History, Research, and Current Themes

"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Monday, July 15, 2013

From the Field--
Iowa and John Brown: A Road Trip Report from H. S. Wolfe


Mix your "From the Field"-man and a warm, July Saturday and what do you get? Why, a John Brown Road Trip...that's what!
Plaster from the Maxson Farm House (H. S. Wolfe)
My principal destination was the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, where a special exhibit dealing with Iowa's role in the Civil War was my objective. But, lo and behold, the display began with John Brown himself. Besides a number of images and broadsides, a display case contained three artifacts: 1) a "John Brown Sharps" rifle, of the type stored in Iowa and carried to Harpers Ferry; 2) a faux "John Brown pike," which (this particular object has been floating around the Springdale, Iowa vicinity since the 19th century) shows not the least resemblance to the pikes carried to the Ferry; and 3) something new!  If you recall my epic article about Brown's soldiers at Springdale (see "Farmer Maxson's Newel Post"), I believe I mentioned that the men, before departing in April of 1858 for the Constitutional Convention in Chatham, C.W., signed their names on a wall of their winter quarters, the Maxson farmhouse. Here, today, I viewed a piece of plaster inscribed with the following: "Taken from wall where John Brown's men wrote their name in 1859    Springda  Io." Besides having the year wrong and cutting off the location, it provided me much excitement...for I had never seen such a souvenir before. 
Townsend's Traveler's Rest (H. S. Wolfe)

When departing West Branch, I paused to photograph the structure which once housed James Townsend's "Traveler's Rest." This roadside "inn/tavern" was, in 1856, patronized by John Brown...and described in a much published story popularized by Irving B. Richman's "John Brown Among the Quakers" (1894). An image is attached. Appreciate it...for I risked my life in oncoming traffic.

Upon arriving in Springdale, for a tour of the John Brown sites there, yours truly, the From the Fielder, was compelled (by issues of vanity) to pose beside the village sign on its western limits (see final image). Please note the red and white bib overalls. These were obtained by barter from Bozo the Clown...I get his pants and he gets an original pair of John Brown's leg irons.
DAR Maxson Family Monument (H. S. Wolfe)
Finally, I paused at the site of the Maxson farmhouse...in order to evaluate the condition of the 1924 DAR monument marking the same. Sadly, it still remains much neglected...although someone has cut a bit of the long grass masking its roadside face...and, perhaps the same someone, has placed three small American flags to honor the spot. Heavily shaded by a towering sycamore...and backed by corn already shoulder high...one requires a licensed guide, such as myself, to even locate the spot. But the stone remains...which we can claim as progress. 
Our correspondent marks the site,
as always, with panache  (H.S. Wolfe)

When one includes the pork and pepper sandwich at "Reid's Beans Cafe" in West Branch, it turned out to be a most interesting and enjoyable day. Perhaps, someday, the esteemed Dr. DeCaro himself will travel to the provinces for a personal tour. Nothing better than breathing Iowa dust while listening to the call of the dickcissel.

Yr obt srvt,

H.S. Wolfe...From the Field

We are grateful for yet another refreshing infusion of word and scene from Correspondent Wolfe, whose historical adventures range from deep in the archives to the breadth of the nation's plains and rolling hills.  Under the watchful survey of Mr. Wolfe, no rock is left unturned, no tome is too faded to be studied, no road is too dusty to be traveled, and no Civil War cannon too rusty to be fired off!  Of course, one burning question remains: What is a "dickcissel"?--LD  

Happily, we learn from a subsequent communication from Mr. Wolfe, concerning the aforesaid dickcissel:

"I take it as a symptom of an overextended exposure to concrete and urbanization that you are unfamiliar with the dickcissel. This glorious, avian forager of the fields of the hinterland...a member of the genus Spiza and family Cardinalidae...can be heard performing his musical lyrics along any country road in Ioway. Any John Brown research visit to the Maxson farm is accompanied by such melodious background music."

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