by Geo. M. Haskin
extracted from Atlas of Grundy County Iowa, 1911
Felix township comprises six miles square (or thirty-six sections) in Grundy’s southwest corner, on Marshall county’s northern line, and on the eastern side of Union township, Hardin County, with its beautiful Iowa river running nearly parallel with our western line about three miles distant. This stream with is fine timber of over one mile in width, attracted settlers in 1849 and 1850; their first choice being the land adjoining the timber, thus making their fuel convenient and affording some protection from the wintry Iowa blizzards for which our fair state was then noted. But as the number of settlers increased, they were compelled to venture farther out on our fine prairies and in 1854 were erected the first dwellings within our lines. At that time our county was not organized and the land of which Felix township is composed was a naked prairie without a house or tree between this and Grundy Center, eighteen miles distant, but having the rich fertile soil and good drainage afforded by the following named streams: Wolf creek, Doud creek and Bear creek. The land from that time was swiftly taken up. These three named creeks all originate near the same source in Melrose township but take different courses, Wolf creek leaving our eastern lines near Conrad and coursing to the Cedar river; Doud creek taking a southwesterly course reaching the Iowa river near Liscomb and Bear creek, also with a southwesterly course, cuts across the northwestern section of Felix township, winding its way to the Iowa river below Gifford. The latter creek though void of running water most of the time of late years, formerly abounded with muskrats and fine fish all the year. Some boulders are found along these streams and their tributaries, or sloughs as they are commonly called, but no sand, gumbo, or gravel is found in our township.
The name of this township was derived from Felix Grundy, a real or fictitious name of a man. Our county was organized in 1856 and what are at present Felix and Clay townships, were then both called Felix and so remained until 1863. Of its first officers at the October election in 1856, we find the following named citizens: Wm. Vinton, justice of the peace; R. T. Vinson, constable, Joshua Wiley, trustee; J. B. Sweet, judge of election; J. W. Long, judge of election; O. L. Wilde, judge of election; S. L. Sweet, clerk of election; and Morris Haskin appointed as commissioner of roads August, 1856. At the election in 1858: Thomas Saint, judge of election; S. L. Sweet, clerk of election; the names of Nathan Ratliff and David Ratliff for jurors; J. W. Long appointed township assessor in 1858; Alex. Sisson, township clerk in 1859; J. B. Sweet, trustee in 1859; Wm. Vinton also served for Treasurer of school board for nearly thirty years, Ezra Perrin, township clerk in 1865.
The first settlers, to our knowledge, were John and Oscar Royer, who, with their aged parents, settled upon what is better known as the B. S. Parrish place, adjoining the present town of Whitten, but only remained a few years, Mr. Parrish having purchased their land in 1860 where he reared his family and made his home for over forty years, then moving into Whitten where his wife still resides. George Vinton was also a settler in 1854, but in the 60’s went to the far west, leaving his esteemed wife, who afterwards became the wife of Wm. Greenwood and remained a resident of Grundy County to an advanced age.
Wm. Vinton settled in 1855 on Section 7 where Henry (his son) now lives, but later bought out his brother George, adjoining, where he resided to a ripe old age, leaving a large estate to his sons, Henry and Calvin, a daughter, Mrs. Mel Stewart of Conrad and a grandson, Fred of Whitten, whose father, Fred, Sr., was killed by lightning in 1881 while herding cattle in Wright County, Iowa.
When Samuel Spurlin first came to see this part of the county, his brother, Daniel was living in the timber near Union and when asked if there was any vacant land near, replied that there was some away out in Grundy County but he would never have any neighbors there; but Samuel replied that he would risk it if the land suited, and the choice was soon made on what is now the Geo. Lockard estate, adjoining Whitten on southeast and valued at two hundred dollars per acre, which was the original cost of the whole quarter section. Here he resided from 1855 to old age, leaving his faithful helpmate (who soon followed him to the grave) and a family of grown children. Of those residing near are: Mrs. E. J. Arthur of Union, John, of Whitten, and Mrs. J. R. Landes of Central Felix.
Jack Price settled on the Jake Landes place in 1854 but sold to S. L. Sweet a few years afterward. Keener E. Price has been our longest resident having settled in 1855 on his present farm where he still resides but has followed his trade of masonry most of the time, and rented his land, and his work is to be seen in this and adjoining counties, and at his advanced age is still wielding the trowel. His son, Will, of Waterloo is also an expert in that line; his son, Alva still makes his home with his father and mother, a daughter, Mrs. Ella Gray, lives in Grundy Center with her two sons Glen and Russell, who are fast coming into prominence. The father, J. T. Gray (deceased) served eight years as superintendent of our county schools. Mr. Price also claims to have paid the first taxes in Grundy County.
