“Faithful friend of my girlhood”: the diary of Celestia Lee Barker

“I believe I will write a journal, said sister A. a few days ago,” Celestia Lee wrote in the first entry of her diary on July 5th, 1863. “It will be so novel like, and good to refer to, when I get old. That’s just it; I want to begin now; I will too said I; it will be so nice.”

Barker describes her decision to begin a diary.
First entry in Celestia Lee Barker’s diary, dated Thursday, July 5th 1863

The diary is part of the Celestia Lee Barker Papers (MS-246). Celestia Lee was born April 23, 1846, in Springwater, Livingston County, New York. In April 1855, when she was nine years old, her family moved to Macksburg, Madison County, Iowa. She began writing her diary when she was 17, and so perhaps it is not surprising that within the first few pages, we hear a description of a “beau” of hers:

Wm [William] accompanied me home from church yesterday. He did not come in but said if it was agreeable he would call in the evening. I consented and he went off. …Towards dark I was fixing up a little of course, and E. began about his coming. She had her own fun about it, and said she intended to sit up as long as I did. I told her I did not care, and perhaps C. would come too. She did not think he would; but time proved quite to the contrary, for soon there appeared to [sic] young men who took a beeline for our house….E. and C. were quite bashfull [sic] and did not have  much to say, but Wm. and I had a real time.

E. and C. were quite bashful and did not have much to say, but William and I had a real time. I wonder what A. will say about E's beau.
Barker describes she and her sister “E” meeting with their beaux in the evening.

By September, she writes about an unexpected change in her life. She has left home to attend a school (“seminary,” as she calls it) in Indianola. “A., H & [?] had been talking of coming here but I did not think as I could come till ma said I could if I wanted to. At first I thought it was impossible for there was so much to do at home but she argued it all away & the consequence was that I am here ready to begin studies,” she writes in her entry for Sept. 15, 1863.

She continues to keep in touch with William. On Sept. 18 she writes, “Rec’d a letter from Wm. this morning. He is most well & will start for the Reg’t before long.” As you might have noticed, she began keeping her diary during the Civil War.

She writes about school… “I like the Teacher very well & the scholars too, & had several new ones this week. One young man named Shepherd. Mattie calls him brother. He is real good looking.” (Sept. 22, 1863)

Have just returned from the Seminary and had very good sessions. I like the Teacher very well and the scholars too, and have several new ones this week. One young man named Shepherd Mattie calls him brother. He is real good looking.
Barker describes her school experiences.

…and social life… “Mat & I called on the other ‘old maids’ the other eve. O we had a splendid time pulling candy.” (Oct. 10, 1863)

…and loneliness… “O why do I feel so lonely & forsaken today as if I was alone from home & among strangers who cared nothing for me nor I for them. My thoughts turn to the past like a troubled dream & then to the future with appears so dark.

“I was out to the [?] last night & that accounts for it. It is the way with me generally after I have been so gay & they had music & dancing there. Farewell to fashionable society. I think I have witnessed you for the last time as a participator. I am sick of it. It is nothing but deceit adorned with gaudy trappings.” (Oct. 21, 1863)

Celestia kept her diary for about four years. In 1866, she got married to her beau William Barker. Her entry of May 10, 1866, begins, “Dear Journal how you are neglected of late & you have been such a faithful friend of my girlhood & these days will soon be over then this volume will be done & another begun then what will be the record.” Further on she continues, “We are to be married the 6th of Sept. & so much to do before that I intend to get the house plastered & things comfortable for ma before I leave her. That is my only grief & fear nothing in the future for myself. Wm. is as devoted as I could wish when we are alone but in public he hardly notices me & I hardly like such a marked difference but it is his way I supposed. He says he can’t understand me yet I am so different from others & I surely don’t understand him but I do not doubt his love.”

Journal entry states that she has neglected her journal lately, that she is looking forward to marriage, but that her fiance neglects her in public but is affectionate in private.
Entry for May 10, 1866 in which she describes her hopes for marriage.

There follows several blank pages before there are some poems.

She took up her diary again with an entry from April 23, 1881, that begins, “Well well here I am 35 ys. old today. What an old lady I am to be sure but don’t know as I feel any older than I did at 20 & people do say I have not changed much in looks. I do believe a great deal depends on keeping the heart young to keep our looks young & my life seems such a happy one with such a good man & 4 good smart children.”

