Étienne Cabet 1853

The Situation in Iowa

Source: Etienne Cabet, Situation dans l'Iowa au 15 Octobre 1853. Paris, 1853;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005.

The three wagons sent last September 26, transporting to the Icarian commune of Iowa the fourth expedition, arrived at the establishment on October 10, left the 16th and returned to Nauvoo the 28th. The news they brought was in all regards satisfactory and increased the ardor of the community. Here are the reports received along with extracts from a few letters.

Report from the small colony in Iowa to the large colony of Nauvoo
Adams Country, October 15, 1853

Dear Citizens:

Since the departure of our brothers we are actively occupied with making hay. We will continue until September 1, the date until which we believe we have sufficient provisions.

Around that time we fell sick one after the other: Louviers suffered from a sun stroke that caused us to fear for his life; several among us have fevers, which paralyzes us in our labors.

Citizens Marchal and Gobel, and Citizens Connefray, Sauge, Gobel, Busque, Vidal, and Mirault were the only ones spared. Those in good shape are working at the building of a kitchen, of a cellar for our vegetables, a dairy, and a second cellar for our dairy products.

Marchal has baked a batch of bricks. He was going to make another, as well as some lime, when he was struck down by fever.

Vidal made us a bread oven, and chimneys for our houses, half with baked bricks and half with dry bricks.

Our heating is assured for the winter, which makes us quite happy.

Our animals are in very good shape: we have suffered no losses. We were forced to kill one of our calves, though this was a great sacrifice for us, but the health of our friends demanded this and we didn’t hesitate to do it. Know well that we consider our herd as a thing not to be touched except in case of absolute necessity, which, we hope, will not often arrive.

We have planted 10 acres of wheat and rye. We would have planted more but we weren’t able to find seeds. It has grown well and beautiful.

Our corn harvest was quite good. We hope to have between 3-4,000 bushels, and a hundred bushels of potatoes.

The bean production was good. We ate of it all summer and we still have several bushels after having taken the seeds neeeded for next year. We have a quantity of vegetables of all kinds.

We have begun to extract stone. Marchal’s opinion is that it will be good for lime. It is four miles from our habitations.

We know of a spot where it is easy to extract sand.

We have made cart furrows across a great extent of land in order to guarantee from fire a portion of our woods and to assure pasturage for our animals.

Roy has put up the saw and he is convinced it will go well. Several Americans have come to ask us to saw their wood: we will do this if it is to our advantage.

It remains to us to construct before winter a hen house to shelter a hundred of our hens, a stable for our milk cows, and a small log-house [in English in the original] to smoke ham.

We can only attribute the cause of our illnesses to the drought, the extreme heat, and the need to work under the baking sun.

Our illnesses have not in any way modified our opinion as to the salubriousness of the country. Nevertheless, there are a few sanitary labors easy to be done along the banks of the small river. We will do this as soon as possible.

The general health is beginning to be reestablished; there are still a few convalescents and some with fevers. These physical sufferings of our friends have not at all altered their resolution and perseverance.

The more we march the more we see that the spot we occupy can suffice to meet the needs of the community, and that it can grow here.

The most perfect harmony reigns among us.

This report is signed by:

The director: Krisniger, farmer
The interim secretary, Briere, cobbler.

Martinet, carpenter, left from Nauvoo July 3, writes:

... Finally, after 16 days of walking we arrived at our voyage’s goal. The next day we visited the area, and we were happy to see beautiful plains and especially, much lovely wood.

From the sketch I sent you, you know my opinion of our establishment. We are on a height, facing onto a river, more or less as we are at Nauvoo, with this difference that the river here is to our north.

We live soberly, as all colonists must do at the beginning. In the morning we eat cornmeal soup and fresh cheese; at noon potatoes and beans; the evening ham or something else, with this fresh cornbread.

The two female citizens who are here don’t have café au lait. They live like us, but all of this will progressively improve by our labors.

Busque, tailor and cook, writes to Couloy (the younger):

Like every countryside in America through which we've passed, the country is not in the least enchanting, but it breathes peace and promises us abundance. It seems to change the dispositions of men, for here everyone takes an equal or common part. One feels at home and that you are working for yourself. When something lacks one easily does without, and without complaining. There are countries where a terrific cornbread is made. Well here, with our barrels full of wheat meal we eat cornbread, and we would have liked to eat it till next year because wheat is too expensive. And all of this without any effort and of our own free will, without our leadership asking it of us. So you see that in this regard we are making progress.

