Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book
Stories of Early Nichols
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 106-107
Driving to Nichols from the west, a long curve in the black top road brings you to the top of the Bluffs. From that spot can be seen the town and the valley – the rich, river bottom land once known as Elephant Swamp.
North and south and east as far as the eye can see – flat black soil or green growing crops or brown fields at harvest time – except for man-made buildings and trees planted in town and around the farmsteads. Far to the east are the trees naturally found growing along the river and the streams – the Cedar River, Pike Run, Wapsi(nonoc) Creek. Does anyone know the Jordan (pronounced Jer-den) ran at the east side of town (between Ray Porter’sand Don Carter’s) where it appears to be a ditch and runs under Highway 22 through a culvert?
About a million and a half years ago, the earth’s climate began to cool. It cooled enough each year that the snow which fell in the winter didn’t get melted before the next snowfalls. The snow piled up until it was compressed into a sheet of ice as much as a mile thick. The ice sheets covered the North Pole and spread south as the thousands of years of cold weather kept more ice forming but not melting.
The weight of this huge pile of ice caused it to push toward the edges. As the glacier moved over the ground, it picked up sand, gravel and boulders which were frozen into the bottom layer. The entire mass acted like a giant sheet of sandpaper – it flattened the land, ground rocks into soil, leveled the hills, filled the valleys and dug out hollows that later became lakes.
Eventually the glacier moved down to our area. It moved about a mile in ten years, scholars tell us.
The first glacier was the one we now call the Nebraskan, and it went as far south as the Missouri River before the earth’s climate moderated and the warmth melted the southern edge faster than it was being pushed forward.
After thousands of years, the glacier melted and water from it flowed into streams making new patterns on the surface of the earth.
For the next approximately thirty thousand years, the climate was warm with plenty of vegetation feeding the animals of that day.
Again, the climate turned cold. A second glacier, the Kansan, covered all of Iowa except for a small area in the northeast part of the state. It lingered for about thirty thousand years before it retreated. Again, vegetation and animals returned for about fifty thousand years.
The third glacier has been named the Illinoian. The fourth and fifth glaciers were the Iowa and the Wisconsin. They didn’t move farther south than Des Moines, so they didn’t really affect our area except for making it cold.
Did you ever hear of Lake Calvin?
Geologists agree that it covered the site of Nichols in prehistoric times. It was a large lake – larger than any in the state now. Its eastern edge was a glacier, perhaps 1,000 feet high.
The glacier was the Illinoian. It started in northeast Canada and spread southwest across Wisconsin and Ilinois. The Mississippi River was in its path. The present sites of Davenport, Muscatine and Burlington were covered with ice. The glacier made a huge dam across the river.
The Mississippi was forced to go to the west of its channel. It backed up into the valley of the Maquoketa River, spilled over its banks and cut a channel to the Wapsipinicon River. Then it backed up that river until it spilled over the banks of that stream, cutting another channel to the Cedar River.
Meanwhile, the ice had blocked the mouth of the Iowa and Cedar Rivers farther south, and suddenly the water had no place to go.
The resulting lake grew higher and higher, hunting for an outlet. Eventually it spilled over the hills at present-day Columbus Junction and, following the edge of the ice, cut itself a new channel that joined the original Mississippi below Fort Madison.
This lake had a shoreline of about 450 miles and covered an area of about 325 square miles (208,000 acres) in Muscatine, Johnson, Cedar, Louisa and Scott counties. The lake extended along the ice edge for almost fifty miles. At its greatest extent, the level of the lake was approximately 720 feet above sea level.
Deep water covered the site of Nichols in the Cedar River valley. West Liberty would have been high and dry on a peninsula between the lake’s two arms.
The lake existed for hundreds of years. But then the climate changed, the Illinoian glacier retreated and Lake Calvin was doomed.
Over a period of several hundred years, the Mississippi cut its way through the glacial debris left in its old channel, and the Iowa and Cedar Rivers found their present, more direct way to the big river. The lake was drained.
No human ever saw its icy waters. Strange animals roamed its shores – the mammoth and mastodon and ground sloth. Huge beavers, as large as a calf, built their lodges in its marshes.
