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Early Days in Lafayette and Clear Creek Townships
Lafayette Township in 1844
Pioneer Days in Clear Creek Township
by Nicholas Besser

Early Days in Lafayette and Clear Creek Townships

As we recollect the conditions at the time...

Not another settler came to Lafayette Township until 1852.  Then in 1853, nearly every section of good land was taken up and entered with Land Warrants, issued to the soldiers of the Mexican war.  These warrants had been bought from the soldiers had located with them.  The only soldier I knew of locating with a warrant was H. Rosecranz for his brother Wesley, who lived with his mother on the land, on part of which the town Harper was located.

The south-east part of Clear Creek and the east half of Richland Township had in the treaty with the Indians on October 2l, 1838 been attached to Washington County, then opened for settlement (in 1844).

This part, in the neighborhood surrounding where Talleyrand is now on the map, lived on Section 13 – 14, Mr. Jeffries, Stevens, H. S. Langford, Harris, G. Gray and Tim Henderson, on 24, Cochran, Craford, Joe Butler, Burnsides, Sturgeons; further east on 23-24 William Grimsley, Dr. Cramer, John Baker, Co. Surveyor, old man Thomas Henderson with his sons Jackson, Nick, John Henderson.  Nearer Paris, McFunkin, Nick Kincade, Dr. Northington nearly west of there Sam Singmaster came the same year we did.  Horning, Robert Alexander, Michael Horning near Skunk River were all whose names I can remember at present.

This part of the county had become a thrifty settlement.  The men had farmed in adjoining states, all had good horses, teams and some kept oxen, those were the prairie breakers.

The year 1847 was called a good crop year.  Kramer brothers had bought a 4 horsepower chaffpiler threshing machine, started to thresh at Mr. Jeffries’, who lived nearest, then hired Jackson Henderson to run the outfit and myself to drive the 4 horses.  We did good work when not crowded too much and the wind favorable.  The grain having been well preserved in stacks, the grains wore plump and heavy.  The piled up grain looked fairly well.  One man stood behind the machine with a rake, raking off the chaff and straw, two others a little farther back to bunch the straw and throw it towards the stack, and one man to stack it, at most places, a rail pen built by the side of the threshed grain-the cracks stuffed with straw-was used as a temporary grainery.  Then the grain wou1d be thoroughly cleaned at leisure with fanning mill, the beat tramping out the grain with horses, with was a step towards perfection.

We enjoyed this work among a set of jovial young folks, learning the ways and means of doing things and what was most interesting to me to learn to speak the English language, and to become acquainted.  Sometimes some one in the evenings would laugh at my pronunciation of 3, 30-33.  I would retaliate by getting them to say in German "acht" (8) or "acht und achtig" (88) which would generally prove as dismal a failure and create at least equally as much merriment, as my dree (3), dirty (30), and dirty dree (33).