Mark Modlin, Sr., was also among the first inhabitants here, having driven through from Indiana. Here he reared his large family, and one daughter, Mrs. Sarah Crouse, still resides near Conrad on a finely improved farm, and of their family of seven children, Anna, Frank, Cal and Charles reside in Felix; George in Clay township; Harvey in Melrose and one daughter, Alice in Oklahoma. The husband and father (Obediah Crouse) a veteran of the civil war, retired with the honors of corporal and made his residence here from 1864 until his death in 1900. The sons inherited the notable trait of their father, being good judges and lovers of that noble beast, the horse.
To illustrate to the rising generation something of the customary mode by which this country was first settled will here relate my parent’s immigration. In the spring of 1855, Morris and Louis Haskin of Farmington, Illinois, loaded a wagon and a two spring hack with a few household goods, provisions, horse feed and some other necessaries and started for what is now Felix township, having previously purchased two hundred acres of this land, with father driving a yoke of oxen and a yoke of cows to the wagon and mother followed with the team and buggy with a baby boy of one year in her lap and a girl of three years by her side. Thus they traveled for many days, sometimes sticking fast with their loads in miry sloughs, fording rivers and creeks with difficulty, but finally reaching their destination on June 5th, 1855. They took shelter in a small log cabin with a clapboard roof, but no ceiling or floor and the snakes, even the rattlers, could make their entrance and exit at will. But soon after a sawmill was located at Albion and as each settler usually bought a small tract of timber of from five to twenty acres, father was soon hauling logs there and erected another log house with a floor and ceiling, thus making an upstairs. This was considered a splendid house at that time, and was the writer’s birthplace. In 1880 a frame house was erected 16x22 feet, one and one-half stories high in which they spent their remaining days, father passing away in 1880 and mother in 1898 at the age of eighty-two years, and that baby boy, Manly E., grew to manhood and taught several terms of school in the county; also, Sister Clara followed the same vocation, but both passed to the beyond some years ago. The little girl, Florence, they brought from Illinois who used to ride the plowbeam when her father was breaking the prairie sod with his oxen, is now Mrs. George Nelson, of Eldora, and living an ideal life, having four children (all married) viz.: Edward of Grundy Center, Harry of Eldora, Fannie Whitwood of Eldora, and Victor of Mason City, and nine grandchildren. The two spring hack heretofore mentioned was for several years the only buggy of any kind in the neighborhood and was often borrowed for making drives. The old linchpin wagon is still in my memory.
Mr. and Mrs. Haskin will be remembered by the early settlers as great lovers of flowers and the products of their garden were shared with friends for many miles around.
Among the other early settlers were Enoch Kale, now deceased, having settled on the Jakey farm in 1856; Jas. Beaman in southwest of Felix in 1856; Lysander Williams on the T. Beughley farm; Jeff Dowdy on the Tom Moore farm, 1856; Ratliff on the Crary farm; Reuben Long on the Mrs. A. W. Allen forty and sold to Ben Bates; Joseph Saint, on what is now a part of the A. J. Valentine farm where he reared his family and ended his days. It is said that he made the shingles for the first house in Marshalltown; Thos. Saint on the Jno. Eggleston farm having twice returned to his old home in Indiana before making a permanent stay here. One daughter, Mrs. Wm. Eggleston is still a resident here and taught many terms of school, and music also in the early days. Hon. H. S. Draper (now deceased) although not a resident here until 1873 had owned land in central Felix since 1855. He was one of the sturdy, well-to-do farmers and the word success seemed stamped on his countenance. He held many offices of trust. From 1878 to 1880 he served as county supervisor and in 1887 was elected State Representative. Their only son, Will, inherited his father’s shrewdness, and since finishing his studies in law has been a practicing attorney in Conrad. A daughter, Mrs. Bertha Christie, resides in Denver, Colorado, where the widowed mother passed away January 27th, 1911, the husband and father having preceded her in 1895.
William and Ben Bates who came from England in 1849 when mere boys saved their earnings and in 1856 secured the southwest quarter of Section seven in Felix township, and on March 5th, 1859, were sworn in as citizens of the United States of America, at Grundy Center.
