Looking Back One Hundred Years In Henry County
Settlement of Southeast Part of County Related

“Mt. Pleasant News”, September 25, 1934

(By Charles R. Jackman)
This article is compiled from government, territory, county records, private papers, talks with pioneers and my own knowledge.

Looking Back One Hundred Years.

The historian has given us the history and data of the formation of the State of Iowa, and its subdivisions. I will tell you the story of the first three settlements, and some later events in Baltimore township which lies in the extreme southeast corner of Henry County. And is named after its first village. Originally it was a heavy forest, Skunk River runs through the south part, and with Big Brush, Mud, Cedar and Prairie creeks form its drainage.

The surface is rolling and along the stream in many places are many rugged bluffs and deep ravines which add charm to its landscape, with many beautiful views. For ages it was the hunting ground of the “Red men of the forest.” I have heard an old pioneer often say it was the “Sportsman's Paradise.” It is also noted for its fertile valleys, blue grass lands and geode beds. The latter, “America’s most beautiful rock.”

Located Along Streams.

The pioneers shunned the open prairie here and located their homes along the streams, as long as there were lands available for farming purposes; the timber lands appealed to them for building purposes, shelter, and fuel and the many fine springs of pure water.

Hiram Chesley Smith, a native of Calloway County, Kentucky, a miller by trade, with his wife, a native of South Carolina, with their three sons and daughter, crossed the Mississippi river in the summer of 1832, on an exploring trip, landing near the ruins of old Fort Madison, now the site of the city of Ft. Madison.

Build Cabin.

They built a cabin about two miles northwest from there. While here they learned from an Indian of the Chicauqua River and at a certain place the bed of the river was of solid rock. He decided that would be an ideal place for a dam and mill. Officers burned their cabin, and made them go back to Illinois, telling them the Indians and government were at war, and if found there by the former, they would be massacred. After the battle, the government acquired from the Indians by treaty, more than six million acres of land, at a cost of about fourteen cents per acre. This was known as the “Black Hawk Purchase” and was thrown open to settlement on June first, 1833.

Return Trip.

I well remember of my mother telling of their return trip in the spring, across the Mississippi river on a raft built of logs, on which they placed their horses, wagon, two cows and dog. Grandfather and two boatmen towed the raft while Grandmother and the children rode in the covered wagon and piloted the ship of adventure. Every minute of the way they were in constant fear of being wrecked on a snag or sandbar. The boatmen returned to their homes after the landing. But the soldiers protested against their coming ashore, as settlers were not allowed before June first. Grandfather won in the argument.

Saw Indians.

It took them three days to make the trip to their new home. Grandfather went ahead with gun and ax and the ever-faithful dog. Mother said the prairies were one vast field of flowers, a sight long to be remembered. They followed the directions and marks as told them by the Indians. A few Indians were seen on the trip. Their journey ended on the south bank of the beautiful Chicauqua River on May the 8th, 1833.

Across the river from their camp where Lowell is now located, there was a large encampment of Indians, friendly, but very suspicious. “Black Hawk”, the warrior, was getting together his scattered Indian braves, following their ancient custom for their last pow-wow before moving to new camping grounds.

Black Hawk Returned.

Black Hawk later returned and visited with the settlers and talked of the wrongs done to his people. He said they took to war with the tomahawk and gun to avenge injuries that his people could no longer endure. He established his lodge on the bank of the Des Moines River near Iowaville. Broken in power and spirit he passed away on September 15, 1838 at the age of sixty-three years. His burial was near his lodge. But even death did not bring peace to the remains of the old warrior, the civilized white man refused his bones a resting place, as the body was stolen within a short time after burial. Early in June, 1833, Grandfather Smith staked out a mill site in sections 28 and 33, on the south side of the river, containing three and one fourth acres. On this site, a mill was operated for seventy-four years. He later pre-empted a claim adjoining the mill site, and on the hill just south of the present river bridge, he built a double log house for his home, the ownership of a part of this tract and the mill site remains in the family.

Box Family Comes.

Then came the families of Robert Box, and his son-in-law, John Box (relatives of Smith) then followed Richard Blair, John Stokely Stephenson, James Caudill, William Archibald, Edmund Archibald, (Archibalds were relatives of Stephensons) the next was Herman Mathews and family.

This community was known as Smiths Mills, which included both sides of the river. The acreage of valley lands was small here, and the settlers turned to other resources to develop. In 1835, Grandfather Smith commenced to build a saw mill on the south side of the river. In 1837, he sold a half interest to James Caudill, they added one run of buhrs to grind grain on. The power was an undershot water wheel which failed to furnish sufficient power.

