A big horse story

Few horses were in Iowa in early times because they were too expensive and not strong enough for breaking prairie sod. Instead, oxen were used to pull the prairie schooners and for farming. Farmers went to northern European countries to bring back larger horses, able to work in agriculture and industry. Percherons and other French draft breeds were early imports.

Mules and horses eventually replaced oxen. In the 1850 census there were over 38 thousand horses, mostly in southern and eastern Iowa.

In the 1880s the first Belgians were imported. A famous Iowa horse, Farceur, a Belgian, who was a San Francisco World’s Fair Champion, was purchased in 1917 by C.G. Good. He was a service stud who died in 1921 and is buried in a stall at Oakdale Farm, near Ogden. See page 83 in Iowa Barns yesterday and today for a photo of Farcour’s barn.

Farcour’s great-grandson, Brooklyn Supreme, weighing 3,200 pounds, was the world’s largest horse at one time. He was bought by C.G. Good, who hired Ralph Fogleman to travel with the horse around the country, charging spectators 10 cents. He died in 1948 at age 20.

Below is a postcard sold to spectators. C.G. Good is on the right and Ralph Fogleman is on the left. The background is typical of postcards of the time.

A candy-striped barn

Look for this red-and-white striped barn northwest of Waverly on Highway 218. Built in 1919, it originally housed a dairy herd. However, if the barn could speak, it would tell you it was first the home of Belgian draft horses, then for Percherons for decades.

Bill Dean, now deceased, and his wife Elsie bought the Waverly Sales Company in 1975 and held draft horse sales. It was the largest draft horse sale in the world at one time. His six-horse Percheron draft horse hitch was seen in parades and shows in many states.

Percherons were used extensively during World War I in Europe as “war horses.”  They were first imported to the U.S. in 1839 and were used in farming and industry. By the 1930s they accounted for 70% of purebred draft horses in the U.S. When use of tractors became more common after World War II their numbers declined.

Elsie Dean now owns the barn, although it is not in use. Can you imagine how much it would cost to paint it today? Its legacy lives on as a famous barn, recalling the days when draft horses were common on almost every farm. Once can almost imagine these horses grazing in the field next to their candy-striped home. The spring horse sale will be March 29-31, 2023. (2022 photos)

Happy New Year!!

Pigs! Pigs! Pigs! If you are a “pig farmer” you know that Iowa is the number one pork producer in the country, with over 23 million pigs raised each year. A new survey indicates there are over seven times as many pigs as people in Iowa! They’re everywhere!

Most hog farms have confinement buildings, not referred to as barns, raising thousands at a time.  There aren’t many farms in Iowa where ordinary barns are in use for raising pigs, at least not in great numbers.

In German folklore, there is a notion that a pig is a sign of good luck in the New Year. In honor of the New Year, here is a postcard with a German message that was mailed over 100 years ago. 

Christmas Greetings!

May 2023 be a year of kindness, love, and generosity, and one filled with hope for a more peaceful world. The spirit of Christmas is exemplified by two postcards dating from around 1900.

The children, accompanied by their trusty dog, walk home through the snow carrying evergreen branches. St. Nicholas of the Children (a German fantasy), dressed in fancy boots and a warm coat, pulls the child Jesus on his sled to homes everywhere on a snowy Christmas Eve. No reindeer and no sliding down the chimney–just stopping at the front door to leave a few apples from his basket and to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Barn quilts

Quilting is a folk art dating back several hundred years but the idea of quilt squares on barns in farming communities caught on just a few decades ago. Hundreds of interesting designs can be seen and all are meaningful to the owners.

In Iowa they became popular in the early 2000s. Grundy County introduced them in 2003 as a marketing tool to bring visitors to the county, when Highway 20 became a four-lane highway. The above barn quilt in Sioux County has a  geometric design, as do most of them.

Check the website of the county of interest for photos and addresses of barns displaying quilts. The size is usually 8 ft x 8 ft, although some are 4 ft x 4 ft because of space limitations.

Pictured below are three barn quilts that Brandon Rial, an Omaha artist, designed and painted for spaces that were once windows in our garage. We call them garage quilts since we have no barn. Wednesday, December 7 was the premiere showing. Watch for another blog of more designs in weeks to come.

A cornhusker story

A three-story barn! This unusual 1890 barn was designed for hay, horses, and cattle, one on each level. Stanchions for six dairy cattle were on the ground level, along with a space for resting and loafing. Stalls for carriages and 16 horses were on the second level, with an entrance ramp on the north side (not visible) and an exit on the east. The third level was for hay, with a hay door on the east side.

Detlef David Guttau was an 1870 German immigrant, Pottawattamie County pioneer, barn builder, and California landowner. After Detlef and his wife Louise retired from farming and settled in California, their son Hugo and his wife Clara moved to this farm, followed by their son Deflef and his wife Ethel.

A memorable event was picking corn in 1946. Detlef hired six men, “cornhuskers” from Nebraska, who picked 40-bushel wagonloads, one each morning and one each afternoon. The six 26-inch-wide wagons were each pulled by two horses. He chose this method of picking corn because he thought there was too much loss with a mechanical picker he had previously used. However, the next year he bought a new one-row corn picker and retired the cornhusker idea. The name was penned as a Nebraska name, “cornhuskers.” Sound familiar?

