ISAAC KALBACH, b. 13Nov1822


from Past and Present of Mahaska County, Iowa by Manoah Hedge The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. 1906

Among the names which are most familiar in Mahaska county and in this part of Iowa, is that of Isaac Kalbach. It is a name that is always kindly and respectfully spoken because of what it has always stood for. Mr. Kalbach was born in Womelsdorff, Berks county, Pennsylvania, November 13, 1822, eighty-five miles west of the city of Phila- delphia. The ancestors of both his father and mother came to America before the Revolution- ary war and all who were then living partici- pated actively in that heroic struggle. He was the fifth child born into the family of nine children, five brothers and four sisters. When Mr. Kalbach was eleven years of age his father died and left the care of the young family to the mother. With great singleness of purpose she quietly assumed the double responsibility that came to her by the death of her husband, and raised all of her children to usefulness and re- spectability, living to the good old age of eighty-four years. A widowed mother with su- preme devotion to the welfare of her family will carve deep channels in the life of her chil- dren. Some of the best men this nation has ever produced were sons of widowed mothers. Mr. Kalbach contributed by his labor to the support of the family until he was twenty-one years of age, having in the meantime served an apprenticeship of three years in learning the cabinet-maker's trade. On November 3, 1843, Mr. Kalbach was united in marriage to Miss Christine Kock, who was his faithful companion for fifty-three years. Unto them were born nine children, all of whom reached manhood and womanhood. Of the children John A., Sarah and Z. Taylor were born at Port Carbon, Pennsylvania, and accompained their parents to Iowa. Emma R., Clara F., M. Alice. William H., George and Nellie M. were born at Oskaloosa. On April 1, 1849, Mr. and Mrs. Kalbach bade adieu to the home of their childhood to join the great caravan that was moving west- ward that year. The discovery of gold in Cali- fornia the previous year had aroused the entire nation and a sweeping tide of emigration set in for the Pacific coast and the west. Mr. Kal- bach and his company had only in mind locat- ing somewhere in the western states to engage in its growing enterprises. They left their home at Port Carbon, Schuylkill county, Penn- sylvania, and went to Reading by rail, thence by stage fourteen miles to Womelsdorf, the place of his birth, then to Harrisburg, Johns- town and on to Pittsburg by canal. The reader will notice that this route leads over the Alle- ghany mountains. Mr. Kalbach states the strange fact that he crossed this rugged range of mountains on a canal boat. The boat carry- ing the emigrants and their effects was built in five sections, and when they came to the foot of the mountains at Holidaysburg, each of the five sections of the boat was placed on car trucks and coupled together, making a train of cars. Stationary engines along the mountain railway furnished the power, and by following slopes and inclines to the summit of the mountains, then along the level ridge for eight or ten miles, the descent on the western slope was cautiously made to Johnstown, where the improvised train was transformed from a mountain climber into a modest canal boat, cheerfully submitting to the tow-path gait. At Pittsburg the party re-shipped their goods and were towed down the Ohio river to Beaver, Pennsylvania, then across the state of Ohio to where the city of Cleveland is now lo- cated. It was then a mere lake port with a few stores and a modest population. From Cleve- land the company boarded a steamer and made the circuit of the lakes by way of Mackinac strait to Chicago. Mr. Kalbach has a distinct memory of many interesting experiences and occurences in that earlier day. He was offered a house and two lots in what is now almost the heart of the city of Chicago for eight hundred dollars, on ten years time at ten per cent interest. Ducks were hunted in the marshes near where the splendid Rock Island depot now stands. At the crossing of Lake and Clark streets a fence rail was stuck deep into the mud with a board tacked across the top with this ominous warning: "No Bottom Here." In that year the longest stretch of railroad track leaving the city was eighteen miles. After a week's sojourn in Chicago the party of thirteen persons secured a four-horse team to make a tour of several hun- dred miles down through Illinois as far as Car- lisle, Indiana. Camping as they went and liv- ing on provisions that could be purchased along the way and whatever wild game they were able to secure, they passed through Kankakee and on southward. At Danville, Illinois, they practically ran out of provisions and sought to replenish their supply. The generous village store-keeper sold them all he had-one and one-half pounds of crackers and two mackerel. This scanty fare for fourteen persons, including the driver, began to be no joke, especially when there was before them for many