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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Iowa As It Is in 1856

by
N. Howe Parker

Chicago and Philadelphia, 1856

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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please let me know!


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Chapter 11

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p62 Chapter X

General Remarks

[The following extracts from "Letters on the West," (contributed to the columns of the Davenport Commercial — published by the author — last year,) are herein inserted as containing much information respecting the country, and many practical hints to the new settler, not in print elsewhere. These letters are from the pen of Willard Barrows, Esq.; than whom, probably, no individual in the State possesses more thorough information on the topics he speaks of; he having spent some eighteen years as Government and General Surveyor.]

"Introduction — The Rivers and Lakes of Iowa — Her Mineral Resources — Onward March of Civilization

"Aware of the difficulty the immigrant from the Eastern States labors under in obtaining a correct knowledge of the West — of its vast resources, its immense fields for cultivation, spread out in untold beauty, inviting the husbandman to partake of the bounty which a beneficent Being has spread out before him, I hope to furnish your readers with some facts that will prove interesting and profitable to those intending to make their homes in Iowa. I would speak of our beautiful rivers, productive soil, and healthful climate; p63of the glassy lakes, whose pebbled shores have for ages been the haunts of the elk, the buffalo, and the deer, and whose waters abound in the finest specimens of the finny tribe. These solitary places, that have slept in beauty so long, have been awakened into life. The woodman's axe now begins to echo on the banks of our streams, and the hum of voices resounds upon our lakes. Civilization, in her westward march, has aroused the deer from his lair; and where, but yesterday, the wolf held undisputed sway, the familiar bark of the farmer's faithful dog is heard.

"Probably no State in the Union has ever been settled with greater rapidity, or in so short a period of time gained greater renown, than Iowa.

"Bounded on the east by that noblest of rivers, the Mississippi, and on the west by the Missouri, cut up and intersected at the most important points by railroads, projected and under contract, possessing almost inexhaustible supplies of lead in the north, and of coal in the south, of lime, sand, and other building-stone in almost every portion of the State, she combines within her borders, resources that must render her, in point of position and wealth, one of the most important States in the Republic.

"The Climate of Iowa may be compared with that of New Jersey and the vicinity of New York City; except that we have not here as much rain and foggy weather as they have. Here it is, in general, an unbroken winter from the middle of November till January; when we are invariably visited with the January thaw; after which, the weather is generally mild, and gradually merges into spring. We p64have but little snow — not enough to prepare for sleighing, and but few sleds or sleighs are manufactured. We are free from the sudden changes so common to New England; the weather is less variable. Our storms are from the east, our showers from the west.

"Cultivation and yield of Wheat, Corn, Oats, Potatoes and Onions.

"Our wheat is sown in March, and our corn planted the last of April and first of May. But little winter wheat is grown here; the light snows are insufficient to protect it from winter-killing. Spring wheat is raised in great abundance, and of a good quality. Corn is raised in large quantities; and all the products of the earth, congenial to this climate grow, with but little labor. Seldom is the hoe used in the corn or potatoe-field — the horse and plough do the work in general. Of the wheat crop, 40 bushels to the acre is considered a good crop; and of corn, 50, 60, and 75 bushels are raised to the acre; 400 and 500 bushels of potatoes and onions are common to the acre. I know of large crops being taken from the ground — such as 100 bushels of oats to the acre, and the same of corn; but they are not common, and such tales only serve to heighten the fancy of those who intend immigrating, and mislead them.

"The Soil and Prospects of the Farmer East and West compared.

"A man cannot come here and grow rich in idleness: he must work. Our soil is prolific, but must have care and p65culture. It is true that man can live with less labor in the older States; the soil is easier tilled. He can make himself a home much sooner, and far more easily, than those who purchase land in northern New York, Ohio, and Indiana. How many are there in those States who have toiled for years to cut away the timber and burn it; expending, on an average, $10 or $12 an acre before the plow can enter the land, and then be used with great difficulty among the stumps, roots, and rocks; and how many farmers are there now, in those States, going down to the grave in the meridian of life with a worn-out and broken constitution! Compare the new settlement of those States with a settlement in Iowa. Here, the immigrant enters upon his land, perhaps, at government price — $1.25 per acre; or, if he pays $5, or even $10, per acre, he finds it free from all obstacles in making a farm. For the sum of $2.50, the prairie is broken up, and often corn is planted the first year, by striking the axe into the turf and dropping the corn, which yields 15 to 25 bushels per acre. This is called sod-corn. The second year, the turf is rotten, the ground easily tilled, and the husbandman's labors are crowned with success.

"Enclosing Farms — Osage Orange as a Substitute for Board, Wire, or Sod Fences.

"To enclose the land, various kinds of fencing have been tried. Among the early settlers, the sod fence was made by those who had a scarcity of timber, but proved a perfect failure. The soil being too alluvial and loamy to sustain p66itself, the common board fence was resorted to, till, more recently, the wire fence has been introduced, and succeeds well where it is properly made. In most parts of the State, hogs are not allowed to run at large, and of course less fencing is required. It is now sufficiently demonstrated, by trial of a few, that the Osage-orange hedge is to be the great remedy for lack of timber upon our prairies: it has been tested, and found that a hedge of this shrub will turn any kind of animal, from a horse to a sucking pig, in three or four years. This fence can be made for forty cents per rod, and warranted, or no pay. Upon the prairie, where there is not much range of cattle, the hedge can be planted and grown without fence to protect it; nothing will eat the plant, and the few that might be destroyed by being trod upon, can easily be replaced. In fencing, then, 100 acres square, the expense would be $250, for a fence that would last for ever. It will need training only, as it does not sprout from the roots. But, half of this fence will be for the accommodation of your neighbor; consequently, your cost will be but half this sum. In order to make this fence, the ground must be broken some eight or ten feet wide, upon the line of fence, one year before the planting of the hedge. I understand that a contract has been made recently, by the Illinois Central Railroad, to fence the entire road, some 300 miles, with the Osage orange.

