Taylor County, Iowa Early History
from A.T. Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875
(transcribed by Pat O'Dell)
This is one of the southern tier of counties, and the third in order, counting eastward from the Missouri River. It contains nominally sixteen congressional townships, but in consequence of the irregularity caused by the correction line which passes east and west near it's center, and also of the obliquity of the southern boundary line, a portion of the townships are not of full size. The superficial area is about five hundred and thirty-six square miles
The general character and surface configurations of Taylor County are gently undulating and rolling prairie, yet it possesses considerable diversity, and even beauty of scenery, along the valleys of many of the larger streams. In the northeastern portion, the altitude attained is probably greater than in any other of the counties bordering on the Missouri line, and having no large streams to traverse its surface, but being most admirably drained by a magnificent system of small ones, which, ramifying into every portion of the county, forming such perfect drainage that not a single pond, swamp or marsh is to be found. The most important streams, which are dignified by the name of rivers, are the Platte, in the southeast, the East Nodaway, in the northwest, and East, Middle and West One Hundred and Two, which flowing through the county at nearly equal distances from each other, and with their numerous allfuents, admirably water and drain the larger portion of the county, affording excellent stock water, and a number of good mill powers, which owing to the loose, sandy nature of the banks are of little value, except in a few cases where they have been improved.
There are two explanations given of the origin of the rather singular name, One Hundred and Two as applied to the streams mentioned above, which flowing south into the Missouri, form one stream, which is called One Hundred and Two River.One statement is, that an Indian died somewhere on this stream, who was at the time said to be one hundred and two years of age, and from this circumstance the stream received its name. A more reasonable explanation is, however, given by Edward Hall, a pioneer settler of Missouri, who gives the facts as having occurred within from some point on the Missouri River, in the State of Missouri, in the direction of what was then known as Platte purchase. When the surveyors came to a certain tributary of the Platte River, the distance by the chain was just one hundred and two miles, and they therefore called the stream One Hundred and Two River.
Some portions of Taylor County have considerable timber, while other parts have little or none. Along each of the principal streams, as well as bordering most of the smaller ones, there runs a belt of woodland varying from a few rods to a mile or a mile and a half in width. The south half has the best timber, while the largest and best body in the county is on Honey Creek, some five or six miles southeast of Bedford. The southeast corner township is abundantly supplied, there being heavy bodies on the Platte. There is also a considerable quantity of good timber along the west branch of the One Hundred and Two River, north of Bedford, and in the northwest township bordering on the East Nodaway. The timber is mostly composed of the various kinds of oaks, such as white, red, black and burr oak, black and white walnut, cottonwood, linn, etc., etc. With judicious use there is an abundance for the present and immediate future, and where the fires are kept out, which is generally the case at this time, the groves rapidly encroach upon the prairie. Some kinds when planted, especially the cottonwood and soft or silver leaf maple make a fiborous growth. Cottonwood trees planted as mere sprouts six years ago, now measure twenty-six inches in circumference. This timber is not so good as most others for ordinary use, but so rapid is it growth that in five years after planting it becomes available for fuel. It is believed by those best posted that, notwithstanding the amount which has been consumed, the supply of timber is now greater than it was ten years ago, a result of keeping down the prairie fires that formerly annually swept over the surface of the county, and thousands of acres, which, at the time of the early settlement were bare prairie, are now covered with fine young groves. The bottom lands along the streams are generally narrow and dry, making excellent farming lands. From the margin of the streams the ground rises gradually to an alititude of about one hundred feet, forming divides or smooth belts of upland prairies, lying about equi-distance with out any perceptible elevation or depression, forming the best natural roads in the world.
