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1914 County History

The first work of the people of Iowa was to establish homes. Little thought was given to culture or refinement during the early years of the state's history, but it was not long until a desire for better things developed and literature became a subject of interest. Quite a number of Iowa authors, either native or adopted sons, have made their mark in the literary circles of the nation. Doubtless the best known of these men is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as:

Mark Twain 

Mr. Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, November 30, 1835. He was educated in the Hannibal public schools and began learning the printer's trade when twelve years old. Later he became a Mississippi River pilot. While working at the printer's trade he set type on the first Keokuk city directory, published in 1856, in which he gave his occupation as antiquarian. This directory was published by his brother, Orion Clemens, and a copy of it is now in the Keokuk Public Library. He also worked awhile on the Keokuk Saturday Post, which paper employed him to write some articles upon his travels after leaving Keokuk. The first of these articles was published on December 6, 1856, signed "Snodgrass," and is said to be the first article ever published by the man who afterward became so celebrated a humorist. In 1862 Mr. Clemens became the city editor of the Virginia City (Nevada) Enterprise. Here he made quite a reputation as a humorist and his writings became known all over the country. A few years later he went upon the excursion to Europe and the Holy Land, an account of which was published in his "Innocents Abroad," his first pretentious work. Between that time and his death he published more than a score of volumes, but it was in Lee County that he made his humble start. 

Virginia Wilcox Ivins

Mrs. Ivins was a niece of Dr. Isaac Galland, one of the pioneers of Lee County, and came with her uncle to Keokuk in the latter '30s. In 1840 she went with Doctor Galland and his wife to Ohio and spent the winter in school at Akron. In the fall of 1842 she came back to Keokuk on a canal boat, which was towed down from Akron to the Ohio River, drifted down that stream to the Mississippi, and was then towed up by a steamboat to Keokuk — a trip of 1,450 miles. In her "Pen Pictures of Early Western Days" she says in the preface: "In presenting these pen pictures no literary merit is claimed, but that it is an authentic account of scenes and occurrences in most of which the author took part, or to which she was an eye witness." 

In this work she gives accounts of a number of interesting incidents, one of which is the story of "Nigger John," who bought his freedom and saved $600 to buy his wife. About that time there was an organization known as the "Vigilants" that charged John with being a thief. His trunk was searched, the $600 found, and he was ordered to leave town. He refused to go, and one evening when Doctor Galland walked to the levee he discovered Doctor Hogan horsewhipping the negro. Doctor Galland made a speech and Mrs. Ivins says: "He talked long and earnestly to the men, telling them what a bad reputation Keokuk was gaining abroad from such outrages, and appealing to them to redeem themselves and help build up a town in which it would be a pleasure and a pride to live. He closed his speech by saying: 'If there is to be a constant fight I propose to take a hand in it.' " This ended the outrages of the "Vigilants" and had a good effect upon the Town of Keokuk. 

In 1849 Miss Wilcox became the wife of William S. Ivins and about four years later went overland to California. She returned to Keokuk in 1856 and in the latter years of her life resided on North Second Street, where she wrote the book above mentioned. 

David B. Smith

Mr. Smith came to Keokuk in 1847 as a CIV1 ^ engineer in the employ of the Keokuk & Des Moines Valley Railroad. He became permanently identified with municipal and county affairs, served as a member of the Keokuk City council, and as deputy sheriff and deputy treasurer of Lee County. Mr. Smith became an author under rather unfortunate circumstances. He was convicted for embezzlement in the county treasurer's office and sentenced to the penitentiary. His experiences as an inmate of that institution led to his writing a book upon prison conditions that has been widely read and is regarded as an authority upon the subject. 

J. Monroe Reid

Colonel Reid was a son of Hugh T. Reid, who was one of the leading Lee County attorneys in his day and won distinction as a soldier in the Civil war. J. Monroe Reid studied law and for many years had an office at 24 North Fifth Street, Keokuk. In 1877 he wrote his "Sketches and Anecdotes of Old Settlers, Newcomers, the Mormon Bandits and the Danite Band.' 1 Among the old settlers mentioned in his work were Dr. Samuel Muir, Capt. J. B. Browne, C. F. Davis, Isaac R. Campbell, Chief Keokuk, Edwin Guthrie and George C. Anderson, Keokuk's first banker. 

Colonel Reid's literary style is probably more forcible than elegant, but in his book are preserved many incidents connected with the early life of Lee County. He came to Keokuk from Indiana, enlisted as a private in Company A, Second Iowa Infantry, and four years later was mustered out as captain and brevet lieutenant- colonel of the Fifteenth Iowa Infantry. 

Sue Harry Clagett

Miss Clagett was a native of the State of Maryland. In 1854, with her father, Thomas W. Clagett, who afterwards served as judge of the District Court, she came to Keokuk. She attended the private school of Rev. Charles Williams, was a writer on the old Keokuk Constitution, while her father was the owner of that paper, and her most pretentious work, a novel entitled "Her Lovers," was written while living at 223 Morgan Street, Keokuk. In 1879 she went to Louisville, Kentucky, where the next year she was married to S. B. Pettingill, and later removed to Tacoma, Washington. She died there in 1890. 

