The History of Keokuk County, Iowa



From the time of the first settlement of the county in the vicinity of Richland, there was a steady and continuous growth, and what is commonly known as the “old strip,” became well settled for those days. Not all the land was taken up by any means; not even a large part of the best land was secured, but such portions as offered the greatest inducement to settlers were pre-empted; and all along the boundary line here, as elsewhere, were gathered many prospecters [sic], who impatiently awaited the night of April 30, 1843, when they would have a right to pass over and possess the land.

Those expecting to make settlements on the “new purchase” were forbidden to come to the reserve until the time of its delivery into the hands of the government by the Indians, May 1, 1843. Dragoons were stationed all along the border, whose duty it was to keep the whites out of the country till the appointed time. For some weeks previous to the date assigned, settlers came up into the new country, prospecting for homes, and were quietly permitted to cross the border and look around, so long as they were unaccompanied by wagon, and carried no ax. This latter weapon was sometimes placed, without a handle, in the knapsack of the traveler, and an impromptu handle fitted in by a penknife when necessity called for its use. During the last few days of April the dragoons relaxed their strict discipline, and an occasional wagon slipped in through the brush. The night of April 30 found some scores of newcomers on the ground, who had been prospecting the country, who had decided mentally what claims they would make, and had various agreements among themselves. These settlers were mostly along or near the river, it then being thought that prairie land was not half so desirable as the river and timber country.

As it neared midnight on the morning of May 1, settler after settler took his place upon the border of his claim with his bunch of sharpened stakes and lantern, or his blazing torch, and when it was thought twelve o'clock had arrived, there was some lively surveying by amateur engineers in the dark. The claims were paced off, and strange to say there were few cases of dispute, the matter having been pretty generally understood on the preceding day. Some of the claims were pretty large, more, in fact, than the law suffered the claimants to hold, some of whom were not unmindful of the wholesome advice of a mother in Hoosierdom, who possibly lived in a later day, but who counseled, “git a plenty while you're gittin,” to which the settler added, “and git the best.”

The memorable midnight of that “last day” of April, 1843, dark as it may have been, opened to the welcome dawning of a glorious “May day” in the prosperity of this heaven-favored land as the crowds of anxious emigrants, so long held in check by the old boundaries, began to cross the line in multitudes and press forward to “possess the land” and secure their claims of 320 acres each in goodly heritage. It was a rapid, successful movement in the advancement of emigration and civilization, which gave evident and assuring proof of the wisdom of the government in promptly securing the title to this valuable territory. It is estimated that before the nightfall of May 1, 1843, there were nearly one thousand of such claims occupied by pioneers, and including in the count the families and attendants of these, in so short a time an aggregate population of about four thousand souls, had crossed the old limits to find homes in the new possessions, and convert the Indian's hunting ground into the white man's earthly Eden.

Thus had come at last the much desired day, bringing to the unsettled pioneer the welcome privilege to choose, from all the goodly land before him, his future home. When the last barrier of restraint was thus removed, the tide of emigration so long held in check began to come in at a rapid rate over these prairies, and thus has it continued to roll, wave after wave, in rapid succession, until it has reached the Western shore, carrying with it the energy and talents and enterprise of nations, and washing to the surface the gold from the mountains and valleys on the Pacific slope, it has enveloped our land in the mighty main of enterprise and civilization.

After the way had thus been opened by that memorable treaty, emigration began at once to pour in and spread especially along the river; claim after claim was taken, cabin after cabin was erected, settlement after settlement was made, and the enterprising sound of the white man's ax was heard echoing from every side, as with busy stroke he felled the trees, and prepared logs for his humble cabin home.

Before many days had passed the curling smoke was seen rising through the tree tops from many such hopeful, happy pioneer homes in the western wild; and within these rustic walls were found thankful hearts, cheerful faces, welcome voices and liberal hospitality, which displayed on every side an air of prosperity and contentment, and made “assurance doubly sure” that the great work of the settlement and cultivation of this fertile land was actually begun by the white pioneer, even within the present territory of Keokuk county, and that it would be thoroughly carried on to the western territory.

In order to the improvement of a pioneer home in the West, in those days, timber for fuel and fencing and shelter was considered the material thing in importance, second only to the “staff of life,” and therefore the timber lands and tracts of prairie adjoining were almost invariably taken first, since these were considered by the early settlers to be the cream of the country.

But in this regard, experience, the effectual teacher, soon worked a radical change in the minds of men. When they began to test the fertility and richness of the prairie soil, they soon found that it was much easier and cheaper to haul timber and prepare shelter and dwell in the fresh, pure air on the bleak, yet fertile prairie, feeling sure of an abundant crop with less labor from a large acreage, than it was to have the best advantages of a timber location, and spend time, labor and money in clearing and grubbing and fertilizing, and then fall short in the yield per acre, and be confined to a limited area of farming land.

The timber settlers slowly but surely became convinced of the fact, and began to reach out and secure, in some cases, large tracts of the prairie land adjoining them, thus combining these two important elements in one large estate, and securing some of the very finest farms in the country. While, on the other hand, very many of the first settlers on timber claims, from want of means or fear of failure in speculation, did not become awake to the real importance of this until the best sections adjoining them were all taken, and they were compelled either to go out, perhaps miles from their homes, to secure more farming land for their increasing families, or to remain shut in upon their original claims.

In different localities throughout our State, many of the first settlers, and best of men, have thus been compelled to sell their comfortable, hard-earned homes when “the boys grow up,” and “move out west for more land,” or they have found out at last, perhaps, that they are “timber poor,” with limited income, and meagre [sic] support in return for the faithful, arduous labors, while many of their wealthy prairie neighbors, who only a few years before were the hired hands working by the month or the day for small wages, are now prosperous and independent on their large prairie farms, which yield them bountiful incomes.

Others, again, soon discovering their mistake in choosing river or timber locations for agricultural pursuits, disposed of the claims as soon as possible at reasonable profits, to their adjoining neighbors, or later arrivals, and moved on toward the front, better prepared by experience to make new and more judicious selections.

