Carroll County IAGenWeb


A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement



Transcribed and donated by Marilyn Setzler.



At this point in the narrative of its social and civil evolution Carroll county has assumed a form in readiness for law and order to take up a permanent abode, with the machinery at hand with which to compel obedience. The life of the community, however, underwent but little change. So far as known there was no crime and neighbors lived together in peace and amity. There was little or no money in the country to tempt the cupidity of those inclined to avarice. Some time later in the pioneer period there were horse thieves whose raids among the settlers were a sore plague to them, but at this time there could be no such depredations because there were no horses. The work of the settlements not done by human hands was done by ox teams, and these were so scarce that it may be said that all of the labor not beyond man's power was done by the wear and tear of human muscles. In making their clearings and building their cabins an amount of toil was involved that would appall the modern pioneer. Only the axe and a few other primitive tools, among which the maul and wedge were next in importance to the axe, were known so far out upon the frontier. The raw material for home building stood upright in the forest, but the business of converting a tree into a house was a far cry when there was no division of labor and the settler was his own woodman, sawyer, carpenter, plasterer, etc., as well as his own carrier and architect. To be sure, the neighbors helped each other, and a house raising was an event to which society from far and near flocked for a celebration and a good time, but the toil and drudgery by which these earliest of the Carroll county pioneers came into possession of a dwelling place, to say nothing of their remoteness from civilization and isolation from the conveniences and social life of the eastern states from which they came, many times sickened them to the heart with discouragement and dread. Their nearest doctor was at Panora, thirty miles away, and it was sixty miles to the nearest grist mill, south of Boonesboro, in Boone county, on the Des Moines River. Panora was also the nearest postoffice [sic] and source of store supplies. The trail led across many fords, some of them dangerous at all seasons, and during seasons of flood and in the winter the way was impassible except to travel on foot, a method very dangerous in winter because of the storms which swept over the country with much greater vehemence than at present. There was no railroad nearer than Iowa City, one hundred and twenty miles away.

These are, however, the common experiences of the original Iowa settlement. If the settlers had taken to the prairie lands many of their hardships would have been saved to them and few would have been added, but it was not for years afterward that they realized that life away from the timber was possible and that the lands which they had cleared with such toil were the poorest and least responsive to their labor.

On the last day of December, 1855, Judge Cain, the newly elected head of the county administration, convened court in one of the rooms of his log house on the North Coon. The office of county judge has long ceased to exist, but for the time it was an important one, having for its chief duties the labors which now fall upon the auditor and board of supervisors. The county court also had jurisdiction at the time Judge Cain was elected over certain minor criminal and civil matters. Of these it was shorn before the office was finally abolished in 1859, when its only scope as a court consisted in a limited degree of authority over the work of administrators of estates and probate affairs. It is said to have been the practice of many of the county judges to usurp such authority as the law failed to provide and rule over the people and their affairs with a single and iron hand. Complaints were made that the Czar of all the Russias would have paled into a shadow in the presence of an Iowa county judge before he forced himself to be abolished; but this character of judge was certainly not that of Judge Cain, who was honest, fat and jolly and of whom his constituents had no reason to complain as an official. But it seems the judge was somewhat given to deep potations and inclined to neglect business for the sake of betting on his ability with the rifle and taking financial risk in other forms of skill and chance upon which the moral sense of the community was disposed to frown. Let this be as it may. So far as there is a record by which to be guided the judge presided over his court with necessary dignity and disposed of such business as came before him with diligence and equity. His first official act was to allow James White four dollars for hauling the laws of Iowa, a small volume of about four hundred pages, from Iowa City and delivering it into the hands of the court. The service was worth the money, as Mr. White was occupied for three weeks in making the round trip and was so harried by storms and difficulties that much of his other freight had to be abandoned along the way. At the same session an order was made allowing the same person, James White, $12.50 for his services as treasurer and recorder. The judge granted himself also $12.50 as salary for his first quarter at the rate of $50 per year, and ordered a warrant drawn in favor of Levi Thompson for $16 for services in full to date as clerk of courts. In the following February Judge Cain again convened court and such proceedings were taken as to legally apportion the county into two equal townships to include the northern and southern halves and to be known respectively as Jasper and Newton townships and to provide for an election of township officers. No county seat existed up to this time. It had a nominal place of abode under Judge Cain's roof, but the location was not satisfactory to the settlers and in the spring of 1856 a petition was circulated and generally signed requesting the appointment of a commission to investigate and decide the question. The document was signed by most of the voters of the county, when it was presented to Judge E. H. Sears of the Sixth Judicial district, who, on the 7th day of April, 1856, appointed the commission as requested. The judge named the commissioners to find and locate the county seat of Carroll county as follows: William L. Henderson, of Guthrie county; John Purdy, of Crawford county, and Dr. S. M. Ballard of Audubon county. They were directed to perform their duty within two months. Dr. Ballard failed to act, but the other two were qualified and on June 4th made the following formal report of their inspection and conclusions:

