The History of Keokuk County, Iowa


During the early settlement of all this portion of country, while the different lands were being claimed and taken up, the greater part of the first settlers banded themselves together for mutual protection in organizations called "claim clubs,"to prevent the encroachment of land speculators, professional "claim-jumpers," and various kinds of intruders who had no intention of settling here and enduring their share of the hardships and labor involved in opening up and improving a new country.

It was a perilous act for any one outside of these claim clubs to take a claim in any of the more desirable parts of the county, lest he should settle upon or interfere with some club member's previous claim or interest, and if such a thing did occur, no matter how innocent he may have been as to his intentions of intruding, in all such cases the non-initiated could do nothing but give up his claim, improvements and all, either peaceably or through compulsion of the combined force of the club, and resignedly seek elsewhere for lands. If he did not feel like submitting to this treatment, his only hope was to join the club for protection and advice, and thus be admitted to the secrets of its plan of working.

In many instances these claim clubs did good service when the enforcement of law and order seemed otherwise impossible in protecting settlers in their rights of home and property. While, on the other hand, doubtless a good many honest and innocent persons were caused to suffer serious loss and inconvenience through the workings and sometimes unfair means of these clubs.

The very best intentioned organizations and individuals sometimes make mistakes in running to extremes, and cause injury to others by that which was only originally intended to be beneficial. Especially is this the case where so many different minds and dispositions are united to govern one organization.

So it was, to a greater or less extent; with these early claim clubs. While the chief design in their work was the mutual protection and benefit of all the members and the proper settlement and development of the country, the injudicious, selfish members sometimes caused the institution of means that resulted in the injury and oppression of the innocent.

But professional claim-jumpers were plentiful, as well as very shrewd and persistent in their modes of working to get the advantage, and these organized clubs seemed to prove the only effectual checkmates for them. In this respect, therefore, the latter accomplished a good work and afforded a formidable defense.

These clubs existed in almost every community and were by no means a new institution when first introduced here. The claim rights of settlers were then regulated by what was called the claim law, which had its origin in Jefferson county, and was in a certain sense sanctioned by the legislature of 1839.

The plan of organization was very simple. A captain was selected, and each member of the club signed a pledge in the form of by-laws: and these by-laws form a curiosity well worth reading.

In addition to having a captain, whose duty it was to direct the action of the club and act as a sort of general executive officer, the club had another officer still more important, whose duty it was to attend the public land sales and bid off such tracts of land as he was ordered to purchase by order of members of his club. General Lowe was captain of one of these clubs and S. A. James was bidder.

The Steady Run Club was organized at Elizabethtown, on the 23d day of August, 1845. The following regulations were adopted, to-wit.:

Resolved, 1st. That we will protect the claims of each other on the lands of the United States respectively, by using all proper means to assist each other to purchase our claims from the Government, and that we will use every effort to prevent any one from buying any claims who is not a proper owner thereof.

2d. That if any one shall enter any claim belonging to another, he or they shall not be considered a citizen and shall be discountenanced by us.

3d. That a committee shall be appointed, consisting of five persons, to settle all claim disputes; that any party to a dispute may have the privilege of objecting to any one or all of the committee; that it shall be the duty of said committee to appraise the lands so wrongfully entered as aforesaid; that the money paid to the government for the same shall be deducted from the appraised value thereof, and that the person so wrongfully entering lands shall be compelled to pay to the rightful owner of the claim the overplus; that said committee shall have power to fill any vacancy in their body by appointment.

4th. That only 320 acres shall be protected as aforesaid, and that any part thereof being entered or bought of the Government by the proper owner shall not entitle such claimant to extend the boundaries of his claim.

5th. That any non-resident owning a claim in this territory shall be entitled to the benefits of these by-laws upon agreeing to render the same assistance to the club as others interested.

6th. That any neighborhood in the county or contiguous to this territory shall be entitled to the benefits of these regulations upon agreeing to render like assistance to this neighborhood.

7th. That the secretary of this meeting shall be ex-officio clerk of the neighborhood, and shall have charge of all papers and books pertaining thereto.

8th. That the clerk shall keep a record of the boundaries of all claims presented to him in writing, and shall file in his office the said descriptions.

