Part 4 out of 7
in Cedar Rapids and Sioux City,--I suppose he was a Greene, a Weare, a
Graves, a Johnson or a Lusch. Many were talking of the Fort Dodge
country, and of the new United States Land Office which was just then on
the point of opening at Fort Dodge. They tried to send me to several
places where land could be bought cheaply, in the counties between the
Cedar and the Iowa Rivers, and as far west as Webster County; but when I
told them that I had bought land they at once lost interest in me.
We camped down by the river among the trees, and it was late before we
were free to sleep, on account of the visits we received from movers and
land men; but finally the camp-fires died down, the songs ceased, the
music of accordions and fiddles was heard no more, and the camp of
emigrants became silent.
Virginia bade me good night, and I rolled up in my blankets under the
wagon. I began wondering, after the questions which had been asked as
to our relationship, just what was to be the end of this strange journey
of the big boy and the friendless girl. We were under some queer sort of
suspicion--that was clear. Two or three wives among the emigrants had
tried to get a word with Virginia in private; and some of the men had
grinned and winked at me in a way that I should have been glad to notice
according to my old canal habits; but I had sense enough to see that
that would never do.
Virginia was now as free from care as if she had been traveling with her
brother; and what could I say? What did I want to say? By morning I had
made up my mind that I would take her to my farm and care for her there,
regardless of consequences--and I admit that I was not clear as to the
proprieties. Every one was a stranger to every one else in this country.
Whose business was it anyhow? Doctor Bliven and his companion--I had
worked out a pretty clear understanding of their case by this time--were
settling in the new West and leaving their past behind them. Who could
have anything to say against it if I took this girl with me to my farm,
cared for her, protected her; and gave her the home that nobody else
seemed ready to give?
"Do you ever go to church?" asked Virginia. "It's Sunday."
"Is there preaching here to-day?" I asked.
"Don't you hear the bell?" she inquired.
"Let's go!" said I.
We were late; and the heads of the people were bowed in prayer as we
went in; so we stood by the door until the prayer was over. The preacher
was Elder Thorndyke. I was surprised at seeing him because he had told
me that he and his wife were going to Monterey Centre; but there he was,
laboring with his text, speaking in a halting manner, and once in a
while bogging down in a dead stop out of which he could not pull himself
without giving a sort of honk like a wild goose. It was his way. I never
sat under a preacher who had better reasoning powers or a worse way of
reasoning. Down in front of him sat Grandma Thorndyke, listening
intently, and smiling up to him whenever he got in hub-deep; but at the
same time her hands were clenched into fists in her well-darned
I did not know all this then, for her back was toward us; but I saw it
so often afterward! It was that honking habit of the elder's which had
driven them, she often told me, from New England to Ohio, then to
Illinois, and finally out to Monterey Centre. The new country caught the
halt like Elder Thorndyke, the lame like the Fewkeses, the outcast like
the Bushyagers and the Blivens, the blind like me, the far-seeing like
N.V. Creede, the prophets like old Dunlap the Abolitionist and Amos
Thatcher, and the great drift of those who felt a drawing toward the
frontier like iron filings to a magnet, or came with the wind of
emigration like tumble-weeds before the autumn blast.
I remembered that when Virginia was with me back there by the side of
the road that first day, Elder Thorndyke and his wife had come by
inquiring for her; and I did not quite relish the idea of being found
here with her after all these long days; so when church was out I took
Virginia by the hand and tried to get out as quickly as possible; but
when we reached the door, there were Elder Thorndyke and grandma
shaking hands with the people, and trying to be pastoral; though it was
clear that they were as much strangers as we. The elder was filling the
vacant pulpit that day by mere chance, as he told me; but I guess he was
really candidating a little after all. It would have been a bad thing
for Monterey Centre if he had received the call.
They greeted Virginia and me with warm handclasps and hearty inquiries
after our welfare; and we were passing on, when Grandma Thorndyke headed
us off and looked me fairly in the face.
"Why," said she, "you're that boy! Wait a minute."
She stepped over and spoke to her husband, who seemed quite in the dark
as to what she was talking about. She pointed to us--and then, in
despair, she came back to us and asked us if we wouldn't wait until the
people were gone, as she wanted us to meet her husband.
"Oh, yes," said Virginia, "we'll be very glad to."
"Let us walk along together," said grandma, after the elder had joined
us. "Ah--this is my husband, Mr. Thorndyke, Miss--"
"Royall," said Virginia, "Virginia Royall. And this is Jacob Vandemark."
"Where do you live?" asked grandma.
"I'm going out to my farm in Monterey County," I said; "and Virginia
is--is--riding with me a while."
"We are camping," said Virginia, smiling, "down by the river. Won't you
come to dinner with us?"
Grandma ran to some people who were waiting, I suppose, to take them to
the regular minister's Sunday dinner, and seemed to be making some sort
of plea to be excused. What it could have been I have no idea; but I
suspect it must have been because of the necessity of saving souls; some
plea of duty; anyhow she soon returned, and with her and the elder we
walked in silence down to the grove where our wagon stood among the
trees, with my cows farther up-stream picketed in the grass.
"Just make yourselves comfortable," said I; "while I get dinner."
"And," said the elder, "I'll help, if I may."
"You're company," I said.
"Please let me," he begged; "and while we work we'll talk."
In the meantime Grandma Thorndyke was turning Virginia inside out like a
stocking, and looking for the seamy side. She carefully avoided asking
her about our whereabouts for the last few days, but she scrutinized
Virginia's soul and must have found it as white as snow. She found out
how old she was, how friendless she was, how--but I rather think not
why--Virginia had run away from Buck Gowdy; and all that could be
learned about me which could be learned without entering into details of
our hiding from the world together all those days alone on the trackless
prairie. That subject she avoided, though of course she must have had
her own ideas about it. And after that, she came and helped me with the
dinner, talking all the time in such a way as to draw me out as to my
past. I told her of my life on the canal--and she looked distrustfully
at me. I told her of my farm, and of how I got it; and that brought out
the story of my long hunt for my mother, and of my finding of her
unmarked grave. Of my relations with Virginia she seemed to want no
information. By the time our dinner was over--one of my plentiful
wholesome meals, with some lettuce and radishes and young onions I had
bought the night before--we were chatting together like old friends.
"That was a better dinner," said the elder, "than we'd have had at Mr.
"But Jacob, here," said grandma, "is not a deacon of the church."
"That doesn't lessen my enjoyment of the dinner," said the elder.
"No," said Grandma Thorndyke dryly, "I suppose not. But now let us talk
seriously. This child"--taking Virginia's hand--"is the girl they were
searching for back there along the road."
"Ah," said the elder.
"She had perfectly good reasons for running away," went on Grandma
Thorndyke, "and she is not going back to that man. He has no claim upon
her. He is not her guardian. He is only the man who married her
sister--and as I firmly believe, killed her!"
"I wouldn't say that," said the elder.
"Now I calculate," said Grandma Thorndyke, "and unless I am corrected I
shall so report--and I dare any one to correct me!--that this
child"--squeezing Virginia's hand--"had taken refuge at some dwelling
along the road, and that this morning--not later than this morning--as
Jacob drove along into Waterloo he overtook Virginia walking into town
where she was going to seek a position of some kind. So that you two
children were together not longer than from seven this morning until
just before church. You ought not to travel on the Sabbath!"
"No, ma'am," said I; for she was attacking me.
"Now we are poor," went on Grandma Thorndyke, "but we never have starved
a winter yet; and we want a child like you to comfort us, and to help
us--and we mustn't leave you as you are any longer. You must ride on
with Mr. Thorndyke and me."
This to Virginia--who stretched out her hands to me, and then buried her
face in them in Grandma Thorndyke's lap. She was crying so that she did
not hear me when I asked:
"Why can't we go on as we are? I've got a farm. I'll take care of her!"
"Children!" snorted grandma. "Babes in the wood!"
I think she told the elder in some way without words to take me off to
one side and talk to me; for he hummed and hawed, and asked me if I
wouldn't show him my horses. I told him that I was driving cows, and
went with him to see them. I now had six again, besides those I had left
with Mr. Westervelt back along the road toward Dubuque; and it took me
quite a while to explain to him how I had traded and traded along the
road, first my two horses for my first cows, and then always giving one
sound cow for two lame ones, until I had great riches for those days
He thought this wonderful, and said that I was a second Job; and had
every faculty for acquiring riches. I had actually made property while
moving, an operation that was so expensive that it bankrupted many
people. It was astonishing, he insisted; and began looking upon me with
more respect--making property being the thing in which he was weakest,
except for laying up treasures in Heaven. He was surprised, too, to
learn that cows could be made draught animals. He had always thought of
them as good for nothing but giving milk. In fact I found myself so much
wiser than he was in the things we had been discussing that when he
began to talk to me about Virginia and the impossibility of our going
together as we had been doing, it marked quite a change in our
relationship--he having been the scholar and I the teacher.
"Quite a strange meeting," said he, "between you and Miss Royall."
"Yes," said I, thinking it over, from that first wolf-hunted approach to
my camp to our yesterday of clouds and sunshine; "I never had anything
like it happen to me."
"Mrs. Thorndyke," said he, "is a mighty smart woman. She knows what'll
do, and what won't do better than--than any of us."
I wasn't ready to admit this, and therefore said nothing.
"Don't you think so?" he asked.
"I do' know," I said, a little sullenly.
"A girl," said he, "has a pretty hard time in life if she loses her
Again I made no reply.
"You are just two thoughtless children," said he; "aren't you now?"
"She's nothing," said I, "but a little innocent child!"
"Now that's so," said he, "that's so; but after all she's old enough so
that evil things might be thought of her--evil things might be said; and
there'd be no answer to them, no answer. Why, she's a woman grown--a
woman grown; and as for you, you're getting a beard. This won't do, you
know; it is all right if there were just you and Miss Royall and my wife
and me in the world; but you wouldn't think for a minute of traveling
with this little girl the way you have been--the way you speak of doing,
I mean--if you knew that in the future, when she must make her way in
the world with nothing' but her friends, this little boy-and-girl
experience might take her friends from her; and when she will have
nothing but her good name you don't want, and would not for the world
have anything thoughtlessly done now, that might take her good name from
her. You are too young to understand this as you will some day----"
"The trouble with me," I blurted out, "is that I've never had much to do
with good women--only with my mother and Mrs. Fogg--and they could never
have anything said against them--neither of them!"
"Where have you lived all your life?" he asked.
Then I told him of the way I had picked up my hat and come up instead of
being brought up, of the women along the canal, of her who called
herself Alice Rucker, of the woman who stole across the river with
me--but I didn't mention her name--of as much as I could think of in my
past history; and all the time Elder Thorndyke gazed at me with
increasing interest, and with something the look we have in listening to
tales of midnight murder and groaning ghosts. I must have been an
astonishing sort of mystery to him. Certainly I was a castaway and an
outcast to his ministerial mind; and boy as I was, he seemed to feel for
me a sort of awed respect mixed up a little with horror.
