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James R. Letts 1820-1910


Posted By: Judy Kelley, volunteer (email)
Date: 4/2/2010 at 18:36:20

Source: LCHS scrapbook, clipping from unknown newspaper, unknown date

James R. Letts was born in Licking county, Ohio, near the town of Newark, December 30, 1820.

His father was a pioneer in that state and also in Illinois. He moved to the latter state with his family in 1830 and settled near Peru in LaSalle county, before the land was put on the market by the government. The family consisted of the parents, two daughters, three stepsons, Albert, William and George Dunnavan who later became prominent citizens of LaSalle county and closely allied with its development, and three sons, Madison, James and Noah Letts, who later settled at Letts, Iowa.

The early days in Illinois were the usual pioneer days so well known to our older settlers. Mr. Letts' father came to Illinois well provided with money, household goods and stock, but they did not escape privation and hardship thereby. the winter of 1831 is known in history as "The winter of the deep snow." The next year the Black Hawk war broke out; neighbors were murdered by the Indians, and the family was compelled to abandon their home and crops and were quartered with the other settlers in Fort Wilburn. While there, Governor Reynolds came to Mr. Letts' father to ask for a boy to carry a message to intercept a company of moving soldiers. Mr. Letts, then a boy of eleven volunteered. His father consented giving him a swift horse and orders to keep to the open prairie and let no man get within gunshot of him unless he rode a swifter horse. He made the journey in saftey and earned his first silver dollar by it.

With his father he attended the first government land sale in Chicago, or rather, Fort Dearborn. The settlers were there to bid in the land they had improved and were living on. Mr. Letts' father was spokesman for them. Eastern capitalists were there to outbid them for the improved land was worth much more than the government price and money scarce among settlers. It was a time for intense excitement and the young boy never forgot the struggle of his neighbors to retain their homes.

When James Letts was seventeen, the family moved to Missouri. With the first hundred dollars he earned, he bought eighty acres of land in Linn county from the government.

In 1841 he married Hannah Hilton. Later he moved to Will county, Illinois, where he again bought land and settled. His first child, Mrs. Annette Robinson, now of Vinton, Iowa, was born.

In 1850 he made the overland trip to California, returning the next year by way of the Pacific ocean and the Isthmus of Panama, his trip having paid him in health and purse.

His wife died in 1854. The next year he came to Iowa where he again invested in land and built the home he occupied for more than fifty-five years. He has figured in the pioneer life of three states.

In 1859 he married Albina Brockway, of Muscatine county, a daughter of James M. and Lydia Goffe Brockway. To them were borne nine children, two of whom, an infant daughter and the oldest son, Chester H. Letts, are deceased. He is survived by his wife and the following children, Mrs. Annette Robinson, of Vinton, Iowa; Mrs. B.F. Maricle, of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Mrs. F.E. McCrary, of Florence, Arizona; James D. of Fairport, Iowa; Arthur and Frank, of Clarendon, Texas; Clinton and Fay R., of Letts, Iowa.

Mr. Letts was always a warm adherent of temperance and prohibition movements. A stern man when fighting evil, a most tender and just man with the repentant or struggling. Always a man to be counted on in any hour of private or public need. Though he never became a member he was always given his support to the church and his family and pastor know him to be a most humble and reverent believer. In this community there have been but few public enterprises or private benefactions but that have his hearty approval and support.

He was an exceedingly prompt and energetic business man and had an abhorrence of debt. A neighbor has said that if "Uncle Jim" owed a man a dollar and knew it he believed he would get up in the night to pay it. He was a man of strong convictions and positive expression. Another said that his most marked characteristic was his ability to express his thought clearly. One never had to ask him a second time what he meant. He stood fearlessly for the right as he saw it, and he has left to his family and community an example of honesty and integrity that is priceless.

Mr. Letts died December 18th, lacking but twelve days of having lived ninety years.

Funeral services were held at the residence Wednesday, December 21, at noon, and at the Methodist church, at Letts, at 2 p.m. Mrs. Walter Hall, of Columbus Junction sang at the house and church, also a choir at the church. The pallbearers were old business friends. M.C. Hamill, of Grandview, conducted the services at the house and was assisted by Rev. Barker, of the Methodist church at Letts.

Interment was at the Lett's cemetery.


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