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December 31, 1843, about seventy families became inhabitants of Marion county.
There is probably not a county in the State where the question of who was the veritable first settler, is not a subject of dispute. Marion county is no exception to the rule. The honor is claimed for various individuals and as there seems to be evidence equally conclusive in favor of each of the several claims we feel that it is safe to aver that there is no evidence sufficiently conclusive to substantiate any of the claims. If a hasty and clandestine visit to the county and the selection of a location is to be regarded as a settlement then there are the names of several which might be suggested who eluded the vigilance of the dragoons and made incursions into the county as early as the summer of 1842; but if the erection of a permanent abode and the formal taking of a claim is, as we think, essential to a settlement then no settlement was made prior to the first day of May, 1843, and the fact is clearly established that several different individuals settled within the presents bounds of Marion county on that same identical
Those who are familiar with the early settlement of Marion county, or in fact, any of the Iowa counties, are already aware that the first improvements were made along the various streams of water; not on the banks of these streains as a general thing, but in or near to the timber which grew only in the vicinity of these streams. Owing to the abrupt turns in the various streams, and especially at those places where they neared larger streams, the belt of timber spread out, and viewed from the wide stretch of prairie beyond, presented the appearance of detached groves; such places were in early times called "points" or groves, and at these places were the first beginnings of civilization. Here were the first settlements and here the pioneer began the conquest of the wilderness; unintentionally, possibly, but none the less certainly making the first attack on the strongest part of the enemy's works.
During the year 1843 settlements were begun at some seventy points in the county. This was a good beginning for the first year, and it is doubtful whether there is another county in the State which had a larger influx of population during the first year of its settlement. This fact only proves that owing to the abundance of timber and fertility of the soil Marion county was a favorite region of country in early days: its popularity has not dimished in later years and in wealth and population it continues to lead all the other counties in this latitude. The early settler was a good judge of land.
These first settlements will be noticed in detail in our chapter on township history; at this place we propose to give but a general outline, and as the county at the time we now speak of was not yet subdivided into civil townships we shall here make no reference to township boundaries. In those times settlements were formed in groups and the people lived in neighborhoods or communities which were known by the name of some one of the leading settlers or from some physical characteristic of the country. Thus we have the English Settlement, the Tong Settlement, the Red Rock Settlement, etc. In speaking of the early settlements of the county, we have gleaned every extensively from a small work published in 1872, entitled, "Pioneers of Marion County," written by William M. Donnel, who has long been, and still is, a resident of the county.
In the vicinity of Knoxville, which was on the extreme western borders
of the government lands, one of the most prominent settlers of early times was the Hon. Lysander W. Babbitt. He was not one of the first settlers as he did not come to the county till probably one year after the first claims were taken. However, he acted a most conspicuous part in the organization of the county, and afterward became one of the leading politicians of the State. He was a member of the State convention which nominated the illustrious Joseph Williams Judge of the Supreme Court, of whom we shall have more to say hereafter. Mr. Babbitt is also remembered by the early settlers of Boone county in the limits of which county he spent the winter of 1842-3, engaged in trapping and hunting. He also devoted much of his time during that winter in the investigation of the remains of a prehistoric village on the right bank of the Des Moines River, in what is now called Rose's Bottom, in Boone county. He was the first clerk of the board of county commissioners, the first postmaster of Knoxville, several times member of the State Legislature, Register of the Land-office at Council Bluffs during President Pierce's administration, and is at present residing in the last named city.
George Henry was probably one among the first, if not the veritable first settler of the county. He was born in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania, lived for many years on a farm near Knoxville and at present resides in the city of Knoxville.
At a very early time, probably contemporaneous with the settlement of Mr. Henry, came a family by the name of Jones. There were five men of this name, John M. being the first one to visit the county while in the employ of the fur company. In the first development of the material resources of the county there was no family which contributed more than the Jones family, and representatives of this original Jones family have since, till the present time, been prominently identified with the interests of the county.
John Conrey, at a very early day, took a claim south of English Creek, in section 25, township 75, range 20, where he still resides.
Landon J. Burch, proprietor of Burch's mill on Whitebreast, about three miles north of Knoxville, located in the county in 1844. The mill, which still stands on its former site, was the first one erected in this part of the county. The mill was begun in the spring of 1845, and was not completed till late in 1846. It had a capacity of from fifteen to twenty bushels of corn-meal per day; it was not arranged for the manufacture of flour.
