Iowa History Project


Making of Iowa

Chapter XXVII

Some Rather Extraordinary Colonies

While Iowa was being settled a number of odd bands of people sought a home in the Territory.  Some were worthy, and some were unworthy.

Among the latter was the Socialistic Commonwealth, at Salubria, Van Buren County.  This was founded by Abner Kneeland, an infidel and scoffer at God and Christianity - in fact, a believer in no deity and in no religion.  In 1834 Kneeland created a great stir in Boston, where he lived and where he lectured on his theories.  In 1837 or 1838 he conceived the idea of instituting a colony in the West.  Naturally, as the Iowa District and the "New Lands" were attracting much attention, he selected this region for investigation, and finally fixed upon a point two miles south of Farmington.  He and his followers settled here, and adopted the name Salubria for the community.

The settlement was composed of reckless and deluded men and women, and was an eyesore to pure-minded people.  Many an early minister of Iowa had a tilt with Kneeland, who delighted in assailing the Gospel and the teachings of the Bible.  He was a fine appearing man, and had little difficulty in impressing the more ignorant of the settlers.  But in 1842 he grew arrogant enough to put an infidel local ticket in the political field.  He was defeated, and from that hour his power waned.  Soon afterward he died.  The colony went to ruin.  Now there is only open country where Salubria once was.

Another queer order of people that for some years dwelt in Iowa was composed of followers of "Baneemyism."

The leader was Charles B. Thompson, who had been a Mormon at Nauvoo, but who moved to St. Louis, where he started a church of his own.  In 1853 this church chose a site on Soldier River, fifteen miles southeast of Onawa, in Monona County, and in 1854 quite a flourishing settlement was there.  The town was called Preparation.  The colony owned several thousand acres.

Thompson asserted he was Ephriam of the Scriptures, and instructed his people to address him as "Father Ephraim".  He said he was under direction of a spirit named "Baneemy".  He told his followers that they must transfer to him all their property, even apparel, and must render him service free.  His dupes did this, but when they asked him to restore to them some of their goods he refused.

Then Elder Hugh Lytle and twenty others sued "Father Ephraim", but could get no satisfaction.  Thus trouble occurred, so that the colony at Preparation was divided, the Lytleites bitterly opposing Thompson.

Thompson termed himself "Chief Steward of the Lord", and transferred the property he was holding to his wife and to a confederate, Guy C. Barnum, "Assistant Chief Steward of the Lord".  He pretended he was working for the good of the people.

One day, in the fall of 1858, Thompson and Barnum were returning from Onawa.  They were within a mile of Preparation when a young woman met them and told them to flee if they wanted to escape hanging.  At this moment they saw riding over a hill in front of them some horsemen.

"Father Ephraim" and his "assistant steward" leaped out of the wagon, unhitched the team, mounted the horses, and away they galloped.  Through ravine and across the plain fled the two men, pursued clear to Onawa by the infuriated  Lytleites.

A hanging did not take place, but this was the last of "Baneemyism" and the reign of "Father Ephraim".

So much for some of the unworthy colonies.  Of a far different character are the Amana people, who came to Iowa in 1855.  They left Germany in 1852, seeking a new life and a wider range of liberty in America.  They settled at Ebenezer, near Buffalo, New York, calling themselves the Community of True Inspiration.  In 1855 they purchased 18,000 acres of land in Iowa County, Iowa, and founded a colony which bore the name Amana-meaning "remain true".  Since then the society has grown and prospered, until there are several towns, and the thriftiness and honesty of the citizens are known all over the country.

About 1859 a large party of Hungarians, exiles because of their rebellion against Austria, arrived in Iowa, and settled on the Grand River, in Decatur County.  Iowa welcomed them, as she welcomed all oppressed and persecuted people, and was taking measures to give them a grant of land for a home when they decided to seek a haven farther south, because of the cold Iowa winters.  So they moved to Texas.  But Hungarian patriotism is honored by Kossuth County, named after Louis Kossuth, who led the Hungarians in their struggles against the Austrian Government.

Before either the Community of True Inspiration or the Hungarian settlement, a body of Hollanders came to Iowa and established themselves in Marion County, at Pella.  In the summer of 1847 there appeared in St. Louis a company of 700 stout Dutchmen seeking a place where they might worship as they pleased.  From St. Louis they sent out a committee to find the spot best fitted for their purpose.  Dutch emigrants were much in favor then, as now, and many States offered inducements.  Illinois had Nauvoo, which the Mormons had just given up; but Nauvoo did not win the day.  Missouri was objectionable on account of the existence of slavery.  Texas was too eager.  Iowa was chosen.

From St. Louis the Hollanders went on a steamboat up the river to Keokuk.  Before they disembarked they held a service of thankfulness.  Then they  bought supplies - horses, oxen and wagons - preparing for their march inland.  They paid in gold and the settlers were glad enough to have such good customers.

When the strangers tried to drive the horses the animals proved a source of much amusement, because they did not understand the Dutch commands.  Not until an obliging settler spoke to the horses in round frontier American did they consent to move.

The men wore knickerbockers, velvet jackets, and soft flowing ties.  On their low shoes were great silver buckles.  The women were rosy checked, and had funny little bonnets and caps.  All in all, this was an odd looking calvacade that passed up the Des Moines Valley.  No wonder the settlers stared.

When the travelers arrived at a spot where a pole stuck in the earth bore a shingle reading "Pella", they knew they had reached their journey's end.  Pella means "place of refuge.".

From Pella have gone forth all over Iowa, and into many another state, men and women who represent the very best in citizenship.



Back to Table of Contents

Home to Iowa History Project