The soil is two feet deep, of a black, vegetable mold, with a slight mixture of sand, and of almost inexhaustible fertility, belonging wholly to that class known as drift soil. It is of a loose, friable nature, is not liable to bake, and rests upon a substratum of what is termed joint clay, of several feet in thickness, which, during the dry seasons, is filled with innumerable cracks and crevices. During the wet seasons the water readily percolating through the loose soil above enters this body of clay, which acts as a sponge or reservoir, holding immense formation that this section of the state its indebted for the good crops it has raised, while other portions of the West equally favored by showers have suffered from an almost entire failure. This vast quantity of water which is held in reserve is drawn up by the action of the sun's rays upon the soil above, and vegetation is thereby kept growing through weeks and months of the severest drought; thus, while the soil of Taylor County is so dry that the farmer can start his plow in a few hours after a heavy rain, it is yet able to pass uninjured through droughts that would ruin almost any other county. All the cereals, such as wheat, corn, oats, rye and barley, are raised in abundance, while vegetables of all kinds grow as large here, when property cultivated, as in any portion of the West. At present the chief marketable product is live stock, particularly cattle. The extensive ranges and the excellent quality of the wild grasses, together with the abundant supply of living water, render it one of the most desirable stock-raising counties in the state, which advantages have been fully appreciated by a number of the farmers of the county, who, in a few years, have made handsome fortunes. Considerable attention has been paid to fruit culture, which has met with a good degree of success, there now being a large number of bearing orchards in all parts of the county. All kinds of small fruits and vines do well, and produce in abundance; while such wild fruits as plums, grapes, crab apples, gooseberries and strawberries are plenty in and about the groves and along the streams, and mulberries are quite common.
Coal is found in limited quantities in this county, several banks having been opened on East Nodaway River, in the northwest townships, the vein being about fifteen inches in thickness. The coal is of a good quality, and finds a ready market. These beds belong to the upper coal measure, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the formation which contains the important beds of coal that are now mined in the valley of the Des Moines River extends beneath this county, and it is reasonable to infer that it contains deposits of coal. It is generally believed, however, that the strata which rest upon these coal-bearing formations, as well as those formations themselves, thicken gradually to the westward and southward; so that if they do exist in this county they will require considerable capital and labor to reach them.
A fair quality of building stone is found in several places, there being four quarries on the east branch of One Hundred and Two, within half a mile of Bedford, and others on the same stream, about two miles southwest. The product of these quarries is a species of limestone that is easily dressed, making good caps and sills and a good quality of quicklime, a considerable quantity of which is annually manufactured from it. The court house and school house in Bedford are constructed of this stone and are both substantial and well constructed buildings. On the East Nodaway, above the vein of coal, is a hard, blue, argillaceous limestone, which is not easily dressed, but is suitable for rough walls. The northeastern and southwestern part of the county are destitute of stone, as far as any discoveries have yet been made. Material for the manufacture of a good article of common brick is found in abundance in many portions of the county.
One of the earliest settlers of Taylor County must have been Jonah Reed, in section 7, township 68, range 35, near the Page County line. In the Fall of 1851, Samuel Scarlett bought the farm of Mrs. Reed, who had resided on it some seven years, and whose husband, Jonah Reed, had died some two or three years before. Stephen H. Parker settled in the county as early as 1846, as his son, Henry Parker, was born October 27th of that year, and is claimed to have been the first white child born in Taylor County.
A permanent organization of the county was effected in February, 1851, when the first county officers elected were Jacob Ross, Levi L. Hayden, and Daniel Smith, Commissioners; John Hayden, Clerk; Hampton Bennington, Probate Judge; John Hayden, Recorder and Treasurer; James B. Campbell, Sheriff; Jacob Miller, Inspector of Weights and Measures. At this time the entire county was a single civil township called Jackson, and John W. Miller and Seymour Coffman were elected justices of the peace. On the 26th of February, 1851, the above named officers elect met in a special session for the first transaction of county business at the house of Jacob Miller, about two and a half miles southeast of the present county seat, and were duly sworn into office, and proceeded to organize for business. The sheriff who had been appointed to organize the county was Elisha Parker. The next place at which county business was transacted, and at which the next meeting of the commissioners was held, was the house of Judge Jacob Ross, about two and three-fourths of a mile southeast of Bedford. This place seems to have been about the center of the population at that time. At this meeting the county was divided into two civil townships, called respectively Polk and Benton. They also appointed William B. Wamley, Justice of the Peace, and Preston B. McGuire, Constable of Polk Township; and John W. Miller, Justice of the Peace, and James K. Miller, Constable of Benton Township.
The first county assessor was James B. Campbell, who spent four days in assessing the county, for which services his compensation amounted to $4. The taxes levied for the first year amounted to $62.37, including state, county, school and poll taxes. Of this thirteen dollars, four cents and four mills was state tax, being the tribute that Taylor County paid the first year for this privilege of a county organization. The taxable property of the county at this time amounted to $6,522. This property was owned by sixty-three persons, resident and non-resident. The richest man assessed in the county was Isaac Dowis, who paid taxes on property valued at $424, while Nancy Cobble paid on a valuation of $8 - perhaps an only cow. And so the machinery of the county government was set in motion.
