Transcribed by Pamela Wagler from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


The historian is never more pleased than when he is called upon to chronicle the steps by which some noble-hearted man has struggled from a lowly position to one of wealth and prominence among his neighbors, doing all by his own strength and force of character. John August Peterson is a man who had to begin at the very bottom of the ladder, and by his own energy and forceful determination has overcome obstacles that would have daunted the spirit of a man not gifted as he was with natural persistence in following out a cherished plan.

Mr. Peterson was born in Smoland, Yonkopings Lan, Sweden, on July 19, 1837, being the son of Peter Magnus and Anna Maria (Okanson) Peterson. He received his early education from a private tutor, and later attended the public schools of Sweden for eight years. His home was on a farm, and he received there the practical training that has gone so far toward making his great success in this country. After he grew to young manhood, he served for two years in the Swedish army, learning lessons of endurance under fatigue, and obedience to orders, that he has found of great value in his after life. When he was thirty-two years of age, he thought he could see greater chances of advancement awaiting him in the New World; accordingly, in 1869, he came with his family to America, landing on September 7 of that year. He left Gottenburg on Aug. 10, 1869, and came by way of Glasgow, Scotland, to New York.

From New York he came directly to Burlington, Iowa. Here his unfamiliarity with the language, customs, and business usages of the country put him at such a disadvantage that he found it advisable to begin his life in the new surroundings by working as a day laborer. He was in the employ of Joy & Gilbert in this capacity for three or four months, when he found an opportunity to better himself a little by going to work for a large contractor named Walburn, who owned a large stone quarry at Gladstone, Henderson county, Ill., and who was at that time filling in a creek, or draw, where the Union depot of Burlington now stands. After this piece of work was finished, Mr. Peterson entered the employ of the Cedar Rapids, Railroad Company, now known as the Rock Island. Later he worked for the Quincy people, now known as the Burlington & Quincy Branch; and after that for the Iowa Central Railroad, under their contractors. While he was at work for these people, the burden of disadvantages that he was struggling against was added to by two misfortunes of a very discouraging nature. In the first place he was taken ill; and then about the same time, the contractors, who evidently were not doing a paying business, left town unceremoniously, taking with them all the money owing to the men under their employ. Hundreds of men suffered through this, and Mr. Peterson lost in this way sixty dollars of hard-earned money, at a time when that amount was a very considerable sum to him.

By 1872, he found that by steady work and frugal living he had saved enough so that he was able to discontinue working for others, and could change to farming, buying a small piece of land of his own to begin on. Therefore on March 11 he came to Huron township, bought a little tract of six acres of rich land in Section 16, and built on it a log cabin. This was the nucleus of the large farm and comfortable home that is now his. He has added to this from time to time as his increased prosperity has permitted, until he now has a magnificent farm of three hundred and fifteen acres in Huron and Yellow Springs townships. He cleared and stumped one hundred acres or more of timber land on this farm, and brought the land all under cultivation. He cut and hauled over twenty-five thousand times for the Cedar Rapids Railroad, hauling these himself to Mediapolis. He also worked for two months on the construction of this road. He has hauled hundreds of cords of wood from his farm.

Now that the farm is brought to its present high state of cultivation, besides his work of general farming, he has found time to make a specialty of the raising of fine cattle and horses. He raises the Shorthorn cattle, and also raises about eighty head of Poland China hogs annually, and has fifteen head of fine Percheron horses. He has erected a beautiful home, where he lives with his two sons, enjoying the well-earned comforts and luxuries that can be found only in a well-appointed modern country home.

Mr. Peterson was married in his early manhood, before leaving Sweden, the date of his wedding being Jan. 7, 1860. His wife was Miss Hannah Mary Hocanson, daughter of Hocan and Marie Hocanson. To them were born two sons and two daughters, three of whom were born in the old country: Vendle Marie, born March 6, 1863, died in Burlington, Oct. 14, 1870, of typhoid fever, and is buried in Aspen Grove cemetery; Tilda, born June 24, 1865, is the wife of Emil Johnson, who lives in Burlington; John Emil, born June 15, 1867; and Gus Edward, born in this country on Nov. 7, 1872. The two latter live on the home place with their father.

Mrs. Peterson was a quiet gentlewoman, who bore the hard life of a pioneer's wife with an uncomplaining spirit, and was a real helpmeet to her husband in the days of his early struggle in the new land. She was an earnest Christian woman, not only in faith but in practice, and was a lady in the best meaning of the word. She passed away on April 13, 1901, after suffering for a year with cancer. Although afflicted with this most painful of diseases, she never complained, but showed such gentle patience and endurance that it endeared her more and more to those who loved her.

Mr. Peterson is a loyal member of the Swedish Lutheran church, and gives his support to all its philanthropic and charitable enterprises. A self-made man, working his way up from humble circumstances to his present enviable position, the key-note of his career may be summed up in one work, integrity, a trait of character which has won him the general respect of all to whom he is known.

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