Fremont County, Iowa


Joseph Hiatt

Came to Fremont County When Sidney Was But Two Years Old.

SEVENTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO". - Joseph Hiatt, Jr., the oldest settler of Fremont county now living, relates the following historic facts of the county in early days. Mr. Hiatt is 83 years of age; well preserved in both body and mind; can read and write without glasses. He now makes his home in Omaha.

"In the fall of 1852 I came with my parents from Peoria county, Illinois, to Fremont county, then spoken of as the wild and woolly west. It sure was all this and more. It was a land of deprivation and hardship unknown in our nation today.

"About the time the "blue and purple haze of Indian summer" enveloped the wide expanse of prairie land, three brothers, John, Joseph,Sr., and Reuben Hiatt, left their home in Illinois and came by prairie schooner route to lay their claims in the new country. These claims in after years proved to be among the most valuable in Iowa. The journey in those days was not made by filling up the tank and stepping on the gas, but by days of tedious travel. Gathered around the campfires in the light of the harvest moon I heard my father, John Hiatt, and his two brothers talk much of the new country in which their dreams were to be realized far greater than they anticipated. Many Indians--sometimes bands of 500--were also pressing westward. Often in the twilight, straggling hunters and fishermen of their tribe came begging to our camp.

"The crossing of the Mississippi river was made by boat. Smaller streams were forded. After leaving Illinois the settlers became fewer, after passing Des Moines still more scarce. From Clarinda to Sidney was all prairie. We met no man. Sidney, the county seat, had just been platted a short time and John Hiatt, my father, filed the first claim of 160 acres adjoining the townsite on the east. A part of it is now known as Hiatt's addition. A little later the two brothers, Joseph, Sr., and Reuben, filed claims a few miles to the north. Sam Fletcher filed the homestead on the north adjoining the townsite. Mr. O'Neil on the west, and Mr. Van Eaton on the south. Among the old pioneers who filed claims near Sidney, beside Joseph and Reuben, Hiatt, was Mr. Baylor, father of Walker Baylor who lived for many years on his father's homestead at the southeast outskirts of Sidney. Another, Stephen Cromwell, lived on the east. The Hiatt and Cromwell boys were playmates and boon companions in those long gone days.

"While my father's old pre-emption house was being built in east Sidney, we lived in a double log house together with Abe and Nick Travis and families. This house was located on the south side of the road across from the old Dr. McCracken place in west Sidney. It was here the late Sadie Travis Gordon was born. My father's house was a frame building built by a man named Allen. The lumber was hauled from Eastport, a little sawmill on the Iowa side across from Nebraska City. I lived on the same farm in Fremont county for sixty-five years, and have seen the building up of this county from ten years before the civil war. The claims were filed at the land office in Council Bluffs, known then as Kanesville.

"Before the houses could be erected an acre perhaps was plowed and the house was built in the center, because of the prairie fires that often raged for miles with nothing to check its fury.

"My father's claim had its boundary line on the west about the east line of the cemetery, north to the old Bill Roberts farm, east to Sam Carter's and south to the old Jim Wright farm. Our stock comprised two teams of horses, two yoke of oxen, and a cow.

"In the old days there was a brotherhood existing between those who cast their lot in this new country. Each neighbor helped the other to improve his holdings and cooperated in making the Fremont county of nearly eighty years ago what we find it today.

"When the springtime came again to the prairie bringing the birds from the southland: when the trees were bursting in bud and the perfume of the wild plum lent its fragrance to the air, the sturdy pioneer began to turn the first sod. As the oxen plowed the furrow they were followed by another man who dropped by hand, corn and watermelon seed together. The next furrow made would cover the seed. The corn turned out about five bushels to the acre and was called sod corn. The yield of melons was greater than corn. Both were good quality.

"The first stock raised to any extent was sheep. After the shearing of the wool it was washed in large vats. There was a man named Worcester who owned a carding machine on the corner east of where Dave Hiatt now lives. The wool was put into rolls, then on the spinning wheel into thread and woven into cloth on the looms. Who of the younger generation can visualize the spinning wheels and looms in Sidney homes, and the oxen drawing the plow within the city limits today? The pioneer mothers, as they worked at the looms and looked out upon the prairie, no doubt were longing to gather the wild rose and tiger lilies hidden among the grasses over those wide domains.

