Peeking Into Lake City's Past

Tillman Gregg, Another Pioneer Whose Family is Here

One of the greatest American traditions was fostered by early settlers who migrated to Lake City and Calhoun county intending to establish an estate which they would pass on to their descendants. These hearty people were convinced that by developing this wilderness, it would multiply in value and if kept within the family, would provide life's sustenance for centuries to come. In nineteenth century Europe, it was nearly impossible for common class citizens to acquire ownership of valuable food producing real estate. Such prized assets were owned and controlled by the lords and barons of ruling classes and were not available to commoners.

It was people from the common classes in western Europe who migrated to Calhoun county following the Civil War where they were greeted by a wilderness of snake, rodent and insect infested sloughs and old lake beds knitted together by tiny streams running in all directions through matted vegetation so thick and heavy that cattle and horses in certain places would sink and perish. An early Government bulletin claimed that less than five percent of the land in Calhoun County was tillable.

However primitive it was, unlike Europe, America made it available to anyone who wishes to become a part of the development process. Many of our ancestors settled in eastern states and after the Civil War, decided to go west to Iowa where the nation's richest land could be obtained through a simple government grant or through agents for as little as $2.50 to $5.00 per acre.

History tells us that early settlers felt they would be able to build a legal, social and economic community to fit their desired life style and religious convictions, thereby making their own state and local laws and running their government with little interference from Washington, nearly 2,000 miles away. Such utter freedom and dependence was called The American Dream.

Following the Civil War, in 1868, 14 years after old Eb Comstock (the first settler) built his lonely cabin along the banks of Lake Creek, two families arrived from Ohio in covered wagons drawn by ox teams. They were two Civil War veterans named Captain Tillman Gregg and Henry Hutchinson. These hearty men, with their families, became highly respected builders of what was then Calhoun Township. (Note: township borders have since been revised.)

Upon arrival, they pitched tents along the Raccoon River until a 160 acre farm was purchased by Tillman Gregg in what is now Lake Creek township, for the paltry sum of $2.50 per acre. The farm was located just a few miles northeast of Lake City and became known as "Old Liberty" or the Gregg Settlement. Gregg's sister and brother-in-law, the Hutchinson's, purchased a farm adjoining Gregg on the south.

Immediately following Tillman Gregg's acquisition of the land, he purchased a log cabin located near Oxenford's Mill along the river, moving it to his farm as temporary shelter for his family. Travelers were always welcome at the Gregg cabin and stories are told of visiting travelers staying over night with the Greggs in quarters so cramped that when one person dressed or prepared for bed the others present would blind their eyes.

The Hutchinson and Gregg families were the first to settle between Lake City and Twin Lakes. Earlier settlers located claims along the Raccoon River and Lake Creek close to Lake City where timber was available for construction and heat energy.

Eight years after arrival, in 1876, the Greggs built a spacious new home on the farm, hauling materials from Pomeroy by ox team, around and through the many sloughs and bogs. The Gregg settlement farm is now occupied by the Paul Hilers.

Like most early pioneers, the Tillman Greggs raised a large family. There were ten children, whose names were: Martha, Emilene, James, Samuel, Kate, Walter, Lydia, Sarah, Stephen and John, from whom certain descendants are still residing in Calhoun county. Tillman Gregg was a civic minded citizen, who played an active role in community leadership in the new life he and his wife Milissa created for the family.

Tillman Gregg was the first treasurer of Calhoun County and it was during his term in office when the courthouse was moved from Lake City to Rockwell City.

The Greggs also took their religious faith seriously. In the year 1876, they became active members of the Lake City Christian Church. A number of their descendants are still active members of the Woodlawn Christian Church. Tillman and Milissa Gregg were recipients of God's gift of Longevity. They were married in 1850 and were together for 51 years. Both lived to a ripe old age, for pioneer days when medical science was in its infancy. Tillman went to his demise in 1901 at age 74 and Milissa died in 1913 at age 81.

