J. M. D. BURROWS, MERCHANT, MILLER, PACKER, HANDLER OF PRODUCE, LOOKS BACK OVER HIS BUSY LIFE AND TELLS SOME INCIDENTS - DAVENPORT A HAMLET OF FIFTEEN HOUSES - A REMARKABLE CAREER - HUMMER AND HIS BELL - REV. JOHN O. FOSTER TELLS OF BOYHOOD DAYS IN ROCKINGHAM - THE VIEW FROM THE DECKER HOME - A RELIC OF CREDIT ISLAND BATTLE
(Picture included with this chapter are: Pioneer Settlers of Scott County - View in Central Park)
On the 27th day of July, 1838, I was on board the magnificent steamer Brazil, Captain Orrin Smith, my destination being Stephenson, now Rock Island, Illinois. When I arose in the morning the steamer was just landing at Buffalo, Scott county, Wisconsin territory, now Iowa. The scene upon which I gazed enchanted me. The sloping lawns and wooded bluffs, with the sea of beautiful wild flowers, were a picture of loveliness such as I never had beheld before. The remainder of the trip I spent on the guards of the boat, enraptured with the beauty of the ever changing scenery.
We arrived early in the day at the village of Stephenson. Before night my business was accomplished. My landlord, of the Rock Island House, informed me that I could not be able to get a boat until the return of the Brazil, some two days later. I will say here that the Rock Island House was a credit to the town and a much better hotel than I expected to find in this then new country. On the next day, after partaking of a good breakfast, I decided to cross the river and examine the lovely little hamlet of about a dozen houses, which looked so cozy, nestled under the bluff. At that time the ferry was run by that veteran, Captain John Wilson, and consisted of two steamboat yawls and a flat-boat. There were several passengers besides myself, and as soon as we left the shore, the old gentleman began to collect his fares. I noticed that each passenger paid 25 cents. I tendered my quarter, when I was informed my fare was 50 cents. I demurred of course, and was surprised as well as somewhat amused to be told that for "citizens" the fare was 25 cents, but for strangers it was 50 cents. I replied, "Oh! that is the way you do it here, is it? Where I came from, they treat strangers the best."
On landing I found a beautiful little hamlet of fifteen houses, with a population of about 150 persons. I did not expect to see any one that I had ever seen before, but I soon met a man whom I had known well in Cincinnati - a carpenter - B. F. Coates. He received me warmly and introduced me to D. C. Eldridge and several more Cincinnatians. The little town was settled mostly by people from Cincinnati. They all insisted that I should close up my business in Stephenson, and wait in Davenport until my boat returned, and they would spend the time in showing me the most beautiful country the sun ever shone upon. I consented and Mr. Coates took a horse and buggy and drove with me out some five or six miles in different directions.
It was just the time of year when the country showed to the best advantage. The prairies were covered with wild flowers and the beautiful landscape was unsurpassed. I said to myself, "This shall be my home."
On the return of the Brazil I left with the intention, if possibly could, to emigrate. As soon as I returned to Cincinnati. I advertised my place for sale and in a few weeks found a purchaser. I then determined to return immediately and to make a more thorough examination of the country before taking such an important step. Both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers were at that time (October), very low and navigation tedious. I decided to make the trip by land, so purchased a horse and buggy and was making arrangements for the journey, when I was called upon by John Owens, whom I had never seen before. After introducing himself, he said he understood I intended to make a trip to Wisconsin territory, and he wanted to go along. He offered to take a half interest in the outfit. He was not quite ready to go, and I agreed to wait ten days for him. At last the day arrived, and lo! it was a Friday. Owens said he would not begin so important an enterprise on Friday and insisted that we should wait until Saturday, which I opposed, on the ground that it was too late in the week. We were both anxious to be off, so we agreed to start on Thursday evening, and go two or three miles, which we did, setting out about sundown and driving some three miles. We found the roads through Indiana very rough and tedious, a great share of them being what was called "corduroy;" but through Illinois they were excellent, although there was a great want of bridges and in fording streams we found it quite dangerous.
The great prairies of Illinois were a magnificent sight - one vast sea of grass and flowers and most of them as level as a floor. We passed very few farms. Fifty years ago there were not many settlements in Illinois. We crossed a number of prairies, where, as might be said, we were out of sight of land - not a house or a tree to be seen. There was a great deal of sickness on our route. We had to attend our own horse, and most of the time, sleep on the floor, with a blanket and a pillow for our bed. Ten days and a half from the time we left Cincinnati, we forded Rock river and soon reached our future home. At that time Stephenson, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, was a considerable town and a much older and more important place than Davenport. Rock island contained no inhabitants except Colonel George Davenport and his family. Old Fort Armstrong with its block houses, occupied the west end of the island.
Mr. Owens and myself spent some three weeks in thoroughly examining the country. One of the best settlements was in Pleasant Valley. The Hydes, Captain Hawley, Moss & Bradley, Sam Hedges, C. Rowe, Adam Donaldson, the Henleys and Fennos were there. There was a small sawmill on Duck creek, and a grist mill, containing one small run of stone on Crow creek. Both these streams contained twice as much water then as now. We drove back to Allens Grove, also to Walnut and Hickory Groves, where we found John Dunn, L. Lathrop, Dennis R. Fuller and the Carters, all of whom were hard at work making themselves homes. Below Rockingham, Enoch Mead, David Sullivan, Captain James Murray, Foster Campbell, James E. Burnsides, Lewis W. Clark, and others, were busily engaged in laying the foundation of Scott county's future prosperity.
