BOOM SPIRIT STRIKES BREMER COUNTY AND TOWNS ARE ESTABLISHED
In the preceding article I spoke of the attempts of the pioneers to locate ·and build up towns on the west side of the Cedar river. The boom spirit was abroad then as now, not so much for individual profit as to improve the conditions of the country, and to develop its resources. As I then said, the original Plainfield was intended to be a half or three-quarters of a mile north of the present location. Silas Farr lacked the aggressive and snappy qualities necessary for leadership in an enterprise of town building. He was a calm, quiet and retiring man by nature, sincere and honest in his way of doing things. If he had been possessed of the push and energy of W. P. Harmon, he would, perhaps, have built up a smart village where he began.
In 1858 E. J. Dean arrived in the county and bought the quarter section of land on which Plainfield now stands. He owned it when the Illinois Central railroad came poking along in 1867, headed for St. Paul. After a good deal of dickering between the town site agent and Dean, the station was located where it now is. It was Ephraim's golden opportunity, but his estimate of the situation was so high that he failed to reap the harvest he expected, and the result was .he got at logger-heads with the road, to the detriment of both, and lost out. Dean was a man of much learning, a book man, but utterly impractical. His final career was spectacular and in a sense a living tragedy. After his election to the legislature he lost all interest in everything else outside of politics, and in that line he was a total failure. He turned up in Dakota in about 1885 and located very much more than to disturb him. It was a great day for the pioneers. The anti-slavery· men were pleased, and chuckled over the oration. The sequel of it was at the election in the fall of 1859, when Mr. Moulton was defeated by George T. Sayles, a democrat. As to the qualifications of the two men for the office, Moulton was infinitely the better man, while Sayles was very ordinary in ability, limited in education, and lacking in all respects to make the best superintendent of schools. But the democrats were determined to defeat Moulton for his 4th of July address at Syracuse grove.
Mr. Moulton left the county soon after the expiration of his term of office. Where he went or what his subsequent services were, I never knew. His home, while in Bremer county, was in Sumner township, or Le Roy, as I recollect.
While I am about it, I may as well speak of the old towns of the county. Horton was located in 1855, I think, and the town plat was filed December 6, 1856. It became the center of population in Polk township, east of the Cedar. Such prominent citizens of the county as J. H. Eldredge, O. C. Harrington, Lyman Nutting, the dean of them all, Charles R. Hastings, Chauncey Lease, Elder David Terry, Joseph Smith, and others whom I do not recall just now were the men who gave tone and standing to Horton as a center. It never grew into much of a town, but was at all times a substantial unit of Bremer county, as I suppose it is today.
Jefferson City, now Denver, is an old town, laid out, I think, in 1854, by Jeremiah Farris, who was county judge for four or six years. It maintained its identity on the map as a town, and beautifully held its own among the smartweed, burdock and cockle burs for years. It was the center of population for that section of the county, and noted for being the home town of Matthew Farrington, Fred Bruns, Squire J. S. Jenkins and Derillo Holmes, who built the flouring mill there and operated it until after the close of the Civil War, also of Aleck Fleming and Squire Meeker, both unique characters, the first because of his devotion and loyalty to the school of "yerb" medicine, and the latter for persisting in always wearing a high-crowned silk hat and a pigeon-tailed coat. Thaddeus Keeley always declared that Squire's plug hats were of the vintage of King George's reign, and that Squire had only had one or two of the brand in his life time.
Jefferson City was located nearer to the site of the original white settlers of the county than any other town. Charles McCaffree was the pioneer of all pioneers of Bremer county. The history of his coming and location, including the hardships he and his family endured, has been told so often and so much better than I can tell it that I will pass it by. It is enough for me to say he was pre-eminently fitted and qualified for the mission of beginning the work of subduing and opening up a new country. He was a courageous, sincere, honest and industrious man. His family partook of all the good qualities he possessed, and were worthy of such a husband and father. Some of his posterity remain in or near the county yet, I believe, and are worthy of the illustrious original pioneer.
