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Excerpts from An Illustrated History of Monroe County, Iowa - 1896


The early settlers of Monroe County were composed mainly of people from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. There are today probably a greater number from Indiana than from any other State; and there are no doubt more people in the county today from the States of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio than from all the other states in the Union.

The Missourians never showed much partiality for Monroe County, nor to the State at large, for during that period when the migration of settlers from adjoining States was at its highest point, the breach which was gradually widening between the North and South seems to have placed a check on Northern emigration as early as the period of Buchanan's administration.

Later, the intense sectional hatred aroused by the border warfare [the Honey War] still further impeded emigration from Missouri, and the term "border ruffians" seems, even at this late day, to occasionally stir up a long-dormant feeling of reproach in the recollections of the pioneers of southern Iowa.

It is probable that the enactment of the famous Kansas-Nebraska Bill also had something to do towards discouraging emigration from Missouri to Iowa. On the enactment of this bill, Missouri poured a flood of emigration westward, for the purpose of augmenting the pro-slavery sentiment in Kansas and Nebraska, and also of acquiring homes.

It will seem strange at this day that the beautiful prairies (the word "prairie" in French means "meadows") of Monroe County, growing in grass and studded with wild sweet williams, asters, and golden rod, and a profusion of other flowers, should for several years remain untenanted by those who had come here to acquire homes.

Those who were a little slow about making choice selections of claims were obliged finally to settle on prairie tracts like what is now the farm of Hon. O. P. Rowles, and that of John Collins, a few miles south of Albia, and other magnificent estates within the county.

The ox-team and the break-plow were the two most potent factors of pioneer civilization. The plow was constructed as follows: the settler would remove the two front wheels from his wagon and place them on a rudely constructed axle made from an oak sapling 6 or 8 inches in diameter and about the length of an ordinary wagon axle; the plow, which had a very long moldboard and a prodigious wooden beam, was partially suspended between the two wheels of the trucks by an upright frame resting on the axle; a long lever extended from the front end of the plow-beam back to the upright frame, where it was secured by a wooden pin; there was a series of auger-holes in the upright frame, and the depth of the furrow could be regulated by simply removing the adjusting pin from one of the holes and lifting or bearing down on the lever. There has never been a plow manufactured since then so suitable for turning under wild sod and hazel-brush as this rudely constructed break-plow of our fathers. It could not rise out of the furrow when it struck a root; it could be set to any desired depth, and it would stay there; with two or three yoke of oxen attached, it would cleave its way through almost anything; when it encountered a "running-oak," it did not "pass by on the other side," like the Levite, but it went through it and turned it under.

When the county was first settled there was little underbrush. The hazel, which some year later became so abundant on the prairies, grew very sparsely. Prairie fires for ages had swept the prairie whenever vegetation was in condition to burn, and these kept down hazel and other shrubbery; but when the settlers began to take precautions against the ravages of fire, a dense growth of oak and other varieties of trees began to grow into low upland thickets, much to the detriment of the farmers in after years.

In the early days of Monroe County the forests supplied an abundance of fine saw timber, and even at the present day there are several good bodies of white oak in Urbana Township, in the vicinity of Elisha Leech'S saw mill.



image of scroll workSource: Hickenlooper, Frank. An Illustrated History of Monroe County, Iowa: A Complete Civil, Political, and Military History of the County, From Its Earliest Period of Organization Down to 1896. Chapt. 5. p. 38-43. Albia, Iowa. 1896.

Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, September of 2010