Carroll County IAGenWeb


A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement



Transcribed and donated by Marilyn Setzler.





At the outbreak of the Civil War Carroll county contained less than three hundred people. The settlements in which they lived were all in the eastern row of townships. Carrollton was the only one of these settlements with the dignity of a name. It consisted of less than a dozen houses and its inhabitants did not number more than thirty. Such schools as then existed were taught at the homes of the pioneers, changing from place to place according to turn. Little effort was made to teach more than the three R's—the simple branches of reading, writing and arithmetic, the latter as far as the rule of three. The teacher was paid by popular subscription and a part of her compensation was "board and lodging," generally furnished by those families better able to pay their share in this way than in cash, a very scarce, and, in those days of wildcat currency, hazardous form of wealth. The common necessities of the present time were the extreme luxuries of that simple period. Much of the clothing was homespun or fashioned by the women from furs and skins. The early settlers were of a highly religious character, and circuit riders of the Methodist church principally, with an occasional service from a frontier Presbyterian or Baptist parson or Seventh Day Advent elder, furnished the religious pabulum. On preaching occasions the pioneers and their families flocked in from far and near. The theology of the time was of the most robust character. Sinners were warned in crude eloquence that a transgression of the law of God was a step toward a future punishment, the lurid character of which drew forth the most extreme pictures of the imagination. The preaching of hell and its penalties appealed to the pioneer spirit where a milder theology would have met with little respect, and there is no doubt that many rough characters were kept along correct paths by the fear of the wrath to come. In the absence of any of the machinery of the civil law the people were honest, virtuous and well behaved. There was apparently no need of courts and court officers to keep in hand the predatory and evil inclined. The injunctions of the pioneer preachers and the integrity which goes with the simple life sufficed to keep Carroll county in its early infancy moral and of good behavior, for it was not until many years later, and long after the county was firmly organized, that there appeared to arise occasion for that form of justice, known in so many communities in their early days, over which Judge Lynch presided and whose mandates were enforced by a vigilance committee. Indeed, in the entire history of the county there is but one instance in which anything resembling lynch law was put into effect, and happily in this case the ensuing consequences were not grave.

In August, 1875, a character by the name of George Anamosa appeared in Carroll with marks of rough treatment about his neck and on other parts of his body. He told a story of having been called from his bed at night by a party on horseback and came to the door in order to answer a question about the direction and distance to Coon Rapids. Anamosa's home at the time was in Newton township. On coming within reaching distance a rope was thrown about his neck and he was bound with ropes, and being blindfolded was in this situation led and dragged for some distance out into the open prairie. No effort was made to make good the suggestion involved in the rope, which was used for no worse purpose than to serve as a halter to lead him into the secluded place to which he was taken. There were no trees handy, and, at that time, no telegraph or telephone poles to which such objects could be suspended, and this may furnish a reason why the probable purpose of Anamosa's captors was not carried out. Be this as it may, the worst that happened to him was abandonment in a helpless position far from human habitation at night, suffering from the terrors of his experience and the threat that the horsemen would soon return and complete the work of execution. These were the only hardships the man suffered. In the course of the next day he managed to free himself from his bonds and find his way back to his home.

Anamosa was a man of bad reputation and had lived in the county some years. One of his accomplishments when his brutal blood was aroused was beating his wife, and it was this outrage and perhaps other acts of cruelty that were responsible for his midnight visitation. It does not appear that Anamosa was badly hurt, or that there was any intention to inflict upon him harm of a more serious character.

By whom the raid was perpetrated was never known. Anamosa said he had recognized the voices of some of his captors, naming certain residents of the south part of the county, but he failed to establish any of the information given to the authorities and the event was the cause of no interest and was soon forgotten. Probably it was a rough practical joke, serious, however, in the respect that Anamosa was a wife beater and in serving general notice that offenses of that nature would not be tolerated by the community.