"Peach trees were the first fruit trees planted in the new country and proved profitable for many years. Flocks of wild duck and geese, big droves of turkey and prairie chicken were numerous, and over the hills and valleys roamed great herds of deer and buffalo. On the distant hillsides the herds of deer resembled flocks of sheep. One could kill two or three deer in less time then he could butcher a beef. I have seen them feed in great numbers on the hills near Sidney.

"Just below where depot bridge once spanned our creek we boys were hunting rabbits one morning. Our two dogs chased from its hiding place an animal unlike any we yet had seen. When within about ten feet of the tree it sprang upward in a large tree and going far out on a branch was crouching low and looking down with eyes the size of dollars. My brother Rube secured a shotgun but the shot was too fine and it required a number of charges to kill the animal. We found it was a large catamount and were told when wounded they are a very vicious animal. Wild bees lived in the hollow tress and we would cut the trees and take from them honey of such quality John the Baptist would marvel at its richness.

"Later as the land improved came the sowing of wheat, and after sowing came the harvest. They took the old cradles to cut the wheat and then bound it into hundles and stacked it ready for the threshing--but there was no thresher within a radius of 400 miles. Again the pioneer spirit prevailed. A spot of ground was cleared and a ring made around it resembling a circus ring. The wheat was spread around the ring aobut a foot deep. Eight horses were impressed into service with boys as riders and in this way the horses trampled the wheat from the straw. After repeating this all day, the riders found it was no circus. I know, because I was one of those boys. Men standing in the center of the ring kept turning the straw with forks as the riders performed their tasks. When the wheat was all trampled from the straw it was all raked off, the wheat raked to the center of the ring. This was repeated until all was finished, then a man would take a bucket and a tub and when the wind was b! lowing he would dip the wheat to and from the tub with the bucket, the wind taking the chaff and dirt and the tub catching the wheat.

"The first courthouse was a frame building built of cottonwood lumber. It was built on the present courthouse site but moved to where the Crawford furniture store now stands. The new courthouse was a brick. An attempt to blow up this courthouse was made by a man said to be Al Biggs. The north door was blown across the street. Biggs was arrested but escaped. It was said the sheriff, Doc Copeland, had taken him, as had been his custom, to call upon his (Biggs') sweetheart who was living with his aunt about where Dr. Morris' late office stood. Copeland could hear their voices in an adjoining room but when the half-hour--his given time--ended, Copeland found only the girl who had been talking aloud. Biggs had escaped on a horse secreted in an alley. No word ever came of him. After the second courthouse was disposed of the present one was erected.

"When I came to Sidney the wild grass was growing in the streets around the courthouse. Surveyors were still working. The county officers were Argyle, Ceorge Biggs, Fred Rector, Giles Cowles, Judge Cotton, who served a short term and who resigned in favor of Judge Sears who served a number of years; Judge Day following next. The lawyers were Kelsey, Joe Murphy, Lingenfelter and Cap. Mitchell.

"The first newspaper was called "The Sidney Union" edited by Mr. Goliday. John Cook was the first blacksmith. The first business men were Reed Armstrong and Tootle who started the first store in Sidney and were on the south side. Also a grocery on the south side and postoffice with Sam McCurdy postmaster. Borcher and Bowers had general merchandise on the north side near where the DeFreece hardware now stands. Thomas Medcalf (or Metcalf) was the first druggist. The doctors were first Dr. Bradford, then came Drs. McCracken and Penn, and a few years later Dr. Stephens.

"School was held in one room of the James Farlow home, known later as the old Simons property, on Filmore street. James Farlow was the first school teacher and also a minister. The first brick school was located west of Mart Carl property and later the present Carl home was built and used as a school building. There was neither school nor church building when we homesteaded.

"The old brick Baptist church down near the cemetery was first built and open to all denominations for worship. The cemetery was platted the first year after our arrival. One unknown grave was there, perhaps the resting place of some traveler who had fallen by the wayside.