Mr. Sherman Weed and family were also among the early residents but all emigrated to Minnesota except Frank who remained here for many years and then moved to California, where he passed away, and a daughter, Mrs. A. J. Springer who reared a family and lived on the present J. H. Moore farm for about thirty-five years and then removed to Whitten where she still resides near her daughter, Mrs. J. B. Myers.
Railroads: Dear readers, bear in mind that at the time of our township’s first settlement, there was not a mile of railroad in Iowa, thus we were without shipping facilities for our produce and all merchandise had to be freighted by team from Dubuque, but on January 1st, 1856, the Chicago and Rock Island road was completed to Iowa City about one hundred miles distant from us requiring a week for a trip to market.
In the fall of 1861 another railroad was completed to Waterloo, some fifty miles away where our people marketed their wheat and hogs for some time, the former at from 31 cents to 68 cents per bushel and hogs at about $2.00 per hundred, dressed, and pay out for nails 15 cents per pound, calico 25 cents per yard, salt $8.00 per barrel and many other necessaries accordingly, which we might well call hard times.
To illustrate the hospitality then prevailing, will relate an incident told by Mr. Jno. Rudy. Although at that time a resident of Hardin County, on his return from Waterloo, the close of the day found him near the Sol. Wilhelm home some twelve miles from his own home and after spending the night with them, asked the good lady what his bill was, and was answered that they never charged neighbors anything for staying with them.
Our old family physician, J. E. King of Eldora tells of paying the following prices to our neighbors in 1861 and 1862; dressed beef and pork, one cent per pound; oats and corn, ten cents per bushel; eggs, five cents per dozen; chickens, five cents each; butter, five cents per pound; potatoes, five cents per bushel (grain and potatoes were measured in a sack). But near the close of 1862 the C. & N. W. R. R. was extended to Marshalltown which made our settlers feel quite handy to market, as the trip could be made in one day. In July, 1868, the Iowa Central railroad was extended from Ackley to Eldora and then on to Marshalltown, connecting with the same line from Ottumwa. This line gave rise to the towns of Union and Liscomb four miles to our west and each place securing a post office did away with the old stage coach line running from Marshalltown to Eldora and Fort Dodge making two trips each week, leaving U. S. mail at private houses from six to ten miles apart, but we were still further favored when in 1880 the Toledo and Northwestern came through our township locating the town of Whitten adjoining our west line in Hardin County and Conrad in Clay township one-half mile from our east line. On this road, with its four passenger trains daily, we are enabled to ride to Oakes, North Dakota, without change of cars, and the Dakota stock along this line is sent to Chicago, and to be considerate, we have but little cause to grumble at the freight rates or passenger fare, for looking back one-half century, we must admit that the railroads have been our greatest source of prosperity. To more deeply impress on the minds of our readers the difficulty of teaming with goods, will relate an incident as told by J. W. Conrad (of Conrad). While yet in the fifties, the neighbors had been raising a good many hogs, and as there was not much sale for them alive, we decided to slaughter them and salt the meat and sell it the next summer. But it would require several barrels of salt and some one would have to go to Dubuque for it, a distance of one hundred and forty-five miles, and salt was worth seven dollars per barrel at Dubuque. Joshua Wiley said he would go. One morning early, he started on the trip; it was January. He made the trip well and good until he got back to the creek south of Conrad. It had been thawing and the stream was swollen. He crossed the bridge and was going up the hill south. The road was quite icy, and as he had several barrels of salt, it made quite a heavy load. The horses fell down and broke the doubletree and the wagon and salt went into the creek, the salt being a total loss. Another incident is told by L. W. Price of Hardin County, who entered the land on which the town of Whitten is located. In the early days, one of our townsmen, John Royer, on returning from Iowa City with a load of groceries for a store at Albion, in attempting to ford Honey creek near Albion, the stream had raised much more than he thought for and the wagon box, good and all started down stream, and when rescued, were badly damaged and part of the goods were ruined.
Another person deserving of notice was John Benson, who, although a resident of Hardin County owned land in our township and bequeathed two acres of one-fourth section for a cemetery, his own body being the first to be laid therein in 1866, since which time it has been used, and is kept up by the Ladies Benson Cemetery Society in a very tasteful manner. Mr. Benson also built the first sawmill in this vicinity, near Union.
Our first school house was built on what is now the Cal Vinton farm near the northeast corner and Solon F., the son of John Benson, taught the first term of school, afterward enlisting in the civil war, but returned minus an arm. Pupils from what are now four districts attended this school and the roll call was about fifty before the districts were divided and we remember thinking that our best pupils were well advanced as some were reciting in grammar and algebra.
