Steuben County, N.Y., U.S.A.,
August 25, 1855
This is the land in which to be born
Where Freedom greets you with every morn,
And gives you your chance to do your best
For Uncle Sam and all the rest.
Lucky Youngster! To be born in
This "Good old U.S.A."
Lucky again when his birthday was announced -
August 25, 1855
Lucky again to have lived during eighty-five years
Of the world's greatest progress.
Previous to 1855, the United States, as a nation, was using new ideas and new ideals in its processes of development. It had an established boundary to a vast territory, the additions to which had been acquired by purchase rather than by conquest. This territory was known to contain natural resources of immense value. It had a growing population of intelligent and aggressive citizens, with a leadership of able and resourceful men who were not afraid to wreck old traditions, when necessary, and pioneer new enterprises in a new country in a big way.
Added to our natural growth in population, nearly a quarter of 1 million immigrants were landing on our shores annually, most of them at New York City. Thus laborers, miners, shopworkers for employment in the eastern states. Still larger numbers of these "new comers" were "moving on," some of them to pioneer our frontiers, while others "followed the rails" to become farmers and shop keepers, and, growing up with the Great West, to help develop pioneer enterprises into well ordered and prosperous communities.
Writing of this period, H.G. Wells, in his Outline of History, calls attention to an unusual number of very important revolutionary movements in evidence about the middle of the nineteenth century.
He mentions social, mechanical, industrial, and economical movements as already under way. He calls attention, also, to radical changes in religious beliefs and new trends in political and governmental functions.
In point of time, Mr. Wells makes this the starting period for many of these changes that soon were dominating the "Picture of Progress" in America and in the world.
It was right into this confusion of prospective changes that this birthday occurred - August 25, 1855.
It is agreed that the world made more progress in the succeeding eighty-five years of American achievement and history than it ever made in any like period to time since history began. At the beginning of this period we had a few very important inventions to start with - the cotton bin, the steam boat, the sewing machine, the telegraph and ocean cables, both undeveloped as yet, and out in Illinois we had C.H. McCormick, who had invented a reaper that could do the work of ten men, waiting for railroads, settlers, and wheat fields.
We had plenty of iron and mines of coal, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, etc. Man's knowledge of metallurgy had been increasing for years with a growing mastery over iron and other metals, but Bessemer Steel did not come until 1856, and the Open Hearth did not come until 1864.
These inventions or improvements revolutionized the iron and steel industries so that, with Andrew Carnegie and other steel magnates, active in the production of Bessemer Steel, the Mechanical Revolution was "on" and this revolution then developed is still going strong at the present time.
Many questions, social and otherwise, were settled or changed by the Civil War.
Other great movements were inaugurated by the discovery of oil and the building of railroads across the continent, and the establishment of Big Business in manufacturing and transportation, and the distribution of merchandize. Great banks and financial institutions were made necessary by these large enterprises growing up in the development of a new world.
It was inevitable that Big men, Big enterprises, Big finances, Big organizations, and Big Business with all that means, should grown up together in the development of a Big Country like ours.
Great strides have been made in the field of electricity, but the limit of discovery, invention, and application of it is not yet in sight.
The most discouraging feature of the world's continued progress is the present World War.
In 1855 We lived in Steuben Co., N.Y.
In 1862 Moved to Southern Michigan.
In 1863 Moved to Burean Co., Illinois.
In 1875 Moved to Iowa, vicinity of Guss and Villisca.
In 1882 F.F. Jones and Wife move to Villisca.
Steuben County, New York in 1855-1862:
Was barely emerging from pioneer conditions. Spinning wheels and wool carding appliances were to be found in most every home. Flax wheels were plentiful and occasionally a loom for weaving cloth. The neighborhood hides were nicely tanned in the little tannery located on some little creek of the settlement. Wild deer were still being shot by hunters.
The principal industry was lumbering and the marketing of spars. "Sap-bushes," where maple molasses and sugar were produced each spring, were plentiful and well cared for.
In our part of the state, the cloth looms were operated by hand. Back in Rhode Island, where weaving was a major industry, the mills were supplied with power by the mill ponds and the water wheels. Mother could "card" the wool, spin it into year, and then weave it into cloth.