Another rather interesting episode, and one which occasioned intense interest for a time in Carroll and the neighborhood was the abduction of Major W. August Fonda in the fall of 1882. A year or two before the major had become a citizen of Carroll under rather mysterious circumstances, dropping into town at night and for a considerable time keeping closely to his room and not permitting himself to be seen on the streets during the day. At night he would sally forth and take such benefit of the open as was necessary for his health and comfort. In the course of time the cause for this peculiarity of habit became known.

Before the major's advent, there had been aggravated and prolonged labor troubles at Omaha. Being a man of some address and fond of action and living at the time in that city, he worked himself in to be one of the captains of the strike and was an important personage in the combats of capital and labor in the Nebraska metropolis. The major was certainly not a laboring man in the practical sense of the term, being himself something of a capitalist and a dependent of a fortune held by relatives in one of the eastern states who sent him regularly sums suitable to provide for the simple needs of a bachelor on the condition that he lived and made his home far enough away not to annoy and encumber them. The major was what is known in the west as a "remittance man." In the course of time he grew to be under suspicion of the Omaha labor cohorts, whether from some act of supposed treachery or by some eruption in the politics of the strife, is not known; the major claimed the latter.

Along with this evolution the major grew into intense unpopularity with his former comrades, and to such length was the feud carried that he had to take to hiding for fear of his personal safety. The trains were picketed so that he could not leave the city. Still the fertile mind of the former chief of labor was not without resources. One dark night, provided with an extra suit of clothes, the major skulked his way to the banks of the Missouri river, above the city, where he divested himself of his familiar garments, and newly clothed and otherwise disguised, made his escape from the city by crawling over the Union Pacific bridge on his hands and knees in imminent risk of being knocked into the river by a passing train. His clothing was left on the river bank to tell the story to the major's Omaha enemies that in his extremity he had taken his life by suicide; but meanwhile the major was on his way to Carroll, which was to be his home for several years.

Those who came to know this unique personage say that he was without a rival as a romancer short of Baron Munchausen. Soon after his arrival he opened an office, which in the course of time became something of a resort to the young men of the village who enjoyed a quiet game of whist, in the science of which the major made great claims. His pomposity was great, his claims to eminence fairly astonishing. A greater liar than the major may have lived at some time, perhaps in Ananias, but it is considered doubtful. In his office he had displayed conspicuously a major's commission dated of the time of the war. A glance at this document disclosed the fact that while it was genuine enough as an officer's commission as far as he was concerned it was an arrant fraud. Closely examined, it was seen that a name had been roughly erased and in the blank thus created, "W. Augustus Fonda" had been written. The deception was plain, yet such was the impudence of the man that on the strength of his claimed record as a warrior he was admitted to the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic and for a time was prominent in the councils of that patriotic order. At the same time, the major was not a bad man in any other respect than that he was thoroughly and irremediably bogus. But while his lies were used to inflate and flatter himself, they were otherwise without harm. He had some little knowledge of the law and a good deal of literary and general information. In the course of time he managed to gain admission to the bar and hung out his shingle as a lawyer. He won his admission by faking a lawyer's certificate from another state much in the same manner as the scheme employed to support his claim of being an officer and West Point graduate. No one, however, suffered from the incompetency of the major as a legal adviser, for he made no pretensions to practice and was not connected with any litigation beyond a case or two which some of the humor-loving blades of the county seat arranged to bring on a tug of war between him and another eccentric member of the profession and which for the time afforded them a great deal of amusement, the legal battle of the two Blackstonians being known as the "battle of the giants."

