Keokuk County IAGenWeb
Free genealogy records

What's New | Bios | Birth/Marr/Death | Cemeteries | Census | Courts | Directories/Lists | History | Land & Property | Military | Photos & Postcards | Resources | Schools

1880 History
Prominent Persons, First Commissioners' Court, First District Judge

Prominent Citizens, Living and Dead 

A. H. Haskell

One of the early settlers, came to Sigourney in 1845, and, with Devalson G. Burgess, manufactured fanning-mills. In 1848 he was appointed warden of the penitentiary at Fort Madison, and died there in the spring of 1850. His old partner, D. G. Burgess, died at Sigourney, September 8, 1855.

Col. James G. Crocker

Came to the county from Fairfield in 1845. He was a very positive man, and the leading Democrat of the county. He died in the summer of 1848, in Lancaster, and, at his request, was buried on his farm two miles northwest of Lancaster, now owned by Josiah Utterback, where his solitary grave may yet be seen. He left a large family, of whom were Gen. M. M. Crocker and Mrs. Burton, wife of Judge Burton, of Ottumwa.

Green Atwood

First located at Richland, removed to Lancaster and then to Warren township. Was justice of the peace for many years. Died in 1878. 

William Jacobs

For a long time justice of the peace in Lancaster township, came to the county at an early day. He was an exceedingly conscientious man, and a good officer. He died September 11, 1854. His father, Bennet Jacobs, was a Baptist preacher. His brother,
Austin Jacobs

Who died October 21, 1873, was an energetic man. A few years before his death he was badly maimed by being caught in the machinery of his mill north of Lancaster. He was 72 years old to a day at his death.

Jacob Goodheart

Came to the county in 1843, and settled near the present Black Hawk Mills. Afterward he became the owner of the above named mill of Austin Jacobs, and, as a precedent for Mr. Jacobs, was entangled in its machinery in the spring of 1855, which, in a few months after, caused his death. He was an honest man, who stood very high among his acquaintances.

William Q. Black

For many years a resident of Richland, and a justice of the peace, was a very upright, modest and unassuming man, and died in 1860.

Dr. Arad Parks

Came to the county in 1855. For many years he was associated with Dr. A. C. Price in the practice of medicine. Was surgeon in the army during the civil war. Died November 28, 1868. His widow and two sons reside in Sigourney.

Dr. R. F. Weeks

Came from New England to Illinois in 1838 or '9, from thence went to Burlington, Iowa, thence to Fairfield, and in the summer of 1845 came to Sigourney, being the first physician locating in the place. In 1841 he was a member of the Masonic order at Burlington in the same lodge with John C. Breckenridge, afterward vice-president of the United States. He died at the house of Maxon Randall, six miles west of Sigourney. His burial was among the first in the cemetery northeast of Sigourney. Was never married.

John Greenlee

One of the early settlers near Black Hawk Mills, and afterward moved into Richland township, was a very estimable citizen, and died a few years since.

Thomas Henderson

A prominent man at an early day in Clear Creek township. Was an active Democrat of his time. Was one of the commissioners to locate Oskaloosa as the county-seat of Mahaska county. Died in 1860.

A. H. Hensley

One of the oldest citizens of Sigourney, for a time practiced medicine with Dr. E. H. Skillman, then in the mercantile business, and finally kept the "Lillie House " hotel. Died, November 27, 1871.

T. B. Grove

Was a blacksmith of some note, and located in Lancaster in 1846. After the removal of the county-seat, went to Talleyrand, and died there in March, 1864. One of his daughters is the wife of Levi Bower, present county treasurer.

Alfred Reeves

For several years a merchant and post-master at Sigourney, died February 3, 1858. During his residence here he went to the city of Keokuk and had Dr. Hughes amputate one of his legs, on account of some disease in the limb. His widow and son, Chester, still reside near Sigourney.

Moses Warner

Lived near Richland, was a local preacher of the M. E. Church, and a man of more than average abilities. Died some four or five years since.

Barton S. McCoy

Came to the county about 1848, and settled a few miles west of Martinsburgh. Was an active member of the Christian Church, and a leading man of his community. He died October 16, 1857. His son, Lycurgus McCoy, was afterward county treasurer for two terms.

C. D. McColley

One of the early settlers of Sigourney, and for one term sheriff of the county, was a most affable gentleman, greatly liked by his friends, and died in the year 1856.

James L. Hogin, Jr.

