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The two explorers, along with their five crewmen, stepped ashore near where the Iowa river flowed into the Mississippi. It is believed that the voyage marked the first time that white people visited the region of Iowa.
After surveying the surrounding area, the Frenchmen recorded in their journals that Iowa appeared lush, green, and fertile. For the next years, thousands of white settlers would agree with these early visitors: Iowa was indeed lush and green; moreover, its soil was highly productive. In fact, much of the history of the Hawkeye State is inseparably intertwined with its agricultural productivity.
Iowa stands today as one of the leading agricultural states in the nation, a fact foreshadowed by the observation of the early French explorers. The Indians Before , however, the region had long been home to many Native Americans. The Potawatomi, Oto, and Missouri Indians had sold their land to the federal government by while the Sauk and Mesquaki remained in the Iowa region until The Santee Band of the Sioux was the last to negotiate a treaty with the federal government in The Sauk and Mesquaki constituted the largest and most powerful tribes in the Upper Mississippi Valley.
They had earlier moved from the Michigan region into Wisconsin and by the s, they had relocated in western Illinois. There they established their villages along the Rock and Mississippi Rivers. They lived in their main villages only for a few months each year. At other times, they traveled throughout western Illinois and eastern Iowa hunting, fishing, and gathering food and materials with which to make domestic articles. Every spring, the two tribes traveled northward into Minnesota where they tapped maple trees and made syrup.
In , the federal government informed the two tribes that they must leave their villages in western Illinois and move across the Mississippi River into the Iowa region. The federal government claimed ownership of the Illinois land as a result of the Treaty of The move was made but not without violence. Chief Black hawk, a highly-respected Sauk leader, protested the move and in returned to reclaim the Illinois village of Saukenauk.
For the next three months, the Illinois militia pursued Black Hawk and his band of approximately Indians northward along the eastern side of the Mississippi River.
The Indians surrendered at the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin, their numbers having dwindled to about This encounter is known as the Black Hawk War. As punishment for their resistance, the federal government required the Sauk and Mesquaki to relinquish some of their land in eastern Iowa. This land, known as the Black Hawk Purchase, constituted a strip 50 miles wide lying along the Mississippi River, stretching from the Missouri border to approximately Fayette and Clayton Counties in Northeastern Iowa.
After most Sauk and Mesquaki members had been removed from the state, some Mesquaki tribal members, along with a few Sauk, returned to hunt and fish in eastern Iowa. The Indians then approached Governor James Grimes with the request that they be allowed to purchase back some of their original land.
The great majority of newcomers came in family units. Most families had resided in at least one additional state between the time they left their state of birth and the time they arrived in Iowa. Sometimes families had relocated three or four times before they reached Iowa. At the same time, not all settlers remained here; many soon moved on to the Dakotas or other areas in the Great Plains.
Most northeastern and southeastern states were heavily timbered; settlers there had material for building homes, outbuildings, and fences. Moreover, wood also provided ample fuel.
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Once past the extreme eastern portion of Iowa, settlers quickly discovered that the state was primarily a prairie or tall grass region. Trees grew abundantly in the extreme eastern and southeastern portions, and along rivers and streams, but elsewhere timber was limited.
In most portions of eastern and central Iowa, settlers could find sufficient timber for construction of log cabins, but substitute materials had to be found for fuel and fencing. For fuel, they turned to dried prairie hay, corn cobs, and dried animal droppings. In southern Iowa, early settlers found coal outcroppings along rivers and streams.
People moving into northwest Iowa, an area also devoid of trees, constructed sod houses. Some of the early sod house residents wrote in glowing terms about their new quarters, insisting that "soddies" were not only cheap to build but were warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Settlers experimented endlessly with substitute fencing materials. Some residents built stone fences; some constructed dirt ridges; others dug ditches. The most successful fencing material was the osage orange hedge until the s when the invention of barbed wire provided farmers with satisfactory fencing material.
