The earliest settlements made in Iowa were along the Mississippi River. In 1833, miners from the east side of the Mississippi, at Galena and the adjacent district in Wisconsin, were permitted to cross the river and settle upon the land included in the Black Hawk Purchase. The galena section around Dubuque was the first great center of attraction, but, as soon as settlers commenced raising mineral, the United States appeared, by an agent, and assumed direct control of all the mineral-bearing lands, requiring miners to take out permits for limited privileges, and to deliver the ore to a licensed smelter, who paid the Government a royalty on the lead manufactured. These restrictions became so hard to enforce that the Government abandoned them in 1846, and put the lands into market.

The men who first came to the Dubuque region were not long in discovering the exceeding beauty, and fertility of the lands embraced in the Black Hawk Purchase, and the story of this "garden land" began to spread eastward. Eastern Illinois was pretty well filled with the tide of immigration which had rushed in since her admission in 1818, and pushing along into her Western boundaries, adventurous men and women soon began to cross the "Father of Waters" and penetrate the unbroken wilderness beyond.

Elijah Buel is a native of Utica, N. Y., and was born in 1801. He had been from an early age a sea-faring man for years upon the lakes, then a pilot on the Ohio and Lower Mississippi. Becoming wearied of this life, he had decided to become a pioneer, his ambition being to secure land upon which to make a home for himself and family. His mind was directed toward the Government lands in Illinois on the eastern side of the Mississippi, and which were then in market. Leaving his wife and child in St. Louis, he embarked at that Point on the old steamboat Dubuque, commanded by Capt. Cole, an old acquaintance, and who, in the language of our informant, was "one of the best men who ever traveled the river." On his arrival at Cordova, he stopped at the cabin of a settler, and with this as his "base of operations" started on a tour of exploration. The habits of a lifetime still clung to him, and although he had quit steamboating, yet he desired to locate where he could "see steamboats." Reaching the Meredosia in May, 1835, he found there a solitary squatter, Mr. John Baker. They decided to prospect together, and traveling up the river they reached the narrows, where Fulton and Lyons are now situated. In the language of Mr. Buel, "We thought that this would be a favorable point for a ferry, and our only object was to secure to ourselves this expected privilege. We agreed to locate, Mr. Baker to take the Illinois side and I the Iowa side." Bent's "History of Whiteside County" says, in the history of Fulton Township and City, that John Baker, a native of Maryland, had settled upon the Meredosia, below Albany, in the fall of 1833. He remained here some year or more, and, in 1835, made a claim where the city of Fulton now stands. Upon this claim, near the Cattail Creek, he erected a small building. In the fall of 1836, John W. Baker, a nephew of the original John, came, and brought his wife, three sisters and a niece, the latter of whom, Miss Elizabeth Skinner, died the following year, aged twenty-two years, and was buried on the high bluff nearly opposite Culbertson, Smith & Co's. saw mill. Some idea of the privations of that time may be gathered from the following extract from the same work: "The funeral was a very primitive one, the coffin being made of an old wagon-box, and the remains conveyed to their last resting-place in a farm wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen. There was such a dearth of nails and other materials for the proper construction of a coffin, that John W. Baker was compelled to sit in the wagon and hold it together while John Baker and Edward Rolph drove the oxen from the house to the burial-place." Mr. John W. Baker opened the first store in Fulton in 1837, in the fall, in company with Moses Barlow, and they were succeeded in the spring by Church & Wing. In 1835, log dwellings were put up in Albany, Ill., by -- Mitchell, and Edward Corbin, his brother-in-law, and, in the spring of 1836, others settled there, among them being O. McMahon, Esq., now of Lyons, who erected a frame building in the spring of 1837, which was used as a hotel. In the fall of 1937, Joy Buck opened a small grocery store. From these stores at Fulton and Albany, the few settlers on the west side of the river obtained some of the necessaries of life.