"Whereas, we, the undersigned, were appointed by Hon. H. E. Sears, district judge of the Sixth Judicial District of the State of Iowa, on the 14th day of April, 1856, commissioners to locate the seat of justice or county seat of Carroll county, in the state of Iowa, we therefore, in conformity to said appointment, after having duly qualified according to law, and after mature deliberation and carefully reviewing and examining all and every proposed site within the bounds of the said county of Carroll, having due regard for the welfare and prospects of the people of the said county, also the welfare, prospects and convenience of the future as well as the present population of said county, do hereby, by the power vested in us, locate the permanent county seat of said county of Carroll, in the state of Iowa, on the north fractional half of the northeast quarter of section one in township eighty-two north of range thirty-four west of the fifth principal meridian, and on the south half of the southeast quarter of section thirty-six in township eighty-three north, range thirty-four west of the fifth principal meridian, and on which the town of Carrollton is now laid out, and also such additional territory as may be donated on either side of the premises aforesaid, or that may be purchased by the proper authorities of said county at any time and added thereto without limit."

The townsite [sic] of Carrollton was donated to the county by the real estate firm of Lease & Harsh of Des Moines and the proceeds of the sale of lots were covered into the county treasury. During the spring of 1856 there was a thin immigration to Carroll county, most of which was attracted to the county seat, and among the newcomers was Dr. I. P. Miller, who was the county's first poor physician. To him fell the task of treating the county's first pauper, John Salisbury, for whose care he was first allowed a bill of $24 and afterwards granted a fee of $50 additional. The following items taken from old records may be of interest as indicating the business of the county at the time: Robert Floyd was allowed $3.50 from the treasury for surveying the blocks in the new town of Carrollton. L. S. Loomis was allowed $1 for dividing the blocks into lots. C. R. Babbitt was allowed $34.00 for assessing Newton township. The proceeds from the sale of lots in Carrollton, belonging to the county, were loaned at interest for a time. Samuel L. Loomis was a borrower of $262.50; Thomas McCurdy, $190; Robert Morris, $25. On August 5th the county officers assembled and passed a settlement of their accounts, when it was found that the county owed Judge Cain for services, $19.25; James Anderson, sheriff, $5.00, and Levi Thompson, clerk of courts, $12.50. The salary of the more important officers was fixed at $50 per year and the lesser at $20. Payment of salaries in these proportions was made from time to time and the compensation remained the same for several years. It does not appear that the earlier officials ever overstepped these modest boundaries, but of a time which occurred later there is a different account to give. That, however, is another story. A state law of the period made it optional with the county to forbid the running at large of certain kinds of live stock. Upon a petition to Judge Cain he called an election to decide this matter and a vote was taken in the fall of 1856. By the decisive majority of 27 to 6 hogs and sheep were forbidden the open common and the result was followed by an immediate proclamation of the court forbidding such animals to be at large on pain of severe costs and penalties.