Well well here I am 35 years old today. What an old lady I am to be sure, but don't know as I feel any older than I did at 20 and people do say I have not changed much in looks.
Entry dated April 23, 1881 on her 35th birthday.

Further pages include pasted clippings of poems and periodic diary entries. Her final entry is dated Apr 23d 1904, and begins, “Dear old journal it has been long long since I have written & now this is my 58 birthday & how busy I have been.” She writes that they now live in Denver, Colorado, “& have a beautiful home far nicer than I ever dreamed of having.” She reflects back on her life, noting,

How much I have to be thankful for & how often I have proved the old song I have always loved, ‘Ever down to old age all my people shall prove my sovereign eternal unchangeable love And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.’ Blessed promise blessed hope but it seems as if I am getting only as I look in the glass for I am most always so old.”

Celestia Lee Barker diary 0006
Barker’s final entry dated April 23, 1904, in which she looks back on her marriage and thinks about aging.

A bittersweet reflection for one who was only (at least from a modern perspective) 41 years old. But all-in-all this diary presents a remarkable look at the life and reflections of a 19th century Iowa woman from youth through adulthood.

This diary can be viewed online in Digital Collections.



An Iowa woman heads to the “wilds of Arkansas” in 1850

Two of St. John Cook's journals on top of large paper onto which the journals were recopied in larger handwriting, MS 314, Box 1 Folders 2 and 3.
Two of St. John Cook’s journals on top of large paper onto which the journals were recopied in larger handwriting, MS 314, Box 1 Folders 2 and 3.

I almost didn’t write this blog post. Instead, I was lost in the pages of Lucia St. John Cook’s journal, as she described her adventures traveling from Iowa to Arkansas in 1850 to teach school for five months. What was so fascinating about reading her journal? Perhaps it was her lively, intelligent, and opinionated way of writing (Sun. Went to meeting today, heard Mr. Banks preach from the text, Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth. A good subject but not very well handled. I have not the most exalted opinion of that man. He is literally only Mrs. Banks’ husband. — Louise A. Carson and Lucia St. John Cook Papers, MS 314, Box 1, Folder 3, all quotations punctuated for readability) .

Or perhaps it was her very human, very relatable internal debate about whether to return home after completing her five months in the south and her reluctance to abandon her friend, committed there for a year (Three weeks has passed very quickly yet is seems as though it had been two months since I saw Louise. Bless her heart. I wish she were not obliged to stay here a year. We would then go north when my five months were expired. As it is I do not know what to do. I am very anxious to go north but I do not like to leave her. I wish I had someone to tell me what is right and best. –ibid.).

Certainly, her journal also gives a glimpse into the particularities of living in a specific time and place in history.

Born Lucia Williams in 1830, this interesting diarist grew up in Illinois, where she married Rufus St. John in 1848 at the age of 18. They moved to Ohio, but Rufus died only two years later, at which point Lucia moved to Farmington, Iowa. Soon after, she and her friend Louise Carson, also from Farmington, headed south for a teaching adventure.

Lucia St. John (as she was then known) began her diary from 1850 with the following, “Started from Farmington Sept 25, for the wilds of Arkansas, rather a sad parting for I could not tell when we should meet again, if ever.

A close-up view of St. John Cook's small handwritten journal in pencil. (click for larger image)
A close-up view of St. John Cook’s small handwritten journal in faint pencil. (click for larger image)

She and her friend were heading into antebellum South, and they encountered slaves along their journey. Her observations of the women she met at this juncture and the language she uses to describe her experience reveal a woman very rooted in her own time and class. They indicate her own privilege as a white woman and make use of common stereotypes from that time of African Americans as childish and simple:

Of all the places I ever saw the one where we staid last night was the worst. There is no white woman there, nothing but negroes and an overseer. The negroes looked as though it was quite a treat to see a woman and I have no doubt it was. They are certainly true daughters of Eve for their curiosity is unbounden [sic]. Their astonishment at finding we were travelling [sic] without a gentleman was really ludicrous and many were their conjectures as to who we were. One old negro woman came into our room lighted her pipe and set herself down comfortably upon the floor and commenced asking questions, a perfect stream of them, the answers to which were however not always satisfactory. It was really quite amusing. (MS 314, Box 1, Folder 2).

