Pioneer Days


horizontal rule

        The following interesting article is by Elizabeth Fancher, an early comer to Waterloo. Her husband was the first storekeeper here. Mrs. Fancher is now a resident of River Forest, Illinois.

        My father, William Virden, was a pioneer of Illinois as well as Iowa. He moved from Lexington, Kentucky, to Illinois in 1825 and bought a farm in Wayne County, where he lived twenty-five years, then sold it and moved to Black Hawk County, Iowa, in the spring of 1851.

        We were on the road five weeks and traveled 500 miles to reach this Land of Promise. 

        For the last three weeks of our journey, we had rainy weather and whenever there was a half day of sunshine, we stopped, dried and aired our bedding and cleaned house, for our prairie schooner houses would get out of order.

        The roads had been muddy and bad, the streams swollen and bridges washed out, causing much delay. But at last we reached the Mississippi River and crossed on a ferry boat at Rock Island. Now our spirits rose. We expected less rain and better roads. We did find less mud, for Iowa soil was sandy and the water soaked away. We were, however, soon confronted with new difficulties B the Iowa sloughs, where water stood in places and the rest of the ground miry and swampy. When we came to these sloughs, we had to double teams and take one wagon through at a time. Sometimes the wagons would sink down almost to the hubs and it required the united strength of two yoke of oxen and a team of horses in front to get over these places, spending perhaps a half day=s time. Those same sloughs have all been dyked and drained and are under cultivation, and travelers speeding over the good roads of Iowa have little idea of the annoyance and delays to which the early settlers were subjected.

        But it is not of the journey I wish to tell, for that would make chapter itself, but rather of our journey=s end, for I know we were all glad enough this overland trip was finished.


        My brother James sighted our canvas covered wagon three miles away and came to meet us, and in a little while after, on that first day of July, our caravan of four wagons, a buggy, five horses, three yoke of oxen, halted in front of his log cabin, which stood on the east bank of Cedar River, Waterloo, the place then being called Prairie Rapids Crossing.

        This was my father=s destination also, where he laid two land warrants of forty acres and an adjoining claim of forty acres.

        James= wife gave us a warm welcome and soon had a good dinner ready. We had eaten picnic fashion so long we hardly knew how to conduct ourselves at a table.

        My two brothers had a log house up for us, with roof and floor, but it took two weeks longer to build the chimney and a fireplace to cook by, to hang the doors and put glass in the windows. When it was ready, we unloaded our wagons and brother Oscar and family, who had moved with us, stayed with us until he could build his house.

        Oscar settled on Black Hawk Creek, four miles south, near my brothers, William and John Virden. William had moved hither in the spring of 1845 with his brother-in-law, George Washington Hanna. It may be interesting to note that Wash Hanna=s son, Phillip Hanna, consul general to Mexico, was recently humiliated by the Mexican Federals and put in prison for two days when he was released by the Constitutionalists on April 22nd on this year, 1914.


        My sister, America, with her husband, Charles Mullan, and my brother James, moved to Iowa in 1846. My brother John came with his family in 1849. So that all my father=s large family except one married sister, Martha Bunting, living in Illinois, were now settled in Black Hawk County, Iowa. Like a flock of sheep, when one goes through the gap the rest follow.

        Brother James= log house was the first one built on the east side of the river, and my father=s the second one, about two hundred yards distant. Our log house was built on a creek bank that afterward bore the name Virden Creek.

        I remember the first day of July, when we arrived, that the garden stuff was just coming up, the first planting having been overflowed by high water.

        Mother thought it a poor looking place, for when we left home in Southern Illinois, the 25th day of May, we were through with our early garden stuff, currants and gooseberries were ripe, and cherries turning.

        The next day after our arrival my brother-in-law, Charles Mullan, crossed the river in an Indian canoe to give us welcome greetings. He told us of the family and how anxious my sister was to see us all, but it was dangerous crossing, for the river was high that spring and the water spread out over the low ground on the west side, covering acres of it.

        I wanted to see my sister and the children and begged him to take me home with him. He said if I would do just as he told me to, he could take me over safely. I was to lie flat on my back in the canoe and not stir hand nor foot. I promised and, although Mr. Mullan said it was rather risky and the family protested, we started down the path through the high grass to the river bank. I lay down in the canoe, put my arms straight down by my sides, shut my eyes and he pushed out into the river. The even strokes of the paddle and the swish of the water were like a lullaby. The river was about half a mile wide where we crossed.

