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Cherokee County Biographies

George W Pettengill

GEORGE W PETTENGILL immigrated to Cherokee County, Iowa in 1865.  He brought his family west from Waukuchon, county of Shawano, Wisconsin in a covered wagon.  The family members which came west included the 36 year old George, his wife Almire Northup, age 27 and their children Charles Thomas, age 10, Mary, age 8, Ida, age 6 and Mercy, age  2.  One child, Myrtle, Mercy's twin, died in infancy and was buried in Wisconsin.

George was the son of Phillip and Sarah (Atwood) Pettengill and was descended from Nathaniel Pettengill, who was a member of the Colonial Militia who marched to the relief of Fort William Henry in Chandler's Company, Osgood's regiment, during the French and Indian Wars. The family was prominent in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire in Colonial and Revolutionary times.

Upon arrival in the county, the family settled for a time in the "Bluffs", which was a small clustering of about 5 houses on the East side of the Little Sioux River, near the site of the old ford.

When the family arrived in the county there were but a few scattered settlers in the area.  Fort Cherokee, on the west bank of the Little Sioux, was the center of activity in the county.  It had recently been abandoned by the Militia, but the buildings were still used by the settlers.  A few houses were scattered along the river where individual pioneer families had built their homes.  There were no village or commercial establishments in the county.  Supplies were hauled by team and wagon from Sioux City, Fort Dodge, or Denison, Iowa.

Almost 1/2 of the land area of the county had been granted to the Iowa Falls and Sioux City Railroad to encourage the building of a rail line across Northern Iowa.  The railroad held these lands off the market until 1872.

George pre-empted 80 acres of government land in Section 12 of Cherokee Township in 1865 and proceed to establish a farm.  In 18676 their last child, Frances May was born.  She was the first Pettengill born on the soil of Cherokee county.

In those early days there were few settlers and most of the area was wild prairie.  Prairie fires and Indians were a constant danger. One anecdote recounted in the family is that during this time Almire had a run in with a roving band of Indians.

George had taken several sacks of home grown wheat to Peterson to be ground into flour.  This required a 2 day trip by team and wagon.  While he was gone a band of Indians, led by an exceedingly fat chief, visited the isolated homestead and stole hay for their horses.  The chief entered the house and demanded food. He seated himself in the rocking chair by the fireplace.  The chief was  unmoved by the squalls of baby Franc3es in the rocking chair, or by the entreaties of the mother to get up, as he was smothering her baby.  Since he remained seated and the babys cries were growing weaker and weaker, in desperation, the mother seized a pot of boiling water from the fireplace and threw it on the chief.  He leaped to his feet and dashed outside hollering and screaming from the scalding he had received.  The mother grabbed her baby from the chair and clutched it to her, expecting the Indians to re-enter the house at any moment and massacre her, and the rest of the family.  Instead the Indians decamped the area and never molested the family again.

The family prospered on the rich river bottom where they had settled.  In 1875 George bought an additional 120 acres adjoining the original purchase.  This was school land and was purchased from the county.  In 1876 George added an adjoining 40 acres of land which had been college land grant land.

In the late 1860's, Cherokee County was growing rapidly.  In 1867 a store was established in the old Fort, and in 1869 a village called Blair City was established.  In 1870 the railroad was completed through the county and the new town of New Cherokee was founded.  Blair City vanished as it was by-passed by the railroad.
In 1871 George and Almire decided that Charles Thomas was of an age when he would soon be leaving home and that they could use more help on the farm

Almira was sent by horse and buggy to New Cherokee to meet the Orphan Train and fetch home a big strapping boy to help with the farm work.  When the orphan children were lined up on the depot platform, she spotted an  undersized, red haired, urchin wiping his runny nose on this shirt sleeve.  It is reported she said, "My heart went out to him, so I took him home". There is no oral tradition that reports how George reacted to the arrival of a 7 year old in the family midst.  Willie Pettengill was duly enrolled in the little rural school down the road.  He grew to adulthood with the family.  Eventually he purchased 120 acres of railroad land adjoining the Pettengill farm and resumed his own surname.  William Hunter cleared his land and raised a large family in the county.  The undernourished little urchin with the red hair and runny nose became a respected member of the community.

George W Pettengill passed away 25 August 1881.  His wife survived him by 16 years , passing away from the effects of apoplexy on 4 May 1897.

Charles Thomas, the eldest child and the only son married Olivia Jane Hill on 10 October 1876.  Jane, as she was known, was the daughter of Arunah and Deborah (Secor) Hill.  She accompanied her family to Cherokee County in 1870, in a covered wagon from Charles City, Union township, Floyd County, Iowa.  Her father took land under the Homestead Act in section 10, Afton township.