John R. Welch was another early settler in the vicinity of Knoxville. He is a most estimable man, and is now living at Butler, Missouri. His son, John A. Welch, is at present one of the leading merchants of Knoxville. A. B. Miller, Esq., located in the county in 1846. He was one of the first clerks of the District Court, and has been in the active practice of law for more than a quarter of a century. Though now an old man he has not fallen behind the times and is still successfully pursuing his chosen profession.
Among others who were identified with the first settlements of the county in the vicinity of Knoxville, were William Burch, Conrad Walters, Elias Fuller, Tyler Överton, John Essex, L. G. Terry, Smith Hanton, R. S. Lowry, Christopher Cox, M. Wilcott, Michael Livingstone and Dr. E. C. Cunningham. The latter was the first clerk of court, and died but recently.
We now mention a few persons who came some years later, but who
nevertheless may be regarded as among the early settlers of Marion county in the vicinity of Knoxville:
Judge F. M. Frush came to the county in 1850. He was elected county judge in 1855 and was re-elected in 1857 and 1859. His career as incumbent of one of the most honorable and responsible county offices was long and distinguished. He still resides in Knoxville, is in the enjoyment of good health and is actively engaged in the management of business. His partner, Mr. Joseph Johnson, is also one of the early settlers of the county he having come in 1853.
John Gamble, who came in 1849, and Larken Wright one of the successful financiers of central Iowa, are pioneers whom the people of Knoxville still number among their most honored fellow citizens."
The present proprietor of the Knoxville Journal, Mr. F. C. Barker, though quite young when coming to Marion county, may be regarded as one of the early settlers. However, during the first years of his residence in the county he resided with his father near the eastern boundary and his name, together with that of his much honored and respected father, now deceased, properly belongs to another list of names.
James Mathews, who is still a successful business man of Knoxville, and Joseph Brobst, recently deseased, came at an early day.
Among the early settlers of Knoxville and Marion county, who have contributed to the growth of the city and county, and whose names are indissoulubly associated with the county and the county seat by the people of the whole State, Wm. M. Stone is undoubtedly the most illustrious. He was born in Jefferson county, New York, and settled in Marion county in 1854. As a lawyer of the very highest attainments, an orator of the most pleasing address, a business man of rare tact and a citizen of great energy and dash, Mr. Stone will always be remembered by the people of Marion county. He is best known elsewhere as Governor Stone, he having filled the office of State Executive for two terms, from 1864 to 1868. Before being elevated to this the highest position within the gift of the people of Iowa he became widely known throughout the several adjacent counties which constituted the judicial district over which he presided. Mr. Stone is now in the full vigor of manhood, and a still brighter future is awaiting him.
Just across the Des Moines River, on the east side, and about four miles west of the Mahaska county line, there was originally, and still is a small body of water, probably a quarter of a mile in width, and about one mile in length. It is properly a slough, lagoon or bayou, extending out from and connected with the Des Moines River. To the northeast is a large extent of beautiful prairie and although the afore described body of water is not properly a lake, it was in early times called a lake, and the country to the northeast was known as Lake Prairie. The first persons to settle in the Lake Prairie country were Wellington and Levi Nossaman. They were natives of Virginia; had lived in Kentucky and Indiana, and located in this county early in 1843. John B. Hamilton and William Welch came soon after. The latter proved to be a most valuable citizen in years after as he erected a pottery and a mill, whereby there were manufactured near home some of the things most necessary in the young settlement. He was elected as a member of the first board of county commissioners, and for some time acted in the capacity of county recorder. These persons all set
tled in the edge of the timber which juts out from the Des Moines River south of the present site of the town of Pella.
Among others who settled in the Lake Prairie country at a very early time was George Gillaspie, who afterward became one of the most renowned persons in the State. He was born in Kentucky in 1814, lived in Indiana awhile; came to Louisa county, Iowa, in 1820, and to Marion early in 1843. For some time after locating on Lake Prairie, he boarded with Mr. Nossaman and made rails for twenty-five cents per hundred. In 1846 he was appointed county assessor, and in August of the same year was elected sheriff. He was re-elected to the same office in 1848, and in 1849 was elected to the office of treasurer of State Board of Public Works. Upon entering upon the discharge of the duties of the last named office he removed to Ottumwa, which continued to be his home until the time of his death, which occured a few years since.
