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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Ioway to Iowa

by
Irving Berdine Richman

published by
The State Historical Society of Iowa
1931

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 11
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p173 The Prairie

Iowa as Light and Life
Cabin, Hearth, and Field
School
Wild Contacts
Harvest
Blizzard and the Mill
Prairie Fires

p175 Iowa as Light and Life

On the west bank of the Mississippi, what in reality was it that the pioneer saw? Was it what from the accounts of explorers he had been given to expect? Not in the least. He saw — and this practically for the first time — Light. 'Born and bred amid the forests of Kentucky, Ohio, and the seaboard, his horizon had extended no farther than the tops of the trees which bounded his plantation. . . . Upwards he had seen the sun, sky, and stars; but around him an eternal forest from which he could never fully emerge'. A Westerner on a first visit to the East is said to have remarked that the Easterner possessed a good country — if only it were not almost completely hid from view by a strange growth called trees.

It was on the prairie that the pioneer awoke to gayety. The prairie was gay. 'The gayety of the prairie, its embellishments, and the absence of the gloom and savage wildness of the forest, all contribute to dispel the feeling of lonesomeness, which usually creeps over the mind of the solitary traveler in the wilderness'. By light it was that the prairie was gay. Gay over the prairie romped the dawn; gay p176above it rode the noon; gay from it floated away the sunset. I remember Iowa at Muscatine 'for its summer sunsets', wrote Mark Twain. 'I have never seen any, on either side of the ocean, that equaled them. They used the broad, smooth river as a canvas, and painted on it every imaginable dream of color'.126

The prairie was Light and it was also Space. It was grove and garden; it was avenue and park; it was sward and stream. The grove was giant oaks; the garden was bending grasses, the avenue marched between copses; the sward sloped to the stream. The park? One saw the deer; heard the bobwhite and the whippoorwill. 'We could hardly persuade ourselves, many times', notes Caleb Atwater in 1829, 'when we first saw any of these beautiful spots, that all the art that man possessed and we could employ, had not been used to fit the place, for some gentleman's country seat; and every moment, as we passed along one expected to see some princely mansion, erected on the rising ground'.

'I apprehend', says a traveler, writing in 1838, 'that the intense astonishment, with which the American pioneers first beheld a prairie . . . is the result of association. . . . Our immediate ancestors came from lands covered with wood'. So it was under the forest tradition that 'suddenly the glories of the prairie burst upon p177their enraptured gaze. . . . Europeansa are often reminded of the resemblance of this scenery to that of the extensive parks of noblemen. . . . The lawn, the avenue, the grove, the copse, which are there produced by art, are here prepared by nature'.

Amid Light, amid Space — the sense of Life, how inescapable!

The Cabin — The Hearth — The Field

For the pioneer the light of the prairie was so strong that it blinded his eyes. He could face the prairie only with woodland at his back.

Woodland meant water; it meant fuel; it meant shelter. In Illinois the settlements in 1830 were entirely within the timbered tracts; in 1840 the settlers still clung to the timber; not until 1850 was the settlement of the open prairies to be accomplished. Said Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles Mason (Iowa's first Chief Justice) speaking in 1858 of Iowa conditions as he knew them in 1837: 'Skirting the timber land . . . might be seen a continuous series of incipient farms, each adorned with a settler's cabin. Occasionally, some one more adventurous than the rest had launched boldly out from the shore . . . into the open ocean prairie, and had fixed his home where the storms of summer and the wintry winds might approach him on all sides, and in p178defiance also, of the distance whence the materials for fire and shelter and fences were to be procured'.

Another Iowa pioneer said that 'there seemed to be something of kinship, something of welcoming, of protection about the woods to those who came pouring out of the forests of the East. There was companionship in the woods — even in their deep mystery. . . . In any event the forest comers would snuggle up to them'.

The Cabin

Pioneer life in Iowa centered in the log cabin, dwelling of but a single room: twelve feet by twelve, sometimes sixteen by eighteen, rarely eighteen by twenty. The roof was clapboards — crude shingles kept down by 'weight pieces'. The floor (when there was one) was puncheon; and under the roof was a loft reached by a ladder. There was, of course, a doorway, and the door might be anything — a quilt or a skin or puncheon slabs. A window covered with oiled paper or cloth invited the sun. 'We had no mirrors to see ourselves when we were arrayed in our wedding gowns', writes the daughter of an Iowa cabin in 1838. 'Just as soon as we were dressed [the wedding was to be a double one] we walked round the corner of the house and looked in the rain barrel. There we saw ourselves as sweet and pretty as we had ever hoped p179to be. . . . We had asked every one who had come to Iowa with us to be present — also the Indians'.