        We landed safely about one hundred yards west of their log cabin. My sister saw us coming and was there to meet us, and we had a happy reunion after six years of separation, walking arm in arm up the hill to the little cabin. I found four dear children, instead of the two I had kissed goodbye, who are still living in Waterloo, namely, Mrs. Elizabeth Davison and Judge Charles Mullan.


        I stayed several days and we had a happy visit together, talking of her old friends and neighbors she had left in Illinois and of her experiences in Iowa, the first winter being an exceptionally hard one. In the dead of winter, their flour and provisions got so low her husband had to go to Marion, Linn County, their nearest trading post, and also nearest postoffice, sixty miles distant.

        He made the trip through deep snow and almost a trackless territory, subject to many dangers as were the little family left behind surrounded by Indians. Some nights she kept guard over the babies with a loaded rifle in reach. During the three lonely weeks of her husband=s absence she lived almost entirely on hulled corn.

        Mr. Mullan was a surveyor and away from home a good deal. Once when he was gone an Indian came into the cabin and wanted to buy Lizzie, her baby, the little white papoose, and poured out gold pieces from a buckskin bag, stalking away quite sullenly when she would not sell her. Another time, an Indian reached the cabin about dark and would not leave. So America gave him a blanket and let him sleep in a corner of the cabin. He got up in the night to stir the fire, but she pointed the gun at him and made him lie down. The next morning he made her understand he had toothache, asked for some red pepper pods, which he boiled, and then drank the water. He left after breakfast, saying she was a brave squaw.

        Mr. Mullan was made postmaster when the first mail route in 1852 was established, and America used an old teapot for the mail box, placing it near the door where the patrons could step in and get their own letters.

        During those few days we visited together after our long separation, America said: AWith all the hardships we have gone through, I am not sorry we came to this place. It will be the Garden of Eden some day.@ She looked out over the rolling prairie and prophesied it would all be settled up in a few years, and her vision came true.


        At the time we reached Iowa, there were few settlers and everything was exceedingly primitive, with many hardships and privations to endure.

        We had to go twenty-five miles to mill and father went to Dubuque, 100 miles distant, for some groceries, a cook stove, nails and other hardware to finish the house.

        There were no churches nor schools until in =53 the first log schoolhouse was built, serving for a church as well. It was used alternately by Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Mr. S. W. Ingham often preached for the Methodists.

        Indians frequently camped in the woods and skimmed the river in their canoes. They were friendly but troublesome.

        Deer and wild turkey were plentiful and the prairies fairly swarmed with prairie chickens, grouse and quails. There were still some buffaloes and elk roaming the country. Along the rivers and creeks, beavers, mink and otters were numerous and muskrat towns built up in every sloughy place.

        In woods, wolves, lynx and wild cats held the fort. One day my brother William=s wife shot a wild cat in the act of springing on her baby girl at play just outside the door of their cabin.

        Coyotes made the nights dismal with their weird, everlasting barking and howling and though not dangerous, they boldly carried off young pigs and raided hen houses. My brother Tom stood in the kitchen door one morning and shot one eating a Sunday chicken dinner by the henhouse.

        The first year in Iowa, mother was very homesick for the old home she had left in Illinois with its orchard, garden and flowers and peach trees growing in every fence corner.

        Father took a different view of things and was very hopeful. My four single brothers, a niece and myself thoroughly enjoyed this wild new country.

        Mother could not get used to the Iowa winds. She would say: AOh these winds! They blow, blow, night and day and never cease!@ which was true. It was almost impossible to hang out a washing in the winter time. The winds whipped the clothes to pieces and would clip off the corners of the sheets as smooth as if a knife had cut them. The men would laugh and declare that all they had to do to get shaved was to walk around the corner of the house and meet a sharp north wind.


        A year or two later, a great many people were coming to Iowa and almost every day movers passed our house, which was about half way between Cedar Falls and Poyner=s Creek, a stretch of twelve miles between. Although our house was none too large for our own family, we were often obliged to share it with the weary travelers, giving them food and shelter.

