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Audubon County


1915 Bios Index


It is by no means an easy task to describe within the limits of this review, the career of a man who has led an active and eminently useful life, and, who by his own exertions, reached a position of honor and trust in the political life of the county with which his interests are allied. The biographer finds justification, nevertheless, in tracing and recording the chief facts in such a life history and the public claims a certain interest in the career of [that] very individual, who has occupied a position of prominence. The time invariably arrives when men of this character are entitled to the proper recognition for their work, and it is with considerable satisfaction that the career of John C. Bonwell is briefly outlined in this sketch.

John C. Bonwell is a prominent farmer of Viola township, Audubon county, Iowa, who has served his township and county in many positions of trust and responsibility. He has served as a member of the Iowa General Assembly, as county supervisor of Audubon county and, in addition to these offices, he has filled practically all of the township offices.

John C. Bonwell was born in Ohio, on November 6, 1842. He is the son of Nathaniel and Charity (Lowman) Bonwell, natives of Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively. The paternal great-grandfather of John C. Bonwell was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. The family originally came from Scotland to Ireland and from Ireland to Virginia. Mr. Bonwell's grandfather, Arthur Bonwell, owned a plantation in Virginia and also owned many slaves. He brought them to Brown county, Ohio, and freed them when he moved north, at the same time giving each slave forty acres of land. Nathaniel Bonwell owned a farm in Highland county and there reared his family. He died in Highland county in 1864.

John C. Bonwell attended school in the Northern Normal University at Lebanon, Ohio, and here received most of his education.

John C. Bonwell was a valiant soldier in the great Civil War. He enlisted in 1862 in Company F, Sixtieth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and having served three months, was taken prisoner at Harper's Ferry and sent away to be exchanged. He came home after his parole and remained for two years or until 1864 when he re-enlisted in Company A, One Hundred and Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was engaged in the battles of Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee, and was mustered out of the service in June, 1865, at Nashville.


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Mr. Bonwell was married in 1869 and came west to Jasper county, Iowa, settling in Monroe township. He taught school for two years and then took the position of bookkeeper in the First National Bank at Monroe.

In 1875 Mr. Bonwell moved to Exira and engaged there in the drug and grocery business which he continued for one year. He traded the store for three hundred and twenty acres of land in Viola township and a short time later moved to this farm. It was prairie land and Mr. Bonwell has placed splendid improvements upon this farm and planted many trees. At the time he took possession of the land, there was but a small shanty and a hay stable on it; some of the land, however, had been broken. Mr. Bonwell now has a modern home and has increased his holdings until he owns eleven hundred and twenty acres in Viola township. Since 1889 he has not been actively engaged in farming. He has dealt in cattle, purchased, fed and shipped them to the extent of two hundred head annually. During the past four years, however, he has lived retired, renting out the land which he owns.

John C. Bonwell has filled a large place in the political life of Audubon county. He is an ardent Republican and has filled almost all of the township offices, serving as county supervisor of Audubon county between 1899 and 1906. In 1906 he was elected representative in the Iowa Legislature. He served in the thirty-second General Assembly and in the extra session of the thirty-third. During the thirty-second General Assembly, he was a member of the various committees dealing with ways and means, agriculture, appropriations, claims, industrial schools, the state university, constitutional amendments, state educational institutions, and military affairs. During the thirty-third General Assembly, he was the chairman of the committee on roads and highways. He introduced the first good roads bill which was the forerunner of the bill now pending before the Iowa Legislature. During this session, Mr. Bonwell was a member of the different committees on wavs and means; insurance, agriculture, schools and text books; the state university; compensation of public officers; public accounting, and military affairs. During this session, Mr. Bonwell introduced the Daylight Saloon bill and another bill making it a penal offense to assault a man in order to get a winter jail sentence. The honorable John C. Bonwell established an excellent record in both sessions of the Iowa General Assembly in which he served; a record of which he and his constituents have reason to be very proud.

On December 27, 1869, John C. Bonwell was married to Mary Miller, who was born in Highland county, Ohio, March 7, 1846. She is the daughter of Jacob and Eliza Miller, natives of Ohio. Three children were born to this union, Pauline, who is the wife of Dr. H. E. Jewell, of Coon Rapids, Iowa, and has three children, John Bonwell and Harris Lee, twins, and Thurlow; Mrs. Gertrude Hoffman, who lives in Viola township and has one child, Violet; and Mrs. Leora May Jewell, who lives in Magnolia, Putnam county, Illinois.

Although Mr. Bonwell's father was a member of the Quaker church, Mr. Bonwell himself attends the Methodist Episcopal church. Fraternally, he is a member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, the chapter and commandery, of Audubon county, and Za-Ga-Zig Temple of the Mystic Shrine at Des Moines.

Transcribed from History of Audubon County, Iowa Its People, Industries and Institutions With Biographical Sketches of Representative Citizens and Genealogical Records of Many of the Old Families, by H. F. Andrews, editor, Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1915, pp. 528-530.