The Hearth

As the cabin itself was the community center, so the Hearth was the center of the cabin. Vesta and the Hearth! 'Each little community usually had one person just to keep fire. If the general fire went out all the settlers' fires might go out. This would mean that someone must walk to the next settlement for fire. . . . The writer's uncle one time walked five miles to get a kettle of fire. He would put chips on the fire [in the kettle] when he came to a forest and it would burn until he came to the next forest'. Says another pioneer of the same decade: 'Often grandfather rose on a zero morning to find the covered embers had lost their power of kindling and was sent for a kettle of fire, "seed fire" with which to start the new days's warmth'.127 To us of to‑day 'grandfather' appears to have belonged to the day of the ancients. In a sense the pioneers of Iowa did belong to the day of Homer and Abraham. Growers of their own wool, and eke of their own cotton and flax, they spun thread from each and wove it into cloth.

Fascinating is the spinning wheel — Penelope had a mere distaff! The wheel for wool or cotton (there was a smaller one for flax) was as large as a wagon p180wheel. Whirling this by hand a good spinner might spin in a day fourteen 'cuts' or three and one-half skeins which would make about two yards of 'jeans'. 'Many a weary mile [twenty a day?] must Mary [who was Mary?] have run carrying the long thread over the wheel'. Yes, and accidents sometimes occurred with the machinery.

There was a little girl Eliza Jane, and once when Mary was spinning (this was all in a cabin by the side of the river Wapsipinicon) she told Eliza Jane to stop running around the wheel or she might be hurt. But Eliza Jane, a little orphant Annie, said she didn't care, and what happened was that 'the wheel snatched a strand of her flaxen hair and cruelly spun it in with the thread'.128

The hearth fire cooked for a pioneer his meals — mainly corn mush, hominy, and corn cake. By night the same fire dispensed light to the cabin. True, there was the 'grease dip' — a twisted woolen rag fastened to a button sunk in a saucer of melted grease. Sometimes the saucer was a scooped-out turnip. The 'dip' was feeble, yet scarce feebler than a lamp of old Pompeii.129

The Field

From wagon to Cabin; from cabin to Field. At the outset the field was woodland, easily turned up by a p181light wooden plow. Later it was the tough prairie. The breaking plow — monster of ten or even sixteen foot beam and twenty-four inch share, heaved forward by six or seven yoke of oxen — tore a way through it. 'Until I was five years old', writes an early Iowan, 'I had never seen a horse'. Horses were aristocratic beasts and their owners regarded them tenderly.

At close grips with the prairie, in the struggle to subdue it, how did the settler feel toward it? Was he able to recapture anything of the rapture of his first impression? 'On the farm in summer', writes George F. Parker, son of a Warren County, Iowa, settler of 1854, 'the farmer worked from dawn till latest dark at his planting, his mowing, his harvesting. The average hour of rising was 4 A.M. Boys of ten rose then and worked, and the toil was kept up all the year round, for in winter the care of the stock was as exacting as were the field labors in summer'. Yet, observes Parker, 'although this early life was full of the most exacting of hard manual labor, it was wholesome and fairly happy'.130

But hold! exclaims Hamlin Garland, son of another Iowa settler, 'I hate a cow!' 'I am determined once for all to put the essential ugliness of its [farm] life into print. I will not lie, even to be a patriot. A proper proportion of the seat, flies, heat, dirt and drudgery of it all shall go in. I am a competent witness p182and I intend to tell the whole truth'. Specific items of Garland's indictment of the farmer: that men go insane over crop failures; that their hands become like claws; that the wife, housekeeping from dawn to dark, literally dies on her feet; that beautiful youth becomes bowed; that lovely girlhood wastes away; that the more ambitious youth of the farm curse their bondage.

In 1891 Garland published Main-Travelled Roads. 'The outcry against it', he says, 'was instant'. He found himself execrated by nearly every critic as 'a bird willing to foul his own nest'. 'Editorials and criticisms poured into the office, all written to prove that my pictures of the middle border were utterly false. Statistics were employed to show that pianos and Brussels carpets adorned almost every Iowa farm-house. Tilling the prairie soil was declared to be "the noblest vocation in the world, not in the least like the pictures this eastern author has drawn of it".'131 Manifestly, the rapture of the pioneer on first beholding the prairie was in the eighteen nineties still proof against attack.