The first tax levy made after the organization of the county (some time in 1856) was as follows:

State tax, one and one-quarter mills; County tax, six mills; School tax, one mill; Road tax, three mills; Poll tax, $2.00; County Poll tax, 50 cents.

The proceeds of this levy are not to be found, but it is safe to say that the total income for the next year, as was the case in the immediately ensuing years, was not over a few hundred dollars. The sum was not large, but with honest expenditure it was sufficient.

The first marriage license issued in Carroll county was granted to Joseph Ford and Sarah Ochempaugh and bears date of September 16, 1855. They were not married, however, until a year had elapsed, when we find that their union was solemnized by A. J. Cain, county judge, on the 23d of September, 1856. The first estate administered upon was that of Wesley H. Blizard, who died May 3d, 1858, and whose estate was settled by James Colclo, the first administrator. The first deed was made by Thomas Ford to Nancy Ford for the east half of section 17, township 85, range 33, and bore date of September 3, 1855. The instrument was acknowledged by A. J. Cain, county judge.

E. M. Betzer as clerk on March 24, 1873, issued the first papers of naturalization to a foreign born citizen and by this document Harm Kruse, a native of Germany, was made a citizen of Carroll county and the United States of America.

From 1856 to 1860 the tide of life ran calmly in Carroll county. The obscurity of the few public records that remain and the fact that many of the documents of the time were lost, mislaid or burned puts out of the question any exact accounting for the period. As has before been mentioned the census of 1856 gave to the county at the outset a population of 251. Four years later this number, according to the national census of 1860, had increased to 281, an increase of thirty or at the ratio of less than eight souls per year. The period was one of great depression all over the United States, and it is fair to assume that in a general way life was hard and unproductive in the homes of the pioneers. Their isolation forced them into a position of sufficiency to themselves. Their remoteness from markets and the fact that their farms brought them little beyond what was necessary to supply their own needs that it was possible to sell at a profit or indeed for ready money protected the fiscal virtues of the community. The mammon of unrighteousness found no place to enter, and the personal virtues were safeguarded, if not by the angels which keep ward over the few foregathered in distant places, then by the cleanliness of a life in the open near to nature and the incessant toil commanded of both men and women who have no needs but those they are forced to supply by the skill of their own hands. The period in these phases is dismissed in the belief that it was not without its compensations to the people of Carroll county, though it may have been a bit dull.

The first state court was held at Carrollton in 1858. The legislature of the preceding year had told off Carroll and fifteen other counties of the northwest to the extreme limits of the state, and of this area was formed the Twelfth Judicial district. The district at an election April 6th of the same year elected Marshall F. Moore •of Woodbury county to be its judge, and it was he who presided at the term which initiated lawful justice in Carroll county, opening at Carrollton on the 23d day of November, 1858. The only licensed attorney practicing at the bar of Carroll county at this time was Noah Titus, concerning whom this fact is all that is known. The first case on the docket was that of Nehemiah Powers and James Watson vs. Cornelius Higgins, and this and three other causes constituted the business of the term.

The first grand jury summoned, and which was an adjunct of this court, was composed of Cornelius Higgins, Benjamin Teller, Mathew Borders, Lafayette McCurdy, Crockett Ribble, Robert Morris, William Short, Robert Dixon, Elijah Puckett, Cyrus Rhoads, James Colclo, David Scott, David Frasier, Samuel Lyon and Amos Bason. This jury elected James Colclo for its foreman. Its deliberations were raised after a brief conference and it reported to the court that its survey of the situation had been without result.

The petit jury of the term consisted of the following citizens: S. L. Loomis, Conrad Geiselhart, Ribert Hill [sic corr= Robert Hill], John Conrad, Jacob Cressinger, J. Ferguson, C. R. Babbitt, Wm. Ochempaugh, Nelson Moore, Alphus Stevens, Levi Thompson, J. Y. Anderson, George Ribble, Wm. Gilley, H. L. Youtz.

