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The Tales of a Blair Family    

LeMars, Iowa was a common destination for many of the young people of Forreston, Illinois in the early 1880's.  It was an up and coming new town with high paying jobs and filled with plenty of adventure.  Today LeMars is a spotless, well-cared for town, known as the "Ice Cream Capital of the World", but in 1881 is was a totally different place.  Below is a newspaper article that appeared in the Forreston Herald on November 26, 1881.

LEMARS, IOWA

A number of people in this vicinity own land in western Iowa, or think of investing there, who will be interested in the following extract from the Cherokee Times, which we publish by request of Matthew Blair, Esq. of Forreston, whose son J. D. Blair, is at Meriden, Iowa. It might be well to mention that Dr. E. Guenther, of Forreston, who has just returned from LeMars, corroborates the statements contained in this article.

Our sister city of LeMars is going through a trying ordeal. The angel of death is hovering over the city and smiling her -------(unreadable) with its pitiless scimitar. At one time last week no less than four homes were at the same time dressing their loved ones to inhabit the city of the dead, while some dozen or twenty others homes were battling with death in terrible earnest. The papers of that town are reticent on all this, for even in the presence of death, their love of business causes silence, less an alarmed public might hesitate to enter the stricken city. The epidemic is reported to be a species of typho-malarial fever, of a very malignant type, the immediate cause of which may be traced to the excessively filthy condition of the streets, a condition that has earned for LeMars the name of the stinkiest town in the state. Its alleyways and streets reek with a thousand noxious odors; its stagnant pools, hog-pens and yards fairly thicken the air and pollute the water--but of the latter, except for culinary purposes, none is used, beer and whiskey being the sole beverages. While many towns, not really cleanly, make an effort to keep their public streets decent, LeMars has literally wallowed in filth and garbage in her most public places; tanks and pools on Main Street, gangrened with death, confront one on all sides; the middle of the streets are worked several feet deep with manure and rotting, stenching, offal, that beggars the palmiest description Dickens ever penned of the slums of London. LeMars has a queer idea of citizenship. It supports twenty-two saloons, and one of those it styles a "House of Lords;" it has owl clubs and swan clubs, where its young men and old men play faro and poker up to midnight; it has chess clubs held in its churches, and its people rattle their heels the live long night year in and year out yet, for all this it has not time to wash its face or empty its offal, to cast off its garbage or comb its hair. Holy writ tells of those who, sowing the wind shall reap the whirlwind. LeMars has sown disease and now it witnesses a harvest of death. It is an open question whether it can be cleansed or not, at least it is tolerably evident that it won’t be cheaper to abandon the present site and move the few houses, worth taking, to a clean bit of prairie and make a fresh start.

The "Pink Sociable."  Took place in Forreston, Illinois in August of 1887.  This article is from the Forreston Herald, dated August 13, 1887.

The "Pink Sociable", given by the Ladies Aid Society of the  M. E. Church, on the lawn of Miss Nettie Blair, would no doubt have been the event of the season, had not the storm come to put a damper upon the festivities. A large number had gathered. The spacious grounds were elaborately set with tables, and brilliantly lighted with Japanese lanterns, etc. Many were seated about tables enjoying themselves greatly when up came a powerful wind which blew away the paper lanterns like balloons, and outed most of the glass ones. Almost a panic ensued. Ladies and children screamed with fear. men grabbed the tables and chairs, carrying them in the house, while ladies loaded themselves down with dishes, tablecloths, etc. Soon the wind subsided, and the tables were again carried to the lawn. In a short time it began to sprinkle a little, when another stampede was made for parlors and sitting room, where all remained the balance of the evening. A pleasant time was had indoors, notwithstanding the copious rain without.

The Following is a copy of a speech that was presented at an Old-Timer's Reunion in August of 1892.  The presenter was Major Albert Woodcock.  This speech gives a stirring account of the early days in Ogle County, Illinois.

A task has been assigned to me. It is a delightful one. I am directed to speak to you words of welcome. Many of you I know intimately. Often have I broken bread with you at your homes in the different parts of the county. Some of you I have known for nearly fifty years. Some of you young men and women, when you were children at the homes of your parents, I held on my knee. Old neighbors and friends, I love you dearly, and as I said the task of bidding you welcome to your county seat, to me is very delightful...

While contemplating this noblest of earth’s heroes, the pioneer, the past rises before me, and I see this country as it was when I was a boy--the son of a pioneer. A boundless prairie stretches away beyond the ken of vision an ocean of immensity. The billows of wild grass, kissed by the winds of heaven, rise and fall and roll in all the beauty and grandeur of a wind-tossed ocean. How charming is the play of light and shade on these grassy waves as they dance and undulate in the bright sheen of the sun and in the shadows of the clouds that float in heaven’s blue. How lovely are the myriads of wild flowers with their rainbow tints that fleck everywhere the surface of this prairie sea. As your enraptured gaze sweeps over the scene, hither, thither, yonder , you behold beautiful groves, that like enchanted isles of the blessed, gem the blossom of this emerald vastness. The island groves look like dreamland as they repose in colors of mauve and blue. In the watery domain the dauphin sports. In this prairie sea sport herds of elk, deer and antelope, and you behold bevies of duck, geese, prairie chickens, quails, sand-hill cranes, etc. On this prairie sea you do not find the ships of ocean, but yonder you perceive a strange craft in white, threading its way slowly across the limitless space. It is the prairie schooner, and it is manned by the pioneer and his family. In the edges of the groves you behold blue wreaths of smoke curling heavenward from the cabins of the old settlers, save these dwellings, there is not a house on the emerald waste between here and Lake Michigan.