miles nothing but broad, unsettled prairies. There was, how- ever, a mill near the village and the road miller shared with them his entire stock, a scanty sup- ply of "shorts." There was no need of anti- breakfast clubs in that party. Mr. Kalbach says it was delegated to him from the beginning of the journey to purchase the supply of eatables for the company. So, early the next morning, he took his rifle and, breakfastless and afoot, preceded the home-seekers, determined in some way to secure something to appease the appetites of the hungry party. Pressing every trail and listening to every sound for wild game, he kept on his course throughout the day, without a lucky shot. About four o'clock in the afternoon he came to a cabin on the prairie, the only habitation he had met with all day. The household consisted of husband, wife and daughter. He called at the cabin door and asked if he could purchase something for himself and his companions. The lady of the house told him she had noth- ing to eat in the house at that time, but con- fidently expected the return of her husband from the mill with a supply of corn meal in an hour or two and when he came she could sup- ply their present wants. After resting a short time Mr. Kalbach noticed a strip of brush a quarter of a mile or so distant and determined to go over, in the hope of finding something to satisfy his hunger while his company should have time to come up. He was fortunate enough to shoot a blackbird, which he dressed and roasted and had a feast all to himself. Re- turning to the cabin, he found his companions had arrived as well as the expected husband with the sack of meal, and the good housewife was vigorously stirring the mush pot for a bounteous supper. She was a Scotch lady, so- cial, pleasant and kind, but fearless and positive in character, and her heart went out for the eight small children in the company of travelers who had not tasted food for so many hours. To the chagrin of her older guests, the decisive lady would not allow a single one of them to have a morsel to eat until the children had eaten all they wanted. She was not selfish in her wil- derness home, but humble as it was, her home must be ruled by her own ideas of fitness and propriety. The next morning the good lady fitted out the party with corn breach for the day, and they went on their journey southwest as far as Car- lisle, Indiana. A short stay convinced the en- tire party that Carlisle was not the place they wanted to stop and they retraced their steps to Terre Haute, Indiana, where they dismissed their conveyance and driver and spent the win- ter. Mr. Kalbach found his services in ready demand as an undertaker. He says it seemed to him that the community was kept quite busy caring for the sick and burying their dead. Be- fore the swamps and marshes of Indiana were drained there was dreadful suffering from fever, ague, milk sickness and kindred diseases. Sometimes an entire village would be depopu- lated by the scourge. Mr. Kalbach relates that on their tour of inspection through Indiana they traveled one day late into the night in or- der to reach a quite well known town by the name of Caledonia. When they reached the place they found it utterly forsaken: Not a person was to be found. The party chanced to be out of matches and had to go some distance to a farm house to secure fire for a camp. While at Terre Haute a wealthy Frenchman, who was traveling through the country, fell a victim to cholera and the case fell into Mr. Kal- bach's hands for handling. The body was buried and late in the fall disinterred and pre- pared in proper casements for shipment to the east. A stage coach carried it to Cincinnati, and thence by river and canal to its destination. In the spring of 1850 Mr. and Mrs. Kalbach and their company visited a number of cities and towns in Illinois, working westward until they came to Nauvoo, Illinois. It was that year that the last detachment of Mormons left Nau- voo for their far Western home and the town was almost depopulated. The landlady of the principal hotel of the place was the former widow of Joe Smith, who had been killed some years before but who in his lifetime was the head of the Mormon church. A deep shadow had fallen over the party of home-seekers. One of their number had died of cholera down the river and Mr. Kalbach had preceded the com- pany some days to Nauvoo to arrange for the burial. Death from cholera was quite frequent in many places in the west and if the cause of this death should become known they were lia- ble to be quarantined for days. For a time Mr. Kalbach was somewhat per- plexed to know just what course to pursue. He finally concluded to follow the principle that has governed all his life, namely: To go to the parties most interested and represent things just as they were. This he did to the landlady of the hotel where he was stopping. She was the owner of most of the vacant property in the town, and she quietly handed him a key to one of these comfortable homes, saying, "Go to that house and take full possession and make ready for your company when it