A son of J. L. Hogin, Sen., was for some time engaged in the drug and book business in Sigourney, and fell a victim to consumption on the 31st of December, 1861.

John J. Laffer

Came to the county in 1854, and for a time kept a hotel in Lancaster, then moved to Johnson county and kept the Sixteen Mile house. In 1859 returned to Sigourney, and in 1864 moved into Van Buren township. His son, E. Laffer, is one of the most successful druggists of Sigourney. He died January 31, 1877, aged 64 years, 6 months and 11 days.

Henry Laffer

A brother of John J. Laffer, came to the county in the spring of 1854 and took a farm two miles southwest of Sigourney, raised a large family, mostly sons, and died in March, 1868. His widow died in the spring of 1873.

Ebenezer Weeks

For many years the principal owner of the principal coal bank at What Cheer, and the locality then generally known as "Weeks' Coal Bank," was a very worthy man, and died March 23, 1876.

Phillip Club

One of the early settlers of the county, located in Van Buren township and raised a large family of sons and daughters. He was greatly esteemed as a good citizen and an honest man. He died in the autumn of 1865. His widow, having since married Mr. John Scott, is living in Sigonrney.

Moses Hall

Was born in Maine, March 16, 1790; came to Iowa in 1843; first to Louisa county, and to this county in 1845. Was farming for several years near Sigourney, and afterwards moved upon a farm near South English. After he became too old to farm he sold the farm and moved into the village, where he died February 24, 1879.

Henry Sanders

Came to the county in 18—, settling near Talleyrand; raised a large family, many of the sons and daughters, now all married, living in the county. Among the sons is J. H. Sanders, a man of rare intellectual strength, and at present editor of the "Live Stock Journal," at Chicago. He died in the year _____.

Joseph Knox

Came to the county in 1846, and succeeded Benjamin F. Edwards in conducting the principal business-house of Sigourney. He was an old man when he came to the county and was remarkable for his energy and perseverance. For ten years after engaging in business he was regarded as the father of Sigourney. He was a man of good judgment, fine conversational powers, and financially, was the Rothschild of the north half of the county. During the county-seat controversy he was the leader and chief reliance of the Sigourney party, and although defeated both at the polls and in the courts, he lived long enough to see the county-seat returned to Sigourney. He died in 1864, at the residence of his son, about eight miles northwest of Sigourney.

Hon. Joseph M. Casey

Was born in Kentucky, March, 1827. In 1847 he settled in Keokuk county, Iowa, and began the practice of law, he having been admitted to the bar shortly previous. Shortly after coming to this county he was elected prosecuting attorney, which office he held for five years. In 1859 he was elected county judge, which office he filled satisfactorily till 1861, when he removed to Fort Madison, Lee county. Since residing at the latter place he has devoted himself to the practice of his profession, and also given some time to literary work. For three years he was editor of the Fort Madison "Plaindealer," he having occupied the position of editor of the Iowa "Democrat" for two years prior to leaving Keokuk county. He has occupied many positions of honor in the Masonic fraternity, and has always been foremost in advocating measures of public interest. His former acquaintances and old friends in Keokuk county, as in the past, will continue to watch his career with interest.

Hon. E. L. Burton

Settled in Lancaster shortly after that place became the county-seat, and became one of the leading attorneys of the county. While located at Lancaster he married a daughter of Col. Crocker. When the county-seat was taken back to Sigourney, Mr. Burton removed to Ottumwa, and was for a number of years associated in the practice of law with Judge H. B. Hendershott. In 1858 he was elected District Judge. He has been successful in his profession, and although but about forty years old, has a reputation of being one of the best lawyers in the State.

C. H. Achard

Came to Sigourney in 1853 and engaged in the grocery business. He began with a small stand and gradually succeeded in building up one of the best houses in the county. He disposed of his business in Sigourney and removed to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the spring of 1879.

