|The 1879 History of Jones County Iowa was transcribed by [an error occurred while processing this directive]. |
||"As I am a very modest man, I dislike extremely having to speak of myself so often, but the thread of the narrative would be broken did I not do it.
"It was deemed necessary, at that time, to elect a Justice of the Peace in 1841, and, although never having any aspirations for office, I was elected to that dignity almost without opposition. This was strange indeed, as I was, perhaps, almost the only Whig in the village of Rome. Being what I was, a deadly foe to whisky, and never bending the pliant knee to Baal, it was somewhat strange that I was elected to the office. With these preliminary remarks let us go on. The portrait of old Ben. Smith rises now on my mental vision, in all its native deformity!
"Fancy, if you can, an animal on two legs, in the shape of fat and swollen limbs, suffering much from asthma and gout; a man, flat, flaccid and flabby, misshapen, unwieldy in form, with a head and face on top of it that completely baffles description: The hair white and erect, like hogs' bristles, the face rosy and rubicund, the nose studded with divers blooming pimples, the eyes twinkling like a sow's when contemplating mischief, and with thick, sensual lips.
"This patriarch had a large family of sons and daughters, was a widower, and depended on his children for support, and also on the profits of a whisky saloon, with cards and dice in his own house. Every Saturday night the orgies were celebrated in the old house where uncle Holden now lives, till the small hours of the morning; genial spirits from the surrounding country coming in from a long distance to aid and assist the aged patriarch in conducting them; John Royal playing the fiddle with unwearied assiduity and tenacity, and all went merry as a marriage bell, unless it was diversified with a slight bit of a fight, with perhaps an eye badly bunged up and closed for the time being, or a thumb partly bit off! But these little incidents only served to add variety and raciness to the scene, and never for a moment stopped the general hilarity. But enough! Let us for the present draw the veil of pity and of charity over this mortifying and disgusting portrait. And let it serve as a warning, a beacon-light to all now coming on the stage of action, to avoid drunkenness and sinfulness of all kinds, if they wish to live useful and happy lives.
"The question naturally arises, what became of poor old Uncle Ben? The answer to it is a sad one indeed. After setting a baleful, blighting influence and example here for eight consecutive years, he started, in the spring of 1849, to revisit the scenes of his childhood in Western New York, and subsequently died miserably of cholera, on board a boat on the Upper Ohio, among strangers, with no friend to smoothe his dying pillow.
"I remarked that I was elected Justice of the Peace. I held my first court in the log cabin opposite the present mill, in the fall of 1841, Uncle Ben Smith being the plaintiff, and another most worthy sage, very partial to whisky (whom we will not name as he still lives here), was the defendant. The cause of action was a very grave and knotty one, and which would have puzzled the wisdom of Solomon himself, viz., a pumpkin! These two sages had gardens adjoining, and Uncle Ben's vines, as pumpkin-vines will sometimes, ran through the fence into the adjoining lot and bore the best pumpkins in the said lot, with not one only but several large inviting looking pumpkins-more than defendant could stand, doubtless thinking (and with good reason) that the said pumpkins belonged to him. Be this as it may, he appropriated the largest one he could find to his own use, hence the suit. There were at that day many (in common parlance called pettifoggers, a phrase I always disliked) attorneys at law. There were two of pre-eminently brilliant qualifications and parts, who left their many competitors far in the rear, and who were generally pitted against each other, as they both resided in Fairview Precinct, viz., Uncle Clement Russell and Hon. John Leonard. Law cost something in those days, as it does in the present. It was then as now-l-a-w law, with a c-l-a-w claw. If you are fond of pure vexation and sweet procrastination, you are just in a situation to enjoy a suit at law. It was probably owing to this fact, viz., the great expense of this luxury, that induced both parties at this, my first court, to attend to it themselves, and being (as they both were) well stimulated and fortified with whisky, they fancied themselves perfectly grounded in law, and able to go on with it. The case, as you see at a glance, was a perplexing and knotty one. There was much to be said on both sides, and both equally plausible. Knowing this as I did, and dreading the torrents of eloquence apparently without end, and not being overstocked with patience, I resolved when the court was called to cut the Gordian knot which none could untie. With that peculiarly persuasive, winning, bland tone and manner which all who know me know to be innately mine, I remarked to them that we were emphatically, in this new country, a band of brothers; that nothing was so pleasing to the Great Father of us all as brotherly love and harmony, and, over and above this consideration, nothing conduced so much to our temporal welfare as harmony, etc.; told them what an insignificant thing it was to go to law about-a pumpkin, nothing else; the great difficulty attending a correct solution of the case, inherent in its very nature; and, concluding, in my judgment there was no cause of action, adding, at the same time, I should give up my fees and hoped they would all do so likewise. Had they not been both of them pretty drunk (Uncle Ben always feeling rich in that condition) I doubt but my eloquence would have been wasted on them. As it was, they yielded to my advice, shook hands, took a rousing snort of whisky all around, the court adjourned and the hostile sages were soon after seen engaged in a sociable game of cards with the hospitable whiskey jug within easy reach of them, and to complete and perfect the harmony, John Royal took his fiddle and struck up a jig or Highland fling, and mirth, hilarity and good feeling prevailed all around-Uncle Ben's four lusty and strapping daughters, always ready to trip it on the light fantastic toe, found partners ready to their hand, and they kept it up as usual until the small hours of the morning, no King on his throne richer, happier, or more independent than Uncle Ben.
