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The Leon Reporter
Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
January 22, 1976, Page 15


A typical home of the early pioneers of Decatur County, Iowa.
(Picture found among the George Foland, father of Nolan, family pictures. *)

Following is a portion of a letter written June 1934 by J. M. (Mellie) Palmer of Lawrence Kan., to his brother, W. W. Palmer of Conway, Iowa. Both were born and reared in northern Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. Submitted by Wilma Foland.

~ ~ ~ ~

"My birthday came around on scheduled time this spring. These birthdays seem to come around much faster than when I was in my "teens" and in a hurry to be a man.

"At these times, more and more do I think of a certain image that come into the picture and this image takes the form of a comparatively young mother in a new settlement out in a new country, with scanty comforts and not the best of care. Housed in a rude shelter that was little better than a windbreak. Then I think of the young mother of today, often housed in a comfortable hospital with nurses and doctors on the trot to give every care and supply need.

"My earliest impressions of this world was a lack of comforts. But if the dawning memory of childhood first looked out on a scene of privations, I could rest assured that there was one person near by me who willingly shared it all. Not only at the beginning but on down the years to mature manhood, always forgetting herself and always thinking of her children. When I take a look at the standard of moral courage that she set before us and maintained through every hardship even to the end of her days, I think of myself as a weakling.

"So this heroic soul is our heritage of earth - a good mother. If we can give her a glad greeting in the world beyond, that will be her reward.

"On the 8th day of March, I let my mind take a stroll back down the path that I had been traveling for these seventy-five years, to the place of starting. I know the place and no doubt you can say the same - about a furlong west of Noah Warnstaff place, on a land that now belongs to that farm. Though not a board now marks the spot nor has there been for fifty years gone. It seems to have been one of those hastily built structures that spring up in a new country that is not needed in the march of progress, but I lived there long enough to get a picture of the place and its surroundings, a picture in mind that will never fade till life fades out.

"Down in Hardin Co., Kentucky, there is a now famous log cabin noted as being the birthplace of a President of the U.S. No doubt you have read about and seen a picture of it. But for crudeness of architectures and plainness of style, it had nothing on the one which I was born.

"This Iowa mansion was constructed of unhewn logs and shingled with clapboards. I do not remember any brass doorknobs, bay windows nor electric bells for a visitor to announce his coming, but I do have a faint recollection of a buckskin string hanging out of the door that you could pull and lift a wooden latch. And as to the interior arrangement of the building, I can give it to you so it can be understood without severe mental effort. The parlor, bedroom, kitchen and dining room were all beautifully combined in one room and this one room was about 16 by 16. The parlor heater was absent nor can I remember any range cookstove with nickel trimmings, aluminumware and silver service but I can remember a wide fire place with pot hooks fastened in so you could hang an iron kettle over the fire to boil the vegetables or meat, a cast iron skillet with legs about a finger length to set over the live coals pile on this to bake the corn pone and at rare intervals, biscuits. Now can't you see some grand economy here, heating stove, cookstove and lighting system all so nicely combined in this one wide fireplace. At bedtime just throw some ashes on the fire and the lights were all out.

"The mahogany rockers were not here but there were homemade chairs upholstered with hickory bark and then that old wooden bedstead with 125 ft. of quarter-inch rope crisscrossed under a straw tick or shuck mattress, seldom overstuffed. Standing up good and high was this old bedstead giving ample room underneath for the trundle bed, pulled out at night and pushed back under in day time (some more economy). that's where we kiddies slept. You see the sleeping arrangement of this residence was arranged somewhat after the order of a Pullman, an upper and a lower berth. We always took the lower berth. How easy it was to tumble into that trundle bed. Then after a night of pleasant dreams we could wake up in the morning and see cat tracks in the snow on the cabin floor.

"With the children of that early day it was a case of the survival of the fittest, as Darwin would say. Only the toughest little brats lived. That's why I'm still here.

"It always seemed to me that those pioneers made an extravagant use of fresh air both winter and summer, more noticeable in winter.

