Northwestern Iowa
Its History and Traditions
Vol. I

Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co 1927

Chapter VI-Pioneer Life and Customs

...[Benjamin F. Gue in his "History of Iowa,"]...says for example: " The
hard times beginning with 1857 were passing away, and a steady and heavy
immigration was annually coming into the state in search of cheap homes.
Thousands of eastern men of wealth were sending money where the legal rate
of interest was ten per cent and the security as fertile lands as any in the
"The reports of the discovery of rich gold deposits in the eastern range of
the Rocky Mountains, near Pike's Peak, in 1859, attracted thousands of Iowa
people to that region, and it is likely that these departures in search of
gold nearly equaled the immigration from eastern states into Iowa. But the
tide soon turned back and most of the gold seekers returned to the prairies
of Iowa, better content to rely upon the steady gains derived with certainty
from the fertile soil of well-tilled farms.
"Barbed wire fences had not then come into use and the farmers were
experimenting with hedge plants of osage orange, hawthorne, willow and honey
locust. Others were making fences by ditching. But the common fence was of
rails or boards and was the great expense in making farms, costing more than
all other improvements combined."

The Civil war intervened to retard even the scattered settlements of
Northwestern Iowa and this fact was in no way more manifest than in the
complete cessation of railroad building. None of the four railroads across
the state for which land grants had been made in 1856 had been completed and
noe was much extended when the Civil war closed; but by 1870, the Chicago,
Rock Island & Pacific, the Chicago & Northwestern and the Chicago,
Burlington & Quincy had all reached the Missouri River, and a few years
later, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul completed its line so as to give
Northwestern Iowa another outlet and inlet.
In 1865 and for several years thereafter, Boone, in Central Iowa on the Des
Moines River, was a frontier railroad station on the Chicago & Northwestern
Railroad, and was called Montana. While the line was being constructed to
Council Bluffs, Carroll County was a favorite hunting ground. Many trains
were stopped and all on board, from engineers to passengers, would tramp
over the prairies to shoot chickens, and few returned empty-handed. That
trains were delayed mattered little to these pioneer travelers, until the
officials made drastic rules against hunting on the way. The engines and
cattle cars of that day were not large and a train of ten or a dozen cars
was heavily loaded. It required two nights and a day to pull a stock train
from the Missouri Valley country to Chicago, after the line reached Council
Bluffs in 1867. When trains were caught in snow drifts and blizzards the
fatalities were multiplied. There were no snow fences to protect the cuts
and no snow plows to clear the tracks. Traffic was thus frequently tied up,
sometimes for weeks at a time.
The building of the railroads marked the transition period from the old to
the new order of things, and the Civil war may be said to have definitely
closed the times when the primitive life of the pioneer had been little
changed by "improvements."

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2001 Cathy Joynt Labath