Carroll County IAGenWeb


A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement



Transcribed and donated by Marilyn Setzler.



Probably the first historian of Carroll county to relate the story of its birth and infancy was an anonymous writer who in 1867 in the columns of the Des Moines Register committed to printer's ink the annals of these circumstances. There will be found, brought into a small compass, an interesting sketch of the county's foundations, and the tale is told with an acquaintance with persons and circumstances and with the accuracy of detail and intimacy with the subject which suggests as its author some one of the few pioneers who was related to the facts of which he was writing or indeed was an actor in the events which he makes his subject. We are informed by this early and modest authority that Carroll county received in baptism the name of Carroll in honor of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. This hypothesis has been accepted by all who have written on the subject since and this origin is given the name in the official publications of the state. For the christening, however, there must have been a reason even in the absence of the fact that not so much as a tradition gives an answer to the inquiring mind.

Perhaps not so much now as at an earlier time, when the decoration of the family sitting room was less varied and more difficult than at present, when the things of art and luxury have come to be necessities, upon the walls of many homes were to be found two engravings in steel. One of these familiar pictures represented Washington crossing the Delaware; the other was the Declaration of Independence done in script and subscribed in the style of hand in which the patriots commonly wrote their names. The word commonly is used with a small reservation. Charles Carroll was the exception. In putting out their defiance to the odious George, after Thomas Jefferson or whoever drew the document had written and re-written it to whip it into shape, and it had been engrossed in a large clerkly hand by the penman at the secretary's desk, the gravity of the assembled fathers relaxed after their long and painful deliberations. To this point the responsibilities of directing a treason against the puissant and somewhat jealous throne of England—a throne inclined to be troublesome where the loss of a large and valuable territory was involved—weighed upon the fathers not a little. But the worst was over. Out of their wisdom they had begat a new set of principles upon which they were willing to stake the future. This writing they had agreed to sign. Hence the tension was removed, and as the paper was handed to Charles Carroll in the course of its progress one of his fellow statesmen remarked—Benjamin Franklin, known to be fond of his joke—that "We must all hang together or we will all have to hang separately." The grim pun suggested to Mr. Carroll that there were other Carrolls in the state of Maryland, and one other, if you please, by the name of Charles, as to whose sentiments on the matter of the gibbet he was not fully advised. It occurred to his generous mind that perhaps his namesake might have no appetite, in case the worst came to the worst, to come to his end by mistake and by means of a rope. To avoid this error, therefore, Charles Carroll, having signed his name, had the thought suggested to him by Franklin's pleasantry that to avoid accidents and make the ceremony apply to the real offender in lieu of an affectionate cousin, he should add, "of Carrollton," which he accordingly did. The act was a brave and chivalrous one, and Carroll county is honored in having taken the name of such a man.

However, this does not account for the adoption as a name for an Iowa county of the patronymic of a man of whom little is known in history beyond the fact that he was a subscriber to the immortal declaration of principles. Otherwise his virtues were private and but little known beyond the circle of favored ones whose lives touched his by domestic relations or through some local opportunity. To his family and friends Carroll was not only a great patriot but a great man and such was the esteem in which he was held by his associates of the independence convention. But he was not a seeker after wide fame and his own state was enriched with the greater part of his celebrity.

The passage of such a name from Maryland to Iowa at a time remote from the period of his active life, at a time, too, when circumstances could not ordinarily have suggested its adoption by a county about to be erected at the very outpost of settlement and civilization, is an incident for which there is no accepted explanation. However, in the later territorial days of Iowa and in the earlier days of statehood many members of noted southern families were attracted to this portion of the west and numerous of the prominent men of the state have been of this and its descendent stock. The constitutional convention of Iowa had for its president a Virginian, Frances Springer; the first Governor, Robert Lucas, was also a Virginian. Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood was a native of Maryland. The earlier legislatures of Iowa were filled with young men from the states south of Mason and Dixon's line. They dominated politically for a few years after admission, when the influx from New England and the eastern and central states took away their power as a majority. The law for the organization of Carroll county was passed by the Third General Assembly. What is more reasonable than that some Marylander transplanted to Iowa with this first movement from the south suggested that which gave Carroll county a name in the name of the most distinguished citizen of his native state?