"After the disposition of the case spoken of, I felt as if a mountain was lifted from my back, and being released from the onerous duties incumbent on me, I went about my usual avocations, receiving the congratulations of my friends at the issue, Uncle Sibbalds himself grinning all the time, with evident symptoms of uncommon satisfaction! I wish to add, that in that early day when a lawsuit was to come off, all other business for the time being came to a halt; no one could forego the intense delight of attending and drinking in wisdom from the lips of the legal oracles of the day, as well as from the jug! Some of the richest scenes I ever went through with occurred afterward, at courts held in the north room of our new house, the carpenter's bench and tools being there at the time. At one suit, Mrs. C. got a dinner for twenty men. A lawsuit, like raising a barn, could not go on without a large crowd attending; and lubricated, as it always was, with whisky, how could all help going on secundem artem. As a matter of course, it could not. But I crave pardon of my readers for taking up so much of their valuable time.
"I have taken much pains to ascertain who was the first white settler in this county, and from the best information I could obtain, I am satisfied Hugh Bowen was the man, that beautiful tract of country in Richland Township being named after him. I recollect well his telling me he was in the Black Hawk war, and that, only a few years after, he came into this county, probably in 1836. Perhaps a few of the salient points of his character may prove interesting to the readers of to-day.
"He was a bachelor at this time, in his prime, erect as an Indian and clad in buckskin like one; of great energy and rare simplicity of character. He was our first Sheriff, serving in that capacity for many years, and, if I should add, the best the county ever had, it need cause no blush to mantle the cheeks of his worthy successors. He was a noble specimen of a Western man, untainted by his vices, and entirely free from all the silken disguises, subterfuges and hypocrisies which prevail in old settled countries, and in those grades of society miscalled civilized, refined, fashionable, etc.; undaunted and fearless as a lion in the discharge of his duty; simple and confiding as a child, in all the little suavities and amenities of life, and illy prepared to guard against the advances of the well-dressed fancy-man, black leg, gambler of the present day.
"After many years' absence in the then Far West, he concluded to visit once more his native State, Ohio, when the first railroad from the East reached the Father of Waters. Although traveling with a friend, and cautioned again and again against pickpockets, he was rifled of some $40 or $50, all he had, long before he got to the end of his journey. On obtaining the first view of that monstrum horrendun, a locomotive engine, his wonder and amazement were unbounded! Fearful that the train might start without him (instinct with life and power, more than human as it was), he insisted on sleeping (camping), in the cars all night! I have not met him for many long years, and regret to add, the last I heard of him he was at Denver, Colo., much reduced in circumstances. He was Sheriff of this county many years in succession.
"It is highly probably that other portions of the county kept pace with those already named in its early settlement, but of this I cannot speak positively, being, like most of the early settlers, dependent on my days' work for my daily bread, and never leaving home unless on matters of urgent business.
"The county, in 1839-40, was divided into four road districts, viz: Bowen's Prairie was No. 1; Buffalo Fork, No. 2; Walnut Fork, No. 3, and Farm Creek No. 4, with a Supervisor in each district, to keep the roads in order.
"The first saw and grist mills in the county were erected by George Walworth, on the Buffalo Fork of the Wapsipinicon in 1838, (where, at a later day, the Messrs. Fisher erected spacious mills), and were in full blast when I came here, in 1840. I met the gentleman late in the fall of 1840, at the house of my brother-in-law, N. B. Seeley, and, from that time until he left the county, some five or six years, we were always on the most cordial and friendly terms. He was the first Representative in the Territorial Legislature at Iowa City, with other counties attached (Cedar and Linn, I think), and served in that capacity many years with great acceptance to his constituents. He was a bachelor, his sister keeping house with him, and a man in strong contrast to all and everything around him. He was then in his prime, and a finer looking man I have seldom, if ever, met. He was, in manner, appearance, dress and address, emphatically a gentleman, as I understand that term, viz., it is inborn, not infused; it springs spontaneously from the heart. In other words, a man may be a gentleman without being a Christian, but a true Christian must be a gentleman. Warm-hearted, cordial, hospitable, public-spirited, he possessed the faculty of adapting himself to all kinds and classes of men, and was the soul, the life, of every crowd he chanced to mingle with. He possessed, in a high degree, that rare and beautiful combination, termed suaviter in modo, cum fortiter in re, and, as I often thought, was perfectly out of his element in a new county. We have had many good times together at his house and at mine, and, when he left us, I felt we had lost a man the county and State could ill afford to spare. It was with deep and profound grief I heard of his sudden and untimely death, in Texas, many years ago. The high respect and ardent friendship I cherished for the man, the grateful sense I shall always feel for his kindness and hospitality to me personally, over and above his public services to the county and the Territory, would not permit me to pass him by with a more brief or less eulogistic notice. He has taken his last long journey whither we all are so rapidly following."