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Portrait and Biographical Album of Benton County, Iowa
Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887

JOHN A. STARFF, a prosperous farmer and stock-raiser, occupies a fine homestead in Taylor Township, on section 12. He was born near the River Rhine, in Germany, Jan. 27, 1813, and is a son of Daniel and Shebel (Musbaugh) Starff, both also natives of the German Fatherland. Daniel Starff was a farmer, and at one time the owner of a large tract of land, but becoming security for friends, as a great many goodhearted people do, was financially ruined. He was a man of warm attachments and excellent habits; he never used tobacco in any form, but was a great lover of good wine, although never imbibing to excess. He died about 1874. His wife had preceded him to the unknown country twenty-nine years, dying in 1845.

John Starff remained with his parents until twenty-five years of age, receiving a very limited education. In August, 1839, in company with seven comrades, he bade farewell to parents and friends, and took passage to America on a sailing vessel, the Hanover, bound from Havre-de-Grace to New Orleans, where he landed after a voyage of forty-seven days. Before landing he had paid out his last money, a ten-cent piece, for a pound of pork, and therefore came to the New World penniless. He boarded with old country friends for three months, and then hired out to a gardener, receiving $8 for the first month's wages, $12 for the second, and $30 for the third. He paid the friends who kindly kept him during the three months, and then went to Little Miami, Ohio, and worked in the harvest-field for sixty-two and one-half cents a day, and — whisky. The latter, he says, was very good. He remained in Ohio for a year and a half, working on a farm and in a distillery and chopping wood. He then went to Dayton for a time, became disgusted with his experience there, and determined to leave the city. Inquiring of the Captain what time his boat left for Cincinnati, he determined to go to that place. Going to the river at the hour mentioned he found the boat gone. That night he went to a frolic, and spent $5 of his limited means, and took the express the next morning for Cincinnati, thence by boat to St. Louis. Arriving there, he engaged as the driver of an omnibus, and continued in that business for two years, a part of which time he was captain over six other drivers. He commenced work for $8 per month, and finally received $30 per month.

Mr. Starff now desired to change his location, and taking a steamer, he proceeded up the river as far as Muscatine, Iowa, where he landed, and started on foot for Iowa City with some friends. After making about half the journey, he hired a team to take him the rest of the way. Arriving at Iowa City he remained over night and then went to Rochester, in this State, where he hired out as a farm hand, engaging for one year. While here he cradled sixty-four acres of wheat, averaging four acres a day, and one day cutting five acres. He received $10 a month for his services. In April, 1849, he came to Benton County, and with a Mexican land warrant located 160 acres of land in Taylor Township. Mr. S. afterward traded off seventy-two acres of this land for a horse. For the first horse he ever owned he traded a pair of pants, jacket, vest and bridle, and the horse was blind. His first wagon was a cart made by himself, E. Berry and Berry Way, and was without iron. He used to cut and cart to Vinton three loads of wood each day, three-fourths of a cord a load. He has cut a cord of wood in forty-five minutes.

On the 28th day of June, 1847, Mr. Starff was united in marriage with Miss Elizabeth, daughter of Deitrich and Anna (Shuhart) Lindermann, natives of Germany. Of this union there were born five children, three of whom are living: Daniel, married to Maria Lash, resides in Harrison Township; Tilda, married to Wright Floyd, and lives in Harrison Township; Thomas is at home. Mr. and Mrs. Starff were members of the Reformed Catholic Church in the old country.

Mr. Starff at one time owned 450 acres of land, but when his children married, he gave each of them ninety-six acres; he yet retains 100 acres. He was the first German citizen to locate in Benton County, and for many years afforded considerable amusement to the people on account of his foreign ways. When he came to this county he told the people he could read and write German, French and Swedish, and "if they could get hold of the bridle-rein, to go ahead." He has been industrious and enterprising, and is a fair sample of that useful German element which has done so much toward the development of the "Wide West."

Source Citation: "1887 Benton County, Iowa Biographies"  [database online]  Benton County IAGenWeb Project. <>
Original data: "Portrait and Biographical Album of Benton County, Iowa." Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887, p. 272-273.
Transcribed by: Sue Soden. Submitted to the Benton County IAGenWeb Project on February 9th, 2009.  Copyright © 2009 The IAGenWeb Project.

Return to: 1887 Biography Index

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