Jasper Co. IAGenWeb
Past and Present of Jasper Co.

Chapter II

Past and Present of Jasper County Iowa
B.F. Bowden & Company, Indianapolis, IN, 1912

Before entering into the history of this county, as made by the present race of men, or even before mentioning briefly the Indian occupants of this portion of Iowa, it will be well to view the country as it came from the hand of the Almighty.

Of the natural features of Jasper County, let it be stated that the northeastern part of the county lies in the sub-carboniferous group, classified by Professor White, the western limit being the outcropping of a bed of sand rock near Kellogg, which is traced in a direction from southeast to northwest. This rock, which forms an excellent building stone, is the floor of the vast coal basin of Iowa and is exposed in many places throughout the county. In the southern part of the county limestone of an excellent quality is found. Clays of good grade are found throughout the county, from which excellent building brick have been manufactured from time to time. In places it is very suitable for the making of crockery and firebrick.

The soil is a vegetable mold, evenly mixed with a finely ground sand, with some traces of aluminous matter. It is almost everywhere fully one foot deep on the uplands, while in the valleys and creek bottoms it is many feet in depth, and for this reason the wagon roads in the pioneer and even later times were almost impassable in wet seasons.

At Monroe the elevation from the sea level is stated by good authority to be 624 feet and that of Prairie City is 635 feet, while at Newton the survey shows an altitude of 940 feet. The water in the Skunk River at the crossing of the railroad track is 753 feet above sea level and the grade at Colfax is 763 feet. From above it is seen that the surface and altitudes in various sections of Jasper County are varied and uneven.


The rivers, creeks and springs of any given section of the country are ever highly prized by the stranger, as well as by the actual settler, who knows he is in a goodly land, whenever he sees streams and at least a moderate quantity of timber. One stream in particular in Jasper County has made a history for itself that is known from ocean to ocean, and that is the Skunk, the south fork of which enters Poweshiek Township on section 9, and by action of the county authorities was made the southern boundary of Poweshiek, Sherman, Palo Alto and Elk Creek Townships, and the northern boundary of Washington, Mound Prairie and Fairview. Its Indian name was "Chicaqua," meaning an offensive odor, and it is said to be the same in Indian dialect as "Chicago," both rivers deriving their name from the wild onion, which the moist character of the soil along both streams allowed to grow in great abundance. Ever since the early settlement this stream and its bottomlands have been a terror to travelers. The soil in the bottom is very deep and porous, and when the frost is leaving in the spring or after heavy rains, the bottom becomes one long mud hole into which the early day immigrant passed through with fear and trembling and thought himself in luck if indeed he escaped without being pulled out at least three or more times. This was known and dreaded by people from Maine to California. At an early day the Skunk River was wont to raise out of its banks after a hard rainstorm with great rapidity, and many a traveler has passed over with water belly deep to the stagecoach teams. But with the development of the country this has largely passed away. The lands are properly drained, bridges erected far above the high water mark and light approaches made, so that no one dreads the crossing of what was in the fifties and sixties a dangerous proposition, So famous was this bottom away back about Civil War days, that Harper's Weekly contained an illustration of crossing the "Skunk Bottoms," in which a stage coach loaded with passengers were sitting swamped in the mud, waiting for a pioneer farmer, who is seen approaching in the distance with a yoke of oxen to help the weary horses in pulling the coach to firm ground. It is said, however, that the profanity occasioned could not be illustrated by Harper's artist.

The North Skunk takes its source in Marshall County, flows through Malaka, Kellogg and the southwest corner of Rock Creek Townships; thence through the center of Richland, and so on through the northeast portion of Lynn Grove Township.

Sugar Creek rises in Hickory Grove Township, waters the eastern part of Rock Creek and Richland Townships, passing out on section 25.

Rock Creek rises in Marshall County, flows through Honey Grove and Rock Creek and discharges into North Skunk River in Richland.

Coon creek rises in Mariposa and is a branch of the North Skunk.

Burr and Alloway Creeks rise in Mariposa and empty into the North Skunk River in Kellogg Township.

Indian Creek rises mainly in Clear Creek Township and flows into South Skunk River in the southwest part of Sherman Township.

