Monday, September 21

The Two-wheeled historian visits Iowa's UGRR

While still fussing with the Nicodemus and Topeka, KS post, other road trips have come and gone. As part of my ongoing Underground Railroad project, I headed out on Sunday morn, September 20th, for southern Iowa.

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I had huge riding plans for the weekend but everything changed when I lost my wallet Friday night and discovered it missing as I was packing at 3:30a.m. for my trip. The restaurant, where I knew I left it didn't open until noon! They didn't even have an answering machine set up. I started calling at 6a.m. and by 9a.m I still couldn't get through. What business doesn't have an answering machine?! I called throughout the morning, hoping someone would pick up. No one picked up until noon! The wallet was there and a dear friend (thanks, Cindy) retrieved it for me as I dared not ride the bike without having my driver's license. That would be the day I'm stopped for some reason. Isn't there an old Blues song that goes..."if is wasn't for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all." By the time I got my hands on my wallet, with all cards and money intact, it was way too late and I was way too stressed to begin a trip. Missed another gorgeous day.

Sunday, I was ready to leave at 5 a.m. In one direction the weather gurus predicted a 20% chance of rain; in the other, 40%. I took the road statistically less rainy--southern Iowa. The two sites there that I wanted to visit didn't open until 1pm, which is late for my taste. First stop, Salem, IA, a once all Quaker town in the 1830s, and onto the Keosauqua, IA. Like Ohio, Iowa had a large number of UGRR (Underground Railroad) stations given the Quaker presence there. Unlike, Ohio, most of Iowa's are now gone, some through fire or deliberate demolition after falling into disrepair.

In Salem, stands the Henderson Lewelling House on Main Street, just a stones throw from the old Quaker cemetery down the road. I like getting to the place I want to explore, so I took the Interstate, knowing that some pretty nice county roads awaited me, which are always a treat. I like too old two lanes highways. The only thing I don't like is too often there are too few places to pull off for a photo op. Fortunately, many of these roads have very little traffic so it's not impossible to get a picture of a beautiful old barn or grazing cows and horses. I was in a riderly mood and didn't plan to stop much. I would have been fun to have Dave's GS on this trip as it would have better handled all the gravel encountered on this trip. I recall a U-turn I executed and a slight wiggle of the back tire on gravel--oops!

Temps in the 70s, the weather was ideal until I got near Galesburg. The sky turned angry and gray and opened. It rained from 1:20 until 2:00p.m--a hard, heavy downpour! So much for taking the road less rainy! After a good soaking, I checked the GPS for the nearest gas station where I headed to find a shelter to don my rain gear. By the time I reached Burlington, IA a blue sky with nary a mean cloud in it welcomed me. I stopped at the Port of Burlington to set the GPS for Salem and poke around a little.

I was doing badly on time but I didn't care. I just needed to ride and if I arrived and the UGRR sites were open, fine; if not, I would at least see the structure. I passed far too many old barns without stopping, which is plenty of reason to return to this area.

Ugh! Time is always an issue. I realized that I was later than I thought! Oh well...I was now on course to arrive in both Salem and Keosauqua after the UGRR stations were closed.

I arrived in Salem, and immediately found Main St. Nicely placed signs lead right to the Henderson Lewelling House. I observed two cars in the gravel lot and one was leaving. According to my watch, the museum should already have been closed for fifteen minutes. But opened back door beckoned me in and after parking the bike, I made a beeline inside.

Once inside, I walked to the front of the house and startled a white-haired old lady who was sitting in a rocking chair going through some old newspaper clippings. She said they were closed but that she would quickly take me through, "since I'm not busy." I signed the book but didn't have two dollars in exact change for the donation. She didn't have change. I dropped a five dollar bill into the jar and told her to keep the extra three (am I a big spender or what?!). When she checked my sign in and saw that I was from Illinois, things changed. "Oh, since you're from Chicago, I'll do a tour for you--that's a long way." And tour she did! We had a most lovely discussion of the Underground Railroad stations in the Midwest. She beamed when she told me she had attended the recent conference in Springfield, IL, which I had so wanted to attend. She picked up some new titles on the subject and shared stories she had heard about various stations throughout the Midwest. She kept interrupting her tales with memories of stories related and unrelated to the UGRR--I was loving each minute!

The Henderson Lewelling House was a safe place for runaway slaves. Lewelling, was a staunch abolitionist and member of the Quakers who believed that they should become actively involved in resisting slavery's evils. It is a myth that all Quakers were anti-slavery to the point of activism. Salem's Quaker activity is a good example of the split that fractured the Quakers in one small town. Quakers shared that slavery was an abomination but some felt strongly that they should obey the law and not get involved in anti-slavery activism. I guess, they were the "let's just pray about it" faction. Another group (thank God!) felt that they had no obligation or responsibility to follow unjust laws and felt it their moral and religious duty to help put an an end to that "peculiar institution" called slavery.

