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Story of Nevin (Iowa)

by J. Loran Ellis (1901)


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Chapter 5, 1859 and Later (continued)

A Trip to Grand River || A Mistake in Horses || A Whisky Peddler's Escape || To Des Moines in Winter


During the first days of September, 1861, some of the Yankee colony people planned a plumming expedition to northeast Adair county.  Mr. G. White owned a pair of small and rather wild stag oxen.  One fine sunny morning Mr. White yoked up his bovines and, with farm wagon properly fixed, took on board as passengers Mrs. Fanny White and their two children, Edith and Fannie; Mrs. Ellis and son Walter; Mrs. Harriett Buell and Miss Mary Stephenson and then started out.  There were but few roads or trails and fewer bridges on the route.  Mr. White had a strong rope attached to the stubby horns of the near ox, so that the team could be restrained from running away on going down some decline.  The party was jolly and had much fun on the way.  Along about dark, they arrived safely at the house of their friends, Mr. Job R. Pierce and his wife, Ruth, who had been Nevin residents a year or so before.  Here they spent the night.     "Job and Ruth" felt themselves much honored by the visit and did their level best to entertain their friends from Nevin.  After Ruth had baked fresh biscuit they had supper, then they all hunted for a place to sleep.  The house was small and had only two beds.  Mrs. White and Mrs. Ellis with their three children were given one bed; Mr. White and Mr. Pierce were alloted the other.  Mrs. Pierce, Mrs. Buell and Mary Stephenson were to sleep on the floor.  It was agreed among them that the first to get up in the morning were to have choice of the shoes and stocking of the crowd.   For breakfast another special effort of Job and Ruth furnished the best of fried chicken with warm bread and honey.  After the breakfast things were cleared away they had a ramble through Mr. Pierce's garden, which contained choice trees and fruit-bearing shrubbery.  After this Mr. Pierce yoked up his oxen and with wagon took the whole company to the wild plum orchards on the banks of Grand river, several miles away.   They had a glorious outing in many ways.  Considerable quantities of plums were found.  The women and children diverted themselves in bathing, wading and paddling with naked feet in the river.  Then they all went back to Mr. Pierce's to spend the night.

Along towards bed time they were aroused by the stentorian "yell" of Mr. Ellis, just across a small stream twenty rods off. He had just arrived from Nevin with his ox team and had with him Miss Adelia Jewett and Miss Mary Buell as passengers.  After supper for the new comers and late in the night, they all found places to sleep somewhere.     The next day in the afternoon the rejuvenated Nevinites bid good bye to the Pierces, and drove home by the same route that they had taken in going out.  It was more than one generation before that happy outing to Grand river ceased to be talked about.


Mr. Beath and his wife had for their first dwelling in Nevin, a small composite structure, part shop and part living room.  He kept a horse over winter, 1859-60, which he sometimes let a neighbor have to ride to neighboring villages.  Mr. Beath tells the following story in connection with his horse:  "Mr. Ellis, living not twenty rods off, had not as yet risen to the distinction of being a horse owner; so, one day in March, 1860, wishing to do some business at the county seat, he borrowed my horse to ride there and back.  Arriving at Quincy he put the horse in a feed stable hanging the saddle and bridle on a peg just behind the horse.  After finishing his business of the day he, towards dark, repaired to the stable to get his horse to ride home.     He took down the saddle and bridle from the peg where he had hung them and placed them on the horse tied in front of them where he had tied his horse at noon time.    Then he mounted the horse and rode home, nearly eighteen miles, put the beast into my stable late in the evening and himself went home and to bed.

"Next morning on going to the stable to care for my equine. I discovered that the horse in the stable was not mine and hastened across lots to Mr. Ellis for an explanation.     My friend and I hurried back to see what was the matter.  And, sure enough, that horse was not mine; for mine did not have the hair worn off his sides (tug marks) as this horse had.  So, with considerable chagrin, Mr. Ellis, after breakfast mounted the strange horse and retraced his way towards Quincy to find out how the mistake had happened.  About half way there he met a man riding my horse towards Nevin.   After mutual explanations they exchanged horses each returning to his home.

"It seemed that during the afternoon the stable keeper had exchanged the stalls of these two horses and had neglected to exchange pegs for their accountrements.  And Mr. Ellis, in his hurry to get started homeward, took the right saddle and bridle, but mistakingly the wrong horse, not noticing the difference until the next morning at my place."


One day in the summer of 1862 a man from Winterset, driving  a one-horse rig, having on board a barrel of "O-be-joyful" was seen coming into the village and stopping on the main street east of the common.  The man was soon seen hurrying about from door to door as if he was peddling something.  Men were observed coming briskly from both directions, one with a jug in his hand.  The peddler had succeeded in selling a gallon to John Bixby, living on a near corner and another man was coming on the run when the fun was interrupted by the appearance upon the scene of Mr. Ellis, the prohibition justice of the peace.  He protested against such violation of the law, threatening the peddler with arrest and went home to fill out the proper paper for the constable.     While so doing the people standing near advised the peddler to be on the move.   So he climbed into his conveyance at once, headed back towards Winterset with all speed, and was soon out of sight, looking back furtively every few minutes to see if the constable was coming.  About an hour later a traveler coming from that direction reported in the village his passing the peddler three or four miles out, and that he was still on the full run, his horse white with foam in his endeavor to get beyond danger of arrest and the loss of his whisky.

Now, bystander remarks, that the reader must not think from the foregoing sale of whisky, that Nevin settlers were ever given to saloon habits.  The opposite was always the fact; there never to this day was a saloon there.  The people were very temperate and nearly every one among them was free from the tobacco habit as well.


Mr. Ellis himself relates the following account of a certain trip he made to the state capital, in December, 1867:  "At this period I had sold my former ox teams and was the possessor of a pair of young mules.  Wheat was worth about $1.50 per bushel in Des Moines, and there was profit in buying Adams county wheat at $1.10 per bushel and hauling it there.  On this particular trip I had on a load of thirty bushels in bulk or loose.  I had gotten to within ten miles of Des Moines and it was nearly night.     The roads were firm and there was hard snow in some places along the route.    But the mules had no shoes; so that in going down a certain hill it was supposed that the load would acquire sufficient momentum to carry it (with the mules' help) up the close succeeding sharp snowy rise.  This it failed to do; when almost up the hill the mules feet began to slip; then they had to stop, and at once the whole thing began to go backwards and then off to one side down a steep bank covered with snow, towards a bend in the nearby stream.  The wagon was turned over bottom side up; spilling all the wheat into the snow, some of it running down almost to the water.    luckily, neither wagon nor mules were damaged.

"Night was now fast approaching, the sky was overcast and threatened snow soon.     There was no house in sight.  I had neither grain-sacks nor half bushel measure with which to gather up the wheat.  However, I turned the wagon right side up and drove the team to the top of the rise in the road and left them standing while I went on ahead to hunt for a house, where I might borrow some sacks and a half bushel measure.    Finding at a farm house the needed things, I came back and gathered and carried the most of the spilled wheat up the river bank and up the hill rise to the wagon.   Then drove on to a farm house just as darkness came, where the folks kept me and the team over night.

"Two days later, just after dark, as I, near to Winterset on my way home with a big load of plows for Mr. Bugbee of Quincy, was crossing a new and hastily graded bridge I met with another bad accident.  The hind wheels as they passed off the planking dropped so hard to the lower ground that the axeltree was snapped short off.  The consequences may be imagined.  However, I borrowed another wagon, loaded the plows therein and drove that night to Winterset."



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