IAGenWeb Project - Clayton co.

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History of Clayton County, Iowa
Chapter XXIII

Clayton Township

Clayton Township
(page 709-715)

This township is one of the most irregular in shape of the twenty two in Clayton County. It is situated in ranges 93 and 94 north,, and ranges 2 and 3 west. It borders on the Mississippi, and is bounde3d on the north by Mendon Township, on the west by Farmersburg and Garnavillo, and on the south by Garnavillo and Jefferson. It contains twenty-seven whole and eight fractional sections. It is drained on the north by the Sny Magill and tributaries, and on the south and west by Buck Creek and tributaries.


The territory comprised with the limits of Clayton Township was first seen by Marquette and Joliet, in the month of June, 1673. There is no reliable record for over 100 years after this visit. In 1812, however, it was again visited, this time by a scion of French nobility in the person of Chevalier Marais, and adherent of Louis the Sixteenth. When the revolution of 1792 swept over the kingdom like the waves of mid ocean, the friends of royalty had to flee into exile, and he, young and gifted, on whose education no pains had been spared, reared in the lap of luxury, fled from his native land, and for twenty-two years he was a penniless wanderer, during which time he penetrated these Western wilds, living in accordance with and patterning after the modes and customs of the natives. He finally established a small trading post for traffic with the Indians, at a point near the mouth of Buck Creek, in the southern part of this township. This point was known as French Town, and he remained till the restoration. He then returned to la belle France, taking with him his dark eyed bride, a daughter of the head chief of the Iowas. In 1820, Messieurs Lapointe and Charles La Tranch, were located in at French Town, as the successors to Chavalier Marais in the Indian traffic.

In the early settlement of Clayton County, French Town was the point on the Mississippi River where many of the settlers landed their supplies. In 1836 Messrs. J.W. Gillett and McMasters, having made land claims on the Garnavillo Prairie, received their supplies at French Town from the steamer "Warrior," that made regular monthly trips from St. Louis, with Government stores to the military posts above.

Mr. Gillett slept for the first time in Clayton County about one mile up the hollow from French Town, in the winter of 1836. It is claimed that he sowed the first oats in the county. He purchased sixty bushels at Cassville, transported them across the river in a canoe, and with Bob Ross carried them on their backs up the Mississippi Bluffs, whence they were hauled to his claim with oxen. It is also said the he first put the plow into the Garnavillo Prairie. About 1846 Orrin Keeler and James Powell entered a small fraction of land at foot of Sny Magill, and established the next year a ferry. They surveyed their land into town lots, and in honor of one of the proprietors christened their town Keeleroy. After running their ferry for a time, Powell tired of the partnership and endeavored to sell out to Keeler, who had built a house and brought his family. Keeler was willing to sell to Powell, but did not feel able to purchase his partner's interest in the flat or scow used for ferrying such emigrants as chanced to come to Iowa, crossing at that place. But Powell would not buy Keeler's interest, and swore that the partnership should be dissolved. He then proceeded summarily to dissolve it be sawing the ferry-boat exactly through the center, dividing it into tow equal parts, one of which he reserved for his share. After this novel dissolution, Keeler, out of the ruins of the old business, purchased an old end-less-chain horse-power, built a flat boat and propelled the same with one horse.

The first warehouse built in this township was built at Keeleroy, by Messrs. B. F. Fox and Alvah C. Rogers, in 1848, from which they shipped the first wheat to St. Louis, and for a year or two Keeleroy could boast of shipping more grain than any other point in the county, during which time the proprietors indulged in visions of a future flourishing town. But Keeler and his amiable wife now sleep their last sleep, resting side by side in the churchyard at Garnavillo, while his town is known only on paper.

In August, 1849, Frank Smith, of Dubuque, and Messrs. Gilbert and Douglas, of Garnavillo, slept for the first time on the site where now stand the village of Clayton. They were then examining this point for the purpose of starting a town. Having decided to commence improvements here, Mr. Smith formed a co-partnership with Thompson, Sage and Davis, of Elkader, under the style of Frank Smith. Messrs. Sage and Davis had previously entered the land for the purpose of making a landing and shipping point for their flour manufactured at Elkader Mills, it being the nearest feasible point on the Mississippi to Eld(k)ader, for shipping. They sold and undivided half interest to Messrs. Noble, Watson and Douglas of Garnavillo, and then the proprietors went to work with a will, clearing off the brush and surveying the land into town lots. They named the town Clayton, in honor of John M. Clayton, and before winter set in Smith had a store built and in full blast. The proprietors had built roads to the place and Clayton had commenced with fair prospects of becoming an important business town; and for five or six years after Clayton was an example of business thrift, energy and enterprise rarely excelled in any now Western town.


