Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Rainmaker - Ursa S. Swisher

From the 1978 History of Lucas County book.

Chariton was not out of the ordinary back in 1894 when one of the memorable episodes of its existence took place.  At that time, the event was probably being repeated in many other places, too.

In the year 1894 the most severe droughts known to Lucas County occurred.  The results were widespread and disastrous.  Pastures were as dry as if they had been burned, as early as the first part of July.  The cornfields were withered by the hot winds.  Barren corn stalks were cut for fodder to feed the animals.  Even so, much of the livestock in the area had to be sold - at a sacrifice quite often.  Some were destroyed rather than to let them starve to death.  This loss was felt for several years, especially where  young stock had been sold.  Many of the shade and fruit trees died from the lack of moisture.  Creeks ceased to run, wells, ponds and sloughs were dry and wild life perished.
Even in the face of the hardships there seemed to be plenty of money.  Rainmakers swarmed all over the country, promising rain for a price to those who were willing to listen, to try.  One of these rainmakers came to Lucas County in this July of 1894.  His name was Ursa S. Swisher.  An attorney drew up a contract between the rainmaker and the citizens who pledged the finances.  The basic facts were that the rainmaker would, for the sum of not more than five hundred dollars, cause within five days, rain in the amount of at least one inch in Chariton and on all of the territory extending ten miles in all directions from the courthouse.  No rain - no money.  Signing the contract were more than seventy subscribers from nearly all walks of life, pledging amounts of $1.00 upwards to $25.oo each.  These were merchants, businessmen, storekeepers, blacksmiths, lawyers, doctors, grocers, farmers and private citizens.  

Mr. Swisher set up his apparatus in an upstairs room on the south side of the square.  He burned various things, creating an ill smelling gas that escaped skyward through a pipe stuck out a window.  Though the people watched, smelled, and waited - no rain came.  Needless to say the faker had to move on without the money.  However, a donation was subscribed to help defray expenses of the rainmaker's stay in Chariton.

Nature took its course and the drought was ended - without man's assistance.

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