In 1838, they contracted with Herman Mathers, a Civil Engineer, to build them a crib dam reaching across the river, the dam was anchored to the bed rock of the river, and the cover was made of hewn logs on two sides and caulked with prairie hay to make it tight (this was later covered with plank).

Much of Dam Remains.

That Mr. Mathews knew how to build is proven by the fact that after ninety-five years of floods and ice passing over the dam, much of it yet remains. While the dam was being built, another Mill on the north end of the dam containing three run of buhrs (was built?). In 1851, the Smith estate built a new Mill on the south side of the river containing three run buhrs and saw, this was known as the Smithland Mills. In 1857, the Mill on the north side, known as the Lowell Mill, was knocked down by the ice. Caleb Webster and N. R. Smith, bought the site and built a new Mill containing three run of buhrs and saw. Both of these mills were known all over Southeastern Iowa for their fine custom and merchant work. Leather, pottery, barrels and woolen goods were also manufactured here.

November 1840, Morton M. McCarver, one of the first settlers in Burlington, Iowa, laid out the town of McCarverstown, on the Robert Box claim. But the same year, Edmund Archibald bought the claim and town site, and had the name changed to Lowell, after the name of Lowell, Mass., his native state, hoping in the near future with its fine water power, that it would become a great industrial center like its namesake.

On North Side of River.

In the summer of 1834, John Simmons, Michael Simmons and Jacob Conkright located on a large tract of land on the north side of the river at the mouth of Big Creek. In October, they laid out on the tract, the Village of Baltimore, named after the founders’ native city, Baltimore, Maryland. This was the first town laid out in what is now Henry County. When the land was surveyed, it was found to be in that part of section Nineteen lying north of the river. Within a few days John Walsh and John V. Pease, opened a general store and B. F. Williams was the village blacksmith, and W. S. Marsh, the resident physician, and James Thurston was the local Attorney, and James Stout and Duffield Bradford were residents, all of whom had families. The future for this frontier village looked bright, as the Government had declared the river navigable.

Mt. Pleasant.

Then Mt. Pleasant came into existence, and was made the seat of Justice. The building of the Mills below on the river, and the failure of the river traffic by boat, as the river had proven to be unnavigable, its citizens soon moved on; a few years of vacant buildings, and the land went back to the field and farm.

As usual, many of the first settlers sell their relinquishments and return to their former homes or to some other new territory. In 1835, John B. Abby (sic: Abbe) of Connecticut arrived, soon followed by Myram Kilbourn, Alex Short, Thomas Woods, Levi Beery and Thos. Short, each with their families who became the owners of the Simmons and Conkright lands, and many additional acres by purchase and pre-emption. Abby and Beery each built on their farm a small mill which was run by power from Big Creek. This was a fine community, and all of these farmers were successful. The unusual thing about this settlement is with the exception of Thomas Short, the descendants of all of the others still own and operate this fine body of land.

First School House.

In 1835, Charles See, Henry Tague, John Banning, Elihu Chandler, Henry Swan, David McDaniel and Asa Ellison, with their families, settled in the central east part of the township, this was known as the Swan settlement, the homes of these pioneers were on the best uplands; the timber was not so large and was joined on the east by prairie lands. In this community the first school district in the township was organized in 1849, and the first school house was built, which was of brick and was located on the northeast corner of the northwest quarter of section twenty-four. But, unlike the settlement at Baltimore, I am told that only the descendants of Henry Tague, own and operate the old homestead.

Ox Teams.

Most of the transportation was done by ox teams. There were no roads, only paths from cabin to cabin, or trails for Smith’s Mills to Baltimore, Mt. Pleasant, Burlington and Fort Madison. In July 1839, the Government made a survey under the direction of R. C. Tilgham, for a road running west from Burlington about fifty miles to the Sac and Fox Agency near the Des Moines River. About the same time, a road was surveyed from Fort Madison to Trenton, and one from Burlington to Trenton. This was in the day of the Townsite speculator and proposed Towns and Roads were many, but few built.

New Road.

On January 15th, 1841, the territorial legislature appointed Warren Dee, of Des Moines County, John Stokely Stephenson, of Henry County and Isaac M. Monnahan, of Van Buren County, commissioners to locate a road running west from Burlington. Upon the filing of their report, the legislature on October 15, 1841, established the following highway: Commencing at the N. W. corner of the public square in Burlington, thence following the old Agency survey as near, as practicable through Des Moines County, crossing Skunk River at Lowell about one hundred and fifty feet above the old survey, thence to near the center of Jackson Township, Henry County, there leaving the old survey and bearing to the North to Salem, thence in a southwesterly course to Keosauqua, Van Buren County, thence on to the Missouri line. On record, this is the Burlington and Keosauqua Road.