"There was a hotel built by Page Hiatt where Archie Bros. garage now stands. The sawmill where lumber was sawed for the building was located about where the jail now stands, and was sawed by eight horsepower.

"About the year of 1856 Sipple and Tom Maloy built a packing house on the Southside of the road west of Esden's hardware. They bought up all the hogs in the county and had just finished smoking the meat when the building burned and was a total loss, except for the meat that could be reached underneath the charred remains with long hooks.

"The first flour mill was owned and operated by Leeka near the present site of Thurman in 1856. The first basket dinner was held at Judge Day's place west of town in 1858. The first child born in Fremont county was Martha McKissick, daughter of Neal McKissick. I knew this family well.

"Mail was carried by horseback from Sidney to Kanesville, Nebraska City and Clarinda. When the road was opened up between Sidney and St. Joe, then came the stage coach. Sidney being headquarters for a route north to Council Bluffs, west to Nebraska City, south to St. Joe and east to Clarinda. A man named Fisher, who located in a grove north of where Farragut now stands, was the only settler between Sidney and Clarinda. This was called Fisher Grove and later, after becoming a little trading point for the many new settlers who were flocking westward, it was named Manti.

"A ferry was put in on the Nishna river by a man named George Belcher, making travel more convenient to the east. Glenwood was the first town located between Sidney and Council Bluffs and was called Coonsville. All transportation was by steamboat up the Missouri river. Later a boat line was opened up from St. Joe to Council Bluffs. A landing was made for Sidney a mile and a half below the present site of Hamburg. The stage coach to St. Joe went only to this landing. Nebraska City was the first town located above St. Joe. No settlers west of Council Bluffs until Fort Kearney. When Abraham Lincoln made his address to the people of Council Bluffs from the high bluff overlooking the city, he told them the time would come when railroads would be running east and west. They came, they served, and like the pioneer are now fast passing, giving way to greater inventions.

"As Lincoln looked westward that day he saw only a land comprised mostly of thorns and thistles, while today the great throbbing, pulsing city of Omaha is blooming like the rose.

"I wonder if there are any of the older settlers who remember the incident of two men, one named Jackson, who attended a dance at Thurman and killed a man named Holloway? These two men were taken by a mob from the jail and hung out near what is now the Hummel farm. I saw them next day, hanging side by side on the limb of a tree.

"Another incident I recall: a man named Singleton, who had a store where the Model cafe now stands, and who also owned the Eaton farm, had a valuable mare stolen. The mare was sold over near Des Moines and Mr. Singleton notified where she could be found. This was said to have been done in order to repeat the theft, but the mare was guarded after her recovery.

"From 1850 to 1861 there was very marked improvement in Fremont county and then came the civil war. When the call for volunteers was sounded, many left the plow, laid aside the shovel and hoe and joined the company that marched out of Sidney singing "We'll hang Jeff Davis on a Sour Apple Tree." I saw them march away--and there were many who returned no more.

"There was a prophet greater than Lincoln who said "some would lay the foundation, and others would build thereon." As we look out over the broad acres of corn land, over the waving fields of grain, note the many modern conveniences around us everywhere, we can readily see just how well they have builded. From sod corn, Iowa has grown to be known as the state "where the tall corn grows."

"I have seen the old buggy in all its various designs take the place of the lumber wagon, once our only vehicle to take us on an outing on a Sunday afternoon. I have seen the automobile follow and back-number the most coveted buggy. And today as the prophet had predicted, they "fly like birds in the air." The iron horse he too predicted is giving way to trucks and airplanes.

"Many years the three pioneer brothers, John, Joseph, Sr., and Reuben, have slept in the silent city a few feet from the west boundary line of the first claim. Unmindful are they of the march of progress and the many changes that have come to their prairie home. They rest from their labor amid the Mystic Shadows in that land from whence no mortal e'er returns. The prophet has said "behold, old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new."

Source: THE FREMONT COUNTY HERALD. September 5, l929. submitted by Harry Wilkins via Sandra Bengtson

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