In his travels, Henderson Lewelling never forgot seeing humans shackled and vowed to do what he could to put an end to such human suffering.

Several areas inside his house--all built beneath the floor--provided temporary shelter for escaped slaves. This secret network of transporting fleeing slave to safety was efficient and orderly. Runaway slaves were hidden until they could be carried safely--only at night-- farther north until they reached Canada. Inside the Lewelling house these clandestine places were kept out of sight by throwing a rug over the space and putting a bed or table over the hideaway. Looking down into these dark, small, cramped holes is pretty frightening but I would imagine nothing is as awful as being owned and kept in involuntary servitude where beatings and selling off "stock" were frequent.
(The railing was put in place to protect tourist. The trap door would be closed and covered by a rug and a table placed over the area.)

Lewelling sounded like a real character. He was the father of a big brood. He lived in Salem for years and then moved on to Oregon. He's known for more than his anti-slavery work. He is also acknowledged for almost single handily bringing fruit trees to Salem. He carried many fruit trees on to Oregon too during a particularly difficult journey west and planted them. There he also established a fruit production industry. In fact, Fruitvale, CA is named for Lewelling's fruit production in that area. Today Lewelling is know as the "father of the Pacific fruit industry" and credited with permeating Iowa, Oregon and California with his gift for fruit production. I applaud this too but it is his work as a devout and activist Quaker that captures my heart most.

Salem, Iowa is in a location that benefited its anti-slavery efforts. It is in close proximity to the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers, both providing escape routes for slaves.

The problem is that Salem is close to Missouri, a slave state. My favorite story is when a Missouri slaveholder named Daggs came to Lewelling's door, bring with him a cannon that he placed in Lewelling's front yard, aimed at Lewelling's house! He threatened to use it if Lewelling didn't return his human property. Lewelling didn't scare easily. He claimed not to know what the man was talking about. News travels fast in a small town. Let Rachel Kellum tell the story of the Daggs' slaves and the cannon. I couldn't help think of the terrorist behavior of the Missourians who, as Kellum describes, bogarted their way into people's homes, searching for slaves and threatening to level an entire town. These terrorist acts are repeated throughout every states suspected of helping slaves escape bondage.

The Underground Railroad was an efficient network of people and houses that worked in the dark of night, moving slaves from one safe house to the next until there was no more clear and present danger. Their work was deliberate, methodical and quick. Secrecy was key. To make it work, the cooperation of many people was mandatory--even children were trained to not discuss their parents' nighttime activities.

Slaveholders were suspicious and befuddled. Slaves would flee and all roads seem to lead to Salem. But once there, the slaves seemed to vanish. Word would spread that a slaveholder was in town demanding his property. In one incident, the Salem authorities were summoned and the "owner" was asked for names and descriptions of his property. Eventually, because he was able to identify his "property" he was able to have several of his slaves returned to him but some were not returned. I'm hope they ran away again the first chance they got for they knew that once they crossed the Des Moines or Mississippi river, safe house in Salem would shelter them until they could move "up yonder."

Of the safe houses in Salem, only the Lewelling house still stands. If you are ever within 100 miles of this area, go there. Hear history come alive. Revisit the timea. Feel inspired by the abolitionists, the resisters, and the unsung heroes (and she-roes) that our history books either don't mention or gloss over.

I heard so many stories while at the Lewelling House that I left there riding a cloud. I already knew I wouldn't get to tour the Pearson House in Keosauqua. Still, it was only 25 miles away and the ride would be lovely beneath an azure sky with mash potato clouds. The bright sun had already dried out my wet gear and soaked gloves and my bike, Jesse Owens, purred along.

The ride to Keosauqua did not disappoint. The roads swoop and curve and roll along. Dodge Street in Keosauqua is easy to find, just look for the courthouse. The Franklin Pearson House is a big structure with many windows across the second level. The area around the Pearson House looked rich in history and I wished I had come early enough to hear the activities that transpired at the Pearson house. I took a couple of pictures and headed for home. I was feeling great and thinking I would abandon my plans to stay overnight somewhere nearby. According to the GPS, if I didn't stop, I would arrive home at 11:30pm but I needed to eat and take break soon as I now heard my stomach complain.

