Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Most people who experienced the 1930s recall tremendous extremes of weather conditions that added to the misery of the depression. Summers were extremely hot and dry while winters were snowy and frigid.

The highest official temperature ever recorded in Iowa happened on July 20, 1934 when Keokuk recorded 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Triple-digit daily readings for weeks at a time were common in 1934 and 1936. Dust storms descended on the area instead of thunderstorms. Crops dried up and withered or were razed by plagues of grasshoppers and locusts.

Many were unemployed, banks went under, farmers couldn’t get loans and winter temperatures were unbearable as many mornings reached 20-30 below zero. Money, fuel and food were scarce and sickness added to people’s woes. Not to be forgotten is the ice storm of 1937!

On January 9, it snowed a little and turned to sleet. During the night of the 10th, it rained heavily as temperatures fell. The ground froze and the rain turned to heavy sleet. Everything was under a heavy glaze the next morning: fences, buildings, roadways, trees, pastures. Barn doors froze shut, gates were frozen, and a glacier-like mass of solid unbreakable ice covered the county. Trees broke and fell on houses and across roads.

In one of his columns, Ralph Arnold told about a farmer who found out what the expression "independent as a hog on ice" meant. His hogs sprawled all over the barnyard and once he finally got them back into the shed, they wouldn’t go out again for five weeks, until it was safe after the ice had thawed.

North of Keosauqua, Joe Barker’s horse got out of the barn and slid nearly to the highway, as it finally lodged behind a tree. He had to call the local blacksmith to come out and shoe the animal by lantern light so that it could walk safely back to the barn.

Blacksmiths all over the county were shoeing animals for the first time in years.

Mail carriers had difficulty delivering mail. After being ditched four times in one day, Birmingham carrier Fred Workman sent for his old Model A Ford with chains on all wheels to complete his route. Kelley Gilbert delivered the mail on skates, and Bonaparte’s carrier George Bolin brought out an old sleigh and shoed his horse so that he could make his rounds (except for Warner’s Hill, which still could not be negotiated.)

Quickly people adapted to the weather. Many skated everywhere: across fields, ponds, rivers, on roads and through pastures. Stores ordered skates from the wholesale houses. Since schools remained open in spite of the ice storm, children found that skating to school was the safest way to travel.

Most children enjoyed the ice. However, Jack Dorothy broke both arms. On his sled he coasted down one of Keosauqua’s hills, lost control and went over a high bank. For the rest of the winter he watched out of the window as other children played.

An elderly lady in Selma slid into a ditch and suffered from exposure as she laid until she was rescued by neighbors. 75-year-old Jeff Beggs had a mule fall on him while he was watering the animal, and his hired hand couldn’t pull him free and went for help. It took twelve stitches to close the cut on Mr. Beggs’ head and the animal died from the fall. Many other elderly people suffered broken bones from spills on the ice.

Many vehicle accidents were caused by the weather. When a farmer near Bonaparte found his windmill frozen and couldn’t water his livestock, he desperately used a shotgun to break the ice off his machine so that it would start pumping.

On February 18th the wind blew all night and by morning the ice had turned to water. It put nutrients into the soil and 1937 produced bountiful crops, the first good yield for some farmers in nearly a decade.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick