Joseph A. Keck's Journal & Letters

File K234, Historical Library, Des Moines, Ia.

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Henry Keck and wife Mary Hardin Keck with a family of nine children left Greensburg Penn. the latter part of March 1846 to make a home in Iowa. Their destination was Mahaska County Iowa but on account of sickness of the youngest child was obliged to stop on the way; The family ranged in age from one year, to eighteen years old of which the writer was the eldest We came to Pittsburg in wagons. And there took Steamboat from there to St. Louis, Mo. We then transferred to another Boat for Keokuk, Iowa, but the boat did not run any farther than Keokuk. The only mishap we had that far on our journey was the disappearance of a young man, who was going with us to Iowa. He was a cousin of the writer. As we came down the Ohio river, our boat stopped about midnight at Louisville, Ky. for passengers, and he disappeared 'from the boat, we could not tell if he was drowned or what became of him as we never heard of him after-wards. his things were all on the boat. When we arrived at Keokuk, Father hired a couple of teams to take the Family and such things as was most needed and started on our journey, and traveled some 40 miles, and stopped with Samuel Nixon Father heard of a place to rent in Utica which he rented, and unloaded the goods and sent the teams back. The place Father rented was the Utica house where a man named Jackson kept Hotel for several years but was now owned by Ambrose Martin who owned several house, close by. We settled on the Utica house Van Buren county April fourth 1846, where we spent the first year. There was also another family which accompanied us from Greensburg Michael Hugh, wife and two children, and his Bro. George, and Caroline Hugus. and lived in the same house with us the first few months, until they could rent a house to live in. Father had bought a Soldiers Land warrant and brought with him, and laid it on land in Cedar Township Van Buren County near the centre of the Township now owned by James Loofboro Estate. Father sold that then bought 160 acres of Wm. Dibble on which was a log cabin with some 40 acres of crop on the place with a sod fence enclosure and where we moved in March 1847 which was our home for ten years, and was improved with a Frame one and a half story house and a large log stable, and where he entertained the Public travel which was considerable at that time. The farm is in Harrisburg Township 2 1/2 miles East of Utica and is now owned by Bro Henry There was quite a settlement on the Utica Prarie in 1846 Have just counted up those who lived South of the Utica line for three miles East and three miles West, and three South and there were 60 families living at that time which would make one half Township, but there was very few living North as it was farther to the timber. There was a strip of Prarie which run South of Utica for 5 miles with timber on both sides a good part of the way which caused it to (be) settled up first. The first settlers invariably settled in, or near the timber Utica Prarie used to have the big Muster of the Malitia in the early forties, the last one was held at Columbus in the Spring of 1846 I remember of Father taking his rifle and going to the Muster at Columbus it was on the Des Moines river a couple (of) miles above Bentonsport the town is now extinckt there were a number of houses there at the time. This was the last Muster, under the Territorial law. Bentonsport six 1/2 miles South of Utica was our nearest Post Office for a number of years. About 1850 there was a stage line which ran from Keokuk to Fairfield and carried our mail up the divide and supplied the offices along the route it ran through Utica Winchester and Birmingham up one day, and down the next, was afterwards changed to Farmington Bonaparte, and Bentonsport from Keokuk letters in those days were 25 cents postage and some time later was reduced to 10 cents and later to three cents. There were few papers sent through the mails outside the County. in 1855 we had a mail Route from Mt. Pleasant via Salem, Hillsboro and Utica to Bentonsport, six times a week, now we have it brought to our doors, and most of the Farmers now take daily papers, and with the Telephone keep posted on the markets, and news of the day. The writer of these sketches was born near Greensburg, Westmoreland County Penn. Dec 9th 1827 and has passed the Eightieth milepost of life, was reared mostly on the farm and all the Schooling received was in the district Schools. Mine has been a busy life Staid at home with Father until the Spring-of 1850, then went to Calafornia the overland route with an ox team, and returned home in the fall of 1852, bought 200 acres of land 160 acres of Prarie in Cedar Tp 1 1/2 East of Utica and 40 of timber, and commenced improving the farm. Then May 5th 1853 was married to Miss Ingaba Ebbert and settled down to farming and am still living on the old Homestead, which now consists of 320 acres, worth $100.00 per acre. the purchase price for the first was $7.50 per acre with a log house one and one half story and some 12 acres broke an fenced, there is a fine grove of timber on the farm with little Cedar Creek running through one corner. During the summer of 1846 Father bought a threshing