I enjoyed the roads for another hour before stopping to eat. I passed through many small towns that were cute and begging to be explored. I would have if I were sleeping over but I was in a ride mood and just wanted to keep going. I definitely felt moved to pause in Fort Madison. I passed by their "rebuilt" fort and wanted to know more about it. The town looked inviting. There were signs announcing the history of this and that--little towns all claiming their place in the regional and national history pages. I've never heard of Bentonsport or Bonaparte, but they both claim a national historic district that I'd like to visit.

Roads of note. Many places along US Hwy 34, 67 and 61, as well as State Hwy 2. Fun! Lots of big swooping curves, hilly with travel along a several state parks, preserves, and wildlife areas.

Both homes are on the National Registry of Historic Places and worth a visit. The Henderson Lewelling House may soon be made a National Historic Site, which is a huge accomplishment.

Sunday mileage: 620 miles
Fun factor 8/10--the rain was a bit much...


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Pumpkin:

Your rides are beginning to criss-cross the nation in an unfolding historical account of oppression and liberation. You ought to write a novel from the perspective of a passenger on the Underground Rail Road. Or from the perspective of a Quaker, who carried a pistol at night.

I regret that the sophistication gap between your work and mine appears to be widening significantly. I am the buffoon to your Madame Curé. If I decided to do a year of historical perspective riding with regards to my Irish ancestory, it would include going from mine to mine, and visiting sites where they hung their bosses and blew up the factory facilities.

And yet they managed to do this and keep their good humor. This history of the American coal miner and US labor movement is another kind of slavery in every aspect -- except the chains.

I will be mortally offended if you do not drop me a line should you decide to roll through Gettysburg or Valley Forge. I have your room all ready. Breakfast is my devastatingly fattening pancakes from scratch with maple syrup made by Michael Cantwell.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Unknown said...


You had an action packed post today with lots of history. So many links to information.
Firstly, thank goodness you found your wallet, esp all intact. It would give me a bit of stress too. All that hassle of replacing everything. I never put mine "down" anywhere, and while riding it is always tucked inside a zippered pocket.
You have so much history in the East. Not so much out here in the wild west.
I looked at that picture of those shackles I can't imagine being chained up for the rest of your working life. I would try to escape too. I suppose it is better with our current "invisible" chains which keep us at our desks working to support ourselves and our habits, dreaming of better days while riding our bikes.
I can't help but think how lucky you are to have a personal after hours tour at the museum. I know those small towns don't get a lot of tourists. Recently, we went to a small town in the interior of BC, Ashcroft. They had a little museum about settlement of the area and a mining display. We walked in and found the "curator", head down on her desk, asleep. We tip-toed back out and made more noise and re-entered again, this time to find her "awake". When it is not busy I think you can interact more and get them talking . . .

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Jack Riepe said...

PS: Dear Sharon --

I wear a Harlley-style wallet chained to my belt. I haven't lost it yet.


cpa3485 said...

I must say that this post is one of the reasons that I like reading blogs so much. So very informative, interesting and absolutely delightful to read. It's obvious that your passion for this subject is deep and you have found a way to combine it with your obvious love for motorcycling.
Well Done!
And keep working on that post about Nicodemus and Topeka. I am anxious to hear more about that as well, but my patience has limits (kidding, sort of). LOL
Sounds like it was a wonderful experience for you. Makes me jealous to be a commuter and not much of a tourer. Maybe someday.
Take care,

cpa3485 said...


Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Thanks, Jack. I appreciate your comments as always. I think, however at times you underestimate your work and overestimate mine.

One major bone of contention here, however stems from something you've written: "The history of the American coal miner and US labor movement is another kind of slavery in every aspect -- except the chains." It's the "in every aspect -- except the chains" that I think is a stretch to put in mildly.

Perhaps this is a joke and I'm not getting it?

'Cause I must say your analysis of the US labor movement as "...another kind of slavery in every aspect -- except for the chains!" is based either on a lack of knowledge, if not ignorance, of American slavery or incomplete understand of the labor movement. While there is no doubt the labor movement was brutal, horrific and combative--awful things happened. Folks suffered hard times, let me stress that. But families were not torn apart and sold! Even indentured servitude is not like slavery even if the work conditions were similar! Immigrants came for many reasons, not the least of which were better economic opportunities, and religious freedoms to mention two. While men lost their lives as they worked and fought horrible working conditions, their labor could be sold. Yes, owners like Pullman built factory towns and stores and pretty much built their wealth off the sweat and brow of lowly paid workers. And some worker, as you indicate, felt entitled enough to better treatment that they would/could retaliate against their bosses and blow up factories and use various weapons of resistance. Yes, the conditions were brutal, owners extracted labor that often led to people getting injuried and killed on the job. Children were exploited. People worked for pennies compared to the owners' profits. While these individuals "slaved" away, they could also walk away--even if they couldn't afford to, they could and some did. Still, workers were not routinely, put on auction blocks...moreover, let me remind you that many of these same laborer were often racist to the very core--including some of the Irish, who like other immigrants and natives did their very best to keep African Americans OUT of the mines and unions and many had no hesitation about using their fists and weapons with impunity against blacks who were often used to break up strikes--afterall, they were looking for economic opportunity too and suffered greatly at the hands of workers.