One night on their journey, they were not able to find a house to stay in, so they had to camp out. She declares it “something entirely new and not altogether unpleasant.” Later, she goes on,

I am writing by the light of the moon, setting all alone while the rest of our party are camped all around me. It is just about midnight and all are asleep or trying to be but myself. The moon not being quite full does not give the most brilliant light in the world to write by but it is on the whole decidedly romantic. This is quite an episode in our lives and will not easily be forgotten. I am only sorry on Louisa’s account as she cannot put up with such hardship as well as I can, her health not being as good. (ibid)

Portrait of Louise Carson, St. John Cook's companion on her travels, whose health she worries about.
Portrait of Louise Carson, St. John Cook’s companion on her travels, whose health she worries about. Undated. MS 314, Box 1, Folder 9.

When they finally reached the end of their travels, St. John describes her first day of teaching school, on February 25, six months after leaving Farmington, Iowa: “Commenced my experience as teacher in Arkansas. Only seven scholars but probably shall have more soon. Wise ones prophesy that the school will not last a month. We shall see.” (ibid)

As she continued teaching, she discovered some differences between the North and the South:

How different the girls are educated in the south and in the north. Were I in the north I should not think of sweeping this schoolroom myself – the girls would do it, but here I should not think of asking them to do so for they would think I was going to make a servant of them. Surely it is true a northerner has no business in the south – the manners and customs of the people are so different that it is difficult to act and speak as you have been accustomed to without giving offence [sic]. I do not know but the freedom of manners with which I treat gentlemen sometimes shocks their sense of delicacy but I can’t help this. Oh this is a strange world. (ibid)

She writes more on the subject of gentlemen, including this later passage when two preachers come to call. Here she refers to Mary, a woman with whom she shared a house:

A couple of preachers staid here last night. M[ary] and I took them to be old married men and talked as gravely to them as could be but one of them took the trouble to tell Mary before he left that he was not yet married but wanted to be and that he was going to quit preaching and settle down on a farm. Pretty well. Molly, you won’t hear the last of that preacher soon. (MS 314, Box 1, Folder 3)

Can you see now why I had trouble pulling myself away long enough to write?

For more from Lucia St. John Cook, see the Louise A. Carson and Lucia St. John Cook Papers, MS 314. For other collections related to rural Iowa women see our collection guide for women.

Announcing the Leo C. Peters Papers

Portrait of Leo Charles Peters, undated. (RS 11/10/51, box 3 folder 10)

We are proud to announce that a large expansion of the Leo Charles Peters Papers (RS 11/10/51) is now available for research. Dr. Peters was a staple of the Iowa State University (ISU) Department of Mechanical Engineering from 1961 until his retirement in 1996.

Born in Kansas, he got his start in engineering at Kansas State University with a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering (1953). Peters worked as an engineer for much of the 1950s at the John Deere Tractorworks in Waterloo, Iowa with the exception of the two years he spent in the 839th engineering battalion of the Special Category Army with Air Force during the Korean War. Peters left John Deere to take up a position as Instructor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and complete his graduate education, earning both his M.S. (1963) and his Ph.D. (1967) in mechanical engineering and engineering mechanics from ISU. Peters was quickly promoted to Associate Professor, earning full Professor in 1978. He remained with the University until his retirement in 1996. Materials in the collection document Peters’ transition from student to professional to faculty member and provide insight into engineering curriculum development and university-industry partnerships. A significant portion of this collection concerns teaching activities and curriculum for engineering courses.

ISU SAE entry into the SAE mini baja competition, 1983. ( RS 11/10/51, box 1, folder 49)

Part of Peters’ lasting contribution to ISU was his initiation of an ISU student branch of the Society of Automotive Engineers (ISU SAE) in 1968. The branch’s first year was very successful – earning a personal visit from F. B. Esty, the National President of SAE and culminating in the presentation of a branch charter for formal induction into SAE. Other notable guests of ISU SAE were Phil Myers (former president of the Society of Automotive Engineers), Andy Granatelli (Chief Executive Officer of STP), and Jacques Passino (Director of Ford Motor Company’s Special Products Division). Peters’ love of advising and working with students was recognized multiple times via awards for outstanding teaching and advising.