Early settlers recognized other disadvantages of prairie living. Many people complained that the prairie looked bleak and desolate. One woman, newly arrived from New York State, told her husband that she thought she would die without any trees. Emigrants from Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries, reacted in similar fashion. These newcomers also discovered that the prairies held another disadvantage - one that could be deadly.
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Prairie fires were common in the tall grass country, often occurring yearly. Diaries of pioneer families provide dramatic accounts of the reactions of early Iowans to prairie fires, often a mixture of fear and awe.
When a prairie fire approached, all family members were called out to help keep the flames away. One nineteenth century Iowan wrote that in the fall, people slept "with one eye open" until the first snow fell, indicating that the threat of fire had passed. Pioneer families faced additional hardships in their early years in Iowa. Constructing a farmstead was hard work in itself.
Families not only had to build their homes, but often they had to construct the furniture used. Newcomers were often lonely for friends and relatives. Pioneers frequently contracted communicable diseases such as scarlet fever. Fever and ague, which consisted of alternating fevers and chills, was a constant complaint.
Later generations would learn that fever and ague was a form of malaria, but pioneers thought that it was caused by gas emitted from the newly turned sod. Moreover, pioneers had few ways to relieve even common colds or toothaches. Early life on the Iowa prairie was sometimes made more difficult by the death of family members.
Some pioneer women wrote of the heartache caused by the death of a child. One women, Kitturah Belknap, had lost one baby to lung fever. When a second child died, she confided in her diary: Death has again entered our home. This time it claimed our dear little John for its victim. It was hard for me to give him up but dropsy on the brain ended its work in four short days We are left again with one baby and I feel that my health is giving way.
These early settlers soon discovered that prairie land, although requiring some adjustments, was some of the richest land to be found anywhere in the world. Moreover, by the late s, most of the state had been settled and the isolation and loneliness associated with pioneer living had quickly vanished.
Railroad Fever As thousands of settlers poured into Iowa in the mids, all shared a common concern for the development of adequate transportation. Iowans, like other Midwesterners, were anxious to start railroad building in their state.
In the early s, city officials in the river communities of Dubuque, Clinton, Davenport, and Burlington began to organize local railroad companies. City officials knew that railroads building west from Chicago would soon reach the Mississippi River opposite the four Iowa cities. With the s, railroad planning took place which eventually resulted in the development of the Illinois Central, the Chicago and North Western, reaching Council Bluffs in A short time later a fifth railroad, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St.
Paul, and Pacific, also completed its line across the state. The completion of five railroads across Iowa brought major economic changes. Of primary importance, Iowans could travel every month of the year. During the latter ninetieth and early twentieth centuries, even small Iowa towns had six passenger trains a day. Steamboats and stagecoaches had previously provided transportation, but both were highly dependent on the weather, and steam boats could not travel at all once the rivers had frozen over.
Before , Iowa contained some manufacturing firms in the eastern portion of the state, particularly all made possible by year-around railroad transportation. Many of the new industries were related to agriculture. In time, this firm took the name Quaker Oats. Meat packing plants also appeared in the s in different parts of the state: Americans had long considered education important and Iowans did not deviate from that belief.
Early in any neighborhood, residents began to organize schools. The first high school was established in the s, but in general, high schools did not become widespread until after Private and public colleges also soon appeared. By , the Congregationalists had established Grinnell College. The Catholics and Methodists were most visible in private higher education, however. As of , they had each created five colleges: The establishment of private colleges coincided with the establishment of state educational institutions.
In the mids, state officials organized three state institutions of higher learning, each with a different mission. Iowans were also quick to organize churches.
Beginning in the s, the Methodist Church sent out circuit riders to travel throughout the settled portion of the state. Each circuit rider typically had a two-week circuit in which he visited individual families and conducted sermons for local Methodist congregations.
As more settled communities appeared, the Methodist Church assigned ministers to these stationary charges. Catholics also moved into Iowa soon after white settlement began.