Lafayette Township in 1844

On account of the scarcity of timber, this, now one of the best townships of our county did not attract the attention of the earlier emigrants.  Mr. Rosia Clements made the first permanent improvement, located on Section 18, adjoining some 60 acres of timber, mostly hickory.  He also took a claim of 160 acres of fine white oak timber in German township, the southeast quarter of Section 22, Range: twp 76- 11.  When we were looking at his claims on October 29, 1844, his improvement consisted of a log cabin built out of bark peeled round hickory logs, and a little smoke house made out of split linden trees.  Both buildings were covered with the usual clabboards. A 4 acre lot, fenced, had been well cultivated as a track patch and 12 acres fenced, one-half mile south of this, on which he had raised a fine crop of spring wheat that season.. At 11, his claim rights he offered to mother for $50. I handed Clements 13 twenty francs, gold pieces, and 60 cents in silver, the 160 acres in timber land being the main object in this deal.  The question how to proceed to hold the same, we were told to have a lawful cabin erected on said claim, prove up a pre-emption, by paying $1.25 per acre at the land office at Fairfield.  Otherwise this land here was not yet subject to entry.  We hired the cabin built, paid Joseph Wilpert and Kramer Bros. 50 cents per day.  One fine day the wagon was loaded with beds, cooking utensils and provisions.  Mother, myself, Anna Maria Kelson, then the bride elect to Peter Kramer, he and his brother-in-law, Joseph Wilpert, drove across the prairie to the cabin in the woods, prepared dinner in the cabin, commenced to establish the pre-emption and after dinner Peter Kramer, Anna Maria and mother returned to Clear Creek, the children having been left in care of Mrs. Wilpert.  Peter Joseph Kramer had been sent with $200 in gold to make the entry at Fairfield as soon as the land office would be opened, about 8 o'clock next day, there to testify to the occupancy by part of the family on said tract.  My humble self as the oldest male of the family, Mr. Joseph Wilpert as hired man, with his dog, were to remain over night until we had reasonable grounds to believe the entries were made.  The dog treed a young fat coon near the creek on a sapling which we cut down.  After a severe tussle with the dog Wilpert succeeded to dispatch the coon with an axe, dressed and prepared part of him for an early supper.  As soon as he had finished supper, Mr. Wilpert wanted me to walk home with him to his place, saying he had a spiritual warning that his wife was sick.  I agreed to stay alone, if he had to go, if he would leave his dog, for in my boyish idea, thinking of Peter Kramer having under oath to state the occupation of at least a part of the family, by me also leaving, would, through my deserting the post, constitute perjury.  Knowing Mr. Wilpert to be a coward after dark, superstitious, believing in jay bird signs of trouble, ghosts, fortune telling, etc., I consented for him to go before it got dark, about 1-1/2 miles through the timber and six miles prairie.  I took the dog in the cabin, let down a heavy blanket for a door and patted the dog who knew me well.  I heard a whistle perhaps one-half mile away.  The dog jumped up and out through the blanket, Goodbye dog!  His master was afraid to go without the dog.

Having made friends with roving bands of Indians before this, one instance of which I will relate later on, I had nothing to be afraid.  Nevertheless, I felt lonesome and lay down on the bed, letting my memory pass review of my happy school boy days, comrades, relatives we had left, the long, tedious trip, father's sudden death, mother's sorrow and, helplessness and the only consolation for the future welfare of her ch1ldren.  She had, what at that time was considered wealth, some $1,200.  About this time I began to figure on the bright side or the future. Getting sleep, I heard an ominous voice, someone calling, hu hu! hu huiey! Thinking Joseph Wilpert or some one else had got lost in the woods, I went out and called; Hello! A few minutes later I heard the same voice farther up the creek.  It was an owl.  Then I slept till long after sunrise and I was awakened by the sound and rattling of Joe Wilpert's home-made little log wagon over some fallen timbers, he, leading with a halter his unbroken two-years-old steers.  Not wishing my mother to know and alarm her, he had not gone to our place to get the team and so had to walk all the way, leading his steers through the grass and brush and getting jerked around. We thought he was well punished. I did not tell mother for some time afterwards.  His wife had given him a curtain lecture for several hours during that night. She was a very sensible and practical woman.

Peter Joseph Kramer returned next, day, stating that the entry was made ok.  Nevertheless, it proved soon after he had made it on a tract said to be a claim made by Judge Callum, on Section 10, township 76, range 12.  Our money was returned in silver.  Nothing more was done until all the lands were subject to entry.  The Kramer Brothers were a peculiar set of bachelors and had complicated names. The oldest one was John Joseph, the next Peter Joseph. This was their business manager.  The youngest and best of the lot was Johann Peter Kramer who had lived in Blairsville, Penn., some three years, then came here in ‘43 and took his claim of timber near a settlement, as they had no team, to move further, erected a little 12 x 16 cabin for their sister on the north line of C1ear Creek township.  When we came to John Peter Kramer’s he had erected a most substantial log house, 16 x 24, 1-1/2 story high the floors made out of two feet splits- like, cooper staves, notched in hewed 6 x 6 joists, plastered with clay, mixed, with fine cut slough hay making a smooth floor.  The whole house had a coat of this dressing, making a very comfortable dwelling.  This, and the scarcity of corn and help elsewhere, induced father to rent this for six months at $3 per month.  This cabin was built on the northeast quarter of Section 33, township 76, range 10.

Pioneer Days in Clear Creek Township

The 21st of October 1838, is usually regarded as the date of a first settlements; although a few claims antedate this.  Within the limits of the Old Strip a man by the name of Griffith turned the first sod in Clear Creek in 1837 on the farm afterwards owned by Doctor Washington Mayley.  Doctor W. Mealey, pronounced as we learned it "Mayley," came in 1838.  This was in the center of the east part of section 35.  He sold to Mr. John Reinhart in 1853, and moved to Brighton.

