|Pioneer Life in Jones Co.
|The hogs were all killed at home and hauled to Dubuque fifty miles away and sold a from one and a half to three cents per pound. Occasionally a big steer or two would be sold at two years old for twenty dollars or more per head and no scales were used. We had every animal named and usually kept the she stuff until it died of old age.
I was a man grown before I ever saw any corn sold on the market. A quarter section would raise from five to fifteen acres of corn. The land being new produced well and made enough to feed all a man needed through the cold months. Then he did without until the new crop. Oats were used for horse feed mostly. Not one farmer in ten would have an ear of corn from May till fall. Of course some would but then as now they were the more thrifty. There was no meat except now and then a chicken. We never fed or watered the chickens and they had to get on as wild game and were about as wild. It took a good dog to catch one.
For fruit a few of the first settlers, among them my grandmother Krouse, Eliphalet A. Nichols, mother’s sister’s husband, and a few more, planted apple seeds and had seedlings and some few trees were good. Most of the winter varieties were of small size and a sort of parody on the wild crab apple. The women dried pumpkin and we boys called it tobacco and carried it around, and if not caught chewed it. There was no canned fruit. Wild strawberries were plentiful some seasons. Blackberries, except along streams, were usually all dried up.
Where there was plenty of timber, the fencing was of rails from the ground up and worm fashion. On the prairie, however, they often drove crotches in the ground to carry the first rail. This was about eighteen inches from the ground. Two stakes were then crossed above each crotch, the bottom end of each being driven some six inches in the ground a short distance from the bottom of the crotch. This formed a second crotch, higher than the first one. A second rail was laid diagonally with one end in a lower crotch and the other in the next upper crotch formed by the two stakes. A third rail was then laid in the two upper crotches, making a three rail panel. This was the Indiana method.
Some Kentuckyians split the posts as flat as they could and then dressed them to about two inches thick and bored two holes together, split out the middle and sharpened the rails and put them in as bars. This made a very good fence but took lots of labor. Iron nails were high and the Kentuckians were taught this method when there were no nails except those made by hand in the country. The farmers fenced only the cultivated land, for there was only a small amount of land cultivated and it was easier to fence stock out of the fields than in the pastures. Much of the land was held by eastern speculators.
Another item of farm life was milling. In my time, we were within eight miles of Corbet’s Mill on a fork of the Maquoketa, not a long drive from home. The miller took in toll or pay every seventh bushel of the grain and made a very good grade of flour and meal. It was a great treat to go the mill but only the ones too little to do anything at home were granted the privilege. One time, however, when I was a small boy, my father took me and my two older brothers along to fish while we waited for the grist. He got some small hooks and two lines and cut them in two so we each had a hook and line. We had dug some fish worms-or angle worms- and father put one on my hook attached it to a pole cut on the bank and set me on the bank or a stump but did not tell me what to do.
I could feel the fish bite but did not know what to do and we were admonished to keep quiet. Finally I lifted the fish clear out of the water and father hollered, “Throw him over the bank!” I did not know what he meant, but instinctively threw my prize on the shore and saved him. He was a nice perch and I was about the biggest boy for a while that ever stood on that bank. We got a fine string but never since has a fish caused me the thrill of that one. I found a good two-blade jack-knife on the bank that day but it did not interest me, so I gave it to father. The water was very clear and we could see the schools of soft fish in countless numbers everywhere and the rock bass scooting after them. When we were ready to go home we saw the dam and the water fall. I have since seen the great falls but they did not seem as remarkable to me as that small stream appeared to a little boy who had never seen anything but land and small creeks.
At first the cattle were turned out on the wild prairie, where they roamed about, located only by sight or by the tinkling of the bells. The cattle of a large neighborhood would bunch up during the day and wander over a wide territory but when evening came, they gradually wandered toward their own home, partly from habit and partly because some of the cows had calves at home. No two bells sounded alike. Every man knew his bell by sound.
As time passed and the free land disappeared, each man’s herd was kept near home in a fenced pasture. Only those who could afford it had oak board fences; most of the fences were of smooth wire. This sufficed if the land was not too heavily pastured, but when the grass got dry in July the cattle would go through such fences into the crops so they had to herded. I, being the boy not big enough to help farm work, was the herdsman. Now picture if you please, a barefoot boy between six and even years old taking the cows to pasture as soon as they were milked and staying till about sundown with no companions but the black shepherd dog, Dash.
There were no holidays or Sundays, and at times hard rains compelled me to get under hazel brush or a tree to find shelter. At noon, Charley, a younger brother, would bring a noon meal which was the same as the others, only cold, and for drink the water from any slough or spring had to do. This was a rough life and I got as rough as the treatment. At this time I went neither to day nor Sunday school though I saw other boys going to school or to mill and playing around home.
At the same time I learned all about the names and habits of birds from father. I knew where they nested, the number of their settings, color of eggs, habits of feeding, and the time of their coming and departure. None of the water birds nested here but I could see them passing at almost any hour. I knew how to find the dens of many animals, how they made them, and what the animal lived on.
Not least of these were the snakes. The snakes soon left the pastured ground, so there was not much danger from them there, but if you had to go into some slough or non-pastured field you might run into them. One day in August I saw the faithful dog going around a tree top full of dry leaves, which had been left after the log had been cut off. I saw him turn his head to one side, ears forward, and then I heard a mighty hiss and I saw a snake strike at him and still hiss. I knew by the sound that it was a bullsnake, but of what a gigantic size! I ran away but did not did not dare to leave the cattle. The dog kept at the snake energetically but could not get hold of him.
In about an hour Charles came with my dinner and I told him of the size of the snake and how he acted. He went home and my two older brothers came down. By this time the snake was somewhat tired but could still strike about four feet which seemed more to us. Finally George, the oldest of the boys, struck the snake with a fence stake and the dog grabbed him. The reptile was so heavy the dog could not shake him, but he was finally killed. He measured about eight feet and was as large around in the center as a tea saucer. That was my greatest snake scare. While such snakes were not poisonous, the memory of that infernal hiss has never left me. I have seen many snakes since but none as large as this. Since it was late in the summer, I presume he was well fed and fat.
Then there were the skunks. Our dog would dig them out. At one time the two Overley boys, cousins of ours, were there when the dog dug out an old one. I had no fear when the dog was after it, for their dens were shallow and short. When the dog grabbed the old one I was closer than I would be now, for a very good reason. I saw five little kittens as pretty as any two-week old cats. I grabbed two of them and started for the Overleys to show them but they never stopped until they got home. That night my mother gave me orders not to bring such a smell to the house again.
© Copyright 1997-2013, The Art Department, © Copyright 2014-2018, Richard Harrison.