Source: REGISTER OF OLD SETTLERS , BOOK One, page 444 - 445
submitted by Vicki Broughton, December 17, 2007


There passed away from earthly scenes, on Monday, Jan. 11, 1897, in Drury township, Ills., about eight miles southeast of Muscatine, in the ninetieth year of his age, a man who was for some years preceding his death the oldest living pioneer of Muscatine county. We refer to the HON. ERR THORNTON. Mrs. L.L. Patterson, of this city, has been for some years the oldest resident pioneer of the county. Mr. Thornton came to the county in July, 1834, and she (a little girl at the time) with the family of her father, Ben. Nye, in November, 1834. Mr. Thornton, therefore, preceded Mrs. Patterson just four months.

Err. Thornton, the subject of this sketch, was born in Northumberland county, Pa., July 22, 1807. In early life he moved to Wayne county, O., and thence to Tippecanoe county, Indiana. He was on the town plat of Lafayette, Ind., before a tree had been cut from it. He lived in White county Indiana, in 1823. On the 10th of May, 1834, he arrived at the prairie near New Bsoton (sic), Ill., and on the 4th of July following crossed the river at that place into Iowa. With his brothers, Lot and Levi, long since deceased, he made a claim under the bluff about nine miles below what is now known as Muscatine. He was a resident of this side of the river over forty years and resided in Illinois the past twenty-two years -- so he was nearly sixty-three years a citizen in this region, being 27 years of age when he came here.

Mr. Thornton was one of the first Justices of the Peace in Muscatine (then written Musquitine) county. The Justices in those days were appointed by the Governor. Mr. Thornton's appointment was made about the close of 1836 or beginning of 1837, when John G. Coleman and Silas S. Lathrop were also appointed with coequal powers in the county.

The first public land sales in the Territory took place in November, 1838, at Burlington. By the laws of Congress counties had the privilege of taking a quarter section of land on which to locate the county seat. Muscatine county by her commissioners, John Vanatta, Aaron Usher and Err Thornton, selected the quarter on which the Court House now stands, lying nearly in the centre of the city of Muscatine. There were probably fifty buildings and some two hundred people then living upon that part of the town plat included in the county quarter. The county commissioners decided to raise $13,000 from the residents and lot owners and accordingly made an equitable valuation of all the lots in the quarter. For the other parts of the town, trustees were appointed to purchase the land at the land sale, who severally gave bonds in large amounts to deed the lots to the rightful owners, as should be determined by the claim committee or arbitration. The parties appointed were Chas. A. Warfield for the east part, Suel Foster for the fractional quarter south of the county quarter, and Wm. St. John for all the balance in the north and west part of the town.

The county commissioners gave a power of attorney to Adam Ogilvie to make deeds to the lots in that quarter and to these parties must be traced the titles to all lots except to those on the Island in South Muscatine. The money raised by sale of lots in the commissioners' quarter was used in the construction of the Court House, the main part of which still stands. Wm. Brownell as the builder.

Early in the summer of 1895, the editor of the JOURNAL, in company with J.P. Walton, president of the old settlers society, visited Mr. Thornton, who was then making his home with his son, W.W. Thornton, where he remained till his death. The venerable pioneer was then in poor health, having suffered a stroke of paralysis on the 1st of September, 1893. Though quite feeble he was able to talk and seemed ready to tell of pioneer times. The JOURNAL's report of that interview was as follows:

    Mr. Thornton's recollection of the Indians is pleasant. He had much to do with them, and he says, as a rule, they showed more hospitality than some of the early settlers. He once, in company with his brother, started on an Indian trail on High Prairie to go to the Nye settlement at the mouth of Pine. At the present site of Muscatine Col. Davenport kept a trading house. There were a number of Indians here then. One young Indian ran after him and his brother and made signs which he did not then understand but found out afterward he meant to put them across Mad creek in a canoe. The creek was high and they went some miles up the stream before they could cross it, and then did so by cutting down poles on which to cross. After much wandering and perplexity they reached the Nye settlement. Ben. Nye and his brother then had fifteen yoke of oxen and two other white men there had five yoke each.

    One night he and his brother were camping out when a drenching storm came up and next morning they had to use a steel and punk to start a fire.

    In these early days he saw thirty deer at one time on High Prairie. There were also plenty of wild turkeys in the country.

    Err Thornton represented Muscatine county in the Legislature which met in Iowa City, December 5, 1842, and closed its session, February 17, 1843. He well remembers the trip home. With Ralph P. Lowe and a gentleman from Davenport, making three passengers, he started in the morning with Aleck McClary as driver of the hack. When they reached the Cedar river in the afternoon, the ferry was running part of the way through the ice. Their hack broke through the ice. The horses had to be unhitched and the vehicle drawn out by hand. The weather had turned suddenly cold and McClary and his passengers, with wet clothes, ran along the road with the team to keep from freezing. They intended to stop at James Tebow's tavern, four miles from Bloomington, (now Muscatine,) but when there concluded to push on, getting to Capt. Jim Palmer's hotel by supper time. Mr. Thornton got a dry suit and that evening rode on horseback to his home, nine miles under the bluff.

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    It would scarcely be possible for transcribe on paper all that Mr. Thornton told us in this inverview. He said he dug the first grave of a white man on Muscatine Island. It was on the Sand Ridge. He could not tell the exact year, but he remembers he came to Muscatine (then Bloomington) and obtained the coffin of Aaron Usher, which was taken in a skiff down the river to the Sand Mound.

    Mr. Thornton did not fully recover from the paralytic stroke received more than three years ago though able to sit up and walk about the house most of the time. His last and fatal attack was erysipelas, which, added to the infirmitites of age, caused his death, as above stated, at the ripe age of 89 years, 5 months and 20 days.

    The cut printed in the foregoing sketch was made form a Kodak picture taken of Mr. Thornton on the 15th of June, 1895. It represents correctly the general outlines of his features at that time. There is a suggestion of pain in his countenance, and now wonder when we consider that he had been a great sufferer for nearly two years. Ordinarily his face had a mild and benignant expression. When he stood erect he was six feet and 2 ˝ inches in height. His weight was about 170 pounds; so it will be seen that he was tall and slim in stature.

    Three sons arrive, they being William W., Am., and Edward Thornton. The funeral took place this afternoon, at 2 o’clock, with interment in the Reynolds (Ills.) cemetery.

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