In treating of the early settlements of the county, the reader must bear in mind that at that time none of the present artificial organizations of townships, or even of the county itself; were then in existence. Geographical distinctions, after the removal of the Indian boundary line of 1837, were only such as were made by such natural boundaries as rivers. The township organization, as it now exists, was not made till 1847, and such distinctions as are made by reference to township lines cannot be spoken of till further on.

From the older settlements in the southeastern part of the county, the work of permanent improvement spread west and north. South of South Skunk river we find some of the first settlers of Richland taking the best claims. The Rock creek district, now in the bounds of Jackson township, had the reputation of being a goodly land; and there, especially, was a speedy increase of settlement during the fall of 1843. Among the early settlers in that neighborhood we notice the names of such as Aaron Miller, William Scearcy, Robt. Blacker, William Webb and Richard Quinton, most of whom had come over from the Richland settlement. on the night of May 1st, while at least one of them, Mr. Scearcy, who had a good many things to move, and to be sure that he would be in time had started a day or two beforehand. Settlements still further west were made the same day that legal possession was given. Among some of these settlers we mention the names of William Hutton, G. W. Hayes, Christopher M. Wood, and a Mr. McNutt, who was the first white man buried in that section. Still further west, at a later period, claims were taken and settlements made by D. P. Helm and J. W. Palmer.

Among the first settlers in these neighborhoods south of the river, there was manifested a spirit of enterprise and a desire for the establishment of all branches of industry, as well as the foundation and maintenance of religious and educational institutions.

We have already spoken of the mill erected by Mr. Wimer, near the forks of the river, and completed in February, 1843. Farther west, some time afterward, Cornelius Hurley and Benjamin Hollingsworth erected a flouring mill. It was started with one run of burrs, in the spring of 1846, and is now known as the old “Clapboard Mill.” A tannery was erected, in 1845, by R. B. Whitted. The first mercantile enterprise started was in Richland, some time in 1843, by L. J. Smith, the merchandise consisting of groceries and liquors. The first dry goods store was opened by Beriah Haworth, in the year 1844; followed by William A. Jordan, who established a dry goods and grocery store the following year. Mr. Williams was the first postmaster, followed by William Tingle, who, it seems, was a doctor, and the first one to locate in the county. He—that is, the doctor—was followed by Drs. Jones, Fidler, Efner, etc. Farther west, in 1852, a post-office was established by the name of Olean. It was kept at the house of Samuel Bowman, who was the first postmaster. Previous to this time, the nearest post-office was at Richland, or Fairfield. The office of Olean was removed to Ioka six years later. As is the case of other times and other places, schools and churches followed, but in a different order from that in which we find them elsewhere. It is usual for schoolhouses to be erected first, and here the people meet for public worship until they are able to erect church buildings. The early settlers in the neighborhoods now referred to established their church buildings and organized churches before they built school-houses and organized schools. “For several years the schools were taught in the houses of public worship, or in private dwellings,” is the account which the chronicler gives of early school matters in those parts. In 1851 John Davis erected a school building in Richland, which was known by the name of “The Seminary.” Zachariah Trueblood and John Callet taught the first school in this building. Since then “The Seminary” has had quite a career of usefulness, to which we allude more fully further on. In the Rock creek neighborhood, the first school taught was by a teacher of the name of Brown, in a cabin near where John Dare afterward resided. As we shall refer to church buildings and church organizations at length under a special topic, suffice it to say here that churches were erected as early as 1848, and organizations were formed long before that time. Among the early pioneer preachers we mention the names of Andrew P. Tannehill, Elder Kirkpatrick, Elder Gilmore, and Elder Hutton.

North of the river we find that quite a settlement had been formed prior to May 1, 1843; after that date settlements spread rapidly north and west. In taking up these claims, some very exciting contests took place between parties whose rights to the same claims interfered. We give the following account of one of the most exciting incidents growing out of one of these contests:

A valuable water-power had been found on the Indian side of the line, on North Skunk river, about two miles above its mouth. The settlers observed this, and two of them, each having his adherents, intended to claim and occupy it as soon as they could be entitled to cross over into the new territory. One of these men, L. B. Holmes, as early as February, 1843, built a cabin at the mill-site and moved into it with his family, although the whites were not legally entitled to settle before the first day of May: The other party, composed of the Messrs. Hendersons, arrived on the ground at dark on the evening of April 30th, and proceeded without delay to smoke out Mr. Holmes. This resulted in the burning of the cabin. Mr. Holmes, then, apparently defenseless with his family, suggested that they should all wait till morning, and then decide who should hold the claim, the other party agreeing to wait till midnight. After that hour, the first claim made was the legal one, according to the rules of the settlers, and the other party, finding that they had force enough to keep Mr. Holmes a prisoner and make the claim too, agreed to an armistice for a few hours. They were totally unaware that Mr. Holmes had a choice squad of friends concealed, who were quietly noting all that was being done. His direction to these men before night was: “Keep quiet till twelve o’clock; after that make the claim as soon as possible. If you are pushed for time, close your lines inside of theirs and make the claim good if you don't get more than ten acres.”

At 12 o'clock, the Henderson party started with their torches, leaving a guard with Mr. Holmes. The party, having the advantage of the lights, kept ahead, and by a signal agreed upon announced that they had surrounded the claim. Mr. Holmes cried out, “Boys, have you closed your lines?” “We have,” was responded with a whoop, and the new party now made their first appearance. The guard lost no time in informing his comrades, who returned without so much as closing their lines, saying they were resolved to have the claim. Mr. Holmes proposed to settle the dispute by paying or receiving $280, which the other party agreed to take and quit-claim the premises. In the fall of the same year Mr. Holmes sold the property to Mr. Cooley. Mr. Cooley put up a dwelling house and mill, surveyed lots and called the place Rochester. In the spring of 1845 Rochester contained the families of Cooley, A. H. Haskell, and Charles Frisbie.