So great a braggart as the major must of course have had a history of personal prowess. A part of his war service had been among the Indians in the far west, he declared, and to sustain his assertions when doubt was expressed he kept in reserve an assortment of Indian scalps which he took great pride in displaying in proof of his claims. In further evidence that he was a mighty warrior and hunter his collection of arms, guns, swords and pistols—weapons for every conceivable use and description—was formidable and served for a time to make him an important member of the local gun club. He maintained this prominence as long as he could by any excuse refrain from taking part in any of the shooting contests of the Nimrods, of whom he claimed to be so far superior that it was a shame to show his supremacy. Finally he was great into taking his place at the traps, to his own humiliation and the great amusement of the spectators. It was found that the major, with a most expensive English gun, was a most inexpert trap shot, a fact which he laid to a trouble of the eyes; but the major, for the time, used the soft pedal when the subject of marksmanship was mentioned, and gradually, in his hunting stories, drifted to the rifle and big game.

These incidents are mentioned not that they are particularly interesting or worthy of following to this length. The purpose is to bring the reader to an understanding of a most unusual character, and to finally arouse his curiosity as to a psychological problem growing out of the story about to be related.

Objectively, the major, in every sense of the word, was a "false alarm." He pretended to be a soldier and famous for deeds of bravery. Physically he did not have the courage of a mouse. He pretended to be a lawyer; to have practiced medicine; to have taken orders as a clergyman of the Episcopal church. He claimed to have been a great traveler and to have carried his explorations into every corner of the world, hunting hippopotami on the Nile and Congo, crocodile and tigers in India, cougars and wild men along the Amazon and grizzlies in the Rocky mountains. In the course of time, in each one of these claims, the major was found to be a most egregious fraud and liar. He came to be regarded as a lazy, good-for-nothing ne'er do well, a spendthrift and a shiftless incumbrance of the earth whom his family had cast off with an allowance which he accepted on the condition that he would take himself as far away from them as possible and remain out of sight. That he was a rascal is not probable. On the other hand he had certain engaging qualities as an acquaintance and was a lavish entertainer while in funds. He was not a drinker or gambler. Probably the worst that can be said of him is that he was trifling and mentally out of tune.

One dark night in the fall of 1882 a number of young men collected at the major's office for a friendly game of cards, whereat he entertained them most hospitably for the early hours of the evening, when some one of the party suggested that they all take some exercise by walking around the block. Being somewhat of a nocturnal habit to this the major readily assented and the party set out for a ramble which at length brought them to the corner of the Presbyterian church, over which a large tree thickened the darkness of an otherwise black and moonless night. When the major and his friends reached the tree a dozen men in masks emerged from the gloom, when his companions took to their heels in alarm and made their way to safety. Not so the major, who was of unwieldy bulk and heavy on his feet. In response to the commands of the men in masks, who had him quite in their power, the major surrendered with dignity.

"Men," said he, "I yield to superior numbers. But if any of you gentlemen will meet me with either sword or pistol, or even with bare fists, it will be your blood and not that of W. August Fonda that will crimson the soil where stands that venerated sanctuary."

To this there was no reply but silence. Silently the white-robed company laid the unresisting major on the ground, where he was gagged, bound and a white cap thrown over his head. Then his body was picked up and carried to a light wagon, which in the meantime had appeared on the scene, and deposited, helpless and mute, in the box of the vehicle. Not a word was spoken. The men in masks started the team, and with guards at his head and foot and the other passengers heavily armed, the party and its captive drove slowly out of town. How far they went or how long a time was consumed the major did not know, but the journey was a tedious one and he resigned himself to whatever might befall. At length the team was brought to a halt. In silence the major was lifted to the ground and the cap pulled from his eyes. His captors foregathered about the helpless body and a deep voice from near his head started to repeat a service for the dead taken from the ritual of some secret society. In the black darkness prayers were said and hymns sung, and after these wierd ceremonies the arms of the victim were unbound and the major could feel within their length the moist earth of a newly dug grave. He was asked in a whisper, if he had any word to send to his friends and the major, having signified his wish for speech, was about to begin, when afar off came the beating of a horse's hoof bearing down upon the party. The rider came close to where the helpless man lay prostrate, but passed on in the night and the pounding of his horse died out of hearing. But, when this rescue seemed to have failed, and the major had prepared himself for the worst and lost all hope, he found himself alone. The men who had brought him a long distance and had lain him beside an open grave had vanished as if they had sunk into the earth, and the wagon which had conveyed him had disappeared without a sound. He was alone and safe. Not a hair of his head had been injured. He could see a little in the dark and his hands were free. He quickly disengaged himself from the cords with which he had been bound, and with the first gray dawn of the morning he found himself alive and free to go whither he pleased.

