Friday, September 11, 2009

Effie Lantz's story: The first white child born in Sioux County, Iowa

Lantz Post Cemetery in Ireton, Iowa named after Effie's dad, Henry Lantz, the first Civil War veteran buried there.

I have attached a letter from a relative of mine (husband's side). This letter was written in 1957 by this ancestor, then 87 years old, at the request of a cousin ours who wanted to know more about pioneer times for a class project in grade school. The Korslund family kept this letter and last year we even drove to Iowa to see the family grave. Have a good summer.

Not all homesteaders were successful in their claim. What at first seems a failure, today, several generations later, is an uncontestable victory. Our life of plenty has been built on the hardships and tenacity faced by our homesteading ancestors.

Here are excerpts of a letter written in 1957 by Effie Lantz, the first white child born in Sioux County, in Northwest Iowa. She mentioned her solitary childhood and her parents’ toil. Her father’s premature death forced the family to abandon the homestead. Effie before the age of twelve had seen the death of her father, two brothers and one sister. Today her many descendants, scattered all over the USA, have been spared of such hardships and enjoy a very comfortable life.

I, Effie Maud Lantz (Granger), was born in a small town, Calliope (now called Hawarden), Sioux County, in northwest Iowa. I was the first while child born in Sioux County. My parents came in a covered wagon across the state from southern Iowa. My father was a Civil War soldier, and the Government was giving homesteads of 160 acres of land to the soldiers. Of course they had to build a house and live on it. They brought a few things they would need with them, and a few animals, one team of horses, a cow and chickens. I was born three weeks after my parents arrived in Sioux County. They were 60 miles from a doctor and had to drive with a team to Sioux City, Iowa, for any kind of medical help. I was born August 31, 1869. I have lived a long time. I am now 87 years old.

My parents lived in Calliope in a sod house. The first winter and in the spring my father, with the help of some neighbor settlers, built a two room house on the homestead farm and some sheds for the stock and we moved there in the spring of 1870. It would seem bleak to the young people of this day. All you could see as far as one could see was prairie grass, which grew very tall and waved in the wind. The wind blew very hard much of the time and in winter the blizzards were terrible. The snowdrifts would be as high as the house many times. The men had to tie a rope around them and fasten it to the house when they went to the barn so they could find their way back to the house. The storms sometimes lasted two or three days or more. Once two of my uncles, then young boys, were lost in a blizzard all night, they just let the horses go and the horses found their way home. The boys were in sled and had some blankets. One of the boys had his feet and hands frozen. I remember how my mother walked the floor most all night fearing they were lost.

In the summer there were terrible electrical storms and tornadoes, and there were always a fear of the Indians. They, the Sioux Indians, used to come to Sioux Falls, a town near us to get granite rock that was there, to make pipes and things of, and the pioneers were afraid they might come and molest them. When my parents would hear they were coming they could take bedding and go to my grandfather’s, a mile from us, to stay all night. But the Indians never did come there. Then there were the prairie fires. This tall grass would get on fire and burn everything. The men would have to fight the fire so hard to keep it from burning their houses.

When I was about nine years old there was a big circus and animal show came to Le Mars and we went to see it. This is one of the outstanding events in my life. I still remember all about it. I was so happy and excited to got to go to a river called the “Rock River” where trees grew along its banks, and gathered plums and grapes and hops (to make yeast with) which grew there and were very nice. We took a picnic dinner and were gone all day. We had a wonderful time; we thought and looked forward all year. This was just about all the recreation we had. Sometimes, some of the settlers would have a party and invite all the neighbors.

We children were happy to have some stick candy, an apple and sometimes a small doll or toy of some kind in our stockings for Christmas.

My father worked very hard to get the land in shape to plant grain and corn. About four or five years after we moved there, just as my father was harvesting a very good crop of wheat, millions of grasshoppers came down and just devoured everything. There was not a thing left of the crop or garden. I don’t know how we lived through the winter, but we did and he managed to get seed and planted again in the spring, and the same thing happened again. The grasshoppers came again. This was too much. My father took his family, there were three children then, and went to Sioux City and got a job in a packinghouse, “Swifts.” We lived there through the winter and went back to the farm in the spring and started over again. The grasshoppers did not come again. In the spring my little sister died.

My father took a terrible cold while working in the packinghouse, from which he never fully recovered, and in October 1830, he died. He could not stand the hard work and hardships they had.

I was eleven years old then. My mother lived on the farm a year. Then she sold it and we moved back to Calliope where I lived until I was married to Thomas E. Granger on October 17, 1888. My father died during a terrible blizzard, on in History I think, for it was on October 16, 1880. My father was only 40 years old. I had one sister, Pearl, and one brother living. One sister and one brother had died and the next year the other brother died, one year old, leaving Mother and my sister and I alone.

My father was the first soldier buried in the cemetery there (in Ireton). The C.A. R. Post is named for him, “Lantz Post.” The snow was so deep we could hardly get to the cemetery to bury my father. The winter after my father died we had to burn corn in the stoves to deep warm. They could not get enough coal shipped in to supply the settlers that were there then. It was a very long, cold winter, 1880 and 1881.

After we moved back to Calliope to live, my mother had a hard time making a living for us. I went to school and started taking music lessons when I was thirteen on an organ, the old kind you had to pump with your feet. Then later I took lessons and practiced at least four hours a day and more at times. When I was 17 I started teaching music and used to go on the train to Bearsford and Centerville, South Dakota, to teach music twice a week. I had large classes; I did this until I was married when I was 19 years old.

I have written some of the most important things of the pioneer days, but the younger people of today could not have any idea of what the pioneers really did go through with. What I have written about my family and myself is just about the same all of the pioneers went through. Many of them died and some of them abandoned their farms and went back where they came from. The ones that kept well and stayed got wealthy for that country is a very rich farming country. Some of them got small pox and other diseases and died for want of care.

Gracie Lantz's grave. Gracie was Effie's little sister and she died at the age of 5. Her grave is located in Lantz Post Cemetery in Ireton, Iowa, named after her dad who was the first Civil War veteran buried there.


The DeMarce Fam said...

Thank you so much for posting it so I could read it & share it with my family. Effie is my maternal great grandmother. I have quite a few documents & photos of her, but had not seen this letter. Such stories like this continue to bind our generation with those of the past.

Janet Brown said...

Glad to see this posted. Henry Lantz is buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Ireton, Iowa. Lantz (or Launtz) Post 215 of the G.A.R. was formed here in about 1884 shortly after the town sprang to life and is named after Henry who was the first Civil War veteran to die in this area.

For more on homesteading in Northwest Iowa, please visit -- go to History and then read the first few installments of the "History of Reading Township" written by the daughter of homesteader M.M. Elder in collaboration with her father. He mentions a visit to the Lantz and Root families (Mrs. Henry Lantz was Eliza Root).

Janet Brown
For the Ireton Area Historical Society