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SIVERS, John and Mary


Posted By: Robert Sivers (email)
Date: 2/8/2014 at 13:49:09

John and Mary Ann Sivers

Pioneers of Mills County, Iowa

The story of the John and Mary Ann Sivers typifies what was best in 19th Century America. It demonstrates the courage needed to leave behind the certainties of birthplace for a chance at opportunities in a foreign land. It represents the commitment to live freely by convictions that the more orthodox thought sinister, subversive or absurd. And, it illustrates the success of skill and work that so many immigrants used to change America's new lands forever. As such, the story of the John Sivers family deserves to be told.

It was 17th of July 1842. That day, Mary Ann Leader, seventeen, and John Sivers, twenty-two, were married by the Reverend Sofer in a Congregationalist ceremony at Independence Chapel, Little Gonerby, Lincolnshire, England. Both bride and groom were born in Manthorpe, Lord Brownlow's manor house settlement in the agricultural region near Grantham. Each came from many generations of ancestors who had lived in Lincolnshire. John shared his unusual surname with few in England, but with many throughout Scandinavia and the states along the Baltic coasts where Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Vikings fought and conquered. All of this suggests that the origins of the name, Sivers, can be traced to the tribes from historical Denmark that invaded eastern England, settled the land and ruled it from the 6th to the mid 11th century.

During the years that followed their marriage, John supported his young family as a miller and millwright working at the many watermills around the Grantham area. When the Mormon missionaries swept through the English countryside preaching and converting, John and Mary Ann were among those baptized. It was as Mormons that they left Lincolnshire with their children, Mary Ann and Thomas, for the port of Liverpool. Other close relatives joined them, including Mary Ann's Mother, Ann Leader, her Grandmother, Lydia Laughton and the families of Mary Ann's brother, John, and sister, Eleanor. On the 29th of January 1849 all boarded the British square-rigger, Zetland, to begin the long religious journey to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

So it was that the passenger-laden vessel sailed into the Irish Sea, where, during a storm, a drunken first mate nearly sank it on dangerous rocks. Then the ship moved into the Atlantic where the passengers faced the dangers of an onboard fire. Fierce storms pushed the ship off course time and again, lengthening the voyage and forcing the frightened passengers below deck. Finally, after sixty-three days on the Atlantic, the Zetland arrived at the port of New Orleans on the 2nd of April 1849.

But New Orleans was no safer for John and Mary Ann's family and their relatives than life at sea. Cholera was in the city. Thousands were dying. The shortage of caskets was so severe that people were dumped into common graves. On April 5, John and Mary Ann's family and their fellow Mormon immigrants hurried onto the side-wheel paddle steamboat, Iowa. The vessel moved immediately into the Mississippi for the next leg of the journey to Saint Louis. But cholera followed them aboard, soon killing nine passengers including the pilot of the boat.

Despite the deaths, the Iowa arrived in St. Louis around the 12th of April. But there was still no rest from the disease. The cholera was killing about 200 of the city's citizens a day, and on the 17th much of St. Louis burned. In such turmoil, John Sivers managed to buy a covered wagon, a team of oxen and provisions for the trip. (The list of items and their individual costs are detailed in a typed copy of the $112.95 provisions' bill.). The family, with Mary Ann's Mother and Grandmother headed west and so began the more than 500-mile journey across Missouri destined for Kanesville (now Council Bluffs) in Southwestern Iowa.

The way was slow, little more than 10-15 miles a day. As they moved across Missouri, they saw the slaves at work in the fields. At night, as the family camped, they would sometimes watch them dance and sing. When the Sivers' wagon entered Iowa, the family members could hardly have guessed that their final destination was to be a small Mormon settlement in Pottawattamie County. Its name was Coonsville. Here, where Keg Creek flowed over the bluffs onto rich bottomlands, Bishop Lebbeus Thaddeus Coons had surveyed and established a town in which newly arriving Saints could settle and farm before they resumed the demanding Spring and Summer journey to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

Building a brush bed to cross Keg Creek, the John Sivers family arrived in Coonsville on the 4th of July 1849. Once there, Bishop Coons, who was also the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' Union Branch at Coonsville, welcomed them with a gift of fresh eggs. (Years later, Mary Ann would recall how much those simple deeds of kindness meant to her when the Sivers family arrived.) Some old friends, the William Britain's, offered to share their cabin.

On the 19th of July, Mary Ann gave birth to John Henry Sivers, the first child of European descent born in the area that would become Glenwood. John rented land east of Coonsville along Keg Creek. It was there, that he built their first home. The family moved into the modest log cabin on an August day in 1849. Perhaps the family did not know that the area around Coonsville was still home to the Pottawattamie Tribe. One day a tribal member walked into the cabin to look into the cradle where John Henry lay. Terrified, Mary Ann picked up her broom as a weapon. But the Pottawattamie, his curiosity satisfied, left peacefully.

The following spring, Mary Ann's sister, Eleanor, her husband, John Page, and their children arrived in Coonsville. A year later, in 1851, the Page family prepared to leave for Kanesville, a Mormon staging area for the difficult journey over the Great Plains and through the Rockies to the Great Salt Lake Valley The Pages begged John, Mary Ann, her mother and grandmother to leave with them for Kanesville. But, over the protests of the Pages, they were persuaded by Dr. L. T. Coons to stay on. John knew that the Coolidge grain mill on Keg Creek already needed his talents as a miller and millwright, while the friendly Mormon townsfolk and the lush beauty of the area won over Mary Ann.