After a thorough examination of the county and making the acquaintance of many of the settlers, we both determined to emigrate, and purchased the eighty acre tract west of and adjoining the town. It was a squatter's claim. We paid $450 for it and each wanted it, so we agreed to divide it and to draw cuts for the first choice. I won, and chose the half next to the town, for which I paid $250, Mr. Owens taking the other half at $200. We then concluded to lay claim to a section of land and selected section 17. We divided it north and south, and, each again wanting the half adjoining the town, we drew cuts as before. I won, and took the part I wanted. Fearing we would have trouble to find our claim, we hired Strong Burnell, who was breaking prairie in the vicinity, to plow three furrows around the whole section, for which we paid $30 - $10 a furrow. We proposed to plant this strip of plowed ground with locust trees.
The next thing I did was to make arrangements to build a house on my forty acres. I found a man in Davenport, a settler of that year, who had bought a lot and erected a frame on it, but who had become discouraged and wished to return east. I bought the frame standing, paying $125 for it, and engaged B. F. Coates to take it to pieces and put it up on my land, leaving money with him with which to buy weather boarding, sheathing, etc., and it was agreed that I should bring the shingles, flooring, doors and windows with me in the spring from Cincinnati, which would be much cheaper and better.
About the 1st of March, 1839, I received letters at Cincinnati, saying the Mississippi was about to break up and at once I commenced making arrangements to return. Being anxious to add to the population of the little settlement in Iowa, I persuaded two brothers-in-law, Wheeler Crane, a carriage maker, and Joseph Beach, a painter, also my two brothers, Lewis and David, stout lads in those days, to accompany me. Our journey was without incident until we reached the lower rapids, where we had a tedious time, getting fast on the rocks and being nearly a week getting over.
At last, on the 4th day of April, we reached our future home, being put ashore on the bank of the river, about half way between Perry and Rock Island streets. I remember the day well. It was a gloomy day, the wind blew a perfect gale, and everything looked cheerless.
I found that the man whom I had engaged to put up my house had betrayed me. The money I had left with him to purchase lumber he had applied to his own use, and there was nothing on the ground but the naked frame which I had purchased in the fall. The first thing to be done was to find shelter for my wife and child. I succeeded in renting two small rooms, just finished, about twelve feet square, at the corner of Third and Ditch (now Harrison) streets. The rooms were very small and inconvenient for a family of seven persons. We were obliged to go out doors from one room to get into the other. They had been built for offices, but in those days we had to do the best we could.
In about two weeks I had my house weather-boarded and shingled, and, putting down loose boards for a floor, moved in at once and then finished it, a room at a time. I found the little town a busy place, every one anxious to secure a home. Some settlers, besides myself, came in that spring and a number of houses had been commenced, and the inhabitants of the little town were as active as a swarm of bees. But the great excitement was the Rockingham war, and a few weeks later the Missouri war. I served in both, like a true soldier and patriot. The Rockingham war was tedious, lasting about two years, and four pitched battles were fought, with varying success. The contest was for the county seat, which Rockingham had and was loth to give up. She had been the emporium of Scott county, outnumbering Davenport in population and business. But two years made a change. Davenport had grown materially, both in population and capital, while poor Rockingham had reached her growth, some of her citizens deserting to the enemy and at the last election, sixteen of her people voted for Davenport, the citizens offered to build the court house and present it to the county, free of all expense, promising it should be equal to the court house across the river, at Stephenson, Illinois; and it was a facsimile.
In the early summer we were called upon by the governor to volunteer to march to the Missouri line and drive the Missourians from our sacred soil. There was no necessity to repeat the order. We were all fighting men in those days. The war between Rockingham and Davenport was suspended for a short time and we all united to resist this invasion of our territory by the miserable Missourians. Davenport was selected as headquarters for Scott county. The day appointed for us to meet was a lovely, spring-like morning. Nearly every man in the county was present to be enrolled. Our colonel, Sam Hedges, made us a patriotic speech, but what a sorry lot of soldiers he had to drill! Not having any guns, many came with pitchforks, scythes, hoes and clubs. One man had a sheet-iron sword, six or seven feet long. Many were drunk, and all were noisy and disposed to jeer and make fun of our officers. Our colonel could stand this no longer. All who were drunk, and those improperly armed, were ordered out of the ranks. We who remained were getting hungry, as it was then dinner time, and asked for rations, when we were informed that we would have to furnish our own blankets, whiskey, and hard tack, which the government would refund at some future day. This we objected to. We were willing to shed our blood for our beloved territory, and if necessary, to kill a few hundred Missourians, but we were not going to do that and board ourselves.
At this juncture, we saw approaching in solemn column, our fellow soldiers who had been discharged. They were led by the man with the long sheet-iron sword. They charged on us, and it makes me blush to say that, notwithstanding we were three to their one we were badly defeated and scattered in every direction. The knight of the sheet-iron sword for our colonel, and nothing but the colonel's superior fleetness saved him. As he ran he informed us that we could go home; nothing more would be done until he received further orders.
