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Plowing the Virgin Soil - The First Crop

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa", Pages 353-357, published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago in 1879.



Soon after the arrival of the above-named pioneers (see the previous article) at their frontier cabins, arrangements were made for planting a crop of corn, and James Tilford, assisted by the lad Joseph, heretofore mentioned, commenced turning over the prairie sod with an eighteen-inch breaking plow, drawn by three yoke of cattle. The father held the plow, and Joseph cracked the whip and guided the team. Thirteen acres were turned over and planted to corn, which afterward yielded about twelve bushels to the acre. A part of the ground thus cultivated in 1836 is still included in the Lambirth place, and the other part is included in the homestead of W. B. Frame, which is a part of the original Tilford claim, Mr. Frame having married Miss Harriet, one of the Tilford heirs. A fair crop of potatoes was also raised this year, which were the first raised in the county.

Soon after Tilford, Lambirth and Walker had completed their cabins and returned to Illinois, John Huff came back to look after his claim interests, and found that his claim had been "jumped," and a cabin built upon it. As mentioned elsewhere, he went over to what is now Cedar Township and selected another claim, which he went to occupy on the 17th of June. It is thus very clearly established that while Huff, William Johnson and the four Morrison brothers were the first white men to visit this part of the country and select claims, the honor of being the first actual settlers and cabin-builders belongs to Thomas Lambirth and Samuel Scott Walker and their families. James Tilford and his son Joseph are entitled to at least a share of this honor, for, as already shown, they came with the Lambirth and Walker families and remained during the summer of 1836, made a crop of corn, etc. The elder Tilford made the county his home until his death. Joseph grew to manhood on the "old plantation," a part of which he now owns. And it is worth of remark that of these first settlers not one of them ever became party to a lawsuit in any court. The land they selected as claims has always remained in the ownership and possession of the respective families, and, not a foot of it, amounting in all to about nine hundred acres, was ever mortgaged for a dollar.

During the summer of 1836, a very considerable number of claim-hunters visited the country west of Skunk River and in the Cedar Creek region. Many of them selected claims, which they came to occupy the following season. Some made immediate improvements and came with their families to occupy them in the summer and fall of 1836. So far as can be remembered by John Huff and Mrs. Lambirth, the following list embraces the entire population when the summer of that year faded into autumn, and autumn whitened into winter:

James Tilford and his son Joseph; Thomas Lambirth and wife; Samuel Scott Walker, his wife and two children; John Huff and wife; Amos Lemon, his wife and five chidlren; Isaac Blakely; James Lanmon, his wife and six children; David A. Woodard (a boy who came with John Huff, now a resident of Neosho County, Kan.); Col. W. G. Coop, his wife and three children; Noah Wright, his wife and one child; Harmon J. Sikes and three brothers, all unmarried; George Stout, his wife and three children; Samuel T. Harris, his wife and eight children; David Coop, his wife and two children; ------ Ballard; Fred Lyons and Lambeth Morgan, both unmarried; Isaac Bush and a man named Mount, the two last named being the last arrivals in the fall of 1836. Total, sixty-nine. The names of the heads of families and the number of children here given are quoted from memory, and may not be exactly correct, but are believed to be nearly so.

A majority of those named above settled in Round Prairie, but some of them settled in other parts of the new "El Dorado." Samuel T. Harris selected a claim and settled about seven miles east of the present city of Fairfield. Ballard made a claim some two miles northeast of Fairfield, and built a camp in the grove on the land now owned by Eli Hoops. Ballard came to the country more as a bee-hunter than with the intention of becoming a permanent settler and tiller of the soil. Ballard's hunts for bees were mostly confined to the timber along a small stream that was known to the early settlers as "Ballard's Branch," but now called Crow Creek. But in a few years, the country became too thickly settled to suit Ballard's idea of prosperity and success, and he moved on further west.

Mills, stores, groceries, etc., in those days, were "few and far between." The nearest place where goods of any kind could be had was at Mount Pleasant. The nearest mill was in Schuyler County, Ill., known as Rall's Mill, at the place now known as Brooklyn, more than one hundred miles distant. In 1836 and 1837, but little flour was used by the settlers. They used corn-bread almost exclusively. Wheat-bread was only used an (sic) special occasions. The Lambirth and Walker families and Mr. Tilford brought some flour with them when they came in May, 1836, but only enough for their own use, for life in a new country creates wonderfully good appetites. All the settlers of 1836 brought some provisions, but in many cases the supply was very limited. When they gave out, those who had money would generally fall back on Fort Madison. Those who were "short," managed as best they could. And there were instances, as will be shown in another paragraph, where families were reducted to the necessity of living upon elm bark. In such cases, when the facts became known, the generosity and goodness of those who were more fortunate, showed itself in good deeds.

Tilford, Lambirth and Walker raised the only corn and potatoes produced in the Round Prairie settlement that year. John Huff raised some potatoes on his claim in Cedar Township. Another squatter living near Huff also raised a "patch" of corn. These were the first crops raised in what is now Jefferson County. In the fall of that year, Col. Coop sowed some wheat, which was harvested in 1837, and Coop is believed to be entitled to the honor of raising the first crop of that cereal. But very few of the other settlers of that year came in time to make a crop, and hence, when the winter came on, the settlers, as a rule, were ill prepared to meet and contend against its pressing needs.

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