Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sioux County History--Law and Order: Orange City, Iowa

It may well be hard to believe, but there was a time in Sioux County frontier history when righteousness went to war with sin right here in town taverns, and won. Well, most of the time.

Those immigrant Hollanders were not tee-totalers, never had been, no matter how tight their Calvinist collars. Prohibition was a peculiarly American phenomenon, and sometimes absolutely necessary to sustain the common weal of pioneer communities. Even in Sioux County (early Alton had six taverns, Hospers four), boozing could get way out of hand, especially during elections, Charley Dyke says in his great old History of Sioux County.

[My mother-in-law, who knew Mr. Dyke, always said old Charlie really couldn't be trusted.  I wouldn't know.  I'm just glad he's the one who wrote the early history of Sioux County and not some saintly elder.]

Charley Dyke says elections brought out the worst in the electorate--that would be males, of course; women's suffrage would take another forty years. Crooked pols had only to offer free hooch at the county watering holes to get votes. Their shenanigans were both colorful and frequent.

Enough is enough, the good Calvinists said. A congregation of the upright determined local pubs should pay some kind of tax, as exorbitant as they could hike it. The goal was clear: to run iniquity out of town.

And it worked. Sort of. 

One woman, a Mrs. Masman, Dyke says, ran the local Orange City inn, a place not known for moral horrors, but a place where a man (I'm not sure about a woman) could buy a draft or a shot of whiskey on a hot July day (or a cold January morning, for that matter). Mrs. Masman, a widow, did not take kindly to this appalling new tax. What's more, she understood the method in the mad crusade. Her place was no den of iniquity, and she wasn't riff-raff.  Among the Sioux County tavern-keepers, you might say she was the white sheep, and she'd have nothing of this wicked tax that would, hands down, wreck her business. Simply stated, she wouldn't pay.

Other liquor joints folded quickly, but Mrs. Masman wouldn't pony up or shut down.

Now the town's upright fathers couldn't countenance that kind of resolute law-breaking, so they sent the esteemed Elder Jongewaard to Mrs. Masman to try to talk some moral sense into the law-breaker. Elder Jongewaard, Charley Dyke says, may not have been much of a farmer, but he "loved to discuss theology with his cronies, especially about the millennium, which was then much the vogue."

Jongewaard stepped into Mrs. Masman's sitting room as politely as a good Christian should; but when he got to his subject, full of himself and his Godly mission, he got to the sermon he'd fully intended to bring. Mrs. Mesman simply wouldn't respond. Her grim silence likely set off his righteous indignation and turned his fire and brimstone perfectly volcanic. 

Mrs. Masman said absolutely nothing, but rocked back and forth ever more dangerously in her old sitting room rocker, as if the very floor beneath her were aflame.

Once Jongewaard's preaching ended and the terms of her iniquity were clearly explained, Mrs. Masmen stopped abruptly, sat up in her chair, and then exploded in a unrighteous tirade old Charley claimed he couldn't quote in a keepsake Sioux County history suitable for women and children. What he figured he could say, he did. It goes like this: "Ye pharisee and scribe, ye hypocrite. You sit there and wink your eyes and groan and grunt like an old sow in heat. Get out of this house or I'll hit you over the snout with this stick."

Jongewaard stood, shocked and offended, snorted a little, I suppose, and then promptly departed, Dyke says, "as quickly as his dignity would permit."

Soon enough, I'm sure, he reported back to the vice squad. It was awful, he must have said--it was a sinful horror. All agreed that something had to be done to Mrs. Masman.

Stay tuned.  There'll be more from Law and Order: Orange City tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

3 cheer's for Mrs. Masman.

Anonymous said...

hip-hip hooray! Hip-hip hooray! Hip-hip hooray! Mrs. Johnson to Harper Valley P.T.A.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, the photo is worth studying . It llooks like one of the gentlemen is a blacksmith, and it appears that a couple woman are in the photo behind the bar. This may be part of the Wild Midwest!