Harrison County Iowa History
Early Mormon Settlement
RECALL EARLY SETTLEMENT
Group of Mormons Built Homes in Nearly Forgotten Neighborhood in 1848
(source: old newspaper clipping, perhaps from the Missouri Valley Times News, undated)
Recent discoveries in the glacial wash of a deeply eroded canyon down
"Tennessee Hollow," that trends north from the south line of Harrison
County of what are apparently stumps a thousand years old, call to the
minds of a few remaining old timers that historical activities of that
particular spot are about to be shrouded in about the same gloom as the
Tennessee Hollow, a valley about a half mile wide and several miles long,
debouches on the Boyer river valley three miles southeast of Missouri
Valley, and just above where the Boyer River valley joins the broad Missouri
It was settled in 1848 by a group of Mormons, who left the main body of
immigrants on their way west, during their winter stop at Kanesville, now
Council Bluffs. There were a dozen or so families, headed by Elder
Stevens, whom tradition declares had an even dozen wives.
The valley, down which this eroded ditch runs, now 75 feet deep and in
places twice that wide, was in the boyhood days of Harvey Kirkland, who
now owns the farm his father bought from the Mormons in 1855, a beautiful,
fertile valley, with a clear stream fed by springs and whose banks were
only a few feet high.
He remembers that famous log tabernacle and the street of Mormon houses
that constituted the settlement, and has heard at first hand from his
parents the stories of those early days. The farm bought by his father,
J.A. Kirkland, has remained in the family since 1855, and is now farmed
by Walter, a nephew of Harvey Kirkland.
On the high ridge that divides Tennessee Hollow from the Missouri River
valley are the remains of what early settlers declare is the old Mormon
burial ground. The graves, a dozen or so in number are now empty, the
bodies having been moved to Oak Grove cemetery a mile east across the
Hollow to another high hill. However, there are the remains here of what
constituted a "legal fence" in those territorial days. It was a ditch,
four feet wide and four feet deep.
This "fence" was dug by G. H. Cotton, probably the first food fadist of
western Iowa. Cotton preached, in season and out, that the way to longevity
was through the simple expedient of eating the fruits and vegetables
nature provided, and to eat them uncooked. He practiced what he preached
too and declared that any person who followed this practice could live to
be a hundred years old or longer if he desired.
Something apparently went wrong with the system, Kirkland declared, for
Cotton died when he was thirty years old.
Across on the west slope of the Hollow stands a gnarled old apple tree,
all that is left of the first nursery of fruit trees set out in Harrison
County. This was started in the late fifties.
Early in the fifties the Mormons began to scatter, some of them joined in
the belated trek to Utah. Elder Stevens left his dozen wives and returned
to Tennessee, ostensibly on a marital recruiting expedition. He never
returned and the wives it is said were divided up among the neighbors.
Joseph A. Deal came from Putnam County, Indiana in 1852. He bought a
Mormon claim, as did Kirkland, and gradually the original Mormon settlers
moved away, and a thriving little settlement became farm lands and the log
houses began to rot down and the village street that once swarmed with
Today all that is left to mark village is an occasional shard of the
bright crockery they used in the early days, turned up in the spring time
when the farmer plows or exposed in the crumbling bank of that eroded
canyon, that has now dug its way down to the glacial drift and exposed
stumps here and there that geologist claim are a thousand years old.
With the disappearance of the Tennessee Hollow settlement another town
sprang into existence, a mile north and at the point where the creek
emptied into the Boyer river. That town flourished, had a post office,
general stores, a pioneer physician or rather two, Dr. Robert McGavren
and Dr. Coit, held its brief sway and then some years later when the North
Western Railroad came down the west side of the valley, folded up and
moved across to the new town of Missouri Valley.
It was platted in 1857 as St. Johns and the site -- for that is about all
there is left -- is called Old Town.
John Deal, pioneer blacksmith of St. Johns, who bought the first land from
the Mormons, and who donated the cemetery plot for Oak Grove and the St. Johns
townsite, is generally credited with being responsible for its
disappearance. The story is that when the North Western surveyed down the
Boyer they wanted to come down the east side and approached Deal for right
of way and a certain number of town lots in St. Johns.
It is said the blacksmith refused to treat with them, insisting that they
were rich and powerful and that he had "nothing to give them."
The changed their survey, came down the west side of the Boyer and the
disciple of Tubal Cain saw his thriving little village pack up and move
across the valley to the new town on the railroad (Missouri Valley).
And so another historical point in Harrison County closed up. Not however
with the completeness that marked the passing of Tennessee Hollow. Most
of the history of that is tradition. It is even claimed that Calhoune,
once the county seat and now obliterated to the same point as St. Johns,
was the first settlement in the county. This is disputed by early
settlers, who claim that distinction for "Mormon Hollow" as they call
They point to the spot where two members of congress once lived; Charles
William Fulton, senator from Oregon from 1903 to 1909 and his brother
Elmer Lincoln Fulton who served from an Oklahoma district from 1907 to
1909. Elmer was born in the Hollow, his older brother, the senator, came
there with his parents in 1855.
And then there are traditions about St. Johns. One is that the James boys
and their gang in their raid on the bank at Northfield, Minn in the late
sixties, stopped all night at the St. Johns hotel run by one Noah Harris,
on their way north on what proved to be a disastrous raid.
On the very top of the high hill back of S. Johns that divides the Hollow
from the Missouri river bottom, stands the twisted and shattered remains of
what was once a giant cottonwood tree. It was one of three, a hundred
feet apart standing in a row from southwest to northeast, as was used by
settlers from the Harris Grove settlement to get their bearings on their
trips to Kanesville. They could be seen for fifteen miles.
Just south along the edge of that hill lies Loveland, another village,
sleeping by the concrete highway, once a bustling town and the site of a
grist mill that ground the flour contractors used to feed the gangs that
built the Union Pacific railroad across Nebraska.
But as Kipling once said, that is another story.