Pioneer Days in Plymouth County by W. L. Clark...
as printed in the LeMars Sentinel dated May 15, 1891
May 15, 1891
PIONEER DAYS IN PLYMOUTH COUNTY
An Historic Account Of The Early Settlement, Organization, and
Subsequent Development of the County by Townships
Interesting Reminiscences, Adventures, Amusing Incidents and the
Hardships Connected with the County's History from 1856 to 1891,
Including the "Homestead" and "Grasshopper" Days.
By W. L. Clark
Descriptive-Population-Early Settlement-Coming of the Illinois Central
Railway-Schools and Churches
Township ninety, range forty-five is known as Lincoln civil township,
but formerly was embraced in Plymouth. It is located on the south line
of the county, with Elkhorn township on the east, Stanton on the north
and Hungerford on the west. It was organized October 3, 1860, one of
the first in Plymouth county. The whole territory is exceedingly well
provided with water-courses and natural drainage. Muddy creek is in the
central part of the township. Dry Branch, of Muddy creek, courses its
way through the eastern part of the township, while Big Whisky is found
in the western part of the territory.
This is one of the best agricultural townships in Northwestern Iowa.
The population in 1885 was 669, of this number 500 were American born,
and the remained are chiefly German. The last census shows but a slight
increase in population there now being 679 within the township, but
there has been much improvement in way of development of farms, but hose
who have taken the place of some of the first settlers.
The first man to enter this fair domain and build for himself a home,
was Hon. William Barrett, whose name was for many years well known in
Plymouth county, from the fact of his serving as the chairman of the
board of supervisors for so long a period. He had previously lived in
Hungerford township, but after a short residence there he took up a
homestead on section eight of Lincoln, where he remained until 1885-86,
when he removed to Dakota territory, now South Dakota.
T. J. Rea (son of A.E. Rea, for many years a county officer here)
homesteaded land on the northwest quarter of section eight, about they
year 1866. He finally sold and removed to Kansas.
The Mathwig family were among the first to settle in Lincoln, along the
northern line. They came in just after the Rebellion closed. The
father died in 1887. Two sons are still residents of the township.
But little settlement was made from that date on to the time the
Illinois Central Railroad was built through the county in 1869-70. Much
attention has been paid to school matters, and by the school
superintendent's report of October, 1889, it is found that Lincoln
township had six sub-districts, each provided with a suitable
school-house. The total scholarship, at that time was 168. There is a
Roman Catholic church known as St. Joseph's.
A German Lutheran organization is found in the western portion of
Lincoln twp, with a building on section eight. The influence of the
faith held by German Lutherans is indeed great.
Location-Description-Organization-Pioneer Settlement-Village of
Westfield-Schools and Churches
This is the second township from the north line of the county, and is
one the western border. As constituted at present it comprises all of
congressional township ninety-two, range forty-eight west, except the
northern tier of sections, which is included in Portland. It also
contains a part of range forty-nine, which takes in all that portion
east of the Big Sioux river. Westfield was one of the two original
civil townships of Plymouth county. When the county was organized (or
soon after) it was divided into Plymouth and Westfield civil townships.
Later on, Westfield was included in Johnson township, but May 3, 1878,
took its present bounds.
The general typography of the township is rolling and indeed rough. Its
streams are the Westfield creek, running from the northeast to the
southwest, emptying into the Big Sioux river. Broken Kettle Creek,
which flows through the southwestern part, is also quite a stream. The
populations in 1885 was 211, 180 of which were American born. At
present there are not far from 560 population. The only village in this
township is Westfield, on section 27, a mere hamlet consisting of two
stores, a blacksmith shop, the post office and church.
Hunters and trappers had from time to time gone over this section of the
county, but not until 1857 was any attempt made at settlement. During
the year 1857, the following took up land under the preemption act:
I.T. Martin, Thomas McGill, John Hipkins, Joseph Geson, and Mr. Vidito.