Very soon after McCaffree's location came the Messingers and the Tibbetts, all the right sort of people to start a country to grow in the right direction.
The first postoffice located in the country was "Nautrille.'' When the line between Bremer and Blackhawk counties was established, the postoffice was found to be in the latter county. At this period all the land was in what was known as neutral territory, for the Indian title had not yet been established. The necessity for a postoffice was apparent and when the department asked them to suggest a name, they agreed that "Neutral" would be very appropriate, and accordingly forwarded it. Just who conducted the correspondence has never been clearly settled, so far as I know, but in writing the name he spelled it "Nautrille" instead of "Neutral.'' The postoffice department accepted the name and its orthography, and established the office, which remained till some time about 1860, when it was discontinued. I do not know who the first postmaster was or the exact location of the office, nor do I pretend to know any of the facts relative to the naming of the postoffice from personal knowledge, but give them as I often heard them related in later years by those who did know them.
About the little town were grouped many of .the most substantial pioneers of the county. When my company was organized for the Civil War, a large contingent of it were boys of the town, and in
honor ofthem and the town the name of "Jefferson Guards" was
given the company. I have to this day a roster of the company a frame and I prize it very highly. It is a printed sheet, highly embellished with patriotic designs at the head. The list of officers .and men is printed in alphabetical order. I have kept it marked up to the present, showing the disposition of each man. Today 15 names remain on it as living, out of the original 110. I often wonder which will be the sole survivor of the--to me--best company in the army of the Tennessee. Three of the 15 reside in the old town, now Denver, viz: Guy C. Farnsworth, Christian Mohling, and Alex F. Nicol; two others, John J. Chadwick and John B. Kerr, of the old company, live in Tripoli. These five are all that are lef t in the county and one third of the whole number who survive.
Another old town in the county was Martinsburg, now Tripoli. In 1855 Asa T. Martin settled on what afterwards became the townsite and was called Martinsburg. The country between that place and Waverly was a wilderness of tall grass with only one house between the places. On the north line of Warren township in the northeast comer of the township, William H. Cook located and built a large house, for those days, and painted it white. For miles in all directions it stood out as a signal that civilization was dawning upon the waste between the Cedar and Wapsie rivers.
Mr. Martin built a commodious home, for the times, and before he knew, or intended, he had a hotel for all travel between Waverly, by way of West Union, to McGregor. Soon after he put up a saw mill and a corn cracker grinder. Both did a good business, and bis house was often crowded with people who were traveling. His home, like a cemetery, had to accept all who came, for there was no place else for miles where people could stop.
Not long after Mr. Martin located, Eli Eisenhart arrived and opened a store, as did also Jonathan A. Hale. Both carried a general line of goods, and kept everything from patent medicines to farming tools. At a later date Chris Wilharm put up a wagon shop, with, all necessary attachments, and carried on a paying business, and E. S. Ober had a blacksmith shop. Martinsburg was the center and rallying spot for all that section of the county, and noted for county conventions of all parties. At such times Asa T. fed all who came, and all were equally welcome. He was not half as careful to collect bills as he was to make everybody comfortable, and Mrs. Martin and her girls could wait on more people and serve better meals than anybody else in the county at that time. For years the Martin home was a hotel because its doors were never closed to the needy. Only one class was barred. The fellow who carried the smell of "booze" about him could not dwell under the roof of Asa T. Martin's home, or eat at his table, no matter how much he would pay; all others could do so, whether they could pay or not, and were welcome. He was the original prohibitionist of Bremer county, and often predicted that the time would come when national prohibition would prevail. The signs of the times point to him as a true prophet. About the town settled many of the most substantial men among the pioneers, men who made and directed public opinion. I need but mention such men as Uncle Dave Gillett; the Lester's, Chapin's, Rima's, Walling’s, Buckman, Shively, Turk and some other equally prominent, whose names do not occur to me now. The name of the postoffice was Tripoli, because a Martinsburg was already established in the southern part of the state.
