Monday, January 23, 2017

Charley Noble: From Lincoln to Roosevelt

Charley Noble, who passed to his final reward in Chariton at the untimely age of 97 during 1933, was quite the story-teller. And as a resident of Lucas County for more than 75 years, he had lots of stories to tell. Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the opening months of his first term as president when Charley died; the race between Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephen A Douglas during 1860, the first presidential campaign he observed.

During 1907, Charley paired up with Henry Gittinger, then editor and publisher of The Chariton Leader, to tell a tale from the divisive campaign that preceded Lincoln's election.

Charley couldn't vote that time --- he still was a citizen of his native Canada who declined to pledge allegiance to the United States of America so long as slavery was allowed within its borders. But he was interested in politics and during the fall of 1860 set out to attend a political debate down at Union Corners --- as far southeast as you can get in Lucas County, near where the corners of Lucas, Wayne, Appanoose and Monroe counties converge.

Noble, then a young blacksmith, was a resident of Lagrange --- tending to the hooves of Western Stage Co. teams when they stopped at that now-vanished village. Glance to the north as you cross the Lucas-Monroe county line on U.S. 34 today and you'll see the Lagrange Cemetery back in the field and a couple of houses that remain on the old town site.


Here's the story of that debate, as published in The Leader of Feb 7, 1907, under the headline "In the Olden Days: The Way Political Meetings were Conducted Here Before the War."

C.F. Noble, of this city, fell into a reminiscent mood, Monday, and related some of his personal experiences soon after coming to Iowa from his native Canada. He resided at LaGrange.

In the fall of 1860 political discussion was at a high ebb. This was the campaign in which Lincoln and Douglas were pitted against each other for the presidency.

On a certain night a great Republican rally had been advertised in Woodruff's barn, at Union Corners, down in Washington Township, this neighborhood then being one of the most populous places in the county.

It was but a little before sundown that he saddled his mule and started to hear the discussion. On nearing Old Greenville he met the Chariton marching club, in full eclat, with band and banner, passing up the old trace road to torture a virulent Democrat with a "Patriotic serenade."

This, of course, raised the castle and brought the desired result, which terminated short of a pitched battle. Yells and echoes were held from every quarter ---- charges and counter-charges.

At that time, the Hon. Robert Coles and Dr. Lind were rival orators and had been billed to hold a joint debate at LaGrange a week later.

On nearing the "Corners" he ran into a group of men quarreling as to which was the smarter man, Coles or Lind. The question was discussed vehemently on both sides and a free-for-all fight ensued. Finally there was a thunder of imprecations and curses heard above the din of battle and the notorious John Ricker, the terror of Honey Creek, appeared on the scene and branded each and all Douglas men rebels and liars, crackling his fists together and frothing at the mouth.

Finally a truce was had and the discussion proceeded at the barn. But even the women had seemed to enjoy the excitement and had often grown desperate in their cause, loving their heroes with true partisan devotion whether of the drubbed or drubbing.


Some 24 years after Charley's account of political tension down in Washington Township was published, the old gentleman celebrated his 95th birthday. That resulted in a long story in The Herald-Patriot headlined "Countless Friends Say 'Many Happy Returns' to Charley Noble on his 95th birthday." He was still a story-teller and many of them were woven into the text:

 Charles F. Noble, of Chariton, one of the finest and most beloved pioneers of Lucas county, today is enjoying his ninety-fifth birthday, feted and congratulated by hosts of friends both in this and other communities of Iowa. For seventy-four of those years have been spent in Lucas County, long years that have grayed the hair of Charles Noble but have failed to quench his indomitable spirit or dim the recollection of honorable years gone by.

When he was called upon by a representative of the Herald-Patriot Wednesday afternoon for a short interview concerning the many years that he has spent in this community, Charles Noble welcomed his guests with simple dignity and gave an hour of his busy day to the recounting of his life both in this state and in the country of his birth, Canada. Chuckling delightedly at many of the incidents that recalled themselves to his mind as he went back in memory over those years, Mr. Noble regaled his listeners with as interesting a story as has been heard in years.

Charles Noble has lived a simple life, an honest life and a straight forward life. But his life has been so irrevocably bound with the early history of the Hawkeye state that it takes on transcendent interest as the years fall away and we live once again with the stage coach, the log cabin and the war of the Rebellion.

