IAGenWeb Project

Shelby County


1889 Bio Index


JUDGE JONAS W. CHATBURN, proprietor of the Harlan Mills, has been prominently identified with the interests of western Iowa since 1850. He is a native of England, born in Lancashire, March 11, 1821, and a son of Thomas and Margaret (Ingham) Chatburn, natives of the same place. At the age of fourteen years he was apprenticed to a machinist, and served an apprenticeship of three years, after which he served an apprenticeship of seven years in calico printing. Judge Chatburn was united in marriage, December 25, 1843, to Miss Mary Burton, a native of Lancashire, England, and a daughter of George and Jane (Foster) Burton. In the spring of 1845 they emigrated to America, sailing May 12, in the vessel Genesee of Bath, and arrived in New York, July 2, 1845. They went to Frankfort, Pennsylvania, five miles from Philadelphia, here our subject engaged in the printing business at the Tackawanna print works, where he remained one year. He then went to New Jersey , to the pine woods on the Rancocus River, and repaired a steam saw-mill, which he run for six months, having his wife and two children in the green woods. He then returned to Frankfort, and the following summer run the engine in a woolen factory at Grubtown, Pennsylvania. He remained here about a year and then went to Philadelphia, and run out the insurance on a large steam engine, for Sutton & Smith; here he remained a year and a half, and in April, 1850, came west, starting with a company of about 100 people, with the intention of going to Salt Lake City. They went by the Pennsylvania Canal to Pittsburg, thence down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, thence up the Mississippi to St. Louis by steamboat, and from there to a trading post on the Missouri River, about seven miles below the present site of Council Bluffs. On the trip up the Missouri River, the boiler of the engine burst; there were 300 passengers on board, and an immense amount of freight; the engineer was unable to repair the boiler, and things were being prepared to float the boat back to St. Louis, when the captain called Mr. Chatburn to him, and requested him to examine the boiler; he did so, repaired it, and in less than twenty-four hours the boat was on her way.

Mrs. Chatburn is a member of the Latter Day Saints church, and when she learned that polygamy was in vogue in Utah, she refused to proceed further; so they settled in Iowa. Mr. Chatburn purchased a claim near Council Bluffs from a man who was going to Utah, and located there; he worked at various things until he went to Mills County, and entered a saw-mill, where his early training as a machinist served him a good turn. In 1853 he went into Harrison County, and entered 160 acres of land, near the place where Magnolia now stands; he was the first person to drive a wagon across the place where Magnolia now is. He began to improve the land, and in 1854 built the first mill in Harrison County. It was an up-and-down saw-mill, on Willow Creek, near Magnolia. Not being pleased with the idea of going forty miles to get corn ground, Mr. Chatburn conceived the idea of taking two small stones from the prairie, commonly called boulders, and dressing them down for burrs; then the question arose, where the belt was to be procured. He had a dried cowhide which he soaked and cut in strips to make a belt; the mill was put in running order, and the first night the wolves came and devoured the belt. Mr. Chatburn then sawed a walnut log and hauled his lumber to Rainsville and traded it for harness leather, of which he made another belt for his mill, and to this rude mill people came from points as far distant as the place where Sioux City now stands, and would remain a week to get their grinding done. In the manufacture of the first flour in Harrison County Mrs. Chatburn's veil was used as a bolting cloth. In 1862, in company with Thomas Davis, Mr. Chatburn erected a large mill near Woodbine, which he managed in connection with his farming pursuits, until he came to Shelby County, in August, 1866; he settled in Harlan, and lived in the school-house until he could erect a residence. In 1867 he built the first mill in Shelby County, which he continues to manage; he also built a mill in Shelby, and controlled the two for about three years.

While in Harrison County Mr. Chatburn served as judge and justice of the peace; he was also a member of the board of supervisors from its organization, and was president of the board when he left the county. He has served as supervisor in Shelby County, and has held the office of coroner for many years. He is an elder in the church of the Latter Day Saints, and is now presiding elder of the Harlan branch. Judge and Mrs. Chatburn are the parents of seven children, six of whom survive-Thomas, of Independence, Missouri; Jane, the wife of John Burcham, of Shelby County; Mary Ellen, the wife of Wallace W. Wood, of Harrison County; Margaret Ann, the wife of John Chatburn, of Idaho; Cisley J., the wife of A. D. Tinsley, of Iowa; George R., principal of the Portsmouth, Nebraska, schools, and a graduate of Ames College; and one child who died in infancy. Judge Chatburn is a member of the A. F. & A. M., Harlan Lodge, No. 321; Olivet Chapter, No. 107, and Mt. Zion Commandery, No. 49. Politically, he was formerly an old-line Whig, casting his first vote for John C. Fremont, and was one of the organizers of the Republican party. The first corn Judge Chatburn planted in Harrison County he carried from Kainsville on his back; as the waters were very high in the streams he could not take his team, so he started on foot after seed corn, a trip of seventy-five miles. He bought one-half bushel, paying $1.50 for it, and carried it on his back thirty-seven miles. He waded water for miles south of where Missouri Valley is located, and the water was half-leg deep where the city of Missouri Valley is now located.

Source: 1889 Biographical History of Shelby County, Iowa, pp. 297-299. Transcribed by Marthann Kohl-Fuhs.