Clayton was laid off on section 1, township 93 north, range 3 west, in November, 1849. The proprietors were Timothy Davis, John Thompson, Chester Sage, Ruben Noble, James Watson and Elizabeth Douglas. Lower Clayton was platted in August, 1853 on land owned by Elizabeth Douglas, Robert R. Read, Elizabeth Read and Frank Smith. Upper Clayton was added in 1853 by Ralph Campbell, and West Clayton in 1854 by John M. Ballou, Mary Ballou and Elizabeth Douglas.

We have already, in the township history, traced the beginnings of Clayton, and seen how prosperous it was the first few years. It never fully recovered, however, from the commercial revulsion of 1857. Before that year there were built large and substantial warehouses, hotels and business houses, flouring mills, saw and planing mills that would be a credit to any town. The streets were blocked with teams from early in the morning until late in the evening with produce, for which gold was always paid. Teams were often seen in its streets from the country directly west o Dubuque and from Buchanan County loaded with wheat and pork, and taking back generally lumber and goods on their return. Large stock of goods were kept by the merchants, and for a few years Clayton was clearly ahead of all competitors in the county. Messrs. Clark & Roger's stock at one time consisted of fifty-three hogsheads of sugar, 110 barrels of molasses, twenty tons of iron, seventy-five stoves and furniture, fifty chest of tea, and dry-goods, boots and shoes, queensware, hardware, in proportion, amounting in the aggregate to $50,000; and their sales reached as high as $500 in a single day.


Frank Smith & Co. built the first store and sold the first goods sold in Clayton. Clark & Rogers built the first warehouse and shipped the first grain and produce. Mr. Ruckle kept the first boarding house, and J. A. Brown built and kept the first hotel, known as the Clayton House. H. Williams, G. A. Whitman, Mark B. Sherman, D. G. Rogers, A. C. Rogers and Samuel A. Clark built the first flouring mills at Clayton, known as the Clayton City Mills, at a cost of 31,000, including the wood, land and appurtenances, miller's residence, cooper shop, etc.

Nestling in one of the most beautiful valleys of the Mississippi, surrounded on three sides by high bluffs and hills, and its western boundary washed by the great Father of Waters, lies the thriving village of Clayton. Civilization early found its way to this lovely spot, and to-day the finely cultivated farms, the hum of machinery, and on every side the signs of busy, active life, are ample evidences of its rapid progression. The town was laid out in 1845 by Frank Smith, Timothy Davis, Jack Thompson and Mr. Sage, who named it and have been instrumental in building up the town. Among the pioneers of the township may be mentioned John Lossing, W. C. Stearns, C.H. Kuempel, Ralph Campbell, who built the first blacksmith shop in the town on what is now Main Street, Clayton City. He is now dead. Frank Smith erected the first store and sold the first goods in the township. The store stood where the C. M. & St. P. depot now stands. He also, in company with Mr. Davis, built and ran the first steam saw-mill in the town, this being about 1853. Mr. Smith now resides in California. In 1858 a large stone flour-mill was built at a cost of about $43,100, and operated successfully until 1874, when, owing to the failure of the wheat crop, the owners were compelled to suspend business, and it has been idle since. The failure of this mill was a great loss to the people in the vicinity of Clayton.

Some twelve years ago Krueger & Co. built a large four-story mill, 60 x 120 feet, at a cost of $75,000. They did a large and lucrative business until the failure of the wheat crop six years ago when they closed the mill, and it has been in operation since. They manufactured the finest flour, and their failure was a great loss to the manufacturing interests of the township.

In 1878 C. H. Kuempel built a furniture manufactory, which is still in operation and does a good business.

The first hotel was built by J. A. Brown.


Shroeder Bros., dealers in barbed fence-wire, stoves, belting, tin, and shelf-ware, embarked in this business in 1880. They carry an extensive stock and do a profitable business.