Frisbie was from the town of Richland, and brought with him an old bachelor by the name of L. J. Smith, who sold whisky and tobacco. The lands were not yet in market but were subject to preemption, and Smith and Frisbie thought to make a good thing of it by preempting the mill tract, as they resided on it, and which they actually did. Information of this fact was soon received from Fairfield, and the country for miles around turned out to have Cooley reinstated in his title to the claim. Smith and Frisbie fled to Richland, where the company forthwith marched. On hearing of their approach, Smith took his gun and made for the brush. The company soon surrounded the spot. Smith was induced to surrender, and, with Frisbie, was escorted by the company back to the mill. On the route, Frisbie complained of feeling faint and wanted to get off his horse, but the company only regarded it as a ruse to get away, when Holmes, upon looking closely, saw blood on his clothes and inquired, “why, Frisbie, have you stabbed yourself?” “Yes,” said Frisbie, “and a mortal wound, too; and I am dying a perjured man.”The company came to a halt. The wound was examined and found to be a dangerous thrust in the side, near the region of the heart; it was dressed as well as the circumstances would permit, and the wounded man made a full statement of the villiany by which he and Smith had preempted the mill. His knife was then taken from him, and a litter was constructed, on which he was carried to the mill. Upon arriving there, Mr. Holmes, who had been selected as captain, addressing Frisbie, said:

“Mr. Frisbie, your guilty conscience has prompted you to an act quite as severe as the committee had intended to inflict upon you. Should you survive the effects of your self-inflicted wound, you are expected. to leave the territory within three days.”

Then, turning to Mr. Smith, Holmes continued in the blandest manner: “Now, Mr. Smith, be good enough to take off your hat.” Smith complied.

“Now, Mr. Smith, be good enough to take off your coat.” Smith again complied.

“Now, Mr. Smith, take off your shirt.”

Mr. Smith was good enough to do this also without hesitation. He was then informed that he could retain his pantaloons if he desired to do so.

“Now,” continued Mr. Holmes, “Mr. Smith, we have a duty to perform and I want you to act the man while Mr. Goodheart is discharging his duty. Mr. Goodheart, will you be good enough now to invest Mr. Smith with the regalia of his office?”

Whereupon Mr. Goodheart emptied about half the contents of a bucket of tar over the defenceless [sic] head, shoulders and arms of Smith. A feather pillow which had been provided was then opened and the contents placed in profusion over Smith, after which the remainder of the tar was applied over the feathers, when he was informed that he was at liberty to leave the territory as soon as Frisbie, but advised not to take Frisbie's route to the next world until he should be better prepared.

Smith then thanked the company from the bottom of his heart; was as polite as possible for a man in his garb, and said that he had expected to be burned alive; that in the “multiplicity of business” he had got into this unjust speculation, and now politely backed out. It is not known what became of Smith. Frisbie died some two years later, in Missouri, from the effects of his wound. It may be added that Frisbie also expected nothing less than being hung or tortured to death by the company, the fear of which led him to attempt suicide.

We are next led to consider the early settlement of the country lying between the two forks of Skunk river. In this section the primitive settlements were made by Obadiah Tharp, John W. Snelson, Presley Doggett, Wm. Trueblood, James Robinson; B. F. Chastain, William McGrew, James M. Mitts, Jesse B. Mitts, George Wimer, J. B. Whisler, Amos Hollowway, David Stout, and J. G. Dement. Farther west, a settlement was made on the 3d day of May, 1843, in what has always been known as the McNabb neighborhood.

Mr. Snelson located on a claim which afterward became the home of Corbin Utterbach. For some time Mr. Snelson maintained a ferry across North Skunk at that point. A cabin was erected here, where Mr. J. B. Whisler commenced selling goods in 1844. Mr. Holloway was known as the great “bee hunter.” We are indebted to Mr. S. A. James for the following account of this pioneer:

“Wild bees at that time were plenty, and were generally found in the trunk or limb of a tree, twenty, and sometimes thirty, feet from the ground. Mr. Holloway would start out with a yoke of oxen, a wagon, two, or three empty barrels, provisions and conveniences for camping. He would camp out at night, and would generally be gone from three to four weeks on one expedition. At the end of that time he would usually return with his barrels full of a delicious sweet which no Yankee patent receipt has yet been able to equal. Whether any philosopher ever contemplated a barrel of honey with other than gustative reflections we are unable to say; our own reflections upon an ox load of this commodity was that the million little laborers whose industry had gathered the store, and then had their homes despoiled and robbed, were in no worse condition than many of our fellow-beings in despotic countries, whose labors enrich the rulers and whose sting is only felt when too closely pressed, but whose minds remain ignorant of their true remedy. The process of finding a bee-tree was to place a small vessel, with some substance which emitted a sweet odor, near the forest. A few bees finding this would sip satisfaction, and then invariably make a 'bee-line', or straight fly, to their tree of deposit. At this point consisted the greatest skill of the hunter, and it grew into a settled quotation that Holloway 'could see a bee plumb a mile.' When the bee-tree was found, it was felled to the ground and the bees driven away from the honey by fumes of brimstone.”

J. B. Whisler afterward removed to the town of Lancaster, where he sold goods, and at his mills, four miles west of the town. Although the river has since swept away nearly all the improvements, the site continues to be known as the “Old Whisler Mill.” He was a persevering man at whatever he engaged, possessed a large amount of patience and good humor, and made fast friends of all his acquaintances. His business prospered and enabled him to assist many persons in securing their homes. He sold the settlers Mexican bounty warrants on time, making it advantageous to both parties. The settler who could not secure a sufficient amount of money to “enter” his claim, and many could not, were at any time liable to be entered out by some speculator in warrants, who could snap his finger at club laws and remain beyond the jurisdiction of Judge Lynch. Scores of worthy settlers, in the absence of a homestead law, thus secured their lands and continued to enjoy their homes in prosperity. On coming to the county, he was supposed to be an unmarried man, although he never alluded to his domestic affairs. Some five years after settling, he was married to a lady of the neighborhood, with whom he lived happily till his death, which occurred in 1852. Some time after the death of Mr. Whisler, a woman from Pennsylvania appeared in the county, who claimed to be his wife, and, moreover, came prepared with evidence to prove the relation. She instituted suit for the possession of Mr. Whisler's estate, which, through the industry and business sagacity of that gentleman, had grown to be very valuable. The courts decided that the Pennsylvania lady was the rightful wife and heir to the property, the second wife receiving but common wages during the time she had lived with the deceased, which extended through a period of about five years and amounted to about $1,000. While living with his second wife, there was born to Mr. Whisler one child, a daughter, who is married and living at this time in the county. Mrs. Whisler was married a second time and is now living in the county.