A sketch of the layout for a Moot Court workshop. RS 11/10/51.
A sketch of the layout for a Moot Court workshop. (RS 11/10/51, box 2 folder 29)

Drawing on both his formal education and experience as an engineer, Peters was an expert in product safety and product liability issues. He published in these areas and taught “moot court” workshops at engineering conferences where participants explored product liability and the law. He also worked as an independent consultant and expert witness specializing in patent infringement, products liability, and failure analysis.

One of the special features of this collection is the series of diaries that Peters kept from 1959 to 1969. Scattered throughout notes on classes, tough mechanic jobs at John Deere, thesis due dates, and class exams are hints of his rich family life – “Mark’s First Communion (May 8, 1966)” and “Sue’s 7th and 8th graders bought and gave her a bassinett for a going away gift (January 17, 1958).” Peters was devoted to his family and, along with wife (and ISU alumna) Suzanne Gordon Peters, raised nine children. This collection gives us a glimpse into the many facets of a scholar’s life.

A portion of Peters' 1959 diary.
A portion of Peters’ 1959 diary. (RS 11/10/51, box 2, folder 55)
Suzanne Peters, a birth announcement, and a newspaper account of family in attendance at Peters' doctoral graduation. RS 11/10/51
Suzanne Peters, a birth announcement, and a newspaper account of family in attendance at Peters’ doctoral graduation. (RS 11/10/51, box 3 folder 10)

This collection adds to our steadily growing body of materials on ISU engineering faculty (see Henry M. Black and Anson Marston). Our other engineering collections include: Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), the records of the College of Engineering, and our materials on agricultural engineering and technology.

The Leo Charles Peters papers are now available for research (RS 11/10/51) at our reading room on the fourth floor of the Parks Library. Please come by and take a look – there’s a lot more than we can include in a single blog post!

New Collection: Arthur W. Rudnick Papers and the 1937 World Dairy Congress

It’s June Dairy Month!  We have a number of collections here in the Special Collections Department which relate to dairy, and to name a few those include the Iowa State Dairy Association Records (where you can see the activities and promotional events of past June Dairy Months here in Iowa), various Iowa State University Dairy Science Department Records (under RS 9/11), and the patent for the process of making blue cheese developed here at Iowa State –  and adopted by Maytag Blue Cheese (under RS 23/01/03).

Iowa State College’s (now University) Iowa Blue Cheese. Photograph taken in 1934.

However, this post will highlight a new collection we recently brought into the department, the Arthur Rudnick Papers.  Rudnick was a long time educator and leader in Iowa’s dairy industry.  He worked at Iowa State as a professor of dairying from 1913 through 1970. During much of his career he served as Iowa State’s extension specialist in dairy manufacturing and developed one of the first dairy manufacturing Extension programs in the country. He retired from the Department of Dairy and Food Industry after more than fifty years of service to the University. In addition to his role as an educator, Rudnick also worked to improve the dairy industry by involving himself in other professional opportunities. He served as a delegate to the 1937 World Dairy Congress held in Berlin, Germany. The World Dairy Congress was held August 22-28th and included over 3,700 delegates from 52 countries. In 1951 Rudnick returned to Europe as a member of a team of farm specialists sent to seek out qualified farm families for immigration to the United States under the Displaced Persons Act.

Arthur Rudnick in 1953 (from the University Photograph Collection, 16-3-A, box 1357)

The collection includes a travel diary documenting Rudnick’s 1937 trip to Europe as a delegate to the World Dairy Congress. Rudnick carefully details his trip, even recording the topics of speakers he listened to at the World Dairy Congress. Pasted into the diary are numerous publications he collected on the trip, mostly written in German, about the dairy industry in England, Germany, and other parts of Europe. Also included in the collection is an article (published in 1919 in the Journal of Dairy Science) in which he describes the process of making buttermilk cheese. At that time, Rudnick states, buttermilk was one of the largest creamery by-products and was often an unprofitable product.