"I don't know just how a present day board of health would rate one of those early day homes as to sanitary rules but of one thing I am certain, they would score high on ventilation. I know for myself that the children of that day shared the hardships along with their elders. I have worn the linsey woolsey shirt, the blue jeans pants, hat made of straw braided and sewed together by my mother's hands, the cloth of my homely garb all woven and made by the same hands. Cowhide shoes home tanned leather and made to fit my feet (rather misfit) by the local shoe cobbler and this my Sunday suit, my Monday suit and likewise my Tuesday's suit.

"It would be amusing to see a lad of today rigged out as I was to go to church or Sunday school or to a public gathering of any kind and still more so to set them down to the fare that I had to face every day. People talk of hard times now but a boy who has lived on grass roots without salt or pepper is not apt to complain if he cannot dine on ham and eggs.

"The farms of that day in Decatur County were small patches of cultivated ground, always fenced with rails, laid zigzag with stake and rider. Beyond these small fields was the vast outside range, grassland and bush. Instead of the hum of the motor car, the truck, the tractor and combine, we heard the familiar screak (sic) of the old linchpin wagon, the whir of the watermill turning the old stone burrs that ground the corn, the boom boom of the prairie chickens at early daylight and you could almost see the disappearing shadow of the red man.

"At the beginning of my days, the farmers were cutting their wheat with a cradle and binding it up into sheaves with bands of straw, planting their corn with a hoe and cultivating it with a double shovel plow, cutting their hay with a scythe and raking it up from the field with a pitchfork.

"The state of Iowa was thirteen years old. On the 8th day of March, 1859, not a line of railroad crossed the Missouri River. The buffaloes were quietly grazing over the prairies of the west and our state of Kansas was not yet born. Men were going on a three month tour to cross the plains with their ox wagons, journeying to the gold fields of California. Now the airships wing its way high over the Rocky Mountains, passing from coast to coast between breakfast and supper and the human voice goes around the earth. Horses and mules were still pulling the street cars of our cities and people were laughing at a fellow by the name of Cyrus W. Field who was trying to stretch a telegraph wire on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, a fool idea that would never work. No place for a telegraph wire anyhow.

"People were just taking a little notice of an uncouth western lawyer who had been discussing the issues of the day with Stephen A. Douglas. The slave driver was still cracking his whip on the plantations down south and Old John Brown was gathering up his followers for the descent on Harper's Ferry. Only a few months more and he will swing from the gallows in the back yard of the jail at Charleston, Va.

"Lieutenant W. T. Sherman was teaching a little academy down in Louisiana. Capt. U. S. Grant was earning his daily bread and supporting his family working his father's tannery at Galena, Ill., and Robert E. Lee was a colonel in the standing army, a quiet Christian gentleman unknown to fame.

"A Bonaparte sat on the throne of France, the hateful Dons were ruling Spain, Wilhelm had a iron grip on Germany, Queen Victoria was mildly wielding a scepter over the vast domains of the British Empire and James Buchanan was sitting in the White House at Washington, vainly trying to keep the North and the South from pulling the country apart.

"What a different world picture is thrown on the screen today. Set back the clock of time to where it was in 1859 and we would be astonished at the change. I could not have lived in any other period of history and been so fortunate as to have witnessed such progress.

A portion of the
letter omitted here

Now I have scribbled over a lot of paper and possibly it will benefit no one but myself. As long as I may live in this world I want to be very much alive. I want to retain a keen interest in my relatives and friends. I want to keep my mind in working order too. I do not want my body to outwear my mind. Just how well I am keeping up in all of this I do not know for sure. It is likely that Nan and I will be in the state spelling contest at Topeka this fall. I can tell then if I am slipping any for that is a good test of memory.

"Best wishes,
J. M. Palmer"

Early life in Northwest Decatur County, Iowa

In the early part of 1850, different families - which included the Thomas Ramseys, the families of Josiah and William Wheelis, Rebecca Edwards and others - planned their trips from Tennessee to Iowa.