To simplify this story, I will follow the Gregg lineage in capsule form by selecting Tillman and Milissa's oldest son John and his descendants as our first subject. John was 13 years old when the family arrived in Lake City, and with his brothers and sisters helped develop the family farm, hoeing crops by hand and herding livestock around the swamps. A story passed down through the family tells of John's romantic courting days when he and a friend borrowed a team and carriage on a Sunday afternoon to take a pair of attractive young ladies for a long ride. Perhaps under a spell of romantic hypnotism, John accidentally drove the team into a swampy bog. The horses stuck and mired down. John and his friend were forced to carry the girls to higher ground and safety, wading through that muck in their best Sunday clothes. The team was lost and the boys had to buy the dead horses from their owner. This turned out to be a very expensive, romantic adventure.

When John reached 18 years of age, he married Miss Jane Simpson, whose home was near Newton, in Jasper County. I have no information as to how and when they became acquainted, but after the marriage they settled on another farm in Lake Creek Township. To this union were born five children whose names were: Eve, Lola, Ethel, Robert and Paul. John and Jane's children are remembered by many people living today.

The oldest daughter, Eva Gregg, born in 1887, married Thomas L. Mapel. Eva and Tom lived on another farm in Lake Creek Township, northeast of Lake City. Tom and Eva raised three children and six grandchildren. Their daughter, Dorothy Mapel Stotts, currently resides in Lake City.

The third child of John and Jane Gregg was Ethel Gregg Potts. Ethel had one daughter, Velma, who married Harold Waters of Lohrville. Harold and Velma reside on a farm east of Lohrville.

The fourth child of John and Jane Gregg was Robert Curt Gregg, born 1894, and a veteran of World War I. Robert Curt married Hazel Krause, who was the fifth child of Herman and Eve (Marsh) Krause, who also farmed Lake Creek Township. Robert Curt retired from the farm and moved to Lake City in 1945, and went to his demise in 1951. His widow, Hazel, still resides in Lake City. Robert and Hazel were parents of three children, Phyllis, Lois and William. Phyllis (Mrs. Wayne Glasgow) presently resides in Lake City.

Paul T. Gregg, born 1896, the oldest son of John and Jane Gregg, a veteran of World War I, married Miss Irma Brown, an orphan girl from Cliffton, Kansas, who was brought here by the Danstrom family. To this union were born five children and several grandchildren. The only one of Paul and Jane Gregg's children still living in Calhoun County is their daughter, Pauline Gregg Walters (Mrs. Earl) who currently resides in Rockwell City.

Now, I must take you back to the seventh son of Pioneer Tillman Gregg, whose descendants are important to this community.

Walter Scott Gregg (1865-1925) moved to Calhoun County with his parents in 1868. Walter Scott was a farmer, businessman and police officer. He married Miss Amanda Patterson (1894-1932) and to this union were born eleven children. (Note: Walter Scott also had two children by a previous marriage.) Three of Walter and Amanda's children and their descendants will be our subject.

Wilbur Gregg (deceased) married the late Emma DeSart* (sister of George DeSart recently retired from Ryan's Super Valu) was a prominent Lake City businessman for several years following World War II. Wilbur was a partner with Leland DeSart in the hardware store presently owned and operated by Craig Lymer. Note: I do not have birth and death dates or names of children of Wilbur and Emma DeSart Gregg.

Walter Scott Gregg, born 1907, married Miss Bernice Pierce in 1934, daughter of a well-known Lake city area family. Walter and Bernice have five children: Ardis Merlin, Ronald, Gary and Kim.

Irma Gregg, wife of local farmer Lubbert DeVries, resides on a farm south of Lake City. They were married in 1939 and to this union were born five children: Dean, Dick, Denny, Mary Ann and Delroy. Son Delroy, like his father, lives on a farm with his family, southeast of Lake city. Lubbert and Irma Gregg Devries have twelve grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Five generations of Gregg descendants have been born since Tillman and Milissa Gregg purchased the farm called Old Liberty for $2.50 per acre. If we were to count them, the total number would be astounding. They came her 114 years ago to help develop the richest and most powerful nation on earth. They were hard working seriously religious people who helped establish our local government and civic institutions.

They were enthusiastic supporters of the Lake City Christian Church, joining before the first church building was constructed. Their religious feeling was transmitted to descendants, as several are currently active members of the church their great and great- great- grandparents helped to establish over a century ago.

* Emma DeSart graduated in 1928.