The lake was named for Professor Samuel Calvin, first director of the Iowa Geological Survey and head of the Geology department at The University of Iowa. He was the first to suspect the existence of the lake. Geologists who came after him, with greater knowledge and tools at their disposal, rounded out the theory until it became a fact. They named the lake for Dr. Calvin. The most detailed work was done by J. A. Udden and Walter H. Schoewe of The University of Iowa in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The receding Lake Calvin left swampy land. The 1879 History of Muscatine County, Iowa, states that the town of Nichols “is situated in the center of what was once known as Elephant Swamp.”
In Pike Township, located south and east of Nichols, is a remnant of the swamp, which is currently called a peat bog. Webster’s dictionary describes peat as “semicarbonized vegetable tissue formed by partial decomposition in water of various plants, especially mosses of the genus Sphagnum.” From this bog, peat moss is being taken and marketed as a product to add to soil to promote growth of plants, both potted and outdoors, by Ross McLaughlin.
Eventually, however, much of the water drained from out land, and plant life took over. Pioneers described traveling all day through grasses, occasionally as tall as a man on horseback. They were fascinated by the scene which many described as a “sea of grass.”
The tallgrass prairie once covered much of the Midwest, spreading over most of Iowa. Heavy rainfall produced the lush growth of the tall grasses: the many prairie ponds and potholes that resulted made early travel an ordeal.
The burr oak and white oak of the Wapsi flood plain have been here for more than 200 years. The burr oaks were the only plants that could tolerate the prairie fires and invade the prairie. They tolerated the scorching fires, trampling buffalos, spring flooding and fall drought. The rugged oaks endured all except that inevitable lightning bolt.
FROM TERRITORY TO STATE
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 117-118
When Louisiana was made a state in 1812, the remainder of the Louisiana Territory, including Iowa, was renamed the Missouri Territory. Then in 1821, when Missouri became a state, Iowa was left an orphan. It belonged officially to no named territory, had no legal government and remained so until 1834.
In 1830 the United States government acquired the Black Hawk Purchase, six million acres located in southeast Iowa, extending back forty to fifty miles from the Mississippi River. It was purchased from the Sac and Fox Indians for ten cents an acre.
In 1834 Iowa was added to the Territory of Michigan, which also included Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and Michigan Territory laws were applied.
Michigan became a state in 1836, and the remainder of the Michigan Territory became the Territory of Wisconsin. Land surveys began that year.
On 4 July 1838, the Territory of Iowa was created, including all of present Iowa plus Minnesota. Land sales began in the Territory of Iowa. Robert Lucas was the first governor of Iowa Territory. Burlington was the territorial capitol until 1841, when it was moved to Iowa City.
Iowa became a state with its present boundaries on 28 December 1846. Ansel Briggs was governor. The capitol remained at Iowa City until 1857, when it was moved to Des Moines.
When the land in Iowa Territory was offered for sale, the government offered the sic million acres to citizens at $1.25 per acre. This purchase price had to be paid in hard money, which was difficult to come by at that time. The Land Offices were at Dubuque and Burlington. When the government announced the actual sale, our pioneers had to go there to purchase the land they had selected and on which they had already settled their families.
Wapsinonoc Township was one of the first townships to be organized when Muscatine County became a county, officially 7 January 1842. It consisted of all of the county which was located west of the Cedar River. Pike Township was separated from Wapsi in October of 1853, and Orono Township was organized and separated from Pike on 8 March 1858.
HOW CLAIMS WERE MADE
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 117
Claims were made by the early settlers in Iowa as a means of settling the public domain before it was surveyed by the government.
Claim making was done by mutual respect and adherence to regulations made in the neighborhood. It served as general protection for the home of the settlers until the land came into the market. This became so general and so accepted by the settlers that it was dishonorable and extremely hazardous for a speculator or stranger to bid on a claim.
It was clearly understood that improvements constituted a claim, and when the settler conformed to the “laws” of his neighborhood or township, it was just as much respected as if the occupant had the government patent for it.
For example: An immigrant came into the country to settle. He looked from county to county for a location that pleased him. After finding his place, he started to make an improvement.
To break five acres of ground would hold his claim for six months. If he built a cabin eight logs high with a roof, he held it for six months longer. Then he staked out his half section of land, which was a full claim. He usually chose one quarter section of timber and one quarter section of prairie land.