        Now as I recall those times, the capacity of our rude log cabin was immense and no hospitality more cordial and sincere than that of the pioneers of Iowa. All travelers had to say was: ACan I stay all night here?@ and the family would share their food and beds and the expression AOur latch string always hangs out@ was literally true.

        But those prairie schooners brought to the country the men and women who laid deep and lasting foundations of the great State of Iowa.

        I love to hark back to the long ago pioneer days. In memory, I see the vast stretches of treeless prairies, its rolling waves as the wind rippled the high grass. Not a house was in sight for at that time houses were built in the edge of the woods, as prairie fires and winter blizzards were a menace to life. So those prairies for many years were left a wilderness of natural beauty, the home of the wild rose and prairie velvets, but now they are all under cultivation. Everywhere are fine prosperous farms, churches, schoolhouses, orchards, groves and fine roads leading to pretty towns while autos race over the highways over which in early days the ox teams crawled at snail=s pace.

        But what of the brave old pioneer who took the brunt of the battle, suffered and built? All gone. Scarcely one left to tell the tale.


        I remember our first winter in Iowa the snow fell the 10th day of November and we saw no more bare ground that winter. The river froze two to three feet deep, making a safe crossing, good sleighing and enjoyable skating for the young people. 

        My brothers would take their spears, go down the river, cut holes in the ice and spear a sled load of fish, large pike and pickerel; bring them home, throw them in a shed where they would freeze solid, but when put into a tub of boiling water would flop out alive; so to make sure they were dead we would chop off their heads. I got so tired of fish that winter I have never liked them since.

        That fall we became acquainted with many of the people at the Big Woods, twelve miles away to the north, and we visited back and forth, riding through the deep snow with cheerful spirits despite the cold, for in those early times people who lived two or three miles away were neighbors and others living twenty miles away were still neighbors. I recall the Barricks, the Pattees, Pains, the Goforths, who were good singers, the Moores, Fairbrothers and many others.

        In the spring of =52 we opened up a sugar maple camp down in the woods three miles away. We were there about three weeks making sugar and syrup and had 300 pounds of sugar and a barrel of syrup. The first few runs of sap make light colored syrup. By the second week the sugar is a darker grade and the last runs make the syrup.  We had enough sugar and syrup to last a year and the syrup was delicious on our buckwheat cakes. It was great fun for us young folks to camp out, though there was hard work to be done in carrying sap and attending to the boiling and sugaring off. We cooked most of our provisions at home. We often caught sight of deer in camp and the boys would shoot squirrels for pot luck.


        In the summer of >52 nearly all the family took the ague; sometimes three or four would be in bed shaking at one time. Then, after the shake, a raging fever came on and how miserable we felt and how we were dosed with quinine. It came fall of the year with fall work to do; cutting wild prairie grass for hay, gathering corn and digging potatoes. I never saw such a big crop of potatoes as grew that summer on the sod land broken the year before and now they must be dug. The soil was dry and sandy and they rolled out of the ground almost as clean as if they had been washed. My brother, Tom, would go out in the morning and dig until the chill came on, then give it up. At last he grew out of patience and said: AWell, tomorrow, I=m going to work all day if it kills me.@ So the next day he was up early and out at work in the potato patch and he did work all day long, hardly taking time to eat a bite. I don=t see how he stood it but he dug and perspired, till his clothes hung dripping wet to him by night. Then he took a bath, went to bed and arose the next morning feeling fine and that was the last of the Ashakes.@ He had perspired the malaria out of his system apparently. These chills and fevers were very discouraging to the early settlers with all the other drawbacks, but we never lost faith in Iowa=s future greatness.

        Brother Tom and I are the only surviving members of our large family. He is living in Whitewater, Colorado, where he is a great favorite and recently celebrated his eighty-third birthday, about fifty of his friends gathering in to spend the day with him as has been their custom for many years.


        By the spring of >53, several families had built log cabins on the west side of the river and four or five families settled north of us on the prairie - Mr. Mason Hale, Elijah Balcome, Zimri Streeter and Samuel Aldrich; so we began to feel we were quite a large community and were in cheerful mood.

        The earth and air smelled of spring time, the skies were growing bright and it was good to be out of doors in the sunshine after a long cold winter had blown over. Already we were dreaming of summer plans.

        Why not have a Fourth of July celebration this year, a real Fourth? So the question was agitated pro and con. We certainly had not lost our patriotism living in this new country.