The School

'The 16th [of September, 1844] was ushered in with a charming morning. The sun rose bright and clear. Everything looked auspicious, even the corn p183blades and pumpkin vines looked glad. There was a hurrying and scurrying among the girls and boys to find their books and slates, which had been so long unused. Then this young girl teacher with six pupils, all members of the same family, with a basket of corn bread, some dried-apple pie and a bottle of milk, went tripping over prairie and through grove to the new school house a mile and a quarter away. How clean and white that puncheon floor looked, how mellow the light through that oiled paper window, how clear of any speck of ashes or soot that sod fire-place. Directly there could be seen coming from different directions, bearing their dinner baskets and books, groups of bright, healthy, happy-looking children. . . . One of the larger girls brought an Olney's Geography and Atlas. That Atlas had a map in it called the "Map of the United States," but on that map was no Minnesota, no Dakota, no Nebraska, no Kansas, no New Mexico, nor Colorado, nor Wyoming, nor Idaho, nor Montana, nor Utah, nor Nevada, nor Arizona, nor any State called Washington or California'.132

Wild Contacts

Prairie life was not without wild contacts. To say naught of the occasional panther and lynx or the rattlesnake, there was the gray wolf and — the Indian.

It was on the Wapsipinicon. Louise was the little p184daughter, and her duty was to bring home the cows at evening from the river pasture on 'Strickler's Point'. One evening our Red Riding Hood met a wolf and he bared his teeth at her. The next evening she refused to go for the cows. Hardly believing her story, her father went instead. He, too, met a wolf — not one, but a band — and he was forced to have recourse to a heavy club. What, he asked himself, would have happened had it been Louise who had gone for the cows? About once a month, early settlers tell us, twenty-five or thirty men from between the Mississippi and the lower Des Moines gathered on horseback with dogs and guns, encircled a haunt of the wolves, and let loose the dogs.133

However, the Indian. 'Patopia show white papoose how make Injun wigwam?' 'Goody!' exclaimed six-year‑old Elizabeth. 'I'll be a real little Indian soon'. Patopia's father moved his band. The two girls parted. The parting was that of two young friends; no thought in it of a receding Stone Age. But receding the Stone Age was, and the Indian faced the fact. One day on the Cedar-Iowa River, writes the daughter of a settler, 'when my grandmother and her oldest sister were pulling weeds in the cornfield an Indian stalked past them. He was wrapped in his blanket and was very stately in his manner. The Indian took no notice of them. p185He sat down on a rock and gazed over the valley. He sat there for hours as if carved from stone'.

The Harvest

The peak of farming in the Black Hawk Purchases (first and second) was naturally the threshing of the wheat. The instrument, in a special case, might be the bare hand, the grain being beaten out against a log. Or, the grain, having been cut with the sickle — the sickle of Ruth — cattle were driven over it on the barn floor to separate the kernels from the hulls. Later the cradle was used. Again: 'wheat was threshed by driving oxen over it on a hard piece of ground. The sheaves were laid in a circle with the heads on the outside. After several "floorings" or layers were threshed the straw was carefully raked off and the wheat shoveled into a heap to be cleaned. This was sometimes done by waving a sheet up and down to fan out the chaff as the grain was dropped before it; but this trouble was frequently obviated by the strong winds of autumn when all that was needed was exposure to permit the chaff to blow away'. The flail, too, in the wheat harvest played a part — a thumping part — as late as the eighteen fifties.

The Blizzard and the Mill

'The climate of Iowa is changing — the winter climate in particular; the cold is not so intense, the p186snows are not so deep'. So insists the surviving pioneer. 'Who in Iowa to‑day finds opportunity to coast or to skate or to sleigh ride, or who goes sledding over fence tops?'