The hard times of 1857, together with the oncoming of the Civil War,
caused the township to become depopulated, and for a time almost
The Western Land company platted what is now referred to as Old
Westfield village, in 1858, it being then believed that the Dubuque &
Sioux City railway line would cross the Big Sioux at this point and run
on to Yankton, Dak.
No further attempt was made to settle the township until 1871; from that
year, on to 1878, a number came in to make homes for themselves. Among
the number may be here mentioned George Cilley, in the north part.
Rufus Clark settled in the northern part in 1879-80. He finally removed
to Colorado. William Foster came in 1873 and bought land near the plat
of Westfield, of his brother. He sold in the fall of 1888 and removed.
VILLAGE OF WESTFIELD
Westfield was platted in August, 1877, on sections twenty-six and
twenty-seven. At an early day an attempt had been made to get the
county seat located there instead of Melbourne, in Plymouth township-the
center of the county. This idea was abandoned, however, in 1880.
The first goods were sold at this point in 1877 when Thomas Trendle
opened a general store and was appointed the first postmaster in the
newly established post office of Westfield. In the spring of 1886 a
general store was opened by Luke Wheeler and wife. The wife of Mr.
Wheeler was appointed postmistress to succeed Trendle, and still keeps
the office. In the spring of 1888 William Chapman put in a general
stock of goods and is still in trade. The first and present blacksmith
is a man named Plutz. The first school in the township was held at
Westfield in 1878.
Considering the light settlement of this township, it supports schools
quite well. There are four sub-districts, each having a good school
building. No township in the entire county has so great a number of
shade trees as Westfield, which township, official reports show, has
While there are no flourishing religious societies within her borders,
there are a good many Christian men and women. Services are held by the
Methodist, Congregational, and Advent denominations, at the various
school buildings, chiefly at the one located at the village of
Origin of the Name-When Constituted-Boundary-General
Topography-Population-Early Settlement-Capt. Betsworth-Events of
Interest-Religious-Educational-Terrible Accidents-Post Office and Other
America is constituted of congressional township ninety-two, range
forty-four hence contains thirty-six full sections, equivalent to 23,040
acres of land. In many respects it may well be classed as the banner
township of the county. In it is located the city of LeMars, which is
the seat of justice, of Plymouth county. The Illinois Central railroad
passes from the north east to the southwest, forming a junction with the
Minneapolis & Omaha railway at LeMars. The latter road follows a
northern course into Elgin township, where it bears to the northeast.
The chief streams in America township are the Floyd river, Plymouth
creek, in the southwestern portion, and the West Fork of the Floyd river
in the northwest part.
Originally America township was embrace in territory known as Plymouth
and Lincoln townships, but the date of its distinct organization was
September 2, 1867, when its entire population consisted of American,
with the exception of three persons, hence the township's name.
In 1885 the total population, exclusive of the city of LeMars, numbered
650, of which 4.6 were Americans. The 1890 census gives it a population
of 704. Its assessed real estate valuation is $173,000.
The pioneer of this part of the Plymouth county was W.S. McCurdy, who
was a brick-maker, and worked at that business in Sioux City, but at an
early day became a resident of Plymouth township, Plymouth county, near
the original county seat, Melbourne. It was in the early springtime of
1866 that he homesteaded a part of section twenty of what is now
designated as America township.
The next to se his claim stakes was Capt. B.F. Betsworth, who came from
Kane county, Ill., and who, in the spring of 1866, after a long, muddy,
and tedious trip across the state to Sioux City finally reached his
claim on June 28. He "squatted" on railroad land, which he purchased of
the state afterward. His location was section nine, upon which a part
of the present city of LeMars is now situated. Later on he traded the
land for three times its amount in acres, with the railroad company, who
plated a town site upon it.
