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SETTLEMENT of RINGGOLD COUNTY

Ringgold County.jpg In the mid-1840's, several Missouri families came north into what they believed to be the northern part of the State. Charles H. SCHOOLER and his family left Ohio in 1840 and settled in Missouri in 1840. He moved his family north in August of 1845, settling in what he believed to be Missouri. However, the SCHOOLERS had actually crossed the Iowa-Missouri border, settling in what would later become Lotts Creek Township of Ringgold County. They were the first white settlers of Ringgold County.

Ringgold County was established in 1847, named after Major Samuel RINGGOLD, a hero of the Mexican War. Ringgold County was attached to Pottawattamie County for civil jurisdiction, remaining as such for the next four years.

James M. TETHEROW, also believing he was still in the State of Missouri, laid claim to land near the SCHOOLER homestead in 1848. Charles K. GRIMES, who would later found the town of Eugene, arrived in May of 1858, settling in what would later become Tingley Township. The latchstring of the GRIMES home was always out as the family sheltered other settlers until they had built their own homes. Those of the Sac and Fox and Pottawattamie Nations were also welcomed at the GRIMES hearth as they passed through the vicinity.

During this time, the area of Ringgold County was a portion of land under dispute between Iowa and Missouri in what would later become known as The Honey War. This dispute was resolved by the United States Supreme Court in 1849, deeming that this section of land was indeed Iowa land.

The following year in 1850, a small group of settlers formed a version of a caucus and determined that a tract of land owned by Jesse THOMPSON would be a perfect site for a prospective county seat. (This tract of land is located four miles south and east of the present location of Mount Ayr.) Although they thought the name "Avon" would be ideal, the settlers evidently didn't take any further action. Consequently, Ringgold County was attached to neighboring Decatur County in 1851. John ELLIS and Reason WILKINSON were appointed by the Iowa General Assembly as commissioners with the purpose of locating a seat for Ringgold County. ELLIS and WILKINSON selected a spot four miles south of the center of the county and determined that "Urbana" would be established there. They marked the spot with a stake. However, Ringgold County would not be surveyed until 1854. Since ELLIS and WILKINSON could not rely upon an accurate description, no one could find the stake. It had vanished, reclaimed by the southern Iowa prairie.

In 1852, Judge John LOWE of Taylor County ordered that Ringgold County be made into an election precinct of Taylor County, dubbed Schooler Township of Taylor County. Charles SCHOOLER, Abner SMITH, and Jesse HARPER were appointed as election judges. An election was held at Lott HOBB's residence on Lotts Creek in the southern portion of the county. Charles SCHOOLER was elected as justice of the peace; Lott HOBBS as county constable and supervisor of the roads; and Littleton P. ALLEN as commissioner to locate and establish a road from the Missouri-Iowa state line north across the county.

Littleton ALLEN, a native of Buncombe County, North Carolina, had arrived in Lotts Creek Township during the Spring of 1852, bringing with him his two slaves, a boy of about the age of 16 and a girl about 14. It has been said that Littleton thought he was settling in Missouri, a slave-holding state. Public disapproval forced him to sell the slaves around the year 1853 to a man from St. Joseph, Missouri, for $1,000. Squire Milton S. TRULLINGER, who lived approximately five miles from the ALLEN farm, was probably one who raised a protest over the ALLEN slaves. TRULLINGER actively assisted fugitive slaves as they fled towards freedom in Canada. TRULLINGER's farm was one of the underground railroad stations and noted for the flock of pea fowl. Renown for their shrill calls when their territory has been "invaded," perhaps the pea fowl acted as an alarm when fugitves and/or authorities arrived on the TRULLINGER farm.

Charles Keeling GRIMES, residing in the northern portion of Tingley Township, also assisted fugitive slaves. According to legend, GRIMES had as many as six run-aways hiding in the corn shocks, waiting until they could proceed on to the next station, believed to be locted in Hopeville, Clarke County, Iowa.

In 1853, Dr. Alexander McCARTNEY laid claim to a homestead located three miles southwest of present-day Mount Ayr. Since the early settlers had little money, Dr. McCARTNEY supplemented his medical practice by farming. The Robert RILEY family arrived in Athens Township in the Fall of 1853.

Settlement into Ringgold County was somewhat sluggish. Then, in August of 1854, the United States land office put Iowa land on the market out of the Chariton, Iowa, office. Luke SHAY, the first Irish settler to Ringgold County, built a cabin near what would later become Jefferson, now a ghost town. SHAY sold his land in 1864 and moved to a farmstead near present-day Maloy.

The site of Ringgold City, also a ghost town today, became one of the oldest settlements in Ringgold County. The pioneers established a post office and trading post for those passing through.

