The period in the life of George Adam Engle in the interim between his discharge from the Union Army Dec. 214, 1861 and the day of his marriage on Oct. 22, 1673, is only sparsely recorded. I neglected to make any written record although opportunities were plentiful, what with his frequent visits to our home, which visits sometimes spanned many weeks. This was during my youth when I had no idea of the lore to be gleaned from tales of his youth and his far flung travels. Usually he would share my room with me, occupying the other twin bed, and I do not recall. his ever complaining about anything. Once or twice when I had my light on till the wee hours reading a book from the Library, he would wake up and say, "Mack, he never could say Max", don't you think you ought to get some sleep."
He loved my mother's cooking (she was the best cook that I ever knew) but actually he could eat any kind of food without complaint, including a pack mule when the need arose. He was of pure German descent, his mother and father, as well as his grandmother and grandfather, being pure German. Thus he inherited, or was taught to like fats. The fat part of the meat, which I carefully removed, he would take onto his plate, at dinner time, and consume with gusto. For a quick snack, I might spread a slice of bread with a little butter and a lot of my mother's home made jam or jelly, but Gramp, as I called him, would spread a slice of bread with a thick layer of solidified bacon fat, from the can my mother kept for seasoning purposes. On top of the fat he would sprinkle a quarter teaspoon of salt. He used salt on everything as heavily as a small boy uses sugar. Not knowing what we do today about the hazards of saturated fats and sodium salt, the poor old fellow only lived to be 94 years old.
He was a master carpenter so he always had three large chests of tools with him wherever he went. As a boy I enjoyed his teaching me how to use a hand-saw, "always watch your mark from the far side of the saw and you'll follow the line easier". He taught me how to hone a knife in order to get a keen edge, "always roll the blade on its back, never on its edge, as you change directions on the stone". He taught me how to pop corn in an iron skillet, and how to parch dried field corn. He could have taught me many more things had I but given him the opportunity.
My aunt, Marie Engle Johnson, whom Gramp called 'Mame' herself a writer of great volumes of poetry, prose, and stories, was thankfully more cognizant of the value of the recorded word. She did, on the occasion of his visits to her, write many of his stories down and encouraged him to write them himself. She saved them all and I have them, thanks to her son, Charles F. Johnson, who passed them along to me, after her death. I will draw from them in my present attempt to relate some of his history. I can only hope that I can devise their proper sequence. Certain specific items I will elaborate on in separate stories which you might also like to read.
G. A. Engle-- that was the way he signed his name, even in letters to his wife-- had apparently suffered, at some time in his early youth, a severe case of Pneumonia. It left him with a high susceptibility to colds. His doctor had even recommended a sea voyage as an aid to recuperation. Now we all know that boys from the country, to whom $200.00 is a vast sum of money, are rarely found at sea, except as a deck hand. At this time, however, George was rather despondent over having been discharged, after two months in the Union army, simply because he had only one good eye. He had gouged one eye out in a whittling accident during his early youth. In 1860, when he was only 16 years old, he had successfully completed a contract to build a bridge in the area, making a tidy sum of money, sufficient for a trip via the Isthmus to the far West. He had yearned to go west since hearing the stories of the gold rush of 1849.
It was on the 6th day of April, just thirteen days before his 16th birthday, in 1862, that he headed for New York City. It was on that same fateful date, as he was to learn later, that his brother Alexander, not yet 21 years of age, was wounded in the battle of Shiloh. Alex died of his wounds on May First. George booked passage on a ship of the Vanderbilt line called "The Champion". This ship carried him down to the town of Aspinwall, on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama. Lacking a canal at that time, it became a matter of wagon or horseback travel across to the other side. There he boarded another ship "The Louisiana", which took him to San Francisco, where he was thankful to land on May 20, 1862. He often spoke of his 29 days aboard ship as the worst days of his life. Half the time he was so sick he feared he would die, then he was so sick that he feared that he wouldn't die. Many landlubbers such as George took the water route between east and west to avoid the hazard of unfriendly Indians, but, after that one voyage, George opined that be would henceforth take his chances with the Indians.
From San Francisco George took a river steamer to Sacramento, then on to Marysville, stopping for a short time in Nevada City where he replenished his funds by sharpening crosscut saws at a lumber mill for two weeks. Incidentally, if you are ever in Nevada City, don't utter the supposition that the city was named after the state of Nevada. The local citizenry will bluntly inform you that such was not the case, in fact it was probably just the opposite. Don't press the issue, drop the subject so that you may still be able to enjoy the scenery.
During his brief stay in Nevada City, George met up with an elderly man from back East, and a young Irishman. They agreed to get together for a trip across the Sierra Nevada mountains (for mutual company and protection, one might presume) to Virginia City, Nevada. We suppose that the three companions parted company as soon as they reached the relative safety of town. He never mentioned them again.
The story is told that a Mr. Comstock and his friend, "Old Virginia" Finney, along with two or three of their acquaintances, had located some placer diggings in the area. One night, ‚while on their way to their camp site, staggering drunk, Old Virginia stumbled and fell, breaking his bottle against a rock. When he finally got to his feet he picked up the remnants of the bottle and scattered the last few drops of whiskey around the spot, and shouted I christen thee 'Virginia Town', the queen of the placers". From that occasion, it is said, Virginia City got its name.