Gen. M. M. Crocker

Was born in Johnson county, Indiana in 1830. In 1844 he removed, with his father, to Fairfield, Jefferson county, Iowa, and shortly after to Keokuk county, where a claim was taken and improved in the most beautiful part of the county, about two miles northwest of Lancaster. In 1846 young Crocker was called from the plow to accept a situation tendered him by Congressman Leffler, to the United States military academy at West Point. At the expiration of two years he was called back to the farm by the death of his father. In 1850 he entered upon the study of law, and in the following year was admitted to practice, and opened an office at Lancaster. Here he followed the practice of law until 1854, when he removed to Des Moines and soon became recognized as one of the leading lawyers of the State. Upon the declaration of war in 1861 he immediately responded to the call for volunteers, and raised the first company organized in central Iowa. This company was incorporated in the Second Iowa Infantry, of which Mr. Crocker first became major. Shortly after he was promoted to the office of lieutenant-colonel and given command of the Thirteenth Infantry. At the battle of Shiloh he commanded a brigade, the commander having been wounded early in the engagement. He afterward was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, which rank he held at the time of his death. His health failing toward the close of the war, he was sent to New Mexico. His health improving while there, he was, at his own request, transferred, and again became connected with the Army of the Cumberland. In August, 1865, he started for Washington, his health again having failed. Here he rapidly grew worse, and on the 26th of that month died. Among the former citizens of Keokuk, whom the readers of this work delight to honor, there is none who are held in a more grateful remembrance than Gen. Crocker, and whoever has crossed the ridge from Sigourney to Lancaster has doubtless had the old Crocker homestead pointed out, also the spot where repose the remains of the father of this illustrious son.

Hon. Clabourn C. Wilson

Was born in Kentucky in 1833. He removed to Keokuk county, Iowa, in 1856. Having failed in business prior to coining to Iowa, his first experience here was a patient struggle with poverty. He quarried stone, broke prairie, made rails, and from time to time served in the office of justice of the peace. In 1861 he began the study of medicine under the instruction of Dr. Price, and having completed his studies began the practice of his profession at Springfield, Washington township. He achieved a fine reputation as a physician and was for a year the president of the county medical association. In 1872 he was elected to the legislature. He established a dry goods store in Springfield in 1865, and subsequently established another in that neighborhood. When the Rock Island railroad was extended from Sigourney he was very active in the developing of the two towns of Delta and Rose Hill, at both of which places he established stores. He died in the very midst of a prosperous business and at the height of his influence, in May, 1879.

Gen. James A. Williamson

Was born in Kentucky in 1829. He succeeded in completing the regular course of collegiate studies at Knox College, after which he removed to Lancaster, Keokuk county, Iowa, where, after diligent application as a law student, he was admitted to the practice of law. After several years residence in this county, during which he became thoroughly identified with, the history of the county and achieved a brilliant reputation as a lawyer, he removed to Des Moines, where he engaged in the practice of his profession till the beginning of the war. He volunteered in the Fourth Infantry and afterward became the adjutant of that regiment; he was successively promoted to the office of lieutenant-colonel, colonel and brigadier-general, which last rank he held at the close of the war. He is commissioner of the General Land Office at Washington. The old settlers of Keokuk county will remember him as being in former years one of their number, also from the interesting address he delivered at the first meeting of their association in September, 1878.

Hon. Joseph Lowe

Was born in the State of Maryland, Aug. 29, 1795, and when nine years old went with his parents to Western Virginia. When about thirteen years of age, being the oldest son, the support of the family devolved upon him by the death of his father. When nineteen years old the second war with England began and he enlisted, serving honorably till its close. He left Virginia and settled in Indiana in the spring of 1822. While living there he first participated in politics and took an active part in the organization of Rush county. He afterward represented that county in the legislature, serving in both the senate and house of representatives for a period reaching from 1832 to 1845. He removed to Iowa and settled near Springfield, Keokuk county, in 1845. In 1850 he was chosen to represent Mahaska and Keokuk counties in the State senate. He remained on his farm till 1857, when he removed to Sigourney and there resided till death, which occurred March 29, 1879. There have been few who were more intimately connected with the interests of the county, and none more highly respected than Mr. Lowe.

Transcribed by Pat Wahl.

First Commissioneres' Court

The first board of county commissioners, consisting of Jeremiah Hollingsworth, James M. Smith and Enos Darnell, who were elected at the special election in April, 1844, met at Richland on the 24th day of April of the same year.

The following is the record of their first official act: 

"TERRITORY OF IOWA, }           Special Term, April 24th, 1844.


"A meeting of the board of commissioners being called at the house of James M. Smith for a special purpose.

"Present, James M. Smith and Jeremiah Hollingsworth.

"As the office of comity assessor had become vacant on account of Andrew Ogden failing to comply with the requisitions of the law in due time, the board therefore proceeded to appoint Mr. Andrew Ogden county assessor in and for the county of Keokuk, Territory of Iowa, until his successor shall be duly elected and qualified to office. The board then adjourned until the 13th day of May following.
"Attest; Edom Shugart, James M. Smith

"Clerk of the Board, Jeremiah Hollingsworth"
The next meeting of the board was held at the same place, on the 13th of May, the same year, all the board being present, and among other things empowered their clerk, Edom Shugart, to borrow the sum of fifty dollars to purchase the following named books and stationery:

"For the commissioners' clerk: one minute book, worth $4.00; one estray book, worth $1.50; one road book, worth 50 cents.

