Coming to Iowa

by Mrs. T. U. McManus (Loonan)

Written in 1941

[the author Mae Bell Loonan 1870-1949 married Dr. Thomas Ulysses McManus 1872-1938]

The first authentic knowledge my parents had of Iowa was when about 1840 my mother then Catherine Glenny left her home in Ireland at the age of eleven years to come to America to become educated to teach school. She came by means of a sailing vessel the trip taking three months – landing at New Orleans thence up the Mississippi river to a settlement near Dubuque where she went to live with the family who sent for her.

She lived with this family for five years working hard but failing to receive the education for which her father James Glenny had sent her to America.

At the end of the five years an uncle from Rockford Ill. came for her and took her home with him where she made her home until she married my father Thomas Loonan.

He also came from Ireland in 1840. He was a husky youth of seventeen and immediately found farm work in the vicinity of Rockford. Here my parents were later married still working for more established farmers. The last two years in Ill. they were tenant farmers farming jointly with my mother’s brother Henry Glenny and family.

In the autumn of 1862 four husky young farmers came to Black Hawk Co. Iowa to buy land and establish homes for themselves. They were Thomas Loonan (my father), James Hearst, Chas. Dane and James McDowell. They all came in one wagon and with one team of horses leaving the women at home to care for the remaining horses and young stock and do such other work as presented itself not the least of which was the care of the children.

These four men bought their farms built little houses and did much breaking of raw prairie and fall plowing of the land that had been previously broken. All of this breaking and plowing was done with the aid of borrowed horses. When winter showed signs of approaching they all went back to their homes near Rockford Ill. to spend the winter and to begin to get ready for the great event.

In the spring of 1863 they planted only the crops that could be easily cared for either as food for their journey for themselves and animals or disposed of quickly to farmers or merchants.

So in August 1863 with horses and covered wagons as means of transportation they made their way westward.

In one wagon was my father with his wife and three boys Frank, Jas. & Hubert.

In another James Hearst, his wife and two daughters Jenni and Mamie. Another with Chas. Dane with his wife and two boys Ed and Dexter and last but not least Jas. McDowell by himself as he was the bachelor of the outfit. Each has a team of horses, an extra horse and a few head of cattle including one or two cows for each family.

The way was long, tedious, and hard. The older children though very small frequently drove the cattle as much for exercise and variety as for any good they did the stock.

At night each family cooked by their own camp fire and ate by themselves. Mr. McDowell boarding with my parents in return for which he gathered wood for the camp fire.

Their good times would be had around a common fire until a fairly late hour when each family would go to their own wagons for the night. The men often sleeping under the wagons for protection from wolves, coyotes and stray dogs as well as for room.

A week or two was taken to get as far as Dubuque at which place all were brought over on the ferry one wagon at a time. There the extra stock which constituted the last load.

Now even the women forgot the leaving of relatives and old friends and looked joyfully and hopefully to the west where they their own homes awaited them.

Each day was much like the day before some of them good and some stormy. The mud was so deep in places that sometimes they could scarcely get through and sometimes it was hot and dusty but still they plodded on spurred by the hope of homes in the Golden West.

After about six weeks of the ups and downs of travel by wagon the entire caravan reached Waterloo then a struggling village on the Cedar River.

They had followed the river from towards where Raymond now stands coming in about where the Rath Packing Co. is now located on east fourth street some place between where the eleventh and fifth street bridges now span the river where they found a man with a ferry who would take them across. They were now somewhere near where their land was located and joy reigned in every heart. Even the children seemed to take on the joyousness that their long tiresome journey was nearly over.

The last night around the campfire and their last camping place they were particularly happy the place of their last camp was on the corner where Campbell Ave joins West Fourth Street.

In the morning each man loaded his wagon to go to the new homes in various directions.

The Chas. Dane home was about eight miles South of Waterloo near where the town of Washburn was later built. The Hearst farm was about four miles west of Cedar Falls and has been known as the Hearst farm ever since.

The Loonans and McDowell were to go to South West straight across the unbroken prairie. The Loonan place has always been called “The Loonan Homestead”. The McDowell was one mile north and one half mile east of the Loonan farm and is now owned by Reuben Rath and the Holmes family who joined them in Waterloo from Wisconsin was one mile south.

All said goodbye in Waterloo and started on the last stretch of their journey making a road on the unbroken prairie as they went.

Each family reached their new home by early evening and fixed places on the night for themselves and their stock. It did not take long to get the furniture placed for they had but little. It was all on the wagons and the houses were small affairs.

All had agreed to meet frequently for re-unions and this was done for a long time until Church and Sunday school duties took up the time on Sundays and the week days were too busy.

The remainder of the first autumn was taken up with the various activities that came to them. They dug their wells deeper and built their barns better for their horses and cattle. Did more breaking of prairie and fall plowing but the biggest job of all perhaps was the hauling and cutting wood for the winter fuel.

The next few years were happy prosperous ones filled with the difficulties of pioneering and the spirit of friendly neighborliness that characterized them all.

The bachelor did not stay a bachelor many years but married and raised a splendid family the youngest of which is a physician at Grundy Center.

Children were born into the homes of the other families and while none of them ever gained National prominence all were respectable citizens and not one disgraced their family name.

To the west of my father’s farm was Hudson with its people. To the East was the Orange Twp settlement mostly Lichty’s and Millers and of the Dunkard faith.

To the South within a few years came the Glenneys, Thompsons, Bley’s, Thurbers, Vaughans & Boors. On farther South was the settlement who followed the social and religious life. East of them in and around what has since been known as Eagle Center.

All of these people coming to this part of Iowa for the same reason – to own and develop farms of their own and which later developed into great communities.

Of the children so small when the caravan moved here three are still living: James Loonan of Hudson, Hubert Loonan of Sioux Falls, S. Dak., and Jennie Hearst of Cedar Falls. The remainder of the caravan of our story lived long and useful lives filling a place in the community and helping to develop it and have now gone to their eternal reward.

If their many descendants who have had much better advantages and opportunities fill their places in life as capably as their ancestors did much can be said in their favor and they too will have been a blessing to mankind and to generations yet to come.