Pike Township Family Stories

Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 193
By Charlene Nichols Hixon

         Samuel Nichols, Jr., was born 29 May 1794, in Fauquier county, Virginia, a son of Samuel Nichols, Sr. and Elizabeth “Betsy” Nichols. He served in the War of 1812 as a private in Ferguson’s Ohio Militia, Capt. James Wallace’s Company, 2nd Regiment, from 28 July to 7 September 1813.
         After the war, Samuel and his brother, Reuben Nichols, kept a general store in Chillicothe, Ohio, for some time. When they decided to go west, they sold their store, planning to use the money to buy land in Iowa Territory.
         In 1838, Samuel Nichols Jr. and H. H. Winchester came to Pike township on horseback on a prospecting trip to select a site for a farm. He chose to come to Iowa on the advice of an old friend, Robert Lucas, who was the first governor of the Territory of Iowa. It was customary for the head of a family to inspect a possible site for the future home before the rest of the family members came into the wilderness.
         On that trip Samuel bought the claim to part of Section 14 in Pike township from members of the Carothers family, who were the first white settlers in the area. Actually, he purchased the privilege of living on the land, as he still had to buy the land from the government at $1.12 ½ per acre, the going price.
         When the first settlers arrived in Pike township, travel was restricted to horseback, teams with wagons or boat. There were no banks nor means of exchange, so the traveler had to carry his money and take his own risks. The risks were great, for this part of the west was infested with gangs of men whose scruples were none too good.
         Samuel registered his claim and returned to Ohio. That winter (5 January 1839) his wife, Mary Rodgers Nichols, died in Fayette county, Ohio, leaving him with five children ranging in age from infancy to 14 years. Another daughter, Martha Jane, had died in Ohio in 134, aged 2 years.
         Mary Rodgers was born in 1806, a daughter of Benjamin Rodgers and Elizabeth Jackson Rodgers. The fathers of both Benjamin and Elizabeth (Hamilton Rodgers and Peter Jackson) were veterans of the Revolutionary War.
         By the time of the 1840 census, Samuel and his oldest son, Benjamin Nichols, were living in Pike township. The other children were staying with his brother and sisters, who were already in Iowa. The log cabin was built on the banks of the Wapsinonoc, where the Nichols cemetery is now located.
         Samuel married again in 1842. His second wife was Nancy Ann Stephen Searles, the widow of Dr. Searles, who lived in Wapello. Samuel brought his family back together, and Nancy raised the Nichols children as a loving stepmother. Nancy retained her first husband’s medical bag, and she doctored her own family and the entire community for some time.
         About this time Samuel Nichols was granted a land warrant for his services in the War of 1812, and he located this in Pike township.
         The Nichols log cabin was known as the “Halfway House” for travelers from the settlements along the Iowa river. These settlers went to and from their homes to Muscatine to sell their produce and to purchase goods they could not raise. This valley was then known as the Elephant Swamp. It could be crossed only in the dry part of the year and when it was frozen.
         Settlers would drive great droves of hogs from as far as Richmond and Washington to Muscatine, and it would take from two to three days to make the trip. There were as many as 500 hogs in one drove at times. Several teams with wagons were needed to accompany the drove to haul the hogs which gave out. Twelve to fifteen people were required to handle that many animals, and they stopped at the Nichols home. As there were five rooms in the house, with a loft over two of them, on such occasions there was no extra space. At that time there was not a house between the Nichols cabin and the Iowa river, and the Lone Tree was a conspicuous landmark.
         In 1869, the south part of the brick house on the old homestead was built. They moved into that fall, and the main part of the house was built the next summer. Nancy Nichols died before the house was completed, but Samuel lived there for about a year before his death. This is the house in which Chris Meacham lives, the large brick house across the road from the cemetery. A picture of Samuel hangs over the fireplace there. Chris is a great great great grandson of Samuel Nichols.
         The Nichols Courier dated Friday, 20 April 1917, in a column titled “A Peek at the Past,” states: “Mr. Nichols was a man of generous impulses and never forgot the hospitable ways of the pioneer. The stranger, though a beggar, never failed to find food and shelter if he sought it at his hands. He was a man who united sound sense with strong convictions, and a candid, outspoken temper, eminently fitted to mould the rude elements of pioneer society into form and consistency, and aid in raising a high standard of citizenship in our young and growing state. How much this community owes him, and such as him, is impossible to estimate.”
         Samuel and Mary’s children were Benjamin Franklin Nichols, Elizabeth Nichols, Margaret Nichols, Townsend Nichols and Mary Nichols. In 1848, John Nicola, an orphan boy about eight years old, was brought into the family. Elizabeth married Hosea Johns; Margaret married John Swickard; Mary married Judson Brockway, and John Nicola married Isabelle Nichols, a daughter of Reuben Nichols who was Samuel’s brother.

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