SOME OF THE "FIRST THINGS" IN BREMER COUNTY
One can scarcely realize the great, the wonderful change that has taken place in this county in the short space of 73 years, since the first white settler came here. There are people now living in this county who have been here continuously and who have been thru the most of and helped to make it. Picture in your mind, if you can, a country of rolling prairie in which there are numerous groves, some of considerable extent, and across which flow rivers whose shores are lined with timber of both hard and soft woods, and across which also run several creeks, lined in some places with timber—a country whose surface in summer is covered with wild grass, growing in most places high and thick enough to yield immense quantities of hay, were there anyone to cut it, and pastures for thousands of head of stock; among this grass grow wild flowers of many kinds, and in so great profusion. that in some places it looks like a mammoth flower garden. A country whose silence is broken only by the roar of the storm, the chirping of the birds, the occasional crack of the huntsman's rifle, the howling of prairie wolves and the infrequent shout of an Indian; a country whose rank vegetation in summer shows the abundant fertility of the soil, and in the winter season whose surface covered with snow, and added to this is the deep silence, except when broken by the sound of the wind as it whirls the snow about in great blizzards, making a scene of great desolation.
If you can fix this in your mind, you will have a good picture of Bremer county prior to the year 1845, and in many respects the picture will be that of all this part of Iowa before the coming of the white settlers!
Now look about you, and see the good farms, with fine houses and big barns, corn cribs, machine sheds, windmills, and other improvements; the lively, enterprising towns dotted here and there; the surface crossed, as before, by rivers and creeks not quite so large as in the first case, to be sure, but still here, and in addition to this, there are several railroads, telegraph and many telephone lines, connecting the county with near and distant places; the whole country teeming with life and the sounds of industry. Note the herds that are consuming the vegetation that is now grown where before the vegetation was wasted. No longer desolation and silence reign, but the whole country is filled with sounds of life and the hum of industry. When you have viewed the two pictures you will have measured the distance that has been traveled in the short time before mentioned and I believe that you will agree with me that the change has not only been very great, but it has been truly marvelous.
With this introduction we will now take up some of the doings, events, happenings and "first things" not previously mentioned and possibly enlarge on some and re-arrange others that have been told. Many of these have been obtained from works published at different times, and as recent as 1883. The dates are taken from these publications and as they were either taken from the records or were furnished by the early settlers of the different townships, they are presumed to be correct. As my people came to Waverly April 28, 1855, at which time I was about 7 1/2 years of age, and as I have lived in or near Waverly continuously since, I am familiar with most that has happened since that date.
The first settlement in Bremer county was made in what is now Jefferson township.
The first white settler was Charles McCaffree, who made a claim to and located upon what is now Section 34, Township 91, Range 13. During the first year of his residence he broke about 50 acres and grew considerable sod corn. Soon after McCaffree, came Jerry O'Connor. He took a claim and broke about 5 acres, but remained only one season. Next came Jacob Beeler and Andrew Sample. Beeler did not remain long and Sample moved to Chickasaw county in 1861 and became part owner in the town-site of Nashua.
In the spring of 1846 a party came from Marion county, Indiana, consisting of J. H. Messinger and family, Geo. Tibbetts and family, T. Fisher and P. Miller.
During the spring of 1847 several others were added to the little colony that setled in or near the "Big Woods" of Jefferson township. These were followed by others making settlements in different parts of the county, some of whom we will mention later on in connection with the township in which they settled.
All who took claims and settled within the county prior to the government survey were termed "squatters". The county was surveyed into townships during 1847, by John Ball, who later became a resident of it. During the year 1848, Township 91, Range 31 was divided into sections by a man by the name of Berry. A little later the whole county was sectionized, and in about 1861 the land came into the market. In a short time it was all taken up except the school sections and what was known as "Swamp Land". Much of it was bought by those who held it for speculation. Trading claims and town lots at an advanced price was one of the methods used to boost the price of them, some of these being traded "unsight and unseen" as they called it. Trading back and forth between the same parties, each time at an advanced price, and these prices were quoted as showing the rapid advance in values. The holding of the land by speculators and the low taxing of these lands did much to retard the early development of the county. In regard to this more will be learned further on.
In 1850 the filing of the claims of the sections allowed for school fund purposes was allowed by the government. In 1851 the filing of claims by several of the early settlers was allowed.
The first marriage among the young white settlers of the colony was that of Isaac McCaffree to Rebecca Beeler, in the year 1847. They went to Linn county to have the ceremony performed. On their way they encamped at Spring Creek, in Blackhawk county, and were snowbound five days and nights. But, nothing daunted, they continued on their way after the storm, and the ceremony was performed, tho a few days later than they had planned.
Charles McCaffree and Cynthia Messinger were the contracting parties in the second marriage. They went to Independence, Buchanan county, to have the ceremony performed.