The fourth Guttau family to live on this farm includes Gary, his wife Dee, and son Chad. The barn was in use for cattle until 2012 and it is now a home for their cats. Saving this large, aging barn required considerable effort. It was re-shingled on the south side in 1955 and the north side in the 1980s. The limestone foundation was replaced by concrete blocks in the 1980s and major structural repairs were made in the early 2000s. It was re-painted in 2019. Originally it had a large cupola.

It became a Century Farm in 1977 and will be a Heritage Farm (150 years) in 2027. The location is in Pottawattamie County at 31082 Dogwood Rd, Treynor. (2022 photo)

Judge Lewis, Winterset Pioneer

It was 1864 when Judge William Henry Lewis and his wife Emma arrived in Madison County. In the late 1860s he built a home, a summer kitchen, and a barn on their farm west of town, and named it Fairmount Nursery. Hundreds of varieties of trees and flowers were planted, as well as hundreds of apple trees, promoting the apple industry.

The board and batten barn was originally white, as seen in the 1871 photo below. Lewis, wearing a white shirt, is standing in the open door. (He is barely visible, resembling merely a white dot.) Not much is written about the barn but there was space for carriages as well as horses and goats. Horses and goats still live there today.

Lewis is considered to be a founding father of Winterset, as well as its mayor, county surveyor and county judge. He also erected many buildings in town, and was the superintendent when the current courthouse was being built, after the original one burned in 1875. He died in 1928 at the age of 88.

The Lewis house, pictured below, built 1867-69, is a bed and breakfast owned by Mark and Kayla Hawkins, located at 1145 West Summit. (2022 photo) 

American Cream Draft horse

Iowa has its own draft horse history. The American Cream Draft horse was developed in the early 20th century in central Iowa and is the only breed of draft horse to originate in the United States. It has a cream-colored coat, pink skin, amber eyes, and white mane and tail.

The sale of a mare named Old Granny in 1911 in Story County marked the beginning of this unique breed. The buyer kept the foals to continue her bloodline.

The American Cream was registered as genetically separate from other draft horse breeds in 1944 and recognized by the Iowa Department of Agriculture in 1950. Draft horse numbers declined when tractors replaced horses, but with renewed interest in this breed the registry was re-activated in 1972.

It is estimated that there are about 400 in existence today. Some may be found in tourist areas pulling carriages and wagons, including Colonial Williamsburg, VA, with a few being used in farming. The horses pictured are owned by Tony Stalzer, who lives in Zearing. (2022 photo)

A tour of Munterville

Munterville. Where is it? Located about six miles north of Blakesburg, it is not on most Iowa maps. A big red barn, an immigrant memorial, a Lutheran Church, and a few houses are all that remain today.

 Southeast Iowa was a key area for Swedish immigration, including this village. In 1847 settlers arrived in Wapello County and established Bergholm. It was changed to Munterville in 1870 when the post office was established in recognition of Magnus Munter, a prominent community leader. The post office closed in 1905. 

The Swedish Immigrant Memorial in the lawn of Munterville Lutheran Church, adjacent to the church cemetery, commemorates the settlement by Swedish immigrants. It depicts a family dressed in pioneer clothing, rather than Swedish clothing. Three flagpoles surround it: a U.S. flag, an Iowa flag, and a Swedish flag, as well as a brass plaque listing donors and memorials of former residents.

About ½ mile east of the monument is a barn, erected by an early settler, whose name is unknown today. The red barn is in excellent condition and stands out in the countryside. It was the site of the Alex Johnson Dairy that sold raw milk from the1920s-1940s. Shown is a milk bottle cap from this dairy.

The Lutheran church was an integral part of the community but unfortunately closed several years ago due to declining membership. It will be kept in good repair for years to come, fortunately, by money set aside by members and descendants. Adjacent is a large, well-kept cemetery where many immigrants and probably the builder of the barn are buried. (September 2022 photos)

The original horsepower

­­­­­Horses were power in pioneer Iowa. They kept the family farm going and the family in business. Many farmers had spares in case of need and horse-trading stories were common. The 1850 Iowa census listed over 38,000 horses, most being in the eastern and southern counties. By 1860 they numbered 175,000. In the early 1900s the number exceeded 1.5 million. Horses with enough strength to break the prairie sod, haul away logs for cabin-building, and move huge boulders resulted in importing and breeding draft horses for farm use.

Below is an ad for a Riverside Farm sale in Cass County, printed in the February 22, 1911 Breeder’s Gazette. Peter Hopley made numerous trips to Europe to buy draft horses, and the winners in international competitions were brought to America to be sold, most in foal (pregnant). Imagine the amount of feed and hay it would take for a long ocean voyage, followed by a long journey by train to Iowa. See Iowa Barns yesterday and today, page 33, for the Hopley barns and story.

William Fields and his brother in Cedar Falls, Black Hawk County, also were renowned horsemen, but their late 1880s ad was for coach horses, not just “ordinary” workhorses. See page 35 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today. A coach was classified as a four-wheeled passenger-carrying vehicle drawn by two or more horses.

Many pioneers would not have been able to buy these expensive horses, but there were many local sales where farmers could buy horses at reasonable prices. Draft horses are still bought and sold today. Check out the fall Waverly Midwest Horse Sale, October 5-7, 2022, in Waverly, Iowa. The list can be seen online.