Green T. Clark, Wilson Stanley, Thomas Tuttle, Dr. James L. Warren, Jasper Koons, William Clayton, William Bainbridge, Asa Koons and J. C. Brown were others who settled in the Lake Prairie country during the years 1843 and 1844. The Holland settlement at Pella was begun some years later and it has contributed so much toward the developent of the country as to deserve a prominent place, not only in the history of Marion county but also of the State of Iowa. At the proper place will be given a full account of the settlement and the almost unparalleled prosperity of the town which grew out of it. At this place we can do no better than reproduce the following item from the Pella Blade of August 17, 1880:
"The Blade as well as the other city papers, contained an item last week stating that Saturday, August 22d it was just thirty-three years since the first Hollander set foot on Lake Prairie soil. This was correct, but the statement that A. Veenman and P. J. Koelman were of that party, and the only two now living was incorrect. Neither of these gentlemen were in that party. The first party, who came here by team, to look up a site for a colony, consisted of five individuals, and were Rev. H. P. Scholte, president; I. Overkamp, treasurer, T. Keppel, D. Betten and W. Rietveld. The remainder of the colonists, who came with them across old ocean, remained at St. Louis until a location had been selected. Of this committee of five two have gone to their long home, Mr. Scholte and Mr. Rietveld; Mr. Keppel is living in Michigan and D. Betten, we understand is in Nebraska; Mr. I. Overkamp is still with us, the honored treasurer of our city."
The settlement at Red Rock was from 1843 till 1845, both to the north and the west, the extreme outpost of civilization. On this account it acquired a notoriety, and has a historical significance far beyond what its real merits would seem to warrant.
The notoriety which it gained in early times by reason of the frequent altercations between the Indians and settlers, and among the Indians themselves has found its counterpart in more recent times in the notoriety arising from frequent and bloody altercations among white men. The present denizens of Red Rock will not find fault with the historian for stating a fact which they themselves frankly admit. We should observe, however, at this place that what applies to the village and immediate vicinity of Red Rock, does not, and never did apply to the settlements north and east, all of which we include among the list comprising the Red Rock Settlement. Principal among the first of the Red Rock settlers was John D. Bedell. He was born in Kentucky in the year 1817. From the State of his birth
he emigrated to Missouri in 1828, and to Iowa in 1842, at first locating in Farmington, in Van Buren county. He came to Marion in 1843 and pitched his tent on or near to the present site of the village of Red Rock. The next person to locate at Red Rock was Amos Shaw. Neither of these men at first gave their attention to agricultural pursuits, their business being chiefly trading with the Indians. Mr. Shaw died sometime after, probably in 1846.
James Harp and E. H. Baker settled soon after the settlement was begun by Bedell and Shaw. These two men likewise engaged in trading. Baker afterward moved to Vandalia, and then to Colfax, Jasper county. Robert D. Russell, another early settler, was the first magistrate and officiated as the first postmaster of Red Rock.
Reuben Matthews was the first physician, and he was succeeded by C. M. Gilky and J. W. McCully. During the memorable and disastrous flood of 1851 the town was completely submerged and great suffering was thereby produced.
One of the most renowned settlers of early times, who is a veritable historical character on account of his numerous adventures with the Indians, was John H. Mikesell. He was born in Virginia in the year 1802. From the place of his nativity he removed to Ohio and then to Indiana. He marked out his claim and set his stakes about one mile from the village of Red Rock, in May, 1843.
John W. Alley, David B. Worth, N. Tallman, James Scott, Elihu Alley, Joel Worth, Claiborne Hall, William Williams, Drouillard Shoemaker and Israel Nichols settled during the early history of Marion county.
The first named gentleman was a lawyer, and he won a wide-spread reputation for the success which he achieved in the practice of his profession. The first divorce case in the county, that of Alley v. Alley, was brought by this attorney. He also figured in many important criminal cases. afterward emigrated to Afton, Union county, where he died.
The Tong Settlement was located south of the Des Moines River, in the eastern part of the county. Thomas Tong, from whom the settlement took its name, was born in Virginia in the year 1780. He first emigrated to Ohio, then located in Indiana. When he came to Iowa he first settled in Van Buren county, and from there removed to Marion county early in 1845. He died during the year 1850.
The English Settlement was located northwest of the Tong Settlement, and extended on both sides of English Creek, and north of the present site of the post-office of that name. D. T. Durham and F. E. Durham settled here in 1843. The former was a native of Maine, and the latter was born in Ohio. David Durham carried the first mail between Oskaloosa and Knoxville, and was a member of the first board of county commissioners. He died in March, 1866.
Another man who early became identified with the English Settlement was G. G. Harsin. He was born in Kentucky in the year 1790. From Kentucky he emigrated to Illinois and from there to Henry county, this State. He came to Marion county in the spring of 1844. Mr. Harsin had five sons grow up to manhood in the county, three of whom remained in the county, and two of whom removed farther west.
Farther east, in the edge of the timber which borders the Des Moines, Andrew Foster, John Wise and Francis A. Barker settled; Foster and Wise settled in 1843 and Barker in 1844. Foster erected one of the first