Family Adventures · Museums and History · Roadside Iowa · South Central Iowa

Four Legged Heroes- Iowa’s Only Mule Cemetery

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Oskaloosa, IA: Mahaska County (Our 56th County!)

We have been making more efforts to visit, support, and write about Iowa’s treasured county museums and I’m telling you that it’s no chore at all. Especially when they’re off the beaten path like in Mahaska County. We at The Iowa Gallivant take a detour on just about every road trip and I can tell you that you can’t find anything like this other than in South Central Iowa.

Pay a tribute to Becky and Jennie at the Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum. Pay your respects to these two mules who somehow some way made it through the brutal battles of the Civil War and found a home as veterans in Mahaska County. They were responsible for pulling artillery for the Union Army in what could be sometimes be very dangerous conditions. It well know that the human toll was incredibly high, during the Civil War, but trusted equine were also killed in great numbers. Both armies relied on their horses and mules and their life expectancy wasn’t very high. Becky and Jennie made it through the war even lived well past a mule’s average life expectancy. Folks came from miles around to see these two when they were alive and to hear their story from their owner. Today, we were able to hear their story from the caretakers of this historic property as they lay in peace. This may be something that gets your attention and raises the curiosity but this small cemetery has a whole lot of meaning to it. And it’s not the only history lesson that you’re going to get while you’re here.

Along with the mule cemetery, Mahaska County has assembled a small town on its property that is home to an amazing collection of artifacts from the early days of the Oskaloosa area and beyond. This includes a blacksmith shop, post office, school, lumber office, grain weighing station, and much more. Incredibly well kept, interesting, and very-very family friendly. Each building has its own interpretive story behind it with.

Inside the Mahaska County museum are some of Iowa’s best collections of history. Each room houses one amazing era after another. See the young man standing by a desk above? That would be the actual desk that the Iowa State Constitution was signed. It’s not in Des Moines or even the old capitol of Iowa City. It’s home is right there in Oskaloosa. Along with the flag that was carried by Iowa Union soldiers during the brutal battle of Vicksburg in the Civil War. And check out all that important but somewhat scary looking medical equipment! It’s like pulling teeth getting me to the dentist. Ohhhh that was a good one.

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The beautiful Nelson house and unbelievable time capsule.

These historical museums and buildings are an impressive wealth of local history we must preserve for as long as generations of Iowans and travelers alike are exploring the open road. What’s even more impressive is the care given to our county museums. Running on paper thin budgets from their curators and depending on untold numbers of hours from volunteers and donations. We have seen many of these museums and I can guarantee there is always something inspiring and unique from county to county. I think Becky and Jennie would like visits from more of us.

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