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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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Chapter 1

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p. ix Introduction

Still fresh in the memories of a few of her citizens, is the time when Iowa was one vast wilderness. Her land untilled, her groves unpeopled, and her mighty rivers flowing unimpeded — unadmired, by art or eye of man, she donned her verdant robes, and decked her fields with flowers on each returning spring, as if to woo the distant husbandman, and when chill autumn came, she shrank again into the sere and withered, waiting, patient still, and still with hope. She heard the Indian hunter's shot resound amid her solitude; she held the imprint of his step upon the yielding surface of her soil; she watched him crawl to his wigwam home, and lay him down to slothful rest, to dream of the ravage or the hunt. She saw him wake from sleep, and gird about his loins the savage tomahawk and scalping knife, while piercing war-whoops rang from dell to dell, and whistling balls and rolling thunders shook the air above, and bathed the blazing fields in gore. She heard the red man's cry of death — the white man's shout of victory. And then her streams and fields — her hills and waving woodlands — joined in one vast choral hymn, when banners were furled, and arms were lain to rest, and Peace snatched the sceptre from the wearied God of War.

p. x Then, soon, throughout the land, a lamentation rose. The red man stretched his form upon the earth, and bathed the sod with tears. He bade a long farewell to hunting-ground and river-bank — to bluff and valley, where transcendent beauty held her court, or uttered a parting wail beside the graves of his fathers — the mounds of his nation's slumbering chiefs. Here, from year to year, had successive generations learned to kneel — here had their voices risen annually, in strains of mourning and of homage, for the loved or the illustrious dead — here had been their refuge in times of sorrow or trouble — and here had they found a retreat, sequestered from the world, and hedged round with a sacred — an unprofaned reverence. But although he lingered still — although to leave these solemn scenes occasioned him most poignant grief — called forth the wildest throes of anguish — yet, inexorable fate impelled red man onward. Civilization required his departure; — the destiny of his outcast race bade him fly from before the coming white man's face, and take another step towards that extinction which yawns before the savage tribe. He raised his voice, once more, in cries of anguish, then joined the mighty Ishmaelitish host, and, taking up the line of march, he pressed his farewell foot-print on his native soil, and left behind him on the spreading plains, the last Indian trail of Iowa.

E'en yet the heavy tramp of the banished nation sounds along the western horizon — e'en yet that horizon is blackened by the forms of the retreating multitude — when lo! upon the east a long white line comes gleaming up, seemingly rising out of the distant ground. One by one, like sails at sea, the white-tented wagons of the immigrant well up into sight, and soon we shall see their occupants encamped near yonder grove, their tents gleaming in the moonlight, and the smoke of their camp-fires spreading like a protecting shelter, above their deep, untroubled slumbers. These hardy men, with p. xitheir aged parents and adolescent families, moving onward in the wake of the expatriated Indian, are the pioneers of Iowan civilization — the vanguard of the mighty phalanx that is yet to come.

The immigration to Iowa reminds one of the legendary days of the Crusaders. As did the venturous knights of old, the emigrants resign the endearments and luxuries of home, to build for themselves a glorious destiny, amid the wilds of a strange land. They go to rescue from the desolation entailed upon it by savage hordes, a region stored with Nature's lavish gifts; and, as those misled champions of the cross, they sally forth in banded numbers, from every point of a civilized world, to meet in the brotherhood of a great cause, on the fertile plains where tower their mutual hopes. But here the resemblance ends. The valiant knight of old went forth arrayed in all the paraphernalia of war, to conquer — to subdue — to win, by fire and sword, a land rich in historic lore — a land whose interest mainly lay in the hereditary annals of the past. But the modern emigrant wends his way to territories, whose history is yet unknown, whose annals are yet unwritten, whose value and grandeur lie in the promises of the future. — The plough-share and the pruning-hook are his weapons, his companions are the loved ones of either sex. The Crusader went to tear down — to demolish — a dynasty; the emigrant, to build up a State. The former had history for his guide — the latter had a history to frame and write.

And nobly has he written it. In the unexcelled prosperity of the land of his adoption — in the magic growth of her cities — upon her boundless prairies, as on a vast sheet — has he traced the records of Iowa's liberation from the darkness of the Indian ages. And these are records that posterity will read with pride, when the crumbling monument and p. xiimouldering legend of battle and of victory will be as "a tale of days forgotten."