The Third General Assembly of Iowa met at Iowa City, the then capital, on the 2d day of December, 1850. The state so far as it was then known to geography was indefinite save for the territory bordering upon the Mississippi on the east and stretching along the Missouri line on the south. County organization had extended along the Missouri border as far as the west line of Ringgold county. From this point the lines of organized counties extended in a somewhat broken but tolerably regular course as far north as Boone county, beyond which, to the northwest, west and southwest stretched an unknown country. This unknown country also extended east from Boone county to the west line of Tama county. North of Tama, Blackhawk county was organized, but north of that to the Minnesota line ran a line east of which lay all that was known of northern Iowa. Within these lines existed one half of the territory of the state, as yet unexplored as to even its water-courses and more salient natural characteristics. The legislative district of which Polk county was the center was composed of nine counties, entitled to two senators and two representatives, and had a population of 4,856; while the First district (Lee county), with a population of 13,231, was represented in the legislature by two senators and five representatives. To Des Moines county was assigned two senators and three representatives. In the known portion of Iowa there then lived 104,488 people, or approximately four times the number of people now living in Carroll county, or a few thousand more than are at present attached to the city of Des Moines, which appears on the early map as De Moin and to which no population is accredited. The Third General Assembly consisted of nineteen senators and thirty-nine representatives. One of the acts of this legislature is described in the session laws as Chapter IX., being an act providing for the organization of forty-nine counties out of the heretofore unorganized section of the state.

Section 18 of Chapter IX. is as follows:

That the following shall be the boundaries of a new county called Carroll, to-wit: Beginning at the northwest corner of Township eighty-five north, range thirty-two west; thence west on a line between eighty-five and eighty-six to the northwest corner of Township eighty-five, range thirty-six west; thence south on the line dividing Ranges thirty-six and thirty-seven to the southwest corner of Township eighty-two, range thirty-six; thence east on the line between Townships eighty-one and eighty-two to the southwest corner of Township eighty-two, Range thirty-two west; thence north on the line between Ranges thirty-two and thirty-three to the place of beginning.

Under this description did Carroll county come into the sight and knowledge of civilization for the first time since its emergence from the antediluvian muck with the passing of the waters from the melted glaciers by which we are assured its surface was veneered, plowed, kneeded [sic] and enriched some several million years ago. These boundaries endure to the present time. Many of the counties formed by the same act were incorrectly described, a defect which was later cured, and some were subjected to later irregularities of outline due to the correction of the early surveys by the surveys of more recent years. And others were given names which have since been changed. Calhoun county was originally named Fox from its vicinity to Sac—in deference to the Sacs and Foxes, at the time the most numerous remaining tribe of the Indian occupants. Hamilton county was first called Yell. The original cognomen of Woodbury county was Waukah, while Lyon county, in the extreme northwest, had to petition the legislature at a later time to change its name from Buncombe.

The legislature of 1850 made provision for an enumeration of the census in the forty-nine counties proposed to be organized, but in those days the civil machinery moved with greater deliberation than it does at present. Five years had been allowed to elapse in Carroll county before the injunction and condition precedent to admission had been fully complied with. Meanwhile Carroll county had been attached first to Polk, again to Shelby and later to Guthrie for purposes of civil government. Carroll was probably recognized as an independent county on the basis of the census of 1856, and for this purpose the county was divided into two townships, Jasper and Newton, the latter comprising the south eight congressional townships and the former the same area on the north.

It is asserted by some of the pioneers that an earlier census had been taken in the year 1852 or possibly 1853, at which time the number of souls was found to be 151. There are vague references to this census in some of the earlier documents. No such report is found, however, among county records or archives of the state. We are inclined to believe that such a census was indeed taken, though all evidence of it is lost, and that upon this compliance with the law the county was initiated and its first election held in 1855. With the first day of January, 1856, Carroll county became a legal entity, with a full corps of officers, and entitled to proceed with the transaction of business.