        My father had served through the War of 1812; Mr. Hale had served in the same war as drummer boy. Mr. Balcom played the flute. Here was our martial music. Several young people volunteered to sing in the choir, namely to stand on the platform and join in the singing: AMy Country >Tis of Thee@ and AThe Star Spangled Banner.@ Mothers and daughters were to do a good deal of their excellent baking; every one to help and every one a self-appointed committee. So the plans and work went steadily on without a hitch or break in the whole program.

        I remember the morning of the Fourth, the sun rose clear and bright and at break of day, Mr. Hunter, a merchant of Janesville, who stayed over night at our house, wakened us all by singing the AStar Spangled Banner@ at the top of his voice out in the yard and the refrain: AOh, say can you see by the dawn=s early light,@ routed us all out.

        After breakfast, father and the boys killed and dressed a pig, which was roasted whole in the oven, besides roasted chickens, vegetables, pies and cakes. Mother had half a dozen loaves of bread ready to bake for dinner. As everyone was expected to be on the ground at 10 o=clock sharp people were hurrying about early.

         About 8 o'clock Mr. Hale and Mr. Balcom passed along with their music, going to the grounds where the people were to march around on the prairie grass to the strains of the fife and drum.

        The place selected was on the east side of the river near where the river was usually forded as well as I can remember the spot, for there were no streets at that time, just prairie grass and gopher holes. A little platform was made and covered over with boughs.

        By 10 o' clock ox wagons were driving up loaded with people, chairs, tables, and provisions. We took a wagon load of things to the grounds.

        The parade began, men, boys and women marching along the banks of the river, making the woods ring with music and singing. After circling around the platform the musicians and speakers went up and took their seats.

        Charles Mullan was marshal of the day and G.W. Hanna, chaplain. My brother John read the Declaration of Independence. John Brooks gave the oration. Some young people led in the singing and at intervals the band played. Most of the audience sat on the grass but a few had brought chairs in their wagons.

        During the exercises on the platform some of the women were busy getting the dinner on the table. A fire of driftwood was made to boil potatoes and coffee. The men helped with the works as much as the women.

        After the speaking all adjourned to the bountiful dinner. My father, who never partook of a meal without asking a blessing, stood at the end of the table and said grace.

        After dinner the people strolled along the river. The young men ran foot races and pitched quoits, then all gathered about the stand and had music and songs.

        At 5 o'clock a supper was served to all and by this time the wagons were loaded up to start home.

        Mr. Hale and Mr. Balcom broke ranks, leading off playing the fife and drum. Everyone was happy and filled with patriotism. It was a very primitive affair, but we all thought it a grand success. I have seen from time to time different statements as to the date of the first celebration held in Waterloo. Some said in '54 and others in '55 but I believe I am authority on this one question, the FIRST celebration in Waterloo. That year of '53 I was a girl at my father's home and helped mother bake and brew for this Fourth of July dinner. Before the next Fourth, '54, I was wife of Nelson Fancher, living on a farm four miles east of Waterloo.


        Along in June of the next year there was a big Indian scare up at the Big Woods and about fifty families picked up and left in the middle of the night and waked us up by calling out the Indians were on the war path. Some of the men got on their horses and went to see what the trouble was and found out that a boy and an Indian had exchanged shots and that was all there to it. About the middle of the week the people began to return home and we housed and fed any number of them.

        The following month my brother Isaac and Eliza May were married at the home of her father, Samuel May, on the west side. Some young men thought to have a little fun by giving him a charivari. They fired guns and made a lot of noise which frightened a Mr. Glidden living back on the hill. He thought Indians were killing off the people, so he routed his family out of bed, hitched up, threw a feather bed into the wagon and a grindstone, so the story ran, and went off at a gallop, giving the alarm to each house he passed. Finally he got stuck in a slough and went to Abe Turner's house for help. Mr. Turner did not believe there was any trouble and told Mr. Glidden to bring his family in and he would go up and see what was the matter, but Mr. Glidden was thoroughly scared and started on as fast he could until he reached Miller's creek. Mr. Turner found on riding to town a charivari instead of a massacre. After Mr. Glidden's return the men joked him so much about his Indian scare he sold out and moved away.