At this time congress was in session, and, becoming alarmed at the Civil war impending, interfered. The poor barbarians of Missouri, hearing of the hostile demonstrations being made in Davenport and other river towns, withdrew from our territory. A few months later the supreme court met and decided in our favor, and all was peace.
Meanwhile, our little village was growing and the contest between it and Rockingham for the supremacy had been resumed. During February of this year (1839), the first Protestant church was organized - the Presbyterians. During the summer, the Congregationalists and Baptists organized. Neither of these congregations had any church building but held services in carpenters shops and warehouses. The Catholics had organized in 1838, and erected the first church building in the town.
In May 1839, hearing that it was court week, and as it was raining hard and I could do no business, I thought I would attend court. There was a small frame building on Ripley street, at the corner of the alley behind Lahrmann's hall. It had been built for a carpenter shop and was used by the Presbyterians for church purposes and there court was held. I found the little room crowded and Judge Grant, then "Squire" Grant, just arranging to defend a horse thief. The judge worked cheap in those days. I overheard him whisper to his client: "If you don't give me $5 before I commence, I won't defend you."
Nearly the whole little settlement at that time was about the foot of Ripley street, which was claled "Brimstone Corner" - I suppose on account of the hot style of preaching indulged in there, in those days.
I found a number of the little band which I had left there in the fall in perfect health, had gone "to that bourne from which no traveler returns." The first ten years I passed in Davenport, there was much more sickness than now. Ten percent of our population died each year in those early times, which was attributed to the breaking up of such large tracts of prairie, producing a miasma which caused fevers, etc.
Our first burying place was in a corner of a field on the Cook farm, on the north side of the Rockingham road, nearly opposite the west end of the present Davenport City cemetery. This was used but a short time. The next burying place was at the corner of Sixth and LeClaire streets. It was a miserable section and was soon abandoned. I officiated as pallbearer on two occasions while we buried there. The first was the burial of Judge Mitchell's father. It being early spring, we found the grave half full of water and had to wait until it was bailed out. But the water came in so fast that the coffin was nearly covered before we could fill the grave. The other was a Dr. Emerson, who died in the LeClaire House, and was the owner of the celebrated slave, Dred Scott.
Our next burial place was the present Davenport City cemetery. The writer and a few other gentlemen, not considering this location desirable (it being too near the rapidly growing city), nor the extent of the grounds sufficient for the purpose, and seeing the need of a city for the dead, combined to secure one that would be a credit to the city when we were dead and gone. It resulted in Oakdale, particulars of which will be given hereafter.
About this time, the first newspaper was established in Davenport. It was called the Iowa Sun. Andrew Logan was editor and proprietor. He worked hard to bring the town into notice, with his puffs and marvelous stories of our prolific soil. On my claim was a little piece of ground, some four or five acres, which had been broken up and fenced before I bought. That I immediately planted and raised the best garden in the county. The two lads, my brothers, Lewis and David, seeing the wonderful accounts in the Iowa Sun of the productions of other parts of the county, determined to outdo them. We raised in those days that king of potatoes, the Neshenocks. It was a large potato, with numerous prongs. Selecting some half dozen of the largest, the boys fastened them together with dowels, or wooden pins. When I came home at night they brought it to me.
"See what we dug today!" they said. "Don't that beat anything the Iowa Sun has published?"
I replied, "I think it does. What a monster!"
I was completely "sold." I said I would take it up in the morning and give it to Mr. Logan. The next issue of the Iowa Sun did full justice to the wonderful production, defying any other soil to produce its equal. The editor said if any one thought it an exaggeration, the skeptic could call and see the monster, as it was hanging up in his office, where he should keep it a few weeks on exhibition, after which he proposed to try its eating qualities. About two weeks later, during which time the prize potato had been examined by hundreds, our fellow citizen, John Forrest, took hold of it, and noticed that one prong was wrong end foremost. So he pulled it apart and the trick was exposed. Had the boys not made that mistake the potato would doubtless have been cooked before the joke was discovered. It created a vast amount of fun and a big laugh at the expense of the Iowa Sun. It is said that Mr. Logan abstained from eating potatoes for over a month.
After the discovery, Mr. Forrest hastened up town to my store. He said: "Burrows, they have a big joke on you down town about that big potato." He then told me what had occurred. I told him I was "sold" with the rest, for I knew nothing about it. He advised me to keep away from Logan for a few days, or I would lose my scalp.
In looking over the "Annals of Iowa" to refresh my memory, I saw an article on the Rev. Michael Hummer, who was a very early settler and, I believe, taught a private school or academy in Stephenson, now Rock Island city, Illinois, in 1838. In the spring of 1839 he received a call from the Presbyterian church in Davenport, just organized, to preach for them for six months, which he accepted. He was a very talented man and was considered, for years, the ablest clergyman in the state; but he was very peculiar. He possessed a high temper and did not hesitate to show it if occasion required.
