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MIDDLE FORK TOWNSHIP

Ringgold County, Iowa

  Middle Fork township. . .typifies the spread of the Christian Faith in rural areas better perhaps than any other comparable township in the State of Iowa. It is, we think, the only strictly rural township in the state that still has three active rural churches. It futhermore contains only an area of 28 sections. Its history of schoolhouse churches, religious classes, camp meetings and building and maintaining of churches makes it unique in southern Iowa history. It is probable that there was religious faith among the people who lived on the low hills and fertile valleys of this area before the coming of the white man.

Herburt SOVEREIGN, president of the Ringgold County Archeological Society, reports that several Indian village sites have been located and numerous artifacts found in the area. Modern experience with our environment gives us new respect for these primitive people and their religion that saw themselves as a part of nature living in harmony with their surroundings.

However, our concern today is with our forefathers and their efforts to provide a Christian religious community for themselves, their families and their neighbors. Mrs. B. M. LESAN states in her "Early History of Ringgold County" that the first religious service in the county was conducted by an "Iron Jacket" Baptist minister from Denver, Missouri, at the cabin of Henry MILLER. This is complicated by the fact that there seems to have been no one by that name living in the county at the time. The first church building in the county was the Mt. Zion in Jefferson township in 1858 - not to be confused with the Mt. Zion erected later in Riley township.

The first concern of the early settlers was a home to live in. The second concern was a school to educate their children. The homes and schools became the communities' first worship centers. Religious classes and Sunday schools were very soon a part of the pioneer life of the area. They gave lip service to the idea of separation of church and state but felt it applied to other people and other faiths rather than their own, anyway, almost any religious group could used a school house or a court room for religious purposes providing they got there first and could get anyone to listen to them.

School house church services seem to have been conducted in the following schools: Hickory Grove No. 7 (both old and new schools); Rose Hill (both old and new schools); Old Clipper No. 9, and the old Marshall school west of the creek in section 11.

The school house churches and classes continued to grow and flourish, encouraged by home-grown preachers, traveling circuit riders and evangelists.

Another phenomenon of the time was the Sunday school convention - an early ecumenical effort that saw delegates from all faiths gather together to give progams and demonstrations of various types of religious education and training. Outside speakers were brought in. The background of many legal, social and business practices were examined as well as new and improved methods of teaching and learning. Many of the programs for these conventions showed a high degree of ability and versatility and the participants returned to their respective religious groups with new ideas and increased enthusiasm.

Times were hard, money scarce and the work was difficult and demanding. The specter of disease and death was never far away. The people felt the need of divine help as they struggled with their environment. Furthermore - religion was also diversion and even entertaining. The church was also the center of the social life of the community. Here these hardy pioneers shared their hopes and dreams, their joys and sorrows and it was here they found fulfillment of their lives.

During the summers from 1870 until 1910, Middle Fork township had camp meetings - dozens of them, first in groves with sometimes a brush arbor for additional shade.

By 1880 tents were in common use. Some people would come for a long distance and "camp out" for the duration of the meeting. Others travelled back and forth to their homes. A good pair of lungs and a loud voice was desirable for a camp meeting evangelist. Singing played a large part in these services and many people, some who could not read or write, sang with a gusto that made the hills and hollows of Middle Fork township ring with music.

There seems to have been 8 sites of camp and tent meetings in the township. Theya re: a hickory grove on land then owned by the widow Susan BROWN in Section 23 (1886); two sites on land then owned by Isaac MARSHALL in Section 23 (1870 and 1888); two sites on the DENNIS farm in Section 27 (1895); one site on the farm now [1972] Clifford WAUGH in Section 29 (about 1894); two sites on the RUSH farm now owned by Vance GEIGER (1901 and 1902).

In Nelson MASON'S "History of Middle Fork Township," the story of one of the camp meetings is told as follows:

"In about 1900 John RUSH bought from J. D. CLEWELL the N.E. 1/4 of the N.W. 1/3 of Section 9, primarily for religious purposes and secondarily for grazing. This was a beautiful 40-acre tract, with large walnut and other native trees forming an ideal grove along the banks of Middle Fork, and one of its branches. In the summer of 1901, tent meetings were held in this beautiful spot of nature.

"Mrs. Anna DAVIS of Council Bluffs, evangelist of the Evangelical Church, conducted the services in the month of August in the valley between the river and the roadway. Attendance was excellent and many were converted, including the writer. The following summer camp meetings were held on the hillside just across the river, with favorable results. In the summer evenings, the singing of the hymns could be distinctly heard two miles away."

There are at least two persons who can remember these camp meetings - Flavel MALOY and Homer DENNEY, both of Mount Ayr.

This combination of religious classes, schoolhouse churches, camp meetings and winter revival meetings usually resulted in the establishing of a church and erecting a building. [The four churches in Middle Fork are Middle Fork Methodist Church, Hickory Grove Church, Paletine United Brethren Church and Pleasant Hill Assembly of God Church.]

Map courtesy of Ringgold County Historical Society

Middle Fork has never had a village within its borders. Early maps of the township shows a town identified as Newport in Section 11. It apparently never got beyond the "dream" stage and was not a post office. Two post offices were establishes in the area - Ingart Grove and Clipper. They existed from 1860 to 1894 and 1874 to 1886 respectively. They were moved from time to time and were maintained oftentimes in the home of the postmaster.

The township was a center of considerable activity during the years of the Civil War. A company of Home Guards was organized known as Company C of the Third Battalion of the Southern Border Brigade. Officers were Nathan MILLER as Captain and Harvey WAUGH as First Lieutenant. Three times in 1861 members of the Company went into Missour to protect unionists in that state. At one time the Company, reinforced by nearly 2000 other border guards, threw up breast works and prepared for a battle near Allendale, Mo., which failed to materialize. Thereafter they returned to their homes, where their activities were confined to patroling the Missouri-Iowa border.

Before the Civil War the home of Milton S. TRULLINGER was a station on the underground railroad and he frequently had slaves around waiting to be transferred north - probably to the Charles GRIMES home in Jefferson township.

Middle Fork township is the only township in the county in which slaves were kept. Littleton P. ALLEN settled there in 1852, believing that he was settling in the State of Missouri; he had 2 slaves. When slavery became illegal in Iowa, he moved across the state line into Missouri and later on under public pressure he sold them. A small cemetery of the ALLEN family is in the southwest corner of the township.

In preparing this article we have been helped immeasurably by Nelson MASON'S excellent "History of Middle Fork." ~Ed.

SOURCE: Faith Comes to the Prairie. Ringgold County Historical Society. 1972.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, September of 2011


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