        The first hotel on the east side was built by Samuel May and was sometimes used for Methodist meetings. In the winter of '54 my husband and myself attended a quarterly meeting there. When Elder Coleman was ready to administer the sacrament it was discovered that the wine for the occasion had not been provided, so John Benight was sent on foot across the ice in the river to a drug store to get some. It was a bitter cold day and his face was badly frosted by the time he returned.

        The first hotel in Waterloo was built on the west side on the river bank at the head of Second Street, by Seth Lake. There were many funny stories about the Lake House. At that time these crude hotels made no pretensions to brass beds, wire-woven springs and felt mattresses, but a tick filled with prairie hay and cotton pillows were graciously accepted as beds.

        Mr. Lake was a very economical man and as the story goes, considered one pound of cotton sufficient for four pillows. One of his boarders tired of folding his coat every night for a pillow thought to have some fun out of it. So one cold midnight when all were sound asleep he rung the cow bell vigorously, which was provided for emergencies. Mr. Lake got up in a hurry, lighted his tallow candle, climbed the ladder and poked his head through the opening into the loft and asked what was wanted. The boarder, looking very serious, said: "Mr. Lake, I'm afraid to go to sleep for fear these pillows will work into my ears." Mr. Lake muttered something and descended his ladder.

        While speaking of hotels, the Sherman House was established in 1854 on the west side. I do not give exact locations now or dates and I would be entirely lost myself in Waterloo these days, but I remember his hotel was a log structure and as his business increased he built on to it. His wife, an enterprising woman, at once opened up a millinery shop in a little room off the kitchen. We had to go through the kitchen to reach the shop. I distinctly remember this as I bought my wedding bonnet of her. It was a combination of white straw and horse hair lined with pale blue silk, with ribbons and flowers to match, a very pretty bonnet, nothing like the freaks people wear nowadays.

        I remember well when the first paper was published in Waterloo, the Iowa State Register, by William Haddock, and how proud we felt and thought what progress the town was making. My husband took the paper as long as it was published.

        Doctor McKinley was the first physician in Waterloo, arriving in '53. He had pretty good success in his profession and was also a good violinist and sometimes gave the young people a dance at his house. In '55 he moved to Texas. Doctor Harper came the same year, I believe, and soon Doctor Barber.

        My brother, John Virden, was the first sheriff; Charles Mullan the first postmaster and surveyor and was identified with nearly all the enterprises connected with the early development of Waterloo.


        The spring of 1853 stands out very vividly in my memory. It was that spring I met my future husband.

        One late afternoon in April two men drove up to my father's house and asked my brother, Isaac, if they could stay all night. Isaac came in and said: "Elizabeth, can we keep a couple of travelers tonight?"  I said very emphatically, "No, we can't because we are going to have a meeting and the preacher will stay overnight."

        In early times preachers were scarce and when one passed through the country he was always asked to preach and word was sent abroad throughout the neighborhood.

        Isaac was a very kind-hearted man and said: "Well, it's raining and you know how far it is to the next place where they can stay over night," and as a final word added, "You know what the Bible says about entertaining angels unawares."

        I went to the window and looked out and thought they did not look much like angels sitting under their dripping umbrellas but relented and said: "Tell them they can stay." They came in with their baggage and I got another supper.

        At the supper table, they and my brother kept up quite a conversation, the latter telling about the new country and its prospects. The strangers said they were looking the country over with a view to buying land. They were brothers from Ohio by the name of Fancher. One was tall, broad shouldered and fine looking, the other smaller, fair complexion, blue eyes, talkative and bubbling over with jokes and laughter. He said, "I am married and have two fine boys but my brother, Nelson, here is an old bach. He's too bashful to ask a girl to marry him." Nelson blushed and said: "Don't pay any attention to my brother's jokes." Instead of staying one night, they remained a week looking the country over and finally decided on a tract of 460 acres lying along Cedar Valley about four miles east of father's farm. Then they had to go to Dubuque to enter the land.


        The morning of their departure, after they were in the buggy, Nelson came back to the house and asked for a glass of water. Nothing strange about that, for their road led across a stretch of prairie twenty-five miles without a house. The water pail was empty and I said I would go to the spring and get some. Nelson reached for the pail and said he would get it. I laughed as I looked the six-footer over and replied: "You are so small, I'm afraid you will fall into the spring." He laughed and answered: "Well, I'll go along to keep you from falling in." Like many other settlers, we had been slow about digging a well and we carried the water from a good spring at the bottom of a hill about fifty yards from the house. We walked leisurely back up the hill, Nelson carrying the pail of water. The morning was fine and the rolling prairies with their wooded borders were beautiful enough to captivate any newcomer.

