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The Secret of Success

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Few early settlers in Iowa were as idealistic about the possibilities of life there as John B. Newhall, who dedicated his pen to promoting the new territory, but even Newhall had to admit that reality outstripped the dreams.

“Looking out over God's chosen land," he wrote, we behold "a country of free institutions rushing up to a giant manhood, with a rapidity and power never before witnessed on the face of the Earth."

No earlier civilizations came close to doing this. "You may point me to Caesar," he bragged, "to the armies of Alexander and Napoleon, triumphant with the laurels of victory," yet none has succeeded so well as "the long train of moving emigrants going forth to consecrate the pathless prairie to freedom and a lofty civilization."

What secret weapon did the Iowa settler have that Caesar, Alexander, and Napoleon lacked? Newhall thought he knew the answer. In A Glimpse of Iowa in 1846, Newhall outlined the qualities and supplies needed in "those persons best qualified to emigrate." Of course, health and a vigorous manhood are necessary, and perseverance and industry help. It would be good to have some mechanical ability for odd jobs when farm prices are low and to repair homes. Dependable farm implements and livestock are important, too.

But the one absolutely essential item, Newhall decided from personal observation, was a wife. Married men seemed to do better, he noted. "Far from being a burden to the western farmer," a wife and family always prove a source of pecuniary advantage to the domestic economy of the household." In other words, free help with the chores. To say nothing of what Newhall called the enjoyment of some “happinesses.” Newhall discovered that most women take well to the rural life of Iowa. "Many is the wife," he wrote, "whose cheerful countenance now gladdens the fireside of the Iowa farmer, that once beamed brightly in the gay saloons of the crowded city."

While there may be a wife or two out there who does not agree with Newhall's conclusions, you have to wonder how different the world would be if Alexander had taken his wife along on his campaigns.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.