The only "newspapers" in the area prior to 1858 were hand-written sheets. They were passed around from camp to camp to the miners, who hungered for news of the outside world. In those days an editor moved frequently, taking his materials along with him, setting up shop wherever profit seemed most likely. Alfred James and W. L. Jernigan opened the first formal printed newspaper in the area on Dec. 18, 1858. There was a population of only 1000 in the entire region at the time.
In November, 1859, the newspaper (The Territorial Enterprise) was moved from Genoa to Carson City. (Nevada was not yet a state, but was a part of the Utah Territory). The paper was then purchased by Jonathon Winters and I. B. Wollard. They moved the paper then to Virginia City where, on Mar. 2, 1861 Wollard sold his interest to Joseph T. Goodman and D. E. McCarthy. In a short time Williams sold out to D. Driscoll. The paper became a daily on Sept. 214, 1861 Steam power was installed on July 31, 1863. After buying out McCarthy, Goodman held on to the paper until 1874.
When George Engle reached Virginia City the Enterprise was housed off "C" Street in a narrow, red-brick building with iron work on the front. Engle got the contract to build a new building to house the paper. Unfortunately this building was destroyed in the great fire that swept "C" Street, along with many nearby dwellings. The building that replaced it now stands as a tourist attraction. Goodman left the paper in 1874 and it eventually closed down in 1893. Engle worked also on the Pipers Opera House, directly across the street, where the stage sloped toward the audience for ease of view, instead of the floor under the audience sloping toward the stage, as is common in modern theaters. One wonders how much difficulty this might have posed for the players.
To our knowledge George Engle never mentioned how he acquired his knowledge of ores and minerals, so it must be presumed that he picked it up from other prospectors with more experience, as he traveled about San Francisco, Gold Hill, Washoe, lone, Austin, and Tonopah, to name but a few. He traveled by horse-back with a pack-mule, sometimes with a companion, sometimes alone. He learned one lesson well, that is: if you peel your eyes only for Gold, caring for nothing else, you might just park your backside on a rich out cropping of Iron, Manganese, Cooper, Chalk or Nickel, right by your campsite, and leave a fortune behind you next morning when you set out on your search for Gold.
Traveling about the country and prospecting in the West does require a modicum of expense money, even with a horse and pack-mule, or even just a burro. To support his endeavors, George would stop occasionally to gather funds through plying his trade as master carpenter and cabinet maker. In addition he would obtain funds, called a "grub-stake", from friends back home who were enchanted with the thought of a share in a rich bonanza but were lacking in the inclination to brave the wilds of the western wilderness. On one of his later trips he staked claims on an out cropping of rich Iron ore off the southwest slopes of Sherman Peak near the present town of Gabs, Nevada.
Those were for the Stoudor boys of Newton, Iowa. Adjacent to them he staked claims for himself. Then on closer to Gabs he staked Iron claims for another man ‚who had "staked" him. This man died without ever developing his property, but he left the claims to his church. Years later, in 1926, the Church leased the property to a company called Standard Slag, under a royalty agreement of 26 cents per ton. They started production in a large way and shipped many thousands of tons of high grade Iron ore until 1970, when it finally played out.
Engle's own claims, and those of the Stouders, which he later bought, were patented but never worked until the late 1960s. A small group, sparsely financed, built a good road up to the property and even shipped a few hundred tons, but they went broke. The mines are still owned by one of Engle's two remaining daughters, Mrs. W.E. Stanard. It is the richest variety of Iron ore that God ever made, and, some day, when a ton of Iron ore at Gabs, Nevada is worth more than a ton of gravel in Azusa, California, perhaps the mine will open again. In the canyon below the mine, I climbed over a solid nugget of specular Hematite that probably weighed over 50 tons. It was larger than a Volkswagen and was polished a glistening gray-black by the centuries of gully washers that had crashed over it. I yearned to take it home with me, but what could I do with a 50 ton souvenir? Leave it there -- and it's still there.
On one trip through the broad expanse of Nevada (be told me this story himself), he had a partner by the name of Baldwin. They were heading back east before Winter had set in for sure, and the going was rough. They had run out of supplies long since, and, in fact, had already killed and butchered their pack mule. Finally Baldwin said "Engle, I've had enough of this and I'm heading back to the coast. If you must go back to Iowa then you'll just have to go it alone". Engle said, "that's alright with me but I have to get back and put in some crops on my farm". So they divided the remainder of the mule-meat and they parted company. George learned later that Baldwin went back to the Los Angeles area and located on some hills between there and the Pacific ocean which he thought might be a good real estate prospect. It turned out that they were full of Oil and never were much account for homes and such. After he left Baldwin there in Eastern Nevada, George came across a beautiful outcropping of Mica in massive blocks from which could be peeled large sheets of transparent Mica. He staked it and thought he had properly oriented himself, but he never could find it again.