Photograph from the 1937 World Dairy Congress in Berlin, Germany.  (RS 16/3/67, box 1, folder 3)

Rudnick’s diary from 1937 forms the heart of this small collection, and can be a fascinating read about the dairy industry in Europe (mainly Germany and England) in 1937. On page 211 of the diary, in which he describes plants he visited in London on September 14, Rudnick quickly skips from discussing infested milk bottles to pasteurization: “One of the peculiar things is that the housewife does not pretend to send the dairy a clean bottle. We were told that it is not at all uncommon for a plant to receive bottles that had maggots. London has about 90% of its milk pasteurized, the rest is for the most part certified…” In this same entry, Rudnick discusses pasteurizers, aluminum bottle caps, the plant’s production line, and London’s Milk Board.

To read more about Rudnick’s 1937 trip, please visit the Special Collections Department. The finding aid for the Arthur W. Rudnick Papers can be found here.

Civil War Diaries Now Online!

One hundred and fifty years ago this morning, April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter.  A year ago Iowa State’s Special Collections Department and Digital Initiatives were excited to announce the launching of our Digital Collections library.  A number of collections have been added since then, and in honor of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial commemoration this year, six of our Civil War diaries and reminiscences have been digitized and made available online.  The diaries can now be searched by keyword through CONTENTdm, and eventually transcripts and metadata will be added.

A news clipping from the L. Stone Hall Diary (MS 587) about James Irva Dungan and his capture and escape from the Confederates.

The diaries reveal a variety of experiences of Iowans who participated in the Civil War: Cyrus Bussey, L. Stone Hall, Charles Chapman, James Robertson, John Chambers, and Celestia Barker.  Cyrus Bussey details his experiences as an officer with the Iowa Cavalry, his involvement in the Battles of Pea Ridge and Vicksburg, and the occupation of Helena, Arkansas.  Bussey’s reminiscence begins with a description of how the Civil War was brought very close to Iowans early on in the conflict:  “In July 1861, the rebels under Martin Green and Harris were organizing in North East Missouri.  Union men were driven out and much alarm felt by the citizens of the Southern border counties of Iowa.”  L. Stone Hall, who served in the Iowa infantry, spent most of the Civil War in the far south, and was a Confederate prisoner at Shreveport, Louisiana.  Charles Chapman’s diary contains brief notes concerning daily life as a private.  His regiment took part in the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and the siege of Vicksburg.  James Robertson was taken prisoner at the Battle of Shiloh and hospitalized in Nashville, Tennessee’s University Hospital.  John Chambers was stationed in Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi.  Chambers also took part in the siege of Vicksburg.

Cover page from the John Chambers diary (MS 159).

In addition to the soldiers’ diaries described, we also have a diary from the Iowa home front.  Celestia Barker’s husband served in the Civil War.  Barker describes her work on her family’s farm, social activities, attendance at church meetings, and visits to family throughout central Iowa.  Included throughout are reminders of the Civil War.  For instance, Barker describes (page 10) a time when she was baking with a friend, and her friend was “in the bread up to her elbows.  I had to laugh at a remark she made about killing chickens.  She said she hated to kill them and then she would think of our soldiers being killed so unmerciful and then she would be more courageous because the rebels kill the soldiers she spits her spite on the chickens.”  The diary primarily contains descriptions of daily life, but is interspersed with descriptions like this which show that that the Civil War was still on the minds of Iowans as they lived their life in Iowa far from the fighting.

Celestia Barker's journal (MS 246).

These online diaries and reminiscences now allow more people to read perspectives of Iowans who fought in and lived during the Civil War.  At the end of his reminiscence, Stone says “As you read please correct what errors you see.  I have not patience to do it now, am tired of the thing.”  Hopefully his efforts did not go in vain, and can be even more appreciated with the wider audience now made possible with the narrative’s digitization, along with the stories of other Iowans who lived during the Civil War.  The Civil War diaries can be found from the Digital Collections homepage.

The digitized diaries and narratives are only a portion of Civil War related materials held in Special Collections.  Check out our Civil War Subject Guide to find out about our other collections.  In addition, if you would like to find out more about the digitized diaries and narratives described above, you can find links from this page of our online finding aids for the Civil War diaries.

