Muscatine County Iowa

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 654


For the early history of this township we are indebted to Hon. Asa Gregg, who some years ago published his personal recollections of its early settlement in pamphlet form : "This was called the Wapsinonoc Settlement, that being the Indian name of the stream, or, as they pronounce it, 'Wap-pe-se-no-e-noc,' which in their language or tongue, signifies ' smooth-surfaced' meandering stream or creek. The first settlement was made in the fall of 1836, and during the winter following several families came in, among them some men by the name of Huntman, who in the spring went to Missouri, and united their fortunes with the great Mormon prophet, Joe. Smith, who was at that time making a settlement there, and shortly after was driven out of the State.

"In the spring of 1837 there was quite an immigration into Iowa, or, as it was then called, the Black Hawk Purchase, and, of course, some new arrivals here to fill the place left vacant by the departure of the Huntman's--among whom were the following : William Bagley, William Cornes, William A. Clark, and the writer, all of whom arrived before the middle of May in that year. Later in the season Galentine Gatton and Samuel Hendrickson made a settlement where they now reside. The two brothers, Henyen and Cornelius Lancaster, also made a commencement that season. At this early date of our settlement we had neither roads not bridges, and any one may very easily conjecture what some of the difficulties were that these early pioneers had to encounter, when they are informed that all the provisions, except such as could be secured by rifle, had to be brought by wagons from Illinois.

"The first election was held in a cabin in the timber, nearly west of this village, then occupied by William A. Clark, at which, it is believed, all legal voters exercised the elective franchise for the first time in Iowa. There being no party issue to divide and distract the public, there was wonderful unanimity in the voting, and the close of the polls showed that all had cast their votes for the same candidates, none of whom were personally known to the voter, and on counting out the votes it was found that we had just eight voters west of the Cedar River.

" The first sermon was preached by Elder Martin Baker, a well and favorably known minister of the Christian order or denomination, who lived and died below Rochester. Mr. Baker was a good and true man, and very much respected by the early settlers; rough and uncouth as a bear in his manners, it is true, yet tender-hearted as a child ; and many a kind act of his has gladdened the lonely hut of the poor and needy settler, when sickness was upon him, and starvation was staring him in the face, and his greatest hour of need had come.

"Francis Foot made a settlement on the east side of the east branch of the creek, in the summer of 1837, in a cabin built by a man by the name of Hueler, whose wife had died early that spring, and he, Hueler, became dissatisfied and left the country, Mr. Foot taking his place and remaining here until his death, which occurred in the fall of 1838.

" At the time last mentioned the land was not surveyed into sections, but during that season the Government surveyors came along and sectionized it, and their trails on the section lines on the prairie were plainly visible until after the land sale in fall of 1838.

" The fall of the year last mentioned was the darkest of our infant settlement ever experienced, and will long be remembered by those who were here at that time. The most of us had been here long enough to reduce our finances to a mere shadow, and had raised barely enough grain to keep our families from starvation ; the season had been very sickly indeed ; there were not well persons enough to take proper care of the sick ; death had visited our little settlement in more than one form, and to crown our misfortunes the general Government ordered the whole of the Black Hawk Purchase into market. Here was a dilemma. Many who had expended every dollar they had in the world in improving their claims, found themselves in danger of losing all for want of means to enter their lands. Fortunately, through the instrumentality of John Gilbert, an Indian trader, those who held claims in this immediate vicinity obtained funds of Alex Phelps, who at that time lived at Oquawka, Ill. to enter what land they wanted. The manner of the loan was this : He, Phelps, was allowed to enter the land in his own name ; he then gave the other party a bond for the deed, conditioned that they should pay him the amount which he paid for the land within one year, with twenty-five percent interest from the date of the bond ; and what is more remarkable is that all who borrowed of Phelps at that time, had the good fortune to fulfill their contracts with him and obtain their lands, or a large advance on their investment in improving it.

" The Indians, though quite numerous, were not generally very troublesome, but would occasionally, when under the influence of liquor, attempt to steal a horse, or annoy us in some other way ; such as throwing down our fences, or taking our corn to feed their ponies, etc. Large numbers of them were in the habit of coming here for the purpose of making sugar from the hard maple, which was, and is yet, quite abundant in the groves hereabout, and still bears the evidence of their destructive mode of obtaining the sap.

"The next spring after the land sale they came, as was their custom, prepared for making sugar, but the whites had recently become proprietors of the soil, and did not feel like quietly submitting to their depredations upon the timber, and after full deliberation, determining that they would not suffer the Indians to make sugar here. The settlers, therefore, collected together with their arms and proceeded at once to the Indian's camps, where they found them very busy preparing for sugar making. The Indians were at once informed that the land now belonged to the white men-- that their title had passed from them by treaty to the General Government, and by purchase to us. They, for a long time, pretended not to understand us, and affected ignorance of the object of our visit. This caused a long parley and considerable delay. The day was coming to a close, and we found that they expected a large accession to their numbers that evening. We therefore found it necessary to make some demonstration that would not only compel them to understand us, but convince them that we were in earnest. They had built fires in their old camps, which were covered with old dry bark,entirely useless as a protection from rain, it having curled up into rolls something like a window blind rolled up. The pieces of bark were directly over the fire where the supper was cooking. We went to one of these camps and directed the Indians to take everything that belonged to them out of the camp, telling them in their own language, as well as we were able, that we were going to burn their camp, at the same time taking a roll of bark from the top and throwing it in the fire.This seemed to convince them of our determination to force them to leave, and they at once, with our assistance, removed all of their property out of danger. We were very careful not to molest or injure any property belonging to the Indians, but burned every vestige of the old camps, after which we caused them to pitch their tents in a part of the grove where there were no hard-maple trees, and late in the evening their friends came in, but made no attempt to make sugar afterward.

