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History of Guthrie and
Adair Counties, Iowa, 1884

Adair - xx.


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Chapter VII.


In this chapter are given the reminiscences of the old settlers, the stories and incidents in the olden time, and all those anecdotes of various kinds that are of interest to the reader, in connection with the history of the county.  In the cases where they have been written for us by others, the compiler has in no case altered them but inserted them just as they were handed to us.  The expression of an individual as shown in the writing are sometimes as good an index to character and peculiarities as much as the painting or engraving.  These incidents are interesting and well worthy of perusal.

James Gow, the editor of the Reporter, has written up some very interesting reminiscences of early days in the columns of his paper containing facts gathered by himself from the old settlers, which he has kindly placed at our disposal.  From them we quote the following:

Reminiscences of Early Times in Fontanelle.

Every person in the West understands the great danger in being overtaken by snow-storms in thinly settled country, where the ordinary land marks of the more thickly settled regions --- houses, barns, fences, groves and cultivated lands --- are found only at long intervals.

There have been several such cases attended with fatal results in Adair county, but the most interesting case of the kind, although not attended with serious consequences, occurred in the town of Fontanelle, in the winter of 1850.  The town in question, at the time referred to, was very thinly settled, the number of houses not exceeding twenty, perhaps, and placed at long distances from each other.

The block north of the present public square is block sixteen, and near its southeast corner stood the public house kept by J. C. Gibbs, and is the same block, a few feet west of Mr. Gibbs' residence, was the dwelling of Cal Ballard.  Near the northwest corner of block twenty, which lies immediately west of the public square, was a store, originally built by J. K. Valentine, but at the time referred to, used by Mr. Ballard as a store-room.  The public square at that time was treeless and unenclosed, and a liberty pole stood in its center.

On the site of the present residence of E. H. Fuller (this was written in 1873), D. Mulford Valentine, now chief justice of Kansas lived, and the lots being then unfenced, he had his stable near the spot where Isaac Cade's stable afterward stood.

Col. Nichols at that time lived in the residence afterward occupied by Mr. Drake, about a quarter of a mile from Ballard's store.  Mr. Gibbs' hotel was about eighty yards from the store.

On the afternoon of a cold winter day, A. B. Smith, now of Winterset, James Minert, of Eureka township, Joe Clary, now in Washington territory, J. S. Ellis, Marion Ammon, and Colonel Nichols, and several others, dropped into the store of Mr. Ballard, and whiled the afternoon away in conversation, jokes and story-telling.  In the middle of the afternoon, the breeze from the northeast that had been blowing all day, grew into a heavy storm, accompanied with snow.  The wind and snow had become so dense as to darken the air, and as no business could be done, Mr. Ballard proceeded to close his store.  The mud and snow beating with great force on his front door, which faced the east, made it necessary that the company should retire through the back door on the west end of the building.  The company, including Mr. Ballard, left the building together, and all but Nichols proceeded in the direction of Gibbs' hotel, where most of them boarded.

Having to face a cutting wind and a blinding snow, that prevented one's seeing an object, even at a distance of a few feet, they had proceeded but a few steps when they became separated, and realized that they were lost and helpless.  This conviction to which was added the sufferings of several of them who lost their hats or scarfs which had been carried away by the wind, induced a fright which took away their presence of mind.  They at once began calling to each other for help, and were finally rallied around the liberty-pole in the center of the public square, by one who happened to reach it first.

When once congregated here, various plans were suggested of reaching Mr. Gibbs, which they knew to be distant not more than fifty yards, among others, the plan of separating short distances, within sight of each other, and swinging round the pole, but the panic they had already experienced prevented this or any other plan from being adopted.

In the meantime, Joe Clary and two or three others had succeeded in retracing their steps to Ballard's store, and breaking in a window, entered the building, where they remained all night, suffering considerably with the cold.

A. B. Smith had, however, retained his presence of mind, and being able to keep the location of the various houses, took charge of the party.  He first took Ballard to his residence, a few yards form the pole.  Mr. Ballard was so bewildered that when he reached his home he failed to recognize it, and was only convinced when Mr. Smith, opening the door, pushed him int o the house.  Mr. Smith, then taking charge of Colonel Nichols, whose house was a fourth of a mile distant, safely piloted him home.

On his return from this duty, he came across D. M. Valentine.  On the approach of evening this gentleman had left his house to go to his stable, whose situation has been described.  In going the distance of eighty yards he had lost his direction and could not find the stable or regain his house, and had wandered off in the face of the storm, about a half a mile from his residence, and would probably have perished but for the timely assistance of Mr. Smith, who conducted him home.  After all the party were safely housed, except Clary and his companions, who had found their way back to the store, Mr. Smith hunted them up, but they were fearful of entrusting themselves to his guidance, preferring to remain where they were for the night.

The rich, rolling lands of Western Iowa less than a half century ago supported immense herds of buffalo, deer and elk.  the first of these to disappear was the buffalo, for within the recollection of the earliest settlers none of these ruminants were found in Adair county when they came here.

It is generally believed that the last wapiti, or so-called elk, was killed in Adair county by John Louck, in the winter of 1856.  The facts as given the Reporter by George B. Wilson, are as follows:  The elk was discovered by Mr. Louck in Mr. Wilson's corn field.  There had been a heavy fall of snow, which had become coated with a heavy crust.  Pursuit was made by Messrs. Wilson, Louck and P. Glunt, and "after an exciting chase of two hours, during which time much powder was burned, and the elk lost much blood in consequence of the crust lacerating its legs, the game was finally brought down by Mr. Louck, which went far toward establishing his reputation as a marksman, from the fact that he never uses the hind sights, and shuts both eyes when he pulls the trigger."  The elk was very poor, and exceedingly tough.

The privations (page 833)



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