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Harrison County Iowa Genealogy

Boyer Township

1868 History of Harrison County
Contributed by Janette Lager

Leaving Harrison township on the north and proceeding down the Boyer Valley, we come to Boyer township. Boyer township is bounded on the north by Harrison and Lincoln townships, on the east by Shelby county, on the south by Jefferson and Cass and on the west by Magnolia township. The settlement of this township commenced in the year 1851. Among the first settlers were Richard Musgrave, Evans Obanion, Thos. Thompson, J. Jeffrey, Geo. Mefford, Matthew Hall and Lorenzo Butler. This township originally contained 108 sections, but recently Lincoln township has been cut off the northwestern part, containing 38 sections, leaving 72. There is about seven or eight sections of timber, equal to between 1,480 and 2,000 acres. The timber is good, being composed of oak, hickory, black walnut, ironwood, elm, basswood, & c. The names of the groves are Twelve Mile Grove and Bigler’s Grove. The land is similar to that of Harrison township. The soil is as good as Iowa affords; and most of the farmers have been in the habit of burning manure. However, this wanton profligacy is slowly becoming disreputable, and although the land is the best, experience has taught to keep it so, it should be well treated with its due amount of manure.

The first settlers found here wild fruit, such as plums, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries and grapes, in abundance; and there still continues to be plenty of these fruits, proving that tame fruits of a better grade will do well, although it must be admitted that the settlers have been very slow until quite lately in trying to raise them. They also found plenty of game. Mr. Musgrave reports that he has frequently seen three hundred deer in a drove and wild turkeys used to come right up to his window. Coons and wild cats were a common thing, with an occasional panther. No one was ever hurt by any of these animals, but one of Mr. Musgrave’s boys got a good scare by a wolf. Mr. M and his two sons were in the woods splitting rails and one of the boys was sent to the house on an errand. Being followed by a large black wolf he concluded to hide behind a log. He did so. The wolf took a good look at him, then left, as much as to say "You cowardly little scamp, you are not worth eating".

Many hunting stories are told by the pioneers up to the winter of 1857. This winter is known all over western Iowa as the "hard winter", it being unusually cold, and the snow falling to an immense depth, and by a series of freezing and thawing formed a stiff crust on which men and dogs could run or walk with safety, while the deer and elk would break through, making their escape impossible when pursued. Taking advantage of their helpless condition the people of the country very nearly exterminated both deer and elk, and it is probable that there was not an elk left in western Iowa the next spring. The fore part of this winter (1857) a drove of elk being scared and hotly pursued by dogs, came scampering into Woodbine, and apparently confused, they made a drive into the saw mill yard of L. D. Butler, where were several men at work. Becoming entangled among the logs the men made an attach on them with their axes, and killed seven before they could escape. The winter of 1857 will long be remembered by the hunter and pioneer of western Iowa, both for its severity as a cold, disagreeable winter, and as its being the last profitable winter for hunting. In the beginning of the winter, while game was fat, it seemed right to kill it; but when the poor creatures by starvation, became lean, helpless and worthless, except for their pelts, it seems wrong that they should have been destroyed, but "willful waste brings woeful want", and if these men who aided in this wholesale destruction wanted for meat the next few years, (having had no pity or mercy for the helpless deer and elk) they got their just deserts and never ought again to taste of venison.

Wild bees were very common, so the first settlers, with plenty of good, fat game, and a surplus of wild fruit and honey, with the vast prairie for their cows and other stock, could be said to live in a land of milk and honey. Their nearest point of trade and traffic was Kanesville, (now called Council Bluffs) a distance of forty miles. Their nearest mill was on Pigeon Creek, a distance of twenty-five miles. The old mill is now in ruins. There was then no wheat raised in the county and the mill ground nothing but corn. The young people thought that a wheat cake was the ne plus ultra of all things good; and that a king who would want any thing better as a dainty, was a tyrant. At a wedding a mammoth short cake was made from wheat flour, and the guests allowed to feast theron, for which extravagance the couple married acquired the name of codfish aristocracy. Should a couple provide the same these times they would acquire the name of hogs. A short cake as big as a moon would not clear them from the name of stingy.

The highest water ever known here in the Boyer valley was the first year of its settlement. In the spring of that year the entire valley was covered with water and it was then quite subject to these overflows. It has become drier every year until now it is of the most valuable land of the west.

For the first five years improvements went on slow, although the land yielded bountifully, and stock of all kinds did well. Produce commanded such small prices that money was scarce and enterprise sleeping.

However, about the year 1856 two school houses were built, one at Bigler’s grove and one at Woodbine. The Episcopal Methodists organized a church with six or seven members. This was a small beginning, but "from the small acorns large trees do grow" and from this small church has sprung up a membership of two or three hundred. And they have just finished a good church building at Woodbine. The people of this community owe much for its morals and religious complexion to the influence, teaching and example of these early christians.