By a reconnoisance he was able in the course of time to locate himself. He had been taken to a spot some distance from the road running between Carroll and Glidden, and not a great distance from the latter town. Although as day advanced he could see the road plainly and might have followed it in. This he disdained to do. Recent rains had swollen Storm creek to a stream of considerable size, but the bridge of the public road would have carried him over in safety and dry-footed. Such an end to the adventure was too prosaic, and striking off across the bottom the major swam and struggled through the stream, which was beyond his depth and which must have worried him much to cross. Arriving at Glidden, he recited a thrilling story of his struggle in the water after he had by main strength freed himself from the desperadoes who had stolen and determined to kill him, and his bedraggled appearance when he arrived was sufficient to confirm any tale which his fertile mind could conjure up.

While these things were happening to Major Fonda the young men who had been his companions the night before spread the alarm of his capture. The bells of the churches and fire house were rung. The population turned out en masse, and before an hour was gone a party of more than two hundred men had scattered over the country to succor the major and confound the outlaws. An all-night search, however, failed of any result, although it was made in all directions but that which the kidnapping party had taken. By morning the town was intensely excited, and when the report came that the major was safe at Glidden the fact only served to inflame the public indignation. From a personage who had become a subject of derision the major had assumed over night the dimensions of a "leading citizen." If he had walked out of town the day before he would have been forgotten in a week. But as the victim of this outrage he all at once grew to the importance of which he boasted.

The first train brought the victim back and half of the population of the town gathered at the station to welcome his return. He appeared accompanied by a delegation of Glidden citizens and speeches were made which irritated the spirit of the assembly to a still higher pitch. If the perpetrators of the deed could have been known at the time they would have been roughly handled. But who the actors were was never known. The major in his speech explained of a conspiracy that had been hatched against him at Omaha among labor leaders, and contrived a pretty theory in which they were made responsible for the rough experiences through which he had passed and from whose clutches he had gallantly rescued himself before they, by their inability to retain him as their prisoner, could inflict upon him the extreme object of their purpose. By exerting his strength at the proper moment and husbanding all of his power, he said, he had scattered his captors right and left and effected a masterly retreat, followed by a storm of bullets. It may have been as he said. There were some doubters. There were those who believed, that if those engaged in the major's kidnaping had been found when popular feeling was at the height of its fury there may have been several hangings and possibly several Carroll families deprived of a loved one.

The revulsion of feeling toward the major did not last long, though there was considerable uneasiness in certain places until after the meeting of the next grand jury. There was some talk of applying the probe in suspected quarters, but the major laughed to scorn any suggestion that his abductors could have been any other than an Omaha band of outlaws, and the matter was dropped.

Soon after the episode Major Fonda organized a hunting party of youths to accompany him on a hunting trip to the mountains. His companions straggled back after a little time and said he had reached Bismarck, N. D., and had refused to go any further, giving as a reason that he had been employed to edit a newspaper there. A few years later the report came to Carroll that the major had been killed in a railway accident in Mississippi, and it was in this way that the end came to a most curious individual.

This long story is told to bring out the fact that the mob spirit was once astir and would have been carried to great length if a guilty subject could have been produced at the psychological moment in Carroll county and in the orderly city of Carroll. Happily there was no victim present. Also, happily, and to apply the logic in its ultimate form, the crisis passed without stain upon the honor and conservative self-control of this delightful community, thus distinguishing Carroll county from many of its neighbors, few of whom can plead a like immunity from the excesses of youthful indignation.

All along through the history of Carroll county the facts bear out a condition of good moral repute and equanimity of temper on the part of the people. From the beginning the community has been one of cleanliness, order and decency.