        In those days of log cabins and blazing hearth fires, friends were easily made and they were true friends, and this new friend lingered a minute at the door and then said: "If I get my land we shall be neighbors," and then shook hands and was gone. We used to laugh over that pail of water he carried up the hill and called it the beginning of our pioneer courtship.

        They were gone two weeks. When they returned they had a fine span of large bay horses, Dick and Ned, a new farm wagon and many necessary farming tools. They went right to work to build a cabin and with the neighbors' help soon had a house to live in and began keeping bach.


        Mr. Fancher went to Dubuque soon and brought back a stock of dry goods and filled up his cabin with men's ready-made clothing, boots, shoes, hats, caps, muslins and all sorts of small articles. That was the first store in the country. His goods went off like hot cakes. The settlers were glad of the chance to buy ready-made clothing and necessary things so near home and he soon had a big trade.

        Mr. Fancher had but recently returned from California, where he had been successful in gold mining. The story of his journey by wagon to California would make a thrilling chapter by itself. He came back by the Isthmus of Panama.

        In the winter of '53 it was decided to move the stock of goods to West Waterloo and a large stock of groceries was added to it.

        I remember the store was a typical log cabin with one door and one window and was the first store in Waterloo.

        Mr. Fancher put his brother, Joe, in as manager while he turned his attention to improving his large farm. Keeping store was new business to Joe and being of a jovial nature as well as a generous disposition, he made friends fast though they were not always paying customers. When a customer came in and said: "I want a pair of boots or an overcoat and will pay for them when I get the money," Joe would say: "All right." Few of those credit debts were ever paid. If a woman considered the price of muslin or calico too high Joe would tell her to set her own price, which would, of course, be much lower than the price marked. If a customer came for a dollar's worth of sugar and Joe was busy he would say: "There's the barrel and there's the scales. Help yourself." And the man would say: "Well, I'll take a few pounds extra for waiting on myself and just charge it." The store was soon doing a big credit business. Mr. Fancher would go up once a week, straighten out the books and look over matters, but as he found running a store and farming was too much, he sold out his store in the summer of '54 to Wash Hanna. That same spring a Mr. Capwell opened a store on the west side and a Mr. Kent a drug store.


        By this time Mr. Fancher and myself were pretty well acquainted. He had given me references to his family and a friend knew his family in Ohio and said there wasn't a finer family living than the Fanchers. His word then, as ever after, was as good as gold and I believed in him. My family all liked him and he declared he fell in live with me when I poured his coffee that rainy evening in '53. So to make a long story short, we were married at my father's house in East Waterloo by Judge Jonathan Pratt of Cedar Falls, the 25th day of May, 1854. Three years previous, on the 25th of May, I started on my journey to Iowa and now I had started on this matrimonial journey for life. We were to have been married by Rev. S. W. Ingham, but he was called suddenly to Tama County and told us not to delay the wedding as it was uncertain when he could return.

        The ceremony was at two in the afternoon. My brother John was the best man and Miss Maria Aldrich stood by my side.

        Nowadays the first important item of a wedding is the description of the bride's dress and I must not leave mine out. I was married in a white mull, made with a full skirt with a broad hem at the bottom. The waist was tight fitting in the back with a full front and sewed to the skirt. The sleeves were very full and hung loose at the wrists and the under sleeves were very fine and embroidered to the elbow. A broad white satin ribbon tied in a double bow in front and falling to the edge of my skirt finished my bridal gown. I wore white satin bows in my hair and white gloves and had white open-work stockings and bronze slippers.

        Mr. Fancher's wedding clothes were made at Dubuque and instead of being sent to Waterloo went by mistake to Farley and he received them just a few days before the wedding. They came in a little hair trunk which is still in my possession. His suit was fine black cloth with a black satin vest. He wore a blue satin handkerchief tie like all the men wore in those days and the most elaborate of the twenty-one shirts he had made at the same time.


