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. 452-54.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy

Biography of  James Harker

No history of the business interests of Storm Lake would be complete without due mention of James Harker, deceased.  Though his activities here covered a period of less than ten years, yet no man wielded greater influence or was held in greater esteem than he.  An Englishman by birth, he was a native of Yorkshire.  In 1839 his parents, James and Ann (Coates) Harker emigrated to America and settled in Lafayette county, Wisconsin.  His early education was such as the common schools of those pioneer days afforded.  He was truly a self-made man and many valuable lessons he learned from the school of experience which fitted him for the responsible positions which he held.  At the age of twenty-eight he served one term in the lower house of the Wisconsin legislature.  In 1866 he became a resident of Jefferson, Greene county, Iowa, casting in his lot with the pioneers of that county.  There he engaged in milling and mercantile business until 1874, when he turned his eyes to Buena Vista county, where he had bought government land in early days.  He organized the Storm Lake Bank and served as its president until it became the First National Bank and was president of that institution at the time of his death, which occurred July 5, 1883, when he had reached the age of forty-nine years, six months and seventeen days.  He exerted great energy in buying, selling and improving lands in this part of the state and was among those who were instrumental in hastening the building of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad through Clay and O'Brien counties in 1880.


The following tribute was paid to his memory by one who was closely associated with him:  "In all our relations, extending over a period of nine years, we never heard him speak an indecent word or utter a profane oath.  He never indulged in idle gossip.  His mind was clear and free from the foul weeds that seem to fill the minds of many in our day.  He was a total abstainer from strong drink.  He had no bad habits.  What an example his was to young men!  Such men in a new country like ours are so rare! Seldom do we see his like.  He leaves behind him a good name for his wife and loving children.  He was a good husband, a loving father, and honest citizen."  Will some who read these words ask about his religious faith?  If they do we can say that he always contributed largely and liberally to all the different church enterprises.  He was no bigot. Towards all forms of man's beliefs he had patience and charity.  His frequent expression in regard to these things was "It's all right," no doubt being deeply impressed by that great idea so aptly expressed by Pope in the line:  "Whatever is, is right."  He believed in the good providence of a just God who would bring order out of chaos.  For his part, he was perfectly willing to leave the arguing out of the details of God's plan of government, to the priests and ministers.  For himself he was satisfied with the mild and benignant theories of the Universalist faith and was therefore a member in good standing of that church at the time of his death.  Largely tolerant of the tolerant of others he often said during his sickness "When I am dead invite all preachers to my funeral."


In 1859 Mr. Harker was married to Miss Mary Allison, who was born in England, a daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Thomas Allison, whom she accompanied to the United States as a child, the family home being established in Jo Daviess county, Illinois.  Her father was a well known Methodist minister and rode the circuit between the years 1844 and 1860.  Mrs. Harker obtained her early education in one of the little log school houses so characteristic of pioneer times and subsequently attended St. Clair Seminary.  Her first teacher was William R. Rowley of Galena, Illinois, who was a member of the staff of General U. S. Grant during the Civil war and later became prominently identified with the Grand Army of the Republic, several posts having been named in his honor.


Unto Mr. and Mrs. Harker were born nine children, namely:  Anna A., Jane, James and Thomas, all died in childhood; Sibyl J. was educated in Storm Lake schools, later taking a special course in Wells College at Aurora, New York.  She is the widow of George B. Kerlin.  Nora Belle, educated in Storm Lake and later a graduate of Wells College, Aurora, New York, is the wife of Zeph Charles Felt, of Denver, Colorado.  James J., educated in Storm Lake and at Faribault, Minnesota, is now a merchant at Nashua, Iowa.  He married Ida M. Petit of this county and they have one child, Mary E., educated at Storm Lake, Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Ferry Hall Seminary, Lake Forest, Illinois, is with her mother in Storm Lake.  Truman T., educated in Storm Lake and at the Military Academy at Orchad [sic] Lake, Michigan, is now deceased.


Mrs. Harker is well known and highly esteemed throughout Buena Vista county, where she has resided for more than a third of a century.  Her aid and cooperation can be counted upon to further any movement instituted for the benefit of humanity at large, while her influence for good has been widely felt and has proved no unimportant element in shaping the lives of many with whom she has come in contact.