The history of the labor movement is a history that doesn't just include the struggles of immigrants and natives trying to secure a place of dignity and respect from owners, including fare wages and safe working conditions. Let's tell the tale like it is. The labor movement and union struggles is not "another kind of slavery in every aspect -- except the chains."

The fight to get into union by blacks is part of the labor movement history that too often gets lost in telling the tale of immigrant and native workers' struggles. Blacks who had been in this country long before the waves of immigrants, fought a tough battle to get work in mines and get accepted into unions. Tell the history of that period in its fullness. But "another kind of slavery in every aspect -- except the chains." Come must be kidding.

This reminds me, I have a half written note I penned to you a long time ago that I've been meaning to finish. I shall work on completing that task.

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Bob, thanks. I'm glad you liked the post. Yes, I was really lucky to get that private tour!

You are so right about the quiet traffic flow in some of the museums.I chuckled at imagining you tip-toeing out... I think I too would have stepped out and walked back in...It must get a little boring sitting around and waiting for someone to come in...bless them. They do a good job. Thanks again.

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Jack, I've seen those chains...glad it works for you. But I have an aversion to chains...

I rarely lose things. I think the last time I misplaced my wallet was in the early '90s. I knew immediately where I had left it. It was returned, again will all paperwork/cards intact,

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Morning, Jim,

Thanks for liking the post. It has been great to combine two passions--you're right about that! I wish I could turn it into a business and do it all the time!

The Nicodemus story has been an emotional one. I was really touched by the experience there and in Topeka. I'll post it soon.

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Jim, you know Jack. He's a charmer--that's all I can say about "Pumpkin."

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sharon:

You are correct in that slavery created a circumstance where humans were deprived of their most basic dignity and bred and sold like livestock; where free, white individuals did have the option of walking away from a bad situation if they so chose.

If you come out this way, we should take a ride up to the Laxawaxen coal mine, and take the tour. Workers were not paid in cash, but in company script, which could onbly be used for rent and groceries in company houses and company stores, at company set prices. Technically, these men and children worked for nothing at all.

Miners were required to purchase shovels, picks, chisels, and blasting powder from the company store. They were expected to hand dig 10 to 12 tons of coal per day (12 hour shifts), with boys as young as eight years old manning the dust doors between tunnels. At the end of 20 years, a miner, if still alive, would have absolutely nothing, as company script could not be exchanged for cash. Kids often went to work as soon as possible in the mines as there was a great likelihood the breadwinner would be killed in a cave-in, a blast, a fire, or a gas leak, in which case his family would be thrown out of the company house. Having your kids working in hell was the best way to keep a roof over your head.

Human history is pockmarked with some of the greatest of social tragedies... Slavery... The Irish Potato Famine... The rape of Nanking... AndThe Holocaust just to mention a few. The sad part is how often it repeats itself, with episodes like ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and the trafficking of women and children for prostitution throughout Asia, Africa, and Mexico.

I am saddened that Africa remains one of the few places in the world today with an open slave trade in some regions, and where tribal slaughter continually rears its ugly head. A place where the rape of thousands of women daily is planned as a kind of psychological warefare. But there is no place on earth where the inhabitants can claim to have cornored the market on human degradation. It is a recurrent theme and goes dormant until one group decides to drive another into extinction. This is one area in which humans always manage to outdo each other -- and themselves.

It is impossible to compare one tragedy against another as a gauge human suffering. If one persons suffers, than the number is too high.

I look forward to your note.

Fondest regards,

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Jack, I'd like the tour because I appreciate history in its fullness. And, I'm always up for being surprised at hearing something new. As a holder of a undergraduate degree in history with a concentration in post-Civil War and Reconstruction, that period still fascinates me. In no way do I want to convey that any one group has a monopoly on pain and suffering.
I mentioned the name Pullman in my note because he epitomizes the benevolent dictator who set up a shop that exploited workers, kept their wages in his pocket. He set up a system that worked mostly for him IMHO. I live near the Pullman district. I am a student of these historical tales. I am greatly influenced by two historians (one, a former professors of mine). Jesse Lemisch(sp?) who taught and I think, coined the phrase, "history from the bottom up." Advancing a concept that we need to learn, research and understand "his-story" and "her-story," the lives of those who built this country, the voices of those who are often missing or silenced or covered up.
Another influential historian who was one of my professors, is Elizabeth Balanoff. She was a labor historian. A woman I've come to appreciate even more now than when I had her. I will not say I know every labor struggle, but it is an area I have studied. I also have a passion for the history of southern, central and eastern European immigration to America. (excellent book, _A Piece of the Pie_ by Stanley Lieberson).
My point is that we tell the tale fully in all its blemishes and goodness.

