Iowa Old Press
Keosauqua, Van Buren, Iowa
March 10, 1881
OLD SETTLER'S REMINISCENCE
By Lorenzo Ellis
EDWARD GODDARD, Esq.:-
I suppose you know something of bear hunting and eating Panther meat for Christmas supper. I will try to think of something to tell some of our labor and fare. In the fall of 1837, probably in September a comrade of mine at the time (which probably is the only person living in Chequest township that was there at that time) thought we needed a grindstone, the best chance to get one that we knew of was near the river a mile or two above Pittsburg, and to take it in the rough, and our mode of transportation was on our backs, there was no road through the timber and brush; we arrived at our destination at night, but did not get ready to start back that night, we stayed with a man by the name of McCollum, I think. In the morning we rigged our grindstone with bark so we could swing it on our shoulder or back. I don't know how heavy it was; it was as heavy as a grindstone in the rough. About 8 or 9 o'clock we started, we carried turn about. I noticed the one that carried it generally took the lead, walked the fastest. After traveling some distance we struck a trail we thought went in nearly the right direction, it being so much easier traveling, we concluded to follow it. The first time we knew our whereabouts was on the river bottom above Philadelphia, a little below where a Mr. Fellows now lives, St. Clair Griffin lived there then. He gave us a good feed of Musk and Water melons, by the time we started from there it had clouded up thick. When we got to the woods there was no trail we thought we would blaze trees from there home (having a hatchet) so we could find the way back if we wanted to go there again, we blazed ahead until we came to fresh blazes we could not think who had been there; upon examination we found them to be our work, then of course we knew we were lost. It had commenced raining nicely by this time, we knew our best chance was to take as straight a direction as we could knowing a straight line in my direction would take us to a stream or some land mark we would probably know. We had not traveled far before we hit a trail, which upon examination we found was one the surveyors had made running the west line of the Van Buren township. We did not know whether to turn right or left, we turned right which just at dusk took us to the corner of the township, some mile and a half below Portland. We found a cabin in perhaps a quarter of a mile from the corner of the township, we got there at dark, it was still raining, and stayed there that night. It had ceased raining before morning, when it was light enough we shouldered our grindstone, took the township line, followed it to Chequest Creek, followed that up to our cabin, we got there perhaps 9 or 10 o'clock a.m. with our grindstone.
The next spring the same person and myself went up to one of our neighbors, some six miles off, to borrow some meal, they having a good supply on hand, we took 3 bushels, put in two sacks and packed it home all right.
After that there being a trail from our place to Philadelphia, now Kilbourn, a hired man and myself started for that place to get some supplies, we did it up in two packages, one perhaps a little larger than the other and started for home. After traveling some distance my man complained of being tired, and wanted to stop and rest, (perhaps he had not quite sand enough in his craw to endure hardship). I knew we had not much tie to idle away if we did not want to be in the woods that night, so I took his load on with mine and carried it until he got rested. When he took his load mine would seem so much lighter that I would get tolerably well rested by the time he got tired. I took his lead two or three times and got home all right before dark.
One time I packed a trifling load from Keosauqua home 10 miles, among my loading was a 2 or 3 pail iron kettle, thick and heavy of its size. I think I will dose you no more with my packing this time.
One time in the winter, Mr. Green and I had business in Keosauqua, the ice was thick on the river, there had been a slight thaw so the water was running 2 or 3 inches deep on the ice and it had turned cold so that water was pretty well filled with sharp mush ice. When we arrived at the river, not being blessed with boots, we though our safest way was to strip our feet, thinking if we got our shoes and socks wet our feet would be frozen before we got home. After doing our business when we got back to the river striped our feet again and crossed the mush ice it was so sharp it cut the skin of our feet and ankles so that blood started a little, -pretty cool that.
Now for a specimen of the fare of some of the first Settlers. In the spring of 1838 we spliced ???? with a neighbor and I helped him break 20 acres of Prairie. For a day or two we had a little jerked venison, after that corn bread mixed up with salt and water, no soda, sweetening or grease of any kind; the man said he must have coffee, so he would put an ear of corn in the fire and when it had burned enough would put it in the coffee pot with water and have coffee. I then learned what I once thought were necessaries of life, were principally conveniences. Luxury and superfluities, the only actual necessaries are what grows on the corn stalk, and salt and water. I shall not describe our living at the time. We are not bound to criminate ourselves. i was at raising after that where dinner consisted of corn bread made from meal that had not been sifted but had been wet and soured and no soda or saleratus to neutralize it, a little lean jerked venison not very much, probably not enough to hurt one man. Our drink was not exactly clear water, there had been a shower and made the water slightly muddy.
There used to be a good deal of [cannot read line]...Settlers. The way we made it at our place, we holl'ed out a stump that was convenient for a mortar inside the hole probably 12 to 15 inches in diameter, 18 to 20 deep. We had a pestle of solid hard oak, probably six inches in diameter at the butt, 4 to 6 feet long, had a spring pole to help raise it, then put the corn in the mortar and pounded it, then had it made into a cake. I suppose that was "Pound Cake," it surely had been pounded.
In October 1839, the people where I was, killed a hog of their own fattening, we never lacked for hog or hominy after that.
A few years after, the neighbors thought they could afford the luxury of having their cabins daubed or painted with lime and sand. They met at our place to make a log heap to burn the lime on. I was detailed to cook the dinner. I thought of course I must try to do something nice. We had a stew kettle or pot that would hold 3 or 4 gallons. I got two good sized roosters, a good chunk of pickled pork, and put the pot on the fire; in due time I put in the potatoes, all things doing fine, had got my dough or batter ready ready for my drop or dip dumplings. Alas, for human calculations, the forestick burned off, down came the pot, potatoes, pork, roosters and broth, on the hearth. But must have dinner soon, getting behind time. I gathered potatoes, pork and roosters and put them in the pot, but could not gather up the broth; had to substitute clear water, but put in a pint more or less of meat fryings. Soon had it cooking again, put in my dumplings. Called the men to dinner, they did my cooking good justice. I did not tell them it had been on the hearth to cool.
Your most obedient.
Iowa Old Press
Van Buren County