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Thompson, Charles Blancher


Posted By: Phyllis A. Heller (email)
Date: 3/18/2007 at 19:43:59

Its Settlements and Growth

Among the early settlers of Monona county was Charles B. Thompson, a Mormon leader, who, with a number of followers, located on the Soldier River, in what is now called Spring Valley Township, about fifteen miles southwest of the present town of Onawa.

They commenced their settlement in 1854. Thompson called the place Preparation, as he designed here to prepare his apostles for the "good time coming." As Thompson was an important man in the early history of Monona county, some account of him, and of the enterprise in which he was a leader, will be of interest. He had been a follower and disciple of Joe Smith at Nauvoo, but went to St. Louis in 1852, and organized a church. In the summer of 1853, he sent some of his followers as commissioners to look for and select a location for his people in Iowa. They selected the valley of the Soldier in the south part of Monona county, all the land at that time being vacant.
In 1854 he brought some fifty or sixty families, and pre-empted several thousand acres of the best land to be found in the region. Some of the land he subsequently entered. Thompson regulated and controlled all the affairs of the colony, both temporal and spiritual, pretending that he had authority to do so under the direction of a spirit which he called Baneemy. Among other assumptions, he pretended that he was the veritable Ephraim of the Scriptures, and directed his people to call him Father Ephraim. A strict compliance with his teachings divested his followers of all worldly care, and prepared them for the further essential doctrine of his religion, that in order to obtain the Kingdom, they must sacrifice all their earthly possessions. They accordingly conveyed to him all their lands and other property, including even their wearing apparel, and the right to their service.

Under this arrangement, "Father Ephraim" and Baneemyism progressed swimmingly, until the autumn of 1855, when a little rebellion occurred under the leadership of an Elder named Hugh Lytle, who, with some twenty of them, began a suit in the courts for the recovery of their property; but they failed, and the matter was subsequently compromised by the Lytle party receiving some of their property and withdrawing from the society.

The remainder adhered to Thompson without serious difficulty until the autumn of 1858. During the summer of that year, most of the male adults of the society were absent in other States, preaching the doctrines of Baneemyism to the Gentiles. Thompson, who arrogated to himself the title of "Chief Steward of the Lord," took advantage of their absence to covey all the realty to his wife, Catharine Thompson, and to one Guy C. Barnum, reserving only forty acres of homestead for himself. His disciples, hearing of this transaction, returned and immediately called on "Father Ephraim" for restitution. Being unable to obtain a satisfactory adjustment of the matter, they notified him that on a stated day he would be expected to meet them in Preparation to make settlement.

The "Chief Steward of the Lord," and "Assistant Steward of the Lord," Barnum, had not sufficient courage to "face the music," however, and postponed their visit to Preparation until the day after the one appointed, doubtless thinking that the angry crowd would have become dispersed by that time. On the way they were met, about a mile from the village, by a young woman who had not yet lost confidence in "Father Ephraim" and Baneemyism, and who informed them that the people were still congregated at Preparation, and would hang him on sight; which information had the effect on "Father Ephraim" it was well calculated to have, especially as at about that moment of time, men on horseback were observed coming from Preparation at full speed, and heading in all earnestness in the direction of the Chief Steward and Assistant. Springing from the wagon in which they were seated, and unharnessing their horses, the two Stewards, hurriedly sprang upon the backs of the animals, and the chase, which ensued, was of an exciting and highly interesting character. After a lively race of fifteen miles, across prairies and over creeks and ravines, the "Father" and the "Assistant Father," arrived safely in Onawa, where they were given protection by the citizens.
Thompson went from Onawa to St. Louis, and Barnum remained in Onawa until the following spring, removing thence to Nebraska, where he, in course of time, became a prominent citizen. Thompson subsequently attempted to found another similar religious society, but was unsuccessful, and next turned his attention to publishing a book on the "Origin of the Black and Mixed Races," which book he pretended to translate largely from the Hebrew and Greek languages, which, it is said, he in reality knew nothing about. The last heard of him by his former followers in Monona, was to the effect that he was in Philadelphia in destitute circumstances. After his flight from Preparation, his family was sent to him at Onawa, his followers (?) dividing the personal property among themselves, each taking such of his own property as he could identify. An action in chancery was immediately be gun to set aside the conveyances of real estate, which litigation lingered in the courts for eight years, or until December, 1866, when the conveyances were all declared to be fraudulent, and were set aside.

The Supreme Court of Iowa holding that Thompson held the property only as a trustee. The property was sold under an order of the court, and the proceeds were divided among the original contributors in ration to the amount contributed by each. Of the sixty families brought to Monona by Thompson—to the settlement at Preparation—only three or four remain—to such an inglorious termination was Baneeyism destined to attain.the proper name by which this peculiar sect sought to be known is said to have been the "Congregation of Jehovah's Presbytery of Zion," which was contracted to "Con-je-pre-zion," and hence the members came to be known as the "Conjepresionites." Preparation was also familiarly know as Baneemy Town.

Monona county was organized in 1854. At the time of its organization, it had a population of 222; its population in 1860 was 832; in 1865 the population was 1,056; in 1870 it had reached 3,654, which was increased to 5,967 in 1875, and to 9,055 in 1880. Thirty-two votes were cast for Governor in the county in 1854; 134 votes were cast in 1857, and in 1859, Samuel J. Kirkwood and A.D. Dodge, Gubernatorial candidates, each received 105 votes in the county.

Charles B. Thompson was appointed the first County Judge. This was before the location of the county seat, so that the first county business was transacted at Preparation. In the autumn of 1854, the county seat was located by the commissioners appointed by the Legislature. They gave the place selected the name of Bloomfield, but there being another town of that name in the State, it was changed to Ashton. The county seat remained there until the spring of 1858, when it was removed to Onawa by a vote of the people. The following were the first county officers: Charles B. Thompson, County Judge; Guy C. Barnum, Treasurer; Hugh Lytle, Clerk; Homer C. Hoyt, Sheriff.

Monona county then embraced what is now the west range of townships of Crawford county, but the change was made in accordance with the votes of both counties in 1865. In 1860 a vote was taken on the question of the removal of the county seat from Onawa to Belvidere, and another vote was taken in 1862, on the removal to Arcola; both of which attempts, however, filed and the location of the Sioux City & Pacific Railroad may be said to have, in all probability, finally settled the question.

The first newspaper was published by "Father Ephraim" Thompson at Preparation, and was called Zion Harbinger and Weekly Messenger. Thompson also published a monthly periodical. During the continuance of this paper, it flourished under several different names, such as theWeekly News and Messenger and the Democratic Messenger. This paper was started in 1854; in 1855, Thompson published a paper called the Onawa Adventure.

Charles Blancher Thompson was born on Jan. 27, 1814 in Niskayuna, Schenectady, New York, the son of David and Sarah Blancher Thompson. The family were Quakers and may have had connections with the Shakers of that region.


Monona Biographies maintained by Linda Ziemann.
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