by J. A. Bawn
extracted from Atlas of Grundy County Iowa, 1911
Beaver Township is the second township in the northern tier of townships of Grundy County. It was entirely a vast prairie from border to border, without a tree of any kind until planted by the settlers. Bushy willows from two to five feet high grew in some of the swamps but were burned to the ground every one or two years. Wild grass and flowers grew over the prairie. On the upland the greass grew to the height of from twelve to eighteen inches, while in the lowlands, it was quite thick and from eighteen to thirty-six inches high, making very nice wild hay meadows, except in the wet places where some spots were boggy. A strip about two miles wide on the north side was bestrewn with boulders which were quite numerous in most of the lowlands, while the southern part was without stones of any description.
Now, do not think because there were no trees, the prairie looked desolate; far from it! Before the prairie was fairly green in the spring the uplands were nearly white with Pasque flowers, and before they were gone, the violets changed the hue to blue; then phlox, lilies, wild roses and various other varieties too numerous to mention, followed each other all summer and fall until after the frost turned the grass brown. Then last, but not least, the wine colored and deep blue gentians would open every day that the sun shone, until snow came, or the ground was frozen.
Beaver Township is the divide between Beaver and Little Black Hawk, two small streams and several sloughs coursing north into the Beaver (from which the township improperly received its name), and one stream and several sloughs coursing southeast to the Little Black Hawk. The entire township is good fertile soil and is as good tillable soil, meadow or pasture land as can be found in the state. During the past few years, many parts are being improved by tilling.
Game: Elk, deer and wolves roamed here on the prairie in summer, but went to the timber during the winter; the elk and deer were soon exterminated by the settlers, but the wolves are found occasionally yet. For many years, the curlew, or long-bill snipe, sand-hill crane, and several varieties of wild duck, nested here early in spring and then disappeared by midsummer. The vast number of prairie chicken was something wonderful in early times. At times, they would flock together so thickly, that, when something startled them, they suddenly took flight, their wings would make a noise resembling distant thunder. Any amount of them were shot and trapped for use, but their number did not seem to be diminished in the least, until the land became more thickly settled, then hunters with bird-dogs and breach-loading guns commenced hunting them for shipment until they were nearly exterminated. Now, the crows, by robbing every nest, are hastening the day when the prairie chicken will be found only as a mounted specimen in some museum. In early times, every spring and autumn the fields were teeming with migratory fowl, but they seem to take other routes now, or they are not so plentiful.
The first settlers were Worthing Ingalls, Martin Cartner, James Foster, Daniel Pickett, C. R. Mack, Jensen Brothers, L. H. Gleason, F. Bawn and Jake Codner, with their families.
The first residents were, Worthing Ingalls’ and Martin Cartner’s families 1854, and the others named, entered their lands during 1854 and 1855, but some of them did not build until ’55 and ’56. Most of the houses then, were log, eight to twelve feet high, built by the settlers themselves. Some of the settlers hauled logs to a sawmill in New Hartford and built small frame houses. The settlers depended entirely on the native forests for fuel, fencings, and buildings, consequently the settlements were along the northern part of the township so as to be as close as possible to the timber growing along the Beaver.
There were also rumors, at that time, of trouble with Indians, so for safety, the settlers, instead of scattering, took up the land as it came, regardles of quality.
Lyman Card (now deceased) used to love to tell the younger people of the Indian scare he had when a young married man in the ‘50’s. There was a wedding at Mr. Walker’s in Fairfield township about four miles east, and about ten o’clock that evening, they held an old fashioned charivari. All the men and boys of the neighborhood gathering with guns, they would shoot in the air then all yell until invited in for refreshments. Mr. Card had gone to bed and was awakened with the shooting, then hearing the yelling, his first thought was of Indians. Arousing his folks, his next thought was of his brother’s family living about forty rods from him, and he ran to alarm them. Finding a sixteen foot corn marker in the way, he cleared it with one bound. He often remarked that, had it been Indians, they would not have caught him this side of the Mississippi.
Oxen were used by many of the early settlers, but horses came into general use a few years later.
The only farm machinery then used, was a wagon, walking plow, small harrow from six to eight feet wide, a scythe, a cradle for wheat and buckwheat, a shovel and a hoe. A year or so later a few farmers purchased combined reapers and mowers. There was not much land tilled on account of no market for produce raised, Galena, Illinois, being the nearest railroad point for several years. Then, the railroad came through to Cedar Falls, and for eleven years there was no market or mill nearer. This was twelve to eighteen miles away without turnpikes or bridges. (The good roads movement then was a zig zag trail on the ridge or water shed.)
Within two or three years nearly all the land of the township was purchased from the Government at $1.25 per acre, either by settlers or speculators, but it did not increase in value very much until 1865, when the Illinois Central railroad went through to Sioux City, giving a closer market at New Hartford and Parkersburg. Then, because of the improved machinery, first the hand-binder, then the self-binder, the two-horse walking and riding cultivators, the grain drills and seeders, and above all, for the farmers on the prairie, the passage of the law restraining the stock from running at large, the land of the entire township boomed in price and was nearly all settled up in a very few years.