Iowa — once the freehold of the tawny savage — is now a civilized and settled State. Where once the wolf went bounding, now waves the yellow corn; and where the owlet hooted to the solitude, the cabin-smoke is floating on the air. Wherever the highway winds, the ever-recurring marks of cheerful industry — of progress — of prosperity — greet the traveller's eye, till one is disposed to rank this State as contemporary with many of her elder sisters. The immigrant is no longer called on to endure the vicissitudes, the hardships, and the dangers of a frontier life. At every step he meets civilization — in many places, finds improvements in the art of farming, such as he dreamed not of in his Eastern home; and often an old familiar face — a friend who had been a neighbor in years gone by — greets his arrival. Yet, be it not supposed that Iowa is full. Far from it; still within her vast domain lie millions of untilled acres — unentered — untouched — unreclaimed from primeval wildness. They await the immigrant — they call to him and bid him come. Shall it be asked what inducements they hold forth to tempt him, or what resources they possess to repay his labor? We ask, on the other hand, what do they not hold forth? The fertility of the soil in Iowa is unsurpassed — not merely by that of her kindred States — not merely in our Union — but throughout the world! The black loam that overlies her prairies, and which varies in depth from eighteen to forty-eight inches, forms an inexhaustible storehouse of fecundity and agricultural wealth. It rests upon a deep subsoil of clay, well fitted to retain moisture; and, during the driest portions of the year, this moisture reascends through the surface-muck — thus, by a constant reaction, weakening, if not annulling the effects of the severest drought. This was fully proved during the excessive aridity of 1854, Iowa having p. xiiisuffered less from its effects than any other State in the Union, and having, since then, been the granary of that Union, and supplied from her own stores the exhausted markets of the East and South. This may sound incredible — fabulous; and yet, Iowa, the youngest of the States, has actually accomplished it!

Such are the inducements Iowa holds out to the farmer, coupled with a promise to return him, for immeasurably less labor than would be required in the East, an unsurpassable abundance of any and every article which the zone we live in is capable of producing.

But again: to the manufacturer she also cries come! She invites him to behold for himself her immense coal regions, and examine the qualities of the coal; to roam, hand in hand with the farmer, over the vast mineral tracts; and while he admires the richness of the mines, to let the farmer wonder at the phenomenon of an exceedingly fertile soil, spread out upon the immense beds of lead. Nor is this all. — The abundance of first-rate water-power, and the amount of building-stone everywhere to be found, offer such advantages to the energetic manufacturer as he may elsewhere seek in vain.

These facts have but recently reached the East — and see with what avidity men of capital are hastening to test these boasted resources. And still the field is open — still the coffers of the earth are full, and he may help himself who will.

The poor and the lowly came a few years since, but now the rich and the lofty flock to Iowa, as well as they. And, thanks to the enterprise of these, the colossal wheel of manufacture has already been set in motion in Iowa. It revolves as yet but slowly, and its reverberating strokes do but send forth, as yet, prophetic echoes throughout the State, that tell what may — what can and will be done. When the Giant Spirit of Human Art shall have chained the flow of Iowa's p. xivgreat central artery, and assumed the directing of its course — when the Mississippi's wave shall foam and lash in unimpeded progress — when the Missouri's waters shall be darkened by the shadows and the smoke of mammoth factories — and when the tributary streams of this great trio shall be made to join in this work of grandeur and of usefulness, then will that Giant Spirit, as he listens to the ponderous humming of that colossal wheel, whose accelerated revolutions will then keep time with the pulsations of Iowa's ambitious heart, find a genial home in the young, and promising and vigorous State. There is in this picture no fiction — no visionary anticipation: all that we have hinted at, and more, will be realized. It requires no gift of prophecy to trace out the future path of Iowa. An observing eye — aided by a spirit of discrimination — need but take the past for a precedent — the present for an earnest — to draw a vast panorama of prosperity, such as our Union has perhaps never witnessed heretofore, and yet, which Iowa will not fail to excel.

To the law-loving and the temperate — to the enterprising, the vigorous, the ambitious — she offers a home and a field worthy of their noblest efforts. Already has she placed the early adventurer on a throne of fortune, thus amply rewarding his courage. At this day she points to still loftier thrones and richer diadems, held in reserve as the prizes of fearless energy — or better still, throws open to the world her exhaustless stores of wealth, and seems to say, "Behold your reward!" And as the multitudinous throngs hasten toward these goals of promise — as they crowd with eager steps, and work with untiring hands — they find that far from becoming drained, her resources deepen and increase in proportion as they take from them — not merely keeping pace with their accumulating wants, but ever exceeding them; it is even as the province of mind — realms of intellect — where p. xvboundaries still widen, and whose sphere continues to expand, the further they are explored.

There is an emigration that thins the old and crowded States on the Atlantic seaboard; there is an immigration that peoples a new world, and darkens the mountain-slope of fortune; there is a journeying from the old into the new, of the Pilgrims of Industry and of Hope. But there is a mightier emigration — a vaster pilgrimage — than these. It is the march, onward and upward into the Future, of Iowa herself. As the immigrant mother leads her sons and daughters into the undeveloped paths of wealth — as civilization elevates a race out of the sloughs of semi-barbarism — as national prosperity exalts a land — or as science raises the human intellect from darkness into dazzling light — thus Iowa, with rapid strides, ascends the precipitous sides of prosperity's mountain-range, bearing her sons and daughters to loftier, and still loftier peaks, and revealing to their gaze still wider and wider vistas. And the summit of this range she will never reach; for her onward progress cannot be stayed, until her arterial streams are dry — until the agricultural life-blood in her veins has ceased to flow, until her great metallic heart has been emptied. Upon the topmost summit, then, Iowa will never stand, for through countless ages yet to come, her progress — that must be forever onward — must be upward also.


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