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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10

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

N. Howe Parker

Chicago and Philadelphia, 1856

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 12
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p71  Chapter XI

Instructions to the New-Comer respecting the Selection, Entry, or Purchase and Cultivation of Prairie Lands

The purchaser from Government, if he be a stranger in the country, must first go to the Land-office of the District in which lie the lands that he intends to enter. There are in Iowa nine Land-offices, each of which represents several counties. At either of these the immigrant will be furnished with small township maps, showing all the vacant or unsettled lands, up to the date of application. With these he repairs to the spot; but, without the aid of a surveyor, or some person who understands the mode of government surveys, he will be totally unprepared to make selections, as the "metes and bounds" upon the prairie, are marked trees of the forest, will be all Greek to him. He may gaze upon the goodly land, but for him to know what township, range, or section, or any parts thereof, he is on, will be found impossible. He cannot transcribe the hieroglyphics before him. The numbers must be carefully noted by one who knows, and who will accompany the immigrant to the Land-office; there he makes his application to the Register, receives a certificate of application, and then presents the same to the Receiver; pays in specie, or with his warrant, or Virginia  p72 land-script, and receives a duplicate receipt as having paid for such a tract of land, and, in the course of one or two years, he presents his receipt to the same office, and receives a patent from the government; his duplicate receipt, however, is a sufficient warrantee for him to sell and convey the land, and is valid in law.

To enter upon and settle these lands, is the next thing for the immigrant. He first erects a small cabin of boards, or perhaps of logs, sufficient to shield himself and family from "the pitiless peltings of the storm," and, with eyes often beaming with gladness, enters with great alacrity upon the thousand and one little works of necessity and mercy for the comfort and security of man and beast; while the enormous prairie plow is set in motion by one whose business it is to "break prairie" at $2.25 per acre. This large machine is, to the new-comer, a curiosity; it is, in all respects, like other plows, but much larger in size; being 10 feet long, and cutting a furrow of some 22 to 24 inches in width. The fore-end of the beam rests upon an axle, with wheels, one of which runs in the furrow and gauges the width, acting like the wheel of the locomotive upon the rail. A lever is attached to the fore-end of the beam, running back to the handles, which regulates the depth of furrow, and throws the plow out when desired. When the plow is once set in, it needs no further attention in good prairie, as it runs alone, and the driver has only to attend to his team, which consists of some five yoke of xen. The roots of the wild grass are much longer and harder to break than the tame. It is considered best to  p73 break the ground as shallow as possible, or only to cut a sufficient depth to turn over the roots of grass; the soil under it being very loose, and the thinner the sod, the sooner it will rot. Often the farmer sends his boys to drop corn along every third or fourth furrow; and corn is thus produced, with no further care, yielding 30 bushels to the acre. The next season the sod is well rotted, and the ground in prime order for wheat. In the meantime, the immigrant encloses his fields, either with sawed lumber or rails, as circumstances will permit, erects his dwelling and begins his

"Life on the prairie green,

A home on the boundless waste!"

The soil is ready to till, and but few weeds grow for the first two or three years. As I have before said, corn is planted and grown without using the hoe: the horse and plow do the cultivating.

The Realities of a Pioneer Life — Obstacles to be Surmounted — The Reward in Store

These are but faint outlines of opening a farm in the West. The immigrant will find trials and hardships spring up around, unlooked for in the old settlement. He will find that his ability to labor is not as great in his new, unacclimated home, as where he came from: the scarcity of labor, the distance from towns, villages, and market, will throw obstacles in the way of his progress, and he may very naturally expect, in a change of climate, sickness in his family; and "the ills that life is heir to," will, perhaps,  p74 tread closely upon his heels, and often make him sigh for "the leeks and the garlics" he left behind him. There is no fancy work in a frontier life, except to him who is weaned from the world at an early age, and assumes the life of a savage. It may do for the intelligent and enterprising of our eastern cities to build for themselves fancied cottages upon our western lands while they are gorged with the pleasures of a city life; but the stern reality of a frontier life will not be all sunshine and happiness; there is labor to be done to enjoy it; there is care and toil, privations and sufferings, universally attendant upon any one's settlement in the new portions of the West; and he who leaves the luxuries of the East and moves to the West, expecting to realize the fancied sketches of rural felicity, will be most sadly disappointed. But let him surmount these obstacles, and he can make himself a home that will yield him a rich and lasting harvest.

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Page updated: 19 Jun 11