After fulfilling his appointment with the Presbyterian church of Davenport, the Rev. Hummer accepted a call to the Presbyterian church in Iowa City. While occupying that position he was sent east to solicit aid for a church they were about to erect. Among other donations he procured a church bell which was bought out and properly hing in the church steeple. After some time he and the congregation falling out, in his imperious style he claimed possession of the bell as his property, which claim the church contested. The Rev. Hummer left Iowa City and went to Keokuk. After a good deal of wrangling he appeared in Iowa City, one day, with a wagon and ladder and, going to the church with the aid of his ladder he succeeded in getting into the steeple and, unfastening the bell, lowered it into the wagon. The citizens immediately took the ladder down and drove his team away with the bell, which they hid in the Iowa river, leaving the Rev. Hummer to his meditations in the steeple. So many persons have inquired of me about this affair that I thought it would be interesting to weave the facts into this narrative. I copy from the "Annals of Iowa:"
The future historian of Johnson county will, doubtless, devote at least one chapter to that talented but most unscrupulous individual, yclept the Rev. Michael Hummer, with whom, in the minds of the oldest inhabitants of Iowa City, his bell is so inseparably connected.
That bell, famed both in caricature and story, as the highly prized jewel of Hummer, so singularly abducted and so secretly and securely concealed, was the subject of some hastily written versicles entitled "Hummer's Bell," and at the time attained considerable popularity, not so much, perhaps, from any intrinsic merit of their own, as from the incident that gave rise to them.
The first copy of the brochure was given by me to Stephen Whicher, Esq., who, upon his own volition, had a number privately printed and circulated in which, greatly to my annoyance, several changes and interpolations appeared, totally at variance with the original; and as it is extremely doubtful whether a correct and perfect copy can, at this time, be found. I have thought it might be sufficiently interesting, as one of the reminiscences of former years, to have "Hummer's Bell," like the fly preserved in amber, embalmed in the pages of the Annals of Iowa.
A part of the first verse was the improvisation of the Hon. John P. Cook, the legal vocalist of the day, who, upon hearing a ludicrous story of the bell's departure, broke out in song to the infinite merriment of the members of the bar present and, in his sonorous and mellifluent tones, sang the first six lines, to the well known popular air of "Moore's Evening Bells" Stephen Whicher, Esq., who made one of the merry company, carefully noted down the fragmentary carol and, meeting me soon afterward, earnestly solicited me to complete the song, as he termed it. His request was immediately complied with promptu production, of which I append a copy, verbatim et literatum, from the original manuscript now lying before me and which has never been out of my possession:
How many a tale of woe 'twould tell
Of Hummer driving up to town,
To take the brazen jewel down.
And when high up in his belfre-e,
They moved the ladder, yes, sir-e-e;
Thus, while he towered aloft, they say
The bell took wings and flew away.
Ah, Hummer's bell! Ah, Hummer's bell!
The bard thy history shall tell;
How at the east, by Hummer's sleight,
Donation, gift and widow's mite,
Made up the sum that purchased thee,
And placed him in the ministry.
But funds grew low while dander riz;
Thy clapper stopped, and so did his.
Ah, Hummer's bell! Ah, Hummer's bell!
We've heard thy last, thy funeral knell;
And what an aching void is left -
Of bell and Hummer both bereft.
Thou, deeply sunk in running stream.
Him in a Swedenborgian dream.
Both are submerged - both, to our cost.
Alike to sense and reason lost.
Ah, Hummer's bell! Ah, Hummer's bell!
Hidden unwisely, but too well;
Alas, thou'rt gone! Thy silvery tone
No more responds to Hummer's groan.
But yet remains one source of hope,
For Hummer left a fine bell-rope,
Which may be used, if such our luck,
To noose our friend at Keokuk.
I was well acquainted with Mr. Hummer when he lived in Davenport and always had a great deal of charity for him, as I always thought him non composmentis. When he left Iowa City he moved to Keokuk and, after creating a great deal of excitement in propagating his views on spiritualism, which he embraced in his latter days, he became so unpopular that he went to Missouri, not far from Kansas City, since which time I have lost track of him but have been told he is dead. The celebrated bell, I understand, has been recovered from the sands of the Iowa river and is now in possession of the Mormons, at Salt Lake.
I will mention one little incident that occurred in 1840, showing the difficulties and hardships of those every early days. Female hired help was not to be obtained. I assisted my wife all I could - probably did as much house work as she did. She was not strong and was unaccustomed to such work. In July my son, Elisha, was born. We had no help but had been looking for a girl for months. Mrs. John Owens and Mrs. Ebenezer Cook, one living a mile above and the other a mile below our house, took turns in taking care of my wife and the child, one during the daytime and the other at night; but they had to neglect their own families to do so. I knew this state of things could not last and determined to find help at any cost. Having no clerk yet in my store I was obliged to lock it up and with the key in my pocket rode three days all over the county, in search of a girl.