"Heavenly Father!" he blurted out. "You have escaped as by the skin of
"I do' know," said I.
"But don't you understand," he insisted, "that this, trip has got to end
here? Suppose your mother, when she was a child in fact, but a woman
grown also, like Miss Royall, had been placed as she is with a boy of
your age and one who had lived your life----"
"No," said I, "it won't do. You can have her!"
I really felt as if I was giving-up something that had belonged to me. I
felt the pangs of renunciation.
We walked back to the wagon in silence, and found. Virginia and Grandma
Thorndyke sitting on the spring seat with grandma's arm about the girl,
with a handkerchief in her hand, just as if she had been wiping the
tears from Virginia's eyes; but the girl was laughing and talking in a
manner more lively than I had ever seen her exhibit. She was as happy,
apparently, as I was gloomy and downcast.
I wanted the Thorndykes to go away so that I could have a farewell talk
with Virginia; but they stayed on and stayed on, and finally, after
dark, grandma rose with a look at Virginia which she seemed to
understand, and they took my girl's satchel and all walked off together
toward the tavern.
I sat down and buried my face in my hands, Virginia's good-by had been
so light, so much like the parting of two mere strangers. And after all
what was I to her but a stranger? She was of a different sort from me.
She had lived in cities. She had a good education--at least I thought
so. She was like the Thorndykes--city folks, educated people, who could
have no use for a clodhopper like me, a canal hand, a rough character.
And just as I had plunged myself into the deepest despair, I heard a
light footfall, and Virginia knelt down before me on the ground and
pulled my hands from my eyes.
"Don't cry," said she. "We'll see each other again. I came back to bid
you good-by, and to say that you've been so good to me that I can't
think of it without tears! Good-by, Jacob!"
She lifted my face between her two hands, kissed me the least little
bit, and ran off. Back in the darkness I saw the tall figure of Grandma
Thorndyke, who seemed to be looking steadily off into the distance.
Virginia locked arms with her and they went away leaving me with my cows
and my empty wagon--filled with the goods in which I took so much pride
when I left Madison.
With the first rift of light in the east I rose from my sleepless bed
under the wagon--I would not profane her couch inside by occupying
it--and yoked up my cattle. Before noon I was in Cedar Falls; and from
there west I found the Ridge Road growing less and less a beaten track
owing to decreasing travel; but plainly marked by stakes which those two
pioneers had driven along the way as I have said for the guidance of
others in finding a road which they had missed themselves.
We were developing citizenship and the spirit of America. Those wagon
loads of stakes cut on the Cedar River in 1854 and driven in the prairie
sod as guides for whoever might follow showed forth the true spirit of
the American pioneer.
But I was in no frame of mind to realize this. I was drawing nearer and
nearer my farm, but for a day or so this gave me no pleasure. My mind
was on other things. I was lonelier than I had been since I found Rucker
in Madison. I talked to no one--I merely followed the stakes--until one
morning I pulled into a strange cluster of houses out on the green
prairie, the beginning of a village. I drew up in front of its
blacksmith shop and asked the name of the place. The smith lifted his
face from the sole of the horse he was shoeing and replied,
I looked around at my own county, stretching away in green waves on all
sides of the brand-new village; which was so small that it did not
interfere with the view. I had reached my own county! I had been a part
of it on this whole wonderful journey, getting acquainted with its
people, picking up the threads of its future, now its history.
Prior to this time I had been courting the country; now I was to be
united with it in that holy wedlock which binds the farmer to the soil
he tills. Out of this black loam was to come my own flesh and blood, and
the bodies, and I believe, in some measure, the souls of my children.
Some dim conception of this made me draw in a deep, deep breath of the
fresh prairie air.
HELL SLEW, ALIAS VANDEMARK'S FOLLY
That last night before I reached my "home town" of Monterey Centre, I
had camped within two or three miles of the settlement. I forgot all
that day to inquire where I was: so absent-minded was I with all my
botheration because of losing Virginia. I was thinking all the time of
seeing her again, wondering if I should ever see her alone or to speak
to her, ashamed of my behavior toward her--in my thoughts at
least--vexed because I had felt toward her, except for the last two or
three days, things that made it impossible to get really acquainted and
friendly with her. I was absorbed in the attempt to figure out the
meaning of her friendly acts when we parted, especially her coming back,
as I was sure she had, against the will of Grandma Thorndyke; and that
kiss she had given me was a much greater problem than making time on my
journey: I lived it over and over again a thousand times and asked
myself what I ought to have done when she kissed me, and never feeling
satisfied with myself for not doing more of something or other, I knew
not what. It was well for me that my teams were way-wised so that they
drove themselves. I could have made Monterey Centre easily that night;
for it was only about eight o'clock by the sun next morning when I
pulled up at the blacksmith shop, and was told by Jim Boyd, the smith,
that I was in Monterey Centre.
And now I did not know what to do. I did not know where my land was, nor
how to find out. Monterey Prairie was as blank as the sea, except for a
few settlers' houses scattered about within a mile or two of the
village. I sat scratching my head and gazing about me like a lunkhead
while Boyd finished shoeing a horse, and had begun sharpening the lay of
a breaking-plow--when up rode Pitt Bushyager on one of the horses he and
his gang had had in the Grove of Destiny back beyond Waterloo.
I must have started when I saw him; for he glanced at me sharply and
suspiciously, and his dog-like brown eyes darted about for a moment, as
if the dog in him had scented game: then he looked at my jaded cows, at
my muddy wagon, its once-white cover now weather-beaten and ragged, and
at myself, a buttermilk-eyed, tow-headed Dutch boy with a face covered
with down like a month-old gosling; and his eyes grew warm and friendly,
as they usually looked, and his curly black mustache parted from his
little black goatee with a winning smile. After he had turned his horse
over to the smith, he came over and talked with me. He said he had seen
cows broken to drive by the Pukes--as we used to call the
Missourians--but never except by those who were so "pore" that they
couldn't get horses, and he could see by my nice outfit, and the number
of cows I had, that I could buy and sell some of the folks that drove
horses. What was my idea in driving cows?
"They are faster than oxen," I said, "and they'll make a start in stock
for me when I get on my farm; and they give milk when you're traveling.
I traded my horses for my first cows, and I've been trading one sound
cow for two lame ones all along the road. I've got some more back
along the way."
"Right peart notion," said he. "I reckon you'll do for Iowa. Where you
Then I explained about my farm, and my problem in finding it.
"Oh, that's easy!" said he. "Oh, Mr. Burns!" he called to a man standing
in a doorway across the street. "Come over here, if you can make it
suit. He's a land-locater," he explained to me. "Makes it a business to
help newcomers like you to get located. Nice man, too."
By this time Henderson L. Burns had started across the street. He was
dressed stylishly, and came with a sort of prance, his head up and his
nostrils flaring like a Jersey bull's, looking as popular as a man could
appear. We always called him "Henderson L." to set him apart from Hiram
L. Burns, a lawyer that tried to practise here for a few years, and
didn't make much of an out of it.
"Mr. Burns," said Pitt Bushyager, "this is Mr.--"
"Vandemark," said I: "Jacob Vandemark"--you see I did not know then that
my correct name is Jacobus.
"Mine's Bushyager," said he, "Pitt Bushyager, Got a raft of brothers and
sisters--so you'll know us better after a while. Mr. Burns, this is Mr.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Vandemark," said Henderson L., flaring his
nostrils, and shaking my hand till it ached. "Hope you're locating in
Monterey County. Father with you?"
"No," said I, "I am alone in the world--and this outfit is all I've
"Nice outfit," said he. "Good start for a young fellow; and let me give
you a word of advice. Settle in Monterey County, as close to Monterey
Centre as you can get. People that drive through, hunting for the
earthly paradise, are making a great mistake; for this is the garden
spot of the garden of the world. This is practically, and will without a
shadow of doubt be permanently the county-seat of the best county in
Iowa, and that means the best in the known world. We are just the right
distance from the river to make this the location of the best town in
the state, and probably eventually the state capital. Land will increase
in value by leaps and bounds. No stumps, no stones, just the right
amount of rainfall--the garden spot of the West, Mr. Vandemark, the
"This boy," said Pitt Bushyager, "has land already entered. I told him
you'd be able to show it to him."
"Land already entered?" he queried. "I don't seem to remember the name
of Vandemark on the records. Sure it's in this county?"
I went back to the little flat package in the iron-bound trunk, found my
deed, and gave it to him. He examined it closely.
"Not recorded," said he. "Out near Hell Slew, somewhere. Better let me
take you over to the recorder's office, and have him send it in for
record. Name of John Rucker on the records. I think the taxes haven't
been paid for a couple of years. Better have him send and get a
statement. I'll take you to the land. That's my business--guarantee it's
the right place, find the corners, and put you right as a trivet all for
"To-day?" I asked. "I want to get to breaking."
"Start as soon as we get through here," said he as we entered the little
board shack which bore the sign, "County Offices." "No time to lose if
you're going to plant anything this year. Le'me have that deed. This is
Mr. Vandemark, Bill."
I don't remember what "Bill's" full name was, for he went back to the
other county as soon as the government of Monterey was settled. He took
my deed, wrote a memorandum of filing on the back of it, and tossed it
into a basket as if it amounted to nothing, after giving me a receipt
for it. Henderson L. had some trouble to get me to leave the deed, and
the men about the little substitute for a court-house thought it mighty
funny, I guess; but I never could see anything funny about being
prudent. Then he got his horse, hitched to a buckboard buggy, and wanted
me to ride out to the land with him; but I would not leave my cows and
outfit. Henderson L. said he couldn't bother to wait for cows; but when
he saw my shotgun, and the twenty-five dollars which I offered him, he
said if I would furnish the gun and ammunition he would kill time along
the road, so that the whole outfit could be kept together. He even
waited while I dickered with Jim Boyd for a breaking plow, which I
admitted I should need the first thing, as soon as Jim mentioned it
 The date on the deed shows this to have been May 25, 1855--the day
the author first saw what has since become Vandemark Township. Although
its history is so far written, the township was not yet legally in
"This is Mr. Thorkelson," said he as he rejoined me after two or three
false starts. "He's going to be a neighbor of yours. I'm going to
locate him on a quarter out your way--Mr. Vandemark, Mr. Thorkelson."
Magnus Thorkelson gave me his hand bashfully. He was then about
twenty-five; and had on the flat cap and peasant's clothes that he wore
on the way over from Norway. He had red hair and a face spotted with
freckles; and growing on his chin and upper lip was a fiery red beard.
He was so tall that Henderson L. tried to tell him not to come to the
Fourth of July celebration, or folks might think he was the fireworks;
but Magnus only smiled. I don't believe he understood: for at that time
his English was not very extensive; but after all, he is as silent now
as he was then. We looked down on all kinds of "old countrymen" then,
and thought them much below us; but Magnus and I got to be friends as we
drove the cows across the prairie, and we have been friends ever since.
