LAD'S FIRST IMPRESSION OF CARROLL COUNTY—DREARY RIDE FROM RAILROAD TO NEW HOME IN GLIDDEN TOWNSHIP—CARROLL COUNTY IN 1868—THE EARLY SETTLERS—HOW THE YOUNG PEOPLE ENJOYED THEMSELVES—DR. MILLER'S TOP BUGGY—THE FIRST GOLD WATCH IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD—EXCITEMENT OF EARLY POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS—EARLY RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES—LAND VALUES IN 1876—CROP FAILURES AND GRASSHOPPERS—SCARCITY OF MONEY AMONG THE SETTLERS AND HIGH INTEREST RATES—FUTURE DEVELOPMENT AND WEALTH NOT AMONG THE DREAMS OF THE PIONEERS.
BY GUERDON W. WATTLES.
In the early spring of 1868 I first saw Carroll county. My first impressions were received when I alighted from the train on a large snow bank by the side of the railroad where the Glidden depot now stands. At that time two houses, one store and a box car were the only visible signs of the city, while a vast expanse of uninhabited and uninviting prairie stretched in undulating hills and valleys like the billows of a great ocean in every direction. After a night spent in the attic of the one-story store building I started with my father and mother, brothers and sisters and all our earthly possessions in an open wagon across the bleak prairie for the North Coon river. There were no roads, no bridges nor houses between Glidden and Kendall's bridge, except one log cabin in which Enos Butrick lived, and which a few years ago was still standing and in use as a part of the granary on the old farm near Dickson's schoolhouse. After fording streams swollen by the thawing snow we finally came to the first signs of life, a settlement at Kendall's bridge. Near this bridge was the home of the then widow Kendall. Her husband, William Kendall, had died a few years before, and she was maintaining the family and conducting the farm, which formerly had been the home of the first settler in that part of Carroll county, Mr. Enos Butrick.
In 1868 the settlement in the northeastern part of Carroll county was confined almost entirely to the North Coon river and its tributaries. It was believed by many of these early settlers that it would be impossible to live on the prairies during the long, cold winters, and therefore the houses, most of which were made of logs, were erected near the timber along these streams. In Glidden township the principal settlers, as I recall them, were as follows :
In section I there was no settler until the fall of 1868 when my father, Mr. James Wattles, built a house in the grove on Purgatory creek.
In section 2 lived Thomas Hirons, Uriah Gibson, John P. Williams and Samuel Duckett.
In section 3 lived Martha Kendall, and soon after that year C. H. Lizer, W. H. Drew and S. W. Lauck.
In section 4 lived Robert Dickson and in section 9 Enos Butrick. There were no settlements in sections 10 or I I. In section 12 soon after i868 A. J. Loudenback built his home.
In Jasper township along the river lived Henry Ochampaugh, Levi Higgins, with one or two brothers, John McCoy, Daniel Cooper, Levi Thompson, Thomas. A. Cochran, 0. M. Mosher, T. B. McClew, J. W. Hobbs, and soon thereafter came George and Joseph Toyne, George Stalford, Henry 'Winter, John Morlan and many others.
I think a majority of these early settlers came from Michigan, although among them were, those from several other states. There were in those days two schoolhouses in that part of the county, the Dickson school and -the Higgins school. In the winter of 1868 M. W. Beach, later a prominent lawyer of Carroll, taught the Dickson school, and Morris Kimball, later a resident of Carroll, taught at the Higgins school. My brothers and myself first attended the Dickson school four miles distant from our home, and later, when the Higgins school commenced, we attended that school. Among the boys and girls that I remember who attended school in those days was Oscar Mosher, then almost a young man, several Higgins boys and girls, the McCoy boys, the Gibson boys, and Kendall children, the Ochampaugh boys and many others.
