Fremont County, Iowa

Early Settlers and Settlements, 1849


There is not a little truth in the trite adage, "tall oaks from little acorns grow." Few enterprises have borne the marks of success at their inception, and still fewer reforms that succeeded in revolutionizing public sentiment or correcting glaring wrongs otherwise than by long and patient presentment.

A single word has sometimes been fraught with the genius of change; a single man been able to direct; and a single nation the most important factor in directing the destinies of a world. It is never possible to foretell all the events, nor all the consequences that hinge upon a single action, or upon a single epoch. It seems, sometimes, that the sole element of success is the ability, or will, to do and to dare. At such times, men of courage alone can succeed, alone can control.

It is not always the righteous cause which triumphs, nor the most justifiable ends that win; much depends on the character and mind behind these. In this respect, Christianity presented the ideal character which, through all the changes of eighteen centuries, has inspired the heart of men with an impassioned love, has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions. It has been not only, the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive to its practice, and has exercised so deep an influence, that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life, has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all the exhortations of moralists. The fact stands prominently forth that an activity born of disinterestedness and noble purposes, may and does draw within the pole of its influence kindred natures, while it may repress opposing tendencies in lives of the most variant nature.

New countries have the stamp of individual character impressed on them in a manner that older sections would not brook. This is due, perhaps, to the fact that the inhabitants are few and scattered, and in times of imminent peril or distress the most individualized personage assumes control. To him, then ever after, the people look and his views become gradually to be public property. It is thus that the early history of any county becomes largely a component part of the history of its first men; the men who give character and coloring to all its early legislation.

"The pioneer settlers of 1836, when they first looked upon the broad acres and beautiful forests of Fremont county, had in reality no compelling reason for believing that they were not created especially for them, and for the trial of the manhood that was soon to reclaim them. They came, not to scenes of pleasure, but to places of most arduous toil.

The land was new, its advantages still unknown, its resources undetermined, its ancient owners still here. To enter a country so wild and engage in its settlement implied not only a willing heart, but the ability to do and to dare that, in other and long settled lands, has made the monarch tremble on his throne, or placed in peril a nation's life. Pioneers are always brave; and the exigencies continually arising demand a quality of manhood that ensures the success of plans of colonization. It is, therefore, useless to eulogize the early settlers of this county.

All were brave, but all were not good men. What was done and how is merely the office of our task. In the hearts of many still surviving the memories of these men live, and that they live to fame and to history is the object of this sketch.

First White Resident
The first white resident of the county was a government employee connected with the Pottawattamie Indian Agency, and under a permit from the general government, engaged in farming for them. He was by birth a Missourian, and was a native of Cooper's fort in Howard county. Major Stephen Cooper, for that was his name, settled upon a farm some four miles southwest of the city of Sidney, then a town unborn. It will be remembered that at this time the Missouri line reached to within one and a half miles of the present site of Sidney.

In 1842, Major Cooper was in the Missouri legislature as the representative from Holt county, from which it way be inferred that his residence in the county of Fremont was not continuous. While his business interests were here his preference kept him, much of the time, in the state of his birth. In 1843, he sold his claim and business to Captain Whitehead, who, on coming to take possession of his new home, brought with him as a part of his household the first slaves ever on the soil of southwestern Iowa, two in number.

Captain White-head remained in undisturbed possession of his home until the final settlement of the boundary line difficulty in 1848, when he removed to St. Joseph, Missouri, where he might legally hold his slaves as chattle (sic) property. Thus early in the history of the county was the question of slavery considered an open one. Captain Whitehead disposed of his claim to James Knox, an early pioneer, and whose presence here is historically handed down by the local name of "Knox Big Spring." In 1839, came Rufus Hitchcock, a trader; a man who afterwards became both notorious and obnoxious. With him came Arthur Burras and Mrs. Rice with two sons.

These persons all came from Indiana. They, with Richard Flanagan, David Jones and family, and Jacob Acord and family, and A. J. Singleton, settled at Pleasant grove in 1839 and 1840. These are the first that may properly be called settlers, as both Cooper and Whitehead were here but temporarily and in the interests of individual finances. But now had come the true pioneers, men who saw wealth in tilling the soil, and whose occupations implied a permanent location.

But while the settlement of Pleasant grove was thus auspiciously begun, another one had sprung up at McKissick's grove. The name of which was derived from its founder., C. W. McKissick. These were probably all who came up to 1841, except a few traders, who came for purposes not always legitimate. In the year last named, among others, came George Wilkinson and Robert Watkins, the former finding a suitable location at the foot of the bluffs on the Missouri bottom, the latter at Preasant grove in the immediate vicinity of Mr. Singleton's.

It would doubtless be a matter of extreme interest to trace the emotions and thoughts of these early residents, were such a thing possible. They came from the older and mote populous east; left behind them all the advantages of a high civilization, the comforts of pleasant homes, friends and associations made doubly dear by long and constant intercourse. They came to what? Hardships and toil, but for these they cared little. There were hopes to be realized, plans to be developed, farms to make and homes to build. Whatever of romance we may wish to attach to their lives, there was little in reality.

Their coming, it should be remembered, was not always a matter of election. They did not come to a land, then a wilderness altogether from choice, but because stern necessity made it imperative. The population of the eastern states was rapidly increasing through immigration, and the stern law of increase made removal necessary. They came hither because the west offered more extended opportunities and contained the promise and potency of success in lite.

In the year 1841, occured (sic) a most notable event, the coming of the first clergyman. The Rev. Jeremiah Guard, who lived on the land now owned by Jacob Fletcher, was the man. He was called a "reformer" a term both vague and general, for to what end, his labors were directed at that early day does not appear. After him, in 1843, came Dr. Richard Buckham, who organized a Reform church in Pleasant grove, the first church organization in southwestern Iowa. Two years before had occurred the first birth, that of Ikey Rice, son of James and Nancy Rice.