A World War I Experience, In Honor of Veteran’s Day

We have a number of veteran’s collections here documenting both alumni and other Iowans’ service to our country.  In addition, we also have records related to Iowa State’s Department of Military Science (see the 13/16 listing in our online inventory).  One way of finding some of our veterans collections is through our subject guides, which contain a listing of manuscript collections related to the Civil War, World War I and Word War II.  One of our veteran’s collections include the Fred O. Gordon Papers (MS-666).  Gordon served during World War I, and we have a small collection which provides a brief view into his service in Europe.

Fred Otto Gordon was born October 24, 1894.  His parents were George and Martha (Hyde) Gordon, and the family lived in Arlington, Iowa.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army on April 9, 1918.  After completing a training course for electricians at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and sent to Europe in July 1918.  He was assigned to Battery F, 119th Field Artillery.  Wounded on October 1, 1918, he returned to the United States in April 1919 and was discharged from the Army on May 20, 1919.

Two pages from the collection’s photograph.  In addition to the photograph album, there is also folder of loose photographs.

The World War I material includes a diary, correspondence, selective service and training certificates, a pay record book, newspaper clippings, and photographs.  The diary covers the time from Gordon’s enlistment until his discharge and records events such as the sinking of a submarine while on ship for Europe, artillery action, and being wounded and taken to the army hospital.  The diary, containing very brief entries at the back of the notebook, also includes notes about conventional signs and army codes.  Although only a few pages in length, Gordon’s diary contains enough detail to give the reader a window into one Iowa veteran’s experience.  For instance, one day’s entry states that he was in Paris and saw the Eiffel Tower, and the next entry (thirteen days later – August 29) he has experienced his first bomb and shell fire.  In addition, many of his entries contain the length of marches, or “hikes,” as he often calls them.  Many were impressively long for a single day, and there are quite a number which were done in the rain.

If you are interested in taking a look at this collection here in our department, please visit the collection’s online finding aid, which will provide you with a more in-depth description and folder listing of the collection’s contents.

We have a few personal papers of our veterans here in our department, but the national military service records are housed at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO.  Check out the blog post by our Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, to find out about the process of requesting a copy of a military service record – and a little about Ferriero’s own military service record housed at the NHPRC.

A 19th Century Iowa Hunting Journal

First page of the narrative portion of the journal. The previous pages contain lists of supplies and people.

Recently our department acquired a hunting journal from the 19th century.  The previous post was written by one of our summer student assistants who was assigned the task of transcribing the penciled, and often very smudged, journal of a hunting trip through northern Iowa, probably in the year 1871. I highly recommend that you read her great description.

The finding aid, which gives a more in-depth description of the journal and its contents, can be found on our website.  We have also uploaded the transcript and scanned journal.  If you try going back and forth from the transcript to the scanned entries, you will see that the page numbers used for the scanned pages do not coincide with those used for the transcript pages.  This is because we scanned the two open pages as one scan, but used each individual page for the transcription so that it would better coincide with the pages of the original journal.  Hopefully this does not cause too much trouble, and you will not mind brushing up on your multiplication and division skills!

When I recently started the processing work to make the journal available for the public, I was very excited to discover that the author and his traveling companions followed a similar route to  part of this year’s RAGBRAI, an annual non-competitive bicycle ride across Iowa. As a first time RAGBRAI participant this year, the journal became that much more alive to me since the author of the journal describes the hunting group as starting out in their hometown of Charles City, Iowa and they continue on their way through Clear Lake and Algona – all of which are RAGBRAI stops.  They continue slightly northwest to Lost Island Lake, Iowa before turning back.  However, unlike RAGBRAI which takes place in the sweltering heat of August, the hunting group traveled in the sometimes rather cold and snowy weather of March and early spring.  They obviously did not travel by bicycle, but by horse and possibly wagon since he describes at several points a boat which was also used to haul supplies.  Hopefully this year’s bicyclists will not come across any wolves, prairie fires, or blizzards and will be able to find enough sustenance along the way so they will not have to resort to eating “rats” (most likely muskrats).  The journal is a fascinating read, and hopefully everyone who tackles it will find some aspect they enjoy.

As you will see when reading the finding aid and journal, not much is known about the author. A fellow archivist who grew up in Charles City, Iowa and has connections with the local Floyd County Historical Society, has graciously agreed to do some research to see if he can find anything about the journal’s author or any of his companions. We look forward to learning about what he can find, and if anything is found I will report it back here!

