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. 367-70.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy

Biography of  David S. Williams

Among the residents of Sioux Rapids who are now living retired is David S. Williams, formerly closely associated with agricultural interests, and through that avenue of activity he won the success that now enables him to put aside business cares. He has known what it is to work hard and unceasingly but has found also that diligence is the basis of prosperity.


He was born November 24, 1842, in South Trenton, a few miles from Utica, New York, and is a son of John D. and Mary (Evans) Williams, who were natives of Wales.  They came to America about 1840 and settled in the Empire state, where they resided until 1854, when they removed to Waukesha county, Wisconsin.  After a residence there of two years they located in Berlin, Wisconsin, where they spent their remaining days.  The father was a farmer and in following that occupation provided for his family, which numbered ten children: John H., deceased; Thomas and William, who have also passed away; David S., of this review; William T., a resident of Wheaton, Minnesota, who first married Sarah Felton, by whom he had two children. Mattie and Roy, and after her death he married again and by the second union had five children; Robert and George, brothers of our subject, both of whom are deceased; Charles Morgan, who married Maggie Jones and lives at Stony Point, South Dakota; James A., residing in Watertown, South Dakota; and Edward Williams, who is married and resides on the old homestead four miles north of Berlin, Wisconsin, this place being the first land which the father owned in this country.


David S. Williams was a pupil in the public schools in his boyhood days and assisted in the farm work until twenty-one years of age, when in response to his country's call, he joined Company P of the Twenty-second Regiment of Wisconsin Infantry, with Captain Robert T. Pugh in command of the company and Colonel Utley in command of the regiment.  They were assigned to the Second Division of the Third Brigade of the Twentieth Army Corps, December 22, 1863, and were with Sherman on the celebrated march to Atlanta, where Mr. Williams had the opportunity of casting his first vote, on which occasion he gave his support to Abraham Lincoln.  The regiment was ordered from Atlanta to Savannah and preceded through the Carolinas to Averysboro.  At that place Mr. Williams was wounded, was then sent to Newbern and on by steamer to New York city, where he was honorably discharged May 16, 1865.  It was not until he reached New York that he heard of President Lincoln's death more than a month before.


On the 19th of May of that year Mr. Williams returned home but it was several months before his wound had sufficiently healed to enable him to become an active factor in the world's work.  He made preparations for having a home of his own by his marriage in December, 1866, to Miss Eleano Davis, a daughter of David and Elizabeth (Bennett) Davis, both of whom were natives of Wales.  They came to America at an early day and settled in Berlin, Wisconsin.


Mr. and Mrs. Williams resided in that state until 1869, when on the 25th of September of that year their reached Clay county, Iowa.  There Mr. Williams secured a government claim and began the development of a farm, upon which he resided until l894.  It was an arduous task to develop the wild land but he broke the sod, planted his fields and in due course of time gathered rich harvests as the reward for his care and labor.  He followed practical, progressive methods of farming and eventually gained thereby a handsome competence, which enabled him to put aside further business duties.  He then removed to Sioux Rapids, where he now makes his home.


He has witnessed many changes as the work of growth and development has been carried forward in the county.  He passed through all of the experiences of pioneer life and many hardships were met during his first few years in the county. The nearest market was at Fort Dodge and not even a box of matches could be obtained at any closer trading point.  In the year 1869 Mr. Williams made twenty-four trips across the prairie and through the sloughs from Sioux Rapids to Fort Dodge.  There were no houses except the Suckow and Schoomaker homes between the two places and the settlers had to depend largely upon what they raised for all that furnished their food supply.  On more than one occasion Mr. Williams has fared on steak fried in muskrat oil and says that after a long trip of forty miles or more it tasted very good.  Another year he made forty trips to Fort Dodge and in the winter had to contend with the snows and the blizzards, while in the spring the sloughs made travel very difficult.  No well graded roads at that time crossed the prairie and at times even the trail was difficult to find.  On one trip his load became swamped and the team pulled loose from the wagon, which remained in the slough for over two weeks, but the goods were perfectly safe there, not only from the fact that there were few travelers but also because the early settlers were strictly honest.  In 1870, in company with D. C. Thomas, David Evans, James Hawkney and Joseph Jones, he surveyed the town plat of Sioux Rapids, he and Mr. Thomas being now the only surviving members of that surveying party.  In the survey Mr. Williams insisted on making the streets wider but Mr. Thomas, who was very close in money matters, refused to allow it and in consequence the town has narrower thoroughfares than would have been secured if Mr. Williams' ideas had been followed. Few men are better informed concerning the pioneer history of the county or have more intimate knowledge of the events which shaped its history.  In the early days there came to the district a number of very unprincipled men and the county was swindled out of thousands of dollars by fake contracts and in other ways.  Mr. Williams recalls that one small bridge was moved from place to place and allowed to remain long enough each time to collect on the contract.  As the years passed, however, the conditions of pioneer life gave way before an advancing civilization; the wild prairie was converted into rich and fertile farms; churches and schools were built and the work of development was carried steadily forward until Iowa today has reason to be proud of this progressive northwestern county.


In 1901 Mr. Williams was called upon to mourn the loss of his wife, who died on the 15th of April of that year.  Their children were as follows:  Mary Elizabeth, the eldest, is the wife of Robert Watson, an extensive farmer, living in Douglas township, Clay county; and they have three children:  Howard, Elinore [sic] and Ruth, John H. Williams, the eldest son, wedded Mary Brown and resides at Newell, Iowa.  Edward married Maggie Evans and resides at Oklahoma City.  Hattie is the wife of E. G. Boyer, of Nebraska, and they have three children.  D. J. is living in Athena, Oregon. Ora Maude is at home. 

Earnest is employed in a printing office.


Mr. Williams belongs to Buena Vista Lodge, No. 574, I. O. O. F., of Sioux Rapids, and to John Clough Post, G. A. R., which at one time had over seventy members.  The ranks, however, have been thinned out to such an extent by death and removals that the remaining members now no longer hold meetings.  He votes the republican ticket, supporting the party which was the defense of the Union in the dark days of the Civil war and which has ever been the party of reform and progress.  He holds membership in the Baptist church and helped to build the old pioneer church in Douglas township—the first in Clay county.  Such in brief is the history of one of northwestern Iowa's honored pioneers and the record cannot fail to prove of interest to many of our readers who have long known him and have ever respected him as a man of substantial qualities, straightforward in private life and honorable in all public relations.