Early Iowa Homestead Lacked Excess Firewood

Wood was scarce on the open prairie of the early Iowa homestead, and land speculators would buy the timber lands along the rivers so sod busters would have no source of wood to bum. When the settlers couldn’t get fuel for winter, they would have to sell their farms cheap.

Many of the speculators lived out of state, so local men would go to Rock Creek, on the border between Floyd and Mitchel counties, and cut wood. If they were caught, they claimed they were cutting wood on Section 37-but there are only 36 sections in a township.

One such speculator hired a horse and a cutter to inspect his property in the dead of winter. He was hailed by a man with a team and wagon, who needed help with logs too heavy for one man to lift. The next spring when the owner checked the surveyor’s stakes, he found he had helped load his own logs.

The corner schoolhouse was often heated with wood from Section 37.

The main wood on the prairie was hazel brush and water willows, neither large enough for fuel.

One winter at Bishop Knoll, a farm which has been in my family since 1874, the cattle shed was brought into the house for fuel, a couple of boards at a time.

Around 1900 many windbreaks of pine and cottonwood were planted, and willow, a fast-growing tree, often was included in the breaks as a source of fuel. 

Robert Bishop
Nora Springs, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.