Jeremiah M. Suiter  - Account # 2 - 1848

Early Memories of the Settling of the Hinkletown Area

In the spring of 1846, the family of Mordecai Y. Suiter, a 43 year old mill operator, left Ohio to move to Iowa.  They made part of their trip by canoe to the Ohio River, and took a series of steamboats to the Mississippi River, where they landed at Le Claire, Iowa, and spent the winter.  In the spring of 1847, they traveled by covered wagon to their claim on the Iowa - Keokuk county line.   The first year was marked by a house raising, bad weather and the struggles of preparing the prairie sod for its first planting.  The father died in the spring of 1852, in an unfortunate accident while trying to build a dam across the English River.  One son, Jeremiah, became the blacksmith at Hinkletown through the 1880s. Follows is the second of eight articles about the early times written by the two Suiter brothers, Jeremiah and Mordecai Y. Suiter, Jr.,  as published in the Oskaloosa Globe, 1905.  Jeremiah is credited for the first two, and Mordecai the remaining six accounts.

 

  By Jeremiah M. Suiter - February 4, 1905

The snow during the winter of 1847-48 was 3 and 4 feet deep and in places it would drift to ten and fifteen feet.  I remember that winter we had a big snow, and a big gale of wind with it, and it drifted in places along the fences clear over them so you could walk over the fences into the field when it had frozen.  We did not have a thermometer in those days, but I know it was a very cold winter.

 My father and I spent our time hunting and splitting fence rails to fence in the land when we had cleared it the next spring.  My father killed many deer and other wild game.  He also killed two big bucks, five pointed fellows, he being a fine shot with a rifle, and was not getting into difficulties all the time and having to fight his way out as I was.

Our nearest neighbor was Sam Watters, who lived a mile east of us on the road, but you could not call it more than a trail.  There were a great many people passed our home on the trail on their way to California during the gold excitement of 1847-48.  I remember one day in the spring a man passed our log cabin with a big prairie schooner, he having come from North Carolina by steamboat and brought his covered prairie schooner.  He had his family and two girls, who wore tow linen dresses, and one boy.  He had a flock of sheep with him and the boy and girls herded them along the trail while he and his wife rode in the schooner.  His name was Mr. Hill.  He went on west of us and settled on the same divide, about five miles from us.  My father and they were very good friends, and I think there are some of his descendants living there yet, as I know there was when I was there last.

Along about the first of April, my father and I went to work to breaking up the land, and it was a big job clearing it, as there were 400 acres in all, but we did not clear only about 25 acres the first year.  The first land we cleared was about five acres for a garden and an orchard.  My father having bought quite a few trees when we came out from Ohio.  These he set out and in about four years he had a very good orchard.  We also went out into the timber and got a lot of wild plum trees and set them out north of the cabin in a little clearing on the edge of the timber.

We hired my uncle, Mr. Breeden to help clear the land for a corn field of 20 acres, he using two yoke of oxen, yoked to a big breaking plow, with a wooden mould board and a steel sheer.  The plow had two wheels to it, one that run in the furrow and the other on the ground and that kept the plow straight.

        

                                                           

We usually had a couple of bulls hitched to the beam if he could get them, as the were very scarce.  My uncle had a yoke which he hitched to the plow and a yoke of steers in front.  The land we cleared had quite a few trees on it.  These we cut down and either chopped out the stumps, or just left them to rot out.  I had never heard of a grubbing machine until some twenty-five years later.  The hazel brush was as high as your head, this we cleared off by plowing it under with the breaking plow.

The rattlesnakes were very thick on the prairie and in the woods.  When we were breaking up the land I remember one day my uncle was driving the oxen, and he was driving along all right when all of a sudden, he heard a warning rattle and he knew it was a rattlesnake.  The oxen gave a lunge to one side and went tearing ahead, taking everything with them.

My uncle had a hard time managing the bulls, as he had to make them know their place or they would jump onto him.  The kind of rattlesnakes we saw the most were about three feet long and black and light spotted.  Once in a while we would see a yellow-spotted one, but they lived mostly in the hilly country.

