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History of Cedar
County, Iowa, 1878.

  
 

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The Spring Freshet of 1837.

The deep snow of the Winter of 1836-7, with the Spring rains, caused a freshet the like of which has seldom, if ever, been equaled in the country.  The banks of all the streams were overflowed, and the prairies were flooded.  When occasion required the settlers to go from one cabin to another, they were obliged to cross the streams that happened to run between.  If the occasion of the visit was not too pressing, it was deferred until the waters subsided.  If of a pressing nature, they must either swim across or head the source of the stream by going around.  The last alternative involved a jaunt of many miles.  At one time, in the Spring of 1837, Washington A. Rigby and Chesman, son of James M. Oaks, with whom Rigby boarded, were engaged in cutting house logs on the opposite side of Rock Creek from the Oaks cabin.  When they crossed the creek in the morning, going to work, the water was at an ordinary stage, and they had o apprehensions of a rise.  Their work was some distance away from the creek, entirely out of sight of it, and they worked away until about 5 in the evening, never dreaming that Rock Creek was rapidly becoming a sea, overspreading its banks, and completely flooding the low lands on either side.  When the shades of evening began to fall, they started for home and were surprised to find themselves entirely cut off from the foot log on which they crossed to their work in the morning.  The creek was a roaring, maddened torrent.  There was but one alternative presented, and that was to head the stream, or at least follow it up until they could find a place sufficiently shallow to allow them to wade it.  This, however, proved a long and a weary undertaking.  On and on they went, in the midst of darkness and water.  Rigby cut a small staff with which to feel the depth of the water as they plodded along.    The night was cold, and the water began to chill and cover with mush ice.   The boy became chill and numb, and it was with the utmost difficulty that Mr. Rigby could keep him moving.  Artifice, persuasion and threats were used in turn.   Tired, hungry, cold, discouraged, despondent, the boy dragged himself until at last they found a place where the water was so shallow they could wade across, when they turned their course and headed toward home, and reached the Oaks' cabin a little after midnight, having traveled about twenty-five miles, the most of the distance through water knee deep.   Mr. Oaks was absent from home at the time, and Rigby and his boy companion appeared to Mrs. Oaks, who had not gone to bed, more like persons risen from the dead than living beings, as she had confidently believed they had been drowned.  When she noticed the creek beginning to rise in the morning, she went to the bank and tried to alarm Rigby and her son, but her voice failed to reach them.  The creek rose rapidly, her fears increased with the rise of the flood, and when darkness set in she gave up all hope of ever seeing them again, at least until their bodies should be found after the flood had gone down.   Neither Rigby nor the boy experienced any serious consequences form their watery tramp, but it was an occasion that has never been forgotten.

The opening of the Spring of 1837 was the temporal salvation of the settlers of the year previous.  To no people, in any part of the country, was the melting away of the ice and snows of Winter, the subsidence of floods, the return of birds, the blooming of flowers, and the genial smile of the sun, ever more welcome or received with greater joy than was that Spring to the pioneers who commenced the settlement of that part of Iowa whose history we are writing.  When the frosted king retreated north, hope revived, and the languishing spirits of the people were reanimated.  With the rigid experience of the "reign of terror" fresh in memory, they set about preparing for the coming Winter with a zeal that plainly evinced their determination to never again be subjected to similar trials and exposures.

With the coming of the Spring and Summer months of 1837 there came a general rush of immigrants, and ere the first snows of the Winter fell the whole of the timbered sections of the county were interspersed with cabins and settlers.  A large part of the lands bearing timber, and the smaller groves, were claimed, if not occupied, while the prairie, for the most part, was left untouched and unsought.  The prairie land was regarded as worthless for purposes of agriculture, and considered as a useless waste.  There were hundreds of men who honestly believed it would never by occupied.  If any of the settlers of 1836 and 1837 had located a claim out on the prairie, he would have been regarded as extremely visionary, if not absolutely crazy.  As a rule, the prairies were left undisturbed until about 1850, when they began to be occupied, and at the close of 1854 not a single acre was left as belonging to the Government.  "But," says R. L. R., in the Cedar Post, April, 1872, "the peopling of the county cannot be said to have been completed until quite recently; and it may be safely stated that Cedar County was thirty years in settling."

Bogus Claimants -- Claim Rings -- Pioneer Iconoclasts.