        Our wedding for those primitive times was quite a grand affair. After the ceremony and congratulations were over my brother Isaac, who was master of ceremonies, invited all the young people to take a walk down by the river.

        While we were gone the tables were set in the front room and the fireplace with its shining brasses was filled with wild crabapple blossoms and their fragrance filled the room. In the center of the table was a huge pyramid pound cake about two feet high, frosted over and a frosted cedar branch decorated the top. This was the bride's cake and on each side of it were bouquets of wild prairie flowers and at the ends flowers from mother's garden.

        We had a bountiful old-fashioned dinner--roast beef, roast chicken, vegetables, pies, cakes galore, nuts, raisins, fancy maple sugar cakes, coffee and tea.

        Mother used twenty-five pounds of butter in making cakes. There was plenty to send to friends and neighbors and to last a while.

        After dinner was over the guests went out on the porch and into the yard; there was some singing and by that time the bright day began to fade. The last of the young people went away in the moonlight and as we watched them drive off we looked out upon a moonlit world full of happiness and hope.

        There were no railroads in Iowa at the time, so we did not take a wedding tour, but I daresay we were just as happy then as people nowadays with all their fine presents and wedding trips.

        I stayed at mother's until the following Monday; then my husband moved me and my belongings to our cabin home. A heavy rain came up about noon so we started at 4 in the afternoon. When we reached Elk Run it was booming. I was afraid to cross but my husband assured me he would see me safely over. In the middle of the stream the faithful horses swam a few strokes and the wagon box swayed around, but with a determined bound the horses landed safely on the opposite bank.

        I had a big feather bed, pillows, bedding, a high four-poster corded bedstead, a new roll of rag carpet, a set of dishes, table linen, a clock and rocking chairs. My father gave me two cows and some money and this was my wedding outfit.


        We reached the house about 6 o'clock and I found the house in apple-pie order for a bachelor's home. I did not get entirely settled that week as the men were building a log kitchen which was 16 feet square when finished. The living room was twenty feet long, with a fireplace in one end. My new kitchen stove had an oven on top and there never was such an oven for baking bread and biscuit. It was a pleasant contrast to cooking over a fireplace.

        That fall my husband went to mill at Independence, twenty-five miles away. The wagon trail across the prairie was so bad that it took two days each way. When Mr. Fancher was loading up to start home a man asked to ride back to Waterloo with him. Nelson never refused a favor, so this man stayed all night with us, had supper and breakfast. In the morning when he picked up his surveying instruments to set out for Waterloo he said he had no money but was obliged for the favors shown him. We assured him he was very welcome to all. This man was John Leavitt, the rich banker in after years. I often wonder if all the kind deeds Mr. Fancher did for others were ever passed on.

        We lived in that log cabin two years and then built our new house half a mile away from it, near the main traveled road. All the timber was cut on our farm and prepared at the Waterloo sawmill. The house was 32 by 40 and two stories high and all the siding and window sashes and doors were of black walnut. There were three fireplaces in the house, which was a large one for those times and soon got the name of being the Methodist Tavern, as we entertained so many preachers and their families.


        We had our country friends and our town friends, our strawberry and apple friends and the sleigh ride friends in winter. We worked hard but had time for enjoyment. No one stayed away from the neighborhood parties on account of the weather. A dozen or more neighbors would gather in and we would have a big supper about nine, then sing and play games.

        Mr. Fancher gave an acre of ground and the timber for a schoolhouse and helped build it. This served for a school and church. Our first teacher was a Miss May Harrison of Waterloo. We had services and Sunday school regularly.

        Picnics were very popular. I remember at a Sunday school picnic a young man named Phifer was asked to sing. Instead of a hymn, he astonished the elders with a song called "Daisy Deane" and a negro melody called "Old Black Shady." The class leader; Joe Ellis, thought he ought to be turned out of church but the young people thought it was fine.

        During the winter we always had singing school and met once a week at the schoolhouse, which was quite a social center. The singing teacher, John Glover, always stayed with us. I recall one stormy night as we sat around the fireplace that the singing master dozed off. My nieces, Louise and Elizabeth, filled his folded arms with rows of cookies and stole away to bed.