The first white child born in the county was Zachary T. Messinger, son of E. J. and Catharine Messinger, January 16, 1848. He was a great favorite with the Indians. They wished to keep him as their own, and it was with difficulty that they were prevented from so doing.
The first death in the county was that of of Mrs. Fee, mother of Joseph and James Fee. Her remains were taken to Linn county for burial. The second death and the first burial in the county was an infant son of Isaac and Rebecca McCaffree. The child was buried on the farm later owned by Matthew Farrington.
The first person naturalized in the county was William Gould, who, on the 29th of June, 1854, renounced all allegiance to Great Britain before Jugde T. S. Wilson.
The first sermon preached in the county was by Rev. Mr. Collins, a Methodist minister, in the winter of 1850, at the home of E. J. Messinger, in Jefferson township. The second minister to visit the county was the Rev. Mr. Vail, who was also a Methodist.
The first frame house built in the county was erected in 1852, for a Methodist parsonage, on the farm of William Payne, which was located just on the northeast edge of Janesville.
The first marriage license issued in the county was by Judge Jeremiah Ferris, and was given to Jonas Mishler and Sarah Michael. It was dated August 20, 1853.
The first deed upon record was dater October 4, 1853, and was given by John Barrack and wife, Jane, to Frank Coddington, James M. and E. E. Moss. The acknowledgment was taken by John M. Bennett, a justice of the peace.
The total amount of the first tax (levied in 1853) was $653.52. The next year it amounted to $1,194.75. The total amount of tax, for all purposes, to be collected this year (1918) is $362,511.42. This shows quite an enormous increase in the value of the property in the county and, perhaps, a somewhat higher rate of taxation.
The first store opened in Bremer county was by John H. Winter and Ashbury Leverich, at Janesville.
The first probate proceedings of record in the county related to the appointment of S. F. Shepard as administrator of the estate of James McRoberts, and bore the date of Nov. 19, 1852.
The first house in the county (a log one) was erected by Jacob Beeler in the fall of 1845, in Jefferson township.
Janesville was the first town laid out in the county, and the plat was the first filed for record, on July 22, 1854.
The first school in the county was taught by Richard Miles, during the winter of 1852-53, in a log hut in Jefferson township. The hut belonged to John Clark.
The first postoffice in the county was established in 1850, and was intended to be called "Neutral," but by a mistake in spelling the name in the application, it became "Nautrille". J. H. Messinger was the first postmaster. The mail came by way of Cedar Falls.
The first chattel mortgage an record in the county was given by John Miles to Joel Sumner on October 15, 1853.
The first real estate mortgage bears the date of March 20, 1856, and was given by Philander and Cornelia Olmstead to Wm. McHenry.
The first grand jury in the county was composed of the following persons: T. J. Sewell, J. Queen, James Michael, Jacob Bevard, Lafayette Sturdevant, Ira Earl, John S. Jenkins, Geo. K. Baskins, Culver Tuttle, Chandler Eveland, William Powell, Claudius Albee, Alexis Jackson, James Null and William Baskins. The first petit jurors were: J. D. Jackson, William Edgington, Enos Lewis, Geo. Kerr, Wm. Westervelt, Samuel Jennings, Washington Thorp, W. P. Harmon, George Cagley, Nathan Payton, John Pattee, Elijah Kendall and Loren Rima.
In 1850, as has previously been stated, the Indian reservation was purchased by the U. S. government. The same year the territory, now Bremer county, was attached to Fayette county for civil and judicial purposes, but as there was little, if any, intercourse between the two counties and no road was broken connecting the settlements of these counties, the relations were soon dissolved and Bremer county was attached to Buchanan county for the above named purposes.
Preparations were made for a township organization, and the entire county, was made a civil township. On the 29th day of April, 1851, the first election in the county was held at the house of John H. Messinger in Jefferson township. The judges of this election were John Miles, Geo. Tibbetts and E. J. Messinger, and the clerks were H. A. Miles and Aaron Dow. The officers elected were: Israel Trumbo and Chas. N. Martin, justices of the peace; H. A. Miles and J. H. Martin, constables; Geo. Tibbetts. John Clark and J. H. Messinger, trustees; E. J. Messinger, treasurer; Aaron Dow, town clerk. A total of 25 votes were polled.
In April, 1853, the second election was held, at which 68 votes were polled.
In May of this year, J. W. Wood, John T. Barrack and 0. H. P. Russell, commissioners for the location of the county seat, gave their decision in favor of Waverly, and in August the organization of Bremer county was made permanent by the election of county officers. The election was held at the house of Frederick Cretzmeyer. There were only 80 votes polled, and the following officers were elected: County judge, Jeremiah Farris; sheriff, Austin Ferris; treasurer and recorder, John Hunter; clerk of courts, Heman A. Miles; school fund commissioner, John H. Martin; surveyor, Israel Trumbo.
