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Pioneer Life in Jones Co.
This article by O. J. Felton, Cedar Rapids, Iowa was originally published in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics,
Benjamin F. Shambaugh, Editor, Vol. 29, No. 2, (April 1931). Copyright 1931,
State Historical Society of Iowa. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

The issue of the Iowa Journal of History and Politics in which this article appears is available in its original format. If you would like to purchase an issue (available in limited quantity), please remit $2 (per issue) to State Historical Society of Iowa, Publication Sales, 402 Iowa Avenue, Iowa City, Iowa 52240-1806. Be sure to indicate which issue you would like to purchase.

[Krouse Photo]In the year 1851, John George Krouse settled on a farm in what is now Madison Township, Jones County, Iowa. He was originally from south Germany but had lived near Dundee, Illinois, for seven years before coming to Iowa. His family consisted of his wife, Margaret, and their seven children—George, Anna, Mary, Jane, Emily, John, and Esther (In later years George Krouse married Margaret Overly and John married Jane Wasson. Mary Krouse became Mrs. Isaac Overly; Jane, Mrs. Eliphalet A. Nichols; Emily, Mrs. William Reed; and Esther, Mrs. George Pangburn.) The Krouses were a hard-working, hospitable, Christian family, and were dependable in every way.

Two years later, M. O. Felton, a young clock peddler from Indiana, came through the county. At Scotch Grove, a settlement of Manitoba Scotch, Felton lost his horse and was obliged to look for some other means of earning a living. He soon found a position as a school teacher and is said to have been the first teacher paid by a public tax in Madison Township. Anna Krouse was one of the pupils at the school and soon a romantic attachment developed between the young teacher and the girl.

Felton’s father came west to enter land for a home, but a letter called the son back to Indiana at the time and the two passed each other on the way. In spite of the absence of the son, the older man entered the southwest quarter of Section ten, Madison Township. This was not, unfortunately, one of the best pieces of land to be had.

The following summer M. O. Felton returned to Iowa and he and Anna Krouse were married on August 29, 1854. This is said to have been the first marriage of white people in the township. Having no means to begin farming the young couple returned to Indiana but before they arrived there his father died. For a time Felton stayed Indiana, farming in the summer and teaching school in the winter, but in the fall of 1856 they came back to Iowa in a covered wagon, bringing with them their first child, a daughter.

That winter—one of the worst known to the oldest inhabitants—they stayed in the Krouse home. Before spring Mr. Krouse died, but undaunted by the loss the Feltons built a little shack on the land entered by his father and began housekeeping in the spring. Eight children were born in this home: Margaret, born on June 15, 1855; George Leslie, on November 12, 1857; Alfred Nichols, on January 27, 1860; Oliver John (the writer), on February 22, 1863; Charles Wesley, on October 31, 1865; Anna W., on December 31, 1867; Harlan Philips, on December 21, 1871; and William Reed, on November 10, 1874.

Their house was located about the center of the quarter section with some large shellbark hickory trees nearby. A spring such as those found along every draw afforded good water. Their first bed was made by nailing poplar poles to the wall on one side and supporting the free ends on a larger pole at the other—a one-legged bed as it was called. Mrs. Krouse loaned them cattle to break some of the land for the first crop of wheat—seven yoke in a string with a plow cutting and turning thirty inches. They had to make a right or Gee turn at the corners, swinging outward in a circle each time.

There were few laid out roads. All traffic followed the ridges as far as possible, avoiding the draws which were wet and boggy and only crossed to get from one ridge to another. There were no bridges: all streams had to forded. The old Pike’s Peak Trail from Clinton ran through this farm and we children saw many going west following the same old trail. It is still visible and we older people can go to it any time and see again the slow emigrant wagons with their white covers, a tar bucket hanging from the rear axle and usually a tired dog walking under the wagon. In the middle sixties, these wagons were mostly drawn by horses, if they belonged to land seekers. A cow or two and perhaps a horse followed, in charge of a boy or man. The travelers usually camped out and the settlers were very kind to them, seldom making any charge for what they needed for man or beast. Few of them ever took anything without asking or made any trouble.

[House Photo]Farming consisted mostly of raising spring wheat of a bearded tea (This was Arabian or Russian wheat, as contrasted with bald varieties.) variety. This was mostly sown on fall plowing. A bushel and a half to the acre was sown by hand, the sower following stakes with a white rag for a marker. The field was then dragged.

The drag consisted of three wooden bars on each side, each bar set with iron teeth one foot apart. The two parts were joined by an iron hinge. The drag was eight feet wide and was pulled by a team of horses with the hitch at the corner so that no teeth followed in the line of those just ahead. Each time the drag was lapped one-half. This usually covered the grain as the ground was all new and was very fertile and worked easily. A boy from seven years old up usually drove the team with the drag, for there were more children than anything else in many of these early homes. They were put to work at a very early age, and woe to the boy who loitered or crowded the drag to cover the ground more quickly. Oats were sowed in the same manner.

Corn was planted in the most primitive fashion. The ground was plowed and then dragged, after which it was marked off by a wooden marker consisting of three two-inch oak runners with boards nailed across to hold them together and hounds nailed on so the wagon tongue could be used to draw it. Then the driver took the straightest side of the field and drove across, setting stakes at each end and in the middle at proper intervals to make all rows uniform. When this was finished the field was crossed by the same marker fast enough to keep the planters busy between showers, for it usually rained a good deal in May, the planting month.

The planting began. At first, when the children were young, the neighbors changed work, so they could be together and visit while working. The talk usually concerned politics and other neighborhood matters, even gossip, but mostly religion. Our neighborhood was intensely religious, and mostly Methodists from Ohio and Indiana, although a few Scotch to the west and east were Presbyterians of the old school.

The women or children did the dropping which consisted of following the mark and dropping three or four kernels in each cross made by the marker. The men followed with hoes and covered the kernels, adding a few seeds to fill any missed hills, but the dropper who missed a hill soon heard of it and the old Puritan lash or switch was often used as a reminder. Some patted the hill with the hoe blade while other tread on it. Wet or muddy ground was never planted until dry.

When the corn showed three or more blades cultivation commenced. The tool was a wooden beam plow with one very large diamond-shaped shovel or two small ones pulled by one horse. It went twice between the rows. When a boy got big enough to use this tool he thought he was quite a man, but if he left any hill covered or allowed the horse to tramp it down or plow it out, there was trouble. The water carrier was a censor of all mishaps or carelessness.

This cultivation was carried on until the corn was in bloom, or silk they called it, when it was “laid by” and the harvest of the small grain was begun.

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