Mr. Buel, having decided upon his location went below for supplies and returned in a pirogue, loaded with his purchases, and accompanied by Henry Carson, whom he had hired, landing here July 25, 1835. Mr. Buel commenced at once to make preparations for a permanent home. During the months of August and September, he and Carson built him a log house on the bank of the river. They cut the logs along the bluffs above, and floated them down and "crabbed" them up the bank to the place where needed, having some assistance from the Indians. His cabin was sixteen feet square, with a puncheon floor and a roof of shakes. He then went back for his family, and for additional supplies. On his return, he left his wife and child for a time at Cordova, they having been attacked with chills and fever, but, after their recovery, he brought them to their home. Having thus become "settled" in a "home," which consisted of one room, which answered all the purposes of parlor, dining-room, bedroom, kitchen and storeroom, Mr. B. commenced his labors on the "farm." His first business was cutting hay. Having employed David S. Osborn, known as the "Green Mountain Yankee," whom he found in a cabin near the Meredosia, where he was trapping and trading with the Indians, they cut a good supply of prairie hay, which they stacked on the fields where cut. He then commenced cutting cord-wood, which he expected to sell to the steamboats the next season.

Having no vegetables and his other supplies running low, in the fall of 1835, he went down to St. Louis to purchase the necessary winter stores, such as potatoes, onions, fish, flour, meat, etc. The potatoes he purchased of a Mr. Armstrong, who lived at Sand Prairie, between Cordova and the Meredosia, and who had raised a "sod crop" of these esculents. For these he paid 60 cents per bushel, and, with his man Carson, they loaded forty bushels into a pirogue and started homeward, but just as they reached the mouth of the Cattail slough, their boat was capsized and his potatoes were planted on the bottom of the slough. Nothing daunted, and quite satisfied with results in view of the fact that they had saved their lives by clinging to their overturned craft, they ran up and down the shore until they had warmed themselves and "drained" their clothing of surplus water, and then returned to Mr. Armstrong a for another load, with which they reached home safely during the night.

The next effort was to procure a team, and Mr. Buel went down to Cordova, to a Mr. Allen's, where he expected the loan of an Indian pony to go to Monmouth, Ill., where there was a comparatively old settlement, and where he had heard there were cattle for sale. While eating breakfast here, a party of men came along driving a fine yoke of oxen, three cows and three calves, on their way to Galena. Mr. Buel followed along, and, entering into conversation with the owner of the stock, learned that he was a disgusted pioneer, who had buried his wife, got the ague, and was pushing for the lead district to sell out his stock so as to return East. Mr. B. purchased the whole outfit, paying $50 per yoke for the best pair and $40 each for the others, $20 per head for the cows and calves. Reaching the river where Fulton now is, the stock were swum across, and, so far as can be learned, were the first work and domesticated cattle in the county. Having constructed a large ox-sled, he hauled his hay-cocks together and stacked them. That winter was a very open one and no snow fell, to remain, during the whole winter. Mr. B. therefore was obliged to snake his cord-wood over the bare ground on his ox-sled to the river bank. In the spring of 1836, he commenced his first breaking.

To illustrate the privations undergone by these pioneers, the following incident will be of interest. Soon after getting into his cabin with his family, Mrs. Buel and her infant son and only child, who was one and a half years old, were both taken sick. Before leaving St. Louis, Mr. B. had procured from his family physician a small chest of medicines with a little manuscript book of prescriptions, prepared by this physician, and instructions as to administering. There was no physician within fifty miles. He used his best skill and judgment, but the little boy died, and, with only his hired man, Carson, they made a rude coffin, and those two, with George W. Harlan, the only other settler, carried the little first-born, as dear to these grief-stricken parents as though encoffined in rosewood casket and borne beneath nodding plumes from the home of luxury, and buried him beneath the prairie sods. The wife grew worse until they despaired of her life. Mr. Buel gave directions to Carson, and, leaving her in his charge, went on foot to Elk River, where there was an Indian camp. Making known his necessities, two squaws came down with him, and, after carefully examining his wife, they went out and dug various roots, which they made into a tea, very weak at first and then stronger, and administered it to her. For six days and nights they watched her with sleepless vigilance, until she was on the way to recovery. In relating this incident, Mr. Buel exhibited, even at this far-off day, a depth of emotion at the revival of the memories of that trying time that gave an indication of the mental struggle he must have passed through, and he closed his narration with the remark, " I would not pass through another such ordeal for the whole State of Iowa."

In 1837 and 1838, he hauled wheat and pork from here to Chicago, which he sold there for 40 cents per bushel, and at $2.25 per hundred, and loaded back with salt, at $1.25 per barrel. The trip, with horse teams, took eight days.