After we got the land cleared and plowed up we planted the corn.  The way we did was a man would go along with an axe and about every four feet would strike it down in the ground and pry it apart, and dropped the corn in the hole and the axe out and leave it, and the corn would sprout up through the crack.  We had to put quite a few grains in a hill on account of the crows and prairie squirrels and other things that bothered the corn.  After the land was broken and cleared, we fenced it in with a rail fence, on all sides, but the south side, where there was a creek called Little Creek.  We used to catch lots of fish out of this creek, sometimes catching pike three and four feet long.

We then built stables for our cattle and hog pens for our hogs, building them all out of logs.  My father bought one dozen hens and a rooster of Mr. Carter, who also gave him a half dozen more hens, and with them we made our start with chickens.  We built our hen house out of small logs and covered it with clapboards.  The hogs we let run in the timber until the winter came, and then we would pen them up.  Some of them would get so wild we could not catch them and these we would have to shoot.

The bull snakes were very thick.  They were a harmless snake, their bite hurting no more than the sting of a bumblebee.  I remember the first and last bull snake I ever killed.  I was walking across the cornfield we had just planted, the corn not being up yet.  I was looking ahead of me along the fence and I saw the old fellow stick his head up.  I determined to kill him, not knowing at the time what kind of a snake it was.  I thought it was a spotted viper.  I looked around for a stick or something, but not seeing anything handy, I grabbed a fence rail out of the fence, and started for him.  He saw me coming and merely raised his head.  He did not get mad until I struck him with the fence rail, and then that made him mad; raising his head about three feet high he blew off, and it sounded  like an old goose when they get mad.  He kept me pretty busy, as I would strike and then he would strike at me.  He could strike about six feet when he would coil up and strike.  I kept fighting him about a half an hour.  I hit him several times but that only made him the madder.  Finally I got close enough to hit him a blow on the back that broke it.  He could not strike very far then, and so I hit him a blow on the head that killed him.  When he was dead I measured him.  He was just twelve feet long and around the biggest part of this body was fifteen inches.  At supper that night I told my father about my fight with the snake.  He asked me to tell him what color it was.  I told him it was a yellow, spotted and had a little head, which was white spotted on top.  My father then told me it was a bull snake.  That they were harmless, would hurt nothing, that they were a good thing to have on the place to kill the prairie squirrels, and the field mice that ate up the corn, for the bull snakes would kill them.

My mother told me a story of how her uncle’s father killed a bull snake.  This was about twenty years after the Revolutionary War with England.  It was in the year 1800 that his father lived on the Atlantic seacoast in the State of New Jersey.  His father owned several thoroughbred bulls that he had imported from the old country.  He kept these bulls in the open timber about a half-mile from his house.  They would break out of their pen every once in a while and get after everybody they saw.  There had been several people had narrow escapes with them.  One morning his father heard what he thought was one of the bulls loose in the timber.  Taking his gun, he went down to where he heard the bellowing.  He saw that the sound came from a hollow chestnut tree.  Going up to the tree he watched it.  The sound seemed to be going up the tree.  Watching at the top he presently saw a snake stick its head out of a hole in the tree.  Taking aim with his gun, he shot its head off.  It fell back down the tree.  When he got the snake out of the tree he saw it was a bull snake.  He measured it as it lay stretched out on the ground, and it was nineteen feet long, and around the biggest part of its body was two feet.  That was the first snake of that kind to be killed along the coast.

When fall came, we went to cutting the wild prairie grass to feed to the oxen next winter.  The coarsest of the grass, that what is called slough grass, we used to thatch the roofs of the oxen and hog sheds.  It made a very good roof, not nearly as good as a shingle roof.

The last of October we gathered our first crop.  The first crop of corn we called sod corn.  We cut the corn with knives made out of old scythe blades my father had.  After we had it cut and in shock it averaged about 25 bushels of corn to the acre.  We did not husk very much, only what we needed for the present for the hogs and chickens.  The rest we ricked up in the stables so as to be handy for bad weather.

 End of Article # 2

     Transcribed by Hinkletown Community History Project – August 3, 2005

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Hinkletown Community History Project

North English, Iowa 52316  

From an upcoming book:

 Hinkletown, Iowa:

A History of the Green Valley Area and The Early Settlements Within

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First Account of Early Settler Jeremiah M. Suiter - 1846

 Early Settler Account of Pioneer Berrimand Breeden  - 1849

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