"For the county recorder: one personal property record, worth $3.00; one real property record, worth $10.00.

"For the judge of probate: one minute book, worth $4.00; one record book, worth $4.00.

"For the clerk of the district court: one minute book, worth $3.00; one docket book, worth $4.00; one judgment book, worth, $4.00; one cost book, worth $4.00; one sheriff's return book, worth $1.00; one marriage license book, worth 50 cents. For stationery, $3.00; total, $50.00. "

On the next day, however, the board reconsidered this order, and reduced the amount to $30.00.

The board also districted the county into eighteen road districts, and appointed a supervisor in each one, as follows:

District No. 1, William B. Smith; No. 2, John Lafferty; No. 3, Joseph R. Edwards; No. 4, G. M. Holliday; No. 5, James Lewman; No. 6, Richard Dickerson; No. 7, David P. Helm; No. 8, Madison Mitts; No. 9, Obadiah Tharp; No. 10, John Baker; No. 12, A. P. Moody; No. 13, James Rosecrans; No. 14, John Hasty; Nos. 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18 were composed of the present townships of Lafayette, Prairie, Adams, English River and Liberty, and the board having no knowledge of any person living in any of these road districts, the appointments were not made.

At the same meeting of the board, the commissioners selected the names of the First Grand and Petit Juries. They consisted of the following:

Grand Jurors
Geo. W. Hathhorn John Troxel
William Trimble William Lewis
Moses E. McConnell W. B. Smith
Richard Dickerson William Duncan
William Ralston E. Johnson
Madison Mitts John B. Rain
L. B. Hughes B. Haworth
Lemuel B. Holmes E. Moffett
Obadiah Tharp Joseph Borough
David Stout Samuel Pence
Jeremiah Brown Casper Klett
J. B. Brown  

Petit Jurors
David P. Helm L. B. Brown
Joab Bennett John Baker
Miles Driskell Harvey Stevens
Elias Hollingsworth Thos. J. Hicklin
Andrew Taylor John Lafferty
William Franklin Stephen Cook
Amos Holloway Henry Pringle
Jesse Shoemaker M. Gill
Eli Haworth C. A. Frisbie
John Singleton A. M. Lyon
Geo. Holliday P. C. Woodward
E. G. Stanfield Jacob Wimer

These men having, by order of the board, been summoned to appear at Richland, and failing to present themselves at the proper place as jurors, were not paid anything for such service.

Transcribed by Pat Wahl.

The First District Judge

As Judge Williams was a somewhat noted character, more particularly for eccentricity than for legal attainments, though we believe he had the reputation of being a good judge, we deem it proper to give a brief sketch of him.

With regard to his history we know but little, either previous to the time of which we are writing, or since. At that time he was about fifty years of age, and had worn the ermine many years. In a territorial act fixing the appointee over what was then called the Second District, composed of the counties of Louisa, Muscatine, Cedar, Johnson and Slaughter. He was a person of remarkably good conversational power, and delighted in telling anecdotes. His musical talent was much above the average, both vocal and instrumental. Often after delivering a temperance lecture, full of eloquence, and interspersed with humorous passages, he would sing a favorite song called "Little Billy Neal," with an effect seldom surpassed, calling up an applause of such hearty, boisterous delight as had seldom greeted a star actor. He was master of most musical instruments, but for drawing tunes out of that sweetest, sweetest toned of all, "the fiddle and the bow," he was particularly distinguished in this attainment. In addition to his vocal talent as a singer, he possessed that weird, mysterious power of using his voice as a ventriloquist, and could imitate the cry of various kinds of animals so correctly that the uninitiated could not fail being deceived. He would sometimes imitate the squalling of a belligerent cat, to the great alarm and mystification of the ladies, who could neither discover the brawler, nor learn from whence the noise came.