outfit in Greensburg Pa and had it shipped to Keokuk by water from Pittsburg Pa and had to haul it to Utica on wagons. Mr. James Boner went in as a Pardner on the Machine, it was called a Chaffpiler. and was operated with four horses, and was among the first Machines in use in this part of the County, David Boner the son, and I operated the outfit four years, during the fall, and early winter, for our pay we received the tenth bushel and had to go round and collect the toll. Now this Machine did not seperate the grain from the straw, but was thrown against a canvass. and a man raked the straw from the Machine, and a lot of men with forks, shook out the grain from the straw, then after we threshed one or two loads of grain, we would stop and put the grain away, in the Chaff. And the grain was put in a pen built of rails, the bottom was covered with straw and the sides were also lined with straw, then the grain was shoveled in the pen. and covered with straw, to keep it dry, then if a grist was wanted, or to take to market, The Fanning Mill was put in use to clean the grain, and the rest would remain for months until needed as very few had a granary to put it in We could thresh about 200 bushels of wheat a day and there was quite a good bit of grain in 1846. the price was very low, their was some wheat in the fall sold for 25 cents per bu. good fall wheat. A Mr. Charles wanted to leave and sold his wheat for that price. At the mills it sold for 35 cts per bu. Father and Mr. Boner had the fall wheat ground at Bentonsport Mills and barreled up and put on a Flatboat at Bentonsport to ship South. the Moore Brothers built the boat and loaded with produce. to take to New Orleans, but the Spring of 1847 the river was too low to get the boat out and had to wait for a June rise, Father & Co had a chance to sell to some Keokuk parties at $5.00 per barrel delivered at Keokuk, and sold it and took it out of the boat, then shortly after they sold there came a rise and the boat was able to go on its journey south. As it turned out, the threshing proved to be profitable as wheat was worth One Dollar per bushel. There were a number of Boats, built at Bentonsport to take produce down the river South, as that was our best Market, the last one, built as late as 1849 by M. B. Moore, Clem Woods, and Henry Keck Jr. There was only one School House in the Utica district, as discribed, and that was known as the Burns S. House one mile West of Pierceville, the winter of 1846 there was a School taught in a dwelling House owned by Isaac Nixon one 1/2 miles East of Utica bought by Benjamin Green who lives now at Adel Ia and is the father-in-law of Speaker Clark. The place is now owned by John Klise. Mr. Green Represented Dallas county in the General Assembly. It was not long until there was one built at Utica, one at Pierceville and one. two miles South East of Utica known as the (as the) Stone in Harris-burg Township. The first Church was built by the M. E. Church at Utica in 1851 the building was a brick of good size, and was replaced with a Frame House in 1882. The Society at first took in a large Territory, in 1846 there were two Pasters on the work. John Harris, and L.B. Dennis. was a fair weeks work. the Utica appointment was held at James Boners, now the F. Perkins place 1 1/2 miles South of Utica it was a week day appointment with some 12 to 15 members, every two weeks. After the School houses were built, the preaching was held at the Stone in Harrisburg until the church was built. In 1846, and for quite a while afterwards there was not :much fruit, except Peaches. there was a fine crop in 1846 Father Dibble and James Smart had trees old enough to bear, and the trees were full. Mr. Dibble had the only Timothy meadow, There were some ten acres. and Father cut and put it up for the onehalf of the crop. but in a few years. there was quite a good deal raised. The Farmers depended on corn fodder and Oats in the sheaf for roughness. The Farmers were generally busy during the winter in making rails, and hauling them out to fence the land as there was no stock law as at present, All depended on outside pasture which was abundant at that tine. We did not have the hardships to go through with that the Pioneers did as there was Mills at Bonaparte Bentonsport, Vernon. and other places in the County where we could get grinding done and we had markets near home, the new settlers made a market for some produce, and was much sought after, as they had the money to pay. Keokuk was our Chief market. for buying and selling The Farmers would kill and dress their hogs. and haul them to Keokuk, there was no packing, or slaughter houses there then, but could sell them dressed. there was some packing done in the inland towns, but not extensively, After stock became more plenty they began to slaughter at Keokuk and the stock were driven there by men who made a business of buying and driving to market, and the roads would be full of droves of hogs, and at times could not get accommodations on the road. but that is all changed now for the better, The Farmers would go to Keokuk about twice a year with some produce, and lay in a supply of groceries & thereby saving the freight. The farm implements then in use, were few and quite a different make, and style, to those of to day. The breaking plow, and