The first day I went up to LeClaire, canvassing Pleasant Valley thoroughly, but with no success. The next day I rode through the southern part of the county and Blue Grass, as far as there was any settlement, but all in vain. On this trip I was told there was a family in Walnut Grove where there were two grown daughters who, it was understood, sometimes went to nurse sick neighbors. I determined to go there and, on leaving home the third day, told the ladies that if I did not get back that night they need not be alarmed, as I would not return without help. When I reached Walnut Grove, at about 11:30 in the morning, I found the coziest and neatest farm house I had yet seen in the territory and Mrs. Heller, with two full-grown, healthy looking daughters, all as neat as wax. The house was better furnished than any I had seen. The window-curtains and bedspread were as white as the driven show. The floors shone like silver. I introduced myself and made known my business. I told Mrs. Heller my situation was desperate - that I had come for one of her daughters and would not go away without one. She said she would leave the matter altogether with their father, who was at work in the field,half a mile a way. She invited me to sit down and wait until he came in to dinner, which would be in about half an hour. But I said: "My business is too important to admit of delay. I will go to the field." I found Mr. Heller cradling wheat and not a stranger, as I supposed, for when we met we recognized each other, having been on a jury together a few months before. I told my story in as few words as possible. He hung his cradle on the fence and we went to the house, as it was about dinner time. He said he would like to help me out of my trouble; that they were working hard to open a farm and he was not able to do much for his daughters, and whatever they earned they had to clothe themselves with; but they never had gone away from home except to help sick neighbors sometimes. He knew from what he had seen of me that I would treat them well, and he would be glad to have one of them go with me to relieve me. When we arrived at the house he told his daughters what I wanted and that it would please him if one of them would go with me. The youngest one spoke up and said, "I will go," and I was happy. She returned with me and lived in my family seven years, until she married. My wife and myself always looked upon her as a sister or a child. She married one of the most respectable men of the day, an owner of a good farm and a member of the state legislature. They are both living in Davenpoort at the present time. That young woman is now (in 1888) nearly seventy years old.
The times were very hard then, and for some years after. Our land had just been brought into the market by the government and all money in the country went into the land office. Some of our best farmers paid fifty per cent for money to enter their lands and were kept poor for years paying interest. Meanwhile they used all the money they could get hold of to break, fence and stock their farms, spending as little as they could with the merchant, and what trading they did was generally on a year's credit.
No one can realize the difficulties of doing a produce business in those days. We had no railroads. Everything had to be moved by water and, of course, had to be held all winter. To keep up with the rapid growth of the country and provide for the surplus required not only money and credit but, what in those days was more important than either, nerve.
In the year 1841 I saw the amount of wheat and pork was going to be double as much as ever before, and I was very solicitous as to what I should do with it. I saw in the St. Louis Republican that the government invited proposals for furnishing Fort Snelling and Fort Crawford with a year's supply of pork, flour, beans, soap, vinegar, candles and numerous othe articles. I considered the matter and could think of no reason why Scott county could not furnish the pork, flour, beans, etc., as well as St. Louis, which had furnished them heretofore. So I decided to put in a bid, if I could find any one to go on my bonds, which were heavy. I interviewed Mr. LeClaire and Colonel Davenport, and told them what I was thinking of. If I could accomplish it and get a contract and fill it from home production, it would be a grand thing for both the town and the county, and be a means of circulating a good deal of money, of which the people at that time were sadly in need. Those gentlemen, always ready and anxious to do anything that would settle up and advance the prosperity of the country, were much pleased with my suggestion and said they would stand by me. I put in bids for both forts, referring as to my responsibility to Colonel Davenport and Antoine LeClaire. As I was going to Cincinnati I wrote to them that if my bids were accepted to address me there, as I wished to purchase in that market such supplies as could not be procured at home. On my arrival I found a communication from the department at Washington, saying that my bid for Fort Snelling had been accepted. On my return home I found that John Atchison, who had been the successful contractor of both forts for two or three years previous, had been in town three days awaiting my return. I got home about dark. My wife told me that Ebenezer Cook had left word that I had better avoid meeting Atchison until I had seen Cook; so after supper I walked down to Mr. Cook's house, about a mile on the Rockingham road. He informed me that Atchison was very anxious to buy me out. He did not care about furnishing the supplies so much as he did for the transportation. The Atchison Brothers owned the largest and most magnificent steamboat on the upper Mississippi, called the "Amaranth." They had been very successful in controlling both the government's and the Fur Company's freight and my success was a great surprise to them. In the morning Atchison made his appearance. I refused to sell, telling him my only object in taking the contract was to make an outlet for my winter accumulation. After talking the matter over all day I sold out on these conditions: he to pay me a bonus of $2,500, cash down; I to furnish the flour, pork and beans, for which he was to pay me contract price, less the transportation, and pay me cash down on delivery to his boat, the next June, the time specified by the government. I now went to work hauling my wheat to Rockingham mill and scouring the country for hogs. My cooperage-pork, flour and bean barrels-I had all manufactured at home, giving employment to a number of coopers. This, with the money I had received from Atchison and scattered among the farmers for hogs, wheat, beans, etc., gave our little village and the county a decided boom.