shall arrive. Go about the burial quietly and in that way no one will become excited, or be exposed. Fif- teen years afterward Mr. Kalbach ate dinner at that hotel and was pleased to be recognized by the same landlady who was yet in charge. From Nauvoo the company went to Mus- catine, Iowa, and stopped for the winter. Mr. Kalbach worked at his trade until December, 1850, when he went on foot in company with others to Fort Dodge, Iowa, to work on the government fort, then in process of construc- tion at that place. On his way he passed through Oskaloosa. Hundreds of the early settlers availed themselves of a good winter's job at good pay. Each workman got two and a half dollars per day and one and one-half rations from the time he left home. Twenty miles per day was counted a day's travel. The government spent one or more hundred thou- sand dollars on the proposed fort, all of which was afterward abandoned as unnecessary for the protection of the rapidly growing young state. In the spring of 1851 Mr. Kalbach took a boat down the Des Moines river to where it empties into the Mississippi, thence up that stream to his home at Muscatine. Here he at once made preparations to move to Oskaloosa, arriving here May 13, 1851. That year has been known in Mahaska county history as the "flood year." It was a trying time for the early settlers. There were no bridges across the streams and but little hauling could be done. The Des Moines river was about the only means of transportation and crops were short everywhere. Mr. and Mrs. Kalbach had come to the end of their journeying and settled down to a hand to hand struggle for an independent living and a competency for advanced years. They did for the time being whatever their hands found to be done. Mr. Kalbach was Os- kaloosa's first city marshal for three successive years, acted for a time as street commissioner, was secretary of the city school board when Os- kaloosa built its first schoolhouse-the old Gos- pel Ridge schoolhouse. He has always contrib- uted generously of his time and means for the building up of the life of the city and the county. On June 13, 1864, he went into the lumber business, continuing in that business un- til advancing years compelled him to retire to a more quiet life. On October 30, 1897, Mrs. Kalbach passed to the scenes of another world. The chief delight of her life was in her home and her family, and her absence has been deeply felt. Her life was one of unceasing toil, from necessity, during early life, and, in later years, when the family had acquired a competency, the habit of constant activity had become too firmly fixed to be broken, and to the close of her life her greatest pleasure was found in provid- ing comforts for her children. The raising of a family during the early days in Oskaloosa, when the necessities of life and the means of acquiring them were equally hard to obtain, re- quired a thorough knowledge of all the branches of housewifery. Among the Pennsylvania Dutch the women were, and are to this day, skilled in all domestic duties, and this knowledge, acquired in the Pennsylvania village where she was raised, probably made Mrs. Kalbach's burden lighter, but did not lessen the toil of providing for the large family of growing children. Home mar- kets could not be depended on for many of the necessities and money was scarce, but the re- sourceful mother was skilled in many lines of housework which are now almost among the lost arts. In addition to the daily tasks of cooking and baking came, each in its turn, the work of caring for the pork from the three or four hogs which were butchered each fall, the smoking of the hams and side-meat, the making of the tubs of sausage, the preparing of the "hogshead cheese," the cleaning and pickling of the pigs-feet, the rendering of the lard, the making of the soft soap from cracklings and ash lye, the molding or dipping of the candles, the canning of tomatoes, the preserving of the small variety of wild and tame fruit, the drying of corn and apples, the preparing of "sauer kraut," the cutting up and sewing of carpet- rags, the dyeing of the carpet chain, the darn- ing, patching, mending and altering of the chil- dren's clothing (often remodeled to fit the younger children, after the older members of the family had outgrown them), in order that her boys and girls might appear respectably dressed-and all this was a part only of the never ending task of the pioneer mother. Though assisted by her young family, who were all taught to work in some capacity, yet on her devolved the planning and the saving, that every cent of the small earnings of the husband might be used to the greatest advan- tage. She willingly assumed every duty that she might raise her family respectably and re- spected in the community, and no mother ever gave her whole life and energy to this work with more devotion. Mr. Kalbach is much confined to his home, but is enjoying a cheerful old age with a clear mind and an unbroken interest in passing events.

Past and Present of Mahaska County, Iowa

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