the three cornered harrow, with a double shovel cultivator for corn and some had a five shovel cultivater to tend the corn crop, and the Disners (?) plow to lay the corn by (as the saying was) The ground was broken up and harrowed then laid of in squares, the corn was then dropped by hand. and covered with the hoe, No Disks No Corn Planters, no wheel cultivaters, or drills to put in the wheat crop: The first Corn Planter in use on the Utica Prarie was owned by Samuel Nixon and the writer bought in 1855 It was the Brown first patent with wooden wheels. in fact it was nearly all wood, the runners was steel shod. and hand dropper. it did good work. but was greatly improved years after there was no marker attachment with the planter. the drivers seat was a long plank so he could guage the depth of planting. The first Reaper on the Utica Prarie was bought by Wm. Campbell and Henry Keck Sr. in 1852 and was a McCormack, was operated with four horses and two men, one to drive and the other to rake the grain off, and 4 to 5 men to follow after to bind in bundles, and two to put them in shock The sheaves were dropped in the way and had to be bound and thrown aside out of the way before they could cut the men were divided off in stations and had to get it bound and away before the team came around I could not see that it was any cheaper, than to harvest with the cradle harvest wages was one dollar per day and they worked more hours then, than now ordinary wages was 50 cts per day and help was plentiful on all occasions, there was no farming on a large scale. In threshing time Farmers exchanged work. Father cut a field of wheat in 1846 and put it in shock for three bushels per acre for Ab. Miller two miles from Utica. We have no recollection of any Mowing Machines, prior to 1856. Meadows were cut with a Scythe, and raked in windrows, with a hand rake, and forked on the wagon, and off by hand. there was not much cut for hay then The first threshing machine that sperated the grain from the straw, and cleaned it, was owned by Alex Woods near Bentonsport and was operated with Horse power this was in 1854. We commenced farming on my own account in 1853. and in 1854 Mr. Woods threshed my crop of 1000 bushels of fall wheat his charge was four cents per bushel, which I sold to Meek and Sons at Bonaparte for $1.00 per bushel. and in 1855 they bought my crop of wheat some 600 bushels, and they hauled it. This was the time of the Merman exodus from Nauvoo, Ill. to Salt Lake City, and they laid in their supply of flour for the trip across the plains. about the last chance The first wheeled corn cultivator used here was in 1858. I bought one of Alex Martin of Cedar Township who was the inventor of the plow. the price was $40.00 but did not (do) as well as later machines it was a riding plow. My first purchase of a Reaper was in 1857 and was a self rake, with Mower attachment this Machine would cut and rake. and lay the grain in sheaves out of the way of the horses. so you could cut right along without stopping for the binders that followed. My next purchase was a Marsh Harvester, for two men to bind the grain on a platform attachment as it fell on the table it elevated the grain as it was cut, The next was a self Binder and cannot recall the year, but think it was in the seventies. there were numerous Binders put out of different kinds and all did good work, and was a great labor saving, one man could take care of quite a harvest without much help. The first Steam Threshing outfit came here about 1870, the Farmers were predjidiced against them, but the more they were used the better they were liked, they were afraid of setting things afire, they were a great saver of horse-flesh and came to stay, and of late years, the firewood is sawed with the steam saw. Farmers exchange work and in a few hours will saw enough to last a year: The first Thorobred Short Horn Cattle was brought in by Timothy Day from Kentucky at an early day the year I cannot recall but think it was the latter years in 1856 or 1858. and was an extensive Breeder of Cattle, and improved the cattle in the surrounding Country: The first Norman Horse made a start at Utica. by Mr. Blow of Fairfield about 1880 he was imported from France. The first improved Hogs were the McGee were brought from Ohio, then the Chester White, and Poland China, all good Breeds. John Lyon was the first Plow maker he first started in Pierceville Iowa as early as (as) 1845 and made a plow that did good work and sold all he could make. but they had to (be) scoured, and polished, before they would do good work, but afterwards he got a large stone and run it with Horse power. to polish them. There was quite a number of cast iron plows brought here from the East but they would not work, and were cast aside as useless. The first sawmill on the Utica Prarie was run by Thomas & Roswell Dibble at Pierceville and a store was started about the same time owned by Simms, and Dibble in 1850, or 1851. The first county Fair I attended, was held in Keosauqua in the fall of 1852, in the Court House and grounds, and had my intended one with me. It was rather a tame affair but it was a beginning and grew to be the best Fair of any around. Return to Top of Page
Transcribed by Rich & Nancy Lowe for the Van Buren County IAGenWeb Project - copyright 2007