Mills County, Iowa

Early Settlers
(1836 - 1856)

The pioneer settlers of 1836, when they first looked upon the broad acres and beautiful forests of Mills county, had in reality no compelling reason for believing that they were not created especially for them. They came not to scenes of pleasure, but to places of most arduous toil. The land was new, its advantages still unknown, its resources undetermined. To enter a country so wild, and engage in its settlement, implied not only a willing heart, but the ability to do and to dare.

About the year 1844 a series of disturbances occurred in the State of Illinois, which were to have great consequence in the settlement of Mills County. A new religious group had been organized in western New York headed by a young man named Joseph Smith. This group, known as Mormons, found the east an extremely unfavorable locality for their growth and they headed toward the west. They first settled primarily in Missouri but were soon driven out. Crossing the Mississippi, they settled in Hancock County, Illinois, founding the city which they called Nauvoo. Their number increased rapidly by immigration from nearly every country in Europe. After the murder of Joseph Smith in Carthage, Illinois the Mormons were compelled to leave the state.

In February of 1846 some 1600 men, women and children crossed the Mississippi on the ice and traveled with ox-teams and on foot, penetrating the wilderness to the Indian country near Council Bluffs, on the Missouri. The area around Council Bluffs was just a stopping off point for many of these pioneers on their way to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, but many others of these persecuted people did not cross the Missouri. They remained at divers points in the State of Iowa, attracted by the pleasant climate and beautiful woodlands. Among their stopping places were Kanesville, (now Council Bluffs) Silver Creek, Traders Point (this place has long since been washed away by the Missouri. The same fate was the lot of Bethlehem, the present East Plattsmouth, the town of the present being situated far to the eastward of its older site. St. Mary's shared a like fate).

Kanesville, although in Pottawattamie County, was a most important point to the early settlers of Mills county. The general government had, at an early day, erected a flouring mill for the benefit of the Indians on Mosquito creek, and this mill was the main source of supplies for some years. Previously to the coming of the Mormons there were no pioneers in the county who could properly be called settlers. The first white man, who afterwards became identified with the county's earlier history, was Henry ALLIS. He was a missionary in behalf of the American Board of Foreign Missions to the Pawnees in Nebraska, and in 1836 was known to have been in this county at Trader's Point. He found here at that time, Colonel Peter A. SARPY, who was engaged in trading with the Indians at a point on the Missouri river near the site of old St. Mary's. Sarpy had been in the county at least two years prior to this time; he remained for many years, and at length became noted as a ferryman over the Missouri Early Transportation.

Until 1846 there were no additions to the white population of the county. That year, as has been mentioned, witnessed the advent of many persons of the Mormon faith coming originally from Illinois. Among them were; Rufus O. JACKSON, Franklin STUART, A. J. STUART, Otho WELLS, James ELDRIDGE, Frank EASTMAN, Almond WILLIAMS, R. K. HAMAR, Russell ROGERS, Joseph HARKER, George GATES and William BRITAIN.

These perons settled along Keg creek, at a point which they named Rushville; William BRITAIN was perhaps the very first man to locate at that point, and may justly be regarded as the oldest and first settler in the county. He is still living (in 1881) at an advanced age, in Oak township, hale and hearty, and proud to be considered one of the few who helped to redeem Mills county from a wilderness. The town of Rushville had a very short existence. It died almost as soon as it was born. Later in the same year there came to Lyons township (in this and all other mentions of townships it refers to their area in 1881) Messrs. RIX, WHITTLE, EGGLESTON, MATTHEWS, McDONALD, BURNS, STEEL, BURDICK, BAKER, WOTH AND ROOKS, all of whom were Mormons and the most of whom came from Illinois. Later, a number of the Rushville people went on to Utah, whither the majority of the Nauvoo population had gone. Joseph HARKER and George GATES, who have both been previously mentioned, built log cabins in the southwest part of the county, near where Egypt was, and these are supposed to the oldest houses erected for dwelling purposes next to that of William BRITAIN.