Small grain was the chief product for about ten years, then the farmers saw their mistake. They were running their land out for small grain, and most of them began turning their attention to dairying and hog raising.
A creamery was built at Dairyville and was in operation for several years. One was also built at Fern, and one at the center of the township. They are both flourishing yet, and now the most successful farmers are those who depend on mixed farming; that is, raising corn, oats, grass, pasture, and potatoes, together with milch cows, hogs and chickens.
Religion: Although there were no churches with the township until quite recent dates, the earliest inhabitants used to attend services held just over in Butler County. Nathan Olmstead was the first minister to hold services, first in private houses, then in the school houses.
The first death occurred in the family of Jacob Codner, 1857. Their little daughter was playing with the older children with a prairie fire when her clothes became ignited. She was burned so badly that death ensued the next day.
Schools: The first school of the township was held in the home of Ira B. Thomas in 1858, and was taught by Miss Lydia Farr (afterwards Mrs. C. R. Mack). Then a room of F. Bawn’s house was rented in the year 1859 and school was taught for two years by Miss Etta L. Gleason. In 1861 the township was divided into two districts, the west half was called Number 1 and the east called Number 2, and that fall two school houses were built, Number 1 in the center of Section 5, to accommodate two families and Number 2 was built on the northeast corner of the northwest one-quarter of Section 1. They were both moved afterward to the center of the districts in which they were built, and the numbers were changed, and Number 2 became Number 1, and Number 1 is now Number 3. Both old buildings have been town down and the new structures have taken their places. Number 5 was built in 1868, Number 2 and Number 6 in 1870; Number 4 in 1873, and Number 7 in 1875, Number 9 in 1877, Number 8 in 1878. Number 3 was rebuilt by an old style structure in 1880, and Number 1 was replaced by a modern school house in 1907. In 1909 the Independent District of Stout was set apart by taking 360 acres out of a corner of each of the districts, Numbers 1, 2, 5 and 6, and forming a new district one and one-half miles square. In 1909 and 1910 a fine two story school house was erected. The schools of Beaver Township were conducted on the District Township plan until 1903, when by a majority vote, the township was divided into Rural Independent Districts.
While the western part of the township had been expecting some kind of north and south railroad route for several years, the east side was actually surprised in 1898 to find the Chicago and Northwestern was planning to run a railroad right through its midst. In 1900 the road was completed and the town of Stout was platted, making the first railroad market inside the township.
Entertainments: When nearly every house was built of logs, the raising of a neighbor’s house was an occasion for a neighborhood gathering. Later on when the barns were built with timber frames, barn raisings were common. Private dances and barn dances were a source of great amusement, in which many joined. Music was usually furnished by home talent. In winter, spelling schools, and school exhibitions were held in various school houses, to which the young people would go in large loads for miles to take part and as spectators. And last, but not least, the old fashioned singing schools that both the old and young used to take part in, and usually finished up with a concert.
Mr. Rhodes from Butler County was the pioneer music teacher; later on as the township became settled up, Mr. Fobes conducted many very successful singing schools and concerts; he often said he would rather sing than eat.
The youths of the earlier days seemed to derive as much enjoyment and pleasure from their simple amusements and entertainments, as the young people of today have with all the modern inventions which are placed before the public to instruct and amuse.
Among the early settlers should be mentioned A. V. Stout, who came from Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1868, and settled on the farm on which the town of Stout is situated. This farm, the north half of Section 14, continued to be his home until the time of his death, March 28, 1900. The town of Stout was named for him. Other early settlers were P. B. Stout, brother of A. V.; Robert Sterling; Calvin Huntley; J. R. Scott, still living on the farm he has made his home for more than forty years; Eb Stow; Reuben Stow; Mr. Dewitt; Phil Hess; Jacob Hall; C. G. Courtright (father of O. B. Courtright, now of Waterloo) who served as a member of the Board of Supervisors several terms; Thos. Pollock; Fayette Ranney; Silas Peck and John Archer. On the south side of the township there were John Prichard, J. W. Dubois, R. M. Finlayson, E. A. Wright, G. J. Wright and F. M. Hemmerling. Among the first Germans to settle in the township were Dirk J. and John P. Arends, brothers, John Goldhoorn and Martin Janisch. Most of them came in 1868 and later. Nine-tenths of the present residents are German.
The only man mentioned above as a very early settler, who is still living in the township, is J. R. Scott, now more than 80 years of age. Some of the sons and daughters of the very early settlers are now living in the township; E. A. and G. J. Wright and R. M. Finlayson own the farms on which they lived in olden times, but have moved into town, the Wrights to Cedar Falls and Finlayson to Grundy Center. The greater number of the early settlers are now dead. These early settlers were, without exception, good citizens, and did their full share toward improving the country. They were men of small means, but were of high character and unlimited energy, all of which was needed to meet the many exigencies of pioneer life. Volumes might be written of occurrances, unknown in these days. Some are laughable, some serious, and some pitiful, but the early pioneer met and mastered them all in some way.