"As the country began to develop and the demand for cabins began to be active, land sharks of various descriptions began to harass the people with their schemes of exorbitant rapacity and extortionate speculations.  Early in the county's history, a ring of mercenary characters, anticipating immigration, claimed all the untaken groves and wooded tracts in the county, and when an actual settler -- one who wanted land for a home and immediate occupancy and settled on a portion of the land rings' domain, he was immediately set upon by the bloodhounds, and it was demanded of him that he either abandon the claim or pay them for what they maintained was their right.  If the settler expressed doubts of their having previously claimed their site, the 'ring' always had one or more witnesses at hand to testify to the validity of the interest they asserted.    The result was nearly always the same.  The settlers, more to avoid difficulty than from any other reason, would purchase their pretended right for forty, fifty or one hundred dollars, more or less, according to value, after which the ring was ready for operation in some other locality.

"When one of the number had collected fees for original possession over a considerable area, and come to be known and suspected, he would change fields of operation with a confederate at some distance, and thus guard against arousing public indignation and resentment.  These outrageous impositions upon the settlers who came to find homes at last became unbearable, and the pioneers resolved they would tolerate them no longer, and mutual protection leagues were formed which effectually resisted the plans and practices of these sharks and bogus land claimants.  They were enemies to the settlers and to public economy and hindered and crippled the growth and development of the country."

Greedy, conscienceless, unscrupulous speculators and capitalists formed another combination that was only one degree removed from the bogus claim thieves and claim jumpers, that plundered and terrorized over the honest, industrious settlers.  Only that they possessed money and more the garb of respectability were they different from the other class.  In fact, they were the worst and most to feared and dreaded, just as the modern savings bank manager, who, under cover of respectability and the authority and protection of law, robs and plunders men, women and children -- helpless widows and orphans -- without remorse or compunctions of conscience is more to be feared, dreaded and despised than the highwayman, who, without any claims to respectability and outside of all law commands one to "stand and deliver."

At the general land sales at Dubuque, in the Spring of 1840, speculators, although present in force, were awed into silence, subjection and non-interference by the presence, in large numbers of pioneer citizens, with their rifles and revolvers, and had any of the speculators presumed to bid against an actual claim occupant he would have paid the penalty with his life.  The men who pioneered the way to the timbered sections and prairie slopes of Cedar County possessed courage and resolution, and, coming here to secure and found homes, they were ready to defend them at the peril of their lives.    In defending their homes and driving from their midst the ring of claim thieves and defeating the purposes of the ring of capitalists who attended the Dubuque land sales, the pioneers proved themselves iconoclasts with whom it were madness to trifle.  They broke the "rings," secured their homes and their industry has made the forest and prairie wilderness blossom with the rose.

Government Survey -- Centerville -- First Store, etc.

In the Spring of 1837, township lines were established by the Government surveyors.    Soon thereafter John C. Higginson and John Sheller built a cabin on the southeast corner of the farm now belonging to the heirs of Gibson Agnew, in Sugar Creek Township, opened a store and named the place Centerville.

This was the first store opened in the county and the first opportunity offered the settlers for obtaining family supplies nearer than the trading places on the Mississippi River at Rockingham or Mouth of Pine.  This firm supplied the community with the ordinary necessaries of life until other trading places were commenced in more favored localities, and then Centerville's glory departed.

The old store building is owned by Mrs. Rice, and is occupied by her as a residence.

An Indian Relic.

A short distance south of Centreville, and not far from where the Bethel M. E. Church now stands, the first settlers found a cedar pole about twenty-five feet in length, which it is said the Indians planted there to mark the spot where a party of their warriors had raised the white flag and surrendered to the Long Knives (by which name they called the U. S. Cavalry) in the Black Hawk war of 1832.  The pioneers utilized that Indian relic by cutting it down and making it into pitchfork handles.

Society, Churches, Schools, etc.

Rough and rude though their surroundings may have been, the pioneers were none the less honest, sincere, hospitable and kind in their social relations.  It is true, as a rule, that there is a greater degree of real humanity among pioneers of any country than there is when the country becomes older and richer.  If there is an absence of refinement, that absence is more than compensated for in the presence of generous hearts and truthful lives.  They are bold, courageous, industrious, enterprising and energetic.  Generally speaking, they are earnest thinkers and possessed of a diversified fund of useful, practical information.  They are void of hypocrisy themselves and despise it in others.  They hate cowardice and shams of every kind, and above all things, falsehood and deception, and maintain and cultivate a sterling integrity and fixedness of purpose that seldom permits them to prostitute themselves to any narrow policy of imposture or artifice.