9th. That the oldest record of a claim shall be prima facie evidence of ownership, provided no person shall be bound to have the boundaries of his claim recorded previous to the 15th day of September next or within twenty days after making the same.

10th. That all transfers of claims shall be registered within twenty days after said transfer.

11th. That a bidder for said club shall be appointed, who shall bid off any tract or tracts of land as may be directed by any owner or claimant, or the committee, in case of a dispute.

12th. That the committee shall be sworn to perform their duties faithfully and impartially, and that each witness shall be sworn in like manner as in a justice's court.

13th. That the committee shall have power to appoint a meeting of the club when, in their discretion, the exigencies of the case require it.

A. TAYLOR,                                                   HENRY KNOTSON,
J. D. HOWARD,                                                                 Clerk.


Cornelius Hurley, Thos. Gaston, Isaac N. Garrott,
Milton Britton, Francis Britton, Joel Skinner,
John Larmore, Chas. P. Lyon, John Garrott,
John Hurley, John Hooker, C. M. Woods,
David Howard, Alex Jones, R. F. Weller,
Chas. Moore, James M. Brown, John McGowen,
Wm. Hutton, Moses McConnell, R. B. Whited,
Jesse Shoemaker, Josiah Borrough, Owen Monahon,
Henry Barrith, Benj. Hollingsworth, David McEwen,
Enos Darnell, James Rasser, Frank Strots,
Andrew Taylor, Dan McGowen, Thos. Richardson,
Wm. Stinson, Anson Richardson, G. W. Hayes.
Madison Harman, Isaac Petre,  

The following is a fac-simile of a tally-sheet at the election of bidder:

R. F. W.  ……………….. …………………………... 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.
J. Garrotte  ……………... …………………………... 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.
S. Burr  ………………… …………………………... 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.
C. Lyon  ………………... …………………………... 1 1 1 1 1.
A. R.  ………………….... …………………………... 1 1 1 1 1 1.

As a rule, land speculators and others had very tender consciences, which prompted them to respect the rights of the settler when he was a member of one of these organizations.  A certain club had among their by-laws the following:

Resolved,  That the filing of any intention to pre-empt, in contravention of the right of any member hereof, shall be regarded as an attempt to deprive one member of his rights under the eternal fitness of things, and we pledge ourselves, one to another, to meet the offender on the home stretch with logic of life or death.

Notwithstanding this, there were occasional instances in which persons dared to contend with the clubs, but the "logic"proved too much for them on the "home stretch."

In the Rock creek neighborhood one August Wunderlich made a claim and located on it.  Some two years afterward one Samuel Daniels went to the land-office and entered it. After having entered the land, the latter came on and signified his intention of taking possession of it. Mr. Wunderlich made complaint to the club of which he was a member, and a committee of the club waited on the offender and informed him of the consequences of his action. Daniels made sport of the committee, and told them that he thought he understood his business; that he had bought the land of the government and expected to take possession of it; that so far from being intimidated by the committee he despised them; that the club was simply a mob organized in defiance of law; that he knew his rights and intended to maintain them. At this interview the offender was very brave, and from his conduct on that occasion the committee supposed that he would be a hard customer to deal with. The club held a meeting, and it was decided that prompt and vigorous measures should be resorted to. The following day was selected as the time when these measures were to be carried into execution. When the time fixed upon arrived, some two or three hundred of the settlers called upon Daniels and again informed him of their intention, should he not immediately abdicate his claim. Daniels was considerably frightened this time, but insisted on taking possession of Wunderlich's claim. The settlers, concluding that further remonstrance would be unavailing, proceeded to enforce their rules by using the logic of tar and feathers. Daniels left the country and was never again heard of.

The following article, which appeared in the "Whig and Register"in 1849, was written by a gentleman who yet resides in the county. We give the article in full, as it illustrates a peculiar phase of pioneer life, and shows how fertile in expedients were the members of these claim clubs in dealing with trespassers. The western county spoken of was Keokuk; the little town, Cambridge, was Lancaster, then the county-seat; the frontiersman alluded to was Henry Knox, and the merry son of Erin answered to the name of Bowles; the claim-owner was Jacob Payton.

Transcribed by Steven McBride. Thank you, Steve!

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