The year 1846 was a momentous one for this county. The coming of the Mormons and increase of population brought the usual circumstances of birth and death. The first child born in the county was A. J., son of A. J. and Eunice STUART, which event occurred in October of 1846. So far as known, this was the only birth of the year. James EASTMAN, a Mormon elder, was the first preacher in the county, if we except the visit of Henry ALLIS, the missionary. The place of service was a log cabin at Rushville. It is interesting to note in this connection that the settlers did not await the erection of houses consecrated to divine worship, but gathered at one another's homes to listen to the tenets of their various faiths. Gathered from every land and speaking many tongues, the earliest people of Mills county entered heartily into the exercises imposed by the new departure.

The year 1847 was marked by two features deserving of mention. First, a large number of those who settled at Rushville and its vicinity recommenced their weary march to Utah. Second, those who remained scattered to various parts of the county, and were further strengthened in numbers by many of their brethren from Kanesville and vicinity. In April of this year, W. H. SHEPPERSON located in Silver Creek township, and broke the first sod that plow ever touched in that neighborhood. There came to Indian Creek township in the same year H. ABEL, Joseph FLETCHER, and Lewis DALRYMPLE, from the eastern portion of the state. Mr. ABEL located on what is now known as the BETTS farm; the others located on Silver Creek, but the precise point cannot be detemined. Mr. ABEL came from Hancock county, Illinois. The only settlement of moment in this year, was Cutler's Camp, on the farm of Daniel HEWS, along Indian Creek. A number of persons under Alpheus CUTLER there located, but a permanent settlement was not contemplated. Many of them under the same leader subsequently moved within the borders of Fremont county, and founded the old village of Manti. The first settler within the present limits of Rawles township came also in the year 1847. His name was Joseph RAWLES, and from him the township was called. He came from St. Joseph, Missouri, and laying out his claim on section six, made the first farm in that township. Subsequently he went to California, where he died. William BICKMORE also settled in Rawles township, but finally removed to Salt Lake City. Whether he improved any land is not known. In the present limits of Center township a farm was commenced by Sterling DAVIS, who was probably the first white settler in that township. The second birth in the county, and that of the first female child was the daughter of William and Mary BRITAIN, Caroline L., now Mrs. DEWELL. She was born in a log house at or near Rushville, January 12.

Among other incidents of a notable character connected with this year is that of the first death in the county. Rev. James EASTMAN died and was buried at Rushville on Keg Creek. The monument or headstone erected to his memory is almost the sole relic of a town of which few of the living residents of the county ever heard, and that fewer still have never seen. On this first monument ever placed at the grave of any person in the county of Mills, is simply inscribed "J. EASTMAN, died April 10th, 1847, aged 60 years." The headstone is native limestone, and was probably obtained at the exposure of native rock along the Missouri bluffs. There were two schools started in this year, but which has priority in point of time, it is impossible to determine. A man named McCARTHY taught one of them, and his compensation was some fifteen dollars a month, most of which was paid in provisions, from which we may reasonably infer the school was a private enterprise and conducted on the subscription plan. Mrs. SPENCER, whose husband was then absent in the Mexican war, taught the very first school in Silver Creek township in this same year. The school was in her own dwelling. That of McCARTHY was held in the first school-house, erected this same year, and was, perhaps, at or near Rushville. The number of pupils whom he instructed was some twenty five. Another, and the second death of the year, was that of Mrs. FREEMAN, who died on section thirty of Lyons township. The first physician in the county came in 1847, and was Libeus T. COONS, who afterwards became the founder of Coonville, and finally went to Utah. He came from the vicinity of Council Bluffs to this county, and to that locality from Nauvoo.