In October, of the following year 1840, occurred that of J. W Singleton, the second child born within the limits of Fremont county. In the year 1841, Jacob McKissick, a justice of the peace who lived within two miles of the present site of Hamburg, married William Barrett and Mary Jane Jones, the first couple married in the county, and in that part of it which paid tribute to Missouri.

Religion and education are generally considered "sisters twain'; especially in new countries, it is not surprising therefore to find the school-master abroad cotemporaneously (sic) with the coming of the clergy. The first one to engage in teaching in Fremont county was Major William R. English, who in 1848, taught a school in a log cabin in the neighborhood of Wm. Lovelady."

The year 1842, witnessed the advent of a number of settlers, representing several of the eastern state, notably Ohio. Among them were Samuel Martin and family, including Miss Jane Hillis, afterwards Mrs. T. L. Buckham, Samuel Withrow and John Lambert came from Missouri in the fail of the same year, but in the following summer returned.

The influx of population was exceedingly slow throughout all these years. The fame of the "garden of Iowa" had not yet reached the toiling sons of the far east, and many of those who did come were perhaps to be classed with adventurers rather than settlers. In the last named year came also William Lambert with his sons John, William and Jerry, and a nephew by the name of Anderville Clarke. They located on the Missouri bottom near McPherson's, who, though not a settler, was engaged in trading with the Indians hi company with his brother William, nearly due west of Sidney.

In 1843 it is probable that Daniel and Isaac Hunsaker came to Pleasant grove, since Hunsaker's ferry across the Nishnabotany was in operation the following year. Jefferson Wade came to this county in 1844. In August of that year he located at Pleasant grove, four miles southeast of Sidney, having purchased the claim of Rufus Hitchcock, who was here as a trader previous to 1840. Garrison B. Red and Nathaniel Tombs also came in 1844, and a man by the name of Slusher located at the foot of the bluff; just south of Wilkinson's.

Archibald U. Argyle came in 1845, and located near Hunsaker's ferry, which he purchased, as well as the trading store at that point, and employed one Manly Green to clerk for him. About the same time his brother, Frederick Argyle, who had been in the United States army, purchased a claim in the same neighborhood. H. Bruce, a brother-in-law to A. J. Singleton, had a farm near him on the west, Captain Lacy located in 1845 south of Captain Whitehead, who then lived, as we have said, at the Knox Big Spring.

From this time the arrivals were so numerous and the population so scattered that it becomes a matter of almost absolute impossibility to trace them to their location and the subsequent changes made It will be observed, however, that there were up to 1846 but two settlements, villages, in the county, one, and the largest, at Pleasant grove, the other at McKissick's grove.

Among those who may properly be classed as old settlers are G.A. W. Belcher, T. L. Buckham, John Cooper, A. H. Argyle, J. J. Singleton, David Jones, S. T. Cromwell, John Gordon, Richard Hardin, A. S. Rob erts, G. B. Gaston, I. D Blanchard, Rev. John Todd, B. B. Gaylord, Henry and W. J. Halloway, N. Green, I. S. Jones, J. E. Beatty, W. R. Hardy, John McKinney, Enoch Thompson, Amos Crandall, and Judge J. W. Davis. Among these names will be seen many who have exerted a powerful influence in directing the course of events in the county. They were men sterling and true, whose contact with men and things made them self-reliant and energetic.

Nothing so much as pioneer life serves to develop real manhood, nothing so much leads to self-independence, nothing is so effective for discipline. These men were poor, but pride entered not to disturb their homely joys. The strifes and contentions incident to political contests and hopes of preferment, were reserved for a later day.

Petty jealousies, it is true, sometimes occurred, but mutual dependence and kindred interests forbade their fostering. With the Organization of the county in 1849, the history of early settlers and settlements properly ends. Elsewhere in this work will be found tabulated statistics that Sufficiently attest the progress made, which has been, not only great, but general.

During the incoming of the settlers many incidents of both a sad and humorous character occurred. To have woven them into a chapter purely historical would have presented little additional into referred to the chapter on incidents for any rest.

The reader is amusement or information which he may derive from them. But it must not be supposed that while the pioneers who settled the prairies and valleys of Fremont county were busy redeeming the wilderness and surrounding themselves with domestic comforts, they forgot to plant the seeds of those institutions among which they were reared. As Soon as a Sufficient number of children could be gathered together the school house made its appearance, rude at first like the primitive houses of the settlers, but adapted to the circumstances of the people in those times.

Pioneer school houses were usually log structures warmed in winter by fire-places similar to those in the pioneer houses. Slanting shelves were used for desks, and in front of these were benches made of slabs. These were for the " big scholars." A row of similar benches stood in front of these upon which the smaller pupils sat. The buildings were sometimes without doors and paper was made to subserve the purposes of window glass.

The books then in use were such as would not be tolerated now. Webster, Dilworth, Pike, Daboll, Murray, Ray or McGuffey were their authors. These books were well adapted to the capacities of those who had mastered the branches of which they treated, but not to those of beginners. The methods of teaching were then quite different from the present. The early settlers, as had been their fathers before them, were reared with full faith in the maxim, "spare the rod and spoil the child." The first teachers were usually anxious that pupils should not spoil on their hands, and many old men retain a vivid remembrance of what school discipline was in their boyhood.

An account of the exercises during half a day of school in the olden time would be amusing, though, in some respects, it is an open question whether modern customs are great improvements. Many can remember that written word was passed around, "master's comin'!" a grand scramble for seats occurred, so that every one was found is his place. [end of story].


Source:History of Fremont County, Iowa
Des Moines Iowa Historical Society 1881


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