Such were the characteristics of the men and women who pioneered the way to the country of the Cedar.  Those who visited them in their cabins, in a social capacity, or settled among them as real occupants of the soil, were always welcome as long as they proved themselves true men or women.  The stranger who came among them and claimed shelter, food and a place to sleep, was made as welcome as one of the household.  To tender them pay in return for their hospitality, was only to insult the better feelings of their nature.  If a neighbor fell sick and needed care and attention, the whole neighborhood was interested.  If a cabin was to be raised, every man "turned out," and oftentimes the women, too, and while the men piled up the logs that fashioned the primitive dwelling place, the women prepared the dinner.  Sometimes it was cooked by camp fires at the site where the cabin was building.  In other cases, the meal was prepared at a cabin near by, and at the proper hour was carried to where the men were at work.  If one neighbor killed a beef, a pig, or a deer, every other family in the neighborhood was sure to receive a piece of it, and a welcome remembrance it often proved.  One of the few remaining pioneer settlers of 1836-7 remarked:    "In those days we were neighborly in a true sense.  We were all on an equality.  Aristocratic feelings were unknown and would not have been tolerated.  What one had, we all had, and that was the happiest period of my life.  But to-day, if you lean against a neighbor's shade tree, he will charge you for it.  If you are poor and happen to fall sick, you may lie and suffer almost unattended or go to the poor house, and just as like as not the man who would report you to the authorities as a subject of county care, would charge the county for making the report."  This declaration was made, no because the facts exist as he put them, but to show the contrast between the feeling and practices of the pioneers of forty years ago, and the people of the present.

A Preacher in the Wilderness.

You raised these hallowed walls; the desert smiled,
And paradise was opened in these wilds. -- Pope.

In the latter part of June, 1837, Rev. Daniel Cartwright, a nephew of the late well-known and highly esteemed Peter Cartwright, preached the first Methodist sermon delivered in the county.  The cabin of Col. Henry Hardman, on the same spot where the Colonel now lives, in Rochester Township, was improvised as a meeting house.  There were not more than twenty persons present, and they were there without regard to fashion or display.  The preacher occupied a place behind a common candle stand, in one corner of the room.  There was neither organ nor organized choir to add vocal melody to the occasion.  The preacher gave out the hymn, two lines at a time, something after the following manner:

Before Jehovah's awful throne,
Ye nations bow with sacred joy; --

then, raising his voice, the preacher led in singing.  When these two lines were rendered, he lined the next two:

Know that the Lord is God alone,
He can create, and He destroy: --

and resuming the last measure of the tune, completed the stanza, and so on, to the end of the hymn.

At this meeting, the seeds of Methodism were planted in Cedar County; the planting, carefully and industriously cultivated, ripened into the fullness of a plentiful harvest.

A month later, a class was formed at the cabin of Col. Henry Hardman, under the direction of Rev. Chauncey Hobart, who, after Cartright's first sermon, was sent by the Rock River (Illinois) M. E. Conference to preach regularly in the neighborhood.

The following named persons made up the first Methodist class as organized at Col. Hardman's:  Henry Hardman and wife, Mary, and Cynthia, their daughter; Daniel Hare and wife, and their daughter, Phoebe, and H. D. Brown -- seven persons in all.    Washington A. Rigby, ------ Forte and William Wilkinson united with the class soon after its organization, increasing the number to ten persons.  H. D. Brown was the first class leader.  This class was the organized beginning of Methodism in Cedar County, the influence of which grew and spread with the growth of the settlements.

The first Quarterly Meeting was held at Col. Hardman's residence, about the 1st of September, 1837 -- Elder Henry Summers, of Knoxville, Knox Co., Ill., officiating.

The Methodists of the county now maintain eight regular Pastors, and probably number as many thousands as they did individuals when the first class was organized, in 1837.

Of the pioneer representatives of Methodism names above, Rev. Chauncey Hobart subsequently removed to Minnesota, where he was still living at the last authentic report.    Mary Hardman died September 15, 1852, universally lamented by all who enjoyed her acquaintance.  Cyntha Hardman died April 12, 1867.  Daniel Hare died in 1852; his wife, Sarah, died a few years later; H. D. Brown resides in Tipton.   Washington A. Rigby resides at Stanwood.  ------ Forte and William Wilkinson are both dead.

