1879 History of Menard & Mason Counties
Published by: O.L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publishers
186 Dearborn Street

Mason County

Agricultural and Implemental
Page 441

At the time of the first settlement of Mason County, agriculture was in its infancy. The farmer was contented and happy if he raised enough wheat to bread his family, do his seeding, and perhaps spare a few bushels to his newly settled neighbor. There were no grain merchants in those days, with mammoth warehouses and elevators, with banks full of money with which to buy up the surplus products of the country. The ground was poorly plowed with wooden plows, slovenly scratched over with wooden-toothed harrows; the wheat was sown by hand, brushed in with a black-jack sapling, cut with a sickle, threshed on the ground by the tread of horses or oxen, and carried to mill and ground by the same animal power. The corn-ground was plowed in the same way, marked both ways with a single plow, planted with a hoe, and cultivated with hoes and single shovel-plows, a little larger than a man's hand. Truly, agriculture was in its infancy then, but the great and grand family of farm implements were not yet born into existence. The virgin soil, however, was generous to the husbandman, as the maiden with her first lover, and yielded bountifully with the least amount of cultivation.

The people, in those fifty years ago, made their own houses out of the logs that grew in the forest, raised the corn and wheat that made their bread, hunted the deer and turkey when tired of bacon, and, when in want of honey, hunted up a bee-tree and cut it down. The women-heaven bless them!-spun flax and wool, and made clothing for the family and themselves, and were just as happy in their linsey-woolsey dresses then, as now in their silks and satins. The hard work, hard living and plain dressing of those days, would cause the girls of our period to elevate their Grecian noses to a very sharp angle; but it is well enough to remind them that these same women were, perhaps, their own grandmothers, their cousins and their aunts, who thus toiled and spun to lay the foundations of fortune, which enables them to live in luxury and elegance. The memory of those days is well preserved in the poetry of some backwoods bard, from which we quote:

"The old log cabin, with its puncheon floor-
The old log cabin, with its clapboard door-
Shall we ever forget its moss-grown roof?
The old rattling loom, with its warp and woof?
The old stick chimney, of 'cat' and clay-
The old hearthstone, where we used to pray?
No! we'll not forget the old wool wheel.
Nor the hank on the old count-reel.
We'll not forget how we used to eat
The sweet honeycomb with the fat deer-meat.
We'll not forget how we used to bake
That best of bread, the old Johnny-cake."

Tradition says the first innovations in agriculture and animal culture were introduced in this county by S. C. Conwell. In 1840, he brought from Indiana a drove of domestic animals of superior grade and sold them to the farmers at fabulous prices. Pigs were sold at $400 a pair; calves, as high as $400 apiece; cows, and cattle of the make persuasion, sheep and other animals, at corresponding rates. Like most pioneer benefactors, Conwell was victimized. The farmers to whom he had sold became dissatisfied with their stock. George Virgin had bought one of the $400 calves, and concluded it was a young elephant on his hands. He held a war council of his granger friends to pass upon the quality of the blood that animated his calf. They examined it from head to tail, outside and inside, observed all the flesh marks, compared them with the putative sire, and, finally, pronounced it a fraud! Mr. Conwell was arrested and taken before Squire Patterson (since Governor of Oregon) and bound over in $1,000 bond to appear at the bar of the Circuit Court of Mason County as a first-class criminal! When the grand jury took the case in hand, Jesse Baker made a speech in these words, as near as can be remembered: "You can't do nothing with this young Jerusalem-over-taker; he's too smart for ye, and ye'd better let him go." And the jury let him go, with but one objecting juryman. The jury let him go, but the reputation which this stock business gave him, with a certain class of people, hangs on to him to this day.

Mr. Conwell made the first marker used in the county for corn-planting. The old way of plowing furrows and planting with a hoe was a little too much work for him. He got a saw and auger and old wagon-tongue, and made the original marker that laid off four rows instead of one, which was a great saving to a lazy man. Then he got an old spade and fastened on an old shovel-plow stock and made a jumper to cover the corn with. The neighboring people looked on and commented on "the lazy Yankee, with his fool notions;" but in a year or two these were established institutions. The old way of carrying a sack of wheat and sowing out of it by hand vexed the righteous soul of Con. And so he mounted an old horse, took the sack of wheat in front of him, tied a handkerchief over the horse's ears to keep the wheat out, and went on his way rejoicing in that better way which he inaugurated. When the wheat was ready for threshing, he sent to M. A. Bruce, living in Scott County, to bring his thresher and separator into Mason County, which was so far ahead of anything before seen that it brought joy into the hearts of the admiring grangers.

In the year of 1868, Mr. Connell contracted with Gen. Walker to do a job of prairie-breaking with a steam; plow, made in England. The season was wet, the machine was too heavy-like all English machinery-but it demonstrated the fact that plowing can be well done and rapidly, too, by steam. Now there are machines for doing all kinds of work, so that, with a little help, large crops can be raised and marketed. In Dakota, there is a wheat-grower who now has twenty steam threshing machines in his wheat-field, threshing wheat and delivering it in wagons to be taken to the cars as fast as it is cut. In Havana, Mason City and other towns in the county there are houses doing a large and exclusive business in agricultural machinery of all kinds required by the most advanced agriculturist. There is a manufactory on Field's Prairie where the best wheat drill now in use is made to a limited extent by John L. Ashurst.

There are two wagon and carriage factories in Havana, carried on by Mr. Warren and the Messrs. Yates, where considerable work is being done; but the lack of more manufacturing establishments in the county is deplorable and a reproach to the enterprise of its people.

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