They built a flatboat and launched it on Powells River, Lee County, Virginia. (Some families came from nearby Hancock and Claiborne Counties in Tennessee.) They drifted down this stream to the Clinch River and on into the Tennessee River until they reached Paducah, Ky. Here they sold their flatboat and took a steamboat up the Mississippi, to Alexandria, Mo., near Keokuk, Iowa. They took wagons and drove overland to Drakesville, Iowa, in Davis County, sixty miles away, where they established homes.

In 1851, they came on to Decatur County, Iowa, settling in the northwestern part. This vicinity became known as the Tennessee neighborhood as so many of the settlers came from Tennessee.

There were many hardships the first winter. The following letter, written May 8, 1907, by Anderson Edwards (son of Rebecca) of St. John, Wash., to a Decatur County paper, gives some interesting facts about their first winter in Decatur County, Iowa.

"In 1851, I and several other families came into Decatur County in the northwest part and located on the divide between Long Creek and Short Creek. It was some time in May and the first thing to do was to build cabins and plant gardens, and later to start fields in which to raise corn and here is where the ups and downs of life began or the struggle for existence. It was a very wet season in Iowa and there were no roads or other conveniences. The nearest neighbors were four miles southeast to Jonathan and B. James Smith. A little further down was Alfred Gordon and not far from Smiths was George Hamilton. Northeast of us was Wm. Overton and northwest was Hopeville, eight miles, then called the Colony.

"After so long we ran out of breadstuff and Robert Warrick and I took an ox team apiece and started to hunt corn down in the Hatfield settlement. All we go came from old Uncle Reuben, as he was called, and we started for the horse mill at Garden Grove. We drove out on Jonathan Creek and camped for the night. About midnight, a fearful storm came up and in the morning the creek was bank full and we had to cross it before we could move on. We felled a tree across the stream and carried our sacks of grain across and then swam our wagon and oxen over the swollen stream and loaded and went ahead. We got to the horse mill and found it very much crowded. It was owned by a man named Morgan and was built by the Mormons who sold it to Morgan. We finally got our corn ground and got back home after some hard experiences. A part of the time, we had to make our own roads across the prairie and make our own fords across the streams. Just think of what changes have occurred in one man's lifetime."

Another letter, written by Thomas J. Edwards (brother of Anderson) April 18, 1897, to the editor of the Grand River Local, tells more about their early life in this new country.

"I landed in Grand River on Feb. 6 and left Van Wert on the 4th day of March. I was visiting the early scenes of my life. It will be 46 years on the 12th day of May next since we struck camp on Long Creek with Thos. Ramsey, Wm. Wheelis, James Ramsey, Anderson Edwards and my mother, Rebecca, and her family, Robert Warrick having preceded us a little. This was the memorable rainy season and we were the firt settlers in that part of the country and you may be assured we had a hard time of it the first winter. There, we had to pound our meal in a mortar for bread and it out of frost bitten corn at that.

"The first person buried there was Mrs. H.L. (sic) Louthan. Brother Anderson helped to bury her and he said they went down on Long Creek, cut down a Lyn tree, split out slabs as thin as they could with a broad axe and fastened them together with wooden pins, to bury her in. The first fall we were there, there was hardly well ones enough to take care of the sick and no doctor to be had. There were also lots of Indians for two or three winters after we came.

"Game was very plenty then, such as deer and wild turkey. If I had had a good Winchester rifle as we have now, I believe I could have killed deer faster than a hand and team could have brought them in. Equipped a I was I killed a great many more, I think, than any man ever did there, unless it was old Robert Warrick. Wild bees were also very plentiful and some were very rich with honey.

"The only road we had when we went there was the old Dragon (sic, should be Dragoon) Trace which crossed Grand River where Westerville now is. This road ran from Fort Des Moines to Fort Leavenworth. The first white man that settled on the west side of Grand River was at the ford whose name was Hanshaw and it was known far and near as Hanshaw's Ford.