It was not until years after that I saw what a really remarkable man
Magnus was, physically, and mentally--he was so mild, so silent, so
gentle. He carried a carpet-bag full of belongings in one hand, which he
put in the wagon, and a fiddle in its case in the other. It was a long
time, too, before I began to feel how much better his fiddling was than
any I had ever heard. It didn't seem to have as much tune to it as the
old-style fiddling, and he would hardly ever play for dances; but his
fiddle just seemed to sing. He became a part of the history of Vandemark
Township; and was the first fruits of the Scandinavian movement to our
county so far as I know.
As we turned back over the way I had come for about half a mile, we met
coming into town, the well-known spanking team of horses of Buckner
Gowdy; but now it was hitched to a light buggy, but was still driven by
Pinck Johnson, who had the horses on a keen gallop as if running after a
doctor for snake-bite or apoplexy. It was the way Gowdy always went
careering over the prairies, killing horses by the score, and laughingly
answering criticisms by saying that there would be horses left in the
world after he was gone. He said he hadn't time to waste on saving
horses; but he always had one or two teams that he took good care of;
and once in a while Pinck Johnson went back, to Kentucky, it was said,
and brought on a fresh supply. As they came near to us the negro pulled
up, and halted just after they had passed us. We stopped, and Gowdy came
back to my wagon.
"How do you do, Mr. Vandemark," he said. "I am glad to see that you
survived all the dangers of the voyage."
"How-de-do," I answered, looking as blank as I could; for Virginia was
on my mind as soon as I saw him. "I come slow, but I'm here."
All through this talk, Gowdy watched my face as if to catch me telling
something crooked; and I made up my mind to give him just enough of the
truth to cover what he was sure to find out whether I told him or not.
"Did you pick up any passengers as you came along?" he asked, with a
"Yes," I said. "I had a lawyer with me for a day or two--Mr. Creede."
"Heard of him," said Gowdy. "Locating over at our new town of
Lithopolis, isn't he? See anybody you knew on the way?"
"Yes," I said. "I saw your sister-in-law in Waterloo, She was with a
minister and his wife--a Mr. and Mrs. Thorndyke--or something
"Yes," said Gowdy, trying to be calm. "Friends of ours--of hers."
"They're here in the city," said Henderson L. "He's going to be the new
"I know," said Gowdy. "I know. Able man, too. How did it happen that I
didn't see your outfit, Mr. Vandemark? I went back over the road after I
passed you there at the mud-hole, and returned, and wondered why I
didn't see you. Thought you had turned off and given Monterey County up.
Odd I didn't see you." And all the time he was looking at me like a
lawyer cross-examining a witness.
"Oh," said I, "I went off the road a few miles to break in some cattle I
had traded for, and to let them get over their sore-footedness, and to
leave some that I couldn't bring along. I had so many that I couldn't
make time. I'm going back for them as soon as I can get around to it.
You must have missed me that way."
"Trust Mr. Vandemark," said he, "to follow off any cattle track that
shows itself. He is destined to be the cattle king of the prairies, Mr.
Burns. I'm needing all the men I can get, Mr. Vandemark, putting up my
house and barns and breaking prairie. I wonder if you wouldn't like to
turn an honest penny by coming over and working for me for a while?"
He had been astonished and startled at the word that Virginia, after
escaping from him, had found friends, and tried to pass the matter off
as something of which he knew; but now he was quite his smiling,
confidential self again, talking as if his offering me work was a favor
he was begging in a warm and friendly sort of manner. I explained that
I myself was getting my farm in condition to live upon, but might be
glad to come to him later; and we drove on--I all the time sweating like
a butcher under the strain of this getting so close to my great
Would it not all have to come out finally? What would Gowdy do to get
Virginia back? Would he try at all? Did he have any legal right to her
control and custody? I trusted completely in Grandma Thorndyke's
protection of her--an army with banners would not have given me more
confidence; for I could not imagine any one making her do anything she
thought wrong, and ten armies with all the banners in the world could
not have forced her to allow anything improper--and she had said that
she and the elder were going to take care of the poor friendless
girl--yet, I looked back at the Gowdy buggy flying on toward the
village, in two minds as to whether or not I ought to go back and
do--something. If I could have seen what that something might have been,
I should probably have gone back; but I could not think just where I
came into the play here.
So I went on-toward the goal of all my ambitions, my square mile of Iowa
land, steered by Henderson L. Burns, who, between shooting prairie
chickens, upland plover and sickle-billed curlew, guided me toward my
goal by pointing out lone boulders, and the mounds in front of the dens
of prairie wolves and badgers. We went on for six miles, and finally
came to a place where the land slopes down in what is a pretty steep
hill for Iowa, to a level bottom more than a mile across, at the farther
side of which the land again rises to the general level of the country
in another slope, matching the one on the brow of which we halted. The
general course of the two hills is easterly and westerly, and we stood
on the southern side of the broad flat valley.
As I write, I can look out over it. The drainage of the flat now runs
off through a great open ditch which I combined with my neighbors to
have dredged through by a floating dredge in 1897. The barge set in two
miles above me, and after it had dug itself down so as to get water in
which to float, it worked its way down to the river eight miles away.
The line of this ditch is now marked by a fringe of trees; but in 1855,
nothing broke the surface of the sea of grass except a few clumps of
plum trees and willows at the foot of the opposite slope, and here and
there along the line of the present ditch, there were ponds of open
water, patches of cattails, and the tent-like roofs of muskrat-houses. I
had learned enough of the prairies to see that this would be a miry
place to cross, if a crossing had to be made; so I waited for Henderson
L. to come up and tell me how to steer my course.
"This is Hell Slew," said he as he came up. "But I guess we won't have
to cross. Le's see; le's see! Yes, here we are."
He looked at his memorandum of the description of my land, looked about
him, drove off a mile south and came back, finally put his horse down
the hill to the base of it, and out a hundred yards in the waving grass
that made early hay for the town for fifteen years, he found the corner
stake driven by the government surveyors, and beckoned for me to
"This is the southeast corner of your land," said he. "Looks like a
mighty good place for a man with as good a shotgun as that--ducks and
geese the year round!"
"Where are the other corners?" I asked.
"That's to be determined," he answered.
To determine it, he tied his handkerchief about the felly of his buggy
wheel, held a pocket compass in his left hand to drive by, picked out a
tall rosin-weed to mark the course for me, and counted the times the
handkerchief went round as the buggy traveled on. He knew how many turns
made a mile. The horse's hoofs sucked in the wet sod as we got farther
out into the marsh, and then the ground rose a little and we went up
over a headland that juts out into the marsh; then we went down into the
slew again, and finally stopped in a miry place where there was a
flowing spring with tall yellow lady's-slippers and catkined willows
growing around it. After a few minutes of looking about, Burns found my
southwest corner. We made back to the edge of the slope, and Henderson
L. looked off to the north in despair.
"My boy," said he, "I've actually located your two south corners, and
you can run the south line yourself from these stakes. The north line is
three hundred and twenty rods north of and parallel to it--and the east
and west lines will run themselves when you locate the north
corners--but I'll have to wait till the ground freezes, or get Darius
Green to help me--and the great tide of immigration hain't brought him
to this neck of the woods yet."
"But where's my land?" I queried: for I did not understand all this
hocus-pocus of locating any given spot in the Iowa prairies in 1855.
"Where's my land?"
"The heft of it," said he, "is right down there in Hell Slew. It's all
pretty wet; but I think you've got the wettest part of it; the best duck
ponds, and the biggest muskrat-houses. This slew is the only blot in the
'scutcheon of this pearl of counties, Mr. Vandemark--the only blot; and
you've got the blackest of it."
I leaned back against the buggy, completely unnerved. Magnus put out his
hand as if to grasp mine, but I did not take it. There went through my
head that rhyme of Jackway's that he hiccoughed out as he drank with his
cronies--on my money--that day last winter back in Madison: "Sold again,
and got the tin, and sucked another Dutchman in!" This huge marsh was
what John Rucker, after killing my mother, had deeded me for my
In that last word I had from her, the poor stained letter she left in
the apple-tree--perhaps it was her tears, and not the rain that had
stained it so--she had said: "I am going very far away, and if you ever
see this, keep it always, and whenever you see it remember that I would
always have died willingly for you, and that I am going to build up for
you a fortune which will give you a better life than I have lived." And
this was the fortune which she had built up for me! I hated myself for
having been gulled--it seemed as if I had allowed my mother to be
cheated more than myself. Good land, I thought, was selling in Monterey
County for two dollars an acre. The next summer when I bought an eighty
across the road so as to have more plow-land, I paid three dollars and a
half an acre, and sorrowed over it afterward: for in 1857 I could have
got all I wanted of the best land--if I had had the money, which I had
not--at a dollar and a quarter. At the going price then, in 1855, this
section of land, if it had been good land, would have been worth only
twelve or thirteen hundred dollars. At that rate, what was this swamp
I can still feel sorry for that poor boy, myself, green as grass, and
without a friend in the world to whom he could go for advice, halted in
his one-sided battle with the world, out there on the bare prairie,
looking out on what he thought was the scene of his ruin, and thinking
that every man's hand had been against him, and would always be. Where
were now all my dreams of fat cattle, sleek horses, waddling hogs, and
the fine house in which I had had so many visions of spending my life,
with a more or less clearly-seen wife--especially during those days
after Rowena Fewkes had told me how well she could cook, and proved it
by getting me my breakfast; and the later days of my stay in the Grove
of Destiny with Virginia Royall. Any open prairie farm, with no house,
nothing with which to make a house, and no home but a wagon, and no
companions but my cows would have been rather forbidding at first
glance; but this--I was certain I was ruined; I suppose I must have
looked a little bad, for Henderson L. laid his hand on my shoulder.
"Don't cave in, my boy," said he. "You're young--and there's oceans of
good land to be had. Keep a stiff upper lip!"
"I'll kill him!" I shouted. "I'll kill John Rucker!"
"Don't, till you catch him," said Burns. "And what good would it do
"Is there any plow-land on it?" I asked, after getting control of
"Some," said Henderson L. cheerfully. "Don't you remember that we drove
up over a spur of the hill back there? Well, all the dry land north of
our track is yours. Finest building-spot in the world, Jake. We'll make
a farm of this yet. Come back and I'll show you."
So we went back and looked over all the dry ground I possessed, and
agreed that there were about forty acres of it, and as Burns insisted,
sixty in a dry season; and he stuck to it that a lot of that slew was as
good pasture especially in a dry time as any one could ask for. This
would be fine for a man as fond of cows as I was, though, of course,
cows could range at will all over the country. It was fine hay land, he
said, too, except in the wettest places; but it was true also, that any
one could make hay anywhere.
I paid Henderson L., bade good-by to Magnus Thorkelson, drove my outfit
up on the "building-spot," and camped right where my biggest silo now
stands. I sat there all the afternoon, not even unhitching my teams,
listening as the afternoon drew on toward night, to the bitterns crying
"plum pudd'n'" from the marsh, to the queer calls of the water-rail, and
to the long-drawn "whe-e-ep--whe-e-e-ew!" of the curlews, as they
alighted on the prairie and stretched their wings up over their backs.