The census of 1856 was taken by the township assessors, and while primitive in its arrangement the document is quite as creditable as similar documents of the present time. It is as follows:


Heads of Families                          Members

1.       James Anderson………….….…….


2.      John Walton…………………………


3.       David Frasier…………….………….


4.       Leiv [sic corr. =Levi] Thompson.


5.       Wm. T. Tietsort…………………….


6.       Robert Dixon………………………..


7.       Thomas W. Tatlow…………………


8.       Zebulan Heath………………………


9.       William Ochampaugh…………….


10.   David K. Butrick.........................


11.   Crockett Ribble...........................


12.   George Ribble..............................


13.   Thomas Cooper...........................


14.   H. L. Thompson...........................


15.   Elijah Puckett.............................


16.   Nehamiah Powers.......................


17.   Uriah Gibson...............................


18.   Enos Butrick...............................


19.   Willis Butrick..............................


20.  Abel J. Lain [sic corr = Cain]......


21.   William Short..............................


22.  Benjamin Rittenhouse................



Total population of Jasper township—132. Males, 66; females, 66. Number of heads of families, 22, of whom 20 are farmers and two shoemakers.

Nativity of population—Michigan, 5; Indiana, 27; Iowa, 13; Illinois, 12; Virgina [sic], 10; New York, 12; England, 1; Pennsylvania, 10; Kentucky, 2; Tennessee, 1; Connecticut, 2; Missouri, 3; unknown, 34.

Voters, 27.

Subject to military service, 19.

Acres of corn planted, 187; yield, 3400 bu.

Value of hogs sold, $951.

Value of cattle sold, $270.

Wool for market, 60 lbs.

Acres improved land, 151.

Acres unimproved land, 1751 1/2.

Note. —Among his summaries the assessor returns the number of heads of families as 32, meaning no doubt possible heads of families and accordingly thus listing the young unmarried pioneers living with the settlers, who are not, however, except in a few instances, taken by name in the return.


Heads of Families                      Members

1.       B. F. Teller………….….……..........


2.      W. Hessler…………………………...


3.       Wm. Gilley...…………….….………


4.       C. Geiselhart...............................


5.       F. McCurdy......…………………….


6.       G. W. Teller..........………………….


7.       L. McCurdy.....…………………......


8.       A. Basom...................……………..


9.       D. Vance......................................


10.   J. Freeman..................................


11.   S. Loomis....................................


12.   C. Rhodes....................................


13.   R. Morris.....................................


14.   T. T. Morris.................................


15.   R. Floyd.......................................


16.   E. B. Smith..................................


17.   J. Davis........................................


18.   J. Ferguson.................................


19.   H. Copelan...................................


20.  O. J. Mills....................................


21.   W. H. Blizard...............................


22.  J. F. Flack...................................


23.   T. McKnight................................


Total population of Newton township, 119. Males, 73; females, 22. Number of heads of families, 23. (The number returned by the enumerator, 46. See note under Jasper township.)

Nativity of population—New York, 4; Ohio, 26; Vermont, 10; Indiana, 14; Iowa, 1; Pennsylvania, 25; Germany, 4; Ireland, 5; Delaware, 1; Illinois, 1; Michigan, 2; England, 1; unknown, 21.

Occupation—Farmer, 28; manteau maker, 4; millwright, 1; engineer, 1; brick layer, 1; miller, 1; carpenter, 1; tailor, 1; blacksmith, 1; machinist, 1.

Voters, 30.

Subject to military service, 34.

Acres of wheat grown, 19; yield, 190 bu.

Acres of corn grown, 215; yield, 3,207 bu.

Acre potatoes, 2 1/2; yield, 310 bu.

Hogs, 48; value, $410.50.

Cattle, 9; value, $221.

Butter manufactured, lbs. 2,464.

Acres improved land, 361.

Acres unimproved land, 3,216.

At the time of the passage of the act describing the boundaries of Carroll county and laying the foundation for its organization (1850) the territory of which it is comprised was as little known to the civilization of the day as is Thibet or the heart of Borneo at the present time. If it was peopled at all it was by Indians, and there are small evidences of their presence save as they traveled from point to point in their excursions after game or to and fro from their permanent camps to the traders' stores at Panora or Lewis. No white man had yet taken up his abode at a distance so remote from the mouth of the Racoon [sic] river, though along the river between Coon Rapids and Des Moines these were scattered and desultory settlements, stragglers from the only routes of travel that had yet been established and all of which were either further south or further north. The woods which fringed the streams were full of small game and fur animals. Out on the prairies the elk roamed at will and without fear, cropping the wild grasses and exposed only to the molestation of Indian hunters on the occasional raids by which they provided against their hunger. Many wild deer of the smaller varieties roamed the wilderness and it is also probable that there were occasional visits from Buffalo even at as late a date as this.