Cherry creek is made up largely of confluents in Malaka and Newton Townships, discharging into South Skunk River in section 29, of Palo Alto Township.

Elks Creek gathers its waters of several smaller streams east of the city of Newton, flowing through Buena Vista and Elk Creek Townships into Mahaska County. Squaw creek heads in the southern portion of Mound Prairie Township and flows into the South Skunk River a mile and one-half west of Colfax.

Watkins Creek rises in Washington Township, passes through Des Moines, then into Marion County.

Calhoun Creek takes its rise at Prairie City, drains the east portion of Des Moines Township, passes into the southwest part of Fairview Township, where it enters Marion County.

Warren Creek rises in the south part of Mound Prairie Township and enters South Skunk River in the northern part of Fairview Township.

Besides these there are numerous lesser streams hardly large enough to have a dignified place on the map of the county, yet which at times, especially at an early day, were streams of no small consequence. For agricultural and stock raising purposes the county has none too many of these streams, the waters of which make glad the heart of man and are duly appreciated by the "cattle of the thousand hills."


One of the beauties of Jasper County, at an early date, were its numerous natural groves of excellent timber, among which may be mentioned the following:

Hixson's Grove, as known and named by the pioneers, is three miles to the south of Newton.

Adamson's Grove is really the southern portion of Hixon's.

Vowell's Grove is two miles to the west of Newton.

Hammer's Grove is four miles northeast of Newton on the North Skunk River.

Slaughter's Grove is to the south of the Main Skunk River and east of Colfax.

Lynn Grove is situated in Lynn Grove Township and a part extends into Kellogg.

Black Oak Grove and White Oak Grove are divided from Lynn Grove by the North Skunk River.

Shepherd's Grove is on the south side of the Skunk River, eight miles south of Newton City.

Tool's grove, the timber land north and east of Monroe.

Indian Creek Grove and Clear Creek Timber, the wooded lands in the northwest portion of the county.


During the month of August 1859, H. Ballinger wrote the following graphic description of a beautiful mirage seen by himself and wife in this county. Webster defines a mirage as "An optical atmospheric illusion by which objects at great distances are presented in an inverted form." But it is well known that many such strange phenomena appear without the image being inverted, as in this case, as well as several seen by the writer in northern central Iowa in the seventies. The item referred to as from the pen of Mr. Ballinger is:

"I live about fourteen miles southeast of Newton, and about one mile west of me runs the North Fork of Skunk River. Five miles farther west runs Elk Creek, and still farther west runs the South Fork of Skunk River. Now a person standing in the door of my residence and looking westerly over these streams and divides can only distinctly see North Skunk and the eastern slope of the divide between it and Elk Creek, and over its summit the extreme tops of the trees comprising the groves of Elk Creek. But the country or divide between Elk Creek and South Skunk is not visible to the eye, being hid entirely from the first divide mentioned at ordinary times. But yesterday morning, a little before six o'clock, I happened to cast my eyes westward and to my surprise I beheld Elk Creek Grove and the surrounding country as well as the divide between it and South Skunk apparently elevated on an inclined plane of slight elevation. The trees of the grove could be distinctly seen from their top to their roots and appeared to be much nearer to us (my wife was now a spectator with me) than formerly; whereas, before, the extreme tops of the trees could only be seen from our position, and houses we had not seen before took their places majestically in this beautiful panorama and seemed also singularly plain, distinct and nearer to us. Yet I do not think we had the satisfaction of seeing it at its best, or the whole affair settled down out of sight in a few minutes after our discovery. A better time, I think, would have been about sunrise or a little after."


It is generally understood that coal in Jasper County was first discovered on the claim of Hugh Patterson, in 1847, it having been noticed cropping out in the bed of a small stream crossing his claim, since known as Coal Creek. It was also found while digging a well near Vandalia soon after this.

In 1878 it was reported in a former history of the mining interests of the state that the best developed coal mine in Jasper County was that owned by the Jasper Coal Company, a half-mile from the main track of the railroad. Several rooms were opened and work progressed rapidly. Firedamps were never known in, these mines, but black damps, or carbonic acid gas, was sometimes encountered. Seventy-five cents a ton was paid for mining and the men made about three dollars a day.

