If You Have to, Take the Cows to Church!

In 1849, the northeast region of Iowa was opened to settlers. That June, Benjamin Iliff left his wife, Alvina, and two young children near his parents’ home in Monroe, Wisconsin and traveled one hundred forty miles to West Union in Fayette County, Iowa, to scout for a homestead. According to “Early History of Dover Township” (in The Gazette, West Union, 1876 or later), Benjamin wrote that on the 26th of June, he went out from West Union to hunt “through high grass and thick woods, to a place on the Turkey river, first settled by Lewis Kerr, thence up the river to the forks of the Turkey, where I stuck my stake for a home.”

He built a cabin, then returned to Wisconsin. In September, he and his family drove westward in their loaded wagon. Jasper, the eldest, later wrote of his adventure in third person, calling himself “the writer, who was then but four years old,” and Frank Hobson included it in Fayette County in the Fifties, copyright 1902:

The first white family to settle at the forks of the turbulent Turkey, came from Monroe, Wis., in September of 1849, with two yoke of oxen and one gray mare called “Nance”. [sic] They crossed the Mississippi at McGregor on a horse ferry boat…

…and spent the night camped near an inn where the innkeeper’s wife was known as “Ole Mother Rattletrap,” for her plentiful speech. The next day, they set out for the cabin across a prairie which had provided no trees for Benjamin to have blazed on his previous trip. Travel required navigating “many deep ravines and bottomless sloughs.” To gain bearings, they climbed a high place which was almost a promontory. They needed to reach the cabin before dark.

On the descent, despite roughlocking, the hind end of the wagon threatened to reach the bottom of the hill before the oxen. Benjamin managed to get the wagon stopped without injuries to anyone. Then he chopped a bushy burr oak with an ax, hauled it by oxen to the rear of the wagon, and chained it to the hind axle. Dragging the oak prevented the wagon from overrunning the oxen.

As they finished the descent, Alvina sang “Oh, Susanna.” They arrived at the cabin “just as the curtain of night was drawn and the weary household were gathered under its sheltering roof for the first time, with a meagre amount of bedding spread upon the puncheon floor.” Before the parents could join their children in sleep, they took care of the chickens and livestock, and brought the dog into the house to protect it from the wolves.

The books don’t tell it but Alvina must have been pregnant during this trip because on April 13 of the next year she bore a son, James Iliff. She died the following November. Indians frequently visited the cabin from their home five miles away.

According to the 1878 History of Fayette County,

In September 1849, shortly after Benjamin Iliff settled on Section 7, Township 95, Range 8, he heard that there was to be a religious meeting at Mr. Smith’s cabin, at West Union. Mr. Iliff was anxious to attend, but was at a loss to know how to manage. He could not think of leaving his wife and two small children at the cabin alone, the nearest neighbor being four miles away. If he went with the oxen and wagon and took them with him, there would be nobody to take care of the cows and young cattle at home. But where there was a will there was a way. Mr Iliff was determined to “go to meetin’”. [sic] He hitched up his team, put his wife and children in the wagon, hitched his horse, “Old Nance,” behind the wagon, and the cattle, so lately coming from Wisconsin in that way, very readily fell into the procession, and away they all went to meeting at West Union, where the family enjoyed a good time and the stock found rich pasture, returning home, after the meeting was over, in the order in which they came.

This excerpt raised a profitable question for me: How strong is my motivation to assemble with other Christians? Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

We were never intended to be Lone Ranger Christians. What is it that keeps someone from attending Sunday school and church, at a minimum? And, if we’re to consider others more important than self, from making every effort to arrive well before events start? It isn’t that we have to be at church every time the doors open, but it might be profitable to evaluate whether we are meeting with other believers for fellowship, prayer, and teaching from the Word of God often enough. (God blesses through the Body.)

Do we value assembling with other believers so much that we’d throw the kids in the wagon and take the cows to church?

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About Linda

Wifing, Singing, Studying, Counseling. I counsel at Gateway Biblical Counseling and Training Center. M.A. in Biblical Counseling. Certified by Association of Certified Biblical Counselors
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