At the time of his arrival, and for some time after, Mr. Buel says, there was an encampment of Sac and Fox Indians on Elk River. They frequently visited him, and, as he could speak their language and always treated them fairly, they were friendly to him, and exchanged venison and other game for such things as he had to give in exchange. Frequently, however, they would come down to "New York," and, getting a supply of "fire-water" at Bartlett's store, would become intoxicated, and on their return, would stop at Mr. Buel's cabin to sleep off their potations. Sometimes his cabin floor would be covered with their dusky forms. At one of these visits, they had put their guns and tomahawks overhead and laid down to sleep, but, in the morning, one of them demanded of Mr. Buel more whisky. He was told that there was none in the cabin. He became enraged, and, taking down his rifle, with threats, began to load it. Mr. Buel, his wife and Carson were all there were to contend with those fifteen savages. Coolness and courage must stand in place of numbers. The Indian would bite his rifle-ball, and make a feint of pushing it down the barrel. He was assured by Mr. Buel that he would kill him if he put down the ball. At last the ball went down, when instantly Mr. Buel seized an iron skillet and knocked him senseless on the cabin floor. His comrades took him away without any interference in his behalf. For some time, Mr. B. lived in some apprehension that the result might be unpleasant to him, and one day, while he was chopping in the timber, this Indian suddenly and silently stood at his back. But his mission was a conciliatory one. He said, "Too much whiskey; served right." When Mr. Buel reached his cabin at night-fall, he found that this Indian had been there and left with his wife a bucket of honey.

Being the pioneer, and a man of energy and enterprise, it was natural that he should at once become prominent in public affairs, and selected to represent the interests of his community. He was one of the first Board of Commissioners of the county, and held other offices, but he had no taste for public preferment. In 1837, he traveled over the county and circulated a petition for the first mail-route through the county, from Fulton, Lyons to Vandenburg (now DeWitt) to Gower's Ferry, on the Cedar, which was established, and a horseback mail put on.

Mr. Buel has lived to see his property become valuable, and the county where he was "monarch of all he surveyed," one of the wealthiest and most prosperous in the State.

Mr. Daniel H. Pearce, who died at his residence in Clinton, January 5, 1878, had prepared a manuscript, in which he gave some incidents relative to the early settlement of this locality, from which we gather the following:

Mr. Pearce came here in the latter part of October, 1838. As he says, "The footprints of the red man had scarcely been obliterated ; indeed, many still lingered here, reluctant to quit the hunting-grounds of their fathers; but the rush of immigration soon crowded them toward the setting sun, where they may be permitted to linger a few years longer, but will ultimately become extinct."

On the 4th of July, 1838, Iowa Territory was organized, it having previously been a part of Wisconsin Territory. Iowa was known as the "Black Hawk" country, and emigrants would simply say they wished to go to " Black Hawk," and the steamboat captains would put them off anywhere along the Mississippi which suited his convenience, and they would be satisfied, so that they were landed in "Black Hawk."

The first claim, where the principal part of Clinton now is, was made previous to his arrival by Joseph M. Bartlett. "At any rate, he owned it the year previous to our arrival, but had sold out his claim, I think, some time in the spring or summer of 1838, to Capt. C. G. Pearce. of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Cal. Beal Randall, of Baltimore." Bartlett, he says, had previously laid out a town called New York, and established a ferry to Whiteside Point in Illinois. This was previous to the Government Survey, as this town (New York) is noted on the field-notes of the Surveyor. The plat of the city was quite extensive, as, in breaking up the prairie for farming purposes, we plowed up large quantities of stakes, which marked the streets and alleys of the imaginary city."

