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History of Cedar
County, Iowa, 1878.

  
 

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The First Singing School.

In those days, a neighborhood covered an area of twenty miles square, and the people -- men and women, young men and maidens -- did not hesitate to go that far visiting, to church or to singing school.  As already stated, the first sermon preached in the county was preached at Col. Hardman's residence, and the first Methodist Episcopal class was also organized there.  That pioneer cabin was a kind of general center, and its "latch string" was always out, whether to visiting neighbors, the wayworn traveler or to people who came together in a public capacity -- religious, political or judicial.  Its owner was recognized as a factotum, and his services were always in demand in some capacity.

In the Fall of 1838, the young people of the neighborhood prevailed upon Col. Hardman to open a "singing school," that they might have an opportunity of cultivating their vocal abilities.  He yielded to their solicitations, and turned his cabin into a music hall.  The books in use at that time were known as the Missouri Harmony, and once a week the young people came from their homes in every direction to "take music lessons."  This school was kept up for four years, during which time his scholars became very adept readers of "buckwheat" notes, and in the use of their voices.  Neither the boys nor the girls were afraid to open their mouths, and when they undertook to render old Pisgah, New Topia, Coronation, Windham, Easter Anthem, Greenfelds, or any other of the old time favorites, they awoke the forest echoes, and awed or shamed into silence the birds that sang in the adjacent groves.

A Primitive Mill.

The first mill was a curiosity, and was so unique, as well as simple, in its machinery and construction that a brief description of it will not be considered out of place.    Its plan originated in the mechanical brain of Aaron Porter, and his hands fashioned and set it in motion.  The pioneers of 1836, after erecting their cabins, made preparations for sowing and planting in the Spring of 1837, and during that season many of them raised corn and buckwheat sufficient to supply their families; but without a mill, the grain was comparatively useless, and knowing and appreciating the mechanical ingenuity of Mr. Porter, the pioneers prevailed upon him to construct a mill, of some description, to supply their needs.  After pondering over the situation and necessities for a time, Mr. Porter went to work.  The prairies and forest furnished the material.  Going to the prairie, he selected two boulders for the "upper and nether mill stones."  These stones were about ten inches in diameter, the surfaces of which were dressed down to suit the purpose for which they were to be applied.    One of these stones was fastened to the floor of his cabin.  A hole or eye was drilled through the center of the other one, which was so adjusted as to revolve upon the other from a pivotal center.  An upright shaft completed the machinery.   One end of this shaft was fixed in the upper side of the upper mill stone, and the other end was fitted, gudgeon fashion, in the ceiling or joist above.  The power was derived from this shaft, which was operated by two men, one using his right hand and the other his left one.  With their other hands they fed the mill.  It was a rude, primitive concern, but it served its purpose, and its construction was looked upon by the people whom it was intended to benefit and accommodate as a great and convenient accomplishment, and was called the "Little Savior."  It did not grind very fine, but it was a little ahead of a coffee mill in speed.  The meal or flour it turned out was not bolted, for Mr. Porter did not attach a bolting apparatus.  The only refining process to which the productions of Porter's mill were subjected was a wire sieve, and then it was ready for bread; and many choice buckwheat cakes and many a relishable "johnny cake" was baked from flour and meal ground at Porter's "Little Savior" Mills.  They were always busy, till the time came when other and better mills were erected in accessible localities.  Many and many a bushel of grain was carried to them on the backs of the settlers.  They generally went to mill in couples, and helped each other to grind their respective "grists."   No "toll" was exacted -- no charge made for the use of the mill.  It was built for the accommodation of the settlers, and was an accommodation that was highly appreciated.   Before it was ready for operation, common tin graters were frequently used to reduce corn to coarse meal.  Sometimes a coffee mill was brought into requisition, and sometimes corn was pounded into meal.  Men used to spend the evenings from the time suppers were over till bed time in grinding (in a coffee mill), grating or pounding corn into meal for the next morning's breakfast.  It made coarse but wholesome food, and the fathers, mothers and children of 1837-8 were much stronger, far more active and athletic, and capable of greater physical endurance than are the people of 1878.   Pioneer days in Cedar County were days of hardship, often of exposure, but their trials served to develop the true manhood and womanhood of the settlers.