We moved from Steuben County in 1862. I remember the tannery near us, the sugar camps, the new shingle mill that "sawed" the shingles and the lumbering activities with its wasteful methods. After the lumber trees had been culled out, the land was then "logged over" - cleared off in preparation for farming.
Good timber, much of it fine trees, was felled, cut up, piled into great log heaps, and burned - AN AWFUL WASTE! Some years later, on a visit back there, I found that my cousins, Jones Bros. & Parker, were shipping in from a distance to their planing mill at Bath, lumber, much of it of no better quality that that destroyed, to be manufactured into mouldings and other mill products.
Farming was handicapped by the hills and stones and was done in small patches as compared with the fields of Illinois. They did not have to have polished steel plows because there were so many stones in the soil that a cast-iron plow would work. Threshing was done with "Flails." Mowing was done with seythes. Reaping was done with cradles.
MICHIGAN IN 1855-1862
Large numbers of ox teams were still in use in 1862. Their "road building" in southern Michigan, as I remember it, included the bridging of its swampy places with "corduroy." This was made by cutting logs same length and placing them side by side across the swamp. A thin layer of earth on the logs, and you had a secure crossing, but usually very rough.
The season we were there, we witnessed one of the last migrations of the passenger pigeons. The sky would seem to be covered with pigeons, like grasshoppers in flight in the early days out west.
Cranberry marshes were in evidence everywhere, from which were gathered bushels and bushels of cranberries.
ILLINOIS IN 1855-1863
At this time and on up into the sixties, Illinois had a lot of open prairie. Farm work was done with horses, and farmers used Power Corn Shellers, Reapers, Mowers, Horse Rakes, Threshers, some of them complete, and on trucks. Most horse-powers of that day were staked to the ground and had no trucks. Farming was done in large fields and with polished plows. Corn planters had board wheels and wooden runners. The corn was plowed with "double shovels." One-row cultivators were introduced late in this period.
IOWA IN 1855-1875
In 1855 Iowa history was in the making. The first railway in the state was from Davenport to Iowa City and was completed a few minutes before the end of the year 1855.
Iowa was admitted into the Union in 1846. The seat of the government was changed by the 5th G. A. from Iowa City to Des Moines in 1855, but the moving was not done until two years later. The present constitution of Iowa was ratified in 1857, and by it the State University and State Historical society were permanently located in Iowa City.
Iowa was "Frontier" and mostly a wilderness. No railway reached Des Moines, the capital, until 1867.
In 1855 and for several years afterward, the few settlers in the vicinity of where Villisca now stands, were doing their trading, what little they had, at St. Joseph, the nearest railroad point, or at Collier's store in Hawleyville. The settlement was known as "The Forks." When the railroad survey was made, D.N. Smith, for the Townsite Company, laid off the town and called it VILLISCA. It was several years before there was any town. The railroad came in 1869. From 1854 to 1869, the county seat of Montgomery County was Frankfort. The county seat of Adams County was at Quincy.
The conditions referred to in the foregoing pages touching the several places having special relationship to the subject of this booklet have been mentioned so that comparisons may be made of that day and period back in the fifties, with conditions as they exist in 1940. REMEMBERING that the progress made and these great advancements and improvements that have contributed so much to the development of this great nation and the civilization that we have and enjoy, have come about in "this life span" of 85 years.
PERIOD OF 1855 TO 1860 - NORTH-SOUTH
During this period the split between the "North and South" was continually growing wider, socially, economically, and politically. The government at Washington was almost entirely in the hands of Southern men. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, the open rupture soon followed. The government found armed resistance in the south and the country stood face to face with CIVIL WAR.
PERIOD OF 1860 TO 1865 - CIVIL WAR
I remember well the principal events of the period of the Civil War. In 1860, I attended school in the near-by village of Merchantville. In the Lincoln campaign that fall, a rally was held in connection with which there was to be a "Pole Raising" near the edge of the schoolhouse grounds. When the pole was part way up, the ropes gave way and the pole crashed to the ground. They came back another day with better equipment and a longer pole and had a successful "Raising."