Margaret Collier Graham 

This author was born in Van Buren County, Iowa, September 29, 1850, a daughter of David and Lydia A. (Lindsey) Collier. She was educated in the Keokuk public schools and the college at Mon- mouth, Illinois, where she was graduated in 1869. On October 21, 1873, she became the wife of Donald M. Graham and some years later removed to Pasadena, California, where she passed the remainder of her life. Mrs. Graham wrote "Stories of the Foot-Hills, 1, a number of character sketches of western people; "The Wizard's Daughter and Other Stories, 1 ' a work of similar character; and a book of essays which takes its title from the first essay, "Do They Really Respect Us?" Most of these essays deal with woman's rights and the higher education of women. In the one entitled "What Is An Immoral Novel?" she sets forth this bit of philosophy: 

"I am aware that women are hard towards certain forms of evil among women, and I am rather glad that this is so. It is no doubt what has made us so very, very good. If we are to believe men, who are constantly telling us how virtuously superior we are to them, our plan with women has certainly worked better than theirs with men. Possibly the sauce that has made of women such a highly moral and delicious goose might make of man an equally moral and delectable gander. The experiment is certainly worth trying." 

John Burgess

From 1863 to 1897 Rev. John Burgess resided in Keokuk, with the exception of four years, from 1865 to 1869. He served as chaplain of the Thirtieth Iowa Infantry in the Civil war until ill health compelled his discharge from service. For some time he was pastor of the Exchange Street Methodist Episcopal Church and later was in charge of the Free-for-all Church at Keokuk. He also studied medicine in the old College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he received the degree of M. D. in 1865. His best known works are "Pleasant Recollections of the Character and Works of Notable Men," which deals largely with his work in the ministry, containing many reminiscences of persons met in different states. Some of these stories are pathetic, some amusing, but all are well told. His "Sermons on Practical Duties" contain many moral precepts and much wholesome advice that can be applied to the ordinary daily walks of life. 

N. Gray Bartlett

Mrs. Bartlett's maiden name was Miss May McCune. Her father, John McCune, was a contractor in Mississippi River work under General Curtis, and she came with him to Keokuk in her early childhood. She was educated in St. Vincent's Academy and continued to live in Keokuk until her marriage to Mr. Bartlett in 1870, after which she resided in Chicago.

Rebecca S. Pollard

Probably no Lee County author is more widely known than Mrs. Pollard. She was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, a daughter of Nathaniel Ruggles Smith, a prominent educator, and came to Fort Madison at a comparatively early date. Under the pseudonym of Kate Harrington she wrote a number of poems. The following extract is taken from her poem entitled Maymie: 

"O! be ye guarded what ye do or say
Before a mother when her child is dead;
Move with hushed tread beside the pulseless clay,
And in low whispers let your words be said.
Remember of her life it was a part;
Remember it was nourished at her breast;
That she would guard it still from sudden start,
The ringing footfall, or untimely jest." 

The Iowa Centennial poem, read at Philadelphia in 1876, was written by Mrs. Pollard and attracted favorable comment from the press of the country. In this poem she says of Iowa: 

"The mansions on our prairies wide,
Oft with a rude cot by their side,
Show how, by years of patient toil,
The lordly tillers of our soil
Have reared such houses as freemen may
With all their shackles torn away.
On history's page will shine most bright
Such names as Belknap, Kirkwood, Wright,
Howell, McCrary, Mason, Hall,
Dodge, faithful to his country's call.
Warriors who, through war's wild shock,
Anchored our ship on Union rock.
"Ask ye if Woman shrinking stood,
When rang War's cry o'er field and flood?
Did mothers, racked by dire alarms,
Prison their sons with clinging arms?
No! worthy of the patriot sires
That lit the Revolution fires,
They forced the tears — that needs must start
Backward, to trickle through the heart,
And said in accents firm and low,
'Our prayers will follow — go, boys, go!' 

Mrs. Pollard is the author of a series of phonetic readers used in many of the schools of the country. From 1875 to 1877 she conducted a private school in Keokuk, and while residing there her Centennial poem and "Maymie" were printed at the office of the Gate City. She is also the author of a novel, "Emma Bartlett," an incident of the Civil war. She is now ( 19 1 4) aged eighty-three years, living with her son, J. A. S. Pollard, cashier of the Fort Madison Savings Bank, at Fort Madison. At the age of eighty-one she wrote a missionary poem entitled Althea, which is her last literary work. 