"For immediate use, those who have no timber must fence with lumber; which is $15 per thousand feet; and the white-cedar post can be had for $10 per hundred. It will take 1280 posts, eight feet apart, to fence 100 acres p67with wire or boards; the amount of either of the latter will be regulated according to the number of strands; which may be three or five. There is but one great deficiency in our State — the scarcity of timber. But we hope for a substitute in the Osage orange, as far as fencing is concerned.

"Renting, building, Brick-making — No Vacant Lands near the Mississippi River.

"Tillable land is now rented at $1.75 to $2.00 per acre. The first tenement of the settler is generally of small dimensions; reared in haste, and ultimately to form the kitchen part of his future dwelling. Brick is made in all parts of the State; and in most parts, the limestone rock is abundant, and often used for entire dwellings for man and beast. The vacant land or lands, still owned by the Government, have now become very scarce in the settled portions of the State. No selections of good land can now be made within fifty or seventy-five miles of the Mississippi River. The immense immigration of the last two years has secured all choice lands in the vicinity of settlements and railroads; and the only chance of the immigrant for land at $1.25 per acre, is to go back into the interior of the State. Many prefer purchasing nearer market — nearer the Mississippi River; where unimproved land can be had at from $4 to $10 per acre, and improved farms at from $10 to $40, and even $50 per acre — according to the value of improvements.

p68 "Iowa as it is, and as the Immigrant may expect to find it — Earnest Labor the Price of Success.

"The immigrant must not come here as many do — expecting to find first rate land, with timber and water, all spread out before him, very near some city or town, for $1.25 per acre; it is not to be had. He must not come expecting to find Iowa a desolate, dreary, uncultivated waste, with here and there a green spot, inhabited by pioneers living in log cabins and just merging into civilization; neither must he come expecting to live at ease, enjoying the luxuries of life and health, rolling in upon him without any exertion. A home can be had by the poorest, with prudence and economy. No place in the wide world can offer greater inducements to the immigrant than Iowa; but he must look at it as it is. No fancied sketch must weave around his imagination sudden wealth or unreal beauties, seen only in the dreary picture before him. He may fancy Iowa a garden, and, roaming over its prairies, gather flowers from its rich soil, and exclaim with the Indian, in ecstasies of delight, 'I‑o‑wah! — 'I have found the beautiful land!" but it will never make him rich, nor create for him a happy home, without toil and labor.

"Unentered Lands — Immense Immigration of 1854 — Central Iowa — Best Portions of the State yet Unsettled — The Destiny of Iowa.

"There are yet large bodies of land subject to entry at the government price — $1.25 per acre. Early in the season, p69there was much upon the line of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad subject to sale; but I found none at this time within less than four miles of the railroad. The timber-lands of this section of country are all secured; nothing remains but prairie. The wood-lands must be purchased at second rates, from $5 to $10 per acre. These back counties, even to Council Bluffs, are better timbered than those within fifty miles of the Mississippi River, except in the northern part of the Iowa. There is yet most excellent prairie land in the tier of counties west of Johnson and Washington, as far back as Polk and Dallas Counties. But how long any portion of this beautiful country will remain subject to sale by the Government, is uncertain. The immense immigration to the interior of Iowa this season exceeds, by far, all former years. The roads are full of immigrant teams; the groves, creeks, and woodlands seem alive with men, women, and children, encamped in wagons, tents, and cabins, until houses can be erected.

"There are upwards of one hundred counties of land in this State surveyed and in market; two-thirds of that number are organized, and contain a population of from 100 to 25,000 each; the river tier of counties being the first settled and most densely populated. Central Iowa is the best body of land in the State; and, in all probability, the State of Iowa is the best in the United States. The better portions of Iowa are not settled yet. The immigrant must not think that Iowa is all sold, or in the hands of speculators. Go where you may, westward or northward, and the boundless prairie is spread out before you, dotted here and p70there with its groves and its gentle rivers, skirted with timber; and you find no diminution in beauty or richness of soil: the same deep, black loam is found northward to the St. Peter's River, and westward to the Missouri. The immigrant who is willing to penetrate unsettled portions, and endure the privations incident to a frontier life, can lay, for himself and his children, the foundations of a fortune and a home that will make glad the hearts of his children's children; for Iowa is destined to be the most densely populated State in the Union.

"How often has the thought passed through my mind, while rambling over these fertile plains, of the thousands of human beings whose lot has been cast in more sterile lands, bound down by oppression and servitude! What happiness could be offered to the starving millions of the Old World, could the ill-gotten treasures of tyrants be converted to their use, and the uncultivated wastes, that now are only kept for the use of a few wandering tribes of Indians, were made the abodes of civilized men! The onward progress of the Anglo-Saxon race will soon open these vast resources for the benefit of man; and I believe that many of us now upon the stage of action, will see these fertile vales teeming with their ten thousand flocks, and hear from the happy cottages the general anthem of thanksgiving and praise, amid these beautiful glens and dales, until the prolonged note shall sigh upon the Rocky Mountain's top, and the echo be heard along the Shores of the Pacific Ocean."


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