In the fall of 1867 America township was organized by eight voters-not
quite [the next two lines are blurred over each other and unreadable..it
picks up in mid sentence.]
who settled on section seventeen. He remained six years and finally
moved to California. Henry Carmichael, a son-in-law of Capt. Betsworth,
also accompanied them and took a claim on section seventeen. Andrew
Black who came in from Minnesota, settled on a homestead on section
twenty-two. He was a single man at the time.
During the month of July 1867, came J. P. Ladd from Kane county, Ill.,
and took the north half of section sixteen. He is now a wealthy farmer
of Woodbury county. Amos Marvin came at the same time and from the same
locality. He homesteaded a portion of section ten, but now resides in
Sioux City. Walter Clark, of Kane county, Ill., also settled on section
ten. He is now a carpenter in Sioux City.
Joseph Carrington, an Englishman came in 1867, and settled on the
southwest quarter of section eight. It was about 1868-69 when John
Blodget and B.O. Foster came from Maine and located in this township.
In 1869 they operated a general store-the first of the new town of
From 1868 to the time the railroad was completed in 1870, there were no
settlers, other than those mentioned. From that date on settlement has
EVENTS OF INTEREST
The first human habitation in America township was a half-dozen logs
rolled together, with a sort of covering of sheets, quilts, etc., and
this made a camping claim-shanty of W.S. McCurdy and his family. The
first real house was the log structure erected on the east bank of the
Floyd river, at a point where the bridge and brick yard are now located,
in the city of LeMars. This was built and owned by Capt. Betsworth, and
was raised in 1866. It was constructed of cottonwood and willow logs,
and covered with cottonwood shingles, brought from Sioux City. The
first frame house was built by Messrs. Betsworth & Clark, for J.P. Ladd,
and is still standing on the town plat of LeMars.
The first child born in America township was John Betsworth, Jr., son of
John Betsworth, Sr., and a grandson of Capt. Betsworth. He was born in
June, 1867. The first death was that of Mother Taylor, an English lady,
who passed from earth, in 1869.
The first term of school was taught in a log building on the line
between sections seventeen and twenty, in 1867. It was a fall school
taught by J.H. Betsworth. The first frame school building was a
two-story house erected on the plat of LeMars. It was built of pine and
cottonwood lumber, and was considered too large by some of the citizens.
B.O. Foster, an early settler, remarked that, "We will never fill that
school building in the world." He was mistaken, for the city of LeMars
has already erected spacious public school buildings.
The first religious services in the township were held at the house of
Capt. Betsworth, by a German Evangelist, in the fall of 1867. The
Methodist Episcopal people were the first to organize a regular society
and to erect the first church edifice. Meetings were held in the
railroad depot in 1869.
(Gleaned from Sentinel file)
During a thunderstorm of unusual severity, July 25th, 1884, Mrs. Michael
Ferguson, in Foster's addition to LeMars, was standing in the yard of
her residence, feeding some chickens, when she was struck by lightening
and instantly dropped dead. The side of her head and her breast were
burned to a crisp. A near neighbor, seeing her fall, supposed she had
slipped down, and at once went to help her up, when to her astonishment
she found the poor creature dead and badly mutilated by the electric
shock. Her husband was engineer at the roller mills.
Another terrible death took place in LeMars during the month of
February, 1867, in a tenement house in the west end, by which the fire
fiend burned to death a woman name Nora Niermeyer, and her three
children, John, Henry, and Frankie. The fire originated from coals of
fire left in the ash pan, which had been carelessly set by the wood
The first to reach the burning house was James Andrews and George Pew.
It occurred in the dead of night, when all were sleeping. The husband
was revived, but coming to the door half asleep and horrified, could not
direct the men to the bed chamber until it was too late to gain
admittance, and the family thus perished. The building had been used
for a hotel at one time, and there were other families then living
there, but they made good their escape.