Soon John was farming his own lands. On them, he built a larger home for his growing family. Still later, he built an even larger home on the bluffs east of Keg Creek. John earned a part of his living by outfitting the many families moving westward- some for California's goldfields, others intent on settling new acreage on the fertile soils of Oregon, and still others continuing the religious quest to Utah. But it was as a miller and mill-wright that he spent much of his time. John owned and operated a mill on Keg Creek in the Northwest of Section 30 Township 73 North Range 42 West. In addition to the Coolidge mill there were years when he operated the Vinton mill in Old Pacific (now Pacific City). By 1865, John and another citizen, Judge (William?) Deupree, had built and were operating a mill on Keg creek north of Glenwood. Later, John bought Judge Deupree's interest and became sole proprietor.

As involved as he was in business interests, John and his family were equally devoted to their Mormon faith. They had traveled thousands of miles from Lincolnshire to reach Zion, and they were active members of the Coonsville Union Branch. On the advice of their Church leaders, they delayed the dangerous trek to their final destination in Utah Territory. John and his family, among thousands of other Mormons, settled into small communities near the banks of the Missouri in Iowa.

On September 21, 1851, Brigham Young and others commanded all of them " ... to evacuate Pottawattamie and the States and next fall be with us [in the Great Salt Lake Valley]". To underline that command to the Saints who were apt to delay leaving, the same letter required the destruction of the Church's organization in Iowa and Nebraska. Without the leadership or the religious community provided by their local Branch, an unprecedented number of Mormons left the Church or joined other denominations. Ten years later, in 1861, John and Mary Ann as well as their friends, the Britton's, helped establish the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints of Oak Township. It is worth noting that John and Mary Ann's children joined several of the major protestant faiths in the area and so, perhaps, did their parents in later years.

John and Mary Ann Sivers played a critical role in the civic affairs and real estate of Coonsville and Glenwood. The story, the legal documents and the timeline are complex. Even the sources that provide the basic information are at times seemingly contradictory. A simplified version of the events, which tries to step around some of the disagreements, follows below.

When L. T. Coons established Coonsville in 1848, about thirty Mormon families arrived to live there. At that time, he platted Coonsville and divided ownership of the lots among his stepsons, his son-in-law, himself, and some close associates. In 1850, Coons submitted his map and lot division. These papers were accepted and recorded as legal documents by Pottawattamie County

During 1851, a certain Colonel Joseph S. Sharp, "a shrewd politician as well as an able lawyer.", used his considerable skills to help establish Mills County as the southern portion of Pottawattamie County. By the end of summer 1852, many Mormons, following President Brigham Young's commands, had left Mills County and Coonsville for Utah. Among them were L. T. Coons' relatives and associates. As each of these co-proprietors of Coonsville left, Coons bought the remaining unsold lots. At the end of the process, he owned more than a third of the property in Coonsville and its environs.

Meanwhile, in 1852, the citizens of Mills County elected Colonel Sharp as their representative in the Iowa legislature. Evading established legislative procedures, he introduced a bill that changed the name, Coonsville, to Glenwood. In addition, the bill established Glenwood as the Mills County seat. On the 12th of January 1853, the people of Mills County voted to accept Glenwood as the new name of their town.

About two months later, on the 16th of March 1863, L. T. Coons sold all his land in the Glenwood area to fellow Mormon, J. W. Coolidge. (He was also the owner of the mill where John Sivers worked after the family's arrival in 1849.) In turn, Coolidge transferred half of Coon's holdings to Colonel Sharp. Both then jointly distributed one sixth of their holdings to John Sivers and Oliver N. Tyson. These four now became co-proprietors of over a third of Glenwood and of much of the agricultural land surrounding the town.

But the title to all this land was not secure. The United States Land Office was due to open soon. People could then enter claims on Glenwood land based on squatters rights in Coonville and other legal ambiguities. To prevent these claims, Oliver Tyson first resurveyed Glenwood. The co-proprietors then submitted the new map with renamed and renumbered streets to the County Judge, Hiram P. Bennet. Accompanying the map was a statement signed by the co-proprietors and their wives agreeing to the preemptive disposition of their Glenwood lands into a trust for the benefit of the town and proprietors of Glenwood. Additionally the co-proprietors donated one block in the center of town on the condition that it be used only for the Mills County Courthouse.

The effect of this series of complex legal actions was to provide clear title to all land presently owned by the co-proprietors Sivers, Tyson, Coolidge and Sharp. Glenwood deed books show that John Sivers sold many of his Glenwood lots over the following years, thereby providing a steady stream of income that complemented that earned from his other work.

John and Mary Ann's children numbered eleven, of whom nine were born in the Glenwood area. He and his wife guided seven children to adulthood: Mary Ann, John Henry, Edward, Eleanor, Matthew, Lydia, and Olive. On 31 March 1880, John Sivers died after a four-day illness. With the help of Olive and Edward, Mary Ann continued to manage her financial affairs. She died in Glenwood on the 22nd of October 1902, leaving the home, the stories of her young life with John, her beloved art objects, the bedding and furniture that she brought from Lincolnshire and 200 acres of prime farmland to her children.

The last and youngest child, Olive (Sivers) Gettler, died in Glenwood at age 84 on the 22nd of August 1953. It was she who preserved the furniture, the books, the tales and the tools that were important to her pioneering parents. Many of them are housed today in the Glenwood Historical Museum. It was also she who caused the memorial stone to be erected in her father's honor at Glenwood Park, not far from Sivers Road that marks a busy way through property that John and Mary Ann held long ago.

Mary Ann (Leader) Sivers and Her Family, Iowa, about 1880.

Back row, left to right: Lydia (Sivers) Everham, John Henry, Olive (Sivers) Gettler

Front row, left to right: Mary Ann (Sivers) Cook, Mary Ann (Leader) Sivers, Edward


Mills Biographies maintained by Karyn Techau.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen

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