It was understood among the settlers that when the lands came to be surveyed, all inequalities would be righted. Thus, if a surveyed line should happen to run between adjoining claims and cut a piece from one, the fraction would be added to whichever lot required equalizing. Without robbing the one from which it was taken, an equal amount would be added to it in another place.
If the settler chose to sell his claim, he was at perfect liberty to do so, and the purchaser succeeded to all the rights and immunities of the first settler.
FIRST SETTLERS IN PIKE TOWNSHIP
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 113-115
The Wapsinonoc, an Indian name meaning “white creek or stream,” is not a major stream during most of the year. But it was of great importance to the early settlers, for it was bordered on either side by a belt of timber, varying from a few rods to a mile in breadth. Timber was of prime importance to the settlers, as it was their only resource for material for buildings, fences and fuel.
The Wapsinonoc has its source in the high lands dividing the Cedar and Iowa rivers. The main stream has a length of about fifteen miles as the crow flies, but as it winds and doubles on itself, it has a channel length of perhaps two or three times that distance. It is fed along its entire course by sloughs and swamps and rarely by springs. Flowing through a comparatively level country, it is sluggish in its movements, and has worn a deep channel in the soil. Its banks are precipitous and its bed miry.
It was along this belt of timber that the first settlements were made, and it determined their extent for many years.
There is no record showing exactly when the first white men and women came to Pike township.
The 1879 History of Muscatine County states that in the fall of 1838, Samuel Nichols and H. H. Winchester came from Ohio to what is now Pike township and bought a claim of a party named Carother.
This Carother, with his family of nine persons, was undoubtedly the first settler in Pike township. He built the first log cabin, which stood in 1879 about two and a half miles east of Nichols.
Samuel Nichols and H. H. Winchster entered a half section of their claim, which was located in the Dubuque District. This land came into the market in 1838. Then they returned to Ohio.
The following spring, 1839, Gamaliel Olds, Dr. B. S. Olds and H. H. Winchester and their families emigrated from Ohio to this point, coming by boat and arriving at Bloomington in Muscatine County on 3 June 1839. Samuel Nichols came alone on horseback. His wife died in January of that year, leaving him with five young children.
Gamaliel Olds bought a claim from John M. Kidder and built a log cabin on it. He moved his family into it in July, even though it had no floor and was only partially roofed.
Dr. B. S. Olds went to Bloomington (now Muscatine) after a year’s stay here. He practiced medicine there until 1849, when he left for California. He died in Washington Territory in 1865, while he was a surgeon in the service of the United States.
Gamaliel Olds stated that when he arrived in Pike township, there were only four families living here: two called Carother, one Adams and one Kidder.
The 1840 federal census of the Territory of Iowa shows seven families in the area we call Pike township: Asa Adams, Gamaliel Olds, Hubbard Winchester, Jeremiah Allen, Samuel Nichols, Mary Carothers and John Carothers. These families gave us a total population of 41 – 24 men and boys, 17 women and girls.
A few years later the population had increased. President Walton of the Muscatine County Old Settlers Association made a talk in Pike Township on 21 August 1891. He described the neighborhood in 1849 as being about ten miles north and south on both the east and west sides of Wapsinonoc Creek.
On the east side of the creek were the Frank boys, Major Reamer, Elias Adams, Abner Coble, William Saunders and the Carothers. West of the creek were Samuel Nichols, John Rick, John Criffield, Gamaliel Olds and the Wesson boys. Down the prairie to the south were the Watkins, the Stretches, the Younkins and the Brockways.
Another list of early settlers in 1848 show the following families here: Purington family, John Ridder Adams, Andrew Stretch, William Watkins, Winchester Coble, Thomas Newton, David Mills and John Criffield.
In the Muscatine Weekly Journal of 28 February 1879 we find a short article written by D. Purington which is titled Early Settlement and Early Settlers of Pike Township.
“Elias Adams is the earliest settler now resident. Gamaliel Olds is the next. Ben. F. Nichols is the third. J. A. Purington is the fourth. Then came John Wesson, David Purington and J. G. Watkins. I don’t know whether the Cristopher (Christofferson) boys are to be considered pioneers or settlers. They raised corn and built a fodder house and lived in it.
