PIONEER DAYS IN CLEAR CREEK TOWNSHIP
By Nicholas Besser
The 21st of October 1838, is usually regarded as the date of a first settlements; although a few claims antedate this.  Within the limits of the Old Strip a man by the name of Griffith turned the first sod in Clear Creek in 1837 on the farm afterwards owned by Doctor Washington Mayley.  Doctor W. Mealey, pronounced as we learned it "Mayley," came in 1838.  This was in the center of the east part of section 35.  He sold to Mr. John Reinhart in 1853, and moved to Brighton.

John Reinhart built the first steam grist and saw mill combined, on the edge of Keokuk County.  This enterprise proved a losing game, the very large boiler ate up all the profits.  The place is now annexed to the Singmaster farm on the East side.

The first man to move his family across Clear Creek in to a cabin was Weslay Goss, a very enterprising farmer and a local preacher of the Wesleyan faith; he feared God but not the Indians.  We heard: him preach in 1846- although I could only understand half of his words, yet he impressed me as being sincere in his faith, brimful of brotherly love to all man kind; he had a very pretty location, sold out and moved to Spencer, Clay County, 1855.  Michael Peiffer now lives on this place.

The first place near the river belonged to L. B. Holmes, who had first claimed and commenced building a mill, sold out to one Edward Cooly.  The Skunk River washed around this dam.

Then a Mr. W. Warner built a grist mill a little below the dam, this afterwards was known the Black Hawk Mills.

The next neighbors of L. B. Holmes west, were the Ward family, of whom Judge Joseph Casey became a son-in-law; and the Dill family, who supplied the newcomers in 1847 with cows and horses.  This man had one of the best bred stallions brought to this part of the state; a strawberry bay roan, which had endurance and breeding qualities.  We can see some traces of his traits on some of his offspring to this date.

I was sent up there to get some cows that had returned to their old home at Mr. Dill's.  I found the old gentleman well supplied with stock of all kinds. He called up his cattle, and to the best of my recollection the woods, pastures, were full of hogs, cattle, horses, and more than half a dozen boys, all sizes, running around, only one of them, Daniel Dill remained in this County.  The old Mr. Dill moved to Kansas.  Daniel finally left the woods, bought land in Lafayette Township and is one of the most successful farmers.

The next neighbor, west, was Mr. Greenley, a very nice family.  There it was where Daniel Dill got his better half.

Soon after these I came to Jacob Goodheart’s, now the Mr. Mike Wallerick’s farm, to grind some corn on a turn-by-hand mill, something like an overgrown coffee mill.  This brought the passage of scripture.  "By the sweat of thy brow thou shalt earn thy daily bread," very forcible to my mind.

That evening I met George Hartman, who came from German Creek to try his had on this mill; he proved to be one of the most jovial and best natured, and the stoutest boy I had ever met; helped me turn about so that I return home late that night.  I appreciated his help.

Again in the winter of 1849, the snow being four feet deep on the level prairie, we had to grind corn on a common coffee mill.  This tried one’s patience.  Then we partly boiled the ears of corn, grating the same.  This was rather hard on the graters and we soon had to make new ones out of tin buckets.  This product was used for mush, so we made out to enjoy ourselves, as Mark Twain said, on "hog hominy and mush," anything that a Christian stomach can digest.  Such appetites as we all had fairly balanced more lucrative dinners.  Dyspepsia was unknown to us.

The very early settlers of Clear Creek township- the part that was opened for settlement, May 1843- in addition to those already named were: Thompson, Mr. Johnson, George Crispin. (Afterwards county judge in Lancaster).  Squire Case, who ran the Cooly Mill, and several years he ground the farmers’ grain in the Black Hawk Mill.  Later sold out to a Marquis and moved to Kansas.  A. P. Moody moved from near the river in Sigourney in 1846.  He is about the only witness available now.  There were 4 Marquis Brothers living near the Bottoms.

All those near the river, managed to get a good supply of timber land, which enabled them to sell a portion to later arrivals at good prices.

Further north on the main road from Washington to Sigourney, the first man located, was Jessey Gobbert who went into the Hotel business in Lancaster, John Stroup and James Emmeley then lived on that location; he was a money-maker, managed to sell most of his corn at 75¢ to $1.00 per bushel to movers; kept travelers, the stage for many years stopped at that place.

Most of these early settlers commenced selling out when the German emigrants arrived in 1853-1854-1855.

In my next I will write about the German emigrants of Clear Creek.

Contributed by Kim Icenhower. Thank you Kim!

Reference: Kim Icenhower: "I am the great great granddaughter of Nicholas Besser.  My Grandmother, Irma (Striegel) Haag, the daughter of Mary (Besser) Striegel had copies of these stories, which were handed down to her children.  I was told they were factual accounts of his early life in Iowa."

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