Mr. Henshaw Ward, speaking for Science, writes about weather as follows: 'Most middle-aged persons believe that "the climate has changed since I was a child". All of us look back to those days when "we always drove to grandpa's in a sleigh for Thanksgiving" or when "winters were really snowy" . . . Yet very detailed records for half a century over wide areas of our country completely disprove any such belief'.134

Now, as regards Iowa, one of its towns (Muscatine on the Mississippi River) possesses the oldest continuous weather records in the State — oldest by eighteen years. Taking the decade 1839‑1849 inclusive, these records show for Iowa a yearly mean (average) minimum temperature of 14.6 degrees above zero (Fahrenheit), and a yearly mean maximum of 77.5 degrees above. In this decade the lowest temperature was 6 degrees below zero (1839 and 1844) and the highest 98 degrees above (1845). Taking next the decade 1850‑1860 inclusive, the records show a yearly mean (average) minimum temperature of 16.3 degrees above zero and a yearly mean maximum of 78.7 degrees above. In this period the lowest temperature p187was 30 degrees below zero (1857) and the highest 99 degrees above (1855). Then taking the period 1861‑1872 inclusive, the records show a yearly mean (average) minimum temperature of 12.2 degrees above zero, and a yearly mean maximum of 77.8 degrees above. In this period the lowest temperature was 14 degrees below (1857 and 1863).

But what, if anything, during this interval of thirty-three years, do the Muscatine records disclose as to any trend of Iowa weather (represented by the weather of southeastern Iowa) to grow warmer or colder in winter, and hotter or cooler in summer? The answer is that comparing the mean temperatures for the winter months of December, January, and February in each of the decades of the records in question there is disclosed 21.81 degrees as the mean (average) for the winters from 1840 to 1849; 20.28 degrees for the winters from 1850 to 1859; and 18.08 degrees for the winters from 1860 to 1869 — a downward trend from 1849 to 1859 of about 1.5 degrees, and from 1859 to 1869 of about 2.2 degrees. In the case of the summers the tendency is upward by .24 of a degree from 1849 to 1859, and by 3.2 degrees from 1859 to 1869. For the thirty-three years of the Muscatine records, therefore, seasons have varied but little in average temperatures — all in accord with the general contention of Mr. Henshaw Ward speaking for Science.

p188 The Blizzard

The blizzard was stealth. 'It had been bright all day', writes a pioneer. 'There were no clouds of any kind to be seen. Everything was still . . . but there was something in the air that made one look at the sky'.

The blizzard was snow. 'Young people of to‑day', says our pioneer, 'never saw a real snowstorm. . . . There came unexpectedly a heavy snow. About ten inches fell. All the next day the snow lay still; there was no wind blowing. It was not cold. . . . Late in the afternoon a light wind sprang up. . . . The weeds on the prairie were as big as a man's arm with snow. Many of the branches on the trees were broken short off by the weight of the snow. The next morning about six o'clock it was blowing almost a hurricane. Loose snow was blown so hard and fast that when I put my hand up a foot from my face I could not see it. . . . The morning after when I woke I found an inch of snow on the bed clothes. Shivering I struggled into my cold and clammy clothes. I had to wallow through six inches of snow to the head of the stairs. The stairs looked like a long white drift. . . . I found things worse in the kitchen below. . . . The wind had been so furious it had driven snow through under the door and the kitchen was about knee deep. . . . I p189found a shovel, opened a window, and shoveled the snow out'.135

And the blizzard was cold. A Dubuque County settler says: 'The snow drifted in through the cracks and covered everything. Mornings the thermometer registered between thirty and forty below and one time the mercury actually froze'.b

Once in December, 1856, a young wayfarer in southern Minnesota, a future Governor of Iowa, William Larrabee, was saved from a blizzard by a lighted candle. The snow, writes the Governor, was one and a half or two feet thick. 'There was no house, no fence. . . . I found that I had lost the road. . . . It could not be far from midnight, and as I was well aware that farmers were wont to retire early, the hope of being rescued by a guiding light appeared to me extremely slight. . . . With a temperature of from 20° to 40° below zero, the wind blew at a rate of from thirty to fifty miles an hour. . . . I espied a faint glimmer of light proceeding, as it seemed to me, from a snow bank. . . . I presently found myself before a small log cabin, which was half buried in a snow drift. It had but one little window, of which the lower portion was hidden by the snow, while its upper panes were so thickly covered with frost that they scarcely permitted the light to pass through them. . . . I rapped loudly on the door. . . . The house was occupied by p190a Mrs. Foot, with her three sons. . . . The young men pulled off my boots and they brought in a pail of water to thaw out my frozen feet. They gave me a warm supper and a bed on the floor of the small attic. I slept close to the stovepipe and had a good night's rest'.136

Another young Iowa wayfarer, a surveyor in the Twin Lake country, failed of Larrabee's luck. On a March day in the fifties a hunter searching for prairie wolves stumbled over a mound. In getting up he accidentally brushed a side some of the snow and gazed upon the surveyor's upturned face.

