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1890 Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Story County, Iowa

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Page 113 of 460

The western pioneer, coming from a land of plenty farther east, and never having been compelled to resort to whole grain, parched or boiled, nor even to the black breads that still form so much of the daily food of the peasantry of Europe, truly believed that fine flour was one of the necessaries of life. Appliances for grinding which are now common on stock farms, and may be had at any implement depot, were not known when the ax of the Story County pioneer began to fell trees for his cabin. There was then not a mill in Jasper, Marshall, Boone nor Polk Counties. Mahaska County and the eastern part of Marion County had been settled to a certain extent as early as 1843-45. The country farther to the southeast had corn to spare, and presumably mills on which it could be ground. In that direction the early settler turned for bread, often leaving the women and children in dread of his absence, and watching impatiently for his return. This state of affairs was not confined to a single family at one time with neighbors from whom one could borrow. It was more frequently the case that borrowing had progressed until all were alike scant as to supplies, and the long and weary trip had been postponed to the last day possible. Then would two or more men start together for the Egypt that had corn and flour to spare. In some cases such were the emergencies that there was but an old quilt hung up for a door to the cabin, and the timid wife and children took turns in keeping up the fire as a safeguard against the unknown perils concealed by surrounding darkness.

Among the mills visited for custom work in those times were the two Parmlee mills, on Middle River, in Warren County. Each arrival with grain waited his turn, and carried home what the miller left him after taking substantial toll. Root's mill at Oskaloosa furnished flour for cash, or in exchange for grain. This method enabled the seeker of food to save time. Similar business was done at Iowa City. Thus it seems that a trip to mill meant a journey of from fifty to 120 miles. The unbridged streams were a serious factor in this bread problem. Rain-storms were liable to come when the meal-sack was light, and if that should happen it might be that before a new supply could be had the sack had been turned and dusted, and parched corn, salt and potatoes for luck, were the only visible foods.

Even as late as 1856, during the sickness and death of Dr. Kellogg, the supply of flour failed in the house, and there was none for sale at the then thriving county seat, with a population of 500 souls. This was a time for the exercise of that practicable form of piety for which the pioneer was noted, lending and dividing family supplies. Mr. Alderman carried his entire supply of flour (about twenty-five pounds) to the house of mourning, and his large family subsisted on corn bread till wheaten flour could be obtained.

It often required from four to eight days, according to the season, whether the team was of oxen or horses, to make the round trip to the mill and return. There were mills at Oskaloosa and Red Rock, but it was not always certain that flour and meal could be had. Thomas Fitzgerald tells that on one occasion William K. Wood and himself went to the Red Rock Mill and got the entire supply on hand for half a dollar; and as if this were not hard enough luck, one of his horses died on the trip. Under such circumstances the securing of a mill that would crack corn when turned by hand, as in the case of Mr. Parker, was a notable event, and "turns" were awaited with interest. The patient labor of Thomas Vest, near New Philadelphia (Ontario), working bowlders

Page 113 of 460

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