Mines were also in operation in Palo Alto, operated largely by English miners, who clung to customs that had obtained in England for hundreds of years.

In the south part of this county the mines were being operated by Scotchmen, and there a large percent of the workmen were strict Presbyterians in their religious faith. These miners worked at coal mining winters and tilled the soil of their farms in summer time.

In 1874 the county had twenty-three "coal banks," as they were then styled. One hundred and ninety-five men were employed in such mines. Thirty-one thousand tons were mined and the value was placed at seventy thousand eight hundred dollars.

The coal inspector in 1876 reported twenty-eight mines in the county in operation, all well managed and lawfully worked. He reported the coal as being from thirty inches to four feet in thickness, the best grade being taken from the Fairview Mines. Other excellent mines are named as being located in Palo Alto, Sherman, Mound Prairie, Poweshiek and Richland. One new mine was opened in 1877. At that date over three hundred miners were employed in Jasper County, and four hundred tons of marketable coal were mined daily.

In 1877-78 the following mines were being operated successfully: Mound Prairie - Bear Grove, R. N. Stewart; Sherman - Bealier, Scott Slaughter; Poweshiek - Adsit & Company, E. G. Fish; Fairview - R. S. Buckley, George Blount, James Hart, E. E. Edwards, Marshall; Palo Alto - Newton Coal Company, Isaac Morgan, John Riley, Jasper Coal Company, William Lister, Snook Brothers', Robert Davidson, Snook & Walker, James McAllister; Richland - F. L. Downie, A. Eastman.

In 1900 it was written of the coal business in Mound Prairie district: "Mound Prairie has made a very creditable showing in many respects. She has kept out of politics and built no cities. She can only boast of Metz and Seevers, but let's see what she has done. The Slaughter coal bank was discovered in 1846, by a young fellow stopping at Slaughter's. He was out hunting wild turkey one morning before breakfast, and in jumping off of a fallen tree, slid the earth from a chunk of coal. This, so far as I know, says the writer, was the first discovery of coal in Jasper County - a happy accident."

The state mine inspector's reports ending June 30, 1910, shows that there were mining operations carried on in Jasper at that date in the following order:

"There was produced in this county 333,340 tons of coal during the year ending June 30, 1909, and for the year ending June 30, 1910, 334,186 tons of coal. Only one fatal accident has occurred in this county during the two years ending June 30, 1910, and seven serious accidents.

"This county is the second largest in coal production among the counties comprising (up to the present time) the third inspection district. Hereafter Jasper County will be reported among the counties of the second inspection district. Owing to the large development of mines in the third district and with a view to more evenly divide the inspection service it was deemed best to place Jasper County in the second district.

"Mining operations are, as heretofore, largely in the vicinity of Colfax and Seevers, and the usual success attend these operations."

At the date of this report there were the following mining companies operating in this county: Carson Bros' Coal Company, Newton; Hanson & Mead Coal Company, Prairie City; John Bruce Coal Company, Monroe; French Coal Company, Newton; Lister Coal Company, Newton; Snook Bros.' Coal Company, Newton; Colfax Consolidated Coal Company; McAllister Coal Company, Newton; Warrick Coal Company, with offices at Des Moines. The product of these mines is all consumed by the local trade except that of the four last named in the list, and these mines are general shippers.

The report shows that in the matter of accidents for the two years included in the report that in Jasper County there was one fatal accident, that of the falling and killing of Paul Binisse, a top laborer, who met death by falling from a shaft's mouth, while working in the Colfax Consolidated Coal Company's mines. The other accidents were those of the serious injury of Gerald Rodgers, Frank Lipovach, George Shenton and V. Tomlonvich, the latter losing an eye and the others having broken limbs.

For the year ending June 30, 1909, the reports show that Jasper County produced from its eleven mines 333,340 tons of coal; employed 519 miners; other inside workmen, 191; outside men, 61; total employed, 771.

In the year following, which was far the year ending June 30, 1910, the report goes on to show that the ten coal mines then in operation produced 334,186 tons of coal; employed 493 miners; 194 other inside men; 70 outside workmen, making a total of 757 men employed.