In all of the state there was not at this time a railroad. The rivers as they appear on the maps of the day disappear before they reach Carroll county and the country west and northwest reaches to the Missouri river in a blank space indicating its unexplored condition. In fact, no streams whatever are seen leading to the Missouri from this great interior body of land.

It was to this featureless though not inhospitable wilderness that the first adventurer of his race, seeking a home with room for his elbows so that he "could spit without hitting somebody," found his way in 1852. Further down the river he was known as "Jumping" Dave Scott. Scott claimed to be a Missourian and to hail from the vicinity of Alton. The fact was, he was a native of Indiana, for which state, however, he had acquired a peculiar or rather a grotesque abhorrence. Possibly some incident of his youth had made him the victim of a shock from the effect of which he was never able to recover.

There is at the present time found frequently among French Canadians employed in lumber camps or at hard work in the woods a nervous disease known as the "jumps." But it is not confined to this race of people or to the employment of lumbering, though here perhaps it is most frequently found. Though the malady is rare most physicians encounter it in the course of their practice nowadays and in all parts of the country. It is in some measure, however, peculiar to woodmen and in new countries it is more common than it is in settled districts. A feature of the disease is that its victim when startled by some peculiar cause—a whistle, or a sharp sound of the voice as in a shout or a word, or at the sudden blow of a hammer; the excitement may be produced in a great variety of ways—its victim for the moment loses control of himself and at least runs the risk of committing some act of violence upon any one who happens to be near him—he "jumps" at the impulse, and may, to avenge himself upon his tormentor, take up a bludgeon or a weapon and use it without regard of consequences. Murder has been committed by these unfortunates while under the momentary spell of the frenzy. Or they may commit grotesque acts when seized with a sudden spasm provoked by tormentors with so little common sense as to make a mockery of a weakness which is most humiliating to all who suffer from it. Mr. Scott was a "jumper," and his bete noir was the name of the state in which he was born, "Indiana." The peculiarity was so marked that it followed him from place to place, indeed flew in advance of the ox team which carried his household from one settlement to another, first along the Mississippi to the junction of the Des Moines and thence to the Raccoon forks. He followed that stream through Dallas and Guthrie counties, where little settlement had as yet been made. Even here in this sparse region the knowledge of his weakness had outrun him, together with the word which some of the antic pioneers were not averse to using to his annoyance and to their own great danger as well as amusement. His passage is a settled tradition. It is said that the poor man was so heckled by the thoughtless settlers of Guthrie county that he yoked his oxen and pulled out into the unknown where there were no neighbors, hoping thus to escape their annoyances. At a sheltered spot on the Middle Coon, in Union township, he reined in his steers and started to clear a farm. Here he and his family put up the first log cabin or permanent abode of any sort known to the soil of Carroll county, and here they subsisted upon hunting and trapping for a time. But they did not remain long. In another year or two other families forced their way upon the settlement which he had founded. Still undaunted in his hope for solitude and to be free from tongues that could articulate the word which he abhorred and was so painful, he again put his beasts to the yoke and assembling his domestic gods [sic corr =goods], knowing no rest, like the Wandering Jew, pressed on. His further migrations are unknown. Beyond this tradition of their fleeting passage "Jumping" Dave Scott and his family left no impress upon the county which they were the first white persons to penetrate for the purpose of making it their home.

The second settler was Enoch [sic corr =Enos] Butrick, who located with his family on the banks of the North Coon in what is now known as Jasper township, in the same year. Some of his descendants are still living in the vicinity of the old pioneer home. Mr. Butrick was a man of energy and enterprise and was one of the leading spirits in the organization of the county and in the affairs of the new organization for several years.

Toward the nuclei established by these two first settlers there was a slow trend of immigration. Neighbors came and other neighbors were added to them from time to time until in 1855 the population had grown to the vicinity of two hundred. Carroll county was now a dependency of Guthrie county. But it had no opportunity to vote for the officials of the latter, or to possess any government of its own.

