by D. E. Aukes
extracted from Atlas of Grundy County Iowa, 1911
As all other townships are represented in this atlas by reminiscences of early days, it is fitting that German township should not be neglected, and I have therefore endeavored to relate a few incidents of pioneer days, which I trust will be of interest to the readers of this volume.
By inquiring around a little I find that Mrs. Herman Eggers, nee Steenblock of Abbott, Iowa, is perhaps one of the oldest settlers yet living as she left the Old Country with her parents and family in 1851, coming to Stephenson County, Illinois, and the whole family with Wm. Tjaden and Dirk Spieker and families arrived in Hardin County in 1854. At that time, Ackley had one small house, Hardin City and Eldora, a few houses and places where some groceries could be bought and Alden was the nearest place that had a mill. The nearest railroad town, perhaps was Dubuque. The first Evangelical preachers were H. Kleinsorge and Rev. Hentje, both of whom are living yet. The former is preaching in California and the latter lives in Chicago. As most of the early comers settled around Hardin City and in Aetna township, bounding German township on the west. Wm. Tjaden and family, Dirk Spieker and family, John Ubbe, and Wiard Janssen, John and Hinderkan, Bockern, Poppe and John Hickman, Kriene and Harm Keiens, Heie Bunjer, Heie Muller, Conrad Smith, Albrich Steenblock and others were the first German settlers as shown by old records at hand.
In 1858, German township was organized and was named Orcutt township until 1867 when said name was changed to German. The first English or American settlers were the Orcutt family consisting of many boys. They lived on and owned the farm Juren Huisman owns at present and sold out in 1869 to Sievers and bought again near Bucks Grove. The old people died long ago and the boys are still living. Joseph Huse was a son-in-law of Orcutt and a very early settler. He arrived in 1854 or so and sold out to the writer in 1876 and bought some land again near Eagle City where he still lives and getting old indeed.
Early in 1869 the writer arrived. There was a very nice little settlement of English settlers; they held regular services on Sunday. Father Orcutt and Father Kincaid used to preach according to Baptist doctrine, the baptizing being done in one of the creeks. Hugh Clark, George Griffin, Chas. Warn, Wm. Eberhardt, Joe Dimic, A. B. Holmes and Kincaids were all of the old settlers.
As soon as the Germans came more thickly our American friends sold out as fast and as quickly as they could and most everyone made one of the greatest mistakes in all their life, for the average price they got was about $25.00 per acre with the exception of Mr. Eberhardt who sold out later and moved to Grundy Center, where he later died and with him German township lost her last English citizen and the Germans took entire hold of it.
Chas. Orcutt was the first township clerk and was followed by Wm. Tjaden in 1864; later also held the office of justice of peace for seventeen years and the old docket shows that he held 270 law suits, mostly on account of hard times in those early days.
The first church built in German was the one now called the Engelke church. Rev. John Arends was their first preacher. He was followed by John Van de Las and Rev. H. Smitt and now Rev. Engelke. This church was built in 1876, I believe. The first church three miles west of Wellsburg was built in 1869. In 1873, three German churches went up, the church where Rev. Agness is, the Evangelical in Pleasant Valley township and the Rev. Drake church near Holland and a year or two later the Revs. Kuhne, Heinrich and Schaefer churches. They helped to settle the entire county very fast for at least 95 per cent of the Germans stick to their churches and would hardly feel safe without them.
It seems, Joseph Huse was one of the first assessors of our township and the old assessor's book of 1862 shows the township had 17 citizens 50 years of age and 2 over; number of horses, 30, value $1,100.00; cattle, 65, value $851.00; hogs, 80, value $207.00; total value of all personal property, $2,208.00; and the total value of real estate, $91,147.00. Land was assessed at $2.00 per acre. In 1863, it was assessed at $1.50 per acre. The township had 45 horses, 90 cattle, 2 sheep and 80 hogs. At an election held on October 13, 1864, 24 votes were cast and of these 15 were Germans and 9 born in this country. The assessor's book of 1864 shows 19 German voters (one Stephen Tjaden being a soldier) and 8 American boys, but from then on the Germans, mostly from Stephenson County, Ill., kept coming. Riebkes, Lindamans, Knocks, Hayenga, Kruse, Freese, Janssens, Schreibers, Fluth, Loh and Deters settled in German township and in Shiloh the Rikenas, Heikens, Stoehrs, Geerdes, Ruters, Nederhoffs, Meyer, Ross, Hooks, Hindts, Mennengas, Primus, Eitens, Schafers, Doyens, Neessens and Jaspers, the Fritzels, Sents, Schultje, Peters, Getting, Martens, Krenz, Eberleins, Benz and Meesters in Pleasant Valley township.
With their families they took possession of this good land and county. The year 1868, when the writer and his brother lived in Logan county, Ill., they received a letter from their old friend Jacob Curtzleben, about the country and its opportunities, urging us to come too, without delay.
We just made up our minds to go and see for ourselves and it being a very different way than the land agent takes hold of a person nowadays. We arrived at Ackley on March 1, 1869, and the first few days we stayed with an old friend of ours, Isbrand Heikens, who had already lived for several years about two miles east of where Wellsburg now is, now owned by Mr. O. Nederhoff and a few miles east from Heikens' place, land was offered to us for $6.00 per acre. But this was altogether too far from town as Ackley was the main town then. The Illinois Central Railroad went as far as Iowa Falls that spring and we thought that land in German township at $10.00 would be better, at that time, and on March, 1869, we bought the southeast quarter of section 25 for the price of $1,600 for the farm. This same land was sold in 1855 for $1,000 and 1857 for $800. The next land we bought was in 1871 at $17.00 per acre, it being raw prairie land. In 1876 the writer paid $26.25 for improved land. In 1880 I bought a good farm for a relative at $23.00 per acre, in our neighborhood. In the year 1885 I paid the price of $40.00 and for the last land bought, in 1901, I was forced to pay the enormous sum of pretty near $60.00, which, in my opinion, was clear out of sight and entirely too much for poor farmers to pay. In the year 1876 and 1877, a certain 40 acres, only eighty rods from my house was offered to me and others for the sum of $500. It was considered nearly worthless to me and others, but we sold just lately with other land for an even $100 per acre and land just close to ours for $105, a year ago, and the writer predicts that the price will go up to $150 in the next ten or fifteen years. The reason for this is first the quality of the land itself, second the people who own and work this land are the best the world affords, a set of people that are more ambitious and saving than these German people of ours is hard to find.
The majority of them arrived forty or fifty years ago. Few if any of them had any means to start with; but by the dint of hard work and economy they made of German township the most fertile spot in Grundy County. Many of them have now passed in the great beyond and the rest will follow soon, and the thought arises what will our children do with the products of our early struggle, this land that we shall leave them, with its churches and schools, where liberty dwells and where each can serve his Lord and Master under his own tree. May the Lord bless these old settlers and the children who follow to take up the burden we sooner or later must lay down.