Pioneers of Marion County
Andrew Schirner came from Germany in '36, and settled in Indiana. From thence he came to his present place of residence in Swan, in March, '47, and purchased a claim from Michael Keeterman. This claim was mainly in the timber, and the only improvement made upon it was a small cabin, of that temporary construction usually denominated a "claim pen," having neither floor, door nor windows. Mr. S. however, borrowed a saw of his nearest neighbor, Jesse Walker, and soon made an opening for his house, and added such other improvements as were indispensable to a dwelling. He then took possession of it with his wife and give children.
But now came a crisis such as many pioneers have had to pass through, yet all with the degree of safety that should impress upon their minds the fact that there is a Providence that rules even in the temporal affairs of this life, and grants relief just when it is most needed to save the destitute from the worst consequences of their destitution. Mr. Schirner now found his finances reduced to twenty-five cents, and his provisions to meal enough to last a day or two, besides a little coffee. Here, in a wilderness, destitute of means, what but starvation should follow the consumption of their limited supply. And, to add to the poor man's distress, the good wife, feeling, perhaps, more deeply the trying situation, as women are apt to feel it, began to weep and chide her husband for bringing them there to perish. Mr. S. thereupon concluded to try his luck at hunting, though he was not a practiced hunter, and game was not abundant. But fortunately he did not have to go far ere he found and killed a pheasant; then a couple of quails, and, on his return, a squirrel. These, with the meal and coffee, served as a temporary bait; and when they were consumed, went visiting to Jesse Walker's, where they obtained a supply of meal and meat to last till more permanent provisions could be made for their future wants. Mr. Schirner is now in independent circumstances, and refers to his early pioneer hardships in a way that gives them rather a comical than grave aspect; as events we might have wept over at the time, now assume a phase decidedly amusing to us, as we look down upon them from our elevated and independent positions.
No old settler in Knoxville township is better remembered than John Shearer. He first came to Liberty in '46, where he remained only about three months, then moved to his present locality, a little east of Knoxville city.
Mr. Shearer shook with the ague during most of the first year of his pioneer life; was unable to labor, but by teaching school and trading in claims, he was enabled to live and save enough to buy the eighty acres of land he now lives on. Mr. Shearer's school teaching was the real pioneer kind. He was employed by subscription, two dollars per scholar for three months, and "boarded round." The school house was a little cabin originally built and used as a stable, by John R. Welch. It was supplied with a bark floor, but was neither chunked nor daubed. Rabbits were numerous in the surrounding brush, and so tame that some of them would frequently come into the house during school hours, to the great amusement of the twelve young ideas Mr. S. was trying to teach how to shoot. Once scholars and teacher took a half holiday, and employed the time in ferreting out and capturing a weazle that had taken a homestead about the timbers of the old cabin. At times, when the weather was warm, and there was no excitement to keep the scholars awake, some of the younger ones would stretch themselves on the narrow benches and go to sleep. Occasionally one would fall off, which circumstance would keep the others awake for a time.
The teacher was also a good hunter and employed much of his leisure time hunting for the benefit of his subscribers. During one short expedition he secured venison enough to last them two weeks.
Yoest Spalti - well remembered by old settlers as "Dutch Joe" - was a native of Switzerland from which country he, with two brothers, Henry and Joachim, came to Iowa in '45, and settled temporarily four miles west of Ottumwa, in August. Here they remained till spring, and wintered in a shelter of their own construction, partly dug in the earth, and, for want of means, or opportunity to earn it, subsisted upon a very limited variety and amount of fare. They were frequently asked to work, but not being able to reply in a language comprehensive to any American, except nix verstay, they were not employed for some time, when they were luckily accosted by a German, and got work.
Yoest came up in the spring of '46 and settled at what was known as Lynn Grove, where his brother Henry now lives. Here he lived a bachelor till he started to California in the spring of '50 and died on the way. Some mystery connected with his death seemed to indicate that he was foully dealt with.
Henry and Joachim followed him to this township some years later, and are now among the most wealthy men in the county.
Andrew Startz was a native of Pennsylvania, from whence he began to move westward in 1805, till he arrived at Burlington, Iowa, in 1839, and from thence to the White Breast Settlement, in 1844 or '45, and finally settled in Union. Since then he has been to California two or three times. He is now a citizen of Missouri.
In 1844 Mr. Startz went to Burlington to get some corn he had cultivated there, and took thirty-six bushels of it to get ground at Waterville. In this trip he was greatly detained by high waters, and did not reach home till about the end of six weeks. During this time Mrs. Startz and two of the children cultivated fifteen acres of corn with hoes and kept it clean.
Such was the scarcity of breadstuffs at this time that Mr. S.'s supply of meal was besieged by so many borrowers that he soon loaned out all but about three bushels. Fifteen bushels of it were never returned.
Mr. Startz made three trips to Burlington to mill. At this time there was no settlement between Fairfield and Oskaloosa, and but few houses between that and Red Rock. On one occasion it was so cold that Mr. S. was compelled to run for several miles to keep from freezing till he could reach a shelter, which he found at Blakeway's, in what is now Summit, after midnight.
Mr. Startz was the hero of a legal contest that came before a justice's court in Red Rock, in '46 or '47, under the title of "Brown vs. Startz," the object of which was to establish the ownership of a certain dog claimed by both parties. As the parties were well known, and the case rather novel, large numbers of people came to witness the trial. After it was over, and judgment was rendered in favor of Startz, the latter proposed to treat the company, which was not objected to. But, as enough whisky could not be found, several kinds of liquors were mixed, and the result was soon perceptible and highly entertaining. A small quantity of such a compound was sufficient to disturbe the mental if not the physical equilibrium of even those who had been accustomed to drinking one kind. It is supposed that there were more tipsy people in Red Rock that day than have been there at one time before or since. Even staid old fellows who prided themselves upon their sobriety, made the unfortunate mistake of taking "a drop too much" on that occasion.
The Indians also proved troublesome by appropriating everything to their own use that could be used for food. Once during the absence of Mr. Startz, they appropriated most of his corn from the crib; and Mrs. S., in order to save some of it, had to store it in the house. Not having any sacks to carry it in, she used a bed tick for this purpose.
David Sweem was born in Ohio, in 1819, moved to Indiana and from thence to this county and township in the autumn of '44.
Mr. S. was first an exhorter, and during his residence here, an itinerant preacher in the M. E. Church. He also took a somewhat active part in politics, by which he became well known in the county. His residence was near Attica, where he died Jan. 15th, '68. His widow resides in the village.
Like many of his
fellow immigrants he came to this country poor, and suffered many of
the privations of poverty and of a new country combined. At one time
he and Jeremiah Gullian went to Keosauqua to get work for money to buy
breadstuffs. Just previous to this they had lost their only cow; and,
as this cow had been half the support of the family, their circumstances
were much straitened by the loss. Work for wages was scarcely to be
had, and all that Mr. Sweem could get to do was a well to clean out.
With the wages for this job, and half a dollar he already had, he bought
two bushels of meal and returned home.