Those who like to eat well can say: It’s not surprising that 14 people fell sick there, but we can judge better than those who are far away, and we don’t think that food had anything to do with it. It should be noted that when we fell sick we had no more cornmeal and we were eating wheat bread.

We attribute our fevers to several causes. In the first instance the new country had to be cleared; then there was an extreme drought, and finally a few swamps had to be purified.

I'm not a connaiseur of soil but after the season we had if it wasn’t good we would have had nothing. Nevertheless, though our harvest wasn’t abundant we are quite satisfied with our production.

As concerns me personally, I am a cook. I was even the best baker until the arrival of the accursed Blanch, who has come to take my job. I have nevertheless preserved some partisans and there is talk of returning me to my functions. I don’t know how this will turn out. If I get my bakery back I'll let you know by telegraph.

Conefray, blacksmith, writes to his wife:

I can give you my opinion of our situation. I have traversed all of our possessions and if we can preserve them our position is better than that which we had in Texas. (Conefray is a member of the first vanguard that went to Texas in 1848.) What is more, we have a small river that, despite the summer drought, has not ceased to flow at the same level since the day we arrived here (July 19).

We have an excellent spring, which will meet our needs even if we became more numerous. A basin was built there where the female citizens go to wash.

We have hazelnut trees from which I harvested a small bag of nuts that Louvier will give to Agathe. I won’t tell you more; the reports we approved give all the details.

Vidal, mason and plasterer, also writes to his wife:

I don’t need to tell you how much I want top see you. But though I know you are a resolute woman I must warn you that we will have much pain and privation to put up with, though we will already be in better shape next year. Don’t think that this is said as a complaint or to frighten you, rather it’s so you can say to those who want to pretty up the picture that you have to wait for the wheat to be ripe before cutting it!

You ask for many details of our colony. I can only repeat to you the report approved by all. Our harmony is spoken of there: this is a word often written and which usually exists only on paper, but I can assure you that here it is in action. We are all in agreement and all have the love of the common good. There are never quarrels or criticisms of the leadership or management. We don’t have meetings where we discuss at length the means of living well, rather they are filled with work projects and the distribution of products.

Since we are far from all centers we sometimes lack certain provisions. Everyone puts up with privations without complaining or grumbling.

In telling you that society can prosper in this place I am doing nothing but repeating what all the letters from here must be saying.

Mirault, joiner, writes to Bloudeau:

Since the day we arrived here I haven’t had a moment to spare. Nevertheless I have profited from my Sundays to see the woods and plains. The woods are more beautiful than I thought. Most is of red oak with a bit of white oak. The lime trees are beautiful and there are many of them, and it’s the same for black walnut.

The river runs alongside the woods, and since it is always at the same level we all think that we can set a mill up there.

I think that there’s nowhere the Society could place itself where the woods or the view would be more beautiful.

You speak to me about hazel nuts, my dear Blondeau. They are profuse here and I regret that I can’t send any to your children, but I dedicate my hours of rest to hunting for ducks for our sick ones.

Uttenweler, carter, writes to his wife:

You won’t regret coming here. I can assure you that the countryside is beautiful and that I'm very happy here. I went about for two days in order to see everything, but the fields are so vast that I haven’t yet seen anything.

I my opinion we'll have enough wood to establish ourselves here and make something beautiful.

As for agriculture, it’s as our friends said: good land and soil. We can plant here everything we want. Corn and potatoes will come in abundance. As for wheat, that which we harvested grew well and looks good.

As for the calves, we can have thousands of them.

I kiss you a thousand times and I ask you to tell père Cabet that I want you to come join me next summer.

Finally, the Director Krisinger ends his later by saying:

In summary, what I can tell you is that I see here a happy future and prosperity for our Society here where we are established.

These are the reports sent to us from Iowa. The letters written by those who are there, either to their wives or their friends in Nauvoo are in agreement in considering their position agreeable, and the soil as good. Those who went there with the wagons and returned speak in the same way. All of this gives us hope for complete success.