"The first person buried at the Young Cemetery was a child belonging to a man by the name of Potter, living where the Old Man Young afterwards lived. I helped get out the timbers to build Funk's Mill which I think was in 1853 or 1854. I have stopped many a time when going through the ridge to Funk's Mill on the east side of the river and looked over where Grand River now is and wondered if that was not a mighty good country over there and not the sign of a white many on it. I find that my eyes did not deceive me for I see some very fine farms and thrifty farmers in the vicinity of Grand River.

"The parties I visited while there were the Youngs, Folands, Edwards, Ramseys, Adams, Goins, Burchetts, Grimms and others, mostly all old Pioneers and it was a pleasure to me to meet with them once more and talk over old times."

The Old Smoke House

It was such a modest building
   Close beside the kitchen door
But no other had such treasures
   Nor was entered any more.

In one corner was the salt barrel
   Full of tunnels, cliffs and hills -
Excavations were laborious
   With spoons and knives for drills.

There were gunny sacks of popcorn,
   Homemade soap in giant bars,
Buckets full of golden sorghum
   Boxes of nails and nuts and jars.

From the rafters hung the side meat
   Hams and jowls a luscious brown,
Cans of lard as white as snowdrifts,
   Odds and ends of great renown.

We could find just what we wanted -
   Could I go again I know,
I could bring back some precious minutes
   That I left there long ago.

By Hester Kenton

(Taken from Nina Weldon Miller's scrapbook. Reprinted in "The Foland Family Record" 1960 on page 55.)

* Transcriber's Notes: The pioneer cabin in this photograph could very well be the original cabin erected by Michael and Elizabeth (Sowerwine) Foland in the spring of 1860 on their homestead, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. The hearthstone from the original Foland cabin is presently located in town park, Grand River, Iowa.

Michael Foland was born January 14, 1920, in Rockingham County, Virginia, and died April 18, 1904, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. His wife, Elizabeth (Sowerwine) Foland was born November 23, 1822, Timberville, Virginia, and died August 25, 1896, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. They obtained a deed for 160 acres in Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa, and arrived there via covered wagons pulled by three horses from Muncie, Indiana, in September of 1859. Both Michael and Elizabeth are interred at Wheelis Cemetery, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa.

George Foland, the youngest and tenth child of Michael and Elizabeth (Sowerwine) Foland, was born in Richland Township of Decatur County, Iowa, on April 21, 1866. After his mother's death in 1896, the family moved back to the Foland homestead to care for his father. George married Celeste Jane Little on January 23, 1893. Celeste was born in Mercer County, Missouri on September 26, 1871. Celeste died on February 27, 1923; George died on April 18, 1946. They were interred at Grand River Cemetery, Grand River, Iowa.

Nolan Paul "Nokie" Foland, the youngest of George and Celeste Jane (Little) Foland's three children, was born February 4, 1904, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. He married Wilma Gertrude Ramsey on January 31, 1931. Wilma researched and authored several Foland family genealogical books and one for the Edwards and Ramsey families. Nokie died January 7, 1987, Osceola, Iowa. Wilma, who was born near Grand River, Iowa, on September 17, 1908, died on January 5, 1995, Osceola, Iowa. They were interred at Grand River Cemetery, Grand River, Iowa.

J. M. "Mellie" Palmer and W. W. [William Wilson] Palmer were the sons of Samuel and Emily Jane (Norris) Palmer. W. W. Palmer was born near Grand River, Decatur County, Iowa, on April 26, 1864, and died July 10, 1954, Conway, Taylor County, Iowa. W. W. was married on May 29, 1904, Conway, Iowa, to Gertrude Laycock, who was born February 13, 1881, near Lineville, Wayne County, Iowa, and died at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on November 21, 1958. W. W. and Gertrude were interred at Conway Cemetery, Taylor County, Iowa.

Joseph Melvin "Mellie" Palmer was born in Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa, on March 8, 1859, and died May 26, 1944, Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas. He married Nancy Jane Cross who was born in Davis County, Iowa, on December 11, 1867, and died in Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas, on April 23, 1938. Melvin and Nancy were interred at Memorial Park Cemetery, Lawrence, Kansas.

