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.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sioux County History: Law and Order: Orange City

(continued from yesterday)

Now the town fathers were no pushovers. Their strong desire for this new settlement to be cleansed from hard liquor was not easily thwarted, not even by a woman who kept a business people had real trouble imagining as scandalous. Hadn't she gone the extra mile for people in need, after all? Hadn't she brought people into her own barn out back when there was no room in the Inn, when some, down and out, had real need? Hadn't she even checked on them one cold night in the middle of a blizzard? 

Still, the law was clear. The  town fathers couldn't back down or bend it to suit their own whims--what kind of justice would that be, after all?  Thus it was observed that should the Widow Masman not comply, she should, as any law-breaker would, be sentenced to spend time in jail. When she didn't comply--she refused, of course, just as she'd told Elder Jongewaard--the town deputy was to given the thankless job of plucking her from her own Main Street business and hauling her off. As an officer of the law, he complied.

Now Charley Dyke says nothing about the size of Mrs. Masman, whether or not she might have been, let's say, especially meaty or big-boned. It would be good to know whether the constable (Charley doesn't name him, but let's just call him Vander Stadt) worried about having to throw her over his shoulder. Somehow, I'm guessing he did. 

What he encountered when he came to arrest her, however, was a wholly different burden. Mrs. Masman didn't refuse to arrest, but she did tell Vander Stadt in no uncertain terms that it was unthinkable for her to go off to jail without her Bible. Vander Stadt obliged. What's more, she told him, she could not leave her dog behind--who would look after him, after all?--would he? Vander Stadt likely gulped some, but told her he thought that request wasn't beyond reason. The widow was, after all, a respected figure, a woman of means and not without her advocates.

Widow Masman was on a roll. There was simply no way a proper woman such as herself could sleep on those wee straw beds the jail kept for common criminals. Vander Stadt likely choked a bit at that because the next request--well, demand--was for her own precious featherbed.  "I cannot sleep on anything less than my own," she must have told him, her Bible firmly under her arm, her dog curled up in her lap. 

What Vander Stadt knew--as did all of proper Orange City--is that the Widow Masman had, in fact, fed "the honest wayfarer" and others who had not the money to pay for food. She may well have come closer to those righteous that Christ himself takes to his own in Matthew 25 when he separates sheep from unfeeling goats. Calvinists, good Calvinists anyway, don't lack for guilt.

Vander Stadt complied with all the Widow Masman's demands, so it had to have been a memorable day down Main Street, Orange City, that afternoon, when Vander Stadt hoisted the Widow Masman's feather bed up on the back of the wagon, then helped her get up into the seat at the front, her dog in one hand, her Bible in the other.  Wasn't quite the picture of righteousness Elder Jongewaard and the vice squad may have been looking to create, but there it was for all to see--the town's own Antigone. They had looked diligently to restrain evil on the streets of their fair city but in the process created something of a martyr.

'Twas a sad and remarkable day in pioneer Orange City.

Jelle Pelmulder himself, one of the original Pella emigres, a man of unquestionable reputation, highly respected, was selected, a week later, to try to talk some sense into Mrs. Mesman. The situation was untenable: a woman--and a woman of her reputation!-- sentenced to the dank dungeon, day after day after day.

Charley Dyke says, "When Pelmuder stepped into the jail, Mrs. Masman was sitting on her bed, with her Bible on her lap and her little dog by her side.

"You're doing well?" he asked.

"Paying my fine and studying God's Word," she replied.

Pelmulder told her that not paying the tax was a crime most people understood, but he wanted her to know that the they were all so very sorry she had to be there and wanted her out, and if she would only refrain from selling liquor in the Inn he would see to it that she would be released in a moment.

"While he was talking she pretended to read her Bible," Charley Dyke says, "but he noticed tears welling in her eyes which blurred her vision, and she took off her glasses to wipe them, and while she said nothing, she sighed deeply."

And thus ended the standoff and liquor by the drink on Main Street in Orange City, Iowa--at least for the time being.

Pelmulder let Vander Stadt know that he should usher the widow home, that he should put her, once again, aboard the buckboard with him, Bible and dog in hand, bed behind, and bring her back to the Inn she'd run so reputably.

Here's how Charley Dyke ends the story of the Widow Masman [not her real name, he says] and the evils of liquor:
And her Inn became a veritable Mecca for the settlers, who were served a real meal or a cup of delicious coffee with St. Nicholas or other cookies, for which the Inn became famous.
So on that unforgettable day, the town must have watched yet another parade, their own esteemed Innkeeper, sitting straight and proud on a wagon, being taxied home down Main Street, a moment in Orange City's history that somehow isn't celebrated each year at Tulip Time, as it might be, maybe as it should be, a story of its very own. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seems like a good topic for a woman's studies class, how unique was mrs M. For her time? Maybe a future tulip queen candidate could use this as a topic of discussion when she's debating the others. Orange City is in a growing phase now as it was back in pioneer times. Woman now are more equal and less dependent on men as was the way back in the pioneer days of NW Iowa.