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
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.