Among the first settlers in the McNabb neighborhood were A. J. McNabb and T. J. Hicklin. The former located on section 2 and the latter on section 3. McNabb plowed the first furrow in that neighborhood and planted potatoes. He still lives on his first claim.

On the 7th day of May, 1843, Maxon Randall located a claim, where he resided until recently, when he removed to the county seat. Mr. Randall describes the first house he lived in as a cabin one and a half stories high, size 16x20, built of round logs; puncheon floors, covered with clapboards; containing two rooms, one below, and one above, to which they ascended by means of a ladder. Mr. Randall says that in early days they were very much troubled with wolves. He and his neighbor, McNabb, bought traps, but did not succeed in capturing many. Finally they bought a bottle of strychnine and prepared a repast for the intruders. The next morning Mr. Randall says there were four dead wolves in sight of his sheep pen and afterward found seventeen more. He and Mr. McNab exterminated in this way over one hundred of the wolves, and after that were troubled no more. In the spring of 1844 Jacob Kansler began the erection of a saw and grist-mill on North Skunk, west of range 12. The people erected a school-house in this neighborhood the same year. The same year John Hasty, John Scott and E. Sampson located claims in this neighborhood, the latter being the father of the Hon. E. S. Sampson, who for two terms represented this district in Congress.

The first marriage solemnized in this neighborhood was that of Robt. Mann to Miss L. Pence, by John Ellis, Esq. The license was obtained at Washington, Iowa, This marriage was soon followed by three or four others in quick succession. Mr. Thos. J. Hicklin was chosen to be the father of, and to provide food and clothing for, the first child born in that locality.

Gen. James A. Williamson, at present Commissioner of the General Land Office, at Washington, D. C., was one of the early settlers of the McNabb neighborhood. After an absence of twenty-three years he returned to deliver an address before the annual meeting of the Old Settlers' Association. We take the liberty of quoting liberally from such parts of the address as refer to the early settement [sic] of the country:

“After a long and wearisome march from the central portion of the State of Indiana, keeping time to the slow tread of the gentle, patient ox team, which it had been my business to guide and goad through the bad roads of the Hoosier State, and the almost trackless prairies of Illinois and Eastern Iowa, you may imagine with what feelings of delight I laid down the implement of my continuous warfare with the noble bovines which had drawn that rare specimen of the architecture of North Carolina known in the West at that time as a prairie schooner (a very large projecting top wagon), upon my arrival in what was then known as the McNabb settlement—since more familiarly known to old settlers as 'Zion's Lane,' owing, as I suppose, to the piety of us early settlers in that vicinity.
“Some small portion of the southeastern part of the county was embraced in what was then known as the ' Old Purchase,' and save in that part there was but little or no settlement in the county made prior to the year 1844.
“I think the first crops grown in Warren township, and perhaps in all other parts of the county, except the part embraced in the old purchase, were planted in 1844. The first I saw was in 1845. During that year, before the maturity of the crops, many had the misfortune of going hungry to bed, contenting ourselves with dreams of the fullness and fatness which should follow the harvest.

“At the appointed time the harvest came, and with it a corporeal increase in the physique of most of the old settlers with whom I was then acquainted. The dreams of the harvest had not been as potent in producing muscle, tissue and avoirdupois as its realization.

“I see many of my friends here to-day who were then my nearest neighbors. You will not, perhaps, give full faith and credit to the statement that I feel, for truth's sake, compelled to make concerning them. These persons were so slender as to make them almost incapable of casting shadows, and they tightened their girdles another hole with the buckles instead of taking their dinners until after their early potatoes and green corn were sufficiently matured for food.

“In the fall of that year when our little 'sod crops' had ripened, millions of prairie chickens came to feed upon them. This was providential, though it threatened destruction of our crops, for we shot and trapped them by thousands, thus supplementing our bill of fare with that most excellent game. The quails and the manna were not more needed and appreciated by the Hebrew hosts who followed Moses in his slow and circuitous marches beyond the Red Sea than were the corn bread and grouse to the sturdy but hungry pilgrims who spent the winter of 1845 in this now most rich, productive and beautiful country. The early settlers of this county were strong, sturdy and determined men and women, otherwise they would not have been here in those early days.

“Having heard of this fair land of promise while cultivating the poorer soil of their native States, they, with the energy and bravery so characteristic of their natures, and so necessary to the settlement and development of a new country, resolved upon the trans-Mississippi journey of many hundreds of weary miles of overland travel. Upon arriving at their points of destination, most of those hardy and determined men found themselves possessed of little or nothing except their strong arms and brave hearts—their wives and little ones—a small quantity of household furniture and wearing apparel, a few rude farming implements with which they tilled the soil in States farther east, which were wholly unadapted to the cultivation of the soil of Iowa.

“I have seen many men on their arrival in this county drive their teams upon the places which were to be the sites of their dwelling houses and their future homes, descend from their wagons and tenderly assist, with their strong arms, their wearied wives and children to the ground which they hoped to some day call their own.
“After arriving at their destination, the first thing to be done was to 'stake off' a claim of 160 acres, which each head of a family might hold under the local 'claim laws' then or thereafter to be made, and in addition to this, a small timber lot, not exceeding forty acres, might be taken and held. This being done, our hardy pioneers immediately set about building a log house, which was the only kind possible, as there were no saw-mills or lumber within reach. If two or three or more families, as was often the case, moved in company and made their claims adjoining, they would unite their force and build one house, which would serve for a time as a home for all.