" There was an old squaw with those whom we removed from the sugar camp, who, during our parley before burning the old camps, became very much excited, and was the only one among them who seemed to understand us, although we knew very well that all the men understood us from the very first. This old woman, however, undertook to convince us that they had a right to make sugar here under treaty, and went to her tent and came out with a roll of dressed buckskin and commenced unrolling it, and to our surprise, in the center was a neatly written copy of Wayne's treaty, or as it is usually called, the treaty of Greenville. This, no doubt, had been kept in her family from the time of the treaty in 1795. This manuscript was white and pure, and looked as if it had not been written a week. No doubt her father, or perhaps her husband, had been a warrior who had participated in the bloody conflicts of the days of " Mad Anthony," and who had been compelled to acknowledge the superiority of the whites over the dusky warriors of his doomed race.

" The Indians had, with great labor, dug out some troughs to hold the sugar-water, and had them on the ground ready for use, but the old woman, before mentioned, hearing some of us speak of them as being very good for the purpose for which they were intended, was determined they should not profit us, took an ax, and with a very clear Indian war-whoop, split them to pieces, and in a very taunting way requested us to burn them also.

" In 1838 the following additions were made to the settlement : George Van Horne, William Leffingwell, J. P. Van Hagen, and Robert Stuart ; the first mentioned is now living in Wapello, Iowa; Mr. Leffingwell having been a citizen of the city of Muscatine for many years, has very recently taken his departure to that better land, where so many of the old settlers of this county have gone before. Mr. Stuart, after living here a number of years and holding some important offices in the county, removed to Cedar Falls, where he lived until his death, when his widow returned here. The arrivals of 1839 were more numerous than the previous year, viz ;Valentine Bozarth, S. A. Bagley, Enos Barnes . James Van Horne, Jacob Springer, John G. Lane, A. B. Phillips, and John Bennet, are some of those who are remembered as coming that year, and it would be a gratification to the writer to give a short sketch of the history of each, if time and space would permit, but we must hasten. The year 1840 the writer does not remember but two who made a permanent settlement in this vicinity, There may have been others, perhaps was, but we can only bring to mind Egbert T. Smith and E. T. S. Schenk, who were both well and favorably known, and Mr. Schenk is now residing near Downey.

" Dudley B. Dustin was among those who lived here at this time, and will be remembered for his kindness of heart, as well as his many eccentricities and jokes. He could mimic anyone to perfection, and many a times at our public gatherings would set the crowd in a perfect roar of laughter at the expense of some unlucky neighbor.

" Wapsinonoc Township consisted of all of Muscatine County that lies west of the Cedar River. At that time, and for many years thereafter, and at out elections, all would assemble at one place and cast their votes ; and it would be interesting to give the number of votes each year, and note the increase of population, had we the means to do so.

" At this time of excitement in regard to the Railroad Bond question, a history of the west part of this county, and the important stand taken by the inhabitants of Wapsinonoc Township on the vote of the county to take stock, will not be devoid of interest.

" As before stated, our township consisted of all of this county west of the Cedar River, when the road now known as the Chicago, RockIsland & Pacific Railroad, first began to be talked about, and the company began to urge upon the people the necessity of taking stock, but the settlers were generally poor, and to raise any considerable amount by individual subscription, was soon found to be out of the question. Interested parties soon began to urge upon the authorities of the county the propriety of the county taking stock, and after some hesitation the county judge issued an order for a vote on the question of a tax for railroad purposes. At this election the contest was warm and sharp--those who were in favor of the measure being extremely energetic, while those who opposed it did so with great warmth and energy ; and this township was so united on the question that there was but one vote in favor of the measure which has now become so odious, and has been so burdensome. Our township, therefore, became quite noted for its independence, and soon after gained the appellation of the State of Wapsinonoc, which high distinction was brought about as follows :

" The next day after the election above mentioned, the writer went to Muscatine, and had hardly descended form his horse until he was surrounded by the friends of the tax, who were jubilant over the success of their measure, and during a warm, but friendly discussion of the question, our old friend, William St. John, came up, and in a taunting way, shook his finger at the writer , saying : ' " We have got you now; what will you do next?' " "Well,' said the writer, ' We will just call out the militia, 'that's what we'll do.' and from the idea of calling out the militiaon the railroad tax question, we got the name of the ' State of Wapsinonoc.'

" John D. Wolf and Mary Ann Bagley were the first residents of the township who were married but they obtained their marriage license at Muscatine, where the ceremony was performed. The first birth in the township occurred in the summer of 1837, about a quarter mile distant from the present West Liberty, when Louise, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Corns, saw the light of day.

" The first school was taught in an unoccupied log dwelling on section 2, by Valentine Bozarth in 1839. The first regular school-house was built on land owned by Asa Gregg, on section 2, in 1843. It was a comfortable frame dwelling.

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