A Selection from The History of Black Hawk County, 1878

I’m spending the morning reading my recently acquired copy The History of Black Hawk County, published 1878, and to my delight am finding the most splendid descriptions of Iowa, its people and places. Here, for your reading pleasure, is a brief description of Mr. Charles Dyer, one of many “bands of adventurers” to come to the land of the Red Cedar and tear up its supply of timber:
“One of these [adventurers] was Charles Dyer, who had a peculiarly formed hump-back, looking, as some of the early settlers described him, ‘as if he had shouldered himself.’ Dyer continued his work of plunder to such an extent that the white settlers determined to drive him from the county. They assembled, and visited his shanty in a body to deal with him in accordance with pioneer custom; but the gentleman whom they desired to see wasn’t at home. After due deliberation—as they knew that Dyer could not read a note of warning if they left one for him—they stripped the bark from a large tree in front of his rude cabin, and, with a bit of charcoal, one of their number sketched upon the naked trunk a picture of the hump-back, which they riddled with bullets. The likeness was unmistakable, and it is said Dyer understood it, as he quietly disappeared. It is not known when the event occurred or where Dyer’s cabin was located.” (page 308)

What Do the Papers Tell Us?

Because it is so difficult to find people who can or will discuss the Andreessen event, I have turned to reviewing local newspapers, particularly The Stout Weekly News section of The Grundy Register. Many hours of scanning and reading the incredibly small type (I had to finally invest in a magnifying glass) reveals an ordinary family and a hard-working, well-respected man. His several interactions with town matters show a man committed to being a part of his community and not a man prone to disturbing actions.

One such entry from July 23, 1931 states the following:

Nanno Andreessen has received authority from the railroad company to install an electric pumping device for water to the Stout stockyards. The old equipment has never given satisfaction when required. The well is now practically empty and it will be up to the railroad company to secure water from some source for this purpose. If the railroad company had rented the pump that is now installed in the yards at the beginning of the year, they would have been able to conserve much water as the mindmill [sic] pumps night and day and a great deal of water has been wasted.

Other pieces show that he was involved in civic matters, such as an entry on July 3, 1924 noting Articles of Incorporation of the Farmers Trust and savings Bank of Stout, Iowa. His name is included as one of the provisional directors.

Additionally, as The Stout Weekly News was filled with many of the daily comings and goings of its citizens, I found numerous mentions of Nanno himself, or Nanno and family, as having been Sunday afternoon visitors at one neighbor’s home or another. He was also very busy with his shipping business as other notes comment on yet another carload of hogs or cattle driven to Cedar Rapids or Chicago.

Apparently, he was well-liked and his family was respected.  His family, and that of his wife’s, were integral parts of Beaver Township and had well-established roots there. Clearly, much of what is laid out about his life, at least in The Stout Weekly News, provides no hint of what was to come that February day in 1932, which leaves more questions than answers, I’m afraid.

Final Resting Place

IMG_1450One day last summer, I took a drive out west of Cedar Falls, west of Dike, to the small town of Stout, IA. Here I found the final resting place of the Andreessen family. It was a quiet, sad experience for me. After reading and thinking so much about this family, it was surreal to find myself standing where they lie. I had pondered their stories and asked questions of everyone I could think of, and now I was standing there in front of the names of people who, in a strange way, were beginning to feel like family to me.


Nanno, Christine, Elmer, Verna. Father, Mother, Daughter, Son. Lined up, resting together in a mass grave, or so the papers said. I finally saw for myself what I’d been reading about.

Not far away was the grave of Christine’s sister, Maggie Hessenius, who was also shot that day. She was just far enough away to be removed from the four Andreessens, yet seeing the same date on her tombstone as on the others gave me an eerie feeling.


As I continue writing their story, I know I need to go out there again.I feel it is my duty not to forget.

Stout, IA: A Moment of Serendipity

My research into Stout, IA experienced a moment of serendipity this summer. One day while waiting for some car repair work to be completed at the Honda shop, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was with me in the waiting room for a similar reason. She noticed the book I was reading — Midnight Assassin — which was about the Hossack murders in Iowa that took place around 1900. This opened the door for a conversation about my interest and research into the Andreessen’s story. After a while of conversation about what I’ve discovered during my quest so far, she revealed that she was on her way to have lunch with a few friends, one of whom had grown up in the Stout area. After hearing of my story and (as often is the case) asking if I was working on a book, she said she would ask her friend if she had any recollections or information about the place or event. Feeling elated, but also cautiously guarding my optimism about receiving new information, I shared my name, email and phone number with her and we said our good-byes.