I could never be much of a man, I thought, on a forty-acre farm, nor
build much of a house. I had come all the way from York State for this!
The bubble had grown brighter and brighter as I had made my strange way
across the new lands, putting on more and more of the colors of the
rainbow, and now, all had ended in this spot of water on the floor of
the earth. I compared myself with the Fewkeses, as I remembered how I
had told Virginia just how the rooms of the house should be arranged,
and allowed her to change the arrangement whenever she desired, and even
to put great white columns in front as she said they did in Kentucky. We
had agreed as to just what trees should be set out, and what flowers
should be planted in the blue-grass lawn.
All this was gone glimmering now--and yet as I sit here, there are the
trees, and there are the flowers, very much as planned, in the soft
blue-grass lawn; about the only thing lacking being the white columns.
I was lying on the ground, looking out across the marsh, and as my
misfortunes all rolled back over my mind I turned on my face and cried
like a baby. Finally, I felt a large light hand laid softly on my head.
I looked up and saw Magnus Thorkelson bending over me.
"Forty acres," said he, "bane pretty big farm in Norvay. My fadder on
twenty acres, raise ten shildren. Not so gude land like dis. Vun of dem
shildern bane college professor, and vun a big man in leggislatur. Forty
acre bane gude farm, for gude farmer."
I turned over, wiped my sleeve across my eyes, and sat up.
"I guess I dropped asleep," I said.
"Yass," he said. "You bane sleep long time. I came back to ask if I stay
vith you. I halp you. You halp me. Ve halp each udder. Ve be neighbors
alvays. I get farm next you. I halp you build house, an' you halp me.
Maybe ve lif togedder till you git vooman, or I git vooman--if American
vooman marry Norwegian man. I stay?"
I took his hand and pressed it. After a few days' studying over it, I
made up my mind that in the kindness of his heart he had come back just
to comfort me. And all that he had said we would do, we did. Before long
we had a warm dugout barn built in the eastern slope of the hillside,
partly sheltered from the northwestern winds, and Magnus and I slept in
one end of it on the sweet hay we cut in the marsh while the cows ranged
on the prairie. Together we broke prairie, first on his land, then on
mine. Together we hauled lumber from the river for my first
If we first settlers in Iowa had possessed the sense the Lord gives to
most, we could have built better and warmer, and prettier houses than
the ones we put up, of the prairie sod which we ripped up in long black
ribbons of earth; but we all were from lands of forests, and it took a
generation to teach our prairie pioneers that a sod house is a good
house. I never saw any until the last of Iowa was settling up, out in
the northwestern part of the state, in Lyon, Sioux and Clay Counties.
All that summer, every wagon and draught animal in Monterey County was
engaged in hauling lumber--some of it such poor stuff as basswood sawed
in little sawmills along the rivers; and it was not until in the
'eighties that the popular song, _The Little Old Sod Shanty on the
Claim_ proved two things--that the American pioneer had learned to build
with something besides timber, and that the Homestead Law had come into
effect. What Magnus and I were doing, all the settlers on the Monterey
County farms were doing--raising sod corn and potatoes and buckwheat
and turnips, preparing shelter for the winter, and wondering what they
would do for fuel. Magnus helped me and I helped him.
A lot is said nowadays about the Americanization of the foreigner; but
the only thing that will do the thing is to work with the foreigner, as
I worked with Magnus--let him help me, and be active in helping him. The
Americanization motto is, "Look upon the foreigner as an equal. Help
him. Let him help you. Make each other's problems mutual problems--and
then he is no longer a foreigner." When Magnus Thorkelson came back on
foot across the prairie from Monterey Centre, to lay his hand on the
head of that weeping boy alone on the prairie, and to offer to live with
him and help him, his English was good enough for me, and to me he was
as fully naturalized as if all the judges in the world had made him lift
his hand while he swore to support the Constitution of the United States
and of the State of Iowa. He was a good enough American for Jacobus
THE PLOW WEDS THE SOD
The next day was a wedding-day--the marriage morning of the plow and the
sod. It marked the beginning of the subdual of that wonderful wild
prairie of Vandemark Township and the Vandemark farm. No more fruitful
espousal ever took place than that--when the polished steel of my new
breaking plow was embraced by the black soil with its lovely fell of
greenery. Up to that fateful moment, the prairie of the farm and of the
township had been virgin sod; but now it bowed its neck to the yoke of
wedlock. Nothing like it takes place any more; for the sod of the
meadows and pastures is quite a different thing from the untouched skin
of the original earth. Breaking prairie was the most beautiful, the most
epochal, and most hopeful, and as I look back at it, in one way the most
pathetic thing man ever did, for in it, one of the loveliest things ever
created began to come to its predestined end.
The plow itself was long, low, and yacht-like in form; a curved blade of
polished steel. The plowman walked behind it in a clean new path,
sheared as smooth as a concrete pavement, with not a lump of crumbled
earth under his feet--a cool, moist, black path of richness. The
furrow-slice was a long, almost unbroken ribbon of turf, each one laid
smoothly against the former strand, and under it lay crumpled and
crushed the layer of grass and flowers. The plow-point was long and
tapering, like the prow of a clipper, and ran far out under the beam,
and above it was the rolling colter, a circular blade of steel, which
cut the edge of the furrow as cleanly as cheese. The lay of the plow,
filed sharp at every round, lay flat, and clove the slice neatly from
the bosom of earth where it had lain from the beginning of time. As the
team steadily pulled the machine along, I heard a curious thrilling
sound as the knife went through the roots, a sort of murmuring as of
protest at this violation--and once in a while, the whole engine, and
the arms of the plowman also, felt a jar, like that of a ship striking a
hidden rock, as the share cut through a red-root--a stout root of wood,
like red cedar or mahogany, sometimes as large as one's arm, topped with
a clump of tough twigs with clusters of pretty whitish blossoms.
As I looked back at the results of my day's work, my spirits rose; for
in the East, a man might have worked all summer long to clear as much
land as I had prepared for a crop on that first day. This morning it had
been wilderness; now it was a field--a field in which Magnus Thorkelson
had planted corn, by the simple process of cutting through the sods with
an ax, and dropping in each opening thus made three kernels of corn.
Surely this was a new world! Surely, this was a world in which a man
with the will to do might make something of himself. No waiting for the
long processes by which the forests were reclaimed; but a new world with
new processes, new neighbors, new ideas, new opportunities, new
victories easily gained.
Not so easy, Jacobus! In the first place, we Iowa pioneers so ignorant
of our opportunities that we hauled timber a hundred miles with which to
build our houses, when that black sod would have made us better ones,
were also so foolish as to waste a whole year of the time of that land
which panted to produce. To be sure, we grew some sod-corn, and some
sod-potatoes, and sowed some turnips and buckwheat on the new breaking;
but after my hair was gray, I found out, for the first time as we all
did, that a fine crop of flax might have been grown that first year.
Dakota taught us that. But the farmer of old was inured to waiting--and
so we waited until another spring for the sod to rot, and in the
meantime, it grew great crops of tumble-weeds, which in the fall raced
over the plain like scurrying scared wolves, piling up in brown
mountains against every obstacle, and in every hole. If we had only
known these simple things, what would it have saved us! But skill grows
slowly. We were the first prairie generation bred of a line of
foresters, and were a little like the fools that came to Virginia and
Plymouth Colony, who starved in a country filled with food. How many
fool things are we doing now, I wonder, to cause posterity to laugh, as
foolish as the dying of Sir John Franklin in a land where Stefansson
grew fat; many, I guess, as foolish as we did when Magnus Thorkelson and
I were Vandemark Township.
The sod grew too mature for breaking after the first of June, and not
enough time was left for it to rot during the summer; and my cows left
with Mr. Westervelt were on my mind; so I stopped the plow and after
Magnus and I had built my house and made a lot of hay in the marsh, I
began to think of going back after my live stock. I planned to travel
light with one span to Westervelt's, pick up another yoke of cows, go on
to Dubuque for a load of freight for Monterey Centre, and come back,
bringing the rest of my herd with me on the return. When I went to "the
Centre," as we called it, I waited until I saw Grandma Thorndyke go down
to the store, and then tapped at their door. I thought they might want
me to bring them something. They were living in a little house by the
public square, where the great sugar maples stand now. These trees were
then little beanpoles with tufts of twigs at the tops.
Virginia Royall came to the door, as I sort of suspected she might. At
first she started back as if she hardly knew me. Maybe she didn't; for
Magnus Thorkelson had got me to shaving, and with all that gosling's
down off my face, I suppose I looked older and more man-like than
before. So she took a long look at me, and then ran to me and took both
my hands in hers and pressed them--pressed them so that I remembered
"Why, Teunis," she cried, "is it you? I thought I was never going to see
"Yes," I said, "it's me--it's me. I came--" and then I stopped, bogged
"You came to see me," she said, "and I think you've waited long enough.
Only three friends in the world, you, and Mrs. Thorndyke, and Mr.
Thorndyke--and you off there on the prairie all these weeks and never
came to see me--or us! Tell me about the farm, and the cows, and the
new house--I've heard of it--and your foreigner friend, and all about
it. Have you any little calves?"
I was able to report that Spot, the heifer that we had such a time
driving, had a little calf that was going to look just like its mother;
and then I described to her the section of land--all but a little of it
down in Hell Slew; and how I hoped to buy a piece across the line so as
to have a real farm. Pretty soon we were talking just as we used to talk
back there east of Waterloo.
"I came to see you and Elder Thorndyke and his wife," I said, "because
I'm going back to Dubuque to get a load of freight, and I thought I
might bring something for you."
"Oh," said she, "take me with you, Teunis, take me with you!"
"Could you go?" I asked, my heart in my mouth.
"No, oh, no!" she said. "There's nobody in Kentucky for me to go to; and
I haven't any money to pay my way with anyhow. I am alone in the world,
Teunis, except for you and my new father and mother--and I'm afraid they
are pretty poor, Teunis, to feed and clothe a big girl like me!"
"How much money would it take?" I asked. "I guess I could raise it for
"You're a nice boy, Teunis," she said, with tears in her eyes, "and I
know how well you like money, too; but there's nobody left there. I'm
very lonely--but I'm as well off here as anywhere. I'd just like to go
with you, though, for when I'm with you I feel so--so safe."
"Safe?" said I. "Why aren't you safe here? Is any one threatening you?
Has Buckner Gowdy been around here? Just tell me if he bothers you, and
"Well," said she, "he came here and claimed me from Mr. Thorndyke. He
said I was an infant--what do you think of that?--an infant--in law; and
that he is my guardian. And a lawyer named Creede, came and talked about
his right, not he said by consanguinity, but affinity, whatever
"I know Mr. Creede," said I. "He rode with me for two or three days. I
don't believe he'll wrong any one."