In the year 1848, the population of the county was subject to the same increase as in the year next preceding. There was no great influx of population, such as had occurred in 1846, but it was more slow and destined to become permanent. There came to Silver Creek in this year, Greenberry JONES, Daniel MOODY, William WOLF, Jonathan KERNS, Noah COTTON, and Benjamin F. MERRITT. The last named came from North Carolina. Among the inhabitants of Silver Creek there had been up to this time no physician. But now came a Doctor SPURGEON from Missouri, who was the first to care for the sick and sore distressed. In the same year Washington LEWIS located in Indian Creek township, and is thus entitled to be called one of its earliest settlers. The first gentile preacher in the county dates his advent from 1848, and was the Rev. MARTINDALE, who held services in Lyons township in the interests of the Methodist Episcopal faith. In the neighboring township of Rawles, matters of very great interest were transpiring. The first school had been opened on section seven by Eli WITHROW who came from Fremont county; the weaknesses to which flesh is heir had been treated by the first resident physician, Dr. John SCOTT, who was also the postmaster at Wahbonsie P. O., instituted that year but not extinct. Among the newcomers, as settlers, to Rawles in 1848, were A. H. BERGER, James WOODLAND, and Samuel BERGER, the last named coming from Cedar county, Missouri. In Anderson occurred the first male birth in the township, that of Charles, son of William and Maria MATTHEWS. In Platteville township there had located the first settler, a man named O'NEAL, who came from Hocking county, Ohio. The first cloth known to have been woven in the county was this year made by Mrs. HOLMAN, who resided about two miles southwest of Glenwood. The foundation of Coonville were laid in this year, by Libeus T. COON, Silas HILMAN, Ira HILMAN, William BRITAIN, G. N. CLARK, and a number of others who were attracted by the beautiful site of the town. J. W. COOLIDGE had come in the earlier part of the year, from near the present city of Council Bluffs, and had found a suitable location near Keg creek, southeast of old Coonville. See Organization of the LDS Church, Coonsville Branch, for additional information

The year 1849 was ushered in when spring opened by the coming of James BERGER and Mrs. Nancy BERGER, to Rawles township. The first school of that year opened at the house of Dr. SCOTT, and he taught the pupils gathered under his charge in the interval of his more strictly professional duties. The school was conducted on the subscription plan, for free schools were unknown at that date in this county. In the winter a somewhat notorious event had transpired in the same township. James WOODLAND, an early comer, had died at his house under suspicious circumstances, and been buried on the farm of Joseph RAWLES; his death was never properly investigated, and while exciting suspicion could not be legally investigated, for at the time of which we are writing Mills county was still unorganized. Soon after his death his brother, William WOODLAND, married his widow, and both left for parts unknown; thus occurred the first mystery within the borders of the county, but it has had frequent like experiences since. In Lyons township had located Michael KERNS and W. E. DEAN, both coming from Missouri. In Indian Creek had located Peter HUNTSMAN from Maryland, on section twenty-seven; H. ABEL from Canada on section twenty-one; and a Mr. DAVIS on the same section with the last named. In the same township, in the winter, John SIMONS, son of James and Sarah SIMONS, had been born, making his birth one of the earliest in this portion of the county. A like event, the very first of its kind, had taken place in Platteville township, being the birth of Albert, son of James and Rachel O'NEAL. Only one settler was known to locate in Silver Creek township and he came in October. His name was R. L. MERRITT. In Anderson township had located James FRY, John HOLDEN and John McINTYRE, all from Indiana. In the same township the first birth had occurred, being that of Fanny, daughter of Noah and Lucretia COTTON, on the twenty-fifth of September. Up to this year the residents of the county were without a mill. This is one of the most important features of a newly opened country, and indispensable to its people. Kanesville on the norh, Oregon, Nebraska City and even St. Joseph on the south were the only points where flour and meal could be had. The enterprise of J. W. COOLIDGE intervened to supply this much needed adjunct of pioneer life. In the summer of 1849 he built a mill on Keg creek, which afterward became the site of GORDON's mill. The site of the mill adjoined Glenwood, of which place Mr. COOLIDGE became an early and valued settler.

The year 1850 added largely to the population of the county. The settlers sought houses in almost every part of its territory, and especially along the streams. Many of them came from thickly wooded and hilly countries, and these facts led them to seek the same kind of territory here. Few, if any, farms were being selected on the open prairie, for prairie farming was then an untried experiment in western Iowa. Along streams and in or near groves of wood were to be found the most desirable location for farms and future homes, and these the settlers eagerly and rapidly occupied. Among the newly arrived settlers in Rawles township were Laurence RAINS, in June, and William J. RAINS, then a lad, who passed his time in school. Among the first or early births was that of a daughter of Joseph RAWLES. In the early spring a daughter of Lena AITNEY died, and was buried on section seven.

