Date: Sunday, March 04, 2001 12:30 AM

"A speech given by the Reverend E.J. HARKIN to the Leon Rotary,

August 2, l948

The first settlers came to this county in l840 and settled around Pleasanton in the southern part of Decatur County thinking that they were settling in Missouri, as that part of Iowa was Indian territory and settlements were forbidden. Among the first settlers were: WILLIAM HAMILTON, JAMES and REUBEN HATFIELD, ALFRED STANLEY, JOHN MCDANIEL, JOHN E. LOGAN and ALLEN SCOTT. It is said that ALLEN SCOTT came as early as l838 to trade with the Indians.

In l852 JOHN MCDANIEL of Decatur County freed his slave, GEORGE, who remained near his former master's home until death. GEORGE is buried in a cemetery at Pleasanton.

In the fall of l847, the Mormons, on their way to Utah from Nauvoo, Illinois, stopped for the winter 7 miles northeast of Leon, at a place they called Garden Grove, still called by that name. During the winter they wished to send letters back to Nauvoo, Illinois, and it so happened that a certain pioneer traveler going north from Princeton, Missouri, passed near their camp; several of the men followed his footsteps in the snow back to Princeton, Missouri, 35 miles, to mail the letters as that was the nearest post office. Conditions were indeed primitive and the land was mostly unsettled. In the spring of l848, the Mormons pushed on to establish the Mormon Trail, leaving however, a number at the camp for the next three years to till the soil and plant crops so as to maintain a stopping station for others who trekked (sic) westward for the next three years when the camp was sold to an early settler and abandoned.


Among the early and interesting settlements of the county was the Hungarian Colony or settlement at New Buda, begun about l852 or 5l, approximately two miles south of where Davis City now stands. A man by the name of LOUIS KOSSUTH was provissional precident (sic) of Hungary under the rule of Austria. He took part in the unsuccessful Hungarian Revolution against Austria in l848. He and his followers escaped into Turkey and other countries. KOSSUTH lived most of his life then in England and Italy, and died at Turin, Italy, however, he made several speaking tours in behalf of his followers who were for the most part, professional and educated people. He spoke in England and in the United States, appearing before Congress at Washington D.C. about l85l. Congress passed a law permitting his refugees to settle anywhere on unappropriated lands, to be held free from sale for ten years without tax or cost.

A former Hungarian Governor by the name of UJHAZY and a COL. GEORGE POMUTZ, lead a group of them to settle in l85l-52, two miles south of what was later called Davis City. They made plans on paper for a great and spacious City which they called New Buda, in memory to the capital of Hungary, Buda-Pesth. Buda is on one side of the Danube, while Pesth is on the other side. One of the early families of the Hungarian settlement was the VARGA family, prominent at Decatur City and Leon in later years and even to this day. Another family who has remained in New Buda Township is MILES BOEGAR. UJHAZY and the POMUTZ family moved to San Antonio, Texas, where GOV. UJHAZY is reported to have died. COL. GEORGE POMUTZ returned to Decatur County, but left prior to the Civil War during which he made a great record for himself. Later he was appointed as U.S. Consul to Russia, where he died in l894 at Petrograd. After his death, the consulate made inquiries at Washington about his maps showing his great amount of wealth, lands and his city of New Buda, but after investigation, most of the city as pictured on his map was waving in green corn fields and he had no wealth at New Buda. It is said that KOSSUTH visited New Buda at one time. The people, for the most part, were not suited for farming and the settlement came to an end.


Decatur was officially organized April l, l850, named after STEPHEN DECATUR, the early naval officer and hero. The commission from the state legislature selected the site which they named Decatur City as the county seat, for it was on the trail from Fort Des Moines to Independence, Missouri which is l5 miles from Kansas City East, and Decatur City was near the center of the county. The actual center of the county is l 3/4 miles west of Leon on the TASH farm and called green-castle. Many people claimed that the selection was illegal because high water had prevented the commission from examining the actual center of the county, l 3/4 miles west of Leon. A court house was then immediately built at Decatur City in l85l. In l853, however, the General Assembly ordered an election fixing the county seat by popular vote. A DR. THOMPSON of Leon got several men with fast horses to cover the east half of the county urging all to vote for Leon, then called South Independence, Iowa. Leon won by eight votes in l853 to be the county seat. In the course of years, three court houses were built at Decatur City until l907 when a new one was begun at Leon and dedicated at Leon, July 4, l908.

A wind damaged one at Decatur City. Fire destroyed another one. An old one was brought down to make way for a new one. In l876, however, the west wall was blown out of the court house by burglars. Suspicion soon centered on two men who had gone bankrupt, left town, but had just returned. A check of the livery stables revealed that one had hired a team to bring him to Osceola, and the other had planned to leave the next day for Allerton, but as yet had not gone. The Sheriff at Osceola was notified by telegraph and he came down the road to meet the desperado and found him traveling toward Osceola in the company of a strange woman from Boston, whom the Sheriff referred to as a "fast young bird." The other man, not having left town, was found asleep over his former store. The woman confessed immediately and the two received 6 years at Fort Madison Prison.

It seems that they had planned to blow open the safe containing several thousand dollars of county money, but in place of doing that as they had intended, the explosion completely blew out the west wall of the court house, the safe remaining locked; hence they got no money and were forced to run as fast as they could. Many records were damaged but previous to that time a fire had destroyed many valuable records.