To the list of fatal accidents in LeMars may be added the sad case of
Frank Bennick, a nine-year-old son of D. H. Bennick, who in 1881, fell
into his father's well, which was thirty-five feet deep. He fell head
foremost, penetrating the mire and sand in the bottom of the well, while
his feet appeared just above the water's edge when discovered. He was
taken from the well alive, but never regained consciousness.
SCHOOLS AND POST-OFFICES
Deep interest was taken by the first few homestead settlers in getting
good schools started as soon as possible. At first the rude log houses
served, then were reared the better frame houses. The present
public-system is, indeed, a good one. In America township, exclusive of
the city of LeMars, there are five sub-districts, five good school
buildings. The first post-office in the township was established on
section seventeen, with James Garrisen as postmaster. He was succeeded
by Mr. John Blodget, who was also the first postmaster at LeMars.
LeMars Semi-Weekly Sentinel
June 26, 1891
PIONEER DAYS IN PLYMOUTH COUNTY
AN HISTORIC ACCOUNT OF THE EARLY SETTLEMENT, ORGANIZATION AND SUBSEQUENT DEVELOPMENT OF THE COUNTY BY TOWNSHIPS
Interesting Reminiscences, Adventures, Amusing Incidents, and the Hardships Connected with the County’s History from 1856 to 1891, Including the “Homestead” and “Grasshopper” Days.
By W. L. Clark
Descriptive- Organization-First Settlement-Schools-First Events-A Big Wheat Farm-Village of Quorn-First Railroad Pioneer Newspaper-Homesteaders
That portion of Plymouth county described by congressional township ninety and range forty-four west is known as Elkhorn township. It is one the south line of the county, with Garfield township to its east, Union on the south and Lincoln on the west. Not unlike the remainder of Plymouth county, this township is noted for its excellent land and fine natural drainage system, formed by numerous creeks and rivers, among which may be mentioned the West Fork, of the Little Sioux river, in the south and western portion; also Muddy Creek, in the western part, leaving the territory from section four; John’s creek is another small prairie stream. These principal water courses are each supplied with many lesser feeders.
Elkhorn township was constituted a separate civil organization, by an act of the board of county supervisors, dated September 3d, 1877. Prior to that time it was included in Lincoln township. The population, which now numbers 486, in 1885 was only 350, 240 of which were American born.
The village plat of Quorn, on section twenty-five, was platted in September, 1880, but owing to the building up of the railroad town of Kingsley, a mile to the east, it is now virtually defunct.
In going about along well-improved highways, with excellent farms on either hand attracting the attention of the passer by, the question naturally arises, today, “Who was the first to claim land and build for himself a home in this goodly territory?” By careful research among the pioneers, it is learned that in 1876 Charles Bullis came from Franklin county, Iowa, and purchased the land in the autumn of that year, on section twenty-six, township ninety and range forty-four, which now constitutes Elkhorn civil township. At that date there was not a house of any description to be seen in Elkhorn’s eastern neighboring township of Garfield.
Four members of the family named Higday settled in the northwest corner of the township. One moved away, two are deceased, and one named Joseph, is still a resident.
Nearly all the pioneers of this township made homestead entries, George Evans locating on the southwest quarter of section seventeen. John and “Mike” Trow claimed land on the southeast of section seventeen. The former is still living there, his brother, Gresh, who located on section nine is now dead. A Mr. Mann settled along the west line of the township, and remained until about 1886. Hugh Mason, who is still an honored resident, effected a settlement on section thirty-one and thirty-two. J.J. Edwards settled on section twenty-nine, but subsequently removed to another county. P.J. Ward was one of the very earliest settlers, and is still a resident of this township. He settled on section twenty-four, where he now enjoys the fruit of his labors, in the possession of a most valuable farm, upon which is situated a magnificent grove planted and cultivated by his own hands. S. North settled on the north half of the southwest quarter of section fourteen. He is now deceased. Henry Addington located on a part of section twenty-four, but soon removed. A man named Cain settled on the northwest of section thirty-two; and one named Bruseau on section twenty. They subsequently removed to California.