Charles F. Noble was a member of a large Scots family and was born on a farm seventy five miles north of Montreal, Canada. The elder Mr. Noble was from the Scotch Highlands and had made the crossing of the Atlantic in search of the land offered in those times of colonial growth. The farm on which Charles was born was purchased for $1 an acre and was covered with virgin forest.

Charles spent eighteen years of life on this rock-bound, forest farm before the urge to travel, which later became a dominant factor in his life, manifested itself. As he confessed Wednesday afternoon, the appearance  of two local boys who had spent the winter in the United States, with fine clothes and reports of easy money to be had for common labor, led the Scots lad to think of trying his fortune in the new territory.

His first trip to the States was to Washington county, New York, where he entered the employ of a blacksmith. the stipulation was to be $30 for the first year, $40 for the second and $50 for the third year. However, a saloon operated in connection with the blacksmith shop took too much time of his employer and the shop was closed (before the contract had been fulfilled).

Mr. Noble had his first and last experiences with coffee and tobacco during this period of his life and chuckled with glee as he recalled how sick he was following his first chew of tobacco. Informed by his brothers that tobacco was sweet, young Noble bit off a generous mouthful and then described with many a burst of laughter, "how the fireplace rose in front of him and the room turned around and round." While in Montreal on his way to New York, coffee, a new liquid to the Scots emigrant, was tasted but a similar reaction followed and the drink was crossed off his list. Mr. Noble has not tasted coffee or tobacco since that time.

Following his two years spent in New York, Noble returned to Canada where he worked at various jobs for five months. The blacksmithing trade that he learned in New York was to stand Noble in good stead when he entered the fertile fields of Iowa.

Inflamed with the reports of fortunes to be made in the newly admitted state of Iowa, young Noble became imbued with a desire to go to the new state. His sister and brother attempted to prevent his journey with the arguments that Iowa was settled only with rascals, criminals and Indians and that only death and misfortune awaited those in the new state.

His sister, refusing to permit him to make the trip alone, he brought her with him and in the spring of 1857 they entered the city of Chicago, then the center of the west. Merchants in Chicago warned young Noble and his sister from going on to Dubuque, Iowa, claiming that temperatures of forty degrees below zero were maintained there the year around and that blizzards were of such strength to tear wagon spokes from their sockets. Blizzards were reputed to be of such velocity that the room of a log cabin would be covered with a foot of snow that entered solely through the key hole of the door.

Even Davenport was said to be of frigid climate and the Canadian party was advised to go further south. Undaunted by those reports and with a steadfast refusal to enter a state that permitted slavery within its borders, young Noble and his sister finally entrained for Davenport, Iowa, where he spent several days in search of work. From Davenport the party went to Iowa City, then to Montezuma, Iowa, in slow journeys, always the search for steady employment being uppermost in the minds of the immigrants.

At Montezuma, where Charles was to spend the next four or five years of his life, employment was wide and varied. Dake and Dryden, contractors, probably one of the first contracting organizations in the state of Iowa, were the first to secure Noble's help and the court house and the Methodist church at Montezuma were built during this period. Mr. Noble was paid a top wage of about $18 a month during this time but this figure of course included board, room and washing.

While working at Monezuma, Charles was frequently asked why he did not take out naturalization papers that would make him a citizen of the United States. The young pioneer steadfastly refused and declared that he would declare allegiance to no country that permitted the abominable practice of human slavery.

"If I am asked to aid a starving, freezing Negro, I will do so, by the grace of God, and I will permit no government to prevent me," he said in reference to the Fugitive Slave Act, then a much disputed law of the country.

Although Mr. Noble was so prominent in the early history of Montezuma, he has not been back to the scene of early manhood laboring days for seventy four years.

Mr. Paisley, then engaged in the manufacturing of prairie plows for the breaking of the virgin sod, engaged the labor of Noble next for the sum of $20 a month and post making, cradling wheat and digging foundations for buildings all secured the attention of the young immigrant during these days.

A group of young men of the community at that time made up a party that heard the command of Horace Greeley "to go west." Journeying in a wagon owned by the party, the trip was made slowly across the plains of Iowa through Des Moines, Pacific Junction via Glenwood to Council Bluffs.

