Thursday, November 14, 2013

Corydon and back via Freedom and New York: 1875

Somebody should write a book about Dan M. Baker, editor of The Chariton Leader during the 1870s.

Oh wait, someone has. It's called "Turn the Rascals Out: The Life and Times of Orange County's Fighting Editor Dan M. Baker," authored by Jim Sleeper and published in 1973. 

But that's a story for other days, and it's a darned good one. Dan was, among other things, Sleeper writes, "iconoclast, agnostic, free thinker, free drinker, Democrat and wit."

And he got along just fine in Lucas County --- but hated the winters. That was among the reasons he ended up in Orange County, California, during 1883 along with a good many other Lucas Countyans, including some of my less hardy kinfolk.

The trek is shorter this morning --- from Chariton to Corydon and back during late May, 1875, south down the Freedom road by horse and buggy, then back north on the New York road. 

Dan published his report of the trip in The Leader of May 29, 1875. It caught my eye in the first place because one his brief stops headed home up the New York Road was at the farm of my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Myers, in Benton Township.

I've included county maps of both Lucas and Wayne counties from the 1875 Andreas Atlas of Iowa so you can see how the roads twisted, turned and meandered back then. Highway 14's straight shot south had not yet been dreamed of. Just right click and open the maps in new windows for better views.


On Wednesday, of this week, we were politely invited by Mr. E.B. Woodward to seat ourself behind one of Schultz & Woods excellent livery teams in one of their handsome buggies and take a little ride to Corydon and New York. To an editor, or any other person, such a novelty presented its attractions, and we immediately consented, without argument. The day was lovely in the extreme and the fact that we had not been five miles south of Chariton for eight years, was sufficient to convince us that we would see some improvements in southern Iowa worthy of note.

Crossing (the) Chariton (River) just south of the city, the first new improvement that we noticed was the splendid farm of Mr. E. (Elijah) Copeland, that has been enclosed by a good fence and is now in a fine state of cultivation. The last time we saw the place it was a wilderness.

Following a lane we soon came to the farm of our Teutonic friend, Mr. Wm. Stockman, and were agreeably surprised to see a large field of rich, thriving looking vegetation, all nicely headed, which Woodward suggested on close examination was sugar cane; but we had seen too much farming in our day to endorse his suggestion and soon convinced him that it was blue grass in a high state of cultivation, but by way of a clincher to our theory, we called upon the proprietor of the ranch, who was plowing in the distance, to have him settle the question satisfactorily. He quietly informed us that it was barley. We knew it, however, all the time, for a Dutchman is not liable to throw away his time in raising such things as hay and sugar cane while the demand for barley, by brewers, is so good.

Driving on, we soon found ourself surrounded by the landed possession of Lou (Lewis) Bonnet, all gloriously green with grass; cattle grazing upon a thousand hills. The only thing that puzzled us was, why Lou did not buy the whole township, then elect himself assessor and regulate his own taxes --- there's money in it. He has in one body 1,800 acres of the prettiest land that can be found in the state; every foot of it sown in grass. It yields him a rich return for his investment.

Ere long we came to the ancient village of Freedom, which quietly nestles in its cheerful site upon the classic banks of Wolf Creek. Here we found John Barnett serenely situated, with his feet at an angle of ninety degrees, resting on a dry goods box, awaiting a customer at his counter. He and his brother carry a fine stock of goods, but just now agree with other merchants that times are a little dull.

On we proceeded, over some rough roads, through the timbered brakes of Wolf Creek, when our team made a sudden turn to the left and prepared to halt at a little weather-beaten building where a widow lady named Ryan and several of her daughters resided. After considerable urging on our part we persuaded the reluctant horses to move on. We supposed they had been raised there, but, in all probability they were only familiar with the premises. However when they brought up the same way at a couple of millinery shops, and every place where a young woman's face was visible, and afterwards at every saloon in Corydon, we made up our mind that it was pure cussedness in the horses, and they (the horses) depreciated accordingly in our judgment, to an alarming extent.

Arriving at Corydon, we called upon our old friend, Nat Thorpe, who has one of the neatest little law offices in the city, and found him looking as happy as though Corydon was a paradise. He reports business as pretty fair.

Next we ran across Sam Wright, the sheriff, who looked the personification of laziness, health and good-nature. In view of our former old acquaintance with him, we were at once granted the freedom of the city.

Consequently we called to see our former acquaintance, Mr. Kelly, of the City Drug Store, whom we had the pleasure of helping to beat at a match game of baseball in that place in November, 1867. In justice to him, we will say that he played well, but we were simply invincible. We have both grown old since, and business has kept us from the enchanting scenes of the baseball ring.

Growing ferociously hungry, we retired to the Wright House, where we replenished our bread-basket to an extent that threatened the suspension of that hotel; but the good-natured waiter-girls met our run on the establishment with a zeal worthy of a crusader.

Next we called upon Hen Belvel, of the News. There is but one Belvel in the world, and that's Belvel of the News. Evidently surprised and delighted to see us in his sanctum, he greeted us with the hearty expression: "Well, I'll be d -----!" to which we cordially assented without hesitation. We found his snug little office neat, comfortable and well arranged, and everything in it exhibiting prosperity, while Belvel was in his best and most agreeable mood. He knows exactly how to please his patrons; consequently he has a fine patronage.

Having seen the city to our satisfaction, and fully concluded that it has one of the prettiest sites for a good town there is south of us; and further: that unless it gets a railroad soon, it will have to throw up the sponge as a rival with its neighbors, we got out our chariot and winged steeds and proceeded northeast, towards New York.

As we proceeded the country grew more and more beautiful, nearly every foot of ground was enclosed and in fine cultivation, splendid meadows, fine oat and wheat fields, beautiful orchards, handsome dwellings and commodious barns were the rule in every direction. Farmers were busy as bees along the road, and all hopeful of a fine crop. The village of New York is located in the midst of as pretty a country as any man need wish here or hereafter. Climate is the only thing that he need be very particular about.

Coming on north, we passed the large possessions of our staunch old friend, Jacob Myers, who stands upon his doorstep and exclaims, like Alexander Selkik: "I am monarch of all I survey."

Soon we crossed the bridge of Chariton creek (River), which part of the road is familiar to us, by reason of our having followed the wicked town boys down that way so often in order to dissuade them from fishing and hunting on Sundays, and engaging in other worldly sport. (The New York Road crossing area along the Chariton River was a popular outing site for residents of Chariton and the site of the legendary Slab Castle.)

Ere long, owing to the approach of a storm we were compelled to take refuge in the house of Mr. Daniel Ragsdale, on account of our religious convictions, as we are opposed to sprinkling, especially when we are the victim. Woodward entertained the same views.

The storm having blown over, we soon arrived home, passing by the elegant farm of Cy Scott, a large portion of which we shoveled the dirt to make, or rather drove the oxen that helped to break it, in 1856. We always look with special pride upon that beautiful farm, and let our mind linger upon the romantic days of our youth when we went bull-whacking. Well, Cy's rich, and we always point with proud satisfaction to his success in life as the result of our labor, and a little of his own.

Col. Bartholomew's splendid farm, and Mr. E. Badger's also, are models of beauty, comfort and cultivation, all going to prove that Iowa is the laboring man's paradise; but the winter climate is the poor man's hell.

We enjoyed our entire trip, and felt that a few days of such travel would infuse into us such a spirit of life and health that we would occasionally be able to evolve an original idea from our tired brain. Never mind, however --- next week we are going a fishing.

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