"Mrs. Thorndyke told them to try their affinity plan if they dared, and
she'd show them that they couldn't drag a poor orphan away from her
friends against her will. And I hung to her, and I cried, and said I'd
kill myself before I'd go with him; and that man"--meaning Gowdy--"tried
to talk sweet and affectionate and brotherly to me, and I hid my face in
Mrs. Thorndyke's bosom--and Mr. Creede looked as if he were sick of his
case, and told that man that he would like further consultation with him
before proceeding further--and they went away. But every time I see that
man he acts as if he wanted to talk with me, and smiles at me--but I
won't look at him. Oh, why can't they all be good like you, Teunis?"
Then she told me that I looked a lot better when I shaved--at which I
blushed like everything, and this seemed to tickle her very much. Then
she asked if I wasn't surprised when she called me Teunis. She had
thought a good deal over it, she said, and she couldn't, couldn't like
the name of Jacob, or Jake; but Teunis was a quality name. Didn't I
think I'd like it if I changed my way of writing my name to J. Teunis
"I like to have you call me Teunis," I said; "but I wouldn't like to
have any one else do it. I like to have you have a name to call me by
that nobody else uses."
"That's a very gallant speech," she said, blushing--and I vow, I didn't
know what gallant meant, and was a little flustered for fear her blushes
were called out by something shady.
"Besides," I said, "I have always heard that nobody but a dandy ever
parts his name or his hair in the middle!"
"Rubbish!" said she. "My father's name was A. Fletcher Royall, and he
was a big strong man, every inch of him. I reckon, though, that the
customs are different in the North. Then you won't take me with you, and
go back by way of our grove, and--"
And just then Elder Thorndyke came in, and we wished that Mrs. Thorndyke
would come to tell what I should bring from Dubuque. He told me in the
meantime, about his plans for building a church, and how he was teaching
Virginia, so that she could be a teacher herself when she was
"We'll be filling this country with schools, soon," he said, "and
they'll want nice teachers like Virginia."
"Won't that be fine?" asked Virginia. "I just love children. I play with
dolls now--a little. And then I can do something to repay my new father
and mother for all they are doing for me. And you must come to
"Virginia says," said the elder, "that you have a good voice. I wish
you'd come and help out with the singing."
"Oh, I can't sing," I demurred; "but I'd like to come. I will come, when
I get back."
"Yes, you can sing," said Virginia. "Here's a song he taught me back on
"'Down the river, O down the river, O down the river we go-o-o;
Down the river, O down the river, O down the Ohio-o-o!
"'The river was up, the channel was deep, the wind was steady
The waves they dashed from shore to shore as we went sailing along--
"'Down the river, O down the river, O down the river we go-o-o;
Down the river, O down the river, O down the Ohio-o-o!'"
"I think you learned a good deal--for one day," said Mrs. Thorndyke,
coming in. "How do you do, Jacob? I'm glad to see you."
Thus she again put forth her theory that Virginia and I had been
together only one day. It is what N.V. Creede called, when I told him of
it years afterward, "a legal fiction which for purposes of pleading was
The river of immigration was still flowing west over the Ridge Road,
quite as strong as earlier in the season, and swollen by the stream of
traffic setting to and from the settlements for freight. People I met
told me that the railroad was building into Dubuque--or at least to the
river at Dunlieth. I met loads of lumber which were going out for Buck
Gowdy's big house away out in the middle of his great estate; and other
loads for Lithopolis, where Judge Stone was making his struggle to build
up a rival to Monterey Centre. I reached Dubuque on the seventeenth of
July, and put up at a tavern down near the river, where they had room
for my stock; and learned that the next day the first train would arrive
at Dunlieth, and there was to be a great celebration.
It was the greatest day Dubuque had ever seen, they told me, with cannon
fired from the bluff at sunrise, a long parade, much speech-making, and
a lot of wild drunkenness. The boatmen from the river boats started in
to lick every railroad man they met, and as far as I could see, did so
in ninety per cent. of the cases; but in the midst of a fight in which
all my canal experiences were in a fair way to be outdone, a woman came
into the crowd leading four little crying children. She asked our
attention while she explained that their father had had his hand blown
off when the salute was fired in the morning, and asked us if we felt
like giving something to him to enable him to keep a roof over these
little ones. The fight stopped, and we all threw money on the ground
in the ring.
There were bridges connecting the main island with the business part of
the city, and lines of hacks and carts running from the main part of the
town to deep water. There were from four to six boats a day on the
river. Lead was the main item of freight, although the first tricklings
of the great flood of Iowa and Illinois wheat were beginning to run the
metal a close second. To show what an event it was, I need only say that
there were delegates at the celebration from as far east as Cleveland;
and folks said that a ferry was to be built to bring the railway trains
into Dubuque. And the best of all these dreams was, that they came true;
and we were before many years freed of the great burden of coming so far
During the next winter the word came to us that the railroad--another
one--had crept as far out into the state as Iowa City, and when the
freighting season of 1856 opened up, we swung off to the railhead there.
Soon, however, the road was at Manchester, then at Waterloo, then at
Cedar Falls, and before many years the Iowa Central came up from the
south clear to Mason City, and the days of long-distance freighting were
over for most of the state; which is now better provided with railways,
I suppose, than any other agricultural region in the world.
I couldn't then foresee any such thing, however. They talk of the
far-sighted pioneers; but as far as I was concerned I didn't know B from
a bull's foot in this business of the progress of the country. I
whoa-hawed and gee-upped my way back to Monterey Centre, thinking how
great a disadvantage it would be always to have to wagon it back and
forth to the river--with the building of the railway into Dunlieth that
year right before my face and eyes.
I found Magnus Thorkelson surrounded by a group of people arguing with
him about something; and Magnus in a dreadful pucker to know what to do.
In one group were Judge Horace Stone, N.V. Creede and Forrest Bushyager,
then a middle-aged man, and an active young fellow of twenty-five or so
named Dick McGill, afterward for many years the editor of the Monterey
Centre _Journal_. These had a petition asking that the county-seat be
located at Lithopolis, Judge Stone's new town, and they wanted Magnus to
sign it. I suppose he would have done so, if it had not been for the
other delegation, consisting of Henderson L. Burns and Doctor Bliven,
who had another petition asking for the establishment of the county-seat
permanently "at its present site," Monterey Centre. They took me into
the confabulation as soon as I weighed anchor in front of the house; and
just as they had begun to pour their arguments into me they were joined
by another man, who drove up in a two-seated democrat wagon drawn by a
fine team of black horses, and in the back seat I saw a man and woman
sitting. I thought the man looked like Elder Thorndyke; but the woman's
face was turned away from me, and I did not recognize her at first. She
had on a new calico dress that I hadn't seen before. It was Virginia.
The man who got out and joined the group was a red-faced, hard-visaged
man of about fifty, dressed in black broadcloth, and wearing a beaver
hat. He had a black silk cravat tied about a standing collar, with high
points that rolled out in front, and he looked rich and domineering. He
was ever afterward a big man in Monterey County, and always went by the
name of Governor Wade, because he was a candidate for governor two or
three times. He was the owner of a big tract of land over to the
southwest, next to the Gowdy farm the largest in the county. He came
striding over to us as if whatever he said was the end of the law. With
him and Henderson L. and N.V. Creede pitching into a leatherhead like
me, no wonder I did not recognize Virginia in her new dress; I was in
such a stew that I hardly knew which end my head was on.
Each side seemed to want to impress me with the fact that in signing one
or the other of those petitions I had come to the parting of the ways.
They did not say much about what was best for the county, but bore down
on the fact that the way I lined up on that great question would make
all the difference in the world with me. Each tried to make me think
that I should always be an outsider and a maverick if I didn't stand
with his crowd.
"Why," said N.V., "I feel sure that it won't take you long to make up
your mind. This little group of men we have here," pointing to Henderson
L. and Governor Wade, "are the County Ring that's trying to get this new
county in their clutches--the County Ring!"
This made a little grain of an impression on me; and it was the first
time I had ever heard the expression so common in local history "the
County Ring." I looked at Governor Wade to see what he would say to it.
His face grew redder, and he laughed as if Creede were not worth
noticing; but he noticed him for all that.
"Young man," said he, "or young men, I should say, both of you want to
be somebody in this new community. Monterey Centre represents already,
"Like a dollar sign," said Dick McGill, "it represents it, but it hasn't
"--the brains," went on Governor Wade, glaring at him, "the culture, the
progress and the wealth--"
"That they hope to steal," put in Dick McGill.
"--the wealth," went on the Governor, who hated to be interrupted, "of
this Gem of the Prairies, Monterey County. Don't make the mistake, which
you can never correct, of taking sides with this little gang of
town-site sharks led by my good friend Judge Stone."
Here was another word which I was to hear pretty often in county
politics--Gang. One crowd was called a Ring; the other a Gang, I looked
at N.V. to see how wrathy he must be, but he only smiled sarcastically,
as I have often seen him do in court; and shaking his head at me waved
his hand as if putting Governor Wade quite off the map. Just then my
team began acting up--they had not been unhitched and were thirsty and
hungry; and I went over to straighten them out, leaving the Ring and the
Gang laboring with Magnus, who was sweating freely--and then I went over
to speak with the elder.
"How do you do, Teunis?" said Virginia very sweetly. "You'll sign our
petition, won't you?"
"We don't want to influence your judgment," said the elder, "but I
wanted to say to you that if the county-seat remains at Monterey Centre,
it will be a great thing for the religious work which under God I hope
to do. It will give me a parish. I should like to urge that upon you."
"Do you want me to sign it?" I asked him, looking at Virginia.
"Yes," said he, "if you have no objection."
"Please do!" said Virginia. "I know you can't have any objection."
I turned on my heel, went back to Governor Wade, and signed the petition
for Monterey Centre; and then Magnus Thorkelson did the same. Then we
both signed another petition carried by both parties, asking that an
election be called by the judge of the county south which had
jurisdiction over us, for the election of officers. And just as I had
expected one side to begirt crowing over the other, and I had decided
that there would be a fight, both crowds jumped into their rigs and went
off over the prairie, very good naturedly it seemed to me, after the
"Jake," said N.V., as they turned their buggy around, "you'll make some
woman a damned good husband, some day!" and he took off his hat very
politely to Virginia, who blushed as red as the reddest rose then
blooming on the prairie.
That was the way counties were organized in Iowa. It is worth
remembering because it was the birth of self-government. The people made
their counties and their villages and their townships as they made their
farms and houses and granaries. Everybody was invited to take part--and
it was not until long afterward that I confessed to Magnus that I had
never once thought when I signed those petitions that I was not yet a
voter; and then he was frightened to realize that he was not either. He
had not yet been naturalized. The only man in the county known to me who
took no interest in the contest was Buck Gowdy. When Judge Stone asked
him why, he said he didn't give a damn. There was too much government
for him there already, he said.
