Buena Vista County, IA
USGenWeb Project

Extracted from:  Wegerslev, C. H. and Thomas Walpole. 
 Past and Present of Buena Vista County, Iowa
Chicago:  S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1909, p. 618-22.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy

Biography of  John Burr

John Burr has been identified with the history of the northwest from that picturesque period in which the broad plains were unsettled and gave little evidence of soon becoming a populous and well developed region.  The fact that he has been trapper, hunter, scout and soldier will give some evidence of his varied experience and the many interesting incidents of his life which memory enables him to relate to those who have come to this district at a later period when its progress and improvement make it like the older settled sections of the country.  But few of the pioneers now remain.  Only here and there can be found one who can tell the story of life in the west when the Indians far outnumbered the white settlers, when buffalo and bear roamed over the plains and their capture constituted the chief source of trade and profit.  Mr. Burr is now more than ninety-two years of age, but save that his hearing is slightly impaired, he is well preserved in mind and body, being still alive and active.


His experience as a soldier of the Civil war began in l86l, when he enlisted as a member of Company G, Twelfth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.  He served for three years with that command and the first battle in which he participated was at Holly Springs, Mississippi, from which point he went to Lumkin's [sic] Mill, where the troops remained ten days, and then started for Memphis.  After a brief period spent at that city they were ordered out to Black river, and later returned to Memphis and thence went by boat to Vicksburg.  Landing about a mile north of the city they built a corduroy road across the swamp and took their station in the rear of the rebel army.  A few days later a rebel gunboat came up the river and sent many shells into the Union camp so that they were forced to evacuate.  Mr. Burr then accompanied his regiment by boat to Grand Gulf, from which point the troops were taken to Black river.  They were afterwards at Natchez, Mississippi, and subsequently at Fort Beauregard, in Louisiana, returning later to Vicksburg.  They remained in the vicinity of the city for twenty-four days, fighting at that point until the surrender of Pemberton.  On the 4th of July they began celebration over the falling of Vicksburg that continued all day and night.  At that point new clothing and other supplies were given them, and after being allowed a little sleep—a needed rest after their jubilation—they were ordered to make an attack on the forces under Stonewall Jackson.  They marched about twelve miles in the rain, camping in cornfields and making a meal out of the corn.  Early the next morning they started on the march.  The day was hot and sultry but eventually they reached Jackson's army and late the next night the Confederate commander learned of the presence of the Union soldiers and retreated.  The next morning they went back to Vicksburg and from that point started on a raid to Meridian, Mississippi, from which point they proceeded to Cairo, Illinois, and thence up the Ohio river, afterward participating in the battle of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.  It was in a battle of this campaign that Mr. Burr's hearing became impaired from the fact that he was near the heavy guns during the cannonading.  When the Union troops reached the place where the bridge had been burned they made their way toward Atlanta, charged through the forest and the cornfield and entered upon a battle which lasted all day and all night, the regiment to which Mr. Burr belonged cutting off Hood's army.  From that point the Union troops went to Atlanta, and as his three years term of service had expired, Mr. Burr returned home.  He had participated in every march, in every skirmish, and in every battle of his regiment, and his services were actuated by a spirit of loyalty that none call into question.  He saw much hard fighting and took part in many long and difficult marches, but he never faltered in the performance of any duty that devolved upon him.


Mr. Burr, returning northward to Grand Rapids, Michigan, ran a ranch for a time, after which he disposed of his property interests in that city and traveled by team to Des Moines, Iowa, and thence to Decorah, Iowa, where he remained for one winter.  Afterward, in company with a Mr. Hurd, he came to Buena Vista county and has since been connected with the development and upbuilding of this portion of the state.  He arrived at Sioux Rapids in December, 1867, and through the intervening years, covering more than four decades, has contributed to the substantial development and progress of this part of Iowa.  His early home was a log cabin that is still standing—one of the few remaining evidences of pioneer life.  Mr. Burr is known throughout the northwest as the old pioneer hunter and trapper.  He has caught deer, elk, wild turkey and all kinds of smaller game, and for years engaged in trapping along the Little Sioux.  The last beaver which he caught some years ago weighed forty-four pounds.  For a long period he derived his income largely from the sale of furs and pelts, engaging in that work when the country afforded little opportunity for other kinds of business.


Mr. Burr was married in McHenry county, Illinois, to Miss Elizabeth Snyder, a daughter of Samuel Snyder, and their children are as follows:  George and Mary who are living in Sioux Rapids; Elizabeth, a resident of St. Paul, Minnesota; Joe, whose home is in Denver, Colorado; and Tracy, living in California.


Mr. Burr is a member of Clough Post, No. 319, G. A. R., of Sioux Rapids.  He votes with the republican party and takes great interest in its success, ever standing loyally by the great party which was the defense of the Union during the dark days of the Civil war and has always been an organization of reform and improvement. Mr. Burr relates many interesting incidents of the early days and is a companionable and interesting gentleman.  Born during the third presidential administration, he has practically witnessed the entire development of America under the republican form of government, has lived to see the introduction of the railroad, the telegraph and the telephone, and has watched the growth of the country as the emigration toward the west has transformed the wilderness into thickly settled districts containing all of the evidences of advanced and progressive civilization.