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Early Settlement of Butler County






In the early days, Butler county was merged into and made a part of Buchanan, for judicial and local government purposes. It was however, so sparsely settled at the time that it never took any part in the councils of the county, nor is there any record showing that polls were opened at any point for elections of officers for the “consolidated county,” so that territory was called a part of Buchanan more for convenience than owing to the fact. The whole of Butler was then considered a township.

In 1853 enough settlements had been made to warrant an attempt to organize the county. Accordingly, in May of that year, Judge Roszel, of Buchanan county, appointed John T. Barrick, D. C. Overman, and William G. Payne as commissioners for that purpose, and for the location of the county seat. They selected Clarksville, as narrated elsewhere. In the following August the same magistrate ordered an election for Butler county, which was then under his judicial jurisdiction. This election was for organization and county officers. The officers were elected, among whom was George W. Poisal, County Judge; but none qualified, because there was "no money in it."

Soon after this Butler was detached from Buchanan county and attached to Black Hawk, which had been recently organized. Pursuant to the order of Judge Knapp, of Black Hawk county, a second election was held in August 1854, when the following officers were chosen: John Palmer, County Judge; W. E. Burton, Clerk; Abner G. Clark, Treasure and Recorder; James Griffith, School Fund Commissioner; Robert T. Crowell, Sheriff; Harlan Baird, Prosecuting Attorney; John H. Morton, Surveyor. Baird failed to qualify, and Aaron Van Dorn was appointed to fill the vacancy. The permanent organization was affected on the second of October, 1854, and on the 28th of the same month the first taxes were levied, amounting to $698.50.



Long before there was even any thought of permanent settlement in this region, and while the confines of civilization were yet resting midway between the Mississippi and Ohio, the valley of the Shell Rock and Cedar rivers had been made the resort of trappers and hunters, whose territory knows no bounds. They had followed both of these famous streams from mouth to source, in quest of mink and beaver, and it is not strange that the first settlers stationed themselves along the banks in their tracks. The Shell Rock valley, which traverses the eastern portion of the county, was the scene of the earliest settlements.

There are differences of opinion as to who was the first to make permanent settlement in the county, and it is a hard matter to settle conclusively, as there is no one now living, who can be interviewed, who positively knows. It can only be given as tradition hands it down.

Late in the fall of 1850, two hunter brothers, Harrison and Volney Carpenter, and D. C. Finch, wended their way up the valley of the Shell Rock in quest of game. They had come from Linn county, where they had also stopped for a time. It was a magnificent country, and game of all descriptions abounded. Upon arriving at the point on the river where the village of Shell Rock now rests, they determined to make that spot a temporary home, while they scoured the country for game. A little log cabin was accordingly erected, in which they took up their abode, and for about one year made this a sort of a "huntsman's rendezvous," when Volney, who was a married man, moved his family there. The whereabouts of any of the party at present, or whether they are yet alive, we are unable to state. The grove afterward took the name of Carpenter's Grove.

The first permanent settler in the county was Joseph Hicks, who in December 1850, tediously made his way up the Shell Rock, and located near the present site of the town of Clarksville, erecting his little log cabin about one mile to the west. Robert T. Crowell came at this time to bring the family of Hicks, and then returned to Wisconsin. Hicks, during this winter, was obligated to personate a pack mule, and carry provisions on his back from Cedar Falls, then a small trading post. The nearest neighbor of Hicks was James Newell, who a short time previous, had settled in the forks of the Cedar, about twenty miles to the southeast. Until spring Hicks spent most of his time in hunting, fishing and trapping, and then cultivated a small piece of ground which he planted to corn and vegetables. His wife was a true western heroine, and could "talk injun," or shoot a rife equal to "any other man;" it being a common belief that she could shoot a rifle ball between the lids of a deer's eye on a run.  They came from Rock county, Wisconsin, and the grove in which they settled afterward took the name of Coon's Grove. At this time the Shell Rock also went under the name of English river. When the latter name was dropped is unknown.

In the spring of 1851, Joseph's father, Henry Hicks, came on from Rock county, Wisconsin, and located with his children, he erected a blacksmith shop where he hammered away and forged the first iron in the Shell Rock Valley, until he was called upon to pay the debt of mortality in 1854.

The first piece of land that a patent was received for was that upon which John Heery, of Milton, Wisconsin, located in 1850. It lies just in the bend of the Shell Rock river, adjoining Clarksville on the southwest. Heery returned to Milton the same season, making the trip both ways on foot, and returned to his claim some years later.

