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Shelby County


1889 History Index

Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties
History of Shelby County, Iowa


Much interest and no little curiosity attaches itself to the first events of the settlement of any county, and along with it comes a great amount of controversy which not unfrequently baffles the best efforts of the gatherer of local history to establish fully; but after much research in various parts of the county it seems the following are the first events within the limits of the county:

The first settlement made within the county was effected at Galland's Grove, in the northwest part of the county, in 1848, by Abraham Galland, who came in the fall of 1848 and erected a log cabin, which his son-in-law, William Jordan, with his family, occupied the coming winter -- being the winter of 1848-'49. The next to locate were Joseph Hancock and his two brothers.

The first justice of the peace was Uriah Ronundy.

The first birth is usually spoken of a Granville Cuppy, but this is a mistake, as he was born in April, 1854, and there were quite a number of children born in Galland's Grove among the Mormon settlers long prior to this. Mr. Cuppy was probably the first one born in the eastern portion of the county, however.

The first death occurred at Galland's Grove in 1850, it being an unnamed infant.

The first marriage was that of John Rudd to Sereldne Jordan, in 1853.

The first school taught at the expense of public fund was in the winter of 1857-'58, on section 10 of Douglas Township. The teacher, E. W. Holbrook, was engaged by William McGinnis, who, with a few other families, constituted the school patrons. The attendance was twenty-two pupils, who were housed within a rude log cabin formerly used as a residence. Owing to the fact that School Fund Commissioner Reed had the school money stolen from a trunk in his own house, the director, William McGinnis, to make good his word of honor to the teacher, had to pay the amount himself, which after a long time was refunded to him.

The first physician was a Dr. J. W. Johnston, who lived near Harlan until about 1873, when he died while cutting up potatoes in a "cave."

The first attorney was James Butler, of whom many good stories are told by pioneers -- among others the one regarding his application to the court for admission to the legal bar. Butler was asked by his honor how many kinds of property there were? He answered three, viz.: Real, personal and mixed. The judge asked him what he designated as mixed, whereupon he promptly replied -- "Mules and Niggers." It may be added he was pronounced a full-fledged attorney!

The first goods were sold by Solomon Hancock, at Galland's Grove, in 1853.

The first Fourth of July celebration in the county was held in 1855 at the place of Nelson Ward, in what is now Douglas Township. The families present were Wards, Sunderlands, Jinkens and Stantons. It was at what is now styled Kibbey's Grove. The principal features were a ten-gallon keg of "Old Rye" and a flag made from strips of red and white underwear, hung upon the bushes!

The first newspaper published in the county was called the New Idea, printed at Simoda in 1858-'59.

The first election was held in April, 1854, and an old pioneer remarks that "there was 400 times the interest and excitement over the election of a school officer then than over the attempt to elect Grover Cleveland the second time for President of the United States!"

The first religious organization effected, aside from the semi-organization among the Latter Day Saints, was that formed by the Methodist Episcopalians in 1858 in Douglas Township, by Rev. Baker, who formed a church of the families of William McGinnis and his neighbor Jinkens.

The first orthodox sermon preached, was delivered by Judge Tarkington, who was somewhat of a Methodist preacher, and would usually dispense the truth of the gospel Sundays, after having presided as judge through the preceding week. The date of this first sermon was in October, 1854, the same being delivered from the open doorway of Mr. Bowman's log house in Bowman's Grove. The congregation was the few neighbors who gathered in and were seated upon rails and "shakes" placed about the yard beneath the forest trees -- "God's first temple."

The first mill is always hailed in every new country with delight; they have ever gone as vanguards of true civilization and are of great necessity. At an early day -- prior to 1860 -- the pioneers of Shelby and its adjoining counties were greatly burdened with the quesiton, "Where would we better go to mill?"

"Uncle Billy" McGinnis says he has gone to mill from Dubuque to Council Bluffs! His explanation, however, is, that he has been a pioneer at three different points in Iowa, and has always been obliged to go a long distance in each location to mill, the last time going from a point near Harlan to Council Bluffs. He describes one of these milling trips about as follows: He loaded a few bushels of grain upon his wagon, and started with his ox team for a mill in Mills County -- about sixty miles from his home -- but upon arriving there found they were two weeks behind in grinding for others, so he went on to "Haymaker's Mills," at the junction of the Nishnabotna branches. Upon entering the mill (where he had frequently been before) the owner told him he was far behind already, and as he was accustomed to doing so, he would better go on to Pacific City, eight miles away, and that if he failed there to come back. The miller in charge went out and on the sly told him that the proprietor was cranky and did not like his politics -- the proprietor being of the class who a few years thereafter were known as rebels. He further advised "Uncle Billy" to go off down in the woods and camp out for a day or two, allowing time enough to go and come to the mill already directed, and then come to the mill as though he had been to Pacific City and failed to get his grinding done. He said then Haymaker would grind for him. This course was followed out, and after a couple of days he drove his load up in front of the mill, when the proprietor hailed him: "Well, Billy, I knew you would finally come back to me." But Mr. McGinnis was only too glad to get his flour and go home -- the trip taking nine days travel over a rough, hilly country, which at that day had no bridges. The writer asked him what the millman took such a course for, and the reply was "Inborn cussed-ness!"

Such were the obstacles to overcome in going to a mill at an early time, and it is not to be wondered at that the home flouring mill was highly prized by the early settlers of western Iowa.

The first flour mill in Shelby County was built at Harlan, on the Nishnabotna River. It was constructed by J. W. Chatburn, who was the pioneer miller of Harrison county, Iowa, as well. He came to Harlan in August, 1867, commencing at once to build his mill. He had the mill completed and ready for grinding early in January, 1868. There was no other mill within a great distance, and it was no uncommon occurrence for farmers to come thirty and forty miles to get their wheat floured at this mill. At first it was a common burr-stone mill, but in 1885 the interior was refitted, all the old machinery thrown out, and the modern mill appliances, including the roller system, were placed instead. The present plant is a ten-roller mill, having a daily capacity of fifty barrels of flour. The power which drives this mill is a seven-foot head of water from the west branch of the Nishnabotna River, which affords a sufficient power to run the mill throughout the entire year. The mill does both custom and merchant milling. In the early history of this mill the proprietor, Mr. Chatburn, paid $1.25 a bushel for wheat which was hauled many miles, and after being ground into flour was hauled to Dunlap and there marketed. The owner of this mill has followed the business for forty years, and has the honor of constructing the first mill in Harrison County, as well as in Shelby County.

The first saw-mill was hailed with nearly as much delight as the flour-mill, because it was almost useless to try to improve and provide suitable buildings without it. The first saw-mill in Shelby County was built on Mill Creek by W. W. Reed, at Galland's Grove, at a very early date, but in the east part of the county the first mill was built by Jonathan Wyland in 1857, and was operated by his son Washington, in company with Isaac Plum. The machinery, including the cast-iron water-wheel, was brought from Iowa City by teams. This mill was siuated at Bowman's Grove, and was propelled by the waters of Nishnabotna River. It was the old-time sash saw, and while its up and down motion was somewhat slow, it sliced off many a thousand boards, which went toward the building of the first houses in Simoda and Harlan. This property was in the hands and operated by many different persons, including T. J. Stanley, C. J. and T. J. Wyland and Elias Monroe. It was operated until about 1877, when it had outgrown its usefulness and was taken down.

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Transcribed by Cheryl Siebrass August, 2015 from "Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties", Chicago: W. S. Dunbar & Co., 1889, pg. 238-240.