On the 18th of August, 1851, the county contained males over 21 years of age, 69; females over 21 years of age, 70; males under 21 years of age, 134; females under 21 years of age, 120 - making a total population of 393.
At the August election of 1852, the following county officers were elected: John Lowe, County Judge; William Hindman, Clerk; William N. McEfee, Sheriff; William Ferguson, Superintendent of Roads; and Jacob Ross, Surveyor.
Up to the time Taylor County included the territory now embraced in Ringgold and the County Judge of Taylor County, on the 16th of October, 1862, ordered that Ringgold County be a separate election precinct.
The early settlers of this county consisted mostly of persons who had emigrated from the Southern States, supposing at the time that they were settling in Missouri, the southern portion of this tier of counties being on what is known as the Disputed Territory. The following description of the early settlers by a local writer will be read with interest. He says: "The early settlers of this county were from the slave-holding states, and came here thoroughly imbued with all the prejudices, and addicted to all the habits and customs of Southern life. They invariably settled in the timber or on the south side of some grove, building their cabin, stables, etc., in the edge of the timber and making their farms in the prairie. Their cabins were built of logs, sometimes hewed, but in most cases laid up without hewing, and covered with boards or what the eastern people call shakes. They contained no loft or chamber floor, there being no lumber in the country to make any with. The cracks were plastered with mud made from the soil, and a chimney built of sod cut from the prairie, stood at one end, and the door, if but one, invariably on the south side; if two, they were opposite each other on the north and south. The floors were made of puncheons which consisted of a log split in two parts, and the flat side hewed as smooth as convenient with an ax. The "door shutter" was made from boards the same as those composing the roof. In some instances there was a small window of from four to six lights, but in most cases the door was left open in the coldest of weather to admit light. Living in cabins of this kind were about fifty families, which composed the inhabitants of Taylor county up to the year 1854. Each man kept from two to six big savage dogs, a "nag," a yoke of steers, when able to own them; and the more weathy ones owned wagons. The only cereal raised was corn, which constituted the main article of food for man and beast. The uniform diet of the inhabitants consisted of corn bread, bacon and coffee. The bread was prepared by mixing water and a little salt with the meal until it was about the consistency of brick mortar; then molding it into small oblong balls with the hands, which was called "dodgers." These dodgers when baked and mixed with the grease fried from bacon, were eaten by the natives with a relish unkown to the epicure. During the Fall and fore part of the Winter, the bill of fare was increased by the addition of an occasional slice of fresh beef or venison. The market was supplied with beef in the following manner: Whenever a farmer had a "beef critter" he wished to dispose of, he informed the inhabitants of the county that at a given period, which was generally on Saturday, and somtimes on Sunday, he would make a shooting match. At the time appointed, a large portion of the farmers assembled at the place designated, each with his trusty rifle and ammunition. A purse was soon made up from the crowd by contributions amounting in all to the value of the beef, with the understanding that the best shot drew the first choice, and the second best, the second choice, and so on. In this way the beef, hide, tallow and all was divided out among the "boys," each receiving in proportion to his skill as a marksman. On such occasions there was always plenty of whishy, and unless there were two or three fights, and somebody got badly bruised or cut to pieces with a knife, the "boys" thought they had a dull time."
The first term of the District Court was held September 15, 1851, at the house of Jacob Ross, Judge James Sloan presiding. John Hayden was Clerk, and James B. Campbell, Sheriff. The attorneys present were George P. Styles, A.C. Ford and Jacob Dawson. The last named was appointed Prosecuting Attorney. Indictments were found against Isaac Dowis and S.E. Godfrey for assault and battery upon one John Hayden.
The first attorney admitted was Benjamin Rector, at the July term of 1852. He became somewhat prominent as a lawyer in this part of Iowa. At the breaking out of the rebellion he went into the service as Captain of Co A, Fourth Iowa Cavalry, and was promoted to Major, June 4, 1862. He was taken prisoner October 11, 1862, exchanged October 29th, and died at Helena, Arkansas, January 21st, 1863.
The following are the names of the attorneys who practiced in the District Court of this county up to September, 1855; George P. Stitles, A.C. Ford, Jacob Dawson, O.W. Fenno, L. Lingenfelter, D.H. Solomon, William Kelsey, J.J. Barwick, A.H. East, Benjamin Rector, J.H. Dews, J.W. Russell, Joseph A. Hews and John Wilson.