We did get the election called, and after we had elected our officers
there was no county-seat for them to dwell in; so that county judge off
to the south appointed a commission to locate the county-seat, which
after driving over the country a good deal and drinking a lot of whisky,
according to Dick McGill, made Monterey Centre the county town, which it
still remains. The Lithopolis people gained one victory--they elected
Judge Horace Stone County Treasurer. Within a month N.V. Creede had
opened a law office in Monterey Centre, Dick McGill had begun the
publication of the Monterey Centre _Journal_ of fragrant memory,
Lithopolis began to advertise its stone quarries, and Grizzly Reed, an
old California prospector, who had had his ear torn off by a bear out in
the mountains, began prospecting for gold along the creek, and talking
mysteriously. The sale of lots in Lithopolis went on faster than ever.
I BECOME A BANDIT AND A TERROR
When General Weaver was running for governor, a Populist worker called
on my friend Wilbur Wheelock, who was then as now a stock buyer at our
little town of Ploverdale, and asked him if he were a Populist.
"No," said Wilbur, "but I have all the qualifications, sir!"
"What do you regard as the qualifications?" asked the organizer.
"I've run for county office and got beat," said Wilbur: "and that takes
you in, too, don't it, Jake?" he asked, turning to me.
Wilbur, like most of our older people, has a good memory. Most of the
folks hereabouts had already forgotten that I was a candidate on Judge
Stone's Reform and Anti-Monopoly ticket, for County Supervisor, in 1874,
and that I was defeated with the rest. This was the only time I ever had
anything to do with politics, more than to be a delegate to the county
convention two or three times. I mention it here, because of the chance
it gave Dick McGill to rake me over the coals in his scurrilous paper,
the Monterey Centre _Journal_, that most people have always said was
never fit to enter a decent home, but which they always subscribed for
and read as quick as it came.
Within fifteen minutes after McGill got his paper to Monterey Centre he
and what he had called the County Ring were as thick as thieves, and
always stayed so as long as Dick had the county printing. So when I was
put on the independent ticket to turn this ring out of office, Dick went
after me as if I had been a horse-thief, and made a great to-do about
what he called "Cow Vandemark's criminal record." Now that I have a
chance to put the matter before the world in print, I shall take
advantage of it; for that "criminal record" is a part of this history of
The story grew out of my joining the Settlers' Club in 1856. The rage
for land speculation was sweeping over Iowa like a prairie fire, getting
things all ready for the great panic of 1857 that I have read of since,
but of which I never heard until long after it was over. All I knew was
that there was a great fever for buying and selling land and laying out
and booming town-sites--the sites, not the towns--and that afterward
times were very hard. The speculators had bought up a good part of
Monterey County by the end of 1856, and had run the price up as high as
three dollars and a half an acre.
This made it hard for poor men who came in expecting to get it for a
dollar and a quarter; and a number of settlers in the township, as they
did all over the state, went on their land relying on the right to buy
it when they could get the money--what was called the preemption right.
I could see the houses of William Trickey, Ebenezer Junkins and Absalom
Frost from my house; and I knew that Peter and Amos Bemisdarfer and
Flavius Bohn, Dunkards from Pennsylvania, had located farther south. All
these settlers were located south of Hell Slew, which was coming to be
known now, and was afterward put down on the map, as "Vandemark's
And now there came into the county and state a class of men called
"claim-jumpers," who pushed in on the claims of the first comers, and
stood ready to buy their new homes right out from under them. It was
pretty hard on us who had pushed on ahead of the railways, and soaked in
the rain and frozen in the blizzards, and lived on moldy bacon and
hulled corn, to lose our chance to get title to the lands we had broken
up and built on. It did not take long for a settler to see in his land a
home for him and his dear ones, and the generations to follow; and we
felt a great bitterness toward these claim-jumpers, who were no better
off than we were.
My land was paid for, such as it was; but when the people who, like me,
had drailed out across the prairies with the last year's rush, came and
asked me to join the Settlers' Club to run these intruders off, it
appeared to me that it was only a man's part in me to stand to it and
take hold and do. I felt the old urge of all landowners to stand
together against the landless, I suppose. What is title to land anyhow,
but the right of those who have it to hold on to it? No man ever made
land--except my ancestors, the Dutch, perhaps. All men do is to get
possession of it, and run everybody else off, either with clubs, guns,
or the sheriff.
I did not look forward to all the doings of the Settlers' Club, but I
joined it, and I have never been ashamed of it, even when Dick McGill
was slangwhanging me about what we did. I never knew, and I don't know
now, just what the law was, but I thought then, and I think now, that
the Settlers' Club had the right of it. I thought so the night we went
over to run the claim-jumper off Absalom Frost's land, within a week of
It was over on Section Twenty-seven, that the claim-jumper had built a
hut about where the schoolhouse now is, with a stable in one end of it,
and a den in which to live in the other. He was a young man, with no
dependents, and we felt no compunctions of conscience, that dark night,
when two wagon-loads of us, one of which came from the direction of
Monterey Centre, drove quietly up and knocked at the door.
"Who's there?" he said, with a quiver in his voice.
"Open up, and find out!" said a man in the Monterey Centre crowd, who
seemed to take command as a matter of course. "Kick the door
As he said this he stepped aside, and pushed me up to the door. I gave
it a push with my knee, and the leader jerked me aside, just in time to
let a charge of shot pass my head.
"It's only a single-barrel gun," said he. "Grab him!"
I was scared by the report of the gun, scared and mad, too, as I
clinched with the fellow, and threw him; then I pitched him out of the
door, when the rest of them threw him down and began stripping him. At
the same time, some one kindled a fire under a kettle filled with tar,
and in a few minutes, they were smearing him with it. This looked like
going too far, to me, and I stepped back--I couldn't stand it to see the
tar smeared over his face, even if it did look like a map of the devil's
wild land, as he kicked and scratched and tried to bite, swearing all
the time like a pirate. It seemed a degrading kind of thing to defile a
human being in that way. The leader came up to me and said, "That was
good work, Dutchy. Lucky I was right about its being a single-barrel,
ain't it? Help get his team hitched up. We want to see him
"All right, Mr. McGill," I said; for that was his name, now first told
in all the history of the county.
"Shut up!" he said. "My name's Smith, you lunkhead!"
Well, we let the claim-jumper put on his clothes over the tar and
feathers, and loaded his things into his wagon, hitched up his team, and
whipped them up to a run and let them go over the prairie. All the time
he was swearing that he would have blood for this, but he never stopped
going until he was out of sight and hearing.
("What a disgraceful affair!" says my granddaughter Gertrude, as she
finishes reading that page. "I'm ashamed of you, grandpa; but I'm glad
he didn't shoot you. Where would I have been?" Well, it does seem like
rather a shady transaction for me to have been mixed up in. The side of
it that impresses me, however, is the lapse of time as measured in
conditions and institutions. That was barbarism; and it was Iowa! And it
was in my lifetime. It was in a region now as completely developed as
England, and it goes back to things as raw and primitive as King
Arthur's time. I wonder if his knights were not in the main, pretty
shabby rascals, as bad as Dick McGill--or Cow Vandemark? But Gertrude
has not yet heard all about that night's work.)
"Now," said McGill, "for the others! Load up, and come on. This fellow
will never look behind him!"
But he did!
The next and the last stop, was away down on Section Thirty-five--two
miles farther. I was feeling rather warnble-cropped, because of the
memory of that poor fellow with the tar in his eyes--but I went all
There was a little streak of light in the east when we got to the place,
but we could not at first locate the claim-jumpers. They had gone down
into a hollow, right in the very corner of the section, as if trying
barely to trespass on the land, so as to be able almost to deny that
they were on it at all, and were seemingly trying to hide. We could
scarcely see their outfit after we found it, for they were camped in
tall grass, and their little shanty was not much larger than a dry-goods
box. Their one horse was staked out a little way off, their one-horse
wagon was standing with its cover on beside a mound of earth which
marked where a shallow well had been dug for water. I heard a rustling
in the wagon as we passed it, like that of a bird stirring in the
branches of a tree.
McGill pounded on the door.
"Come out," he shouted. "You've got company!"
There was a scrabbling and hustling around in the shanty, and low
talking, and some one asked who was there; to which McGill replied for
them to come out and see. Pretty soon, a little doddering figure of a
man came to the door, pulling on his breeches with trembling hands as he
stepped, barefooted, on the bare ground which came right up to the
"What's wanted, gentlemen?" he quavered. "I cain't ask you to come
in--jist yit. What's wanted?"
He had not said two words when I knew him for Old Man Fewkes, whom I
had last seen back on the road west of Dyersville, on his way to
"Negosha." Where was Ma Fewkes, and where were Celebrate Fourth and
Surajah Dowlah? And where, most emphatically, where was Rowena? I
stepped forward at McGill's side. Surely, I thought, they were not going
to tar and feather these harmless, good-for-nothing waifs of the
frontier; and even as I thought it, I saw the glimmering of the fire
they were kindling under the tar-kettle.
"We want you, you infernal claim-jumper!" said McGill. "We'll show you
that you can't steal the land from us hard-working settlers, you set of
sneaks! Take off your clothes, and we'll give you a coat that will make
you look more like buzzards than you do now."
"There's some of 'em runnin' away!" yelled one of the crowd. "Catch
There was a flight through the grass from the back of the shanty, a rush
of pursuit, some feeble yells jerked into bits by rough handling; and
presently, Celebrate and Surajah were dragged into the circle of light,
just as poor Ma Fewkes, with her shoulder-blades drawn almost together
came forward and tried to tear from her poor old husband's arm the hand
of an old neighbor of mine whose name I won't mention even at this late
day. I will not turn state's evidence notwithstanding the Statute of
Limitations has run, as N.V. Creede advises me, against any one but Dick
McGill--and the reason for my exposing him is merely tit for tat. Ma
Fewkes could not unclasp the hands; but she produced an effect just
"Say," said a man who had all the time sat in one of the wagons,
holding the horses. "You'd better leave out the stripping, boys!"
They began dragging the boys and the old man toward the tar-kettle, and
McGill, with his hat drawn down over his eyes, went to the slimy mass
and dipped into it a wooden paddle with which they had been stirring it.
Taking as much on it as it would carry, he made as if to smear it over
the old man's head and beard. I could not stand this--the poor harmless
old coot!--and I ran up and struck McGill's arm.
"What in hell," he yelled, for some of the tar went on him, "do you
"Don't tar and feather 'em," I begged. "I know these folks. They are a
poor wandering family, without money enough to buy land away from
"We jist thought we'd kind o' settle down," said Old Man Fewkes
whimperingly; "and I've got the money promised me to buy this land. So
it's all right and straight!"
The silly old leatherhead didn't know he was doing anything against
public sentiment; and told the very thing that made a case against him.
I have found out since who the man was that promised him the money and
was going to take the land; but that was just one circumstance in the
land craze, and the man himself was wounded at Fort Donelson, and died
in hospital--so I won't tell his name. The point is, that the old man
had turned the jury against me just as I had finished my plea.