Pacific Junction was then reputed to be in the future the great capital of the middle west with trunk lines of all western railroad lines slated to make their headquarters in that city. The project was purely visionary and the group of young men found only an occasional log cabin when they went there on the return trip.

An Ottumwan who was returning to his home city was engaged in to bring Noble and a companion back to Montezuma. A few miles west of Glenwood at a French settlement a trader attempted to get the two men to establish a blacksmithing shop in their settlement. He offered to set the two young adventurers up in business, give them the land necessary to build the shop and aid them in every way.

"I asked if his winsome daughter might be included in the bargain and he agreed," smiled Mr. Noble Wednesday, but the lure of the open road proved too great and the two men journeyed on toward the east and home.

Continuing toward the east, the party stopped over night at a trading camp twelve miles east of Chariton at LaGrange. At that time Chariton had no court house but used a small log cabin for the transaction of county business. At this time no railroad had been built in the county and it was not until 1867 did a railroad appear in Lucas county.

Noble Olmstead maintained a stage shed at LaGrange at this time and cared for the horses and travelers that were making the long trip across Iowa.

Olmstead offered him a start at LaGrange in the blacksmithing business and after a short time spent at the old town at Montezuma, young Noble returned to LaGrange to make his residence. R. Lynn, of LaGrange, owned a blacksmithing shop in the town that had been foreclosed previously and with this equipment the new shop was originated.

Charles was somewhat impoverished at this time because of his many excursions and as a result Olmstead went on his bond for the purchasing of the blacksmithy equipment.

In 1861 Charles was married to Katherine Long, a girl whose parents had died previously and who was all alone in the world. Miss Long was employed in a private home located on the site of the present library in Chariton where she was employed for $3 a week and room and board.

The Nobles set up housekeeping in LaGrange and remained there for a period of ten years, where he shoed the horses of the stage company and took care of the blacksmithing work of the county. Numerous humorous anecdotes amused the old pioneer considerably and on one occasion he rocked with laughter as he recalled an attempt to charge $2 worth of dishes. Dr. Lynn, the owner of the smithy equipment, this time failed to provide credit and Noble was required to break a $5 gold piece for the dishes. Nobel evened matters up with the doctor later by refusing to give him credit on some black smithy work and admitted that "he was uneasy for a spell after that because the doctor was the only medical expert and preacher for miles around he he was some worried for fear he would be denied medical aid if sick and absolution if he died." However, the doctor saw the humorous side of the case and later became warm friends with the young blacksmith.

The new railroad was completed about this time and the road was built several miles from LaGrange. The settlement was doomed and Charles was the first to sense this and moved to a farm in Washington township to spend the next fifteen years of his life.

During this period spent on a farm the Noble farm grew from a matter of 160 acres to 720 acres and in 1888 the wealthy land owner moved to Chariton, retired and devoted his time to the administering of his estate.

Chariton was in its construction program and Mr. Noble had the following to say of an old anecdote he recollected. Joe Brown had just finished the construction of a modern home on the corner of the present square and the home was the admiration of all Chariton residents. One of the feminine residents, overcome with curiosity, complimented Mr. Brown on the completion of his home and inquired if it was modern. "No, it isn't modern," Brown replied. "In the sense that no mortgage hangs over its gables."

Three children were born to the Nobles, Ira C. of Chariton, Sevy, who died in 1892 in a power house accident in Des Moines, and Melissa Marshall, now of Berryville, Arkansas.

Mrs. Charles Noble passed away on March 12, 1920.

The simple Noble residence is cared for by Mr. and Mrs. John O'Hara, whose father was a lifelong friend of Charles at the farm near LaGrange. The house is thronged daily with friends who come to chat and dream of the golden days of their young in the quiet, rugged simplicity of the Noble home.

On the eve of his ninety fifth birthday, Mr. Noble was visibly moved by the remembrances of his friends in Lucas county and expressed boundless satisfaction with his lot in life. 


Charley died at his home in Chariton two years later, on June 8, 1933, at the age of 97. He had failed during his final year and for the most part had been unable to leave the house, but maintained a complete range of mental faculties until the end.

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