Distance in those days did not prevent the free communication between neighbors and their families. It frequently happened that the young people, especially in the winter, attended parties ten or fifteen miles distant from their homes, and on occasions they went as far as Carrollton, twenty miles from Kendall's bridge, to attend dances, which were the principal entertainments in those days. In the winter of 1870 a dancing party at the `Wattles' home was attended by young people from Horseshoe Bend in Greene county, five miles to the east, and by many of the young people along the North Coon river as far as Lake City on the north.
Dr. Miller, who lived in Greene county, was the only physician in those days for many miles around. He had a top buggy, the only one owned in that section of the country, so that whenever we saw a top buggy driving by we knew that it was Dr. Miller. He attended the sick from Lake City on the north, to Carrollton on the south and Jefferson on the east.
Every small occurrence out of the ordinary was known and discussed by those early settlers who did not have much to relieve the monotony of their lives. Oscar Mosher brought the first gold watch into the neighborhood. He traded a team of horses and gave something in addition for what was said to be a pure gold hunter's case. It was a curiosity and the envy of all the young men, who were only allowed to look at it, while the girls were permitted to hold it in their hands. The first sewing machine that came into the community was purchased by Dan Cooper. It was a Wheeler & Wilson, and I think the price was $285. The neighbors for many miles around gathered to see it, little dreaming that they would live to see the time when sewing machines would be sold for $25 each and owned by every housewife in the county.
The political campaigns of those early days furnished excitement fully equal to any that followed when population had increased. The contests were often exceedingly close, and the success or defeat of a candidate was accomplished by only a few votes. W. H. Price was a favorite among the North Coon settlers, and later on William L. Culbertson, who, by force of his ability, was elected auditor and later treasurer, became a prime favorite. Dan Cooper held the position of county commissioner for many years, and William Gilley, his strong friend and associate, had many supporters among the early settlers in Glidden and Jasper townships.
On Sundays church services were conducted in many of the schoolhouses and were attended by nearly all of the settlers, men, women and children. The itinerant Methodist preacher went from one neighborhood to another holding services, and in the winter time it was quite usual to have a genuine religious revival in each neighborhood. It frequently so happened that nearly all of the pioneers and their families would join the church during these revivals, frequently to backslide during the summer months, only to become active members again at the next annual revival meeting.
The Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints as they were called, early secured a foothold on the North Coon river. They were the followers of Joseph Smith, Jr., and did not believe in nor practice polygamy. The ministers of this sect came from all parts of the country, and quite a large congregation was established in the neighborhood of Kendall's bridge.
Land in Glidden and Jasper townships in 1870 was valued at one to two dollars per acre. There were still some homesteads to be obtained in Sheridan township, and much government land remained unentered in adjoining counties. There was not ready sale for land for many years after this date, and only an occasional farm changed hands. I remember well when a man by the name of Ira Scranton from Illinois came into the neighborhood. It was reported that he had $2,000 in cash which he desired to invest in land. Men and boys went for miles to the schoolhouse where he attended church, that they might see this man of great wealth. He was looked upon in those days somewhat in the same manner as we would look on Rockefeller or Carnegie at this time.
The season of 1868 was propitious and good crops were raised. I remember well of the wheat crop raised by my father on the farm he had rented in Greene county. We had, as I recall, thirty bushels of wheat to the acre and sold it at Jefferson, the nearest market, for $2.50 per bushel but in 1869 and 1870 crops were a failure, on account of the grasshoppers that came in great numbers and destroyed them. During that period many of the settlers in counties to the north and west abandoned their farms and came back in covered wagons through our neighborhood. They had decided that Iowa would never become a farming state and were returning to their old homes in Missouri or Illinois. For some years after 1870 crops were not good and prices were low. The panic of 1873 left these early settlers in a very bad condition. I distinctly remember that in the entire neighborhood on the North Coon river no one could be found for several months who had a dollar in actual money. At a great religious gathering in Horseshoe Bend, at which the presiding elder was present (an occasion of unusually great importance), the entire collection amounted to less than one dollar.