A commodious log school house was built, but two years afterward it burned to the ground, being the first conflagration of that kind in the county. George, a son of James L. and Nancy BERGER, was born on September 4, thus entitling him to be placed among the historic worthies of the county's earlier days. The first cloth known to have been made in Rawles township was this year woven by his mother, Nancy BERGER, of Silver Creek township. Mrs. MERRITT has the honor of weaving the first cloth, which was also made in the winter of 1850. Julia BARNES and George CLARK had both become residents of Plattville township and Mrs. HOYT had taught one of the first schools in the township of Lyons, at her own house, the pupils numbering ten, their tuition being paid by subscription. There are preserved remembrances of but two settlers in Lyons for that year, John and William L. LAMBERT, both coming from Kentucky. A like number are remembered as having settled in Anderson township, Augustus RICHARDS, from Virginia, who located on section 10, and Samuel BADHAM, from England, location not known.

The year following, 1851, witnessed the first marriage in Indian Creek township. The oldest daughter of Abel CAREY, Melissa, was married to Mr. SILKET. In the same year occurred the first death in the township, that of Homer HOYT, who was buried a little north of what is now known as the Carey burying ground. On section 21 was built a log schoolhouse, after the manner of the early settlers, by gratuitous labor, and if not the first, it was at least one of the earliest in the township. In Oak township, October 3, occurred the first birth, that of Thomas GUNSOLLY. William McPHERSON and William KESTERMAN, (this might be McPHERRON and KESTERSON) both located farms in Rawles township, as did also Luke WILES, all three of whom afterward became largely and closely identified with the county's interests. Among the old residents who came in that year were J. H. BUCKINGHAM , from Missouri, to Lyons township, William REED to the same locality, David M. BUCKINGHAM, also from Missouri, to Lyons, Simon TROTH to Lyons, Geo. R. McKNIGHT to Lyons and John HAYNIE to Plattville.

In this year 1851 the county was properly organized as Mills county in the commonwealth of Iowa. From this time on the matter of growth in both numbers and prosperity is very marked. Of adventurers there were few or none now being added to its population. Most of the incoming settlers had definite objectives and came to realize plans and hopes of long standing. They had come from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, the New England states, and a few from the south. Unlike these later comers had been the first settlers. They came unwillingly, and tarried with equal regret. Driven from pleasant homes and a prosperous city there was in their hearts a vague unrest, not unmixed with bitter and hostile feelings. The objective point of their weary and dangerous journey lay far to the westward, and thither their faith looked in the hope of rest and peace.

So many of them had left for the far west the year following their advent here. In this year of 1851 many of them cast their first and last ballot and aided in organizing the county. While the events we have narrated were transpiring, the gentile population of the county had increased. Already, in the neighboring county of Fremont, strenuous endeavors were being made to wrest from the Mormon population of that county the strength and prestige which superior numbers insured. It remained now to accomplish the same object here, and to this the gentile population addressed all its energies. Opposition first found expression in denying the rights of suffrage; in disallowing the privilege to sit on juries; and in open hostility to the judge of the district court, as has elsewhere been shown. Hence, these causes led to the final removal of the immediate followers of Brigham Young to Utah. Many still remained, and becoming interested in the county's prosperity contributed largely to its material wealth, and made both excellent and exemplary citizens. As has been said, of a far different nature was the coming of the later settlers. With the year 1851 the arrivals were so numerous and the population became so scattered that it is a matter of excessive difficulty to trace their location and the subsequent changes made. Glenwood had been founded as an offshoot from Rushville, Bethlehem, afterward East Plattsmouth, had been started, and the now extinct Wahbonsie had a struggling existence in the southwest. In the east and south no permanent villages had been established, nor had any attempt in that direction been made. Some short time previously a town called California City had been started in Platteville township by Daniel AMBROSE, and George and James CLARK, the exact date of which is not known.