R. G. Crowell, who is mentioned as having come to this county in December, 1850, to bring the family of Joseph Hicks, returned to Wisconsin, and in the spring of 1852 came back and took a claim which was afterwards purchased by Alexander Glenn. Crowell remained here a number of years, and was the first Sheriff of Butler county. He finally sold his excellent farm and went to California. He was not satisfied there, however, and again returned to Clarksville, and settled upon a farm a few miles northeast of town. He is now at Spirit Lake.

In the spring of 1851, two brothers from Ohio -- Malon B. and William S. Wamsley -- came and took claims a short distance northwest of Clarksville. They were honored and respected citizens, and are mentioned frequently elsewhere in this work.

During the summer and fall of 1851, a number of additions were made to the meager settlement in this part of the county, among whom were Morrison A. Taylor, E. Ensley and Jeremiah Perrin.

Morrison A. Taylor came with his family in September, 1851, and settled a short distance east of Clarksville, where he commenced valuable improvements, but he was called by death from the midst of a loving family, on the 30th of December, 1856. He was a man of sterling integrity, and his loss made a lasting impression on the little community.

E. Ensley came the same summer and located about two miles from where the town now is. He left some years ago.

Jeremiah Perrin, with his family, made their appearance in September, 1851, and commenced pioneering on a place a short distance from where he is now comfortably fixed. His estimable wife died in 1856 mourned by all.

Seth Hilton, Sr., first came in December, 1851, but did not move his family until March 23, 1852. He erected a small log cabin about fifty rods southwest of where the depot, at Clarksville, now stands. In April 1853, he erected a cabin on what soon after became the town plat. He came from Southern Illinois. In that State he was also a pioneer, always in advance of railroads. He never saw a locomotive or train of cars until those of the B. C. R. & N. R. R. run across his farm. He is now over eighty years of age, as fine an old gentleman as any one would wish to meet. In 1852 a number of others, came and the settlement thus started in the eastern part of the county branched out and began to embrace not only the eastern tier of towns, but Jackson and Jefferson also had received a few settlers.

George W. Poisall came in July 1853, and went into quarters on the brow of the hill east of the old stone School House at Clarksville. Here he remained until 1854, when he sold to Daniel Mather, moved a short distance further north and laid out "Poisall's addition" to Clarksville. Uncle George, as he is familiarly called, still lives.

John T. Baughman, Alfred Elam, Hiram Beard, John Armstrong, C. N. Burton, W. E. Burton, and W. R. Butler, all came this year and located in the neighborhood. John Heery, who has been previously mentioned, brought his family this year.

The Clark brothers also came and located near the present town.

The above were about all the very earliest settlers in this region, and all of those who are yet alive in comfortable circumstances.

During the spring, summer and fall of 1854, a number more came in rapid succession, among whom the names of the following are remembered: O. A. Strong, John H. Morton, John Palmer, David Blakely, A. VanDorn, T. T. Rawson, J. J. Eichar, M. M. Trumbull, William Brandon, R. Hardy, Abner Farlow, J. M. Vincent and Daniel Mather.

The settlement spoken of embraced the eastern part of the county. In the meantime the northern part of the county had received its first settlers, and neighborhoods began to spring up. Among the pioneers of this region, irrespective of order as to the time they came in, were, Mr. Laken, Comodore Bennett, John Fox, Lum Coleston, James Griffith, John and Aaron Hardman, John H. Miller, John Boggs, John M. Hart, Dave Miller, Elias Miller, John and William Strong, Felix Landis, R. W. Butler, Levi Burress, James Blake, P. J. Ebersold, William Gough, Hugh Thomas, P. Ebersold, Delano McCain, J. F. Eikenberry, John V. Boggs, McCarty and Nelson Bement, James G. Temple, Robert Renfrew, Shadrach Bonnell, John Lainhart, J. J. Cross and Milton Wilson.

In the western part of the county among the pioneers were, W. R. Jamison, John, James, Asa and Isaac Boylan, Philip Miller, George Lash, Benjamin Needham, Messrs. Early, Parks, McKinney, Rust and Nichols, Ancel Durand, and Dr. Sprague.

The southern portion of the county was also being settled, and among the pioneers there, were, Charles and Titus Ensign, Louis Hammond, Nathan Olmstead, J. M. Caldwell, Clayton Mullarky, P. P. Parker, Messrs. Wilbur, Cramer, Parriott, Nash, the Quinns, Rube Russell, R. R. Parriott and others.

These are the names of all of the earliest pioneers who can be remembered at present writing. The different localities are taken up, in regard to early settlement, and treated at length in the history of the various townships.

~ source: The History of Butler and Bremer Counties, Iowa, Illustrated. Springfield, Illinois, Union Publishing Company, 1883. Page 234 -237.


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This page was last modified on October 13, 2006