Noah Warnstaff (also spelled Wornstaff) was born in Delaware County, Ohio, on July 31, 1833. On July 10, 1855, he married Sarah "Mariah" Elizabeth Vanningburg in Morrow County, Ohio. Noah and Mariah joined a wagon train from Rising Sun, Ohio County, Indiana, and arrived in Decatur County, Iowa in 1856. Mariah was born in Ohio on August 16, 1932. Noah and Mariah were the parents of thirteen children. Mariah died on July 8, 1894, and was interred at Young Cemetery east of Grand River, Decatur County, Iowa. Noah remarried on November 22, 1894, Decatur County, Iowa, to Mary E. Luce (1842 - after 1920). Noah died on May 07, 1909, Big Cabin, Craig County, Oklahoma, where he was interred at Big Cabin Cemetery.

Thomas Ramsey was born on December 9, 1799, in Tennessee, and died on August 18, 1872 at Bentonville, Arkansas. He married in 1824 Anna (Hopkins) Ramsey who was born in Tennessee on January 24, 1807, and died on February 17, 1883. They came to Decatur County, Iowa in 1850 from Claiborne (present day Hancock) County, Tennessee. Anna was interred at Wheelis Cemetery, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa.

William Wheelis, the son of Isham and Elizabeth (Ramsey) Wheelis, was born on June 10, 1815, and died March 31, 1876. He was interred at Wheelis Cemetery, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. If there was a gravestone erected at his burial site, it did not survive. (Some genealogical records state William died in Washington, County, Arkansas.) William's wife was Rachel Harriet (Hopkins) Wheelis who was born in Claiborne County, Tennessee, on May 19, 1830, and died on February 22, 1909, Collin County, Texas. She was interred at Bethel Cemetery, Decatur, Texas.

Josiah Wheelis was born July 20, 1810, and died circa 1855 when he was struck by lightening and died. He was married on February 27, 1834 in Lee County, Virginia, to Jane (Hamblin/Hamblen) Wheelis. Jane born August 5, 1816, and died in April of 1852, Appanoose County, Iowa. Following Josiah's death, Jane and Josiah's four youngest children were taken into William and Rachel's home where they were raised to adulthood.

Rebecca (Anderson) Edwards, the daughter of Abraham and Rachel Jane (Jones) Anderson, was born on December 17, 1813 in Virginia. She married John Edwards in 1831. John Edwards was born near Cumberland Gap, Tennessee on February 7 of either 1811 or 1812. He died in April of 1857. Rebecca accompanied her son Anderson Edwards and Armina (Ramsey) Edwards to Iowa, leaving Claiborne County (present day Hancock County) Tennessee by flatboat. Rebecca remarried William Cole who was born in 1819 and died April 17, 1878. Rebecca died on August 8, 1882, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. Rebecca and William were interred at Wheelis Cemetery.

Anderson Edwards, oldest son of John Edwards and Rebecca (Jones) Edwards Cole, was born in Claiborne (present-day Hancock) County, Tennessee on February 28, 1832. He married on November 24, 1850 Armina Ramsey, who was born on August 27, 1826. They came to Decatur County from Claiborne County, Tennessee with Anderson's mother Rebecca via flatboat, steamer and wagons in 1850. Possessing a wanderlust nature, Anderson went west with Armina, first residing in Oregon, then Washingon. Anderson owned and operated a flour mill in Pine City, Washington. He died on September 7, 1908. Armina died on July 10, 1923 at Pine City, Washington. She was interred beside Anderson at Pine City Cemetery.