About this time there was a prospect of brighter days. Our German fellow citizens began to come to Davenport in large numbers and many of them possessed a good deal of money, which the country sadly needed. They entered large tracts of land, which they immediately improved. This year (1851) the cholera prevailed in Davenport and many of the German immigrants had ship fever among them. They came by the way of New Orleans; every steamboat landing at our wharf left some. There was much excitement on account of the cholera. Many of our best citizens are dying. A man would be well at bedtime and dead before morning. Many immigrants could not get shelter and Burrows & Prettyman threw open their pork house and warehouse for use until the immigrants could put up shanties on the prairie. Many men, now wealthy farmers, occupied our buildings until they could do better; among these I remember M. J. Rohlfs, since then treasurer of Scott county for ten years; also N. J. Rusch, afterward state senator and lieutenant-governor of Iowa. I always have had a warm feeling for the Germans for their help in settling up Scott county, when help was so much needed. It is astonishing to see what they have accomplished. You can find scarcely a German farmer who is not wealthy. The banks of Davenport contain about $6,000,000 of deposits (which, I believe, is as much as all the rest of the state claims to have), and half of the money is owned by Germans.
In the fall of 1845, after navigation was closed on the river, I found it would be necessary for me to go to St. Louis. Prettyman said our sales had been large and we would be out of many leading articles before spring, and if I could mannage to get them here he wished I would buy some. I told him to make up a list of dry goods such as he needed, about a wagon load, and I would bring them up. I went over to Beardstown, on the Illinois river, by stage, and down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers by steamboat, to St. Louis. In St. Louis, after my buuiness was transacted, I purchased Mr. Prettyman's bill of goods and shipped them by the river to Keokuk, as the boat was to go no farther. We did not get there on account of ice, but the boat landed us four miles below, at a small town called Warsaw, on the Illinois shore. When we left St. Louis it was dark and I did not see any one I knew on the boat. The first thing I did in the morning, after breakfast, was to take a walk on the guards to get fresh air. I soon heard familiar voices on the deck below and on going down saw seven young men from Pleasant Valley, customers of ours, among whom I can only remember George Hawley and two of the Fenno boys. They had been down to St. Louis with two flat-boats loaded with onions, and were then in a delemma as to how they were to get home. They wanted to know what I was going to do. I told them I should hire a team to haul my goods, and would ride on the wagon. When the boat landed us I found and hired a team. The boys wanted me to let them put on their baggage. The teamster said it would overload us; but they were so anxious, and being good customers or ours. I told the teamster if he would carry their baggage I would walk with the men.
We reached Carthage, the county seat, at noon, and stopped and got dinner, by which time a heavy storm of rain and sleet set in. The men wanted to lay over until the next day, but I insisted upon pushing on; so we all put out during the afternoon and traveled until dark, when we put up at a farm house. I overheard the boys, in the afternoon, saying I could not stand it long - that they would soon have "my hide on the fence." I thought to myself, "We shall see." We started out next morning in a snow-storm, calculating to make Monmouth that night. When we got within five or six miles of that place the men began to give out, saying they could travel no farther. George Hawley and myself were the only ones to get through, which we did about 9 o'clock that night. I hired the landlord to send out a two-horse wagon and pick up the other men and bring them in. He found them scattered along the road for miles, completely exhausted. I said nothing but wondered whose hides ornamented the fence. The next day we arrived home safely, having walked the whole distance in a heavy storm, all travel-worn, sore and weary. It was about as hard a trip as the one I made form Prairie du Chien to Dubuque some years before.
I had been packing considerable pork for a few years and I sold it mostly to the Fur Company and to parties filling Indian contracts. The wheat I handled, from 1840 to 1845, that I did not get made into flour, I bought on commission for a large mill in Cincinnati - C. S. Bradbury & Company. Our business had now (1847) become well established, large amounts of produce coming in from the counties of Cedar, Linn, Jones, Clinton and Jackson. Our store was well patronized and we hardly ever closed until midnight. In the forenoons the farmers in our county, from the Groves and points within a circuit of ten or fifteen miles, would come in with their grain, etc., and by the time they had unloaded and done their trading, another section would begin to arrive from Clinton and Cedar counties and the territory still farther distant - a big day's travel - and would not all get in until near bedtime. They wanted to unload and do their trading, so as to start home early next morning, that they might reach home the same day. This made our business very laborious.
One of the enterprises in which I was interested and which I recall with satisfaction because it will be a permanent benefit to the city of Davenport, is the establishment of Oakdale cemetery; and I propose to devote this chapter to a history of the undertaking, that the facts, never before all stated correctly, may be put on record.
Some time after all the land in this section was supposed to be entered, I heard that the eighty-acre tract where Oakdale is situated had been overlooked. This was about 1845, I think. I sent up to the Dubuque land office and entered the tract. A year later I sold it to John Mullen, an Irish drayman, for $5 an acre. About ten years later (in 1856) some half-dozen gentlemen and myself agreed that Davenport ought to have better accommodations for her dead - something that would be an honor to the city in years to come. The City cemetery was inadequate, besides being badly situated. Pine Hill was a private speculation, which we did not approve. We organized a company and looked about for suitable grounds. After thorough examination we selected the ground now called Oakdale and bought half of it (forty acres) back from John Mullen, paying him $100 an acre. George B. Sargent and myself contributed the largest amounts. The company also borrowed $1,250 from some one in the east. When we bought Mullen's forty acres, land near the city was high. Davenport was having a "boom." As we could not be incorporated until the legislature met, whch would be two years, the directors had Mullen deed the land back to me and I held it for the company until the legislature met, when I conveyed it to the company. We employed an expert landscape gardener, of Washington, D. C., to lay out the cemetery and paid him $500 for his work. He had planned and laid out some of the finest cemeteries in the United States. The first two or three years our company was very much embarassed. We were passing through the hard times of 1858-59 and were hard put to it to collect money for necessary expenses. The loan of $1,250 had to be paid, as the lender threatened to foreclose. George B. Sargent and myself each loaned the company $500. The remaining $250 Antoine LeClaire, at my solicitation, loaned, us, I giving him my individual note for the money, as he would have nothing to do with the company. I believe the affairs of the company have been very prosperous for several years.