The poll books from which these juries were drawn show that but thirty-five votes registered at the preceding election. As the two juries contain thirty of them the lists give us the names of practically all. The absentees were probably county and court officers.

An act was passed by congress in 1850 giving to the several counties of the state, organized and to be organized, an equal right and part in the swamp lands of the state, and a grant was made to the state for this purpose by the national government of all of the lands of this description found within its boundaries. The granted lands were to some extent indicated in the field notes accompanying the original surveys. These limitations, however, were not final. Authority was given into the hands of the counties to verify these swamp land districts and to add to them such lands not included in the original descriptions as would properly fall under the designation of swamp lands, or on the other hand remove from the inventories lands found not to be of a swampy nature.

The findings by the county authorities were made subject to correction by the interior department at Washington. It may be taken for granted that nothing was taken away from the swamp land tracts by the counties which were to profit by the grant. Naturally the area was increased as much as possible and the Washington authorities would allow. In the first place thousands of acres had been set aside as swampy or wet lands that were in reality as high and as dry and as fit for agricultural uses as any other portion of the surface. Indeed, during a rainy season much of the surface of a wild and tenantless prairie country would have the appearance of a marsh flat. The streams, instead of running along narrow channels, spread out over wide beds, matted with prairie grass, a thatch which admitted water slowly, but which, when water once entered and the soil underneath became saturated, was converted into a morass—a condition very deceptive as to the real nature of the country and which did not require a wet season to lead to wrong conclusions.

Suffice it to say that under the swamp land grant the state came into the possession of a modicum of swamp and great areas as valuable as any of the lands of the public domain from which it was separated. Moreover, at this time the best of the prairie land was regarded as worthless and it was generally held that only the land along the streams would ever be occupied. The congress and the state could afford to be lavish with something that was of no value. The plan of distribution was fair, however, the state holding the lands in custody for the counties, and distributing to them, when they were prepared to receive it, not their own swamp or waste land only, but the proportionate part to which each county was entitled of all of the lands conveyed by the grant. In other words and to illustrate, Carroll county was far short of its proportionate share of swamp lands. Less than three thousand acres of its area were thus designated. It was entitled to much more than this, and the excess to which it was entitled was at liberty to be found in any county in which swamp lands existed to the value or number of acres which fell to its share. Thus Carroll county at the time of the distribution was granted by the state three thousand acres or its own swamp lands—the figures are approximate, not exact—together with thirty-five to thirty-seven thousand acres in other counties as located by a commissioner of the Interior department. The swamp lands ceded to Carroll county by the state in this manner amounted to about 38,000 acres or its equivalent in land certificates. The intent of the parent government in making this liberal cession to the counties was in every way commendable. It was believed that a wise use of the property would provide them with court houses, jails and the other improvements and thus give them help during the period of their struggling growth. It is unfortunate that a benevolence so commendable should prove so wide in its miscarriage. It is but fair to say that in practically every county in the state gross frauds were employed to dissipate this property and divert it from public uses. Carroll county was not alone in this profligacy. But, as we have already stated, that is another story.

We are able to give at present the following particulars from authentic sources: On March 1, 1858, County Judge Morris appointed Robert Hill and Noah Titus surveyors to select the swamp lands of Carroll county. Hil1 was assigned the townships in ranges 33 and 35, and Titus those in ranges 34 and 36. This proceeding followed the arrival from Washington on March 1, 1858, of Congressman James Thorington, the first Republican representative of the state, with a commission from the interior department to select and secure to the county all swamp lands belonging to the county by act of congress passed September 28, 1850. The incident may be closed for the present by saying that, whatever may have been the report of the Titus-Hill survey, which was most negligently performed, all of the swamp lands of the county approved by the government as such, were located in Range 33, the eastern tier of townships, some two to three thousand acres in extent.

Sacred Heart Church, School, and Parsonage at Templeton

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