The Mill

A great event for the pioneer was a trip to town. There supplies were to be laid in: coffee, tea, sugar, and calico (luxuries), and salt (a necessity). A lad, taking this trip for the first time, is described as 'boarding the wagon like a great man going to battle'.

The trip to the mill was different. Town was far away, while the mill might be relatively near — might, that is to say, be reached in a few days or perhaps a week. Yet at the mill one must wait one's turn or, worse still, the burrs might be idle. 'Is the mill a‑runnin'?' Often the response was: 'Creek too high', 'creek too low', 'froze up', or 'shaft broke'.

A mill, too, might be the scene of tragedy. Of course, p191in the eighteen forties, at the rapids of the Cedar [Cedar-Iowa] River, a crew of men at work during raging high water in replacing the mill dam became marooned on some old timbers. 'I could see', relates an observer, 'we had material, in the logs just brought from the woods, to make a raft that would safely bring the men out; but how could we get to them and get it away without its being drawn into the whirlpool? . . . A poor foolish boy kept dancing before me, exclaiming, "I can shoot a chain to 'em; let me shoot!" . . . I knew the boy was very skillful with his bow and arrow. . . . I incurred censure by spending precious time experimenting with this boy and his arrows. The string was heavy and would tangle. I was ready to give up when an old lady came to me with linen thread and beeswax. We wound the thread and waxed it, so it would not tangle; we laid it loosely in a basket, and then tied one end to the arrow. The boy shot it and the arrow went to the mark, and with it the string attached'.137

Prairie Fires

Just how terrible in Iowa was the prairie fire? Some Iowa pioneers (not many) never saw a prairie fire. Others saw fires season after season, but, though harassed by them, did not find them terrible. Still others found them so terrible as to be themselves almost set ablaze in trying to describe them.

p192 The prairie fire came logically in the autumn, but it might come in the spring. In the autumn the grasses and the weeds, crisped by Iowa summer heat, were dry to the point of jubilant explosion. 'Back over the prairie sprang up a round cloud, and fire rose out of the heart of the grass. The reds and yellows of the flowers exploded into flame. . . . Winds charged the fire, lashing it with long thongs . . . and the fire screamed and danced and blew blood whistles. . . . Animals ran — ran — ran — and were overtaken, shaken grass glittered up with a roar and spilled its birds like burnt paper into the red air. . . . The people in the village ran — ran — and the fire shot them down with its red and gold arrows and whirled on, crumpling the tepees so that the skins of them popped like corn'. Does this paint the burning of an Iowa prairie?

Infernal geysers gushed and sudden streams

Of rainbow flux went roaring up the skies

There broke a scarlet hurricane of light

Inverted seas of color rolled and broke

The valley was a‑flood with elk and deer

And buffalo and wolves and antelope

They heard the burning breakers boom and beat

Their gaping mouths pressed hard against the clay

They fought for very breath.

p193 Does this paint any the better the burning of an Iowa prairie? Why antelope? Why buffalo?

In 1873 a Hollander wrote: 'I fancy that anyone who has read a brilliantly poetical account of a prairie fire and seen it likened to "a rolling sea of fire, miles in extent, sweeping forward on its destructive course, driving before it whole herds of wild buffaloes, deer, and antelopes, dashing along helter-skelter in desperate terror," shall feel disappointed when he gets to see nothing more than low-lying flames, advancing slowly. . . . The sight does not impress one much, at least near by, and I am not surprised that a certain traveler avenged the disenchantment of his high-strained expectations with the disdainful exclamation: "A spectacle to be hissed at!" '138

In early Iowa there were, it is evident, prairie fires and prairie fires. To the east and south, where the timber was greatest and the prairie least, the fires were commonly of the order sketched by the Hollander. They progressed leisurely and might be checked or diverted by turning up ground, or by back firing (burning away the surrounding grass). Then, too, save in rare instances, farm structures were more or less sheltered by the timber. They stood within it or on its edge.