Rupert Hughes 

One of the best known of the Lee County authors is Rupert Hughes, who now lives in New York City. He was born at Lancaster, Missouri, January 31, 1872; came to Keokuk when about seven years of age; received his elementary education in the Keokuk public schools; then attended different colleges, and in 1892 received the A. M. degree from Yale University. That year marked the close of his residence in Keokuk. In 1901 he began editorial work, and from 1902 to 1905 was connected with the Encyclopedia Brittanica Company. He is the author of a number of stories and the scene of the "Lakerim Cruise" is laid in Keokuk. It was published in 1898. He has also written some poetry and several plays.

George P. Wilkinson 

George P. Wilkinson is a native of Keokuk, where he was born in i860, a son of A. J. and Martha Willia Wilkinson. After attending the Keokuk public schools he attended college, studied medicine, and became professor of diseases of the eye and ear in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Keokuk, which chair he held from 1884 to 1886. Many of his writings are devoted to subjects connected with the medical profession. During his later life he lived in Omaha, Nebraska.

Frank Graham Moorhead

In 1885 Frank Graham Moorhead, then nine years of age, came with his parents, Dr. Samuel W. and Melissa M. (Graham) Moorhead, to Keokuk. While living with his parents there, at 1228 High Street, he attended the public schools, and it was in Keokuk that he wrote his "Unknown Facts about Well Known People," which was published in 1895, when he was barely twenty years of age. This work is a compilation of short biographical sketches of prominent people — chiefly literary characters — and many of the sketches contain information about the subject not found elsewhere, thus justifying the title of his book. There are also sketches of a number of people in Mr. Moorhead's work that are not found in any of the standard biographical dictionaries. In 1898 he became managing editor of the Keokuk Daily Press and later went to Des Moines, where he was employed on various papers for some time. Still later he was Sunday editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. He is now connected with the Pierce publications at Des Moines and is one of the best known magazine writers in the West.

Granville Walter Barr 

Mr. Barr is a native of the Buckeye State, having been born in Clark County, Ohio, October 25, i860. He attended Asbury (now DePauw) University at Greencastle, Indiana, from 1877 to 1880, and in 1884 graduated at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia. While attending college in Indiana he began newspaper work. In 1898 he came to Keokuk as professor of materia medica in the College of Physicians and Surgeons and has since been a resident of that city. He is the author of several works and monographs on medical subjects. Of his miscellaneous works, the best known are the "Verdict in the Rutherford Case," "The Woman Who Hesitated," "In the Last Ditch," "Victory of the Valiant," and his political novel, "Shacklett, or the Evolution of a Statesman." The Heights in this novel is Cedarcroft, the Nagel home at Warsaw, Illinois. Doctor Barr is now in charge of the publicity department of the Mississippi River Power Company. 


At the beginning of the Civil war Mrs. Annie Wittenmyer began as a nurse in the Keokuk hospitals, after which she went to the front as a field nurse with the army of General Grant. After the war she wrote "Under the Guns, a Woman's Reminiscences of the Civil War." The book contains a number of interesting incidents and the introduction was written by Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. Mrs. Wittenmyer is also the author of "Woman's Work for Jesus," "A Jeweled Ministry," "The Women of the Reformation," etc. 

James H. Anderson, for many years a resident of Keokuk, who wrote "Riddles of Prehistoric Times," published in 191 1, says in his preface: "For forty years the author had been a plodding lawyer, but, having become incapacitated by an apoplectic fit, he, pondering on the riddle of existence, compiled this book, which is but a resume of facts gleaned while he was seeking to know whence came the world and its people." The book contains much evidence of research into ancient ethnology, etc., is well written, and will well repay the reader for the time spent in its perusal. 

One of the most interesting works by a Lee County author is the "Notes of a Trip Around the World," by Charles Parsons, who was one of the early bankers of Keokuk. An interesting feature of this work is the illustrations made from original photographs taken in Japan, India, Egypt, Spain and other countries, and the story is told in a highly entertaining way. 

Blanche Sellers Ortman was born in Keokuk, a daughter of Morris and Rose (McCune) Sellers. She was educated in the Sacred Heart convent at Chicago, and soon after completing her education became the wife of Rudolph Ortman of that city. Her principal works are "Bar-Gee," the story of a horse, and "The Old House, and Other Stories." There is a pathos in her story of the Old House which makes the reader think of his childhood home, if he ever had one. 

Among the more substantial publications written or compiled by Lee County authors is George W. McCrary's "American Law of Elections." As its name indicates, it is devoted to certain legal phases of American elections and is not well calculated for "summer reading." It was written before the Australian ballot system was introduced into so many of the states of the Union, but contains much that is still good authority. The book is dedicated to Hon. Samuel F. Miller, a Lee County lawyer, who became chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. 

There have been a few other sons and daughters of Lee County who have made their mark in the literary world, but the above are the ones best known. The works of these writers show that Iowa has kept pace with the literary progress of the nation, and that Lee County is by no means the most insignificant part of the Hawkeye State.

Source:  History of Lee County, Iowa, by Dr. S. W. Moorhead and Nelson C. Roberts, 1914

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