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HERBERT HOOVER: A Boyhood in Iowa

Excerpts from an informal address before the Iowa Society of Washington by Herbert Hoover in 1927.

I prefer to think of Iowa as I saw it through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy--and the eyes of all ten-year-old boys are or should be of growing crops. His days should be filled with adventure and great undertakings, with participation in good comforting things. I was taken farther West from Iowa when I was ten, to Oregon and thence to that final haven of Iowans--California...

...Someone may say that these recollections of Iowa are only the illusions of forty years after, but I know better--for I have been back and checked them up. I was told that when I went back everything would have shrunk up and become ordinary. For instance, there was Cook's Hill--that great long hill where, on winter nights, we slid down at terrific speeds, with our tummies tight to homemade sleds. I've seen it several times since; it's a good hill...

...The swimming-hole under the willows down by the railroad bridge is still operating efficiently, albeit modern mothers probably compel their youngsters to take a bath to get rid of clean and healthy mud when they come home. The hole still needs to be deepened, however. It is hard to keep from pounding the mud with your hands and feet when you shove off for the thirty feet of a cross-channel swim. And there were the woods down the Burlington track.

...I know there are rabbits still being trapped in cracker boxes held open by a figure four at the behest of small boys at this very time... One of the bitterest days of my life was in connection with a rabbit. Rabbits fresh from a figure-four trap early on a cold morning are wiggly rabbits, and in the lore of boys of my time it is better to bring them home alive. My brother, being older, had...read in the "Youth's Companion" full directions for rendering live rabbits secure...

...Soon after he has acquired this higher learning on rabbits, he proceeded to instruct me to stand still in the cold snow and to hold up the rabbit by its hind feet while with his not over-sharp knife he proposed to puncture two holes between the sinews and back knee joints of the rabbit, through which holes he proposed to tie a string and thus arrive at complete security. Upon the introduction of the operation the resistance of this rabbit was too much for me. I was not only blamed for its escape all the way home and for weeks afterward, but continuously over the last forty years...I never see rabbit tracks across the snowy fields that I do not have a painful recollection of it all.

There were also at the time pigeons in this great forest, and prairie chickens in the hedges. With the efficient instruction of a real live American Indian boy from a neighboring Indian School on the subject of bows and arrows, we sometimes by firing volleys in battalions were able to bring down a pigeon or a chicken...

...And in those days there were sun- and catfish to be had... We were still in that rude but highly social condition of using a willow pole with a butcher string line and hooks ten for a dime. Our compelling lure was a segment of an angle worm, and our incantation was to spit on the bait. We lived in the time when fish used to bite instead of strike, and we knew it bit when the corked bobbed. And, moreover, we ate the fish.

I mentioned the Burlington track. It was a wonderful place; the track was ballasted with glacial gravels where, on industrious search, you discovered gems of agate and fossil coral which could with infinite backaches be polished on the grindstone. Their fine points came out wonderfully when wet, and you had to lick them with your tongue before each exhibit.

Iowa through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy is not all adventure or high living. Iowa in those years, as in these years was filled with days of school...

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Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
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