Nine families came to Ringgold County in the Spring of 1854: the WILSONS, Henry T. MILLER and family, The LITTLTON family, the ALLEN family, the BARBER family, James TETHEROW and family, and the James COFER family. They camped temporarily in Schooler's Grove until they could erect their own cabins. Among those families was James C. HAGANS and his family from Illinois. Years later his daughter Mrs. Clara (HAGANS) HARVEY wrote, "The last three days of our trip we never saw a house nor a living thing. The only sign of anyone ever crossing the beautiful prairie with its luxurious growth of grass and beautiful wild flowers was the Dragoon Trace and that ws quite plain to bee seen. A deep cut wagon road, a very plain path where the drivers walked to guide and guard their teams."

By the time the HAGANS family had arrived to Ringgold County, there were already three gravesites at Schooler's Grove which included that of Mrs. SCHOOLER and one of the SCHOOLER children.

Soon the Randolph SRY and the Thomas HUGHES families came to Ringgold County. As 1854 drew to a close, approximately 42 families had settled throughout Ringgold County which included the James DADY family, the Saray Case PATTERSON family, and the Leonard O. IMUS family. Many of these families stayed and helped form the land from an unsettled wilderness into a thriving communities and farmsteads.

While headed west with his family in June of 1854, Horatio M. IMUS drowned when driving his wagon across a flooded stream in Marion County, Iowa. His wife continued on west with her nine children, settling on the Ringgold County tract of land Horatio had purchased for them. With the help of her sons, she built a 12-foot square pole cabin. Later, with the assistance of her neighbors, Mrs. IMUS erected a larger log home.

Mrs. IMUS always welcomed in travelers passing by her cabin door. Many of the Pottawattamie Nation traveling from Kansas to hunt and fish along their ancestral grounds of the Grand and Platte Rivers often stopped at the IMUS cabin. Leonard O. IMUS reflected later that the Pottawattamies were "the only associates of the family at first." The IMUS children were often the playmate of the young Pottawattame passing through.

In his reminiscences, published July 1, 1904 in The Mount Ayr Twice-A-Week News, Leonard stated that at one time a team of the IMUS' horses had strayed from the farm. Mrs. IMUS promised an Indian a dollor if he could find and return the team. Two days later he returned to the IMUS farm leading the team. He explained that he had found the team in a Union County barn, the farmer taking in the stray horses. The farmer refused to give the team over to the Indian so he hid in the woods until after dark and "stole" them back for Mrs. IMUS.

On another occasion, Mrs. IMUS and her sons were returning from a trip to Union County for supplies. Packed among the supplies in the wagon was a jug of whiskey, believed at the time to be a cure for snakebite. They were stopped along the trail by an Indian who insisted upon having a tast of the whiskey. Mrs. IMUS refused at first. With him growing more insistant, she finally gave in when he promised to not drink enough to become intoxicated. As the family proceeded, another Indian appeared and stopped them. He too demanded a drink from the jug. After he took a swig from the jug, Mrs. IMUS instructed her sons, "Drive as fast as you can, boys! The Indians all know we have this whiskey!" The IMUS boys whipped the team into a gallop as the wagon bounced across the prairie. Upon arriving home, the IMUS family discovered that at third Indian was awaiting their return and his swig from the jug of whiskey.

Thomas CANNY, the second Irish settler in Ringgold County, arriving in 1854, employed many Indians who received sorghum and meat in payment for their labors. At first, Thomas weighed out the meat but the Indians refused to recognize this method. Mrs. CANNY resorted to cutting up the meat into chunks, which the Indians accepted, stating, "So big meat for the day."

Chief Che-me-use, also known by the settlers as Johnny GREEN, decided that he would purchase some government land in Ringgold County. Assisted by a white settler, he entered his claim on April 29, 1854. Not realizing that Johnny GREEN was an Indian, the United States government, on Mary 25, 1885, granted his land patent for 80 acres located in Section 32 of township 70, range 30 near Knowlton. Unaware of things such as taxes, Johnny GREEN left on an extended hunting trip in Marshall County, Iowa. Upon his return three years later, he discovered that his land had been sold to Henry KELLER for $3.62, the unpaid taxes. Unsure what to do about the situation, Johnny GREEN left Ringgold County and never returned. He settled in Marshall County, establishing a deep and life-long friendship with white pioneers there. He is credited with turning back a war party of Sioux descending upon the fledgling village of Marshalltown. Johnny GREEN died in 1868 and was interred at Albion, a few miles northwest of Marshalltown. In 1918, the Historical Society of Marshall County erected a monument to him, located on a high bluff overlooking the Iowa River. This monument is near the Iowa Soldier's Home.

During the latter part of August, 1855, two brothers-in-law, remembered to history only as HALE and DRIGGS, [David Hale and Absalom DRIGGS according to Mrs. B. M. LESAN'S list of early Ringgold County pioneers] settled with their families near the Union County line. Then men went out one morning to hunt along the banks of the Grand River. Around about noon, HALE burst through a neighbor's cabin door, proclaiming that DRIGGS had been killed by Indians and that he himself had barely escaped the attack with his life. Calling upon the assistance of a company of militia out of Chariton, the settlers surrounded a camp of Indians located on Twelve Mile Creek in Pleasant Township of Union County. The Indians surrendered and stacked their guns. Later, upon recovering the ball from DRIGGS' body, it was determined that it could not have been fired from any of the Indians' guns. It did, however, seem to be compatible with what might have been fired from HALE's gun.

