Hardin County - EllisTownship

The Past and Present of Hardin County Iowa
ed. by William J. Moir.  Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1911

Transcribed by Linda Suarez

Ellis township lies in the northwest quarter of Hardin county, its southeast corner being the county's center, and, like most of the townships of Iowa, it contains thirty-six square miles of the earth's surface. It is officially described as township 88, range 21 west of the fifth principal meridian. The correction line forms its northern boundary.

The south fork of the Iowa river is its only stream of water. This enters from the west, two and one-half miles south of the northwest corner, and flows, with numberless turnings, nearly across it, passing out into Tipton township a mile west of the southeast corner. Along this creek are several fine mineral springs and many acres of heavy timber. The rest of the land is rolling prairie, the soil a rich black loam.

First Settlers

This township was first settled in 1854, by Miles Manning, who, with his wife and children, located in the edge of the woods on section 20. Only a few weeks later Henry Cooper came with his family and pre-empted a part of section 18, which he continued to own until his death, in 1909, and where the family always lived, except for a few years spent in Kansas. This land is still the property of his heirs.

Allen Downs also made a home this year a little farther down the creek on section 29. He died there in April, 1855. This was the first death in the township. Joshua Allen then became the owner of this place and lived there several years with his wife and five children. He was a United Brethern preacher, whose eccentricities are not yet forgotten. The family later went to Missouri and all trace of them is lost.

During the year 1855 several others settle along the creek. Of these we have the names of George Burdick, William Ford, Ebenezer Gould, Sidney Peck and James Peck. Xanthus Kennedy also came this year, accompanied by his three sons, Rezin, Milton and Daniel. They soon became owners of many acres of both timber and prairie land, Rezin buying the home of Mr. Manning, the first settler, as a part of his farm. The Manning family then left this vicinity and settled again on the Coon river, near the present site of Perry. Xanthus Kennedy and his wife have long since passed away. None of the family remain here but Rezin. He had been married just before coming to Iowa. He made their home on section 30, where they still reside, on their fine three-hundred-acre farm. Here five children were born to them. March 8, 1911, was their fifty-sixth wedding anniversary. Daniel White pre-empted the northeast quarter of section 9 and built a house in March, 1856. This was the first building on the prairie.


The township was organized early in the year 1856. This organization included two congressional townships, and reached to the west line of the county and was named in honor of Judge Ellis Parker, of Eldora.

The first election was held at the house of Henry Cooper and these men elected to office: Sidney Peck and Xanthus Kennedy, justices of the peace; George Burdick, X. S. Kennedy and Rezin Kennedy, trustees; Milton Kennedy, assessor; L. T. Beard, clerk. The other men who voted at this election were James Peck, Ebenezer Gould, William Crist, Henry Cooper, Henry Betz, Frederic Haverling, William Ford, P. O. Fenix, Miles Manning, James Manning and John Snider.

Other families came that year of 1856. Thomas Nott built his house on section 27. J. M. B. Oviatt, J. A. Conklin, R. F. McLearn made their homes on the prairie, on sections 8 and 9.

Early Events

Sometime in July, 1856, a Sunday school was organized by Fabian Beard, who was chosen superintendent. A little later the same summer, the Rev. Mr. Hocomb, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal church at Eldora, formed the first church organization at the home of J. M. B. Oviatt. The members of this class were Mr. and Mrs. Oviatt, their two daughters, Mary and Lydia Lucretia, Mrs. Jane Cooper, Mrs. Margaret Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. James Peck.

Another important item in the history of this township was the birth of the first white child. This was on November 6, 1856, when Nathanial C. Crockett was born in the family's new home on section 35. He grew and prospered, married and was the father of two children before he left the township for another home.

The first marriage to take place in the township was that of Daniel White and Lydia L. Oviatt, who were married by Sidney Peck, justice of the peace, March 13, 1857. They began housekeeping in his home on section 9, where they lived continuously ever since, a larger and more modern house occupying the site of the first one. Here they have raised a family of nine children and up to this date (1911), death has never claimed a victim from this family or from the family of any of their children.

Sylvester Axtell settled on section 27, in 1857, and began what has since developed into a fine farm home. Mrs. Axtell died some years ago, but all their six children still live in this vicinity, the youngest son, Orin, on the old homestead; the older son, Sylester, Jr., lives on the farm adjoining, Mr. Axtell making his home with his youngest daughter, Mrs. Robert Caine.

During the summer of 1858, W. R. Coppock built what was then the best house in the township, on section 8. He and his wife were both fine musicians, and brought with them the first piano. This house is still standing and is occupied by the present owner, H. J. Ellis.


The first school was in a little log house built for the purpose by the Kennedy brothers, on section 19, a few rods south of the present site of Asa Gilbert's house. Miss Roseline Rice, of Alden, was the first teacher. This was in the summer of 1858. There were twenty pupils enrolled, some of them walking a distance of three miles.

G. L. Morriell was the teacher there the following winter. For several years this schoolhouse was the place of all public meetings, either of a religion or political nature. Miss Rice was afterwards married to James Mitchell, of Iowa Falls. She and her husband are both buried in the Iowa Falls cemetery. Their two sons, William and Frank, still live near that city.

A steam saw mill was built this same year by Crouse & Harper on the south side of the creek, section 28. Another was erected several years later by D. J. Kimball farther up the creek on section 19.

No one who lived in Iowa through this stage of her development, ever forgot the menace of the rattlesnakes all through the summer, or the piercing winds and drifting snows of winter, but, save the ever-present consciousness of possible danger from the Indians, the foe most feared was prairie fire. As soon as the early frosts had killed the grass, a strip of was plowed or burned around the buildings, and though hay stacks, hay-covered sheds, and even grain were sometimes burned, there is no record of any house or any human life being lost in this way.