'I well remember', says an Iowa correspondent, 'a p194prairie fire of 1855. I had "inherited" a dog with our farm. One day he and I were busy some distance from the house making war upon a woodchuck. . . . Rover had made a considerable excavation . . . throwing the dirt out in quantity. . . . When next I remember, my mother was leading me home . . . as she afterwards told me she found me sitting in the hole fast asleep, Rover stretched across my feet. . . . Meanwhile a prairie fire which had reached us from tuft to tuft, stepped quietly by leaving us protected by fresh earth, entirely unharmed, unawakened!'

Prairie fires at times had to be met head on. Then came into play the gunny sack, the mop, the broom. 'Old sacks or pieces of clothing plunged in water and wielded by the brawny arm' helped greatly, it is said, in 'averting serious loss'. 'To the southwest', relates a pioneer of northeastern Iowa, 'came one day in October, 1871, at the pace perhaps of a fleet horse, the fire demon. . . . The wells at that period were dug wells some ten feet deep, some twenty, and some perhaps forty. But the well I have in mind was shallow, about ten feet deep with nearly three feet of water in it. To this well my grandmother fairly flew with the children after her. She quickly climbed into the well and dipped water which she handed to the others who saturated blankets and quilts and threw them on our old log cabin. . . . Their efforts seemed futile and my p195grandmother put the smaller children in the well for safety'.139

One of the least inflated descriptions of a great prairie fire comes from the pen of a Methodist circuit rider who traversed northwestern Illinois and northeastern Ioway in October, 1835. 'The last 12 miles', he writes, 'we travelled after sundown, & by fire light over Prairie, it being on fire. This was the grandest scene I ever saw, the wind blew a gale all day the grass was dry . . . some men were kindling fire to burn it away from their fences & then let it run — no odds who it burnt up. As the dark came on, the fire shone more brilliant. A cloud of smoke arose on which the fire below shone, & the reflection could be seen for miles — in some instances 40. . . . We had in view at one time from one to 5 miles of fire in a streak, burning from 2 to 6 feet high. In high grass it sometimes burns 30 feet high, if driven by fierce winds. By the light of this fire we could read fine print for ½ mile or more. And light reflected from the cloud of smoke, enlightened our road for miles after the blaze of the fire was out of sight'.140

But a query about the prairie itself. Was it fires which spread the prairie, or was it the prairie which spread fires? Research explains that in Iowa, as elsewhere, the spread of prairie was due in the main to p196evaporation; and that evaporation was due in the main to two agents, the two o'clock summer sun and the southwesterly summer winds. 'While', says the account, 'there can be no question as to the extent and destructiveness of prairie fires, they must be looked upon . . . rather as an effect than a cause, for nowhere in Iowa or adjacent territory has there been any marked general encroachment of the forest on the prairie when the fires ceased. . . . It is evident that fires constituted no more than a local secondary cause'.141

Black Hawk once remarked that to the whites a display of fireworks was less magnificent than one of our large prairies when on fire. Iowa sunsets often gave the effect of prairie fires, and prairie fires the effect of sunsets. 'Because of the burning prairies', says the Muscatine Journal in 1855, 'the horizon circling the view from Muscatine has in every direction for the last few nights presented all the dazzling splendors of an Italian sunset'. The aptness of this may be realized before certain of the canvases of George Inness. The canvases are sunsets, yet no less are they prairie fires — prairie fire sunsets, seen of Mark Twain.


The Author's Notes:

126 Samuel L. Clemens' Life on the Mississippi, pp467, 468.

Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) in Iowa. — as a youth Samuel Clemens spent short periods in Iowa at Muscatine and Keokuk. He came to Muscatine in the summer of 1854 and departed thence St. Louis late in the fall of that year or early in the winter of 1855. At this time there were living in Muscatine Samuel's mother, Mrs. Jane Clemens, and two of his brothers, Orion and Henry. Orion Clemens, together with John Mahin, was editing the Muscatine Journal, an interest in which Orion had purchased in September, 1853. That Samuel himself worked in the Journal office, probably as a compositor, we learn from a statement by John Mahin printed in the Journal of May 19, 1882. In 1853 Samuel had contributed to the Journal from Philadelphia an article of some length describing Fairmount Park.

The dwelling of the Clemens family in Muscatine (still standing) was a highly unpretentious cottage of one story. It stood near the Mississippi on a grassy slope leading to the water's edge. Samuel's arrival in 1854 was by a river packet which brought him to town in the early morning, and he awaited daylight before proceeding to the house of his mother and brothers.