From 1875 to 1885 Martinsburg, or Old Tripoli, was the Mecca each year for the political conventions of all those who were opposed to the rule of the republican majority which during these years was quite large in Bremer county.
Here came the democrat, the anti-monopoly, the greenback and the conventions of those who, regardless of party ties, did not approve of some of the nominees of the republicans. These latter were called "people's conventions."
Many exciting times and amusing scenes occurred at and near these conventions. All kinds of parliamentary tricks were employed to win for one or the other side in some question in dispute.
On one occasion some republicans were dissatisfied with one or more of their nominees and a people's convention was called to meet at Martinsburg at the same time that the democratic convention was called for. In the first named convention there was a division of sentiment over the advisability of uniting with democrats in nominating a "fusion" ticket. The discussions were warm and exciting.
Those who were opposed to joining with the democrats, were led by J. H. Eldredge, a republican war-horse of no mean ability. In the preliminary skirmish he won out by succeeding in naming the officers of the convention, and when it came to a vote on a motion to unite with democrats, the president declared the motion lost. The other side took exception to his ruling and called for a "division of the house." Just at this point the democratic convention adjourned and some of the members came in and when informed of what was going on lined up on the side of those who were in favor of the motion and Eldredge was beaten, much to his chagrin and the delight of those who enjoyed teasing him.
On another occasion, while the conventions were in session a dispute occurred on the street outside the meetings, in which several blows were struck and some blood was shed. After the conventions had adjourned, the friends of the disputants took sides and engaged in a "free-for-all" fight in the principal street. During the fight, which was "fast and furious," the then sheriff of the county drove through the thick of the fight without trying to put a stop to it, much to the disgust of the onlookers. On one side of the street, where the fight occurred were several wagons on which were wood racks. After some time there was a lull in the fighting and the combatants sprang to the wood racks and each grabbed a stake with the intention of renewing the strife. Had this occurred there can be little doubt, some of them would have been seriously injured, if not killed, but just then Eli Eisenhart, who was a justice of the peace, commanded peace, and the fighters, realizing the seriousness of the situation, were glad to obey his orders.
In time a railroad came thru from Dubuque and located their town site upon the present site of Tripoli. This road was named the Dubuque and Dakota, and for short was called the D. & D. On account of the irregularity of its trains it was often spoken of as the “D----ed Doubtful."
Tripoli is a good town and prosperous, because the country is ahead of the town, as I am informed. No part of the county had a sturdier or more solid set of pioneers than did that about old Martinsburg, now Tripoli.
When I call the roll of the long list of pioneers of Martinsburg, I don't think of a single survivor of 1856 to 1860. I refer, of course, to those who emigrated to this place.
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To leave the town of Le Roy out of the enumeration of the list of towns would be to leave Hamlet out of the play. Le Roy was started as a hopeful town by John S. Bingham in 1856 or 1857. Whether it had high hopes of growing into a "smart" town or not is not known to me. I do know that Squire Bingham was proud of its name and jealous as to its right to be reckoned as one of the promising villages of the county. It was his idol for some time and he devoted much of his attention to its interests and sought to build up a center of interest in it as a rallying point for a large section of the splendid country about it. How it gained the soubriquet, or nickname, of "Pin Hook" I don't know. I do know it vexed the righteous soul of the townsite proprietor sorely. To call bis town "Pin Hook" was to stir his wrath to the boiling point. The more he protested, the more generally the nickname was used, so generally, in fact, that Le Roy was nearly forgotten. I believe the height of its greatness never attained more than a postoffice, a store, a blacksmith shop and a few loafers' benches for use in summer. Squire Bingham was a dignified and imposing looking New Englander with pronounced opinions in his religious and political faiths. He was a radical antislavery man and a republican, as well as a prohibitionist. His willingness to discuss those questions invited fellows who wanted to tease him to double teams on him at times and keep him busy for hours.