“In the meantime, while the house was building, the good, patient and loving wives—God bless them—had been cooking their frugal meals by the fires built upon the ground, and in unpacking and airing their goods, washing and mending the clothing, and preparing generally for the grand good time which they were to have on the occasion of the 'house warming', which was to take place as soon as the mansion of one room, not more than 16 x 16 feet, should be completed.

“It would be difficult to convince the younger children and later generations of those same early settlers how much comfort and happiness was found in one of those humble dwellings, which first suggested the feeling of home and ownership to their fathers and mothers, who had borne the hardships and privations of the long move or march into the Territory, and had finally succeeded in getting a home, however humble, which they could call their own.
“The settler who, by priority of a few weeks in his settlement, had succeeded in getting his house built, stood upon his threshold, his face beaming with joy and his heart swelling with pride as he welcomed the emigrant, who, a few days or weeks later came along in search of a location, into his hospitable mansion, assuring him that there was room and plenty for all. I shall never cease to be astonished when I reflect upon the holding capacity of some of those log cabins which were built by the first settlers of this county. It was no uncommon thing for four or five families to occupy for a time a room not more than 16 or 18 feet square.

“The hospitality of the settlers in those early days knew no bounds; a house was never full, and a larder never empty. As long as it contained one morsel of food, so long would the generous hearted housewife set it before the home or claim hunter, and bid him eat, without a thought of reward or compensation. If such boundless hospitality existed to-day, when the people are so able to entertain and to give, I fear that it would have at least one bad result, viz.: that of increasing the number of tramps.

“The difficulties of settling any portion of the territory of the United States at the present day are nothing when compared with those of settling this county thirty-five years ago. Then the nearest railroad was many hundreds of miles away; but little, if any, was then built west of the State of Ohio. Now, railroads, under the munificent policy of the general government in aiding in their construction, are built in advance of the settlement, so there is, in reality, no frontier for the agricultural settler; no place is so far away from another as Iowa was from the Ohio river in those days. Then there were no telegraph wires, no stage coaches, no lines or means of public conveyance anywhere within hundreds of miles, save an occasional steamer upon the Mississippi river, almost a hundred miles distant from our settlement. The transportation of mails was slow, and for many years all we received was carried from or near the Mississippi river on horseback. The postage was twenty-five cents on a single letter, and we had no money with which to pay it. Now all these conditions are changed. All the appliances and results of a high civilization are found almost equally in all parts of the country, North and West.

“The improved plows, mowers, reapers, and indeed all other improved machinery, precede the agricultural settler to his new home.

“It is hard to find a place where a daily mail is not received; letter postage is only one-eighth now of what it was then. I well remember the first letter which I received through the Sigourney post-office. It was in the year 1845. My friend, S. A. James, was postmaster, or, if not, he was acting for that official. I heard that there was a letter in the post-office for rne, and knowing that it would require twenty-five cents to pay the postage, the problem of getting that sum of money taxed my energy and financial ability to the utmost for many days. None of my neighbors were in such affluent circumstances as to be able to 'do my paper' for that sum. Suspecting that the letter might be from my little sweetheart, from whom I had reluctantly parted some time before, I was exceedingly anxious to break the wafer seal of that letter, but the ransom for it I could not procure, and I was about despairing of being able to pay the postage, when I heard of a kind-hearted man (since dead, peace to his ashes), living in the western part of the county, some miles from where I did, who was reported to have received twenty-five dollars some time before from the East. It was also alleged that he had loaned the sum of twenty-five cents to each of several persons in the McNabb settlement with which to pay postage. This news gave me new hope and courage. I started early one morning to find the capitalist, and negotiate with him for the loan of 'a quarter, which, with some difficulty, I accomplished; and then, with hastening steps and palpitating heart, walked to Sigourney and procured the letter, and returned home the same day, after a walk of something over twenty miles. Whether that letter was from my sweetheart or not, and what she said if it was from her, I will never tell.

“Then the public lands were offered for sale to the highest bidder soon after the same were surveyed, and the settler had no right or advantage over the speculator except such as was given him by the pre-emption laws of that time, and the still more effective claim laws; framed and adopted by the settlers themselves for their mutual protection. An infraction of these claim laws by speculators was sometimes punished by a well-aimed shot from the rifle of some one of the law-makers.

“Now, in nearly all parts of the country, the public lands are withheld from market for actual settlement under the homestead and pre-emption laws. The lands are now freely given to any citizen, or to any person who has declared his intention to become such if he will only settle upon and cultivate the same for a period of five years. If the homestead law of the present time had been in force in Iowa in 1843, and since, it is safe to say that this State would contain one million of inhabitants more than it does to-day.

“Only think of the Herculean task of earning and saving two hundred dollars, with which to pay for the 160 acres of land in those days, when it is remembered with what difficulty twenty-five cents was procured by an enterprising young man to pay the postage on a single letter. No more equitable thing could be done by the general government than to restore every dollar that was paid for land actually settled upon and cultivated by the early settlers in this and other Northwestern States and Territories”, and if ever I am in a position where my voice will be potential in urging this measure, I shall not fail to do it. There would be far more justice in doing that than in taking money out of the treasury to pay for losses incurred by citizens of the Southern States during the late war for the preservation of the Union.

“In those early days when the farms were to be broken or plowed for the first time, and the rails were to be made and hauled from the timber land to fence them, the manual labor necessary to do this was a sort of legal-tender for nearly all kinds of indebtedness. The doctor who wanted to make a farm would give his physic when you were sick, and you might make fence rails for him when you regained your health and strength, if you were so fortunate. The manufacture of about one hundred fence rails, or the cutting of one cord of wood, would pay for one small portion of jalap, and calomel, which was the standard remedy in those good old times of allopathic practice, before President Lincoln had been interviewed and expressed his terse opinion as to the virtue and efficacy of homoepathic system of medical practice. The settler who came the year before would give to the settler who came the year after one bushel of corn for making one hundred fence rails, or for one day's work at other labor, which was considered an equivalent and legal-tender therefor. The shoemaker and blacksmith of the village or settlement would perform labor of their kind, and take in exchange for it the less skilled labor of the rail-splitter or the wood-chopper.