Nothing of importance marked the sojourn of the future Mark Twain in Muscatine; and when on June 9, 1855, Orion Clemens left for Keokuk to engage in the job printing business, Samuel, who meantime had gone to St. Louis, soon joined him. In Keokuk he became rapidly popular, and in January, 1856, took part in a banquet given by the Keokuk printers in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of 'Benjamin Franklin, printer'. It was at this banquet that Samuel made his first public speech, an effort described in the Keokuk paper as 'replete with wit and humor, being interrupted by long bursts of applause'.

At Keokuk, Samuel made an early attempt at creative writing in the Snodgrass Letters. After leaving the town in 1856, Samuel saw Iowa again in 1867 when, under the name 'Mark Twain', he returned to Keokuk to lecture on the 'Sandwich Islands', and in 1869 when he went to Iowa City to lecture on 'The American Vandal Abroad', and (p428)in 1882 when he stopped at Muscatine from a steamboat to ride about and note the changes since 1854‑55. The Iowa City lecture, it may be observed, was not altogether happy. It was delivered before the Young Men's Christian Association and elicited from the Iowa City Republican the comment: 'As a lecture it was a humbug. As an occasion of laughter on a very small capital of wit or ideas it was a success. . . . We would not give two cents to hear him again'.

In January, 1885, Mark Twain lectured in Keokuk in company with George W. Cable. The same week 'Bob' (Robert J.) Burdette of the Burlington Hawk-Eye, author (1876) of The Rise and Fall of the Mustache, was also lecturing in Keokuk, and it was arranged between 'Twain' and 'Bob' not to show in the same town on the same evenings. Mark Twain's last visit to Iowa (the seventh since 1856) was made in 1890. He was called hither (at Keokuk) by the illness of his mother. — Fred W. Lorch's Mark Twain in Iowa in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XXVII, pp408 et seq., pp507 et seq.

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127 MS. in the library of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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128 MS. in the library of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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129 Among detailed narratives of Iowa pioneer life, one of the best is in a volume by George C. Duffield, entitled Memories of Frontier Iowa.

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130 The American Pioneer, a manuscript in the library of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

George Frederick Parker, having come to Iowa as a lad in 1854, attended the State University of Iowa (1868‑1870), and in 1873 entered the field of Iowa journalism, founding the Indianola Tribune, and (1876) purchasing a half interest in the State Leader in Des Moines. He left Iowa in 1878 and figured in New York journalism, 1887‑1888. Early in life he became the friend of Samuel J. Tilden and later of Grover Cleveland, and for ten years was a correspondent of the London Times. From 1893‑1898 he served as United States consul at Birmingham, England.

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131 Hamlin Garland's A Son of the Middle Border, pp415, 416.

p429 Writing in 1922 to Mr. John C. Parish, then of State Historical Society of Iowa, Herbert Quick, author of Vandemark's Folly and other stories of Iowa life, said: 'I think that the difference between me and Garland lies mainly in the fact that his attitude toward farm life is essentially like that of Mr. Lewis' [Sinclair Lewis] in Main Street toward small town life. The mitigations and merits, or some of them, fall on a blind spot in the eye'. It is by the kindness of Mr. Parish that use of the letter from Mr. Quick is permitted.

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132 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. III, pp216 et seq.

Sled riding to school by moonlight over the snow (to singing school, 'spell downs', debating tourneys) stirred the blood; but riding on the frozen Mississippi (anywhere from St. Louis up) stirred it more. The old Mississippi', exclaimed the Muscatine Journal, 'invites sleighing'.

'Alice in the mirror looks and Mary ties her bonnet — a miracle of tulle and lace with marabouts upon it. There's Bobby driving up, he's come a‑sleighing for the girls. And now beneath the wolf-robe they tuck their pretty feet, while o'er the reins with wondrous pains Bobby reigns complete . . . around the corner like a top sleigh like lightning whirls — the sleigh goes on but in a bank lie Bobby and the girls'.º

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133 MS. in the library of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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134 Harper's Monthly Magazine, Vol. CLII, pp730 et seq.

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135 MS. in the library of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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136 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. I, pp106‑111.

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137 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. VI, pp437 et seq.

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138 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XI, p237.

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139 MS. in the library of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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140 A diary by Rev. Alfred Brunson in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XV, p275.

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141 B. Shimek's The Prairies, pp217‑221.


Thayer's Notes:

a Not only Europeans, but native Americans as well: see  p67.

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b Mercury freezes at -39C (-38F).


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Page updated: 1 Feb 11