The next attempt at mill building was made by Messrs. John Ferguson, Charles Dallas and William Coutts, on Rock Creek, on land then belonging to William Coutts, but now owned by William Rickard, and not far from the residence of John Ferguson.  This mill was commenced and completed in the Fall of 1837, Mr. Coutts selling his interest about the time the mill was completed.  The mill house was sixteen by sixteen feet, one story high, built of round logs.  The projectors and builders did not have time to hew the logs.  The people of the neighborhood were out of bread.  Porter's hand mill could not supply the demand, and coffee mills and graters were wearing out.  The mill was supplied with one run of stone, which were purchased in Louisa County.    There was no machinery to handle them, and when everything was in readiness, the immediate neighbors came to together, and with strong arms and hand-spikes put them in place.  In a good stage of water, the Red Oak Mill, as it was called, had a capacity of about two bushels per hour.  In the Fall of 1838, and the Winter following, John Safley was the miller.  When corn was ripe enough to grind, the mill was kept busy night and day.  At one time, says Mr. Safley, there were settlers at the mill awaiting their "turns," from Muscatine, Johnson and whit is now Linn County.    During Safley's millership, a settler brought a "grist" of rather green corn to be ground, and was told by the miller that it was too green to grind, and that it would clog the stones.  The man insisted on having it ground at once.   His family was out of bread.  At last Safley turned the corn into the hopped and started the mill.  For a few minutes the meal came out through the spout pretty freely, but the stones soon began to clog, and then the meal came slower and slower.   Safley immediately saw that he would be compelled to lift and cleanse the stones.   His patience was being put to the test.  The settler's patience was also being tried.   His family were at home without bread.  At last his patience gave out, and he "d---d such a mill."  This vexed Safley the more, and the vehemence of his nature got the better of his early Scotch religious training, and he "d----d" back.  "D---n your green corn; d---n your persistence in persuading me to attempt to grind it; d---n your stupid head, and d---d your impertinence for d---ning the only mill in the country.  Now, have your dot d---ning enough?"   The mill was stopped.  The corn was removed from the hopper, and, with the assistance of neighbors and handspikes, the stones were raised and cleansed and put in readiness for the next "grist."

In April, 1838, a terrible freshet occurred in Rock Creek.  The water rose thirteen feet in four hours.  The dam was carried away, the mill foundations washed out, and the mill building was "skewed" around so that the machinery became all awry, and consequently useless until repairs could be made, which were not undertaken until "after harvest."  Then the settlers volunteered and came together and set matters to rights.  In was the "last chance" for their winter's bread.    Everything straightened up and put in "ship shape," the mill was again started, and during that Fall and the following Winter it was kept busy, but during the Spring and Summer of 1840, it was entirely abandoned, in consequence of the almost continued repairs necessary to keep it in running order. 

About the time Mr. Ferguson and his associates commenced building their mill on Rock Creek, Aaron Porter undertook to utilize the water of Crooked Creek, by building a mill on the land now owned by Andrew Wilson.  Mr. Porter made stones for this mill from flint rocks found in the neighborhood.  He also made the boxing for the larger shafts from the same material, and it is said they answered the purpose admirably.

These mills were the first attempts at water machinery in the county.  They were devoted exclusively to grinding corn and buckwheat.  They were not supplied with bolting apparatus, not did they need any, for the settlers had not began to raise wheat -- the first of this cereal, in that immediate neighborhood, being sown by Col. Hardman in the Fall of 1837.  The only refining process to which either corn meal or buckwheat flour was subjected, was a hand sieve.  When the meal or flour passed through that, it was ready for bread or cakes.

When Ferguson's Red Oak Mill or Porter's Crooked Creek Mill got "crooked" and out of order, the settlers sometimes went to mill at Cascade or Canton on the Maquoketa, or to the mill at Mouth of Pine.  On several occasions the mill at Cascade was out of order, and the settlers went from there to the mills on Cat Fish Creek, near Dubuque.    When they went to Mouth of Pine, and found Nye's mill out of order, they crossed the Mississippi to find a mill in Illinois.  At one time, Prior Scott, one of the first settlers at Pioneer Grove, went to mill at Canton, in Fulton County, Illinois, a distance of eighty miles.  The trip occupied three weeks.

In the early days when mills and markets were few and far between, the settlers, when they began to have a surplus of pork, would take part of a load of grain and part of a load of pork, and start for the nearest market with a mill.  Such trips were frequently made to Dubuque, Galena, and even as far as Peoria.  One dollar and fifty cents per hundred was the prevailing price for pork.  When $2 per hundred could be had, the pioneers thought they were "making money."