I remember hearing Mother read the newspaper account of the "Firing on Fort Sumpter," and its surrender. I remember the recruiting activities, the fife and drum, the marching and the enlisting of the "volunteers."
It was my privilege, for which I have never ceased being thankful, to visit, with Mother, in 1862, our soldiers at Elmira, just before the regiment, in their new blue uniforms, started south, so many of them never to return, and many who did return, maimed for life. Among the boys in the company recruited in our neighborhood, Mother had a brother and other relatives and friends, so all through the early fighting, these boys were followed with special interest and the printed lists of casualties were read off after each engagement.
Many features of the Elmira visit were firmly fixed in my memory. The level parade ground and the drilling, the "mess" halls, the camp, the guards with bayoneted guns, and the general activities of the encampment. Especially do I remember the "Soldier Caps" the soldiers wore. My school books of that time were decorated with drawings of these "caps" on almost every page.
Years afterward, when a member of a commission of the 30th G.A. of Iowa, investigating "Reformatories," we visited Elmira, the home of the well-known Elmira System. On request, there was pointed out to me the location of the soldiers' rendezvous of '62. I found it hard to reconcile this picture of cottages and homes of a people at peace with the "war-spirited" picture held in memory.
With one or two exceptions, we pass over the historical incidents and experiences of the Civil War. In the Lincoln campaign of '64, a great rally and a "torchlight" procession at night was held at Princeton, Illinois. I have seen other processions and pictures of such processions, but none more spectacular than this one at Princeton. Main Street, a mile from depot to courthouse, was filled full length and width with one blaze of light. Interspersed were floats and banners expressing the attitude of a northern community toward President and the war. The attitude of an individual was often far different from that of the community. In April 1865, a man came riding along on horseback. He was well known and of good family. His two brothers were cavalrymen in the Union army. He announced the assassination of Lincoln, and soon in the conversation expressed his approval. He knew father well enough to know that it was safer for him to "move on." There was a race of a few rods to the end of the hedge-row, that separated the field from the highway. He was on horseback and won!
PERIOD OF 1855 TO 1875
We lived four miles southwest of Walnut, Illinois. Our school was nearly two miles away, across the fields to the road skirting the Green River Swamps. Here was a civil, well-behaved community, but backward in some ways. Trapping muskrats and hunting was part of their business. Most of the men could play the "fiddle" and "call out the dances." The school nearly wore out our geographies looking at the pictures. Geography had not been taught at that school. They excelled in the "3-R's," and were the best spellers of any school in the country. The recess period at the spelling schools was often given over to wrestling matches. Our "Bowen" boys usually won.
It so happened that this school had a splendid teacher, several winters in succession, who gave me a good start in getting ready for high school.
In 1871, father had carpenter work away from home. I raised a 20-acre crop of corn, and went nearly two miles to a summer school in another district, across a 1100-acre pasture stocked with Texas long-horn steers.
That fall, along with two neighbor boys, I went to a private school at Princeton, eighteen miles away. We "batched it." The others finally dropped out. I stuck! Those were eventful and happy days! T soon changed from the private school to the Princeton High School. We used Scott's 'Lady of the Lake' as our text in classes in English that fall. It became one of the desires of my life to visit the scenes of the events mentioned in that and other Scott poems. This desire was realized in our European trip of 1929.
The Great Chicago Fire occurred in the fall of 1871. I remember the heavy pall of smoke that hung over Princeton - 105 miles away.
SCHOOL TEACHER AT EIGHTEEN
My first experience in teaching was in finishing a school in which the teacher had failed and quit at the end of one month. They sent for me on Saturday. I commenced on Monday and taught that week without a certificate. I succeeded there that week without a certificate. I succeeded there so well that the other end of this divided district gave me $200 for teaching the old "Ridge School" four months the next winter.
We sold out and moved to Iowa the following spring. Before moving, Father and an uncle and I came out to Iowa to see the country. We bought railroad land near Guss, a poor buy. On our way back to Illinois, Uncle and I took the evening train east and met the west bound passenger train between Tyrone and Albia in a head-on collision. The accident occurred in a cut, on a curve, and timber on both sides of the track so that the trains were going almost full speed. One engine was out of sight beneath the wreckage of mail and baggage cars, and the other one rested on top of the wreckage. Most of the passenger cars stayed on the track so that no passengers were killed.
