Tama County, IA
USGenWeb Project

Star – Clipper Supplement
Traer, Iowa, January, 1887
History of North Tama
By Daniel Connell

Chapter VI
Political Organization - First Election
The Railroad, Etc.

A settlement cannot long be without a government. Man should be governed, and he will be wherever a sufficient number can be congregated to fill the offices. It is not so much they desire honor as it is certain things require doing, and a superior law points the method. To perform public business requires authority to command the means. A new settlement requires roads. Machinery has to be set in motion to establish them, open them, make and keep them passable. Pioneer roads followed the high ground, and kept out the soft places where possible. The high and dry lands became occupied. Roads must follow congressional lines and much work is necessary. Law must be compiled with and the settlement must organize.

Previous to 1854 Tama county was attached to Benton county for political purposes. Application having been made to the county judge of Benton county by citizens of the new settlement, an order was issued of which the following is a copy:


To N. L. Osborn, John Connell and David Dean:
You are hereby notified that the county court of said county has this day organized the following described townships into a civil township for judicial purposes. Viz: Townships 85 and 86 in range 13, 85 and 86 in range 14, 85 and 86 in range 15 west, in Tama county, Iowa, and has appointed you the trustees of said township and you are hereby authorized to call according to law and give necessary notice and hold an election on the first Monday of April, A. D. 1853, as provided for in the statue.
By order of the County Judge.
J. C. Traer, Clerk of the court.

Strange as it is Dr. Traer neglected to date this instrument, yet that did not deter these men from proceeding to carry out their instructions. They probably did not notice the omission of the date. If they did they could not go back to Vinton to cure a technicality.

The first thing to do was to name the settlement. An informal meeting of the settlers was held at the residence of the Wood family to give a name to the town thus organized. Each man had a name selected, and they would not yield to each other. By consent the selection was left to Miss Margaret Connell, and it was christened Buckingham in honor of a distinguished citizen of Norwich, Connecticut. An election was held at the specified time – on the first Monday of April, 1853. There were two election days in Iowa: in April for township and county officers, and in August for State officers. At this first election nine votes were cast. David Dean, N. L. Osborn and Samuel Dunkle were chosen trustees; John Connell and David Dean, justices; Robert Connell, constable – but one elected; Jonas P. Wood, both clerk and assessor. Four weeks later another election was held. This was for county officers. This is the first evidence I find of the organization of Tama County, and the election must have been a special. There were seventeen votes cast, nearly double that of the first. At this election two citizens of the settlement were candidates for county officers. Viz: Norman L. Osborn for sheriff and W. A. Daniel for surveyor. The first regular election was held in August, and for county officers but one citizen of the settlement was a candidate, and that was W. A. Daniel for surveyor. He received seventeen votes, the highest vote cast for anyone. It would seem form this there were no additions to the voting population in four months. At the regular annual election, April, 1854, there were thirty votes cast for Ira Taylor for trustee. The other two chosen were J. P. wood and David Dean who received seventeen votes each. Emory Taylor and John Riley were elected constables; Otto W. Story, assessor; and Ira B. Dean, clerk. This showed a gain of thirteen votes. At the election in August for State officers and member of the General Assembly there were twenty-seven votes cast. The voters were all Whigs seemingly, as the entire vote was for James, Grimes for Governor. For representative John Connell received twenty-five votes; John Alexander, of Vinton, Democrat, one vote. The district at this time was composed of Jasper, Poweshiek, Benton and Tama counties. Mr. Connell, the Whig candidate was elected.

On October 2, 1854, the electors met to vote on the question of allowing sheep and swine to run at large. This question called out but seventeen men, of whom sixteen voted for restraint. In April, 1855, the voting strength of the six congressional townships had reached forty-five, T. R. Shiner receiving that number for justice of the peace. The other justice elected was Leander Clark – his first appearance in the political field. H. F. Gaston was elected clerk and Robert Connell constable. The trustees were Ira Taylor, J. C. Wood and T. R. Shiner. The town took an early stand for temperance legislation. At this election a prohibitory liquor law was submitted for approval or rejection. The result for the law twenty-four; against the law, thirteen. This law provided for the appointment of a town agent to keep and dispense corn whiskey. T. R. Shiner, a strict temperance man and a poor judge of the merchandise, was the agent. People became sick in those days as in these. The esquire was not a physician. He had faith in human veracity, and no man went dry through the stubbornness of the agency.