At this point we beg leave to introduce a couple of anecdotes bearing upon his notoriety as a musician: Many years ago, on the occasion of a convention at Iowa City in the interests of a proposed railroad from Muscatine to that place, Judge Williams and LeGrand Byington were in violent opposition to each other upon some points of which we are not informed, nor does it matter so far as the interest of this sketch is concerned. After the convention, a young amateur in the art of drawing produced a caricature representing Joe. Williams seated astride an enormous bull, playing a clarionet. The bull was on the railroad, with tail erect and head down, pawing up the earth, and prepared to combat the further progress of a locomotive which was close upon him, upon which was LeGrand Byington as engineer, and from the whistle of which ascended the words, " Music hath charms, but cannot soothe a locomotive."

On another occasion, being that of an election of Supreme Judge and United States Senator, by the State Senate, Judge Williams was before the Democratic caucus for the judgeship, and Geo. W. Jones (sometimes called Nancy Jones, and known as a dancing master), for the Senate. Their competitors of the same party were S. C. Hastings, formerly president of the territorial council, for the judgeship, and Hon. T. Wilson for the Senate. The last named gentlemen were at Iowa City just previous to the time of election, laboring earnestly with the members of the Senate to secure their choice. But at the caucus, which came off during the night preceding the day of election, it was decided to elect Williams and Jones.

The following instance of his peculiar powers as a ventriloquist is related of him: It occurred during the first term of the District Court at Knoxville. Most of those attending court there boarded at Babbit's, and it so happened that one night the little boarding-house was so full that it was barely possible for all to find sleeping room. The Judge, with lawyers Knapp, Wright and Olney, were supplied with beds in the lower story, whilst the jurors and numerous other attendants found room to stretch themselves on the loose upper floor, using blankets, coats and whatever else they had provided for beds. When, after much ado, they had all got setteled down for a nap, they were suddenly startled by the terriffic squalling of what appeared to be a couple of tom-cats in mortal combat in the room. Instantly all hands were up and in search of the supposed disturbers, but no cats could be found, and the surprised boarders returned to their beds without any very satisfactory conjectures as to the whereabouts of the nocturnal brawlers. But they had hardly composed themselves again for rest, when the loud and boisterous growling and snapping of a couple of belligerent bull-dogs, apparently in their very midst, brought them all up standing. And then followed an uproar such as language could convey but an indistinct idea of, the dogs maintaining the combat with mingled growling, barking and whining, and the men endeavoring, with all the noise they could make, to oust them from the room. How they came to be there was a wonder indeed, but the evidence of their presence was too unmistakable to admit of a doubt, even in total darkness. Presently the fight ceased, and with that the general uproar abated. Then came a solution of the mystery. The Judge and lawyers could no longer restrain their merriment at the expense of the frightened and mystified lodgers up stairs, but let it come in a gush of laughter that quickly reminded some of the company that the Judge was a ventriloquist, and had undoubtedly just played them one of his mysterious tricks. But so far from being offended at it, they took a sensible view of its ludicrousness, and all joined heartily into the laugh.

Judge Joseph Williams, above referred to, should not be confounded by young readers with M. T. Williams, the clerk of the first court, and currently known as Judge Williams. This latter gentleman is not eccentric, nor a great fiddler, nor a ventriloquist. The only analogy we think of is in his temperance proclivities, and his ability to tell a good story.

M. T. Williams is justly regarded as one of the oracles of Mahaska county. His duties as first clerk of the county brought him in contact with its pioneers and territory in such a manner as to afford him a more thorough knowledge of the very early history of Mahaska county than any other man now living. Sometimes Mr. Williams is induced by his friends, publicly, or in a small circle, to narrate his early experience and reminiscences, which he can do in a most irresistible manner. The Judge is not fond of making a speech, not for the reason which kept "Single Speech Hamilton" in the background, but from an unassuming and retiring disposition, and a probable under-estimation of his own abilities, for the Judge can make a good address. This peculiarity, the modesty of Mr. Williams, is illustrated by the following anecdote:

In an early day, when he was running for county clerk, and without any opposing candidate, he was, after much persuasion, induced to go out with a campaign speaker from abroad, to hold a meeting in a school-house in one of the border townships. While on the way the stranger asked Williams how the Whig ticket was going to run in the county.

"Oh, I guess all right, unless it be the clerk," said M. T.

"Clerk! why, what is the matter with that? Are you not popular, Williams?"

"No, not very, I guess. Some of the Democrats are finding fault."

"Well, who is running against you?"

"Oh, well - ahem - oh, there is not anybody else running in particular." Of course the laugh was on the agitated independent candidate, with no opponent in the field.

Transcribed by Pat Wahl.

Source: The History of Keokuk County, Iowa, A History of the County, Its Cities, Towns, &c., Illustrated, 1880