The Christians (or Campbellites) also have organized a church in this township, with how many members I am not informed. The Latter Day Saints (or Mormons) also have an organization at Bigler’s Grove, members of which may be found all over the township. These people (although their religion is not respected by other churches) are looked upon as honest, honorable people, and by their upright dealings in life have banished from them the odium attached to the mane in many places, denouncing polygamy and the vices practiced by people of the same name at Salt Lake and other places. They are a peaceful, industrious and intelligent people.

Some time in the year 1855 or ‘56 Mr. L.D. Butler erected a grist mill on the Boyer in that part of the township known as Woodbine. This old mill ground wheat and corn, both of which was now plenty. Mr. Butler was one of the most energetic and enterprising men of the early settlers. He kept the first post office and opened the first store in the township; and Woodbine became quite a business point. In the summer of ‘65 he sold his mill and its privileges to Messr. Clark & Dally, who erected close to the mill, a woolen factory, costing $27,000 and opened a first class country store. Mr. Butler also kept up his store with an increase of stock.

Soon after the woolen factory was completed Mr. J.W. Dally bought out the interest of his partner, and is now the sole proprietor. The factory runs 200 spindles, manufactures 100 lbs. wool per day, and 600 yards of cloth per week. Mr. Dally is an energetic, thorough business man, and makes the factory profitable to himself and a blessing to the country. When these improvements were going on the people of Boyer township thought they had got pretty near the top of improvements, but the railroad continued its way down the Boyer through Boyer township, and in the fall of 1866 the people about Woodbine found the cars among them.

The railroad company laid out a town a short distance from the factory and called it.


Woodbine situated on section 14, town 80, range 42, latitude north 41 2/3�, longitude west from Washington 18 3/4�. The town was laid off in October, 1865, on the prairie, where up to that time not even a wagon road crossed the town site. The town now contains about three hundred buildings, all told. It contains two dry goods stores, two hotels, two drug stores, one grocery store, one saddle and harness shop, one lumber yard, two physicians, one produce dealer, & c. When this town was first laid off the railroad company had their station here, and proposed to build their round house, tank, machine shop, &c. at this place but in the summer of 1867, they changed their design, and moved their division to Dunlap, and there built these contemplated buildings. This was hard on Woodbine. But there is one thing which the company can never do, and that is to take the surrounding country from them. While it must be admitted that in the loss of these buildings the place lost much, still when we look at the broad farms and know that in less than one year, perhaps, they will number twice what they now do, we feel that Woodbine is scarcely up with the country. It is emphatically a farmer’s town, and will be supported by them. They come here to market their grain and produce, and buy their merchandise. Although it is not expected that Woodbine will become a great city, it is confidently believed that it will always be a good trading point, and that although its growth may not be so rapid as some other places, it will continue that healthy growth which is permanent.

To convey an idea of the amount of business done here, we will give an account of the produce shipped from here during the latter part of the fall of 1867, and fore part of the winter of 1868. There was shipped from this new town 160 car loads of wheat, 320 bushels, at $1.50 per bus., amounting to $76,800. Nearly all of this wheat was marked No. 1 and brought the highest price. Ten car loads of dressed hogs were shipped, averaging about 21,000 lbs. to the car, or 210,000 lbs. at 6 1/4 cts per lbs., amounting to $13,125; 6,300 bushels corn at 50 cts. per bushel, amounting to $13,000; 7.000 bushels oats, at 50cts. per bushel, amounting to $3,800. For these articles it will be seen that there was paid out at this place $96,425. Considering that this is a new place, and that the country about it is not one part in one hundred cultivated, it would appear that this is quite a little sum for a couple of months. But this is not all, for, the farmers raise sheep, sell wool, and raise stock of all kinds, such as horned cattle, horses, mules, &c. And it was from this place the car load of wheat was shipped to Toledo, of which the Toledo Blade made mention, as being the best brought to the market, and bringing twenty cts. per bushel more than any other wheat in that market. A Penemite lately visited Woodbine with a view to buying lands for himself and friends. Under the guidance of a land shark (a man, who claims to won everything, but really owns nothing,) he went up to the Boyer valley, thence he took a circuit of about 7 or 8 miles, and examined the country, and looked at various tracts of land. When he got back to Woodbine, Mr. Sharkey asked him if he was going to buy.