Thomas Jefferson Edwards, son of John Edwards and Rebecca (Jones) Edwards Cole, was born on December 8, 1834, Claiborne (present-day Hancock) County, Tennessee, and died January 13, 1921. Thomas was married first around the year 1855 to Mary "Polly" Brink in Kentucky. After her death, Thomas married second on February 13, 1878, Davis County, Iowa, to Louisa Jane Stogdill, who was born on May 26, 1856 in Indiana, and died on May 1, 1931, Davis County, Iowa. Thomas and Louisa were interred at Pollard Cemetery, Bloomfield, Davis County, Iowa. (After Thomas' death, Louisa married second in October of 1925 to Sam Patterson.)

Reuben Hatfield was born in Russell County, Virginia in 1786. He married on March 27, 1806 in Knox County, Kentucky to Mary Comstock and the family came to Missouri in 1838, then on to Decatur County, Iowa in 1840. Reuben died on July 12, 1860, Decatur County, Iowa. Mary "Polly" (Comstock) Hatfield was born in Virginia in 1790, and died in Leon, Iowa, on September 15, 1871. Reuben and Mary were interred at Bethel Cemetery, Eden Township, Decatur County, Iowa. (It has been noted that Mary was married first to "unknown" who was killed during the Revolutionary War.)

Robert Warrick was born in Virginia on April 26, 1809, and married Martha Hatfield, who was born on January 15, 1812, also in Virginia. They, along with Robert's sister Hannah and brother John and his family, came to Decatur County, Iowa early in May of 1851. Hannah Warrick, a spinster, was born on December 15, 1822 in Tennessee and died on October 12, 1894, Decatur County, Iowa. Martha (Hatfield) Warrick was a midwife and attended to many births, including one at Paducah, Kentucky when the party was on their way to Iowa. Robert served during the Civil War with Company B of the Iowa 18th Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Due to chronic illness, he was discharged on March 6, 1862 at St. Louis, Missouri, and returned to his Iowa homestead. He never recovered and his medical condition led to his death on February 5, 1865. Martha died on January 18, 1903. Robert, Martha and Hannah were interred at Warrick Cemetery.

James Ramsey was born February 19, 1825 in Tennessee, and died on March 31, 1909. His wife, the former Margaret Baker, was born on November 24, 1818 in Tennessee, and died on February 13, 1905. They were interred at Wheelis Cemetery.

Mary (Hatfield) Louthan, wife of James Harvey Louthan, was born on February 16, 1819 in Claiborne (present-day Hancock) County, Tennessee, and died during the winter of 1851. She was interred at Warrick Cemetery, Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. James Harvey Louthan was born on April 22, 1823 in Wythe County, Virginia, and died on July 28, 1903 at Coon Rapids, Carroll County, Iowa, where he was interred.

Mr. Hanshaw probably was William Hanshaw who was born ca. 1818 in Pennsylvania and married to Marilla Hanshaw, according to the 1860 Federal U.S. Census of Richland Township, Decatur County, Iowa. William was the first settler on the west side of the river at Westerville around the year 1853. His surname has also been spelled "Henshaw" in some historical documents. There is a William D. Hanshaw who was born in 1818, and died on May 3, 1872. He was married to Marilla (Sweet) Hanshaw, born in 1828 and died on August 12, 1899. They were interred at Seltzer Cemetery, Wichita, Kansas.

The historical account of Young Cemetery does list a child by the surname Potter as being the first burial, however either the gravestone did not survive or it is one of the field stones which marks several gravesites in this cemetery.

Nina Isabell (Weldon) Miller was born on August 27, 1877, at Dekalb, Decatur County, Iowa, the eldest child of Henrietta "Ret" (Foland) and Andrew Thurman "Ang" Weldon, granddaughter of Michael and Elizabeth (Sowerwine) Foland. On June 29, 1898, she married James Harrison Miller. James was born on April 26, 1863, and died on December 22, 1951. Nina died on January 4, 1956. Nina and James were interred at Munyon Cemetery, Decatur County, Iowa.

Article submitted by Paula Cain Staska
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, June of 2015
Information for Transcriber's Notes from "The Foland Family Record", "The Edwards-Ramsey Family" by Wilma G. (Ramsey) Foland, obituaries and cemetery records; Family photographs courtesy of Sharon R. Becker