I closed up our affairs at the old home, sold the stock we could not move, loaded a car with stock and household goods and came through with it to Villisca, where we unloaded.
When we arrived here, spring of 1875, the railroad company was building the viaduct under the tracks on lower 3rd avenue. Several business houses, including the Banes & Waterman store building, and the Stoddard Lumber Office were moved over from 4th avenue to 3rd avenue which now became the principal business street of the town.
A temporary undercrossing was provided for teams under a trussell two blocks west of the passenger depot.
There was no fence around the public square, no trees and no wells. The fence, trees, and three wells came later.
THE FIRE FIGHTING
Equipment consisted of a large tub on four wheels, and a large man-power pump, equipped with handles like a hand car, so that several men could help force the water upon the fire.
PERIOD OF 1875-1900 IN IOWA
We came to Iowa the spring of 1875. I was present at the first burial, Mrs. Murphy, in the Guss cemetery.
We had grasshoppers that year, for one day only. They were numerous enough to destroy fields of corn in some places. I broke prairie that summer and expected to teach my old school in Illinois that winter. I was writing a letter accepting the offer when R.V. Kelly walked in and offered me the unfinished fall term and the winter school in our own district--Fairview. A teacher had commenced the fall school, but was unable to manage the youngsters. I accepted the Kelly offer and stayed in Iowa. We had a big school that winter, and a good time. It ended the next spring with one of the best country school exhibitions I ever saw. The whole school district helped. Among the activities of the neighborhood that winter, was a lyceum and debating society, maintained at our school house. Old timers counted it the best they had ever seen in a country place. Here is a list of some of the neighbors and friends there in 1875, who contributed to the success of these enterprises: R.V. Kelly, John Reeves, D.H. Gillmore, J.T. Combs, N. R. Fuller, the Wm. Moats family, J.T. Andrew, Fletch Brown, James Gale, R. Skinner, Vint Stephens, C.P. Rose, and Chas. Curtis. Of those outside the neighborhood, or who came later, I remember John Howlett, Beech MaAlpin, Geo. Dennis, H.B. Moats, and C.P. Kimpton. All these mentioned and others helped make up the crowd that gave me personal backing as a teacher and a bookkeeper, and that furnished the patronage that assured me success in business.
I taught several other terms at Fairview and a few at other places. I taught the upstairs room in the old brick schoolhouse in Hawleyville, and then attended the Institute at College Springs, when the first brick schoolhouse in Clarinda was being built. I taught the Brooks school in 1878 and 1879, and again the fall and winter terms in 1881, where my career as a school teacher closed the spring of 1882.
At a school exhibition about 1877 in the old Guss schoolhouse then standing on the corner just south of the Guss Home, H. B. Moats was on the program for a solo. He was the singing school teacher of the neighborhood. I was presiding at the organ. We soon got into a controversy. He could not sing with that sort of playing, and I could not play for that sort of singing. We started over again two or three times. He claimed there was but one beat in the measure. I insisted on there being two and suggested that he might know how to sing, but certainly he couldn't count. The audience was surprised that we would get into a quarrel, especially at a place like that. At that juncture, Harvey produced a "measure," poured the contents out on the table and sure enough, there was only ONE "BEET" in the measure. It was pronounced the best "sellout" of the season. N.R. Fuller hitched his team to the fence and came over to where I was working to talk about it the next day.
Some time in 1877, Geo. F. Root, the noted composer and singer of Chicago, held a musical convention in Clarinda, which I attended. Clarinda entertained the delegates. I was entertained at the home of Wm. Butler.
This online version of Reminiscences is ©2000, Fourth Wall Films. All Rights Reserved.
No reproduction, duplication, presentation, display, or any use beyond personal reference is permitted under any circumstances without the prior written permission from Fourth Wall Films.
Purchase a bound facsimile of the original Reminiscences
e.mail / Reminiscences Index / The Mystery / Main Menu
Website design and all content including text, art, and photographs ©2000, Fourth Wall Films. All Rights Reserved.