“I know how this was by experience, having bartered in the exchange of the above named commodities, exchanging as I did the unskilled for the skilled article, submitting to an immense discount on what I had to offer.
“Within two miles and less of the place where we are now standing, for many weary days and months when I was a boy, and not a very strong one, I wielded the ax, the maul and the mattock, for more than ten hours a day, receiving therefor the liberal wages of ten dollars a month in 'store pay' —this I did when the mercury ranged from twenty degrees below zero in January to ninety above in July. I trust that your present able representative in congress, who has won renown on the battle field, who has worn with honor the judicial ermine, and won an enviable reputation in the halls of Congress will not be offended with me for stating in this public manner that I knew him when he was engaged in the same kind of labor that fell to my lot, and that he performed them well.

“I do not mention this in the belief that it will ever materially aid either of us in being President, as the same kind of labor, perhaps, did the most illustrious man of modern times, in procuring that office. I only mention it to show that honest toil of the rudest and hardest kind will not prevent a man from rising to an equality with those who were more favored with fortune in early life.

“In those days, as is well known, and perhaps regretfully remembered by us old settlers, we had absolutely no money, and whatever could not be procured for labor in the first year or two, and after that for several years, for labor and farm products, could not be procured at all. People were educated to this view of life and its realization. This was not so great a calamity as it may now appear to the young, or to those who cannot realize the situation in consequence of not having been forced to learn it, as we were.

“The daily labor of a strong man was rated at and paid for with a commodity or produce which the owner would willingly sell for from twenty-five to fifty cents in cash. The price of all kinds of merchandise was exceedingly high as compared with the price at the present day; the purchasing power of a dollar, which cost at the very least, two days of labor, was not then nearly so great as the purchasing power of a dollar now, which does not cost more than one day of labor and often not so much as that.

“It would be hard to deduce from the foregoing statement of facts a reason why in those early days of hard times and cheap labor in the history of our old county, and indeed of the territory and State, why every man seemed intent upon laboring for himself or for others—intent upon earning by honest industry all that he desired or expected to enjoy or call his own, why there were no vagabond tramps endangering the lives and property of honest men who had acquired their substance by faithful honest toil, or why the reverse of all this is the true situation of the case to-day, not only in this country and in this State, but throughout our whole common country.

“I have dwelt sufficiently long upon what we suffered, and think it but right that some reference should be made to the joys which come as a compensation for the suffering and self denial.

“The kind and generous soil which you secured by being here at an early day has yielded you rich rewards for the labor bestowed. You have lived in affluence and comfort, rearing healthful, stalwart children, deeply imbuing them with a love of freedom, home and country, educating them under the auspices of the noblest free school system ever inaugurated and maintained by man. These results achieved, life may be said to have been well spent and rewarded.

“Many of you who were the first to settle in this county as young married men and women, are still young and strong, with much yet to be enjoyed. Many who started in the race with you have fallen; some who have gone lived to see the fruition of their hopes; others fell early in the struggle with the hard life of the pioneer. I remember, with pleasure for having known them, and with deep regret for their loss, many settlers who have passed over; a few of whom I shall name in the order in which their names occur to me:

“J. B. Whisler, J. G. Crocker, P. B. Shawhan, George Shawhan, Judge Pinkerton (and I think all of his family), Wm. A. Jordan, Joseph Knox, Samuel Johnston, Jacob Goodheart, Thomas Hendryx, Ezekiel Sampson, James L. Hogin, J. T. Axtell, Judge Baker, William Landers, B. S. McCoy, John C. McNabb, Sanford Leathers, Austin Jacobs, Wm. Jacobs, and last but not least, the gallant General Marcellus M. Crocker—

'He was a man, take him all in all,
We shall not look upon his like again.'

“Many of you remember the fact, if not the circumstances, connected with the warm and almost more than brotherly friendship between Gen'l Crocker and myself. We became acquainted when we were boys, and that friendship grew and strengthened with increasing years, until the end of his life. The last letter I ever received from him, written but a short time before his death, and when he knew that his life was fast drawing to a close, was one in which he poured out his soul to me in such words as he only, of all the men I ever knew, could utter, referring to the friendship which was the result of our mutual struggles in early life to maintain our lives and those dependent upon us. His great indomitable soul was called from earth all to [sic] soon.

“I hope I may be pardoned, and not thought vain or immodest, when I refer to the fact that of the general officers in the late war who achieved distinction, and whose acts during the war became a part of the history of the Republic, no less than three were pioneer settlers in this county, though all had removed from the county before the war commenced. My friend General Crocker, was one of the number, and I do hope and believe that the old settlers of Keokuk county still cherish and love his memory, and feel a just pride in the fact that his boyhood days, and a part of the days of his early manhood were spent among you.

“I have not referred to the record of Keokuk county soldiers during the late struggle for the nation's life. I have not had at my command the roll of honor, and cannot remember the history of many of the brave men who offered their lives that the Union might live, yet I should not hesitate to assert before all the world that the soldiers whom this county sent to the army were loyal, brave and fearless, and helped to create and fully sustain the high reputation borne by Iowa soldiers throughout the Republic. I can at this moment only recall the history of one private soldier of the county who fell in the late war. When I was myself a boy, a very young man, I knew a fair young boy, many years my junior. I loved this beautiful boy for his intelligence and gentleness. Years rolled by; I grew into manhood and went away from among you while he was still a young boy of great promise. The cruel, wicked war came on, and I heard that my young friend had enlisted. Later on I learned the number of his regiment, and also in what portion of the army it was serving. Bearing this in mind, I visited his brigade commander, on the first opportunity, and asked him to send for the young soldier. That gallant, great hearted soldier, General Wm. W. Belknap, told me, while tears streamed from his eyes, that I was too late. He told me that my gallant young friend had fought his last battle—had laid down his young life for the salvation of the nation—that he had fallen in the face of the enemy on Kenesaw's rugged embattled front. That young hero was Robert Lowe. He also stated, if I remember aright, that my young friend had been appointed a cadet at West Point, and was to have left in a few days for that place.”