The coming of the year 1838 signalized a new era in the history of Cedar County.    From the time the first settlements were made in 1836, until the crops were harvested in the Fall of 1838, the settlers had been engaged in one continued struggle against want, in fighting the wolf from their cabin doors.  Most of the pioneers brought but little means to the country with them, and as a consequence they had to depend upon their native tact and strong arms to "make both ends meet," and it was with difficulty they did even that much.  But the crops of 1837 left their ground in good condition for 1838, and "mother earth" yielded handsome returns -- enough to support the old settlers -- that is, those who came in 1836 and 1837, and some to spare to those who came in 1838.  The worst was over, the "ice was broken," and the people began to find time for the discussion of political questions.    Previous to this time, the pioneers were too busy providing against want to "talk politics," and, as a consequence, their friendships were not alienated because of political differences or sectional issues.  The time did come, however, when questions arose that divided the people and led to estrangements that required many years to pacify.  Of these estrangements and their causes, more in another chapter.

Legal Jurisdiction.

Previous to 1838, there was no judicial officer within the limits of the county.    Up to that time the people were a law unto themselves.  There was neither suing or being sued -- the laws of honor obtaining among the pioneers in all their business transactions.

In January, 1838, while the territory of the county was still subject to Dubuque County, Henry Hardman, John Blalock and George McCoy were appointed Justices of the Peace.    Henry Hardman preserved his commission, which was in the words following:

HENRY DODGE,
Governor of the Territory of Wisconsin.

To all to whom these presents may come, greeting, Know ye, That reposing special trust and confidence in the integrity and ability of Henry Hardman, I have nominated and by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council, appointed him Justice of the Peace for the county of Cedar.  And I do hereby authorize and empower him to execute and fulfill the duties of that office according to law.  To have and to hold the said office, with all its rights, privileges thereunto belonging, for the term of three years from the date hereof, unless the Governor of the said Territory for the time being, should think proper to revoke and determine this commission.

In testimony whereof, I have caused these letters to be made patent, and the great seal of the Territory to be hereto affixed.  Given under my hand at Burlington, this third day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the sixty-second.

(Signed)       Henry Dodge     

By the Governor,
    W. B. Slaughter, Secretary Wisconsin Territory.

By reason of Col. Hardman's general popularity and the central location of his residence, it is reasonable to suppose that the first judicial entries in the county were entered on his docket.  Under the laws that have always prevailed in Iowa, both as a Territory and as a State, Justices' dockets are transmitted from Justice to Justice.    For instance:  Justice Hardman turned over his docket to his successor.    That Justice, at the end of his term of service, turned over his own and his predecessor's docket to his successor, and so on, down to the present.

An effort was made by the writer to find Col. Hardman's old docket, but the effort was not crowned with success.  The Colonel was of the opinion that it was in possession of James Jennings, a present Justice of Rochester Township.  Mr. Jennings was visited, but the docket could not be found among the several others that belong to his office, and so the search was given up.  It, no doubt, contains some matters that, transferred to these pages, would prove of interest, not only to surviving settlers of 1838, but to their descendants -- those who have been born and raised in Cedar County.

When Col. Henry Hardman, John Blalock and George McCoy were appointed Justices of the Peace, in January, 1838, the settlers of Cedar County were still subject to the jurisdiction of Dubuque County.  At the first session of the first Board of County Commissioners of Cedar County, which session was commenced on the 2d day of April, 1838, the following entry was made:

Received of Robert G. Roberts the several bonds taken by him, as an officer of Dubuque County, and given to Henry Hardman, John Blalock and George McCoy, for the faithful performance of the duties of Justices of the Peace, etc.

The bonds above mentioned were ordered to be filed among the other early papers of the county; but, like many other important documents, they are now non est --- lost or carried away --- so that only this reference can be made to them.  This condition of affairs renders it impossible for the writer to present as full and complete a chain of history as he desires.  The fault, however, as the reader can readily see, does not rest with the authors and publishers of this book, but with the officials who were entrusted with their care and preservation.

District Court. -- Here the writer is again confronted with an absence of records.  Not the scratch of a pen can be found to show when the first term of the District Court was held, who were its officers, how long it remained in session or what cases were tried.

