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A PIONEER OF TWO STATES
Experiences in Jasper County, Iowa, and in the early days of California
The following narrative was published in the Newton (Iowa) Record at Newton, Iowa, in 1906. (From Mrs. George Hill, Newton. Iowa.)
Simon Prouty of Sacramento, Calif., has been staying at the home of his nephew, Spencer Rees, visiting relatives in and about Newton. Mr. Prouty would be delighted to meet any old settlers, whether acquainted or not, and recall the time when coyotes roamed where now stands business blocks, and when deer drank in peace from the waters of Skunk River. Few of the old people are left, but to them there is a sweet sadness in recalling early associations--a mingled pain and pleasure in seeing again, as of yore, those myriads of memories pictured hanging in mental halls.
Mr. Prouty came from Ohio with his father, Anson Prouty, in 1847. Six log houses comprised Newton and there was not a railroad in Iowa. The father and sons bought from Uncle Sam a quarter section, part of which was afterward sold to the Jasper county supervisors on which to build the town. The father took the first contract ever let to carry mail out of Newton, and Fort Des Moines to Iowa City. Simon, then thirteen years old, was selected for that work, and we want to call attention of thirteen year old boys to this part of the story. The nearest houses were eighteen miles apart. There were few trees--none of those frequent groves now seen--and across the open prairies howled the bitter wind and snow, as if fighting against man's advance from older settlements. Forty miles a day on horseback for three days in succession along the lonely road buried three feet in snow, then three days return to have Sunday at home. No school, no circus, no picnics, no one traveling to meet and talk with on those long, cold, stormy rides. Where is the boy who will try it today without pay, merely to help father. Twice the little fellow was taken off his horse, unconscious from cold, hands and feet and ears frozen stiff (stripped and rubbed with snow). For several months this was his duty. We who ride in Pullman cars, talk to people miles away, see the whole country thick with farms, trains every hour on all roads, we cannot imagine the loneliness, storms and danger of those pioneer days. Old settlers are the one who prepared the way for us to have present day comforts. Not only their children, but every resident who shares this country's success, should strive to give kindness, respect and help wherever needed to our friends of those old days. Leave them not to sit alone in sad retrospection of relatives gone and themselves neglected.
Simon Prouty, when but eighteen years old, was married to Miss Jane Newton. Immediately afterward the family started across the plains for California. They crossed the Missouri River where Omaha now stands, then void of any settlement whatever. Can we think of trudging every day for six months behind an ox team, making twelve hours a day? Anson Prouty died suddenly, was wrapped in a sheet and laid in the ground by his sons Simon and the two younger brothers, Will and Columbus. Fortunately, they were well supplied with bacon, beans, and flour, so they went on, Simon guarding the family, bringing them safely into Stockton, California. His first thought was to get work, his second to send the little ones to school, and all got good educations for those times. Simon being the oldest always had to work. He went to school but six months altogether.
His mother was a superior woman for her day, and taught him arithmetic, letter writing, and "making of accounts." All the family prospered from the start, because they used good sense in taking advantage of good times. Mrs. Prouty made vinegar, sold it, made pies of vinegar (mock lemon) and sold them as fast as she could bake them at one dollar each. She sold biscuits at 25 cents a dozen and bread at 25 cents a loaf. She washed shirts at 50 cents each, took up land and kept her family together till they were grown.
Simon Prouty had a chance to rent a fine piece of land, but had no seed or horses to work it. His wife packed some lunch in a water bucket, and he walked 20 miles to a horse dealer, who refused to sell on credit. The dealer's wife saw how tired the boy was, and with that kindness every woman should show, had him eat a hot supper and sleep in her house. Evidently she did some talking for next morning the dealer said, "Ten miles further up there's a man has horses. You go see him and if he trusts you for one, I'll trust you for the other and make up the team." On walked the boy and met with good luck. On hearing his story the dealer said, "Well, by Gosh, walked thirty miles and a mother and five little ones to support. Well, by Gosh, Yes Siree, you can have a horse and I'll give you this set of harness. Now eat some dinner and then you ride back to that fellow down the road and tell him to give that horse he agreed to, or, by Gosh, I'll lick the devil out of him."
Having now horses and land he could get seed on credit. He borrowed tools, got a high price and cleared $1000. Mrs. Prouty and the boys were doing pretty well, so Simon decided to have a house of his own. His faithful wife packed the water bucket again. Simon walked ten miles to a cotton-wood grove and cut down saplings. He found a long hollow log, ran a burning bush in each end to see if there was a snake inside. He built a brush fire at one end and crawled in feet first and slept there three nights. His food gave out so he walked back to town and borrowed a wagon. (The boys were using theirs on a job of hauling.) His wife went along and helped load up the little trees and Simon Prouty recalls that as one of the happiest days of their life when they returned with material for their new home. Side by side they built it with mud-mortar and a chimney of stone. Not a stick of furniture did they have, not even a floor, but they moved in, cooked in the chimney, built their own bedsteads with poles driven into the ground, and were supremely happy. They sat on boxes, ate off of boards resting on poles driven in the ground. They went to every dance for thirty miles around, and for these grand occasions Simon always got a new' pair of overalls. So many Mexicans were in the country they taught nearly all the Americans be dance and be merry. That was the only amusement or meeting time. Two children came to this sapling hut, and they now would give a big sum for a picture of their parents' first home.
Late one afternoon a sick Chinaman rode up and asked for water. Mr. Prouty took him off his horse and doctored him with such remedies as they had, Mrs. Prouty caring for him like a friend. He grew worse and stayed there two weeks before he finally recovered. Sitting by the chimney light one evening he said, "I think so we all be partner. Be very good; make money. I think so you good lady, good man. I like stay your house long time. You no got money. I catch plenty cash. We make partner, buy hog; sell plenty hog for Chinaman up mountains and lady be allsame partner." Thereupon he drew a belt from under his clothes, emptied it on the table, counted out $6000 in gold, pushed it over to Mrs. Prouty and said, "You takee cash. Vie all be partner; buy plenty hog; makee money." The Chinaman built himself a hut and stayed with them six years. They controlled the Sacramento hog trade and the mines for a hundred miles around, and cleared $10,000 to each of the partners. Simon Prouty said that was the only honest partner he ever did have. The family grieved as for a relative, when the Chinaman had money enough and went home to his country. For years the Prouty children would cry for him to come back, for he had nursed and cared for them as his own. Mr. and Mrs. Prouty resumed agriculture, farming 600 acres of land and raising fine horses. When they had a fine home and everything fixed to live, it was Mrs. Prouty's fate to die. She left four children, all married and settled. Three years after, Mr. Prouty married a school teacher who is with him here. They intend visiting in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Washington where Mrs. Prouty has friends in prominent positions. Their home in Sacramento is always open to calls from old acquaintances.
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