The figures show that in 1910 Jasper County stood fifth among the coal producing counties of Iowa. The list of counties included in the state inspector's reports being in the order and rank here given: Monroe, Polk, Appanoose, Mahaska, Jasper, Marion, Boone, Wapello, Dallas, Wayne, Webster, Adams, Van Buren, Guthrie, Page, Keokuk, Taylor, Greene, Lucas, Warren, Scott, Jefferson and Davis.


The government reports secured at the bureau at Des Moines, for Jasper County for the last third of a century, the figures are as follows, taking the month of January for a standard winter mouth. The warmest weather and coldest of these years has occurred since 1898, as will be observed by the table below:

Mean temperature   Highest and Lowest temperature
1879 - 12 above zero1899 - 48 above &  20 below zero
1880 - 28 above zero 1901 - 51 above &  8 below zero
1881 -  8 above zero1902 - 50 above & 22 below zero
1882 - 21 above zero1903 - 45 above & 8 below zero
1883 - 24 above zero1904 - 47 above & 22 below zero
1894 - 19 above zero1905 - 43 above & 18 below zero
1895 - 15 above zero1908 - 51 above & 10 below zero
1896 - 24 above zero1909 - 56 above & 16 below zero
1897 - 18 above zero1910 - 40 above & 17 below zero
1898 - 23 above zero1911 - 32 above &  5 below zero

The average temperature at Newton since 1878 has been in the month of January, 18 degrees above; in February, 20 degrees above; March, 33 degrees above; April, 48 degrees above; May, 60 degrees above; June, 70 degrees above; July, 75 degrees above; August, 72 degrees above; September, 63 degrees above; October, 51 degrees above; November, 34 degrees above; December, 22 degrees above. The average for all years and all months is 48 degrees above zero.

Another table shows that the highest temperature in the county, as indicated by the Baxter reports, in the last thirty years, was in the month of July 1901, when it reached 107 degrees above zero; the next hottest was 99 degrees in September 1899, and August 1900, was next with 93 degrees above zero. The coldest was reached in February 1899, when it was 28 below zero; the next lowest was in December 1901, when it was 22 below and the next lowest was in the months of January and February 1900, when it registered 13 below.

The average annual rain and snow fall (precipitation as it's known in weather table parlance) at the Newton station from 1878 has been by years indicated, as follows: 1878, 28 inches; 1879, 28 inches; 1880, 33 inches; 1881, 44 inches; 1882, 39 inches; 1893, 29 inches; 1894, 20 inches; 1895, 32 inches; 1896, 45 inches; 1897, 27 inches; 1898, 30 inches; 1899, 27 inches; 1900, 40 inches; 1901, 25 inches. The total average for these years is thirty-three and thirty-nine hundredths inches of water.

After reading so much about the "hard 'winters" of early days, it will be of interest to read the causes for a change to milder winters. The following is from a scientific standpoint, by the pen of Dr. Gorrell, of Newton, in 1911.

By Dr. J. R. Gorrell

Is our climate becoming milder and our winters less severe? If so, what is the cause? There exists a consensus of opinion among close observers of meteorological conditions that there has been a perceptible change during the last fifty years. We may, they say, be unable to discover any difference from winter to winter, but a comparison of our late winters with the winters of ten, twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years ago, appears to justify, the belief that a gradual change is occurring in our climate.

There are those who believe that the artificial groves over Iowa and adjoining states have contributed materially to raising the temperature during the winter months. It is no doubt true that the rigor of the winds has been lessened thereby, but as the absolute temperature is unaffected even by, blizzards, it appears improbable that the groves have any effect on the climate. There are others who attribute our milder winters to thermal regions in space through which our solar system as a whole is passing. The solar system consisting of the sun, the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune), their satellites, the asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and all meteoric matter and comets that belong to our system, is rushing through space with a velocity of thirty-nine thousand six hundred miles an hour, and the direction is so near a straight line that it will require many millions of years to complete one revolution. It is therefore not impossible that the regions in space through which we have been passing during the last two, three, four or five decades has had a higher temperature than that through which we passed before, because we may have approached nearer to some other sun in the sidereal system to which our solar system belongs. The grove theory is unsatisfactory and the effect of our movement through space is naught else than speculation.