Wanwoxen, an elderly Indian, noted in broken English that DRIGGS had been shot at close range, pointing out that the area around the hole in DRIGGS' shirt was burnt and blacked by gunpowder. Wanwoxen declared, "Indian never shoot when he can strike!" Then, throwing off his blanket, he said, "Indian no shoot DRIGGS. Shoot Indian if you want to."

All eyes turned back to HALE who was questioned once again. HALE admitted that he had heard the shot and seen DRIGGS fall, but he had not seen any Indians. The guns were restored to the Indians and they were free to go. However, with the pioneers growing uneasy, the Indians were forced to go back to the reservation in Kansas. They exonerated the Indians which was later acknowledged by the Order of Red Man in 1908 with the tribe re-named Wanwoxan Tribe No. 133 in honor of their wise elder who understood forensics over a half a century before white men.

During 1854, more settlers came to Ringgold County: the Judson GRIFFITH family, the SOMER and SWIGART families to near Caledonia; and, the William J. MERRIT family whose home later became a stagecoach stop known as Cross in 1855. Cross was also known as the "Halfway House" because it was located halfway between Nebraska City and Ottumwa.

In January of 1855, the Iowa State Legislature appointed commissioners to locate a site for Ringgold County's seat. Those who served as commissioners were George W. JONES, Robert W. STAFFORD, and George A. HAWLEY. They were directed to locate a site as close to the geographical center of the county as what would be reasonable. The commission's report, made to the Decatur County judge on April 18, 1855, selected a site and called it Mount Ayr. "Mount" because the site was located on the highest land between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in the southern tier of counties; and "Ayr" to honor the poet Robert BURNS who was born at Ayr, Scotland. John S. SHELLER of Lucas County, who owned the land, promised to convey to Ringgold County one-half of the quarter section and have it surveyed into town lots. This was the first deed recorded in Ringgold County.

Decades later the town of Diagonal, proclaiming that it was the true geographical center of Ringgold County, asserted that it should be made the county seat. Two times Diagonal made this claim and both times these claims were pretty much ignored.

Barton B. DUNNING arrived in Ringgold County shortly after the site of Mount Ayr had been selected by the commissioners. He was the first resident of Mount Ayr, building a one-story cabin before returning for his family. DUNNING established the first store in Mount Ayr and later became the town's first postmaster. His son Charles was the first white child born in Mount Ayr.

William N. McEFEE was appointed sheriff. He set up an election on May 14, 1856 to elect temporary officers. Thirty-four voters selected James C. HAGANS as county judge, Matthew K. BROWN as county clerk, James W. COFER as treasurer and recorder, Hiron IMUS as sherrif, and Charles W. SCHOOLER as the school fund commissioner.

Taking office, one of Judge HAGANS' first assignments was to settle Ringgold County's accounts with Judge John LOWE of Taylor County. Meanwhile, Charles W. SCHOOLER collected $19.96. After all outstanding warrants were paid, Ringgold County had $1.45 in total assets.

During their first meeting held at Ephriam COFER's cabin, the temporary officers divided the county into four townships, which were Sand Creek, Platte, West Fork, and Lotts Creek. Once this was accomplished, the first regular election was held to elect the permanent county officers. In August 91 voters re-elected HAGANS, BROWN, and COFER. Peter DOZE was elected sheriff and Wendall POOR as the school fund commissioner.

Since there were no public buidlings in Mount Ayr, the officers met at Ephriam COFER's cabin until September 4, 1855. Afterwards, they assembled in the kitchen at Barton B. DUNNING's home.

The first session of the Ringgold County court was to attend to the estate of Horatio M. IMUS who had drowned enroute to Ringgold County. His estate, $2,471.79, was probated and George W. LESAN was appointed as guardian for the minor IMUS children.

In 1855, nearly 100 families arrived in Ringgold County with several villages being established over the countryside. Stanford HARROW staked out Ringgold City located near the Missouri border. Peter WALTERS established Cadelonia, named for Sir Walter SCOTT's Lady of the Lake Caledon.James DRAKE built a cabin near the future site of Blackmore Corner, later known as Blackmore. Dr. John T. MERRILL came to Ringgold County with his bride. Dr. MERRILL later moved to Mount Ayr around the year 1866 and by 1880 had established a bank and a drug store for the community. E. L. SOLES and his son-in-law John TAYLOR set up a whipsaw and harvested the first lumber in Mount Ayr. A carpenter by trade, SOLES was kept very busy. He made the first ballot boxes used in the county's elections. SOLES also taught vocal music in his spare time.

By July of 1856, Ringgold County had a population of 1,472 and, of that, 322 voters.

Sources:

Ringgold County History Complied and written by the Iowa Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Iowa, Sponsored by Ringgold County Superintendent of Schools, Mount Ayr, Iowa. 1942.

Written & Submitted by Sharon R. Becker, 2007

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