But the Eastern part still retains the name of the old Agency Road by the people.

Favorite Route.

Building of the road commenced at once under the supervision of Alfred Hebard. It was the favorite route with the traveler, freighter and home-seeker to the west and southwest. In the forties, the crack of the ox drivers’ whip, and the sight of covered wagons were most always with us. It required two ferries at Lowell to take care of the traffic.

In the “Iowa Observer” published at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, we find this notice, “Stockholders of the Lowell and Center Plank Road and Bridge Co. will meet in Lowell at 12 o’clock PM, the 24th of May, 1851. An assessment on the stock is to be paid then. Signed, James Brister, Joseph Brown.” This road would connect at Center (Danville) with the Burlington and Mount Pleasant Plank Road, then being built.

Railroad Plans.

In 1877, T. J. Price, and Clarkson Jackman, both of Lowell, donated two hundred dollars to make a survey and estimate for a railroad running from Burlington to Lowell, to be extended via Salem to Keosauqua.

An election was held at Lowell to vote a small township tax to aid the project, the largest vote ever polled in the township was cast, the tax was defeated by a small margin, the people of Lowell and vicinity were greatly disappointed, for upon the success of this enterprise meant much to them in the future.

River’s Name.

Many have asked why the name of our river is used instead of one of its Indian names. The tradition is, it was called Chicauqua, Skicauqua and Manitow, which caused confusion, as the headwaters for many miles abounded in Skunk Weeds. Though the water was untainted, this suggested the name.


The first land entry in the township, George Gipson, Sec. 20, Feb. 18, 1839.
The first marriage in the township, David Duke and Mary See, July 19, 1839, Swan Settlement.
The first white girl born in the township, Amanda J. Smith, August 26, 1835.
The first white boy born in the township, Thomas Box, Dec. 13, 1835.
The first white child born in Lowell, Mary Ann Mathews, March 9, 1840.
The first death in the township, Mrs. Henrietta Blair, 1834, unmarked grave N. E. corner, sec. 33.
The first preacher, Rev. Cole, Presbyterian, 1838, Smith’s Mills.
The first school teacher, Henry Johnson, 1838, Smith’s Mills.
The first church in the township, Methodist Episcopal, December, 1840, McCarverstown.
The first public school was taught in the Methodist church at Lowell.
The first ferry in the township, was owned and operated by H. C. Smith, 1837.
The first post office, Lowell, Feb. 3, 1843, Justice Clark, postmaster.
The first doctors, W. S. Marsh in Baltimore, Edmund Archibald in Lowell.
The first justice of the peace in township, Oliver Pollock, 1839.
The first death by drowning, Bernard Kerr, at Smithland Mill’s, June, 1851.
This was at the time when the river reached highest stage ever known.

First Election.

The first election by ballot was in 1836. John Box of this community was elected one of the seven members of the house of representatives of this part of the country, which at that time was Des Moines County, Wisconsin Territory. The first session was held at Belmont, Wisconsin Territory, the second session was held at Burlington, Iowa Territory. Later John Stokely Stephenson was elected a member of the Territorial Council, (Senate) at Iowa City.

No Government.

When most of these Pioneers settled here, there was no form of government. Claim Associations and Land Clubs were formed to protect the rights of the settlers. These organizations were later recognized by the government under the administration of Andrew Jackson. And to this day, the majority of the votes in this township has always been cast at presidential elections in favor of the Jacksonian candidate.

Many Problems.

The pioneers had many problems, but met them with courage. Most of the business of the country was done by barter and exchange. Clothing was home spun, woven and home-made. Their food was corn bread, (on Sunday white bread, if possible) game and fish, their mode of living was peculiar to all Pioneers, seeking contentment in their rude cabins. In their manners they were hospitable, friendly and clever.

Their farm work was done with the patient ox, the plow, the ax and the hoe. But the people were poor only in purse. A great many of these Pioneers who first threaded the lonely and silence of our primitive woods and prairies, were men of intelligence, and from the heroism of their perils and hardships, we should pass to the heroism of the wives, the companions of their toll.

Resource provided by Henry County Heritage Trust; transcription done by Alex Olson, University of Northern Iowa Public History Field Experience Class, Fall 2022.

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