Prior to the summer of 1843 very little progress had been made in the settlement of the country west and north of North Skunk river. It was at this time there appeared in this part of the county a man, who, probably more than any other, contributed to the future prosperity, development and good name of the county. Energetic in manner, upright of character, prompt and accurate in business matters, his fellow citizens long and often honored him with the most important office in the county. His name is S. A. James. We have frequently referred to him as authority heretofore, and shall hereafter refer to him possibly still more frequently. There is nothing which we could say as appropriate and relevant, at this period of the history of the county, as the following so aptly said in this gentleman's, own language.

“About the first of June, 1843, I left the town of Washington, Iowa, intending to make a claim in Keokuk county. I went in the company of Arora Clemons and family, who had a yoke of oxen and lumber wagon, with which they hauled some provisions and a very small amount of household plunder. Mr. Clemons had, before that time, been up to Keokuk county, made him a claim, and had built on it a small log cabin at the grove on the present (1879) John Holzworth farm, about a mile north of Harper. Staying with Mr. Clemons the first night, at his cabin, I set out early next morning to find a couple of friends who were improving a claim, lately known as the Jack Lightfoot farm, but now owned by Mr. Detchon and Mr. Renfro, about three miles northwest of Sigourney.

At this time there was not, besides Mr. Clemons, a single inhabitant in the northeast fourth of the county. Taking the landmarks with which I had been furnished, I struck out, as stated, to find my two friends. But I bore off too much southwest, crossed over the prairie where Sigourney now stands, and first learned I was too far south by finding one Robert Linder and some others cutting logs for a cabin where Mr. John M. Brunt now lives. They could give me no tidings or directions to find my friends, and I commenced to retrace my steps. At the close of the day I found myself alone in the small elm grove where Joel Long now resides, about three miles northeast of Sigourney, and finding a bark cover beside a large log, where some one had previously camped, I determined to make a night of it there, which I did, after making supper on two or three cold biscuit I had with me.

“The next morning when I awoke at sunrise, my ears were greeted with the songs of birds, and the calls of numerous turkeys, not fifty yards from me. I had no gun, or any arms larger than a penknife, and, perforce, I stood and gazed at the large gobblers as they strutted by.

“I then struck northward, visiting every grove, to find some settler. In this way I continued my search till I came to the timber of South English river, on the outskirts of which was a pretty well beaten road, made by the bee hunters. I was now satisfied I could not find my friends without a better direction and equipment, so I went down this bee hunters' road till I came in sight of the upper timber of Crooked creek, for which I aimed, and spent my third night out from Washington at David Delong's, some eight or nine miles northwest of that town.

“The next day I returned to Washington, rested a day or two, obtained better directions, a rifle, an ax, a pint of salt, a few more biscuit, and again started out in search of my two Keokuk county friends. It had been, meantime, raining very much, and in many places the prairie was three to six inches deep in water, especially on the bottoms. I found my ax of service in crossing small streams, by felling saplings, and finally made my destination about dark, all 0. K, but oh! so tired.

“I soon after made me a claim four miles north of Sigourney (where Leander Delong now lives), and after assisting my friends in their improvements for a month or two, we all returned to Washington to spend the winter. On this return trip we found a Mr. Schnakenberg had settled on German creek. We reached his cabin at dark. The family were about to take mush and milk for ther [sic] supper, but gave us the first table. I know the family must have thought our stomachs were made of India rubber. We were so hungry, and it was so palatable! The next day we got to Washington. And this was my first trip to Keokuk county.”

Richard Schnakenberg, mentioned in the foregoing sketch, together with five or six others, had formed the first settlement in that neighborhood, May 1, 1843. Among others who came about this time, or shortly afterward, were Casper Klett and John Beinhart, who are both now dead, the latter dying shortly after arriving. These gentlemen, as well as a large majority of the people who afterward settled in that neighborhood, were Germans, and upon the organization of the county, the township was called German from that fact. The people in that settlement, have always been noted for their industry and thrift, and have fully contributed their share toward the development of the material resources of the county.

Shortly after locating upon his claim, Mr. Schnakenberg, in company with an old gentlemen by the name of Seaba, visited the place where Sigourney is now located. The latter was by no means enthusiastic over the prospects of the present county-seat, and remarked that there never could be any market here, and that he would return to Cincinnati and make a living by doing “days' work.” Mr. Seaba, however, did not go back to Cincinnati, but settled down and lived long enough in the county to surround himself with all the comforts of life, and died at a very advanced age, respected by all his neighbors as one of the most intelligent and enterprising citizens of German township. Mr. Klett was always noted for his liberality. It is said that he would divide his last pancake with a neighbor, would lend anything he had, and was very accommodating in various ways. He did a great deal of freighting with horses and oxen to and from Keokuk and Burlington. On one of these trips the roads were so bad that it took two days to go four miles. He always kept the best of horses, and plenty of them, and when their [sic] was a boiler or anything particularly heavy to move, Mr. Klett was generally called on to perform the work.

Farther west, in the neighborhood of what was destined to become the metropolis of the county, and the center of trade, there had been very little done in the way of settlement as early as the summer of 1844. About this time, S. A. James, who had recently been appointed county clerk, came into this neighborhood looking for the county-seat, which had just been located. Upon reaching the place he found a stout pole planted in the ground, the stake of the commissioners, but nothing else to disturb the ramblings of the grey wolf or the cooings of the wild grouse. The eye swept the circle of vision to rest on one single habitation, that of Jacob Shaver, who had located in the grove southwest, now known as “Skillman's Grove.” Mr. Shaver had made his claim and erected his cabin the previous season, and early that spring had moved his family upon the premises. William Shaver, John Shaver and Robt. Linder located about the same time, one mile southwest of Jacob Shaver. This constituted the whole of the settlement in the neighborhood of the present county-seat. East, west, and north, the whole county for miles lay unclaimed, and remained so for some time.