“The Carothers were the earliest permanent settlers. Robert built the first cabin on the Jesse Purinton place. Polly (Mrs. Gatton) kept house and was six months without seeing a white woman. The first hewed log house is now on Fred. Hechtner’s place and was the Carothers home.
“The first corn raised sold high. John Critchfield kept it and sold it for 15. At one time they had to pay $8 a bushel for seed or do without. The hardest thing was the want of ills. This want was soon in a measure supplied. But years after, I once made a five days’ trip to mill. It turned cold and I should have frozen going home but for an ample envelope of buffalo robes.”
The legal descriptions of some of the first settlers of the Pike township area1. Gamaliel Olds
were found in Lemuel O. Mosher’s “Log Cabin History.”
SW ¼ Sec 24 T 77 R 4 W [This is read as south west quarter of section 24 township 77 range 4 west]
2. E. Stucker
SW ¼ Sec 26 T 77 R 4 W
3. John Crechfield
SW ¼ Sec 14 T 77 R 4 W
4. H. Winchester
S ½ NE ½ Sec 26 T 77 R 4 W
5. Robert Carothers
SE ¼ Sec 13 T 77 R 4 W
6. F. B. Hubbard
NW ¼ Sec 23 T 77 R 4 W
7. Joseph Wesson
N ½ Sec 24 T 77 R 4 W
8. Jesse Purinton
NW ¼ Sec 11 T 77 R 4 W
9. Indian Town
Sec 23 & 24 T 78 R 4 W
Where Did They Come From?
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 113-115
According to the 1850 federal census of Pike township, Muscatine county, Iowa, there were 266 people living in Pike township. Of this number, 148 were men and boys; 118 were women and girls. They came from 19 states and countries; 25 were born in Iowa, twelve female and thirteen male. All of these were between the ages of newborn and nine years old.
This chart shows where the citizens of Pike township in 1850 came from.
Place of Birth Male Female Total Iowa 13 12 25 Ohio 34 29 63 Pennsylvania 30 18 48 Virginia 24 16 40 New York 13 11 24 Indiana 5 8 13 England 5 8 13 Illinois 4 6 10 Michigan 4 3 7 North Carolina 3 1 4 New Hampshire 2 1 3 Maryland 2 1 3 Missouri 2 0 2 Kentucky 1 1 2 Tennessee 0 2 2 New Jersey 1 1 2 Vermont 1 0 2 Connecticut 1 0 1 Scotland 1 0 1 Ireland 1 0 1 Total 148 118 226
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 141
Alberta Metcalf Kelly
The nationalities of our area seem to be a combination of English, German, Dutch, Irish and a few Bohemians, with English having the edge. The Svobodas (the harness maker) and Irene Graham were the Bohemians – all from Cedar Rapids. The Grahams were the last people to live on the second floor of the old depot. The one black resident was the man who came with William Van Tyl in 1867 from Virginia.
DESCRIPTION IN 1838
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 120
Granville Stuart describes the move made by his parents in 1838 to the Iowa Territory when they “took up a claim west of the river, on a stream called ‘Wapsonohock’ which means crooked creek in the Musquawkee Indian language. The name, as is usual among Indians, exactly describes that miserable muddy little creek, which could not have been more crooked.”
Stuart says, further, “The bottom land, along this and other small creeks, was covered with timber of good size; consisting of walnut, elm, linden, hackberry, oak, hard maple (the blessed sugar tree), butternut, hickory and some other kinds. These strips of timber land, however, were narrow, from a quarter to a half mile wide, while all the rest of the country was treeless, but covered with good grass and many wild flowers. The distances between steams were great, often being from ten to twenty miles. After the grass became dry in the autumn, fires of great extent, driven by high winds, became a source of great danger and serious loss to the settler, who for this reason usually built his cabin on the edge of the woods where the fire could be more easily checked.”
Over thousands of years the prairie had produced the richest soils in the world, but at first the settlers staying the more familiar woods along the rivers.
Soon the plow began turning the sod. Once turned by a plow, a prairie is gone. Now the prairie has been converted into high-yielding fields of corn and beans.
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