Daily Post, 10 July 2014
Howard Dobbs served his country for two years during the War of 1812. Upon his discharge, he returned to his Pennsylvania farm with only the knowledge that the United States Government was broke. There were funds in the treasury with which to pay him.
Howard returned to find forty acres of corn up and tasseled. He and Lucy were childless, so he was not surprised to find some fences down and the barn roof leaking. That was small potatoes, so to speak, in light of the fact that Lucy had kept the farm productive in his absence. She’d sold eggs and cream, fed the milk to a few head of hogs. The place was financially sound. Nothing was in arrears, not even the taxes.
The Dobbs farm stayed profitable. The debt owed them by the government was totally forgotten until, after 40 years, the letter arrived.
Surveyors of the Louisiana Purchase were finished with Iowa and in payment for his services, Howard was offered 160 acres of prime farm land in Tama Count. He had one year to take possession. Rumors were that the Iowa topsoil was a yard deep. Corn stalks grew like weeds, folks said.
It was colossal decision, one of a lifetime. With the two of them already into their early sixties, who knows why they decided to sell their comfortable home, and venture “out west”. But the following spring they signed a contract to receive twenty annual payments due each November. And then they rented a house in town.
As soon as the danger of snow had passed, they purchased a heavy wagon and six young Percheron draft horses and headed west – four horses pulling, two following behind, resting.
The spring rains continued. In some places the mud was axle deep. One ten mile stretch was a corduroy road, built of logs that shook loose everything they owned, and required all six horses in order to stay on the move. They had to stay on the go because of cholera and milk fever in the swamplands of Indiana. It was slow, difficult travel, even across Illinois, but eventually they reached the Mississippi River.
The ferryman was a cantankerous old man who voiced his ignorance each time he opened his mouth. He demanded one dollar for each horse, four dollars for the wagon and four-bits each for Howard and Lucy. Shouting his impatience, he unnerved the teams. Bolting, they broke the chain barrier and two of them plunged into the Mississippi River. Lucy held the other four while Howard swum the two frightened Percherons back to the river bank and onto the ferry. All the while the ferryman cursed Howard, Lucy and the horses, that is, until Howard threatened to flog him with a spare wagon wheel spoke.
The remainder of the trip was comparatively easy. After claiming the promised farmland, Howard began building a house. But Lucy was taken ill and was soon bedfast in the wagon. Howard thought it might be cholera, but before he could locate a doctor she slipped away.
Fresh out of spirit as well as cash, he buried his wife and then waited at her graveside for some sort of revelation that never came. After four days, he turned his team toward Saint Louis where he sold two horses and then waited for a grand headstone to be finished.
The person who told me this story said the last anyone saw Howard he was headed back to Iowa.
[This is an overview of story that can grow, something that might be suitable for the Writing 201 Challenge.]