The following is an extract from a letter written by Capt. C. G. Pearce, a former proprietor of New York, to Mr. D. H. Pearce:

"In the summer of 1836, I found J. M. Bartlett squatted on the little townsite, keeping a small store, the only building within a mile or more of this spot. He was the sole proprietor and monarch of all he surveyed—quite a funny-talking fellow, who liked whisky full as well as he did money. He was ready for a trade of any kind, and was always anxious to sell town lots, which he often accomplished, for some commodity, such as old harness, horses, wagons, plows, etc.—generally, in those days, minus the money; more commonly, a great deal of time, called credit, was given, particularly to such lot-holders as our old friend Hogan, who owned the eighty over against the side-hill"

"As I was running the steamboat Missouri Fulton between St. Louis and Dubuque, and sometimes going up as far as St. Anthony Falls and Fort Snelling, I had a chance to watch the little town of New York and its sole proprietor, upon whom I used to call nearly every trip. Besides its natural and commercial advantages, he would argue, when trying to sell me the site for a town, that there was gold enough in the earth in and about his site, if properly worked, to run the United States Mint. He always insisted that he was digging for gold, and that he found it in large quantities. In the spring of 1838, I think it was myself and Col. B. Randall and Col. Jennings purchased the town from Mr. Bartlett, but I have no recollection that we gave any more for it on account of its mineral wealth."

Mr. Pearce continues his narrative:

"The land not being in market, it was held by claim-titles alias 'squatter sovereignty.' One reason why this locality did not settle up in subsequent years more rapidly was on account of these 'claim-titles,' by which speculators held large bodies of land as 'squatters,' and which they held against the actual settler, until bought off. This also led to interminable brawls. Some of the chivalry, or gentlemen of elegant leisure, followed the business of making claims and selling them to emigrants as they arrived in the Territory. The method of operation was this: As soon as a new settler arrived, the above-named gentry would ascertain the 'size of his pile,' by some means best known to themselves. They would have a claim ready to suit his purse, and, if he demurred paying anything to them, contending that his right to the public domain was as good as theirs, they would very soon convince him of his error. He would be summoned to appear before a Justice of the Peace as a trespasser, or, in the language of the times, a 'claim-jumper.' The magistrate issuing the summons belonged to the fraternity, and the poor devil of a settler would have to shell out or leave, and, even if he went, would have to go a poorer if not a sadder man.

"Our Justice Courts were a mere farce. The laws of Michigan were pretended to be used as a legal guide; but the party who furnished the most whisky would, as a matter of course, always gain the suit.

"I had some little experience in a case brought as trespass, in order to get possession of a piece of land that myself and others were in possession of at the time. Previous to the suit, we had purchased the land from the Government; and, at the trial, we introduced the Government patent, yet the jury gave the cause against us, and the Justice issued a writ, to dispossess us of our property.

"Col. Randall, one of the proprietors, kept a small store near where Flournay's warehouse now stands. The principal commodities kept were whisky, Dr. Sappington's agile pills and tobacco—all of which were more or less used as antidotes for ague, and other malarial diseases incident to a new country. Cal. Randall's store was the general resort for the surrounding country. Here they would congregate; hold caucuses, talk politics, take a little whisky for the ague, and sometimes indulge in a free fight.

"New York, at this time—1838 and 1839—did not appear in a very flourishing condition, although there had been many lots sold at high figures, but mostly in barter trade. For instance, a person having an old horse or broken-down team, would trade it for a city lot, get his deed, and consider himself worth some hundreds of dollars in real estate. There were, at this time, three buildings in the city proper. These were Bartell's store, the Perrin House, and that of the Pearces.

"The first election held in this part of the county, I think, was held in the fall of 1839. The writer sat as one of the judges of the election. We kept the polls open all day, and the electors came from a circuit of ten or twelve miles; and after counting our votes at sundown, we found we had just sixteen votes, and every masculine voted who was old enough, and no questions asked.

"Some enterprising genius had plowed a furrow on the section line, between Townships 81 and 82, to some indefinite place towards sundown, following the surveyor's mark, and this was the only road we had leading into the interior of the county. Crossing the small water-courses was sometimes a rather hazardous enterprise. We were sometimes fortunate in finding a fallen tree or drift-log, on which we could cross, coon-fashion, but more frequently had to ford or swim. There was no settlement, after leaving the river, for a distance of twenty miles; at Round Grove, near where De Witt was afterwards built, A. G. Harrison had a small, log house at the edge of the grove.

"During the fall and winter of 1838, myself and my father's family, consisting of ten persons, occupied a small, log house, located about half-way between where the Iowa Central House now stands and the river. We had no great surplus of room, it is true; but being resolved to make the best of everything, we passed the winter very pleasantly.