On the fourth of July, 1843, on of America’s greatest authors, Margaret Fuller, sat on yonder rocky crest of Eagle-nest Bluff. Her heart swelled with delight as she gazed upon this lovely valley in all its natural wildness, beauty, and grandeur, and she said "I do believe Rome and Florence are suburbs compared to his capital of Nature’s art." On yonder bluff is an aged red-cedar tree. It is centuries old. The relic hunter has laid bare its heart, and it is now dying, if it be not already dead. Margaret Fuller sat on the crag to which the tree now clings. In the bows above her head was an eagle’s nest containing young eaglets.

As the old eagle upon swift wing circles round and round high up in the sky, it suggested to her mind a subject upon which to write. Inspired by the wonderful beauty of the scene, by the purling song of the spring at the foot of the bluff, and by the screams of the royal bird of America above her, she then and there wrote that exquisite little poem entitled "Granymede to his Eagle." Thus yonder spot has been made classical. While she was writing the poem, her uncle, William Fuller, one of Ogle county’s pioneers lawyers, was delivering to the first settlers of Ogle, near this stand, a Fourth of July oration. Possibly some old veteran here today heard that address. Ah! but few remain of that early day. As you know, Margaret Fuller, her husband Count Ossoli, and their son Angelo, perished by shipwreck in sight of New York on their return voyage from Italy.

In that early day the scream of the locomotive was not heard. Railways were unknown. Chicago was our market. Wheat you mostly raised, and this you hauled a hundred miles.

My father was a pioneer farmer of Ogle county. I was fifteen years old when he migrated to this country. Our first home was in a blacksmith shop. It had but one room. Its floor was the ground. In the autumn of the year in which that father came to this country, he started the fifteen year-old boy with a wagon load of wheat to Chicago. His team was a yoke of old bucks. While crossing the broad prairie between the groves of Jefferson and Huntley, the sun poured down its rays intensely hot. The old bucks fainted and fell by the way-side. With great solicitude he bent over the invalid team until long after sun-set. Then he started for home on foot to report his misfortune. The night was intensely dark. There was no moon and stars with their silvery light to cheer the sinking heart of that tired boy. On the prairie between the groves of Jefferson and Washington he wandered from the wagon trail. Frightened he ran hither and thither in search of the road. He could not find it. He realized that he was lost upon the prairie in the pitch darkness of night, and in a country new and strange to him. Lost! Lost! and far from home! how his heart sank within him. He knew that there were wolves in this country. He had heard them howl. The wolves in the East sometimes attacked man. This he knew. Were not the wolves of the West equally ferocious? He believed so. He heard a rustle in the tall grass about him. The noise came nearer, until it stood directly in front of him. What could it mean? Was the wolf or catamount about to spring upon him? His hair rose on end. The perspiration poured down his back. He drew out his jack-knife and resolved to die game. He kicked at the unknown enemy with all his strength. The animal by the force of the blow was thrown in to the air. The enemy accepted battle. They opened upon the boy with their battery of guns made up of scent-bags. The odor was unmistakable. Instead of wolves he had encountered skunks. Beaten by the enemy and deathly sick by the odor, he fled from the battle field and continued his wanderings. He finally came across a small stack of oats. This he climbed, made a hole in the center of it, and standing erect therein, with his face to the breeze, he fell asleep. When he awoke the next morning the sun was high in the heavens. In the distance was visible the lost road. As soon as the boy reached home his father again started him for Chicago with another yoke of oxen. He reached Chicago, sold the wheat for thirty-five cents per bushel, loaded up his wagon with a small jag of lumber, and a barrel of salt, and started for home. On the way he was attacked with fever and ague. On reaching home he found it a hospital. His father, mother, brothers and sisters were all down with raging fever. He joined the number. there was not a well one to wait on the sick--to cool the fevered brow, moisten the parched lips, or give the cup of cold water to slake the thirst. Under these circumstances he heard his mother say to his father. "Freeman, are you not sorry you left our beautiful home in the East to suffer in this sickly country?" He heard his father reply, "No, Lizzy, I am not sorry--but I am glad we are here. This is the country for our boys. I shall never return to the East to live. My bones shall rest in Illinois soil." That father and mother now sweetly sleep on the hillside by this beautiful river. This little experience related will call to your memories like scenes in your own early life.

Ah! how changed is this country. You can not get away from the shriek of the locomotive and the rumble of the cars. Where are the prairies in all their wildness and beauty? Gone! Gone forever? They have changed into rich farms. When we old gray-heads were boys it was thought that these prairies never could be settled up. Now they are all golden with grain, and go where you may you can hardly get out of the sight of the palatial residence of the farmer and his big barns. Your market is at your door. Wealth and prosperity, and peace and happiness prevail everywhere. Who wrought out the wonderful change? You old settlers did. God bless you.

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