Charles Thomas, known as Chauk, and Jane set up housekeeping and lived for a time on the bottoms, along the river on the original Pettengill pre-emption.  During the grass hopper years, 1877-1880, times were hard.  Chauk had to borrow money for which he signed notes.  In the history of the county these are known as Grasshopper Notes,. To pay off these notes he went back to Wisconsin to work the fall and winter of 1879 in the lumber camps.  Jane was left to fend for herself until he returned.  IN her later years she used to tell a story about that experience. Both food and money were scarce.  She fed herself on home grown produce and fish she caught in the river.

One day while scouting the river banks for a place to fish she spotted a large catfish in a pool in the river.  She found a post and slammed the catfish on the head, killing it.  She estimated the fish weighted over 50 lbs and as she told it, she ate fish for a long while.

George's other surviving children also married.  Mary was wed to Benjamin Terwillager on 14 May 1873.  This family later moved to Idaho.  They had 10 children.  Descendants of this branch of the family live in California and other western states.

Ida married George Smith on 11 November 1877.  He later disappeared while on a trip to Idaho and was not heard of again.

Mercy married Everett Palmer on 2 November 1881.  Their first born was Renee. Then they had a set of twins named Edward and Edna who died at age 8 months are buried in Afton Cemetery.  The Palmer's left Cherokee County and later generations have lost track of them.

Little Francy, the youngest married Joseph Stoner, on 14 January 1886.  The resided on a farm near the old home place until 1909 when they moved to Cherokee and spent their remaining years.  Frances May and Joseph Stoner celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 14 Jan uary 1936 in Cherokee.  Frances died on 26 August 1936 and was survived by three children Arthur, Bernice and Lester.

Charles Thomas and Oliva Jane were blessed with two sons.  George William was born on 10 September 1878 and Guy Arthur was born on 17 June 1879.  Tragedy struck the family on 21 October 1902 when Guy Arthur was suddenly taken ill and died from an abscessed liver at the age of 23.

The surviving son, George W married his cousin Ellen Smith, daughter of Albin and Anna (Hill) Smith; daughter of Arunah Hill.  They had seven children, Guy Arthur (Artie) born 18 March 1901, Alice Pettengill Volkert born 3 May 1902, Charles Thomas born 28 January 1905, George Fay born 31 January 1906, Leo born 23 August 1907, Gaylen born 1910 and an infant daughter born 12 April 1911 and died shortly afterwards.

The turbulent twenties and the financial problems that they brought to the farmers of the county brought disaster to Charles and his family.  He lost the farm.  For the first time since 1865, the land was not occupied by the Pettengills. Chauk and Jane moved to the city of Cherokee.

The roaring twenties also delivered retribution to son George.  The local Sheriff caught him delivering a fine variety of his home made bootleg hooch.  Not only did he rec eived a short term in the County jail, but his Buick automobile was confiscated.  This last action he appealed all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, a legal battle which was to no avail.

His brush with the law and sojourn in the calaboose did not diminish his community standing.  he was for many years an elected member of the rural district school board and a township trustee.

George was able to reclaim the home farm in the 1930's.  George and Ellen lived on the home farm until 1954 when they retired to Cherokee.  He remained a partner in the farming operation until his death 1 March 1956.  A life estate in the land was given to his wife Ellen which lasted to her death 19 November 1963.

Sons Charles and Gaylen inherited the farming operation, though some of the land was divided among other heirs.

In 1947 double tragedy struck the family.  Two sons died within a week. IN late November of that year Guy Arthur was crushed beneath a catercaterpiller9ller tractor he was loading on a truck while he was working on the job at Schleswig, Iowa.  Within a week his younger brother Leo died of Coronary Thrombosis.  Both sons left behind minor children.

Guy Arthur (Artie) married Ann Davis.  They had one son, Dean Pettengill, who currently resides in California.

Alice married Andreas Volkert. He passed away in 1929.  Their daughter Betty Jean married Dan Campbell (now deceased) and lives in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Charles T married late in life to Marguerite Danielson.  This couple produced no off-spring.

George Fay married Ora Yound.  Their children were Virginia June married to Robert Beachman; Shirley Jean who died 27 January 1929 at a very young age; Donna married Wilfred (Bill) Schmidt; Delores who married Robert (Bob Gunnarson; Lavonne (Bonnie) who married three times. to Ronald Hicks, Jess Messerole, and Dennis Harwood; Donald Wayne (Bud) who married Joan Westphal; and Sheryl Kaye who married Robert Messerole.
Of these descendants only Donna and Sheryl Kaye remain in Cherokee County.

Leo married Violet E. Riggs.  Their children were George K who married Darleen D Cummins and Erndine Ellen who married S. Wayne Ekren.

Gaylen married Audrey Mac Donald.  They had one child, Sharon Lynn who married William McCloud.

 Source: Cherokee County Historical Society family history documents

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