Oakdale is a beautiful place and will, from year to year, become much more beautiful. All moneys received from sale of lots, with the exception of necessary expenses, are to be spent in beautifying and improving the grounds. The originator and the most indefatigable man in pushing this enterprise was William H. F. Gurley, Esq., long since dead, and who sleeps, I believe, in the cemetery at Washington, D. C.
REV. JOHN O. FOSTER ON EARLY DAYS
When an old-timer begins to spin his yarns, people often say, "Let him alone, poor fellow! He can't well help it, and if it will do him any good, just let him go on; it will not hurt us." Now that is very knid, and if you will listen to the story for a few minutes, and then are not interested, throw the article aside and read something else.
"Black Hawk Purchase!" Whew! How that brings up old memories . Yes, father got the fever in 1837, and he talked about it day and night for nearly a year. Then, in the spring of 1838, as soon as the grass was large enough for the teams, long lines of prairie schooners started for the Far west though Indiana was also the far west at that time, but neighbors were getting too thick around Michigan City, Indiana, and father decided to move to the Mississippi.
The battle of Bad Axe, Wisconsin, had settled the controversy with the Indians, and the whole land once belonging to the Sac and Fox Indians was thrown open for settlers.
The rush for the new lands was nothing like the tremendous boom of late years when new territories are opened, but for that day there was some excitement not to be overlooked. The route lay, as we afterward learned, through Joliet, Ills.; thence over the long, bleak prairie, without the sign of habitation for miles and miles, save at certain crossings of rivers, like that at Dixon, where, if the waters were low enough, the streams were sure to be forded; if not then the new ferry was used, for which great prices were charged. In due time our new home was made on the shore of the Father of Waters, about two miles below the town of Port Byron, Ills. There the strong arms of the new comers soon threw up comfortable homes for the families destined to settle there and begin the battle of life for subsistence. And it was a battle and no mistake, for every thing edible, such as salt, sugar, tea and coffee, and all articles of clothing, were held at exorbitant prices. At our late home in Indiana game had been somewhat plentiful, but here it had been so generally killed off that there was no great supply left. When you talk about fish, then the waters of the upper rapids, as this part of the river was known, could furnish enough to suppy the nation. I have been at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, the straits of the great lakes, and have fished in the pools for bullheads when they were so plentiful that a tubful would not bring a dollar, but to describe the abundance of fish in this mighty stream at that time would stagger the credulity of any common believer. Think of a sixty-pound catfish, a ten-pound bass, a pike four feet long, and a muskellunge - well, no matter if he was never weighed or measured, for he was big enough and good enough for any of the freinds of Isaac Walton to admire. Father set a trout line one night below the mill, and next day had fish enough to supply the neighborhood. On a hot summer evening we used to go down to the bank and see the great fish jump up after flies, and it was a sight which has never faded from my memory. Hundreds of great, gamy fish made this their feeding time, and when the water was a little low, the sight was marvelous. It may be that something of the scene of other days may now and then appear, but the wanton slaughter of fish has gone on so long that they have become scarce in these later years.
It was a bright day in 1840 when the great flat boat, a sort of scow, anchored just before our home, and the belongings of the family were put on board and we pushed off for the other side of the river, into Iowa territory. That short voyage of a few miles made a deep impression on my young mind, for, like all other boys, I had a great liking for boats and this one, the Young Hickory was a model. It was the year of the presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison, and as he was called "Old Hickory," it was well to name this boat Young Hickory. We landed in Scott county, and made our home in a beautiful grove about ten miles northwest of Davenport. The little stream that ran through the grove seemed large enough for a mill-site, and here it was determined to build a mill. But there were not enough inhabitants to support such an expensive undertaking, and so father sold out.
A call came from a place called Rockingham, on the river just below Davenport, where there was a mill owned by Sullivan & Moyer, who wanted a steady blacksmith to whom steady employment would be given. That was just the opening for father, and teams soon conveyed us to the place. But like many other new towns, there was not a house to be had, not a shanty to be rented. To be compelled to build a home on such short notice was something of a task, for, unlike many other places, there was no timber at hand, lumber was expensive, carpenters were not to be had, and the men at the mill wanted the blacksmith to go to work immediately. That great steam saw and gristmill was something of a curiosity in the mighty west. It was probably the largest of its kind on the river north of St. Louis. It was a large building, not far from the bank of the river designed to saw logs or grind the grists of the farmers and do a general milling business. The proprietors had spent thousands of dollars in the plant and, for some reason, the sawmill part of the works was not a success, probably as no good anchorage for logs could be made on that shore.