Ernest Rantzow established the boot and shoe store which he now occupies, in 1872, and has been very successful.

J. Pahl, formerly of Brush Creek, Iowa, engaged in the tailoring business here in 1882.

Mrs. Pahl, milliner and dressmaker, located here in her present business in May, 1882, and carries a complete stock of goods.

Mrs. D. Clark has been engaged in the millinery business in Clayton Center since April, 1882, and is making it a financial success.

Shroeder, Beckman & Stearnes, livery, feed and sale stables, embarked in this business in 1877, and have been financially sd(u)ccessful.

Wancel Smasar, blacksmith, embarked in business here in 1862.

J. H. Wiegand, boot and shoemaker, engaged in his present business in 1860.

H. C. Stinson, general merchant, commenced business in 1867 and has an extensive retail trade.

J. M. Siple, dealer in general merchandise, embarked in this business in 1877, and carries a full line of goods.

Beckman Bros., among the leading business men of Clayton City, established their present business, that of dealers in agricultural implements and farm machinery, in 1875, and have met with deserving success.

M. H. Adams, grain dealer, established business in 1879.

John J. Hauschen, blacksmith, located here in business in November, 1881.

Beckman Bros. & Co., dealers in general merchandise, established this business in 1870. They carry a complete stock of goods and are the recipients of a profitable trade.

August Ruegnitz, proprietor of the city saloon, established this business on May 1, 1978.


There are five school buildings in the township, valued at $3,500. The number of children enrolled in the year 1881 was 350.


Clayton City contains but one church building, that of the Catholic organization. It was built in 1870 at a cost of $2,000. They have no regular priest at present.

The Methodist organization consists of twelve members. Their meetings are held in the school-houses of the township.

The United Brethren Society numbers twenty members. A minister by the name of Kauffman preached the first sermon in this faith in the township. He also held a protracted meeting, and some twenty-five or thirty names were added to the church. They have no regular pastor, but the word of God is preached to them by the traveling ministers of their denomination.


The following remarkable bear story is told by several of the early settlers of the county, and its truthfulness vouched for. A party of hunters, among them R. Hatfield, weight 240 pounds; John Gillet, weight about 100 pounds; Eli Daniel and William Carlin, average weight about 180 pounds, William Knight, Edward Follett and others, all of Clayton County, Ia., in the winter of 1842, started out on a bear hunt. One of the party tracked a bear, followed him to a cave, but upon reaching it found the opening too small for him to crawl through. He notified the remainder of the party, who joined him, and they all stayed around the cave two days, partaking freely of whisky, and getting gloriously drunk. It was not long before the largest man could crawl into the cave. A piece of lighted tallow candle was placed on the muzzle of the gun, and one of the men crawled into the cave, holding this beacon, thus prepared, in advance of him. One of the bears, on smelling the tallow, came up and began licking the lighted candle, whereupon the gun was instantly fired and the bear killed. The supposed dead bear was dragged to the mouth of the cave and proved to be a half-grown cub. The men all then lighted their candles, crawled into the cave and succeeded in killing eight bears in that and an adjoining cave. Such was the difference between a sober and a drunken man. This is one of many true stories of thrilling interest that might be told of the early pioneer life of Clayton County.

Colonel H. F. Landers, formerly of Breckenridge County, KY. Came to Clayton County in 1831, being among the very earliest settlers. He helped to build the fort at Cassville, Wis. The Indians along the Turkey River were very troublesome, stealing whatever they could lay their hands on, and always having a dog or two with them. Colonel Landers one day took a goose-quill, filled it with gunpowder and stopped the end up with a piece of punk, touching it with fire. He slipped the quill into a piece of fat meat which he laid down for the dog, then stepped up to the Indian and engaged in conversation with him. The dog ate the meat, powder and all, and in a few moments commenced to whine; the powder exploded and blew a hole in the side of the dog which fell dead at the Indian's feet. The Indian looked around, smelled the powder and said: "Ugh! My dog go off."


This chapter concludes with biographical sketches.


transcribed by Cinda McNeal Crosley
source: History of Clayton County, Iowa, 1882, Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Co., 1882. Reproduced by the sponsorship of the Monona Historical Society, Monona, Iowa, reproduction Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphics, Inc., 1975;
page 709-715


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