The heat of the surface of the earth and the atmosphere is derived almost wholly from the sun. If the earth is a molten mass within, the heat from that source, in hot springs, geysers and volcanoes (if any of these have any connection with the central heat, which is improbable) is so small that it need not be considered in a discussion of climatic conditions and causes.

Some substances are transparent to light and heat that are opaque to heat without light. For example, if a pane of glass is held between the face and the sun, the heat passes through the glass and the face is burned. If the same pane is held between the face and an intensely hot cannon ban that is not incandescent, the glass acts as a perfect screen and no heat whatever is felt because the glass is opaque to dark heat.

John Tyndall was the first to call the attention of scientists to the fact that carbonic acid (carbon dioxide, C 02) was partially opaque to dark heat, and to suggest its potency in producing a milder climate. The proportion of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere is only about one-thirtieth percent, but being opaque to dark heat it absorbs the heat of the earth that otherwise would be radiated into space, and thus acts as a blanket to keep the earth warm. The greater the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the thicker becomes the blanket, and the more heat it absorbs. The other constituents of the atmosphere, oxygen and nitrogen, are transparent to dark heat and would therefore permit the radiation of the heat of the earth into space, and the result would be a cold and lifeless planet.

Prior to the carboniferous era all the carbon dioxide now stored in the coal measures of the earth, 200,000 square miles in China and Japan; 194,000 in the United States; 35,000 in India; 27,000 in Russia; 9,000 in Great Britain; 3,600 in Germany; 1,800 in France; 1,400 in Belgium, Spain and other countries, making a total of 471,800 square miles, was free in the atmosphere, and in consequence thereof there existed a tropical climate extending to the poles, as is indicated by the presence only of tropical plants in coal measures. It is estimated that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during that period was from fifty to one hundred thousand times greater than the amount now in the atmosphere, and as a result of the warm, moist climate, there flourished during that geological era the most luxuriant growth of vegetation the earth has ever known, and the succeeding glacial period was the logical sequence of the withdrawal of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Prof. Joseph LeConte, in his "Elements of Geology," on page 617, says: "On account of its heat absorbing properties, the carbon dioxide is vastly the most important element affecting the climate. It now only' forms about one thousandth part of the atmosphere. With its thermal potency it will be seen that comparatively slight variation in the amount would produce great climatic effects. Physicists have long recognized this fact. It is believed that doubling the present small amount of carbon dioxide, would produce a mild climate to the poles, and that halving the present amount would bring on another glacial period."

The rapid increase in the consumption of coal, and the inevitable increase in the amount of carbon dioxide thrust into the atmosphere becomes apparent from the following facts. The consumption of coal in the United States in the year 1845 was four and one-half million tons; in the year 1864, twenty-two million tons; in the year 1874, fifty million tons; in the year 1884, one hundred and six million tons; in 1894, one hundred and fifty million tons; in 1899, two hundred and forty-three million tons. In Great Britain in the year 1845, there was consumed thirty-one million tons; in the year 1864, ninety million tons; in the year 1874, one hundred and twenty-five million tons; in 1884, one hundred and sixty million tons; in 1894, one hundred and sixty-four million tons; and in 1899, two hundred and ninety-five million tons. And the rate of increase in other countries, China and Japan, India, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and Austria-Hungary, is approximately the same. There is at present a concurrence of opinion among the highest authorities that the world's supply of coal would probably last two or three centuries, but the rapidly increasing rate of consumption is becoming ominous. "The statements of former years that the supply of coal was inexhaustible were not only false and foolish, but pernicious."

The process of combustion, and respiration, consumes oxygen and liberates carbon dioxide and aqueous vapor. The incalculable combustion of coal and oil is gradually restoring to the atmosphere the hitherto confined carbon dioxide which when free produced a mild climate the world over, and will probably again create the same meteorological conditions of heat and moisture that existed during the Tertiary period-a tropical climate from pole to pole.

Transcribed by Ernie Braida in July 2003