The nearest approach to a tragedy was on October 1, 1859, when Robert Caraway, with his wife and child, walking home from a neighbor's, were met by a prairie fire, which was swept towards them by a heavy wind. Mr. Caraway held the baby inside his coat and said to this wife, "Hold fast to me and keep behind." but when the flames swept over them, taking her breath, making her frantic with pain and fear, she released her hold, turned and ran with the fire. For a moment he could not see her for the encircling flames rose far above their heads, then passed on leaving a hot and smoking plain of black desolation. With the baby still in his arms, he tore the buring clothing from her. It was said, only her wool undergarments saved her life. She recovered after weeks of suffering, but the cruel fire had left deep and lasting scars, her face being sadly seamed and her fingers drawn and twisted.

Deer and elk were seen here by the early settlers as late as the fall of 1856. Wild geese, ducks, plover, prairie-chickens, even the meadow-larks and bobolink, nested in the wild grass, but the cranes chose the tops of the muskrats' houses for their nests. Wolves were numerous and troublesome for many years, their prey being chickens and young pigs (after the settlers had begun to raise them); still these were of little value except as food for their owners, for there was little sale for surplus products. As late as 1861, eggs were sold in Iowa Falls for three cents per dozen, and sometimes they could not be sold, and at times the finest butter found no purchaser.

Ellis Township Soldiers

All through the Civil war, Ellis, considering her sparse population, made generous response to the President's oft-repeated call for volunteers. The following is a list, as nearly accurate as can now be made from record and memory, of those who risked their lives in defense of their country, in her time of peril. This list includes the names of those from that part of the township, now Buckeye, but then Ellis: William H. Oviatt, J. Lawrence Linn, Hamilton Buckingham, Lewis L. Durham, William Leffler, Earl H. McMillen, Joseph B. Caraway, W. Allen Caraway, William S. Linn, Ryerson E. Kellogg, Chauncey B. Stratton, Clark E. Kinney, Leroy J. Nott, Luther Snider, William Allen, G. L. Morriell, R. F. McLearn.

William Leffler was the first of these to fall in battle, a rebel bullet ending his young wife [sic] at Pittsburg landing, April 6, 1862.

It was the fate of Joseph Caraway to meet death in an army hospital, in St. Louis, October 9, 1862.

Hamilton Buckingham was shot in the battle of Kenesaw Mountain, June 27, 1864, on the eve of the expiration of his term of enlistment. He had been married less than a year before his death to Sarah Howell while home on furlough.

Lawrence Linn was destined to lie for some months in the famous Libby prison, was exchanged, came home, married Emerett Oviatt, then went to Nebraska, where he was later elected state representative, then senator. He died in 1892.

William Oviatt was one of those who re-enlisted. he held a first lieutenant's commission when mustered out of service at the close of the war. He now lives in San Diego, California.

Earl McMillen, Clark Kinney, Allen Caraway and Leroy Nott are still living in this vicinity. William Linn, Ryerson Kellogg, G. L. Morriell, R. F. McLearn have responded to the last roll-call. The whereabouts of the others is unknown.

A Sons of Temperance lodge was organized in the fall of 1865, holding meetings in the school house on the southeast corner of section 5. Later the Grange held meetings in the same place. This house has since been moved a mile farther west, and is now known as the Maplegrove school house.

In the summer of 1867, E. H. McMillen began the manufacture of cheese, the first effort in that line in the county. Later his father, George McMillen, carried on the business very successfully and on a larger scale until his death in 1880. His son, G. D. McMillen, continued the business for some time then transformed the factory into a dwelling, which he still occupies with his family on the old homestead in section 5.

After this the Ellis Cheese Company was formed and a factory built on section 9. W. J. Clark in time became sole owner of this and continued to make cheese there until he moved to Minnesota in 1910.

George McMillen was the first county supervisor, when each township elected one. After there were but three in the county, Walter Carpenter, of Ellis township, was repeatedly elected to that office, and was succeeded by A. B. Baxter. Both of these men then lived on section 16 and both now live in Iowa Falls.

Some time in 1870, William Stacey secured a patent on a ditcher and immediately began to manufacture them and washing machines in a building erected for the purpose on his home farm, section 26.


Cottage postoffice had been established in 1860, at the home of the new postmaster, Sidney Peck, on section 29, but in 1870 a town was laid out at the corners of sections 28, 29, 32 and 33, named Cottage, and the postoffice moved to that place. A general store was opened by Andrew Bronson, a blacksmith shop by Peter Jensen and a cheese factory by Allen Caraway. There was a church as well as several dwelling houses, a school house in the suburbs. A good business was carried on here for several years. The people interested always hoped for a railroad, but when the Des Moines & St. Paul road was built, with the depot of Buckeye only a miles west of them, this hope was abandoned and the town deserted.

Another postoffice was established in 1872, near the north line of the township and named Ellis. Both postoffices passed out of existence with the introduction of free rural mail delivery.

The earliest settlers had chosen as a place of burial for their dead a knoll in the north edge of Burr Oak grove, section 18.

The Cottage Cemetery Association was organized in 1873. The first officers were: William Caverhill, president; Mrs. Florantine Lake, treasurer; Levi J. Shepherd, secretary. They bought a tract of land a little north of Cottage, and after having it surveyed began the work of improvement, which they are still carrying on. This cemetery is now surrounded by iron Palings. In the enclosure are many beautiful and imposing monuments, and many rare plants. It has been so well cared for by the members of the Association that it has become a place of beauty. The present officers are: Mrs. Della Lake, president; Mrs. Etta Whaley, treasurer; Mrs. O. L. Axtell, secretary; Mrs. Ada Katch, Mrs. Minnie Thayer, Thomas Whaley, trustees; Chester Sheldon, sexton.

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