From about 1877 settlement was made more rapidly. In 1876 the township had about twenty voters within her borders.
The first marriage in what now comprises Elkhorn was that of Arthur Dufty in 1872.
The first religious services were held at the Higday school house by Rev. C. W. Batchelor, Methodist, in 1858.
The first death was that of Sarah North, in 1877, aged sixty-seven years.
The first child born was Emma Kane, in 1872.
The first term of school was taught in 1868, at the Higday school house. The first school houses were erected on section thirty-two and section six—both built the same year. As the settlers increased, new sub districts were made and provided with good frame buildings until today the township has six sub-districts each having a good school edifice. The total enrollment of pupils in 1889 was 142. The schools are in excellent condition, and keep pace with new educational methods in all respects.
VILLAGE OF QUORN (defunct)
In the month of October, 1880, Close Bros. platted the village of Quorn on section twenty-five of Elkhorn township. It was expected that the Chicago & Northwestern Railway line would eventually be constructed through its limits, but the company not liking the business style of the proprietors they changed the route, platted Kingsley a mile to the east and left Quorn off of the line or road, which fact forever blighted its hopes. However, before this transpired, the village had commenced to thrive and put on western city airs. Several general stores were being operated; a post office was petitioned for and granted; and John Gaspar was the first to hold the office of postmaster. A roller mill was built and operated by Heacock Bros. and still does a paying business. Casper Brothers, Rathburn & Ireland and Mr. Varnum all conducted good stores from which general goods and hardware were sold. A newspaper known as the Lynx was established at this point in 1883 by Frank Calhoun, who subsequently removed it to Kingsley and gave it the title of Kingsley Times.
With the oncoming of emigration and the push which always centers around a new railroad town, the village of Quorn was left out in the cold, and now may justly be classed among the defunct places of the county. But while there remains nothing save the old mill and a few foundation stones, together with a few residences, to remind the passer by of a townsite, yet; so long as memory is theirs the old settler, the early pioneer of long ago days, will often refer to Quorn and think of the good time fully come, when they could get flour to eat and mail matter, including a home paper to read, with in that now half deserted plat, the village of Quorn.
Organization-Early Settlement, French Squatters-Early Events Elections-Birth-Death-Schools-Fatal Accidents-Grasshopper Scourge of 1868 as Seen by Pioneer Joseph LeBerge
In size this is the least of any of the twenty four civil townships of Plymouth county. It comprises seventeen full sections and several fractional parts of sections of Congressional township ninety range forty eight west [three lines not readable.]
At one time Hancock was a part of Perry township, but was set apart as a separate organization on April 3, 1883. Sioux township is on its north, Perry on the east and Woodbury county on the south. It contains about 13,090 acres of land. Broken Kettle creek passes the northwestern portion of its territory, and has its confluence with the Big Sioux river on section nine. In 1885 its population was 150 with only thirty of foreign birth. The 1890 census gives the population at 184.
Let the reader turn his thoughts and view in his most vivid fancy, the territory embraced in this part of the county as it might have been seen prior to 1854, during which year Surrell Benoist, a Frenchman who had marriage a Sioux Squaw and by whom he had reared a family, found his way up the Missouri river to this spot and took a squatter’s claim, as this was before the land had been surveyed by the government.
For years this was the only inhabitant of the township. The place he claimed is the fine bottom farm owned by Joseph LaBerge, on section thirty-five, township ninety, range forty-eight. It is in the most romantic and picturesque portion of the famous Big Sioux valley, at a point about seven miles northwest of Sioux City. This Frenchman looked upon the fertile valley just as it has been left by the savage Indian tribes, that had recently made it their hunting and fishing ground, but who had caught the faint but certainly increasing echo of civilization, with its steady tramp of conquest, and hence sought a still more secluded home father to the northwest. Upon this tract was built a log cabin, which stood on the exact spot where now a portion of Mr. LaBerge’s farm house now stands. Although more than a third of a century ago this pioneer cabin was reared, yet some of the logs are about the premises, in a fair state of preservation, having been made use of in the first dwelling built on the place by Mr. LaBerge, who came to the locality during the month of May, 1867, and became the second squatter on the same place, Benoist, the first settler, having abandoned it.
