Home > Biographies Home > 1878 Bios
 1878 Biographies


Red Rose Divider Bar

One of the earliest settlers in northeastern Iowa, a pioneer in what is now Clayton county, and the first man to turn a furrow there, was John Wooley Gillett, a native of Maryland. He first saw the light of this world in Worcester county, on the 9th of July, 1809, and although he is approaching his seventieth year, he is quite active. His father, John Gillett, was a farmer. In 1830 John W. went to Camden, New Jersey, and worked two or three years for a gardener who raised fruit and vegetables for the Philadelphia market. After spending a year in Virginia Mr. Gillett came to the Mississippi river, worked awhile at the carpenter's trade (which he had picked up) at Dubuque, Galena, and other points in that part of the country, and in 1836 located in Clayton county, then in Wisconsin territory. He settled on three hundred acres of land one and a half miles northeast of where Garnavillo now stands. There were then but two or three families in the county, and the country was as wild as nature, undisturbed, could make it. Deer, elk, bears and wild turkeys were abundant, and now and then a few bison were seen.

Mr. Gillett cultivated his farm for nearly forty years, until he saw Clayton county everywhere thickly populated. He was deputy sheriff one term, and assessor and supervisor several years in succession. He has always been very robust, and a great driver of business until quite recently.

In March, 1876, having disposed of his Clayton county property, Mr. Gillett removed to Cass county, settling in Atlantic, and purchasing a farm of one hundred and sixty acres four miles southwest of the city. He is a good farmer and has the best of crops. In 1877 he raised seven hundred bushels of spring wheat on twenty-six acres.

Mr. Gillett has a second wife, his first being Miss Emma Castle, of Garnavillo, Iowa; married in 1852. She had eleven children, and died in February, 1875. Six of her children survive her. In September, 1876, Miss Lizzie Goff, also of Garnavillo, became his wife. She has one child.

At an early day in Clayton county Mr. Gillett and a dozen other men tracked some bears into their cave in a ledge of rocks, where they had taken up their winter quarters. These brave men debated what should be done, for some time, each one deciding that he was too large to get into the crevice. Finally they procured four or five gallons of whisky, drank freely, and then all made up their minds that they could go in. With gun and lighted candle and long rope one after another crept in eighty feet, one of the party at a time, and shot his bear. The experiment was repeated until no live animal was left, each bear, before being shot, approaching the marksman a few steps, snuffing and appearing the marksman a few steps, snuffing and appearing very stupid. Fastening the strong rope to the dead animals, one at a time was pulled out, and at length eight full grown bears lay at the mouth of the cave, and the residue of the whisky soon disappeared.

Mr. Gillett has had a thorough taste of frontier life, has a good memory, and a rich store of anecdotes of the olden times in "the Turkey river country," and his reminiscences are decidedly amusing and interesting.

From "The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men. Iowa Volume." Chicago and New York: American Biographical Publishing Company, 1878, pp. 641-642.