"No", said he, "I am not. I will report to my friends and get their advice." Here is his report:
Woodbine, Iowa April ‘68 Dear Friends: With regard to the town of Woodbine, I gave you a full description in my last. This week I have been viewing the country in this vicinity, trying to make selections of land for you, as well as myself. Going up the Boyer six or seven miles I noticed quite a number of nice improved farms. The price of these farms I learned to be from 20 to 30 dollars per acre, but I found but a few who would talk of selling. next I took an easterly course, and have examined the whole country for six or eight miles in all directions, and the Boyer valley is all that is claimed for it. But on leaving the valley, I was surprised, for I had expected to find a rough, worthless country, but on the contrary, when I came to the foot of the hill, (they call hills bluffs out here) lining the valley on either side, I found them gradual slopes, rather than hills. When I got to the top I found level or rolling land. Going west about four miles, I crossed what is called the divide between the Willow creek and the Boyer. This divide is a high rolling prairie. When I struck the Willow I was again surprised, for there is a valley of which I never before heard a word. For beauty this valley is not surpassed, even by the famed Boyer; but it has no railroad to boost it up, and timber is not quite so plenty here. Land is worth, unimproved, from six to ten dollars per acre, and some men ask more, but I can get as good as I want within these figures. I would have bought long ago, but this is a hard place to select. In a country where there is but little choice land, a man who can secure it is fortunate, but in a country like this it is hard to get a piece better than your neighbor, and I shall wait until William comes out to help me make a choice. Address me at Magnolia. Yours as ever, J.H.

I publish this letter for several reasons, one because it gives a pretty fair description of the country about Woodbine, and to show persons who have lands to sell in this county, that when they have selfish men to deal with, don’t show them all the country. If you do he will be like a woman purchasing a dress at a dry goods store. It is all do pretty he won’t know which to take; and this man left the country and bought land in Pottawattamie county. The land here was too good for him; he must buy where he could make a choice so that his neighbor could not get as good as him. It is hoped, should he stay west long enough, that he will become westernized, and glad to see his neighbor prosper and proud to see all who labor equally succeed.


While we think of progress and prosperity, the gay scenery of nature’s choicest works, intermingled with artificial structures of man, our mind forgets that we are mortal. But necessity, not choice, frequently compels us to stop for a time at least to view the more solemn incidents among us. And now, while the country about Woodbine, with all its natural and artificial gayety, lies spread before the mind’s eye, there is a heart-rending scene, that of two little girls and one boy drowned, that dims and darkened the picture. In the summer of 1865, three little girls about 5 or 6 years old, went to the Boyer (near where the woolen factory now is) to bathe. Two of them, one daughter of John Obanion, the other daughter of James Foster, wading too deep. The other seeing them struggle, ran as fast as she could to the house and gave the alarm. The agonizing parents were soon on the ground, but it was too late, and the little ones were dead. May 6, 1868, near the same place, a little boy about two years of age, son of Lewis and Sarah Scripter, while playing along the bank of the creek slipped in. Shortly after his mother went in search for him. After repeated calls and close looking, she discovered his hand mark in the mud, where he had put forth his feeble hand to save himself. A search was immediately commenced for the body. The people of the neighborhood turned out en masse, and all day long the creek was thronged with people, eagerly wading, swimming and feeling but all in vain. Night closed in and the young parents with aching hearts and anxious minds were left childless, without ever the body of the dear one. The night before, how happy. Tonight the beauties of all nature buried beneath the densest cloud of disappointment and sorrow. Next day the search was resumed and Mr. David Selleck, Henry Richardson and Geo. Cole, taking a boat and feeling along carefully down the stream half a mile below where the sad accident occurred, found the body. Sad and lonely as we must feel at the loss of these little ones, we should remember that except we become as these little children we can in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven. Dark spots of sorrow mingle and mix with the most prosperous; and glad I have no more of these accidents to record.


And last, but not least, is the flouring mill of Davis & Donmeyer. The construction of this mill was commenced by Chatburn & Davis in the summer of 1865, under the personal supervision of Mr. Chatburn. Under his control it was a good mill. But its present scientific completion and excellent reputation is due from the energy of Mr. J.W. Donmeyer, who, something less than a year ago, bought Mr. Chatburn’s interest, and set about improving the machinery until the whole internal arrangement may be said to be new. The building is three stories, and sixty by thirty feet and contains three run of burrs--two for wheat and one for corn. The smut machine is of the capacity of six run of burrs, and there are two oat separators. Taking it all together, there is not a speck of dirt that reaches the hopper. The mill grinds six hundred bushels of wheat per day, and packs it into barrels (when dried) without any muscular strength of the miller. The mill is situated on the Boyer about two miles south of Woodbine.

When we look over this township, and allow our mind to revert back eighteen years past and find it without a mill, without a post office, and perhaps without a settler, and then think of its present condition, with a railroad, whose importance is second to none, with its two flouring mills, woolen factory, stores, business men, farmers and farms, it inspires us with a feeling of wonder that civilization allowed this beautiful country to go so long unnoticed and unsettled.


Improved lands are worth from 20 to 30 dollars per acre. Average crop of wheat per acre, one year with another, since the first settlement is 23 1/2 bushels, corn 45 bushels to the acre. Quite a number of good farmers fee satisfied that I put the average of the crops too low. It is true that the average crops of some of the farmers are much higher, but there is about the same difference in crops that there is in the men that raise them.

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