It was in 1857 that a man named Verrigutt squatted on section twenty-seven and remained until about 1863.
When Joseph LeBerge became a settler of the township, he found John Hardin, who came from Pennsylvania living on section twenty-seven, where he had pre-empted his land, and where he remained until 1877, and then removed to Washington territory.
Section fifteen had for its occupants old Mr. Conley, who was Hardin’s father-in-law, with his three sons, John, Richard, and Allen.
B.B. Sutton another settler in the north part of the township, lived on Broken Kettle creek, and was a conspicuous figure in the first organization of the county. He finally sold and moved to Kansas.
Section three was settled by Ezra Carpenter, who came from Dakota about 1865. He afterwards removed to Arkansas.
In 1868 Joseph Benoist (French) made a settlement on the southeast quarter of section twenty-three, where he lived about five years.
Section thirty-six was settled on by Timothy Harrington, who took advantage of the homestead act. He now resides in Sioux City.
Henry Multhoup was another early homesteader to claim land on section thirty-six. He is also in Sioux City at present.
Mr. Wood located on section twenty-three in 1869, but only remained a short period.
J.H. Cowell bought lands on section fifteen about this time. He is still a resident of the township.
W.D. Carlisle settled on section twelve in 1870. He is still there, and is a prosperous and honored citizen.
Frank West, another pioneer settler of section twelve, proved up on his homestead and sold to Duncan Ross, now a prosperous farmer of Dakota.
In 1878, T. Fursee homesteaded a portion of section twelve.
In 1879, came James Daily. He came from Sioux City, and lived on what is now known as the Marks farm. He removed in 1881. He also purchased land on section twenty-three.
Other early pioneers were Messrs. Lamoureaus, Easton and Denisten. From 1873 on, until after the grasshopper plague had passed away, in 1877, but few, if any, came in as settlers. The greater part of the township being extremely uneven, in some places rough and hilly enough to be called mountainous in this prairie country, other parts of the county were settled first.
The first school in this township was taught in 1868, at the private residence of Pioneer B.B. Sutton, but an old gentleman named Carrons. A school building was erected on section twenty-six, in 1869, by Joseph LeBerge, who says he paid $6 per 1000 for the shingles used and as much in proportion for all the lumber.
The first birth within Hancock township was that of George, a son of Donzitte Lamoureaux, born in October, 1869.
The first marriage was that of Abe Sutton, son of B.B. Sutton, who was married not later than 1867.
The first death in the township was that of Richard Connolly, who was killed by an early settler named Benoist, a Frenchman with whom he had a difficulty in February, 1872. One the ground of partial self-defense, the man was sent to state’s prison for one year.
The first election in what is now Hancock township was held in the school house on section ten, known as the “Massey school,” in 1883.
Among the fatal accidents which have occurred in the township, may be mentioned the death of Pioneer Knapp, who was killed by lightning, during a slight hurricane, about 1875. It is related that he, in company with others, had sought shelter by a granary or barn, and that while there they saw an out building blow over, which sight provoked laughter from Mr. Knapp, and that at that instant he was stricken dead by the lightning and so sudden was the shock, that even for hours after death, his face wore a smile, terrible as it was for friends to behold.
The date of the first appearance of the grasshoppers in this section of the country was August 27th, 1868, at eleven o’clock a.m., when the sun was darkened as if by a heavy snow storm filling the atmosphere. The fine prospect for crops was entirely removed before sunset, that eventful day, as all vegetation was destroyed.