It is apparent by now that George Engle was a traveler at heart, seemingly unable to remain in one place for too long. His trips across country were frequent, extending through the years that he maintained a farm and a family of seven daughters and one son (my father) in close proximity to the town of Baxter, Iowa.
According to his own hand-written story it was in May of 1867 that he took a river boat down the Ohio river, first to St. Louis, and then to Kansas City. From there he went to Ft. Scott and then, by stagecoach to Humbolt, where he dined at the wayside inn of Kate Bender. If you've never hoard of Kate, she was notorious for splitting the skulls of lone travelers, taking their valuables, and then burying them in her own secret graveyard. George said that he figured that he escaped a similar fate because he looked as if his worldly possessions weren't worth the effort of digging a hole.
He proceeded then to New Chicago, (now Chanute) Kansas, as the next leg in a journey toward Texas, where he hoped to buy a large herd of cattle, drive them across country to Nevada, to sell them to the miners and make his fortune. Instead he tarried a while, as was his habit, to replenish his funds by building the first school-house in the town. The first term of school was taught by Mary Ellen Lease, who acquired fame later as a Woman Suffragist, Lecturer, and Leader. He built for himself a nice store building, but soon disposed of it in a trade, sight unseen, for a section (360 acres) of land in the rich, rolling farm land near Baxter, Iowa. When he went later to check on his land, he found that, through the untimely death of the former owner, and, poor handling of the title by a man named Slade, the 360 acres had diminished to 40 acres. That was some time later, however, New Years day, 1870, to be exact.
In the interim he had worked in another trip to Nevada, for more prospecting. This trip carried him into Utah Territory. He was prospecting in an area about 100 miles north of Promontory, the location, near Ogden where the golden spike was driven to commemorate the completion, and joining, of the Central Pacific railroad, built from the West, and the Union Pacific railroad, built from the East. Rumors traveled fast, and Engle heard of the big event about to occur. Ha packed, and made his way as fast as possible to join in on the celebration. He was there when the first train from west to east pulled through. He boarded it and rode home in style to Iowa.
As stated previously, George Engle reached Baxter on New Years Day, 1870. It was late at night, pitch dark, no sidewalks, and no street lights. He had been directed, by the station agent, to the Clifton House, and Inn, which he eventually found after much difficulty. In the days that followed he located his property and discovered how his supposed 360 acres was now only 40 acres. Not one to cry over spilt milk, he set about putting the land in order and putting in a crop. He was the first Engle to take up residence in the state of Iowa, and though only he and his family have ever lived on that ground. The home he built on it, in which be reared his family, was moved to an adjoining piece of land many years later, but was later destroyed by fire. (Max was unaware of my great grandfather Walter who was in Preston MN in 1865 after briefly settling in Iowa. k.j.e)
Taking advantage of the knowledge that seeds, once properly placed in good Iowa ground, usually know what they are supposed to do, George Engle took his leave and headed East to visit friends and relatives in the area of his boy-hood home near Benton Ridge, Ohio. He enjoyed the people but he felt he had out-grown the area and could never again be content to remain there. He went on east to Elk Lick (now known as Salisbury), Somerset county, Pennsylvania, where his father Jacob Engle, had been reared, along with many brothers and sisters, as well as several half-brothers and sisters. All of his relatives made him welcome and were probably entranced by the stories he had to tell them about his adventures in the far West. When Jacob left for Benton Ridge, Ohio in 1838, the local folks thought that he was going "way out West". George finally left for Pomeroy, Ohio, to visit his maternal grandfather, Jacob Probst. I have a letter he wrote from there in May, 1870, to his brother, Perry, and his Mother, who were, at the time, in Kansas, the town of Bellville, it is said. Later they, with his two younger brothers, William Theodore and Melvin, followed George and moved to Baxter, Iowa.
From Pomeroy, on the Ohio River, George went next, by riverboat down the Ohio to Cincinnati, presumably to visit be grave of his older brother Alexander, killed in the battle at Shiloh. Now we come to a point where his exact history fades. But it is 1870 by now and we do know that by 1673 he had a good working farm and a two story house with a barn and out-buildings on it. We may be safe to assume that the next two or three years must have been spent largely on development and building on that farm. He wooed and won the hand of a beautiful young Scottish immigrant named Ann Jane Dunn, to whom he was married on Oct. 22, 1873. Ann was 16 years of age when she came to this country and was just approaching her 23rd birthday when she and George were wed. The story of Ann Jane Dunn is an entirely separate story.
Marriage and family never stemmed the urge to travel, to seek his fortune wherever it might lie hidden, in a rich body of ore, a giant herd of beef, an invention for which the world would beat a path to his door. He never quite attained his goal, but he was always active in the effort until the last few months prior to his death on November 11, 1938.
This is not the sum total of his life there are other sketches of particular instances of interest -- but rather a synopsis that will serve to acquaint strangers, and remind relatives (who may have forgotten) as to those of our predecessors who carved for us a beautiful country out of a wilderness, Truly some of their efforts may have failed, but oven as a crop may fail, at least the ground is broken, the field is plowed for the next planting-- the next generation.
Return to biographies index page.