The Benson sisters still own land here and Minerva Benson Haxton of Whitten, is the mother of A. S. Haxton on “Doud Creek Valley Farm,” who is now holding the office of justice of peace, his father, Sumner Haston, an old settler, having passed away a few years since.
Our land has steadily advanced from the original one dollar twenty-five cents per acre, to fifty and sixty-five up to 1900, since which time it has more than doubled in value as some has been sold for one hundred and seventy-five dollars per acre and some in the county has reached the $200 mark, and why not? as we are in the corn belt with good soil, and drainage and have been told by disinterested parties (outside our county) that we have the best county and largest per cent of tillable land in the United States.
Let us note the improvements – from the rumbling stage coach with mail one or twice a week, to the cushioned seats and reclining chairs of the passenger coach, fast mails and rural free delivery; from the rude log hut to the modern farm dwellings; from the old grain cradle to the self rake reaper, the Marsh harvester and now the self binder, some with an eight foot cut; from the long and hurried rides on horse back or with buggy for a doctor or other errands to the convenient telephone on the wall; from what was a long day’s drive with a team, to a possible two or three hours ride in an automobile; from the double spring hack with board seats, to the cushioned buggy and surrey; from the old ground or mounted horse power for threshing to the steam engine, running the machine with self feed and swinging or blow stacker; from the old stake and rider fence to the neat and lasting woven wire, and many similar improvements might be mentioned.
Politically, our township has ever been strong republican, with a small per cent of foreigners and have heard that, at the first election held in the county, only one democratic vote was cast. We have also been on the prohibition side, and verily believe that a large majority of us would be glad to see the liquor traffic wiped from the United States domains.
The first birth of which we can find record was Euphema (now deceased) daughter of Samuel and Susan Spurlin, August 12, 1855; and the first death we believe to have been Lizzie, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Royer, the fatality being from eating wild parsnips.
The first of our residents to be united in marriage were Benjamin Bates to Esther, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Spurlin, April 1st, 1856 at Eldora. The first couple married in Felix township were Jas. Sisson and Minerva Sweet at the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. S. L. Sweet, September 2d, 1858, by William Vinton, justice of the peace. Mr. Sisson (now deceased) was for many years one of our well-to-do farmers and reared a large family of children, his son Charles owning the old home, and Will on a good farm near by. Mr. and Mrs. Sweet, parents of the bride, were our first doctor and nurse and resided here to old age.
Soldiers: The following are persons who enlisted from here and others that served in the civil war. Jerome Sweet (now deceased) in the regular army; Jas. (his son) a one hundred day Volunteer, is still a resident; Wm. and Levi (sons of Samuel and Susan Spurlin) died in the service. Of the other veterans that were residents since the war, are Captain E. A. Crary (now deceased) who settled in district Number one in 1867. Having purchased two hundred and forty acres of land, he erected a log house on the northeast quarter of Section seven, and soon after gave two acres of the adjoining eighty for school ground. Here he reared his family consisting of one son and four daughters, three of the latter serving our county as teacher for some time, and the son, E. A. Jr., having obtained a thorough college education including law, has been in practice at Grundy Center, and is now serving his third term as county attorney. The mother and four remaining children still retain and rent the old farm. Here the husband and father constantly held the office of justice of the peace for about twenty years, which capacity he was well qualified to fill having been a practitioner at the bar.
John Powell was another war veteran who secured the southeast quarter of Section five in the sixties and still owns it, but in recent years has made his home in Des Moines and Chicago.
John Trevarthan, a veteran from Wisconsin, settled here in the seventies, where he resided for about twenty years, then sold his farm to J. H. Moore and is now making his home in Eldora, Iowa.
Jas. Ralston, a long resident and prosperous farmer in district Number seven, where he settled after the war, reared a family and still looks quite robust for an old soldier.
Eli Hickman another of our country’s defendants, owns and enjoys a neat little farm home in Center Felix and with his loyal helpmate has lived to see their seven children grown and several grandchildren to bless and comfort their old age.