A week or so later when I was in Louisville, KY for the AP English Language and Composition Exam scoring session, I received a voice mail from a kind woman explaining that she was the friend of the woman at the car dealership and would be interested in speaking with me about her knowledge of the area. I could hardly believe it! What a call to receive! Unfortunately, I was unable to return her call for a few days because of my work in KY, but as soon as I got home, I called and held my breath to see where the conversation would go.

In short, it was a lovely conversation. She filled me in on a lot of the details about the community, the settlers, the religious factions, how people interacted with one another in that time, and so forth. She provided a few additional names for me to contact, but sadly, they didn’t provide any new leads as the folks were in their eighties and not too interested in speaking on the phone to an unfamiliar woman asking questions about an event that happened over 80 years ago.

Though I was disappointed to not get anywhere after this wonderful second conversation, I was more than joyful about the serendipitous meeting at the dealership and the nice woman’s consideration to pass along my information to her friend. Even more, I was touched by the second woman’s call which gave me a better picture of the town and its people.

My thoughts return to Stout and the journey continues.

My Current Project: Stout, IA

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with an event that occurred in rural Iowa in 1932. Many of my friends at work have heard me talk about this, some at great length because I get so absorbed in describing what I’ve discovered in my research. The story is not a pleasant one, but it’s pretty typical for the times, given that 1932 was in the heart of the Depression, an event that took its toll on Iowa farmers in many ways, economically and, more importantly, very personally.

When I was a child, I remember coming across an old newspaper clipping my grandma had in a cedar box on her dresser. It told the story of horribly tragic murder of a family in the little town of Stout, Iowa. I knew from the way my grandma reacted to it even then that the story carried with it difficult memories and associations for her. She grew up on her family’s farm just outside of Stout, which was a very small community filled with groups of Dutch and German farmers. Stout, like most areas, suffered its share during the Depression years, a fact proven in a search through its newspapers at the time. The clipping told the story of the Andreesen family murders. The father, Nanno, killed his wife, children, and his sister-in-law, and then killed himself. Fascinated by this story, I never really forgot it. However, the “busy-ness” of life took over and I forgot about the story for many years.

When I moved back to Iowa after graduate school and began teaching, I recalled that box of clippings and asked my grandma if I could see them again. I made photocopies of the clippings so that I would have a record of them for myself. Occasionally, I’d return to them, but it wasn’t until recently that I took a real interest in learning more about the Andreesen story. It’s been difficult to find much information as the event occurred so long ago, but I’ve been reviewing newspapers from the area/era and have been trying to make contacts wherever I can. Thankfully, I still have my grandma to ask, which I did, and I have some very supportive friends who’ve guided my investigation along the way.

What do I expect to find? I have no idea. I’m not beginning this journey with an end in mind. A lot of people ask me, “Are you going to write a book?” The answer — I have no idea. I have no idea where this will go…what I will find…if I will find anything…or if anything I find will be interesting enough to other people. What I do know is that I am fascinated by this story — for reasons I don’t know and can’t explain — and I want to know more, if for no other reason than to just remember this family, the children who died so young, the pain felt by the parents and the community, the tragedy of what life was for the rural Iowan during the Great Depression. Theirs is one story among many of Iowans that should not be forgotten. I hope that my search and my writing does not stir up any old wounds and does not hurt the families of those who may have known or be related to this family. In my research and story-telling, I aim to do nothing but show respect and compassion for the lives of the people I write about.

More about the journey to come.

The Beginning

My interest in local history began many years ago. I can’t say when for sure, but I know that I’ve always been interested in stories, especially stories of times long past, stories that reveal what makes us human, and stories that connect us together. I encounter these stories everyday, and I want so desperately to know more and understand the people and the circumstances surrounding their lives.

I’ve been writing about these stories for a while but never in a way that would be easy to share with others. That’s why I’ve created this blog. I hope to share with you the stories I encounter and, in some cases, the stories I uncover.