"R. L. R.," from whose "Outlines of the History of Cedar County," as published in the Cedar Post, June 19, 1872, from whom we have previously quoted, says:

In the month of November, 1838, the first court in Cedar County convened at Rochester, under the judicial control of Judge Irvin, who was appointed by the President of the United States.  Judge Irvin presided at this term, and was succeeded by Hon. Judge Williams, (Note: Judge Williams died at Fort Scott, Kansas, about 1874.) whom many suppose to have been the first to exercise the judicial prerogative in out county.   James W. Tallman was the Sheriff at this time, instead of E. E. Edwards, as commonly supposed, and was succeeded by Edwards.

Some doubts being expressed as to the historical accuracy of the statements contained in the above quotation, the writer visited Mr. Edwards, now living at Moscow, Muscatine County, where he is a Justice of the Peace and Notary Public, in order to arrive at the facts.  Mr. Edwards is now an old man, nearly 80, but possesses a clear memory of the early incidents of the county in which he has lived about one-half his lifetime.  He says the first court was held in May, 1838, instead of November.;  He agrees with R. L. R. that Judge David Irvin was the Presiding Judge.  He was present in the court room when "court was opened," and remembers distinctly the opening remarks of Judge Irvin.  He spoke of the distance he traversed to reach Rochester; of the beautiful country he traveled to reach that village; of the blooming flowers; and how his heart filled with admiration at the sight of the beautiful landscape, and adoration for the ever-living God who fashioned the prairies, forests and rivers, and filled the air with the perfume of flowers.  When he referred to the feelings of his heart, says Mr. Edwards, Judge Irvin placed his right hand around on his left side; and that, during his remarks, he seemed to be deeply touched with feeling and reverence.  With the coming of every Spring since that time, continued Mr. Edwards, the remarks of Judge Irvin on that occasion have come vividly to my memory, as though it were but this Spring I heard them.

The same authority quotes J. W. Cummins as Sheriff, instead of James W. Tallman, as stated by R. L. R.  Tallman was soon after appointed Sheriff, by Gov. Dodge, and continued to serve until October, 1838, when he was succeeded by E. E. Edwards, under appointment by Gov. Lucas, the first Territorial Governor of Iowa.

Mr. Edwards says there were no criminal cases tried at that term of the court, and but very few civil cases.  During that session of the court, John Safely and John Ferguson, of Red Oak settlement, filed their intentions to become citizens of the United States, and were, therefore, the first naturalized aliens.

Two Grand Juries had been selected and were in attendance at that first term of court --- one to inquire into infractions and violations of United States laws, and the other for and in behalf of the Territory of Wisconsin.

No term of the court was held in the Fall of that year, as provided by law, in consequence of the non-appearance of the Judge.  The Grand and Petit Jurymen were held two days, and then discharged.  E. E. Edwards was sheriff at the time, but, in consequence of sickness, was unable to attend.  Harvey Burnup was Coroner, and ex officio Sheriff, and discharged the duties of that office.

The second term of the court was held in the Spring of 1839, Judge Williams presiding.    George McCoy was Sheriff, having succeeded Mr. Edwards.  "Among the attorneys present at that term of the court," says Mr. George Frain, of Rochester, "were Stephen Witcher, R. P. Lowe and S. C. Hastings, of Muscatine, then called Bloomington.  A few cases were disposed of, and some were continued, on motion or by agreement of parties.  The cases were mostly of a civil nature, although there were a few arraignments for horse stealing and for selling liquor to the Indians.  In most cases, the defendants to these cases were bound over."

Of the attorneys named above, Lowe is believed to be practicing his profession in Washington City.  Hastings removed to California, and is now a successful banker at San Francisco, and has recently inaugurated measures to found a law school on the Pacific coast, for which purpose he subscribed $100,000.  While this history was in course of preparation, it was announced that Mr. Hastings had paid over $60,000 of that amount, and that the undertaking was in a fair way to be completed at an early day.  Witcher died in Muscatine, some fifteen or twenty years ago.

For reasons already stated, these paragraphs include all the history of the first terms of the District Court it was possible to obtain.  It is gathered from different sources, but is believed to be accurate and reliable.  The names of the settlers composing the Grand and Petit Juries selected for the first term will be found in another chapter, where will also be found a summary of the criminal cases, especially of the murder cases, that have been tried and disposed of in the District and Circuit Courts of the county.

 

 
 

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