As in other portions of the county, many of the solidest men among the pioneers settled within a few miles about Le Roy and, of course, the embryo town was the center toward which all gravitated both socially and neighborly. Among those most prominent were Ezekiel Fay, E. E. Fay, Adam Broadie, Ephraim Watenpaugh, A. S. Funston, Pat Burke and others. Funston was as ardent a. democrat as Bingham was a republican, and each was the leader of his party in the neighborhood. They often clashed, but in a general way got along well together. So far as I know, Ephraim Watenpaugh is the only survivor of the early pioneers about Le Roy.
Another valuable improvement was started in 1857 by John H. Henry, at the present site of the town of Frederika. He began the work of constructing a dam across the Wapsie river and the building of a grist mill, which was what the settlers needed more than almost anything else. Mr. Henry had many difficulties to overcome before he reached success. He was a man of purpose and determination, as well as untiring industry. He had much trouble to secure a dam that would stand the pressure of the floods, but the defect of one effort only whetted his determination to conquer all obstacles and build a mill, as he had started to do. A man of less courage and will power would have thrown up the sponge and quit, but not so with John H. Henry. He stuck to the enterprise until he won out, and "Henry's Mills" became well known all over the country. The completion of his mill enterprise was a victory for him and of much value to that section of the county.
Sometimes pessimists said that John Henry was a dreamer and a crank on the mill business. Time proved he had a vision clear to himself, tho obscure to the public, and he proved a benefactor to bis neighbors. He wore himself out in the work of completing his mill scheme, was hard up most of the time while carrying out bis original purpose, but in his last days he was happy over his victory. Mr. Henry was a sincere and honest man and a good citizen; as it is written, "His works do follow him." Later on a smart and pretty town grew up near the mill site as a monument to his energy and persistent efforts. I don't know whether the mill property remains active .or whether it has gone as most country mills have, into "innocuous desenetude." At any rate, "Henry's Mill" served its purpose well in its day.
Another effort was made to build a mill on the Wapsie in Franklin township in 1857. The work was begun by Ichabod Richman and the location was near the center of the township. Ichabod spent all the money he had, or could get, and wore himself out in the effort to build a mill such as he had in mind. But the gravity of the river was not sufficient to afford sufficient power, and the surrounding country was so flat and level that it was impractical to reach his place much of the year. After wearing himself out and spending all his means, he was forced to surrender his scheme and write "Ichabod." But he stuck to his purpose until the beginning of the Civil War. When I was recruiting for my company, he insisted on enlisting. He was past the age, but strong and vigorous, and contrary to my advice he enrolled and went with the company into camp at Davenport. There he was rejected by the examining surgeon, much to his disappointment and to my regret, for he was a man of sturdy character, with balanced mind and high morals, just such a one as was needed to help hold the irrepressible boys in line for discipline and gentility. At that time the "Gray-beard" regiment was being recruited in which none below the age of 45 years were accepted. He enlisted in it and went south when it was organized some time later. I never saw him after he left us at Davenport, but I learned after we returned home that good Ichabod died while in the service at Memphis. He was as good and sincere a man as I ever knew. I never think of him, even at this late date, without a feeling of sympathy for him welling up in my heart. His life was one of trials, hardships, and disappointments, all of which he endured quietly and cheerfully as could be possible under such circumstances. His aims and purposes in life were all good, but because of lack of sound judgment he failed to measure up to his ideals and lost out. He was full of patriotism and became a soldier at the period of. life when he should have been enjoying the fruit of patient toil and honest effort to accumulate enough to tide him over to the end. His wife passed away, leaving him, the lone oak of the family, to end a disappointed life. He laid down his life wearing the blue uniform of a soldier. He often said that his name, "Ichabod," was a sign manual of failure.
Last updated 10/1/2015
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