It was in this predicament when, on July 16, 1855, James Henderson, county judge of Guthrie county, issued the following order:

"To Solomon Loomis, of Carroll township (there was no Carroll township at that time), Carroll county, attached to Guthrie county:

"Greeting: It is hereby ordered that an election be held at the house of Henry Copeland, in Carroll township in said county and state, on the first Monday in August, 1855, for the organization of Carroll county and the election of county officers of said Carroll county; and that this warrant be directed to Soloman [sic corr =Solomon] Loomis, of said township, to advertise the legal notice of county officers for said Carroll county, viz: County judge, treasurer and recorder, clerk of district court, prosecuting attorney, county surveyor, drainage commissioner, sheriff and coroner to be elected at said election, and that he proceed according to law."

Under this authority the first election was duly held at the time and place appointed. It will be remembered that there are now two settlements in the county, one in the northeast section, on the skirt of the North Coon, and the other on the Middle Coon near the southeast corner of the county. They were separated at that time by a long stretch of low lands in which there were bogs and swamps and many unbridged streams intersected what would be the natural course of travel. There was little communication between the settlements on account of the difficulties of the road, and their people were practically unacquainted. Being strangers they were inclined to be suspicious of each other, for the simple reason that one fraction lived up the river and the other down the river, and a North Cooner looked considerably better to a North Cooner than a Middle Cooner. Every voter in the county, however, was present at the time and place as announced in the proclamation. The election was held at the Copeland home on the Middle Coon river, about a mile south of Carrollton, on what is now known as the the [sic] Cyrus Rhodes farm. The house was situated in the middle of a small clearing in the midst of what was then a heavy timber. There could have been no preconcerted plan by either party as to a program by which to conduct operations, nor was there any question of general politics upon which the voters could divide along party lines. The innate love of the American voter for division, if not upon an issue, then upon some question—any question—was present at even these early days, hence the battle, in the absence of something better, joined for the supremacy of one settlement over the other, and loyalty to sweet, sweet home became the slogan which moved the tide of combat upon that day. The factions did not mix. The North Cooners drew aloof from the Middle Cooners. The latter deliberated under the shade of the house, where they drew up a ticket composed entirely of Middle Cooners. They did not give the other fellows a smell—not a look-in. The other party was equally liberal in the distribution of its patronage.

After preparation had been made in this manner Mr. Loomis opened the polls; that is to say, he deposited his hat on a log and announced the rules under which the bickering was to take place—one vote to each male citizen over twenty-one years of age, the ballot to be deposited in the hat. As every voter had a ticket prepared according to agreement the ceremony was soon over. The Middle Cooners were licked to a frazzle; of the twenty-eight votes cast the North Cooners had a majority of two. In this manner were the first county officers chosen, the following being the successful candidates:

County Judge—A. J. Cain; Clerk of Courts—Levi Thompson; Treasurer and Recorder—James White; Surveyor—Robert Floyd; Prosecuting Attorney—L. McCurdy; Sheriff—J. Y. Anderson.

There was no bad blood between the camps of pioneers over the result of the day's work. Every man had voted his sentiments according to the dictates of his own conscience. The electors shook hands all around and returned to their homes with a good impression of all concerned.

Of this election no record has survived. So far as known, there were no poll-register or other writing to attest the proceedings. Many years later Henry E. Russell of Carroll gathered from the surviving pioneers an interesting account of the event and was fortunately able to obtain, after much inquiry, a list of the voters who participated, as follows: Geo. W. Teller, Robert Dixon, Robt. Floyd, J. Y. Anderson, Thornton Ford, Enos Butrick, 0. J. Niles, Cyrus Rhodes, Henry Blizard, S. L. Loomis, Thomas McCurdy, Edward Smith, Isaac Ford, Simeon Ochampaugh, Henry Copelin, Levi Thompson, C. R. Babbitt, John Gibson, A. J. Cain, David Butrick, Conrad Geiselhart, Wm. Ochampaugh, James Ford, Benjamin Teller, David Vancer, James White, Elisha Ford, Thos. Ford.

Note.—But one man is now living whose name appears among the voters at this first election, Robert Dixon. Some years since he left his farm on the North Coon and went to live with a son in Oklahoma. He has, however, recently returned to Carroll county and will probably here spend the remaining years of his life. Mr. Dixon is over ninety years of age and physically feeble, but his mind is clear, especially as to events which happened at the time of which we are now writing.

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