John Reinhart built the first steam grist and saw mill combined, on the edge of Keokuk County.  This enterprise proved a losing game, the very large boiler ate up all the profits.  The place is now annexed to the Singmaster farm on the East side.

The first man to move his family across Clear Creek in to a cabin was Weslay Goss, a very enterprising farmer and a local preacher of the Wesleyan faith; he feared God but not the Indians.  We heard: him preach in 1846- although I could only understand half of his words, yet he impressed me as being sincere in his faith, brimful of brotherly love to all man kind; he had a very pretty location, sold out and moved to Spencer, Clay County, 1855.  Michael Peiffer now lives on this place.

The first place near the river belonged to L. B. Holmes, who had first claimed and commenced building a mill, sold out to one Edward Cooly.  The Skunk River washed around this dam.

Then a Mr. W. Warner built a grist mill a little below the dam, this afterwards was known the Black Hawk Mills.

The next neighbors of L. B. Holmes west, were the Ward family, of whom Judge Joseph Casey became a son-in-law; and the Dill family, who supplied the newcomers in 1847 with cows and horses.  This man had one of the best bred stallions brought to this part of the state; a strawberry bay roan, which had endurance and breeding qualities.  We can see some traces of his traits on some of his offspring to this date.

I was sent up there to get some cows that had returned to their old home at Mr. Dill's.  I found the old gentleman well supplied with stock of all kinds. He called up his cattle, and to the best of my recollection the woods, pastures, were full of hogs, cattle, horses, and more than half a dozen boys, all sizes, running around, only one of them, Daniel Dill remained in this County.  The old Mr. Dill moved to Kansas.  Daniel finally left the woods, bought land in Lafayette Township and is one of the most successful farmers.

The next neighbor, west, was Mr. Greenley, a very nice family.  There it was where Daniel Dill got his better half.

Soon after these I came to Jacob Goodheart’s, now the Mr. Mike Wallerick’s farm, to grind some corn on a turn-by-hand mill, something like an overgrown coffee mill.  This brought the passage of scripture.  "By the sweat of thy brow thou shalt earn thy daily bread," very forcible to my mind.

That evening I met George Hartman, who came from German Creek to try his had on this mill; he proved to be one of the most jovial and best natured, and the stoutest boy I had ever met; helped me turn about so that I return home late that night.  I appreciated his help.

Again in the winter of 1849, the snow being four feet deep on the level prairie, we had to grind corn on a common coffee mill.  This tried one’s patience.  Then we partly boiled the ears of corn, grating the same.  This was rather hard on the graters and we soon had to make new ones out of tin buckets.  This product was used for mush, so we made out to enjoy ourselves, as Mark Twain said, on "hog hominy and mush," anything that a Christian stomach can digest.  Such appetites as we all had fairly balanced more lucrative dinners.  Dyspepsia was unknown to us.

The very early settlers of Clear Creek township- the part that was opened for settlement, May 1843- in addition to those already named were: Thompson, Mr. Johnson, George Crispin. (Afterwards county judge in Lancaster).  Squire Case, who ran the Cooly Mill, and several years he ground the farmers’ grain in the Black Hawk Mill.  Later sold out to a Marquis and moved to Kansas.  A. P. Moody moved from near the river in Sigourney in 1846.  He is about the only witness available now.  There were 4 Marquis Brothers living near the Bottoms.

All those near the river, managed to get a good supply of timber land, which enabled them to sell a portion to later arrivals at good prices.

Further north on the main road from Washington to Sigourney, the first man located, was Jessey Gobbert who went into the Hotel business in Lancaster, John Stroup and James Emmeley then lived on that location; he was a money-maker, managed to sell most of his corn at 75 to $1.00 per bushel to movers; kept travelers, the stage for many years stopped at that place.

Most of these early settlers commenced selling out when the German emigrants arrived in 1853-1854-1855.

In my next I will write about the German emigrants of Clear Creek.

Source: Contributed by Kim Icenhower.

"I am the great great granddaughter of Nicholas Besser.  My Grandmother, Irma (Striegel) Haag,
the daughter of Mary (Besser) Striegel had copies of these stories, which were handed down to her children.
I was told they were factual accounts of his early life in Iowa."

Thank you Kim!
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