In August, 1855, there was not sufficient interest in the election to bring out the voters, but thirty-one votes being cast, of which Dr. Daniel for surveyor received thirty. At this election an exciting question in the county was a tax to build bridges. The water courses of the county were long. Every ? could not be bridged, and so great was the jealously that the tax was defeated by thirty-five votes. Next spring it was again submitted. Improved political tactics were employed by the party in favor of a tax, and it carried by seventy-six majority. This settlement voted against the tax in 1855. At the next trial a majority voted in favor of it. $400 was to be spent on bridges over Wolf creek. A bitter feeling prevailed as to whether all to be expended on the town line or divided by four. The division prevailed. One was placed near Clark’s mill and erected during the winter. The spring freshet carried it away and it was never used. The township line bridg was fastened by cable to trees and stands there yet. The one at Klingaman’s mill was always a source of vexation of spirit until an iron one was erected twelve years ago. The fourth was within Geneseo.

The election of 1855 is as late as the original record book contained anything of public interest. The town clerks up to that date performed their duty faithfully and are deserving of much credit for a true transcript of their days history. There is no record of the vote for President in 1856. This was the first election at which the writer voted in Iowa. I do not recollect more than that a majority voted for General Fremont.

Up to this time the six townships had continued together, voting as one town. Settlers had come in fast, and for some of them it was a long distance to go to Jonas Wood’s house to vote, so steps were taken for separation. In 1857 Crystal was organized; then Geneseo. In 1858 Perry and Clark were organized as one organization, leaving Buckingham and Grant. Not long after Clark separated from Perry. Grant filled up very slowly, and it was not until 1868 that she was organized. Her first election was for President, casting eighteen votes and the one town of 1853 had become six, the smallest of which cast double the number of votes that they all contained at the early date.

From the earliest period of the settlement until 1872 the inhabitants labored under the disadvantage of living a long distance from a market. The first railroad that crossed the Mississippi into Iowa reached Iowa City in January, 1856, which pint was the terminus for several years. Previous to that event the people of Northern Tama went to Dubuque and Muscatine to trade. Dubuque being also the location of the land office for Tama county. That journey was 240 miles; to Muscatine and return 250 miles. Few in Tama county now can realize what a journey of that extent implies.

When the road reached Iowa City it was but eighty miles from the settlement and an advantage, as the journey easily could be made in five days and often in four days. When the roads were soft, eight and ten days have been consumed. In 1860 a railway was built to Cedar Rapids and the distance to us reduced to fifty miles. By this time the products of the settlement were in excess of the local demand, and the demand of the newer settlements to the west in Hardin and Grundy counties, and hauling grain to market was becoming a factor in farming. It required, as a rule, four days with man and team to realize from forty bushels of wheat with favorable roads. With much haste and long days it was made in three days. These long journeys were relieved of monotony by going in parties; good times in Vinton and the Rapids, and many are the rich stories which could be related by some of the readers of this. In 1862 a railway was completed to Waterloo and Cedar Falls, and for many years the former point was our market. This settlement contributed very many thousand dollars to the material wealth of that enterprising city. On the completion of the road to Waterloo our people were well pleased. They could go to market in two days and travel but fifty miles. Parties living on the north side of the settlement often made the trip in a day, yet it was a long one. About 1870 a road was built up the Cedar river, and when LaPorte was reached that town drew some of our trade, and our hardship was reduced to a single day’s travel.

In 1872 a branch of the road up the Cedar was projected from Vinton west, following the line taken to reach the settlement on Big creek by Messrs. Wood and Connell in 1852. After crossing the Tama line it stopped at Dysart for a year, when pushing on it reached the mill, and in a few days Traer sprang into life. It had no childhood, no youth, but stood forth in full strength and vigor as by magic. Her elevators, her stores and yards, her banks and professional men, her schools and churches, her hotels and mill, were all backed by a wealthy country and an enterprising community manned by men who grasped the situation and were not found deficient.

Chapter VII

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