Altho Iowa was admitted into the Union December 28, 1845, it was not until April 3, 1854, that the people of Bremer county had an opportunity to vote at a state election.
At this time all the property in the county listed for taxation amounted to only $43,168. The first court house in Bremer county, was a little frame building twenty by thirty feet in size, and one story high, and located on the southeast corner of the block just north of the present court house. It was erected in 1854 by Richard Miles for $147.50. Mr. Miles was allowed the further sum of $1.25 for clearing the ground and furnishing the seats for the court room. The first jail was built about 25 feet west of the then court house. It was about 16 or 18 feet square, and was built of 2-inch hard wood plank, doubled and driven full of spike nails. It had a couple of iron rod grated windows well toward the top on opposite sides, and an iron grate in the door, which opened and thru which the prisoners received their meals. It was built in 1855 by J. W. Wood, and cost $1194. In this jail at one time were kept two men who had been arrested on suspicion of having stolen the county school funds from John H. Martin, who was at that time the county school fund commissioner. The name of one of the men was Shippy, the name of the other I have forgotten. It was said of Shippy that he was exceedingly strong in his jaws and that in a store at Janesville he had taken between his jaws a 100-pound keg of nails, by the end of the staves and lifted it up and threw it over his head. He was also a. pretty good singer and frequently entertained the school children who attended school in the, at that time, new stone school house, situated on the next block east of the jail. One morning, a few days before their trial was to have been had, the children on their way to school noticed that the door of the jail stood wide open and on investigation saw that the jail was empty, and on the door jam was written:
"Farewell, John Martin, and all your trash, We're gone, that's sartin, with all your cash."
Quite an extended search was made to capture the parties, but if they were found, they were never returned.
On another occasion 'a man, who was put in jail for some offense against the local government, sought to obtain his freedom by setting fire to the inside of the building. Soon the smoke suffocated him and he cried out for help, but when help came he was told to put out the fire or roast. He soon became quite busy, and it was not long before the fire was extinguished.
On the 25th day of August, 1855, the county court made an order, as follows:
"Ordered by the County Court that Michael Currier, of Jackson township, Bremer county, Iowa, be and is hereby appointed county agent to sell intoxicating liquors for medical, mechanical and sacramental purposes, and for no other purpose, from the 25th of August, 1855, till the first of May, 1856, and that said Currier give bond in the sum of one thousand dollars, and to purchase liquors to the amount of $211.31."
Jonathan N. Fowler, of LeRoy township, was also made county agent for the same purpose, and was required to give bond in the same amount. He was permitted to purchase liquor to the amount of $69.66. It would appear from the foregoing that snakes must have been more numerous along the Cedar river than along the Wapsie, tho it was generally thought the opposite was the case. Whiskey being the favorite remedy in those days for snake bite, and its use for medical purposes being allowed, snake bites were frequent. I have heard that there were times when occasionally a settler had "snakes in his boots."
The county court went out of existence by an act of the state legislature passed the winter of 1859-60. The same act created a Board of Supervisors, which took over nearly all the powers formerly vested in the county court. The first meeting of the board was held at the office of the county auditor on January 1, 1861/ It was composed of one member from each township, as follows:
B. M. Reeves, Washington; Barnes Thompson, Polk; T. V. Axtell, Jackson; David Marquis, Jefferson; N. M. Smith, Warren; John Acken, Douglas; E. J. Walling, Frederika; P. H. Wilson, Le Roy; Otis Clark, Fremont; William Matthias, Maxfield; Ichabod Richmond, Franklin; L. J. Curtis, Dayton; L. M. Sholes, Sumner; R. J. Stephenson, La Fayette. L. J. Curtis was elected chairman.
At this time Waverly was still a part of Washington township.
On the 3d of April, 1861, the board passed the following:
Resolved, That hereafter no bills presented for tobacco furnished paupers will be allowed by this board.
In 1860 the proposition of purchasing land for a poor farm, at a cost not to exceed $5000, was submitted to the voters at the fall election and was carried by a vote of 944 in favor and 261 against.
The plats of the several towns of Bremer county were filed for record upon the following dates:
Janesville, the first was filed an July 22, 1854; the second on January 20, 1857.
Waverly, the original plat was filed April 14, 1855. The last of several subsequent additions was filed June 28, 1916.
Horton was filed on December 6, 1856.
Jefferson City, or Denver, was filed March 27, 1856.
Tripoli was filed on December 27, 1865.
Deanville was filed June 16, and Plainfield on June 18, 1868.
Sumner was filed on July 1, 1873.
Frederika was filed on July 29, 1873.
Last updated 4/4/16
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