During the long, cold winters, hunting and trapping were followed by most of the male portion of the early inhabitants, not for pleasure, but for profit. Muskrats, mink, a few beaver, and deer and elk were the principal game to be found. In those days many great ponds were in existence that have long since been drained or have dried up on account of the cultivation of the land about them. In these ponds muskrats built their houses. and when the ice was frozen, traps were set in these houses of weeds and grass, and during the winter months many peltries were accumulated, which were sold to traveling purchasers in the spring. Deer were quite common and came to the groves along the streams in droves of two to a dozen. They were shot for meat, and venison was more in use by the settlers than was beef or pork. A few years before the last buffalo to be seen in that section of the country was killed near Kendall's bridge.
A few strolling bands of Indians camped in the winters along the stream, but beyond stealing an occasional pig and begging for bread and clothes, they did little damage to the community.
During the summer months the settlers were busy in breaking prairie and raising crops. There was not much social entertainment. Parties and spelling schools and exhibitions were only conducted during the winter season, so that beyond the Sunday schools and churches held in the schoolhouses there was little diversion, and to those who had recently arrived from cities or more populous communities the loneliness of those early days was almost maddening, Many of the first settlers did not remain, but went back to their old homes. There was not much beyond a local market for grain and farm produce for many years. There did not seem to be any opportunity for making money until in later years elevators were built at the railroad stations, and traveling stockmen came to purchase cattle and hogs. The principal source of revenue from the farms was raising hogs, and many of the first settlers paid for their land and buildings from this source of revenue.
Rates of interest were very high. Three per cent a month was a common rate charged by the first bankers and money lenders who operated in the small towns, and the supply of money was never equal to the demand. About 1875 some enterprising agents at the county seats were able to place farm mortgage loans of about $50o each on a quarter-section of well improved land at the rate of 10 per cent per annum and 10 per cent commission for securing the loan.
For some years after 1870, settlement in the northeastern part of Carroll county was slow, but finally the settlers came in with a rush, taking up the prairie lands which had been considered by the first settlers as worthless. I remember one of the first settlers to go out on the prairie was Mr. Lombard, who opened a farm on section 9 in Glidden township. The prophecy was freely made that after the first winter he would move in from the prairie, but he did not, and others soon followed his example, until we could no longer drive in a straight line across the prairies from Kendall's bridge to Glidden, but were obliged to go on the section lines, a great annoyance and inconvenience until the roads were established and bridges built.
In the autumn the boys and young men spent their time in gathering nuts. Walnuts and butternuts by the wagon load were brought in. Hazelnuts and hickorynuts were to be had for the picking, and every settler's house was well stored with nuts for the winter.
And thus the time was spent by these early settlers, until gradually greater population came and values of lands and products became established. I cannot say that those early days were without enjoyment. At times of sickness or disaster the neighbors were kind and helpful. A closer friendship and communion was maintained than is common in more populous communities. Every man knew every settler for miles around by his first name and knew every member of his family, while the average politician had no difficulty in recognizing and calling by name every man in the county. I cannot say that the early settlers in the northeastern part of Carroll county had any different or more difficult experiences than in other parts of the county. In fact, I believe their lives were made more comfortable than those who settled first on the prairies. In the early days there was much timber along the North Coon river and its tributaries. Wood, nuts and game were abundant, and the birds and flowers, the fish and the game furnished amusement and occupation for the boys and girls who might otherwise have suffered from loneliness and want of companionship. One thing is certain, that no one dreamed of the future development and wealth that was to come to all who toiled and suffered privation and practiced economy and frugality with patience and fortitude, until by the increase of population the blessings of society, with all its manifold duties and opportunities, was established. As time went on some of the young men went out into the world from this part of Carroll county to make their life work in other fields. A number of them have been successful and only a few have failed, and it is my judgment that the early experiences and lessons in economy and frugality which were taught by necessity in those early days have had much to do with their success in the world of business where some of them may now be found.