When the site around Leon was selected by vote to be the county seat in l853, a DR. THOMPSON mounted his horse and hurried to Chariton, where the land office was located, to enter some land from the Government in his name. When he arrived, he learned that the news had already reached the land office and that an official in the office by the name of OLIVER L. PALMER had entered 80 acres east of Leon in the name of his father-in-law, ISAAC LEFFLER of Burlington, Iowa. DR. THOMPSON entered 80 acres where Leon now stands. PORTER W. EARL entered the 80 west of Leon; SAMUEL BAIRD, the l20 south; while the l60 acres north of Leon was already entered by URIAH SHAFFER in l850. DR. THOMPSON donated 40 acres to the town and it was surveyed in May, l853.

Prior to the time when Leon was surveyed, it was called Independence, Iowa, later South Independence, and finally the state legislature in l854-5, named it Leon, suggested by W.H. CHEEVERS, a veteran of the Mexican War.

The first residence in Leon was built by THOMAS H. EAST. It was a log cabin erected several years before the town was surveyed.

The school building was erected in Leon in l854. At that time there were 4 stores in the town and about 40 residences. By l860, there were 600 inhabitants. In l870, there were 820 people living in Leon. Leon was incorporated in l858.

One of the early settlers was A.T. FISHBURN, who came from Van Buren County in l856. He built a grist mill for UNCLE BILLY DAVIS, the founder of Davis City. Later he built one for himself at Terre Haute and managed it for three years and then returned to Leon in l860 and put the machinery in the one east of Leon.

The first newspaper in Leon was the Leon Pioneer, begun l855 by the INKLEY BROS. It was later sold to PARSONS and CASTER, and finally to JOHN FINLEY, who changed the name to the Democratic Reporter. It was Democratic in politics.

The Leon light plant was constructed in l888 and was owned and operated by the City of Leon until l904. The Leon Telephone Company was established in January, l896. the municipal water supply came in l909. The first railroad, l87l, the Chariton to Leon; it was the C.B. & Q. Eight years later it was extended to Bethany, Missouri. Garden Grove Township donated $25,000.00 while Center Township gave $50,000.00 and the right-of-way from Garden Grove to Leon. It stimulated immigration, business and increased the value of the land.

JOHN LEE from Illinois, started a saloon in l86l in Leon, on the west side of the square; but a few days later, a committee of the best women visited the place one fine day with axes, hatchets, and matches. He did not return.

In the fall of l850, a Methodist class was organized by l0 members. In 185l, the M.E. Church was officially organized and recognized. It was to be done at JOHN PATTERSON'S cabin (where Leon Cemetery now stands)but BROTHER KLEPPER from Missouri became sick and could get no closer than JOHN JORDAN'S farm on Eden Prairie to where JOHN PATTERSON went for organization meeting. JOHN PATTERSON'S cabin was the original Chapel of Methodism in Decatur County. A church was built in l850.

The first regular organization of the Christian Church in Leon was June, l854 by ELDER JOSEPHUS C. PORTER, who served as preacher for nearly 20 years. In l867, the congregation became so large that a church building became necessary and was used until l902 when the new one was dedicated in l903.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized in l857. They met in the court house on alternate Sundays for four years and then discontinued services. In l866, the Presbyterian Church was formed in the Methodist Church. They also held their meeting in the school house on alternate Sundays. In l87l, a home of worship was erected two blocks east of Main, on Commercial Street; the first members were FRANCIS VARGA and MARY VARGA, H.E. SMITH, THOMAS and MARY BALDWIN, ROBERT and KETURAK KIUNER, MARY BLAIR, MARGARET STONE, W.H. and REBECCA J. MOORE, H.P. BLAIR, MARY YOUNG and MARTHA AVERY.

The Baptists held their meeting four miles southeast of Leon, before the war, later they moved them to Leon. They rented a hall over Bowman's harness shop until their church was built in l883, in the second block east of the square. It was a frame building.

The Seven Day Adventists formed a society in Leon in l888.

The United Brethren Church was organized in l856, at a place later known as the Franklin Church, which was constructed at Franklin in l874. Meetings were held in homes prior to that time; in l883 came the division and the church and Union Chapel was organized in October, l9l2, while the building was dedicated, October, l9l4.

The Catholics came to Decatur County in l858, settling about 9 or l0 miles south and east of Leon. The first families there came from Ireland. Mass was offered in their homes, occasionally by a Priest from Ottumwa. They made several trips to Ottumwa to have their children baptized. A lot church was built in l860, l0 miles southeast of Leon. It was called St. Mary's at New Ireland. An addition was added later. Then it became an out-mission of Maloy and remained so for about 25 years, when it became a mission of Chariton about l9l2. The REV. JOHN BURKHISER was appointed pastor of Mt. Ayr in l9l5 with the church southeast of Leon as a mission, together with the missions of Grand River and Kellerton. A new church was built southeast of Leon in l894. It was a frame building. The oldest legible head stone at the cemetery southeast of Leon is that of BARTHALEMEW MULLINS, son of D. and M. MULLINS, died October 9, l862, a child 5 years old.

In the summer of l9l6, FATHER J.C. MAHER was appointed pastor of Leon. A house and two lots in Leon was purchased and a new church was built in Leon called St. Brendans. It was built in l9l7.


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