Fremont County, Iowa

Township History

Benton Township

Standard Historical Atlas of Mills & Fremont County
Anderson Publishing Company, Chicago 1910
Sketch of the Early Settlement of Benton Township
By M. H. McElroy

Benton Township is entirely on the Missouri River bottom, the river has its western boundary taking in two bends of the river, the lower bend opposite Nebraska City. The first settler was John Boulware. About the year 1840 he located and operated a ferry at a point opposite what was then Fort Kerney.

Among the early settlers of this bend was one Hickson, who supplied both settlers and Indians with an abundance of whiskey which made lots of trouble, as an Indian when filled with firewater is an ugly customer. The settlement in this bend soon acquired a hard name known as “Devil Bend” caused mostly by Hickson’s whiskey. This bend was supposed to be in Missouri and under Missouri jurisdiction until 1848. The writer well remembers one time when a messenger arrived at our place in great excitement, wanting father, who was a district judge at that time, to have the sheriff and a large posse go up and quell an Indian trouble over killing some stock.

Father, thinking that most of the trouble was caused by too much of Hickson’s whisky, and as he was acquainted with the Indians and understood their language, he returned with the messenger. He found the whites barricaded and the Indians, which greatly outnumbered the settlers, in a rage, but succeeded in quieting the Indians.

At another time two men from the same neighborhood arrived in the night and called father up, telling him that there had been a horrid murder committed upon one of the citizens. As near as father could get at the facts was, that one of the citizens had started out in the morning on some errand, expected to return soon, but had not returned at noon, nor at night. The folks at home became uneasy and sent word through the neighborhood, but no one had seen him since he started out in the morning. Next morning the neighbors gathered and commenced to search for him, both up and down the river, with no success. One of the searching party went down the river to a settlement below where Watson, Missouri, is now, then called Sanorah. On returning in the evening they had to pass near a deserted house, that stood out in the prairie three or four miles from any other house. Upon investigating this house they found fresh blood on the floor and walls. On reporting what they found it was immediately decided that the missing man was enticed out there and murdered.

Next morning father accompanied the men back, not as a judge but as detective. As they had to pass near this house they entered it and found blood enough that several men might have been murdered. Father soon decided, though there was evidence of a killing, it was not the missing man. On investigating he took a trail that led to a large pond or lake near by and found a cow’s head and entrails thrown in. It did not take a Sherlock Holmes to make the deduction, that some one wanted some fresh beef, and had used the house for a slaughter-house, as that accounted for the blood and not for the missing man. They continued on to the home of the missing man, where all the neighbors had gathered under great excitement in the evening. While hunting for a clue, the missing man returned and gave an account of his absence. The upper bend was settled by a different class of settlers and was known as Civil Bend, which stuck by the settlement.

The first settler was John Lambert, son of William Lambert, who did not come until 1846. There were seven of the Lambert brothers, John, Jeremiah, William, Benjamin, Washington, Wesley and Greenville; with them came four Clark brothers, also several brother-in-laws of the Lamberts, and other relatives, all from Kentucky, making quite a settlement, but none of them stayed but a few years, which has been the fate of the settlements till this day. William Lambert located and opened the farm now occupied by Platt Ricketts.

The first to become a permanent resident was I. W. Platt, who with his wife came in 1847. They were from Ohio and graduates of Oberlin College. They had been sent as teachers to the Pawnee Indians near where Genoa, Neb., is now, where the government in 1846 had started farming and a school for the Indians. Father was first superintendent of the farming.

The next was Dr. D. Blanchard and family who came in 1848. They located near Mr. Platt. They had been sent by the Baptist Society as missionaries to the Kaw Indians in Kansas. In the same year G. B. Gaston (a brother of Mrs. Platt) and family with quite a colony from Oberlin, Ohio. Mr. Gaston located near Dr. Blanchard. He brought and operated the first steam saw mill in the place. None of these remained long, the high water of 1851 was too much for them. They relocated and founded Tabor in this county.

Two of Mr. Platt’s brothers remained several years. In 1849 Henry Keyser and family, a relative of the Lamberts and Clarks came. The Keyser families are all that remain today of all that came prior to 1852 or 1853. In 1851 a sad epidemic came near depopulating the settlement. William Lambert operated a wood yard near where he lived on the Missouri River, where steamboats stopped for wood. One of the boats had the cholera on board, unknown to Mr. Lambert. He went on the boat to get his pay and contracted the disease.

Coming home he was taken violently ill and died in a short time, his wife following him soon. They did not like Dr. Blanchard so they did not call him in.

The third one to take the disease was Henry Clark, who was at Mr. Lambert’s at the time. Someone called in Dr. Blanchard. When he arrived they were doping him with some of Hickson’s whiskey. The doctor said that was all wrong and that he could do nothing for him, so did not prescribe for him. He died soon. All were buried near Mr. Lambert’s. The fourth one, was Christopher Keyser’s family, known as Kit Keyser. He was working for Mr. Lambert and helped to take care of them. He returned home and the doctor was sent for, but before the doctor arrived he had become so delirious that his mother who was trying to change his clothes could not dress him. The doctor had his own way in treating the disease and was successful. Kit is very much alive today.

As almost all the neighborhood was exposed, fifteen others came down with the cholera. Dr. Blanchard prescribed for them and all recovered, which gave the doctor a great name. There was quite a number of families who came in with the Lambert’s and Clark’s relatives, but did not stay long.

In 1851 Ezekiel Lambert, a brother of William Lambert, and family, and later located near the Waubonsie agency, one son remaining till is death, a few years since. In 1851 occurred the first wedding of Christopher Keyser and Oliva Lambert, daughter of John Lambert. Mrs. Keyser has the distinction of the longest residence here in the Missouri River bottom, coming in 1842, making 67 years, two years longer than the writer. In April, 1852, the second wedding, McKiney Lambert and Lida Blanchard.

In 1849 a number crossed the plains for California with ox teams for the gold fields, among the number was Jonah Parsons, Lord and the writer’s father, in the same outfit. One son of each remains with us, E. Y. Parsons and Vincent Lord. In 1852 the Lambert brothers and some of the Clarks, and others with their families, took the overland route for California. In the same spring G. B. Gaston and most of his colony relocated and founded Tabor.

In March, 1855, the writer located on the farm he now occupies. In the same year R. S. Williams and wife and four nephews. Mr. Williams took an active part in our affairs, both in township and in county; one nephew, Sturgis Williams, served in our state legislature from 1855 to 1860. The township settled up fast. By the end of 1860 we had nearly as many inhabitants as at the present time. We have four independent school districts, with eight schools, three church societies with three church buildings, Methodist, Congregational and Baptist.

Now one word in regard to the health which is generally supposed to be bad on the bottoms. I do not think that the records will bear that out. We have yet living, of the old settlers, Henry Keyser at 98 years, Mrs. Platt, who in the past few years has made her home in Oberlin, Ohio, 91 years; Uncle Walter Sheldon, 91 years, and a number nearing 90. There are a number of families with eight children born to them (as the early settlers did not believe in race suicide) all grown to manhood and womanhood with the losing of one by death; others of the same size with the loss of one, the writer and his sister among the latter, the writer by accident. Last spring when the assessor was at my place he told me that he was about half over the township and found fifteen births and but one death, that of a woman seventy-seven years old.

Transcribed by Cay Merryman

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