Robert Beck's Story
Iowa at Last
About April 20th, 1855, I found myself in Davenport, Iowa, after my first and rather unpleasant experience of tramping, which taught me never to undertake a journey without a well-filled purse.
Being now on the west side of the Mississippi my next step was to find work. I left my carpet bag at a private boarding house and told the landlady I would be there to supper. I was exceedingly fortunate in job hunting as the first man I struck for work gave me a job. He was boss carpenter for Mr. Edds. I was to be furnished tools and $1.25 per day for 10 hours work which was the highest wages I had ever received up to that time for I was, yet, only a boy in my 17th year. Well, I was more than happy, for that dollar and twenty-five cents a day sounded like a great fortune and it was all to be my own to handle. I never felt so rich and happy in my life for I was full of hope and great expectations. I could see endless wealth looming up before me. In fact I never have, before nor since, felt so rich.
Well, I was to commence the next morning. I returned to the boarding house and agreed with the landlady on the price of board a week, which was 3 dollars and very dear at that, for it was the worst boarding house I ever struck and I did not stay very long, but paid a little more and went to a clean little hotel. Well, every thing worked smoothly. I received my pay every Saturday evening and after paying my board bill I would have a little money left which I saved up. But sometime about the last of June I began to have an itching to go farther west into the middle of the state, Tama Co., Iowa, as there was a strong immigration to that part and a great demand for carpenters. I concluded to go. I bid goodbye to Davenport and bought a ticket to Iowa City by rail as that was as far west as one could go at that time by railroad.
At Iowa City I went by stage to Indiantown, Tama Co., which was to become a great city. I soon struck a job at my trade at good wages and worked all summer for one man. About the end of December a man by the name of Clark wanted me to stay with him through the winter. He lived about 4 miles out of town in a log house and as there was no work at carpenter work to do in town I accepted the offer and did odd jobs for him for my board and washing. Mr. and Mrs. Clark were very nice people and I passed the winter very pleasantly. While there I made for myself a very nice tool chest, as I had gotten together a nice set of tools. I also made a wardrobe and built a nice pantry and other odd things for Mrs. Clark in payment for my board.
In the spring I returned to Indiantown and worked all summer for a man by the name of Shrimplin. I saved some money and that fall I bought a town lot, the first real estate I ever owned. I paid cash for it and got a clear deed which made me feel quite rich. That was in 1856. That fall and winter I traded a watch for some saw logs and some I bought for cash, and had them sawed into lumber intending to build a house the following winter to rent or sell.
That winter and spring I helped build the Butler Hotel, the first hotel built in that town. It was quite an imposing building for that town. After it was completed I boarded there.
Game being quite plentiful in that part of the country and as some of the young men were quite successful in hunting deer, prairie chickens, wild ducks, and wild turkeys, I got quite a hankering to try my luck at hunting, also. So I traded lumber for a gun. It was an old smooth-bore rifle, very old and rusty, but it would shoot. I cleaned it up and commenced to practice with it by shooting at a mark. I soon discovered the old thing was not much good as I could hardly hit a mark as big as a barn door. I took the old thing back to the man that sold it to me and told him that he had cheated me as I could not hit a mark. He assured me the gun was all right and that I was not used to a gun, but if I would practice more with it and get used to shooting I would find it a first class gun.
Well, I kept on practicing until I could hit a mark about the size of a cow. So one day I started out to try my hand at shooting prairie chickens. It was late in the fall the ground was frozen but no snow was on the ground. I had not gone very far out in the country when I came to a wheat stubble field where there was a large flock of prairie chickens feeding. There must have been several hundred of them. It was the grandest sight I ever beheld. I sneaked along the outside of the fence to get a close shot at them. They were not very shy and I crawled up to close range so I could look the chickens right in the eyes. My heart went pitapat for I intended to mow down not less than a hundred. I really felt sorry for the poor chicks for they looked so pretty as they were quietly feeding. But I wanted to show my young companions that I was no greenhorn at hunting so I took good aim by resting the barrel of my gun across a fence rail, but when I pulled, or tried to pull, the hammer back, lo and behold, the hammer was gone off of my gun as I had lost it somehow. Well, dear reader, my air castle took a tumble, for there were all the chickens quietly feeding and they acted as if they were laughing at me. But I made up my mind to have a crack at them, so I picked up a clod of frozen ground as there are no stones in that prairie country, sighted my gun at the chickens, hit the cap with the clod, the gun went off, and so did the chickens. After the smoke cleared away and I recovered from the shock, for the old gun nearly knocked me over, I scampered over the fence to gather up the game but all I could see were a few feathers and one chicken foot, and so ended my first experience at hunting. But it was not the last and I had better luck later on.