In 1852 the principal events of interest belonged to Platteville and Anderson townships. In the latter the first death of the year was that of Augustus RICHARDS, on December 10, who was buried in Farm Creek graveyard. This year, in the same township, appeared the first physician, Dr. John JOHNSON, who came from Ohio, and afterwards moved to Missouri. The first services of the Methodist Episcopal church in Anderson, were conducted by Elder Peter COOPER, at the house of Widow RICHARDS, and were the funeral services of her husband. The first school was also opened, taught by Miss Mary E. McCLENAHAN, now the wife of D. HOUGAS. The students numbered nine, and the compensation was eight dollars per month. In Plattsville township was built a hewn log school-house, on section eight, the first building of that nature, so far as can be learned in the township. In the spring a school had been opened on section thirteen, by Miss Angelina MAYFIELD. E. GILLILAND, who still resides in the township, came from Missouri to Platteville. In this year the first marriage in Rawles township, John WOLF to Julia KESTERSON , by the Rev. Mr. TOWNER. On the 28th of August was born Alvira, daughter of William and Alvira HUNTSMAN, in Indian Creek township. Of newcomers in this year the following names have been collected: Jesse MILLER, who located on land now occupied by the poor farm; Henry SAAR, from Missouri, to which state he had gone in 1842, and who settled in Oak township; T. M. BLAIR, in Rawles, from Missouri, Alfred B. McPHERRON, A. WILLIAMS, Urbin WILLIAMS, Richard ESTES and W. NEWELL, all of whom located in Rawles township. To Lyons township came R. SHAW, Sarah HAYNIE, William ESTES and George FOLDEUX. S. C. PITZER and F. M. BRITT, from Missouri, located in Center township, and made farms. In White Cloud settled James HUGHES, one of the oldest residents in the township. Among these persons may have been some who were rough and uncouth, but beneath the rugged exterior beat true and manly hearts.

The facts of preceding years were repeated in 1853. In Rawles township the first marriage of the year was that of David UTTERBACK to Rachel ALLISON, by Rev. Mr. ARMSTRONG, of the Methodist Episcopal church. He had followed the pioneer Methodist preachers, Revs. CANNON and WITTER, who came as missionaries of that faith. In Anderson township was born Calvin A., son of John and Harriet RICHARDS, in the month of December, and this is supposed to be the first male birth in the township. Among the settlers who came to Rawles in this year were Fred. TERRABERRY (Terryberry?), Joseph MUNSINGER and Isaac TOWNSHEND. In Oak township settled J. M. WARREN, E. H. BUFFINGTON, from Illinois and J. H. COTTON, from Lafayette county, Missouri. Other old settlers are John CHAMBERS and S. BARBEE in Center township, M. J. MARTIN, in Glenwood village, Charles L. EPPERSON, in Lyons and William HOXIE, in Plattsville township, who came hither from the state of Michigan.

In 1854 Mary A. COTTON died in Anderson township on December 9th and lies buried in the COTTON graveyard on section thirty six. The second female born in this township was Violet, daughter of Samuel and Mary BADHAM in November. Newcomers located in nearly every portion of the county. In Lyons were J. A. TIPTON, John GILLENS, Thomas CONNOR, John JACKSON and James HUBBARD. H. P. FOWLER came from Lafayette county, Missouri, and located in Oak township, as did, also, John HUTCHENS, who came however, from Andrew county, Missouri. In White Cloud occurred its first marriage, that of Pleasant SILKET to M. A. MORRIS. The first female child born in this year, so far as relates to White Cloud, was Darah V., daughter of James and Caroline HUGHES. J. J. KENADY died and was buried south of the old village of White Cloud. To Rawles township came John M. WEST, Daniel TERRYBERRY and John A. DAVIS. In other portions of the county numerous farms and homes were commenced, by Joseph FOXWORTHY, Charles KESTERMAN, William H. RODMAN among others.

In 1855, G. W. PATRICK, W. S. VIOLA, from Ohio, A. LEWIS, F. M. WILSON, H. C. SHEPPARD, D. O. BRIGGS, A. R. WRIGHT, from Indiana, James LAMBERT, T. K. HAMMOND, who located in Lyons township. In Rawles township settled O. B. RUSSELL, James BOYD, William E. UTTERBACK and A. R. GRAVES. To White Cloud township came Stephen D. DAVIS, Jas. M. SUMMERS, William VAN DOREN, H. W. SUMMERS, and many others.

In 1856 and 1857 witnessed the coming of William WEAVER, William G. SUMMERS, Valentine PLUMB, W. B. WILSON, J. W. DEVORE, Thomas R. KAYTON, Frank MOORE, John GRAHAM from Indiana, John TINKER from Wisconsin, Henry KISBY from Wisconsin, but originally from England, Henry RUSSELL, M. W. HURLBURT, M. C. PEARSE, John BUTLER, R. H. HURLBURT, Solomon JONES, H. A. NORTON, John BYERS and L. D. PRINDLE.

~ source: From History of Mills County 1881 ~ transcribed by Cay Merryman

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