Geo. J. Nelson, now of Eldora, Iowa, was a resident here for nearly thirty years and owned one of the good quarter sections of district Number one, and is proud to wear the bronze button and ever ready to help a worthy comrade. A. J. Miller, now of Whitten, was for many years one of our prosperous farmers and reared a family of four children and with his wife is living at ease in a beautiful home in town. John Olmstead, who volunteered in the service of our country at the early age of seventeen years, has also been a resident here for nine years, has raised and schooled a family of nine children and now owns a neat little home in Whitten. Charles Day enlisted from Clinton, Iowa; served nearly two years in the war and has been a resident of Felix about eight years, but is now enjoying a neat little home with his wife in Whitten. Their son, George, is a wide-awake and successful farmer in the southeast part of Felix. Obediah Crouse, previously spoken of, was a resident of Felix for thirty-four years. Mr. Wm. Day, who enlisted from Wisconsin, was also a resident of Felix in the eighties, but now is in the Hotel and livery business in Whitten. G. H. Reynolds enlisted at Galena, Illinois, in Company C, 140, and served as a drummer boy and came to Iowa and was a resident of Felix township from 1871 for nearly twenty years, then moved to Whitten, where he has been in the grocery business since. Mr. H. Steelsmith, now a retired farmer of Conrad, and his esteemed wife, have been residents of South Felix since 1866 and still own the farm where they reared their family. Harry (as he is commonly called) enlisted in our country’s service in 1862 in Company G, 118, Ohio Infantry, and served in many engagements and received three flesh wounds at Resaca. After the war he again taught school (his former occupation). He has served our township as clerk and justice of the peace in an able manner.
The Camanche Tornado: The greatest calamity that ever befell our township was in the afternoon of Sunday, June 3d, 1860. It having been an extremely hot and sultry day, a storm cloud first made its appearance in the vicinity of Fort Dodge and taking its course a little south of east, it came to the ground at a settlement in central Hardin County, called Quebec, demolishing three dwellings and injuring their occupants; then coming on with increasing force, with rain, hail and vivid lightning, it struck the little town of New Providence fairly wiping it away, but as most of the citizens were attending service some distance from the course of the storm, no lives were lost, although some were badly injured, but farther this way it tore away the home of Mr. Christ and killed his wife. Next it struck the brick and stone house of Michael Divine, containing his large family and some company, fourteen in all, of which six were killed including Mrs. Divine and four children; then mowing a swath through the timber on the Iowa river; it struck and carried away the house of Alex. Smith, almost killing the inmates, and unroofing the old house of Tom Lockard (now in Conrad). Then the Shortridge home was swept away and coming to our line, it struck just north of the present town of Whitten, tearing away the house occupied by Mr. Long, but he and his wife were visiting at the Jno. Gallaway home a few rods away on the A. W. Allen forty and succeeded in getting into the cellar, but Mr. and Mrs. Gallaway were badly injured, their babe blown away, the house and contents all gone, but the child was found in the field all mud and entirely naked but survived. B. S. Parrish was there and some others and were injured to some extent. Then Wm. Bates’ home on the Riley Cheeseman, (now the H. Vinton) farm was taken with all their belongings but they were safe beneath the floor, which only remained. The Wm. Vinton home was next in line, but they were away and out of its course. Then the Mark Modlin house on what is now the Jas. Williams farm was taken with some of the children at home and Alanson Banks, who was calling there, was injured. Little Mark, Jr., then a child, grabbed a roof board as he was taken up by the wind and was still clinging to it when found some forty rods away, the stick driven into ground but the lad unharmed. Mr. and Mrs. Modlin were also away attending meeting. This seemed to be the last house in its line in our county, but the storm swept on to Cedar Rapids and as it neared the eastern border of Iowa, it was joined by a tributary storm which has passed over the northern part of Marshall County at the same time the main storm was tearing through here. Being thus reinforced the storm swept down on the town of Camanche on the Mississippi river, which then contained about 1200 inhabitants and almost wiped it from the earth. Many lives were lost and some bodies were never found, supposed to have been carried into the river. The most destruction being caused there gave the storm its name, by which it has since been known. But that was not the end. It tore on in fearful force through Illinois and was last seen on Lake Michigan. We have no record of the total number of deaths by the storm, but in Hardin county eight lives were lost, but miraculous as it may seem, none perished in Grundy County, although buildings and fences were town down and sometimes swept from existence and horses and other stock killed. But as soon as the storm had passed, the news seemed quickly spread and people came from far and near with provisions, clothing and ready hands to care for the injured, as many were nearly stripped to nakedness and other clothing blown away, and many left their own field for several days to plow corn, build houses, barns, fences, etc., for the sufferers. The most destructive portion of this cyclone (as now called) was about eighty rods wide through here but the force was strong enough to tear down the customary rail fences for over one mile in width and its length has probably never been equaled.