"Among the earliest manufacturing enterprises established in the county was Bigelow's Mint. This establishment was located about one and a half miles below town, on the place now occupied by Mr. Howe. Here hard money was coined in large quantities, and distributed in every direction. So great was the demand for coin, and such the briskness of business at this mint at one time, that the workmen confiscated the machinery of a small grist-mill on Mill Creek, with which to increase the facilities and capacity of their institution.

"Tim Bigelow's money was very well executed, and circulated quite current. In many places it was quite as current as much of the Eastern currency, wild­cat bills, and was about equally as good. Such, however, was the pressure of the Democratic party in Iowa, at this time, against "Banks of Issue," that our mint was forced to suspend operations. Bigelow was driven from his strong­hold, for he had previously made a fortress of his house, the upper story being pierced with loopholes for musketry, determined to defend himself to the last. But he was forced to capitulate by a posse of regulators; his old blacksmith-shop (the mint), was demolished, and he was threatened with dire vengeance if he ever showed himself in this part of the county again."

Other informants give us the following statements in regard to Bigelow and his "mint:" The first telegraph in this part of the country was probably erected in this county. Bigelow, who was a "hard-money" man, and whose coin went current even at the land office, and with which many acres of land in this county are said to have been paid for, had his "mint" in a log house situated in Riverside, below where Davis's lime-kiln now stands. Near where the present railroad bridge now reaches the shore, there was a bridge across the slough on the road between Lyons and Camanche. Another bridge crossed Mill Creek near the present site of the Mill Creek bridge.

From each of the bridges a wire was extended to the "mint," so arranged that any one passing over would ring a bell at the house, upon which labor was suspended, tools carefully laid aside, and the artisans at once became agriculturists, and assiduously devoted themselves to the labors of the farm.

It is said that this bogus coin was so well executed that much of it passed current at the land office, and was paid out with other coin at the land sales.

Mr. Pearce continues: "There were several stations along the Mississippi in those early days, where sporting gentlemen stopped to trade horses and other property. They were asked no questions, supplied with coin and creature comforts, and passed on their course of dissipation and crime. The 'mint' was one of these stations.

"The names of the old settlers in this immediate vicinity were Noble Perrin, T. K. Peck, Robert Thomas and J. L. Pearce. Capt. C. G. Pearce, whose interest in the town of New York our family subsequently purchased, and Col. Randall, never considered themselves citizens.

"The old Perrin homestead stood on the bank of the river, between where the railroad bridge and W. J. Young & Co.'s saw-mill now stands; the old Bartlett house and store, near the Farmers' Mills, and the old Pearce 'mansion,' near the Clinton Lumber Co.'s mill. The only land-mark that remains is the old well. The old Frank Weir's house stood in Young and Arnold's Addition to South Clinton, near where Davis and Co.'s saw-mill used to stand.

"Little Rock Island, in its primitive state, was a beautiful spot. Memory still loves to linger around its stately trees. Here was our sugar camp, where each spring we manufactured our supply of sugar for the coming year. The hand of improvement, I had almost said of desecration, has stripped it of its beauty, and left it in its nakedness.

"The act of the Territorial Legislature organizing the county of Clinton, located the county seat at Camanche. Previous to this, Clinton County was attached to Scott for judicial purposes.

"The first District Court held in this county was in October, 1839, if my memory serves me right. Hon. Thos. S. Wilson, of Dubuque, was the Judge, James D. Bourne, Sheriff, and Martin Dunning, Clerk. It took nearly all the adult male population of the county for grand and petit jurors and constables. Persons would frequently have to serve several terms in succession, there being not men enough in the county to change.

"A ferry was run from Camanche to Albany. The boat was an old mud-scow, propelled by sweeps, and it was considered a good half-day's work to cross over and return. Some years later, a horse power-boat was used. This innovation created quite a sensation in the community, and the time of its trips from shore to shore, was often the basis for wagers among the sporting gentlemen; these trips varying from five to thirty minutes, according to the favorableness of wind and weather."

SOURCE: Allen, L. P., History of Clinton County, Iowa, Containing A History of the County, it's Cities, Towns, Etc. and Biographical Sketches of Citizens, War Record of it's Volunteers in the late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Clinton County, Constitution of the United States, Miscellaneous Matters, &c, &c., Illustrated. Chicago IL; Western Historical Company, 1879

 

 

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