USGenWeb Johnson County, Iowa

People of Johnson County


Obscure news clips lead
to rich family discovery
Mahana patriarch war hero

Gloria Henry and Harvey Henry pose with items from their extensive genealogy search into the Mahana family tree. The search started with two newspaper clippings from the family Bible. 

photo by Matthew Holst

Today’s story about the Mahanas of Johnson County is the sixth in a weeklong series celebrating 
people who, long ago, came to the area, got married and settled down to raise their families.

Their reasons for coming were many — jobs, adventure, family. 
For generations, their descendants have helped shape Johnson County.

Source: The Iowa City Press Citizen by Kathryn Ratliff

Thursday, December 27, 2001

The two newspaper clippings that fell out of the family Bible led Gloria Henry to the intriguing history of her great-great grandfather, Capt. Bradley Mahana, who led the first company of Iowa City soldiers into the Civil War.

One clipping was an obituary for Mahana, and the other for his son, Bradley Brown Mahana. Ever since reading those memorials, Henry has been on a quest to learn more about her ancestors, some of the earliest residents in Iowa City.

Because her family’s presence dates back prior to 1876, Henry has in her possession a Johnson County Pioneer Family Certificate from the Iowa City Genealogical Society.

“This has put personality to the names and dates, when you discover stories about your ancestors,” she says. “They had such a hard life.”

Henry says that for a long time, she didn’t even know Capt. Mahana existed. Since the clippings fell out of the family Bible, she has stuffed several red binders full of family history, the fruits of many years of collecting information wherever she can.

Born Sept. 1, 1806, in Fayette County, Pa., Bradley Mahana moved to Iowa City in April 1855 and became a painting contractor.

Capt. Bradley MahanaBradley Brown MahanaMyrtle May MahanaJosephine May John

Henry says she is not sure exactly why her great-great grandfather moved to Iowa City. Most people moving to Iowa at the time came to farm.

Mahana was a man of many trades, but farming was not among them. He was a painter and a carpenter, a wood carver, a politician and an accomplished military leader. He admired education, serving on the founding Board of Trustees of Waynesburg Presbyterian College in Pennsylvania.

He had a woodworking shop on Greene Street in Waynesburg and was commissioned to carve a statue of Gen. Nathaniel Greene, which was placed atop the Greene County Courthouse, displayed there for 75 years until destroyed by fire in 1925.

“He was interested in education,” Henry says. “Many people were not at the time.”

Mahana resided in Waynesburg from 1827 until he moved to Iowa City. He had a long and exemplary military career in Pennsylvania, including service as brigade inspector for the state for 14 years — experience that gave him the military skills needed in the Civil War.

When he arrived in Iowa City with his wife, Catherine Seals, whom he married on Sept. 1, 1827, he settled into his painting business.

Mahana was among the first to volunteer his service to defend the Union in the Civil War.

In 1861, at the start of the war, he formed the first Iowa City company of soldiers. His was the first company raised not only in Iowa City but the entire state. The company was immediately marched to the front. After three months, Mahana returned home and formed another company, of which he was elected captain, a position he held until the war was over.

Before his departure and in front of a crowd of well wishers, Iowa City officials presented Mahana with a sword expressing confidence in his courage and patriotism.

One W. Penn Clark, Esq., presented the sword with a speech: “… The time for action has arrived; and I have only to add in conclusion that the hopes and prayers of your neighbors and friends now assembled around you, to cheer you with their presence and bid you God speed…”

In response, Mahana replied: “To my Brethren, Townsmen, Countrymen — I beg you to receive my heartfelt thanks. I will endeavor to use this sword that it shall not be a source of regret to those who have been so generous to donate it.”

Mahana was remembered as a brave and merciful soldier and a true and honest Christian man.

“Everyone spoke highly of him in service,” Henry said. “I think he was a very caring man.”

Taken suddenly ill, Mahana died on Sept. 11, 1874. He suffered much during his sickness but was patient and resigned to his fate. A friend standing by his bedside just before he died asked:

Captain, is all well?” His last words were: “Oh, yes. All is well.”

Mahana is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. He was taken to his final resting place by a long procession of friends. A member of Iowa City’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Mahana and his wife had 11 children.

Myrtle May Mahana, Henry’s grandmother, was born Oct. 26, 1878, in Iowa City, and was known for her delicious noodles, breads and pies. Her father was Capt. Mahana’s son, Bradley Brown Mahana, an Iowa City merchant. The house where Myrtle May Mahana was born is still standing at 420 S. Lucas St. Her brother, Bradley Franklin Mahana, was born in 1873 in Iowa City and her sister, Percy Loraine Mahana, was born 10 years later, also in Iowa City.

Gloria and Harvey Henry, an architect who led the Old Capitol restoration in the mid-1970s, moved to Iowa City from Indianola in 1963. They raised four children here and just celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary in September.

Genealogy is a hobby they both enjoy. Harvey Henry has traced his own family history for years. They are passing the stories on to their children and grandchildren so they may have a better understanding of where they come from.

“We consider this a gift to our kids,” Henry says of the collected histories, newspaper articles and photographs she and her husband have carefully arranged in hardcopy and on computer disk. “This may be something of interest to them in the future

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