Upon arriving at the seat of justice, Mr. James forthwith set to work erecting a cabin. This cabin was erected in short order. Considering the speed with which this builing [sic] was erected, the total absence of all building material and the complicated plans which necessarily entered into the erection of a building which was to subserve such a variety of purposes, we hesitate not in saying that one would search in vain to find it surpassed in the whole annals of public improvements. This remarkable edifice was 12x16, floored with puncheons and covered with clapboards put on with nails purchased in Washington. Here were the county offices and the public records; the judge's room and the jury-room; indictments filed and suits tried; the county's cash hoarded and its criminals incarcerated; here, also, the county officials ate, lodged and slept.

Later in the fall another cabin was erected, and the following spring the population was augmented by the arrival of a lawyer by the name of Blair, who for a while had a monopoly of the criminal as well as the civil business in the courts of the county. Mr. Blair was soon followed by a representative of the medical profession, Dr. B. F. Weeks, who was succeeded by Dr. E. H. Skillman, who for several years was the only physician in that part of the country, his professional visits leading him to the various settlements scattered around throughout the county. During this time there were the following arrivals: G. B. Cook, A. Covey, Joseph Adams, E. Shugart, Wm. Basey, James Shields, Josiah Crawford, W. Hulbert and B. F. Edwards. The nearest settlements were as follows: The Rosecrans neighborhoood [sic], three miles northwest; the German creek neighborhood, six miles east, and the Smith settlement on Smith creek, five miles west.

During this summer James Shields erected a cabin and stood behind a rough counter offering groceries for sale. Mr. Crawford reared a pole shanty or house, and placed therein a very fair law library. It was probably the best the county afforded, and Mr. Crawford was studying law. At the July term of the District Court, that year, he applied for license to practice law; the committee reported adversely to his admission, whereupon he arose and made a speech to the court in which the bar, and especially the committee, were severely handled: his practice would not leave them much to do; they were jealous of his abilities, jealous of his library, and he intended to rise yet head and shoulders above them, He closed his speech by announcing that he intended to emigrate from the judicial district, which he accordingly did.

Schools and churches were not organized till some time later; the first church, the Methodist, being organized and a building erected the following year. There was a post-office established, and the first mail received on the 7th of February, 1845; the mail was carried on horseback from Washington to Oskaloosa by Mr. J. H. Bragg, the contractor, once every two weeks. Mr. James was the first postmaster. This was the only post-office in the whole section of the country at that time, and as there was but one mail every two weeks, mail day was a very important occasion.

Before the close of the next year several new business enterprises had been started. Joseph Knox began to sell dry goods; Martin Grimsley and J. G. Crocker sold groceries; Joseph Adams started a blacksmith shop, Rob't Linder a harness shop, Jacob Shaver a cooper shop, and Haskell & Burgess a shop for manufacturing fanning mills. B. F. Edwards erected a log building where he displayed quite a creditable assortment of general merchandise for sale.
At that time there were but seven families residing along English river. One hot summer day while Edwards was rubbing his hands for a customer, a man from that part of the country came in and inquired the price of beeswax. He was informed that he could have twenty-five cents a pound in trade. He produced a. small quantity tied up in a pocket handkerchief, which upon being weighed proved to amount to a half-pound. Upon being asked what he would have for it he surveyed the shelves for a few minutes in silence and then replied that his wife would be in town in a few weeks and he believed that he would prefer to have her “take up the goods.”

The first settlements made in the vicinity of English river were in the neighborhood of the present site of South English, in 1845. The first settlers were Jas. Mahaffa, James Thomas and John Houston. Thomas took a claim on the northwest quarter of section 22; Houston on section 24, and his place was for many years known as “Houston's Point.” Afterward came James, Chambers and H. H. Rodman, who located on section 30. John Duke and John Ballard made settlements farther west. Some later Thomas Morgan came. Chambers Rodman froze to death some few years after he located in the county.

Churches were organized in this neighborhood shortly after its settlement. They were organized in the following order: first came the Methodist, then the Baptist, Christian and Congregational. The first school was taught by S. M. Glandon in a school-house which had no windows in it. The first store was kept by Ethan Post, and it is said by the old settlers that he could generally be found at his post, fast asleep.

Mr. Arora Clemmons, in 1842, took a claim and began a settlement south‑east of South English, near what is now known as Holsworth's Grove. Although the land in that vicinity is not excelled by any other tract in the State for its beauty and the fertility of the soil, on account of the scarcity of timber it was not settled till some time after the other parts of the county where timber was more abundant. We quote from the centennial address delivered at Keota, July 4, 1876, by Hon. Isaac Farley:

“In fact, our most beautiful prairies were shunned by early settlers. Inhabitants of to-day whilst contemplating our broad prairies, dotted with neat, commodious dwellings, barns, orchards and artificial groves, look back with surprise at the choice of the first settlers. The uninviting features of our Western prairies remind me of a poem descriptive of them which I used to read in my boyhood days. The poem was doubtless written by some New England pedagogue after returning from a flying visit to some such a country as this was in early days:

“'Oh, lonesome, windy, grassy place,
Where buffalo and snakes prevail;
The first with dreadful looking face,
The last with dreadful sounding tail.
I'd rather live on camel hump
And be a Yankee doodle beggar,
Than where I never see a stump
And shake to death with fever 'n' agr.'”

Fortunately for the settlers of this locality, owing to its high and dry surface, they were seldom afflicted with malarial diseases and fever and ague have been almost unknown. In 1843 came J. J. Kreamer and J. P. Kreamer and settled on Clear creek. This was prior to the time the land was put into the market, consequently settlers at that time were called squatters. Six of the first settlers, to-wit.: the Kreamers, Newton, Gilbert, Keeley and Carris, still live upon the land they first entered.

Transcribed by Pat Wahl. Thank you, Pat!


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