The last bit of it so far as I know was plowed up in 1877 in the northeastern part of Grundy County. I saw this last mile of the old road on a trip I made to Waterloo, and remember it. This part of it had been established by a couple of Hardin County pioneers who got lost in the forty-mile prairie between the Iowa and Cedar Rivers about three years before I came in and showed their fitness for citizenship by filling their wagon with stakes on the way back and driving them on every sightly place as guides for others—an Iowa Llano Estacado was Grundy Prairie.
This last bit of it ran across a school section that had been left in prairie sod till then. The past came rolling back upon me as I stopped my horses and looked at it, a wonderful road, that never was a highway in law, curving about the side of a knoll, the comb between the tracks carrying its plume of tall spear grass, its barbed shafts just ripe for boys to play Indian with, which bent over the two tracks, washed deep by the rains, and blown out by the winds; and where the trail had crossed a wet place, the grass and weeds still showed the effects of the plowing and puddling of the thousands of wheels and hoofs which had poached up the black soil into bubbly mud as the road spread out into a bulb of traffic where the pioneering drivers sought for tough sod which would bear up their wheels. A plow had already begun its work on this last piece of the Old Ridge Road, and as I stood there, the farmer who was breaking it up came by with his big plow and four horses, and stopped to talk with me.
“What made that old road?” I asked.
“Vell,” said he, “dot’s more as I know. Somebody, I dank.”
And yet, the history of Vandemark Township was in that old road that he complained of because he couldn’t do a good job of breaking across it—he was one of those German settlers, or the son of one, who invaded the state after the rest of us had opened it up.
The Old Ridge Road went through Dyersville, Manchester, Independence, Waterloo, and on to Fort Dodge—but beyond there both the road and—so far as I know—the country itself, was a vague and undefined thing. So also was the road itself beyond the Iowa River, and for that matter it got to be less and less a beaten track all the way as the wagons spread out fanwise to the various fords and ferries and as the movers stopped and settled like nesting cranes. Of course there was a fringe of well-established settlements a hundred miles or so beyond Fort Dodge, of people who, most of them, came up the Missouri River.
Our Iowa wilderness did not settle up in any uniform way, but was inundated as a field is overspread by a flood; only it was a flood which set up-stream. First the Mississippi had its old town, away off south of Iowa, near its mouth; then the people worked up to the mouth of the Missouri and made another town; then the human flood crept up the Mississippi and the Missouri, and Iowa was reached; then the Iowa