Taking a Walk in Some Really Old Hunting Boots

Below is a description written by my summer student assistant, Melissa Dickey, on her experience transcribing a recently acquired hunting journal (MS 647). In the near future there will be a post letting everyone know the links for the transcription, journal, and finding aid.

Section of the journal in which the author describes a prairie fire (page 38).

Over the past few weeks, I have been able to take a walk in someone else’s shoes, or more accurately, their hunting boots. I have been transcribing a journal detailing a hunting trip across northern Iowa. The journal is unsigned so we don’t know the name of the author and it is only dated with the month and day, but by looking up those dates we’ve found that the first entry, Wednesday, March 29, was most likely written in 1871. The journal contains various records of goods bought and sold before the actual entries begin and by comparing the two styles of handwriting, it seems that these preliminary records were kept by someone other than the author of the entries, possibly his wife.

Other than the author, one additional companion, known as Friend H. or sometimes simply “H”, seems to have stayed for the whole trip. The author’s dog, Old Bull, is also mentioned occasionally.  The group started out from Charles City, Iowa, toward Emmetsburg, Iowa, on a hunting trip. It may interest some of you that this year’s RAGBRAI route follows part of the route that the hunting party took from Charles City to Clear Lake and Algona. Here is an excerpt of their arrival in Clear Lake:

nothing before us but once vast Prairie seeming as it were out of sight of land occasionally getting a shot at a [chicken?] or duck and now and then [obliging] a gofer to take his hole in a hurry an hour or two past Swift away, and we found ourselves in sight of the little town of Clear L. where we met som as we passed down Maine street of the T. who should we see but Old [Fur?] and the Elder Stand on the steps waiting our return Soon we were mingled our spot for dinner was found the Horses watered and fed and our dinner spred upon the ground together with a [steeming] frypan full of hot pork stake which I had procurd from a B. shop in town

Most of Iowa in 1871 was, as the author describes, vast prairie with a variety of wildlife and game. The author mentions many animals including gophers, prairie chickens, ducks, cranes, and pelicans (which migrate as far north as Iowa). The hunting party relied on most of these, as well as the occasional fish and muskrat, for food. Wolves are also mentioned, the author notes:

sines grew stronger of the fierce animal till now and then a fierce bark could be heard… morning at length came again and we found that our dog was still alive

The whole process of transcribing was new to me, so I spent some time researching the do’s and don’ts. A pretty obvious rule is to not correct any spelling or grammar mistakes, and believe me, there were plenty in this journal. For a grammar stickler like me, it was hard to resist the urge to hit “spell-check.” Getting used to the author’s unique penmanship also took some time, and I caught many of my early mistakes and mistranslations by occasionally rereading the journal and comparing words. The author almost never crosses his lowercase “t’s”, which sometimes led to a wrong translation if I mistook the letter for an “L”. Also, whenever a word ended with the letter “n”, instead of forming the letter, the author carries his pen stroke out in a straight line from the previous letter.

Page from the atlas used to locate Lime Creek.  From: Atlas of Cerro Gordo County Iowa. Chicago, IL: Anderson Publishing Company, 1912.

Having only lived in Iowa for a couple of years, I was not familiar with some of the towns and geographical locations mentioned in the journal. One in particular, Lime Creek, I had to double check on, so a co-worker and I looked in an Iowa atlas from the 1870’s, to confirm the name of the creek. It was also helpful to use geographical information to pinpoint where exactly the hunting party was when the author didn’t mention their location, or as was more often the case, overestimated their distance from a town or river. Speaking of distance, while transcribing this journal I noticed that the author kept saying things like “we are twenty rods distant of the town” and at first I thought I was mistranslating again, but after some fun on Google, I found out that a rod was a common measure of distance from the 17th century onward and was equal to 16.5 feet, or the length of a perch or pole, which were also common units of measure in old English.

Transcribing can be really fun and rewarding; especially when you finally finish a page you’ve spent a lot of time on. In the case of this hunting journal, it was a nice break from my usual work and a chance to step back more than a hundred years in time and take a walk in someone else’s hunting boots.

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