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Jack, (continued)

I did a presentation on Executive Order 9066 once, the order that allow the Japenese American citizens to be put in concentration camps, often called interment camps. I gave this talk to a predominately Jewish audience. Someone pulled me to the side and said, "they were never in concentration camps." The person took issue with the term, which I can appreciate. But to those who lived in internment camps, while there were no deliberate acts of genocide, to many of the American citizens in these camps on American soil, it was a concentration camp in a country that professed to be democratic. That is not to deminish the horrific genocide suffered by human beings at the hands of Hitler as the world watched for far too long.
My bone of contention was with your language and what that implied. You are right that Africa continues to deal with slavery. All over the world, women and children and families are mentally and phyically enslaved way beyond Africa. Can that possibley be surprise that Africa is on the list? Many parts of the country have been raped and pillaged forever and Africa has been a hotspot for all of it! But let's not lump all of Africa into the same pot.
Where there are poor people, there is bound to be elements reminiscent of slavery in both overt and covert forms. No surprise to me. In this rich country of ours, women and new arrival immigrants are too often victims in the institution of modern day slavery.
International watch groups have pointed out recent increases in the enslavement of whole families, selling their labor to get by now and signing away the future of their descendents. This transcends Africa, but I get your point of singling Africa out. Again, it comes as no surprise to me that where peole are vulnerable, they can be easily trapped. BTW, young girls right in this country are enslaved in the sex trade that is also on the rise. Just heard an author on NPR discuss his research on the topic.
Finally, I'm naive because I would think that those who have suffered wouldn't be the ones dishing out suffering to others. But that is not the case. Some people have no trouble doing to others what has been done to them. They see no connection with others whom they can define as "different" or "alien". Whenever I go on these tours about the west or the making of America, there is typically a week or nonexistent treatment of Native Americans, for example--other than to say we traded with them, there were battles and we got the land blah, blah, blah. History from the bottom up attempts to tell the story with all the characters included--the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you haven't already, please read Howard Zinn (parents were immigrant factory workers. He was a shipyard worker and labor organizer before becoming a historian and political scientist) or John Hope Franklin (_From Slavery to Freedom_), or Ronald Takaki(_Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th Century America" and his highly acclaimed, _Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans_) and of course, Noel Ignatiev (_How the Irish became White_).

At some point, we'll have to talk about the cognitive dissonance required to deal with all this--at least from my perspective IMHO. In fact, I think I wrote a blog about that. Anyhoo...

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sharon:

I didn't single Africa out... It just came to mind as I watched "Hotel Uganda" last night, and recently read an article slavery in Sudan. As I pointed out, no one group of humans can calim to be the most exploited, the most targeted, or the next to be targeted. Whenever man ever get the urge to wipe out the nearest scapegoat, he rises to the occasion. To me, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and Europe's response to it, represents a huge sad chapter in the history of the world.

But there are so many of those chapters. I had merely overlooked the rounding up of Japanese Americans in 1941.

Your comment about the chains was very wry... As was your previous mention of the "Black Widow."
I would never risk your ire.

Don't bother to write long notes. We can't pay each other by the word. You have my number... Call to yell. The Laxawaxen tour is utterly depressing. Once out of the mines my family bought a bar. I'd rather show you that.

Fondest regards,
Jack Riepe
Now trailing behind you in the mileage contest by 152,000 miles

Unknown said...


is it safe to come out yet ?

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Hey, Bob,

It is always safe! No humans were harmed in the making of those post exchanges--at least I don't think so! ;-) So, don't be shy about poking your head in...

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Jack, I'm working on a note to you. It is long not on purpose but because I have much to say...I won't call 'cause my best times are between 3a.m. and 6a.m. in the morning, which is my personal best time to get work done that would never be addressed. I will spare the readers here that note, however, and send to you personally. I'm taking my time writing it because I'm thinking really hard on how to word it.

later--I wish you wouldnt' worry about upsetting me...I don't upset easily. I am not fragile. I will not hold anything in...Trust me on that.

Your 'net friend,