Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My Home

Once the Plains States were home to Native American tribes. The area where I later lived and where I live now were inhabited by tribes of the Great Sioux Nation. Lakota, Ponca, Shawnee, Pawnee, Omaha, Santee, Kiowa, Osage, Kansas, Quapaw, Winnebago, Otoe. Those are only a few.

 In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson's purchase of the Louisiana Territory more than doubled the size of the United States. Nebraska and Iowa were included in the 828,000 square miles of the Louisiana Purchase.

The Lousiana Purchase prompted the Lewis and Clark expedition. The US government funded the expedition to explore the land in the purchase and to try to make maps.

The Louisiana Purchase opened the lands west of the Mississippi River for white traders, trappers, and explorers. Most were men who stayed in one area. Many married Native American women and were accepted by the tribal leaders.

Soon white settlers were establishing farms and communities. That is where my story begins.

The small town I live in is the western-most town in Iowa. It was originally platted in 1856. Most of the people who hoped to live here abandoned their homes due to Indian uprisings.

In 1877 the present town was platted. It is on the northern edge of the Loess Hills. Most of the town is nestled in the shadow of one of the hills. The opposite border is the Big Sioux River. On the southern side is Broken Kettle Creek just at the end of my street. The opposite border is the Westfield Creek.

In the beginning we boasted several businesses. There was a bank, blacksmith, post office, grocery store, barber shop, hardware store, hotel, grain elevators, 2 churches, and a lumber yard.

Today we still have a post office in spite of attempts to close it. There is one church. There is a bar that also serves a limited menu. And we have a gas station. 

One of the biggest scandals in town was when the bank was robed in broad daylight. The robbers were captured and put in jail. 

Then they escaped. There was gunfire from both sides. The sheriff and his son were both wounded. The sheriff's wife was knocked out by a blow to the back of her head. The son died a few days later from his injuries.

After being captured and taken to another jail in a larger town nearby the men once again escaped. When they were captured yet again they were taken to Sioux City and put on trial.

There is a railroad that was completed in 1874. It is directly across the highway today. The grain elevators take in and deposit grain to train cars. I can hear them running when they are working.

There were stage lines running between towns. Unfortunately because the trips were so small not many records are available now. 

Before open pit sand mines there were sand mines dug in the area. Most were not very successful but at least one operated well for a while. Unfortunately it ran up under what is now the highway and has caused some problems over the years. I think they have finally found a permanent repair.

The sand was often used for laying a foundation for a building. In those days trees were not plentiful on the prairies. No wooden houses here. Stone and brick were much too expensive for most people. So they used what was available. 

The prairies have always been known for their grasses. One and a half to two and a half acres of prairie grass could be used to build a fine sod house. 

There is coal in the area. Attempts to find profitable coal mines were not successful and often led to disastrous results. 

One disaster was the mine being dug when suddenly they struck water. The water quickly filled the mine. Being industrious the miners decided to sell the water instead.

They soon found out that they were taking all the underground water from a neighboring town. They had to close the operation.

As i said there are small coal deposits in the area especially around Broken Kettle Creek. Some farmers had small amounts to burn. The main problem there is that the coal is not of good quality and not really worth the trouble of digging it out.

Very near here was the largest cottonwood tree in Iowa. It measured over 29 feet in circumference and was over 100 feet tall. Lightning struck the tree and destroyed it.

The prairie grasses that I mentioned earlier looked almost like an ocean to someone looking out over it. Wind caused ripples that resembled waves of water. The grasses could be anywhere from 1 foot to 7 feet tall. But those grasses offered no shelter from the wind.

They were a big danger. Fires would spread even more rapidly than some forest fires and were almost impossible to put out.

The most important grasses in this area were Big Blue Stem, Little Blue Stem, Side Oats Grama, Blue Grama, Needle and Thread, and Buffalo Grass. There were more than 250 species of prairie grass here.

We have the normal animal life in this area. Coyotes, chipmunks, birds, deer. There are too many to list. During warm weather the pests like ants, mosquitoes, and boxelder bugs drive us crazy. 

Our town is known to be home to prairie rattlesnakes. I have not seen any although I have seen garden snakes.

Bison roamed free here until the white settlers both killed them for food and hides and drove them out. About five miles from my town is The Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve. Prairie grasses grow free with no one trying to wipe them out to clear land for farming.

Also in the preserve is a large herd of American Bison. They roam free within the confines of the preserve. The rattlesnakes are plentiful there as well as a lot of other animals that are in danger if found outside the preserve.

Our high school was established in 1910. It was the first Township High School in the United States. Alas the last school building sits empty. School consolidation has our children being bused to our neighboring town. It is only 5 miles. 

But our building does not look too old. It was sold on the internet for very little money and the new owner is not happy with his purchase. Sad.

There are more trees now. Cedar trees especially have taken over. They are an invasive species here but they are pretty. My town is the northern boundary of the mulberry tree.

We are supposedly the home of Jack Smurch. Mr Smurch was the main character in "The Greatest Man In The World" a short story by James Thurber. In the story set in 1937 Jack Smurch flies a monoplane around the world without any stops.

We are a small small town. The 2010 census says we have 132 people living here. About 1/3 of those people are children. 

It is so quiet here. Except for those days when the bikers visit the bar there is little noise at all. For a retired person that is perfect.


  1. Replies
    1. I know you are. Even though I grew up in this part of the country I did not pay much attention until I was older. You have immersed yourself in a way I never will.

  2. The VA town we lived in for 12 years was small with 500 residents, but yours is way smaller, Emma. I don't really know the history of where we lived, and so appreciated the background of your current home.

    1. I got the idea from Joanne Noragon at Cup On The Bus. She did a history of her town and I found it fascinating.

  3. I really enjoyed this history. Your little town sounds lovely, part of nature really.

    1. I really am content here. I enjoyed learning about it too. My husband grew up on a farm a few miles from here. He went to school here in town. As a matter of fact the owner of the gas station went to school with him.

  4. Thank you, Emma, for this history and description of your part of the country. After decades of watching developers frantically consume the pastures here, I am calmed by the idea of a quiet town.

    1. They are doing the same thing around here. My mother-in-law fought for years to keep them away from their farm. She actually had the area declared a National site of some sort so that they cannot consume the farm. Even though they are now gone the man who now owns the land takes goo care of it.

  5. Thank you, Emma - now I can imagine so much better were you live! It sounds nice: calm and everything one needs (except those bankrobbers). You gave me a very film-like description.