ANNALS OF IOWA
VOL. VII., JULY, 1869. No. III.
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE EARLY SETTLEMENT OF
N. W. IOWA.
BY N. LEVERING, MECKLIN, MO.
In order that a mechanic may construct a perfect
piece of mechanism, it is highly essential that he should have all the necessary
appliances and requisites for the same; without these skill will fall short in
accomplishing the object desired. So it is in some degree in my attempting to
write a sketch of the early settlement of north-western Iowa. For the want of
the proper requisites, such as assistance from some of the pioneer settlers,
county records, &c., I can write but an imperfect sketch, but hope that what
I may write from memory, and the few dates which I have in my possession, may
call out or induce some one of the old settlers in north-western Iowa, to take
up the subject and do it the justice that it requires. In this article I will
speak mostly of Woodbury County.
In the spring or summer of 1848, the first settlement
was commenced in Woodbury County, by one William Thompson, from Morgan County,
Illinois. It would be proper to state here, that some years prior to Mr.
Thompson's arrival there were a number of Canadian French in scattering
settlements along the Missouri River, in Woodbury and adjoining counties, for
the purpose of trading and trafficking with the aborigines with whom they had
become allied by the ties of affinity and consanguinity. This class of persons
could not properly be called actual settlers.
Mr. Thompson (or old Bill, as he was familiarly called)
was a tall athletic and muscular man, eccentric in his habits, but possessing a
kind heart and an enterprising spirit. He had no family with him, having buried
his wife in Illinois, a short time previous to his emigrating to north-western
Iowa. She left him two sons, whom he put in charge of some of his relatives,
having thus arranged his family and domestic matters, and being in a manner
unchained from the world, he shoved out for the north-west, and brought up at
Floyd's Bluff, in Woodbury County, Iowa, about two miles below where Sioux City
now stands, where he bought or made a claim, which included Floyd's Bluff. The
Indian title to these lands had been extinguished the previous year (1847), and
all north-western Iowa was thrown open for settlement. Mr. Thompson,
anticipating a heavy immigration, and believing that the rich and fertile
prairies of the north-west, would soon be occupied by an industrious and
enterprising people, he thought to lay the foundation of a nucleus, around which
would cluster the business and commercial interests of the country. Accordingly
he laid off a town at Floyd's Bluff; naming it Thompson town, in honor of
himself; which like most of western towns was destined to be the point. But
unfortunately for the locality, it had no permanent landing for boats, and the
city so abrupt and bluffy, that it was said that the lots hung up by the
corners, so that both sides could be cultivated, consequently the enterprise
proved an entire failure. To give his town an aspect of improvement, more than
the stakes which designated the lots, he erected a cabin, which was soon after
occupied by one Mr. Townsley and family. Mrs. Townsley was, I think, the first
white woman in Woodbury County.
Mr. Thompson soon after erected a mill for grinding
corn, propelled by horse power, which I believe was the first mill built in the
county. Soon after his location at this point, he was followed by his brother
Charles, who also secured a claim adjoining that of his brother. Numerous bands
of Indians were roaming through the country and watching with no little interest
the progress of their pale faced brethren, and their increasing numbers. Game
such as buffalo, elk, deer, turkeys, beaver, &c., abounded. Wild fruits of
the choicest and most luxuriant character common to the western country, such as
grapes plumbs, raspberries, &c., were found here in great quantities, and
supplied our pioneer settler's tables with many luxuries.
In the spring of 1849, Theophile Bruigher, a Canadian
Frenchman, came down from the headwaters of the Missouri River, where he had
been employed in the services of the American-Fur Company, and settled near the
mouth of the Big Sioux River, on the Iowa side. about two and a half miles above
where Sioux City now stands. He had two squaw wives, both of whom were daughters
of the celebrated Sioux chief; War Eagle.
In May, 1857, Mr. B. buried one of his wives, and I
think the following year he buried the other. They left him thirteen children,
all of whom drew their half-breed script from the government for three hundred
and twenty acres of land each, making in all four thousand one hundred and sixty
acres a liberal premium for half breeds. Congress undoubtedly made a very grave
mistake when it passed the act granting to each half breed Indian three hundred
and twenty acres of land, issuing script for the same, which half-breed script
is allowed to be laid on any government lands, whether in market or not; thus in
a manner offering a premium on half-breeds. I will not stop here to discuss the
evils flowing from and attendant upon such a law, as the reader will perceive at
a glance its demoralizing and degrading influence. Hr. B. still resides there,
the proprietor of a very large and excellent farm.
If I am correctly informed, sometime in the fall of
1849, Robert Perry, a man of some literary attainment, but of peculiar and
eccentric mind, emigrated from the District of Columbia, and settled in what is
now Sioux City proper, where he erected a cabin on the bank of a small stream
that now bears his name. It is said that Mr. Perry at one time imbibed a little
too freely of the "overjoyful," and while laboring under its
exhilarating influence, was precipitated into the stream, which has since that
time borne his name. In 1851, he removed, I believe, back to some of the eastern
What is now known as Sioux City East Addition, was
owned and occupied by Mr. Bruigher as a
cornfield (it had formally been occupied by the Indians for the same purpose).
In 1852, he sold the same to a Canadian Frenchman by the name of Jas. Lionais,
for one thousand dollars. This year quite a number of Frenchmen at Fort
Vermillion, and vicinity, in Dakota Territory, got involved in difficulty with
the Indians at that point, and consulting their own safety, descended the
Missouri River to where Sioux City now stands, where they stopped for a few
months, leaving again for various points. In 1853, the county was organized for
judicial and revenue purposes, and the county seat located by an act of the
legislature at Thompson town.
In the spring of 1354, Dr. John K. Cook, an Englishman
by birth, had a contract from the government to sectionize most of the counties
in north-western Iowa, came up from Council Bluffs, where he then resided, for
the purpose of prosecuting his work. The Dr. was not long in discerning the
natural beauty and advantages in this point for a town Accordingly he and some
of his party staked off claims preparatory to laying off a town. Amongst
those who made claims, were Hiram Nelson, S. W. Chamberlin and Dr. F. Wixon.
The following winter of 1854-5, a town was laid out and called Sioux city, after
the Sioux Indians, who had been the former occupants of the country.