Father thought it best to call on the proprietors as soon as possible and secure the proffered enployment. He was pretty closely examined as the head man wanted one who could do almost anything in the blacksmith line from making a horseshoe nail to mending or reconstructing any of the complicated machinery. He was taken through the mill and shown all the parts. The new motor force of steam was fully explained, and he was assured that a man who could meet any special emergency when a break-down occurred, would find steady employment at $1.50 a day. Father did not tell them that he had studied steam power from the day he saw Robert Fulton launch the Clermont, the first steamboat ever made, or that he was present at the foot of Fulton street, New York, when the boat started off upon her maiden trip for Albany, and the application of steam power to boats was an accomplished fact. He had long desired a chance to see and work in machinery of this kind, for he had constructed a model locomotive in 1831 at Rob Roy, Ind., that was large enough to pull two men over the circular track laid within his large blacksmith shop. The history of that first locomotive this side of the state of Massachusetts I have lately put in print.
So John I. Foster sucured the job of blacksmith and general repairer of broken machinery for Sullivan & Moyer in the town of Rockingham, in the county of Scott, Iowa territory. That same town was the county seat of Scott county at that time, and there was a young earthquake coming on, the mutterings of which were only a shade less than a cyclone. Davenport was the candidate for the permanent county seat, and Rockingham declared she would fight for her rights to the death. The mill men saw in the movement the ruin of their business. The store keepers declared the change would bring disaster to them. The farmers were content to go to Rockingham for their grists, and Davenport had not a corn cracker in its neighnorhood, and why should the county seat be moved? There really was no call for the action.
But there was one argument more powerful than all else combined and this was the theme on which Davenport had determined to win. Back of Rockingham there was a swamp, a big, deep morass, and when the river was high, there was no way to get to the bluffs. The city authorities saw the point, turned out en masse, and made a long, high causeway to the high ground back of the town. But the Mississippi had a fashion of laughing at such jokes as that, and proceeded to wash away the obstruction during the next rise in the river. The citizens fell to again, and made a more formidable embankment, fixed a bridge over the deepest place and in the end beat the river out of its old channel. Once more the high water arose in its might and carried away the bridge, and I, poor fellow, happened to be over at David Sullivan's and had to stay there two days before I could get home; and then only by the kindness of the said Sullivan who took me over in a skiff. It was painful to be in sight of home and mother and yet unable to cross the dark, deep strem flowing between me and the loved ones.
The county seat went up stream, and the old town practically went out of existence. The Rockingham hotel, the largest and finest hostelry on the upper Mississippi followed the departing greatness of the town and fell away piecemeal, to be seen no more. And the mill-well, that stood the longest of all the original structures, for that stout frame bade defiance to winds and weather for many years. The old engine was taken out and made to do service on a river steamer, and the building was left to decay.
But to return. The skillful mechanic heard of a vacant house down the river, nearly half way to Buffalo, owned by Joseph N. Robinson. Thither Father Foster made his home and here ended his days.
I have wandered over many lands, seen the sun rise over the plains of Lombardy, run through the whole length of France, skirted the Rivieri, climbed to the summit of Vesuvius and watched the play of lights and shades in the Alps, but where, in the wide world, can a more beautiful spot be found than that high bluff jutting down toward the river about four miles south of Davenport? You, who are denizens of that land, go some day to the top of that beautiful hill where the modern house now stands and look for yourselves. I have been there of late years and taken testimony from those who know how to judge, that this spot has some of the greatest attractions of any one in western lands. Not a great mountain range, not the frayed edge of an ocean washed shore, not the beetling crags of Niagara's gorge, not the windings of Bonny Doon, but the cleanest sweep of beautiful vistas imaginable. How did it look in those days? Well I will tell you. Here to the right down the stream was old Buffalo. Over yonder was Camden. Here to the left was the fading village of Rockingham. Up the river, three or four miles, was the young city of Davenport. With its long white row of soldiers' barracks close by the hill at the lower end of the village, across the river was Stephenson, now the city of Rock Island. (Why was that name changed?) And still farther up the stream was the little town of Moline. In those days there were no great, dingy factories; no tall smokestacks to puncture the sky line, and no bridge to tie the states together. And yonder, clear and white, was the fort at the lower end of the island with its old log block houses, stockade and loopholes, through which we used to crawl when we went picnicking over there, and the beautiful white house of William Cook about half way this side. Then look at the islands, three in number: Rock island, Credit island and Horse island, all in a row, covered with beautiful trees. Then the winding river, with its broad sweep of more than a mile in width and fully ten miles in length; while over there almost in front, comes in the mouth of the clear, deep Rock river, from the northeast, while yonder, on that high tongue of land just above the mouth of Rock river is the old Indian camping ground which Black Hawk prized more than all his other possessions, and for which he fought till fully overpowered. And here, just above old Rockingham, was where the troops had a bout with the redskins in an early day, where my sister found an officer's beautiful sword, somewhat rusty, yet just the thing for father to cut up and make three or four good butcher knives.
Is this not enough to convince anyone of the beauty of the place where my father's pure spirit fled for the other and brighter world? The owner of that home on the hill has not given me a reward for writing thus, but I wish he would send me an invitation to come some day and sit on his front porch and let me muse over the scenes of sixty odd years ago; then maybe I might learn his name and wish him as many pleasant memories as have come over the writer.