Before the date set at the head of this chapter there came among the people of Carrollton a couple who gave the name of Elliott and who passed as man and wife. They were persons of good appearance and considerable means for those days, for the effects which accompanied them were above the usual in number and value and several teams of oxen were used to transport their goods from the Rock Island railroad at Iowa City, the end of rail transportation in Iowa, as far as Carroll county. They appeared to have no certain point of destination, and reaching Carrollton they tarried for a time and finally were induced to take possession of a piece of land and set up their household establishment. It was not long until the new settler and his wife grew into the acquaintance and esteem of the neighborhood and were taking part in all of the social and other affairs of the hamlet. The Elliotts were voted sturdy and honest people and in this reputation they remained for a couple of years, when there came to the village a stranger who sought information on various subjects, and who, concerning the Elliotts, was especially inquisitive. He sought the acquaintance of the men in authority and to them he disclosed the information that he was on the track of a runaway wife, whom he had been able to trace thus far and whom he suspected of being no other than the supposed spouse of Elliott. Of the fact, however, he was not entirely certain and desired such aid as would enable him to make a satisfactory investigation without exciting suspicion in case his belief proved to be without foundation. This aid was given him and by its means he was soon able to satisfy himself that the woman was really his wife and that her pretended husband was a former farm laborer who had eloped with her from Illinois. They had flown together from the farm of the man who had now appeared in their pursuit, and from whom they had taken in their flight much of the property with which they had set up their house.

Here were the elements of a considerable scandal with which there was no machinery of law at hand to deal without great delay, and indeed these devices were found not to be necessary. In response to the call of a leader the patriarchs of the village foregathered when the incident was found to have reached a developed stage, and counseling together they resolved upon a plan of action.

Meanwhile, the stranger and the wife who had deserted him had been brought together and as a result of this meeting it was found that the woman's old love had been restored and that she was most eager to go back with him to the old Illinois farm and resume her interrupted reign over the penates and lares of her youthful fancy. The patriarchal board of strategy was well pleased with this turn of affairs, and agreeing to the wisdom of such an arrangement, they turned their attention to the problem of settling the debt of the community with husband number two. For this a way was found. A committee of two was appointed to hold communion with him at the first convenience of the parties concerned and this was soon effected. Elliott was found out in his field at work with his cradle in total ignorance of the crisis which had taken place in his affairs. Under the circumstances there was no opportunity for evasion and Elliott confessed at once.

"Mr. Elliott," said the spokesman of the visiting delegation, "we will give you just fifteen minutes to rid the community of your presence."

The man was disposed to parley at this and sought to gain a little time to go to the house and gather up a few articles and some clothing. The committee was obdurate. Its spokesman stood with his watch in hand.

"Mr. Elliott," he again remarked, "I said fifteen minutes. Three minutes of that time you have used in useless talk. In twelve minutes more you must be out of sight and if you shall at any time return to this community it will be at your peril."

Elliott made no further remonstrance. He picked up the cradle from the ground and carried it to a tree where he hung it to the branches. With the same action he turned his back to the men holding the watch and walked rapidly away and disappeared in the underbrush of the timber. He was never seen or heard from again.

Having still the reunited husband and wife on their hands, the settlers found a way to dispose of them also. Word was sent around the neighborhood that the goods and property of the Elliotts was to be disposed of at public vendue Sic [venue] on the following day at a certain hour. When the time arrived a crowd had collected. One of the settlers took his place as auctioneer and officiated as such until the last article of value had been disposed of and the proceeds in ready cash handed over to the rightful husband. By this time a team was in waiting and the couple placed aboard the wagon and escorted to the stage line at Panora.

This narrative is fully authenticated and is repeated to instance the fiber of the pioneers of Carroll county and their ability to deal wisely and justly with the many varieties of circumstance which came upon them in their remoteness calling for the exercise of prudence and good sense.

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