Six of that little class of ten members, organized at the cabin of Col. Hardman, in the Summer of 1837, have gone

Where the saints of all ages in harmony meet
Their savior and brethren transported to greet;
While the anthems of rapture unceasingly roll,
And the smile of the Lord is the life of the soul.

The remaining members of that first class -- Col. Henry Hardman, H. D. Brown, Washington A. Rigby and Phoebe Hare Edwards -- have all passed the meridian of life, and, in the very nature of things, are nearing that bourne from which there is no turning back.   But their lives have been full of usefullness, and "their works will live after them."

"Teaching the Young Idea how to Shoot."

When the settlers came to the wilds of the "Forty Mile Strip," they brought with them that love of education which seems to be a part of every true American; and as early as the Fall of 1837, they made arrangements for a school for the Winter of that year.  There was no school house, as a matter of course, nor school districts, nor school money.  Educational affairs were in chaos -- without form or organization -- and the pioneer fathers were left to their own resources and management.  Col. Hardman, with that liberality that has always made him conspicuous in public affairs, tendered the use of a part of his house for a school house, as he had previously given it for the use of religious meetings, and as he afterward gave it for other public uses.    A subscription paper was started in the neighborhood, and liberally signed.    Moses B. Church was employed as teacher, and the school was commenced.   Mr. Church possessed a classical education, being a graduate of one of the Eastern colleges, and, in an educational point of view, well qualified for the duties of teacher.

The school was attended by about twenty scholars, and was continued three months.    The teacher was not very particular about the kind of books, other than as to the character of their contents; and, perhaps, even if he had been somewhat imperious and exacting in this regard, it would have been a waste of desire to arrange his scholars in classes to economize time and labor, for there is a probability that the parents had not the means to buy such books as were necessary to the formation of classes.  They used such books as they had, teachers, pupils and parents bowing in submission to circumstances and exigencies that surrounded them, and glad to have a school if every individual scholar had a different book.  The principal books used in that first school were the English Reader (the best reader ever used in American schools), Daboll's arithmetic, Kirkham's grammar (the author of which fell a victim to intemperance and died in a state of intoxication in a Cincinnati still house) and Webster's elementary spelling book; hence, the course of study was orthography, reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar and geography.

Orthography was the first great principle of education, for the people in those days were of opinion that no one could ever become a good reader or a good scholar unless he were a good speller, and, as a consequence, children who were ambitious to become good scholars and noted and honorable men and women, were ambitious to become good spellers; and no higher honor could be bestowed upon a girl or boy than to say they were the best spellers in the neighborhood.  Spelling schools, or spelling matches -- who of us don't remember them? -- were frequent.  But why distress old fogy minds by recalling those happy days, when they used to meet at the old log school houses, choose their captains (the best spellers), who would toss up the "master's ruler" for "first choice," and then "choose up" their lieutenants, commencing with the ones they regarded as the best spellers, and so on till all the boys and girls were arranged on benches on opposite sides of the house?  Then the fun commenced.    The "master" "gave out" the words from side to side.   How quick a "missed" word would be caught up!  Those were happy days, and days that are sacred in the memory of the gray-haired fathers and mothers who took part in their exercises.  It would be a pleasing reflection to them if their children, their children's children and the children of their neighbors were permitted by the modern system of education to indulge in the same kind of old-fashioned orthographical exercises.

The school system of the spelling school period, and even up until within a few years ago, in many localities, was fully described in the backwoods vernacular of "Pete Jones," in Eggleston's Hoosier School Master, "lickin' and larnin'" -- the "lickin'" being the indispensable requisite.  The perfect or ideal teacher of those days was a man of strong muscular development, with an imperious frown, a sonorous voice charged with terror, punctual in bringing "hickories" into the school room, and endowed with a liberal disposition to frequently use them as back applications.

The first house erected for the exclusive use of school purposes was built by the people of the Hardman neighborhood, about half a mile a little north of west of Col. Hardman's residence.  In the same district of country that that rude structure accommodated as a school house, there are, probably, in 1878, half a dozen neat, tasty, white frame school houses.

 

 
 

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