On the 5th of April, 1853, the County Judge made an order directing the County Surveyor to lay off the Town of Bedford. In May of the same year, Henry W. Baker was appointed a commissioner to sell town lots - the first public sale of lots to be July 4, 1853.
The first marriage was of Franklin M. Hindman and Eveline Husband, by Stephen H. Parker, a justice of the peace, December 18, 1851. The groom is said to have been a relative of the somewhat noted Confederate General Hindman. The first divorce was at the March term of 1856 - Eliza Marr vs. John Marr. The first public road laid out in the county was in September, 1851, John Krout, Preston B. McGuire and Benjamin Turner being appointed viewers to locate the same.
The railroad facilities of this county are very good, as the Crestin branch of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, now operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Company, passes through the central portion of the county, the former northeast to southwest accommodating the county with three stations at convenient intervals, while the main line of the same road and the Clarinda branch run within a few miles of the northwest part of the county on the north and west sides.
The courthouse is built of hammered stone, quarried in the vicinity of Bedford, and erected in 1864. It is 30 by 40 feet in size, and two stories high. The lower story is divided into four offices, with a hall passing through. There are two fire-proof vaults. The upper story is used as a court room.
The common schools of the county are in a flourishing condition, a marked progress and increased interest having been manifested in the last few years, so that among the new counties of the state probably few excel it in the character of its schools or in the ability and success of its teachers. According to the report of 1873 there were in the county eighty-six pupils. The total value of school property is about $60,000, while the annual amount expended is about $22,610, and the amount of the permanent school fund is $27,337.12.
There are at the present time three papers published in the county, viz.; The Argus, by the Hale Bros.; the Iowa Southwest, S. Lucas, at Bedford; and the Lenox Time Table, established Oct 2, 1874, by Townsand & Lufton, who still are in charge of it, and in September, 1875, enlarged it to a five column quarto, which they are making an enterprising paper.
William F. Evans, Auditor
Henry H. Taylor, Clerk of Courts
Alex. John, Treasurer
Edward G. Medford, Recorder
John I. Algeo, Sheriff
John B. Owens, Supt. Common Schools
Daniel W. Hamblin,
Chairman Board of Supervisors
The seat of justice of Taylor County was located at Bedford on March, 1852, by commissioners appointed for that purpose by an act of the General Assembly.It is very pleasantly situated on a gently rolling second bottom, rising from the west bank of the East One Hundred and Two River. It is convenient to water and stone, and is surrounded by beautiful farming land, the ground on all sides rising something in the form of an amphitheater, affording many prominent and commanding building sites. The first sale of lots took place July 4, 1852, and the first building, a double log house, designed and used for several years as a store and dwelling, was erected on the corner of Main and Water streets by O.W. Fenno. The second house was a small dwelling built of hewed logs by Edwin Houck, on the opposite side of Main Street from the one last mentioned. Improvement at first was very slow, about the only building being erected during 1854 was a double log house by the firm of Thornton & Cadle, in which they kept a small stock of dry good, groceries, etc. Early in the Spring of 1856 the town commenced settling with Eastern people, and in less than two years from that time the inhabitants numbered over four hundred.
Being surrounded by a rich and quite well improved agricultural country, with no large town in the vicinity and possessing an intelligent, enterprising class of buisness men, it has secured, and will no doubt retain, a good retail trade. It has a good classs of dwellings and business houses, and a substantial stone school house, in size 40 by 60 feet, was erected in 1868. It is furnished with folding iron seats and desks, and will accommodate four hundred pupils. The building stands on a beautiful eminence at the north side of town, where a full block has been appropriated for the purpose. The building is of hammered stone, and constructed with some regard to architectural taste presents a fine appearance, and is an honor to the town. The school is in charge of a corps of experienced teachers, who are making it one of the best in the southwest part of the State. Several handsome churches adorn the town, and belong respectively to the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Christians, while the Masons have a good hall, and with the Odd Fellows have flourishing lodges. Among the manufacturing interests may be mentioned two flouring and saw mills, and a large woolen mill which has been in successful operation for a number of years.
The other villages and post offices in the county some of which are places of considerable importance, are Lenox, Conway, Mormontown, Buchanan, Dan, Siam, Platteville, Gravity and Holt.