of Lucas/Marion's top local historians, drove up just as I was about ready to get back in the truck and head home. So we had a good long talk about Strong Cemetery, local history and other stuff. That I took as another sign of Hiram's blessing.
Besides, if there's a penalty to pay for that ghost story, it'll be Jill --- neither John nor Frank --- who pays it. But I doubt Hiram is going to come walking up her lane again. Although you just never know.