        We moved into our new farmhouse on the 27th of November and there was snow on the ground then. December the first was bright and clear. Brother John walked down from Waterloo to bid us good-bye, as he was going to Nebraska. By night a fierce blizzard was blowing which lasted three days. The snow was eight feet deep in places and we could drive over the field fences. The first snow fell before the corn was gathered and we had to leave the rest in the fields all winter. The stables and sheds were made as warm and comfortable as possible. One day about two hundred sheep, which were housed in a log cabin, got out and going before the storm, kept on until the creek was reached. They followed the leader into the stream full of slush ice and thirty-three were drowned before we could head them off and nearly a hundred died from exposure.


        One Sunday, when people gathered for meeting at the schoolhouse, it was found that there was not enough wood, so services were adjourned to our house, about a quarter of a mile away. In a little while a heavy snow began to fall and the wind blew a gale. A few near neighbors went home, but the rest waited for the storm to abate. The minister, John Kirkpatrick, ate some lunch and started home. Instead of taking the road, he went through the river timber until he reached a spot in the woods which he knew was directly opposite his farmhouse, a short distance away. With the aid of a pocket compass he reached his home, but was badly frozen.

        About 3 o'clock in the afternoon the storm reached its climax. The air looked blue and there was a humming sound. Two peddlers drove up, and we took them in, as it was sure death to go on.

        We had thirty-two guests that night. I found beds for all the women, but the men had to bring in their buffalo robes and sleep on the floor in front of the fireplace. Ropes were stretched to the barn so the men could find their way back after feeding the stock. After the storm passed it was intensely cold. I remember we had to cut the ham for breakfast with an ax.

        During the winter of '56 there was no time for extra work, as it took the men all the time to feed the stock, cut wood and dig out the drifts. We thought we could never spend another winter there, but we went to work with renewed courage when the balmy spring opened.


        We were getting along nicely until the war broke out. Crops had been good and money plentiful. Neighbors began to enlist, and my husband wanted to go, but was refused on account of a slight lameness in his knee, caused by a gunshot wound received in an Indian skirmish in California, but he took care of more than one family while the father was gone. Three of my brothers went to war, and two of them, Isaac and William, lie in Southern cemeteries. Mother was at our house when Isaac came to bid us good-bye, and she put her arms around his neck and said: "Isaac, my boy, I'll never see you again," and he said: "Oh, yes, you will, mother. I'll come back," but he never came home again. His wife and three children came down and spent the winter with us. She was a brave, good woman, and in spite of her sad trials, reared her children to lives of usefulness and honor. The spring after William enlisted his daughter, Louise, came to live with us. Five young men who helped on the farm enlisted, and never came back. We can never forget those heart-breaking times.

        The women everywhere formed societies to help the soldiers, and we in our neighborhood sent off box after box of clothing, bedding, food, and all sorts of canned fruits.

        The next two years the crops were very poor and everything was dear and scarce. Coffee was a dollar a pound. We tried all sorts of substitutes; used rye, wheat, bran mixed with molasses, and sweet potatoes chipped and browned in sugar.

        We went to town one day and found muslin 75 cents a yard, so we got two bolts, thinking it would go higher, and it did reach $1.00 a yard.

        When the war closed, people began to brighten up a little. Then came the news of Lincoln's assassination. It was received with uncontrollable grief by all. That morning one of our neighbors came in at the gate, tears streaming down his face, and called out, "Our President is killed. Lincoln is shot." It was a terrible shock. I remember Mr. Fancher was setting out trees that morning, and he brought a maple tree and set it by the big gate, saying it was a memorial to Lincoln. It grew to be a splendid tree and was a beautiful sight when the leaves turned in the fall. The next Sunday we held a memorial meeting in the schoolhouse for Lincoln. Almost everyone present had lost dear ones in the war, and it was a most affecting scene.

        When we settled on the farm we fully expected to spend our lives there, and in the quiet of old age welcome our children and grandchildren back to the old home. But alas for human expectations. In fourteen years we sold the farm to our good neighbor, George Ellis, and built a new home in Waterloo, where the children could have good school advantages. My husband then embarked in the grain business, and the firm was known as Fancher & Son.

        I might relate some interesting experiences of the following years, but already my story is too long. Pioneer days are over for the thriving, beautiful City of Waterloo, and the early scenes are more and more but a memory. Loved ones have passed away, and few of the old friends are left, and I seem to almost stand alone in this generation with my happy recollections of pioneer days.

horizontal rule