"You have got the money promised you, have you?" repeated McGill. "Grab
All this time I was wondering where Rowena could be. I recollected how
she had always seemed to be mortified by her slack-twisted family, and
I could see her as she meeched off across the prairie hack along the Old
Ridge Road, as if she belonged to another outfit; and yet, I knew how
much of a Fewkes she was, as she joined in the conversation when they
planned their great estates in the mythical state of Negosha, or in
Texas, or even in California. I grew hot with anger as I began to
realize what a humiliation this tarring and feathering would be to
her--and I kept wondering, as I have said, where she could be, even as I
felt the thrill a man experiences when he sees that he must fight: and
just as I felt this thrill, one of our men closed with the old fellow
from behind, and wrenching his bird's-claw hands behind his back, thrust
the wizened old bearded face forward for its coat of tar.
I clinched with our man, and getting a rolling hip-lock on him, I
whirled him over my head, as I had done with so many wrestling
opponents, and letting him go in mid-air, he went head over heels, and
struck ten feet away on the ground. Then I turned on McGill, and with
the flat of my hand, I slapped him over against the shanty, with his
ears ringing. They were coming at me in an undecided way: for my onset
had been both sudden and unexpected; when I saw Rowena running from the
rear with a shotgun in her hand, which she had picked up as it leaned
against a wagon wheel where one of our crowd had left it.
"Stand back!" she screamed. "Stand back, or I'll blow somebody's head
I heard a chuckling laugh from a man sitting in one of the wagons, and a
word or two from him that sounded like, "Good girl!" Our little mob fell
back, the man I had thrown limping, and Dick McGill rubbing the side of
his head. The dawn was now broadening in the east, and it was getting
almost light enough so that faces might be recognized; and one or two of
the crowd began to retreat toward the wagons.
"I'll see to it," said I, "that these people will leave this land, and
give up their settlement on it."
"No we won't," said Rowena. "We'll stay here if we're killed."
"Now, Rowena," said her father, "don't be so sot. We'll leave right off.
Boys, hitch up the horse. We'll leave, gentlemen. I was gittin' tired of
this country anyway. It's so tarnal cold in the winter. The trees is in
constant varder in Texas, an' that's where we'll go."
By this time the mob had retreated to their wagons, their courage giving
way before the light of day, rather than our resistance; though I could
see that the settlers had no desire to get into a row with one of their
neighbors: so shouting warnings to the Fewkeses to get out of the
country while they could, they drove off, leaving me with the
claim-jumpers. I turned and saw poor Rowena throw herself on the ground
and burst into a most frightful fit of hysterical weeping. She would not
allow her father or her brothers to touch her, and when her mother tried
to comfort her, she said "Go away, ma. Don't touch me!" Finally I went
to her, and she caught my hand in hers and pressed it, and after I had
got her to her feet--the poor ragged waif, as limpsey as a rag, and
wearing the patched remnants of the calico dress I had bought for her on
the way into Iowa the spring before--she broke down and cried on my
shoulder. She sobbed out that I was the only man she had ever known. She
wished to God she were a man like me. The only way I could stop her was
to tell her that her face ought to be washed; when I said that to her,
she stopped her sitheing and soon began making herself pretty: and she
was quite gay on the road to my place, where I took them because I
couldn't think of anything else to do with them, though I knew that the
whole family, not counting Rowena, couldn't or wouldn't do enough work
to pay the board of their horse.
They hadn't more than got there and eaten a solid meal, than Surajah
asked me for tools so he could work on a patent mouse-trap he was
inventing, and when I came in from work that evening, he was explaining
it to Magnus Thorkelson, who had come over to borrow some sugar from me.
Magnus was pretending to listen, but he was asking his questions of
Rowena, who stood by more than half convinced that Surrager had finally
hit upon his great idea--which was a mouse-trap that would always be
baited, and with two compartments, one to catch the mice, and one to
hold them after they were caught. When they went into the second
compartment, they tripped a little lever which opened the door for a new
captive, and at the same time baited the trap again.
It seemed as if Magnus could not understand what Surajah said, but that
Rowena's speech was quite plain to him. After that, he came over every
evening and Rowena taught him to read in McGuffey's _Second Reader._ I
knew that Magnus had read this through time and again; but he said he
could learn to speak the words better when Rowena taught him. The fact
was, though, that he was teaching her more than she him; but she never
had a suspicion of this. That evening Magnus came over and brought his
fiddle. Pa Fewkes was quite disappointed when Magnus said he could not
play the _Money Musk_ nor _Turkey in the Straw_, nor the _Devil's
Dream,_ but when he went into one of his musical trances and played
things with no tune to them but with a great deal of harmony, and some
songs that almost made you cry, Rowena sat looking so lost to the world
and dreamy that Magnus was moist about the eyes himself. He shook hands
with all of us when he went away, so as to get the chance to hold
Rowena's hand I guess.
Every day while they were there, Magnus came to see us; but did not act
a bit like a boy who came sparking. He did not ask Rowena to sit up with
him, though I think she expected him to do so; but he talked with her
about Norway, and his folks there, and how lonely it was on his farm,
and of his hopes that one day he would be a well-to-do farmer.
After one got used to her poor clothes, and when she got tamed down a
little on acquaintance and gave a person a chance to look at her, and
especially into her eyes, she was a very pretty girl. She had grown
since I had seen her the summer before, and was fuller of figure. Her
hair was still of that rich dark brown, just the color of her eyes and
eyebrows. She had been a wild girl last summer, but now she was a woman,
with spells of dreaming and times when her feelings were easily hurt.
She still was ready to flare up and fight at the drop of the
hat--because, I suppose, she felt that everybody looked down on her and
her family; but to Magnus and me she was always gentle and sometimes I
thought she was going to talk confidentially to me.
After she had had one of her lessons one evening she said to me, "I
wish I wa'n't so darned infarnal ignorant. I wish I could learn enough
to teach school!"
"We're all ignorant here," I said.
"Magnus ain't," said she. "He went to a big school in the old country.
He showed me the picture of it, and of his father's house. It's got four
"I wonder," said I, "if what they learn over there is real learning."
And that ended our confidential talk.
About the time I began wondering how long they were to stay with me,
Buck Gowdy came careering over the prairie, driving his own horse, just
as I was taking my nooning and was looking at the gun which Rowena had
used to drive back the Settlers' Club, and which we had brought along
with us. I thought I remembered where I had seen that gun, and when Buck
came up I handed it to him.
"Here's your shotgun," I said. "It's the one you shot the geese with
back toward the Mississippi."
"Good goose gun," said he. "Thank you for keeping it for me. I see you
have caught me out getting acquainted with Iowa customs. If you had
needed any help that night, you'd have got it."
"I came pretty near needing it," I said; "and I had help."
"I see you brought your help home with you," he said. "I think I
recognize that wagon, don't I?" I nodded. "I wonder if they could come
and help me on the farm. I'd like to see them. I need help, inside the
house and out."
I left him talking with the whole Fewkes family, except Rowena, who kept
herself out of sight somewhere, and went out to the stable to work.
Gowdy was talking to them in that low-voiced, smiling way of his, with
the little sympathetic tremor in his voice like that in the tone of an
organ. He had already told Surajah that his idea for a mouse-trap looked
like something the world had been waiting for, and that there might be a
fortune in the scheme. Ma Fewkes was looking up at him, as if what he
said must be the law and gospel. He had them all hypnotized, or as we
called it then, mesmerized--so I thought as I went out of sight of them.
After a while, Rowena came around the end of a haystack, and spoke
"Mr. Gowdy wants us all to go to work for him," she said. "He wants pa
and the boys to work around the place, and he says he thinks some of
Surrager's machines are worth money. He'll give me work in the house."
"It looks like a good chance," said I.
"You know I don't know much about housework," said she; "poor as we've
"You showed me how to make good bread," I replied.
"I could do well for a poor man," said Rowena, looking at me rather
sadly. Then she waited quite a while for me to say something.
"Shall I go, Jake?" she asked, looking up into my face.
"It looks like a good chance for all of you," I answered.
"I don't want to," said she, "I couldn't stay here, could I? ... No, of
So away went the Fewkeses with Buck Gowdy. That is, Rowena went away
with him in his buggy, and the rest of the family followed in a day or
so with the cross old horse--now refreshed by my hay and grain, and the
rest we had given him,--in their rickety one-horse wagon. I remember how
Rowena looked back at us, her hair blowing about her face which looked,
just a thought, pale and big-eyed, as the Gowdy buggy went off like the
wind, with Buck's arm behind the girl to keep her from bouncing out.
This day's work was not to cease in its influence on Iowa affairs for
half a century, if ever. State politics, the very government of the
commonwealth, the history of Monterey County and of Vandemark Township,
were all changed when Buck Gowdy went off over the prairie that day,
holding Rowena Fewkes in the buggy seat with that big brawny arm of his.
Ma Fewkes seemed delighted to see Mr. Gowdy holding her daughter in
"Nobody can tell what great things may come of this!" she cried, as they
went out of sight over a knoll.
She never said a truer thing. To be sure, it was only the hiring by a
very rich man, as rich men went in those days, of three worthless hands
and a hired girl; but it tore the state's affairs in pieces. Whenever I
think of it I remember some verses in the _Fifth Reader_ that my
children used in school:
"Somewhere yet that atom's force
Moves the light-poised universe."
 See _Gowdy vs. Buckner_, et al, Ia. Rep. Also accounts of relations
of the so-called Gowdy Estate litigation to "The Inside of Iowa
Politics" by the editor of these MSS.--in press.--G.v.d.M.
It was a great deal more important then, though, that on that afternoon
I was arrested for a great many things--assault with intent to commit
great bodily injury, assault with intent to kill, just simple assault,
unlawful assembly, rioting, and I don't know but treason. Dick McGill, I
am sure it was, told the first claim-jumper we visited that I was at the
head of the mob, and he had me arrested. I was taken to Monterey Centre
by Jim Boyd, the blacksmith, who was deputy sheriff; but he did the fair
thing and allowed me to get Magnus Thorkelson to attend to my stock
while I was gone.
I think that that passage in the Scriptures which tells us to visit
those who are in prison as well as the sick, is a thing that shows the
Bible to be an inspired work; but, this belief has come to me through my
remembrance of my sufferings when I was arrested. Not that I went to
prison. In fact, I do not believe there was anything like a jail nearer
than Iowa City or Dubuque; but Jim told me that he understood that I was
a terrible ruffian and would have to be looked after very closely. He
made me help him about the blacksmith shop, and I learned so much about
blacksmithing that I finally set up a nice little forge on the farm and
did a good deal of my own work. At last Jim said I was stealing his
trade, and when Virginia Royall came down to the post-office the day the
mail came in, which was a Friday in those days, and came to the shop to
see me, he told her what a fearful criminal I was. She laughed and told
Jim to stop his fooling, not knowing what a very serious thing it
was for me.
When she asked me to come up to see the Elder and Grandma Thorndyke, and
I told her I was a prisoner, Jim paroled me to her, and made her give
him a receipt for me which he wrote out on the anvil on the leaf of his
pass-book, and had her sign it. He said he was glad to get rid of me for
two reasons: one was that I was stealing his trade, and the other that
I was likely to bu'st forth at any time and kill some one, especially a
claim-jumper if there were any left in the county, which he doubted.
So I went with Virginia and spent the night at the elder's. Grandma
Thorndyke took my part, though she made a great many inquiries about
Rowena Fewkes; but the elder warned me solemnly against lawlessness,
though when we were alone together he made me tell him all about the
affair, and seemed to enjoy the more violent parts of it as if it had
been a novel; but when he asked me who were in the "mob" I refused to
tell him, and he said maybe I was right--that my honor might be
involved. Grandma Thorndyke seemed to have entirely got over her fear of
having me and Virginia together, and let us talk alone as much as
I told them about the quantity of wild strawberries I had out in
Vandemark's Folly, and when Virginia asked the sheriff if the elder and
his wife and herself might go out there with me for a
strawberry-and-cream feast, he said his duty made it incumbent upon him
to insist that he and his wife go along, and that they would furnish the
sugar if I would pony up the cream--of which I had a plenty. So we had
quite a banquet out on the farm. Once in a while I would forget about
the assaults and the treason and be quite jolly--and then it would all
come back upon me, and I would break out in a cold sweat. Out of this
grew the first strawberry and cream festival ever held in any church in
Monterey Centre, the fruit being furnished, according to the next issue
of the _Journal_ "by the malefactors confined in the county
Bastille"--in other words by me.
Virginia and I gathered the berries, and she was as happy as she could
be, apparently; but once in a while she would say, "Poor Teunis! Can't a
Dutchman see a joke?"
After that, the elder and his wife used to come out to see me, bringing
Virginia with them, almost every week, and I prided myself greatly on my
fried chicken my nice salt-rising bread, my garden vegetables, my green
corn, my butter, milk and cream. I had about forgotten about being
arrested, when the grand jury indicted me, and Amos Bemisdarfer and
Flavius Bohn went bail for me. When the trial came on I was fined twenty
dollars, and before I could produce the money, it was paid by William
Trickey, Ebenezer Junkins and Absalom Frost, who told me that they got
me into it, and it wasn't fair for a boy to suffer through doing what
was necessary for the protection of the settlers, and what a lot of
older men had egged him on to do. So I came out of it all straight, and
was not much the less thought of. In fact, I seemed to have ten friends
after the affair to one before. But Dick McGill, whose connection with
it I have felt justified in exposing, still hounded me through his
paper. I have before me the copy of the _Journal_--little four-page
sheet yellowed with time, with the account of it which follows:
"A desperado named Vandemark, well known to the annals of
local crime as 'Cow Vandemark,' was arrested last Wednesday
for leading the riots which have cleaned out those
industrious citizens who have been jumping claims in this
county. A reporter of the _Journal_, which finds out
everything before it happens, attended the ceremonies of
giving some of these people a coat of tar and feathers, and
can speak from personal observation as to the ferocity of
this ruffian Vandemark--also from slight personal contact.
"This hardened wretch is in every feature a villain--except
that he has a rosy complexion, downy whiskers, and buttermilk
eyes, instead of the black flashing orbs of fiction. Sheriff
Boyd decoyed him into town, skilfully avoiding any rousing of
his tigerish disposition, and is now making a blacksmith of
him--or was until yesterday, when he paroled him to Miss
Virginia Royall, the ward of the Reverend Thorndyke.
"This is a very questionable policy. If followed up it will
result in a saturnalia of crime in this community. Already
several of our young men are reading dime novels and taking
lessons in banditry; but the sheriff has stated that this
parole will not be considered a precedent. The affair has
resulted in some good, however. In addition to placing the
young man under Christian influences, and others, it has
unearthed a patch of the biggest, best, ripest and sweetest
wild strawberries in Monterey County on the ancestral estate
of the criminal, known as Vandemark's Folly, and by the use
of prison labor, and through the generosity and public spirit
of our rising young fellow-citizen, Jacob T. Vandemark--whom
we hereby salute--we are promised another strawberry festival
before the crop is gone.
"In the meantime, it is worthy of mention that the industry
of claim-jumping has suffered a sudden slump, and that the
splendid pioneers who have opened up this Garden of Eden will
not be robbed of the fruits of their enterprise."
When I came to run for county supervisor, he rehashed the matter without
giving any hint that after all what I did was approved of by the people
of the county in 1856 when these things took place or that he himself
was in it up to the neck! But enough of that: the historical fact is
that Settlers' Clubs did work of this sort all over Iowa in those times,
and right or wrong, the pioneers held to the lands they took up when the
great tide of the Republic broke over the Mississippi and inundated
Iowa. The history of Vandemark Township was the history of the state.
I SAVE A TREASURE, AND START A FEUD
In the month of May, 1857, I went to a party. This was a new thing for
me; for parties had been something of which I had heard as of many
things outside of the experience of a common fellow like me, but always
had thought about as a thing only to be read of, like _porte cocheres_
and riding to hounds, and butlers and books of poems. Stuff for
story-books, and not for Vandemark Township; though when I saw the
thing, it was not so very different from the dances and "sings" we used
to have on the boats of the Grand Canal, as the Erie Ditch was then
called when you wanted to put on a little style.
The party was at the "great Gothic house" of Governor Wade, just
finished, over in Benton Township. The Governor was not even a citizen
of Vandemark Township, but he had some land in it. Buck Gowdy's great
estate lapped over on one corner of the township, Governor Wade's on the
other, and Hell Slew, nicknamed Vandemark's Folly Marsh cut it through
the middle, and made it hard for us to get out a full vote on anything
after we got the township organized.
The control shifted from the north side of the slew to the south side
according to the weather; for you couldn't cross Vandemark's Folly in
wet weather. Once what was called the Cow Vandemark crowd got control
and kept it for years by calling the township meetings always on our own
side of the slew; and then Foster Blake sneaked in a full attendance on
us when we weren't looking by piling a couple of my haystacks in the
trail to drive on, and it was five years before we got it back. But in
the meantime we had voted taxes on them to build some schoolhouses and
roads. That was local politics in Iowa when Ring was a pup.
But Governor Wade's party was not local politics, or so N.V. Creede
tells me. He says that this was one of the moves by which the governor
made Monterey County Republican. It had always been Democratic. The
governor had always been a Democrat, and had named his township after
Thomas H. Benton; but now he was the big gun of the new Republican Party
in our neck of the woods, and he invited all the people who he thought
would be good wheel-horses.
You will wonder how I came to be invited. Well, it was this way. I
called on Judge Stone at the new court-house, the building of which
created such a scandal. He was county treasurer. He had been elected the
fall before. I wanted to see him about a cattle deal. He was talking
with Henderson L. Burns when I went in.
"I don't see how I can go," said he. "I've got to watch the county's
money. If there was a safe in this county-seat any stronger than a
cheese box, I'd lock it up and go; but I guess my bondsmen are sitting
up nights worrying about their responsibility now. I'll have to decline,
"Oh, darn the money!" said Henderson L. "You can't be expected to set
up with it like it had typhoid fever, can you? Take it with you, and put
it in Wade's big safe."
"I might do that," said Judge Stone, "if I had a body-guard."
"I'd make a good guard," said Henderson L. "Let me take care of it."
"I'd have to win it back in a euchre game if I ever saw it again," said
the judge. "I hate to miss that party. There'll be some medicine made
there. I might go with a body-guard, eh?"
"So if the Bunker gang gets after you," suggested H. L., "there'd be
somebody paid to take the load of buckshot. Well, here's Jake. He's our
local desperado. Ask Dick McGill, eh, Jake? He dared the shotgun the
night they run that claim-jumper off. I know a feller that was there,
and seen it--when he wa'n't seared blind. Take Jake."
The Bunker gang was a group of bandits that had their headquarters in
the timber along the Iowa River near Eldora. They were afterward
caught--some of them--and treated very badly by the officers who started
to Iowa City with them. The officers, making quite a little posse,
stopped at a tavern down in Tama County, I think it was at Fifteen Mile
Grove, and took a drink or two too much. They had Old Man Bunker and one
of the boys in the wagon tied or handcuffed, I never knew which; and
while the posse was in the tavern getting their drinks the boy worked
himself loose, and lay there under the buffalo robe when the men came
back to take them on their journey to jail.
When they had got well started again, it was decided by the sheriff or
deputy in charge that they would make Old Man Bunker tell who the other
members were of their gang. So they took him out of the wagon and hung
him to a tree to make him confess. When they let him down he stuck it
out and refused. They strung him up again, and just as they got him
hauled up they noticed that the boy--he wasn't over my age--was running
away. They ran after the boy and, numbed as he was lying in the wagon in
the winter's cold, he could not run fast, and they caught him. Then they
remembered that they had left Old Man Bunker hanging when they chased
off after the boy; and when they cut him down he was dead.
They were scared, drunk as they were, and after holding a council of
war, they decided that they would make a clean sweep and hang the boy
too--I forgot this boy's name. This they did, and came back telling the
story that the prisoners had escaped, or been shot while escaping. I do
not recall which. It was kind of pitiful; but nothing was ever done
about it, though the story leaked out--being too horrible to stay
There was a great deal of sympathy with the Bunkers all over the
country, I know where one of the men who did the deed lives now, out in
Western Iowa, near Cherokee. He was always looked upon as a murderer
here--and so, of course, he was, if he consented.
At the time when this conversation took place in Judge Stone's office,
the Bunkers were in the heyday of their bad eminence, and while they
were operating a good way off, there was some terror at the mention of
their name. The judge looked me over for a minute when Henderson L.
suggested me for the second time as a good man for his body-guard.
"Will you go, Jake?" he asked. "Or are you scared of the Bunkers?"
Now, as a general rule, I should have had to take half an hour or so to
decide a thing like that; but when he asked me if I was scared of the
Bunkers, it nettled me; and after looking from him to Henderson L. for
about five minutes, I said I'd go. I was not invited to the party, of
course; for it was an affair of the big bugs; but I never thought that
an invitation was called for. I felt just as good as any one, but I was
a little wamble-cropped when I thought that I shouldn't know how
"How you going, Judge?" asked Henderson L.
"In my family carriage," said the judge.
"The only family carriage I ever saw you have," said Henderson L., "is
that old buckboard."
"I traded that off," answered the judge, "to a fellow driving through to
the Fort Dodge country. I got a two-seated covered carriage. When it was
new it was about such a rig as Buck Gowdy's."
"That's style," said Burns. "Who's going with you--of course there's you
and your wife and now you have Jake; but you've got room for one more."
"My wife," said the judge, "is going to take the preacher's adopted
daughter. The preacher's wife thought there might be worldly doings that
it might be better for her and the elder to steer clear of, but the girl
is going with us."
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