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TOWNSHIPS, CITIES AND TOWNS.
Knoxville Township-City of Knoxville-Schools—Churches-Societies-Biographical.
IN 1843 there were several settlers living in what is now Marion county; some doubtless lived in the bounds of what is now Knoxville township. The county was then under the jurisdiction of Washington county and an election precinct called Lake precinct was formed for the accommodation of those settlers. In 1844 Mahaska county was organized and Marion county then became a part of Mahaska, and the commissioners of the latter county established some four precincts in Marion.
In 1845 Marion county was organized and the county was subdivided into six precincts known respectively as Knoxville, Red Rock, English, Round Grove and Lake Prairie. Though the boundaries of Knoxville precinct as defined at that time were not exactly the same as at present and though it was not yet properly a township, yet the boundaries contained most of the territory now composing it and the precinct soon became a township of the same name. The creation of Knoxville precinct at the time mentioned was properly the beginning of Knoxville township. The county seat was located and named before the township was formed, and consequently the township was named after the town, which is somewhat extraordinary, the reverse usually being the case.
The order forming the precinct of Knoxville was as follows:
"Knoxville precinct shall consist of township seventy-five, range nineteen and all of township seventy-six, range nineteen, south of the Des Moines River, and east and south of Whitebreast Creek, also of townships seventy-five and seventy-six, range twenty, east of the old Indian boundary line; elections are to be held at the place of holding District Court; Lawson G. Terry, Landon Burch and Moses Tong are appointed judges.
At a called meeting of the commissioners, in November, 1846, it was ordered that townships seventy-five, and all of seventy-six lying south of the Des Moines River, both of range nineteen, and townships seventy-five and seventy-six, of range twenty be included in Knoxville township. This included, besides all the present territory of the township, all of Polk south of the Des Moines River and part of Union.
At the organization of Polk in 1848, it was reduced in size, also at the organization of Union in 1850. It is the largest township in the county
and consists of about two and a half congressional townships, equal to about 52,000 square acres.
The land originally consisted of upland prairie and timber in about equal proportions. Whitebreast Creek and English Creek traverse the township in a northeastern direction, their course being nearly parallel, the average distance between them being about four miles.
The surface of the township is gently undulating and comprises as desirable a farming country as the sun shines upon. Abundant evidence of coal is to be found along the banks of the aforementioned streams, as well as along their small tributaries. The fact has been established that the entire township is underlaid with productive veins of coal of the best quality. The veins range in thickness from a foot and a half to four and a half feet, and the distance of the coal from the surface of the ground varies from forty to one hundred feet.
Quite a number of mines have been opened, mostly in the vicinity of Knoxville, and it has been established, both scientifically and practically, that the city of Knoxville, which is near the center of the township, stands over an extensive coal-field of from three to five veins to be reached at various depths.
Whitebreast Creek runs through a beautiful and romantic country, and it was on the bank of this stream, within the limits of Knoxville township, that the first mill in the county was erected. Landon J. Burch was the builder, owner and operator; it was begun in the summer of 1845 and completed in about a year and a half.
Upon the formation of road districts in 1846, Knoxville precinct was made to constitute one road district, and Lewis M. Pierce was appointed road supervisor.
In 1851 the township was subdivided into nine school districts. Some of these districts were five miles long, as witness the following order defining the limits of district No. 2:
"Commencing at the northeast corner of section 29, in township 75, range 19, thence west five miles, thence south two miles, thence east five miles, thence north to the place of beginning."
Among the first settlers within the bounds of Knoxville township were: John M. Jones, for many years connected with the Knoxville Woolen Mills, Landon J. Burch, the Conreys, the Burches, Lysander W. Babbitt, Tyler Overton, Conrad Walters, J. R. Welch, Elias Fuller, R. S. Lowry, John Essex, M. Wilcut, Michael Livingston, Lossen G. Terry, Christopher Cox, Smith Hunton and several other persons of the name Jones.
At the election in April, 1846, there were twenty-five votes cast in Knoxville precinct. The names of these voters will afford a good idea of who were the early settlers of the township. They are as follows: L. W. Babbitt, James Bothkin, Christopher Cox, Thomas S. Thompson, Emanuel Jenkins, John M. Jones, John Essex, Samuel H. Robb, W. M. Bassett, G. B. Greenwood, Lawson G. Terry, Moses Tong, Gerret W. Clark, Conrad Walters, Nathan P. Cox, Joseph Tong, Landon J. Burch, George Gillaspy, Francis Daygmaton, Francis A. Barker, Noah Bonebrake, John R. Welch, Reuben S. Lowry, Eli Wickersham, David Immel, Benjamin Casner.
Some of the names appearing on the poll-book of the election in April, 1846, do not appear as voters at the election in August of the same year, and we are thereby led to conclude that they were not long identified with the history of Knoxville township or Marion county; they belonged to that
innumerable caravan of itinerant claim-seekers who ever hovered on the extreme western verge of civilization, and after a few months' residence fell into line at the command of "move on." Some of these names, however, appearing on the first poil-book of Knoxville precinct, became permanently connected with the history of the township. Such were the names Welch, Jones, Conrey, Walters, Burch, etc.
At the August election in 1846, there were cast in Knoxville precinct sixty-four votes, being more than double the vote cast in the preceding April. The August election was more important than the April election, and consequently fewer persons remained away from the polls; nevertheless the large increase in the vote was chiefly owing to the heavy emigration which was pouring into the township, and it is safe to conclude that during the four months extending from April 6, 1846, to August 3, 1846, the population of Knoxville township more than doubled.
Timber for building and fencing purposes was a great object to new settlers; there was an abundance of this in Knoxville township, and this, together with the fertile soil and the location of the county seat, made Knoxville township a desirable location.
Many of the persons whose names we have mentioned, lived in the new county seat town, but they also had claims in various parts of the township, and even some of the early county officials found much spare time when they laid off the dignity of office and walked miles into the country to cultivate their claims. We find that Lysander W. Babbitt, the county clerk, had a claim in the township, and was an owner of cattle and swine, for his ear-mark is registered along with the marks of less distinguished individuals. Conrad Walters, instead of having a deputy sheriff to assist him, did all the business of the sheriff's office and fell back on the rearing of swine to assist him to make a living.
One of the first persons to dispense justice at the high court of justice of the peace in Knoxville township was Richard R. Watts, some extracts from whose docket will be given further on.
At that time there was but one justice of the peace and one constable for each township. The candidates for this responsible office in Knoxville township in 1846 were, Landon J. Burch, George G. Rose and the said Watts. The vote stood as follows:
Five persons aspired to the honors and emoluments of the office of constable, Michael Livingston, Allen Lowe, James Wiltace, W. C. Wallace and W. G. McCain. The vote was as follows:
The first election of officers of Knoxville township were as follows: Judges-G. W. Clark, Landon J. Burch and Moses Tong; Clerks-Isaac H. Walters and George G. Roge.
The following is a copy of the record of the first case brought before .Richard R. Watts, the first justice of the peace in Knoxville township:
"WM. M. BLANKENSHIP.
"In an assumpsit suit brought on a contract made for the Brakeing of fif teen a cre of land at two dollars per a cre, upon which the plaintiff claimes thirty dollars, the value of the said Brakeing, and twenty dollars damages on account of the Brakeing not haveing Bin done according to contract.
"Execution returned ten dollars and 34 cents, paid on this execution this 21st day of October, A. D., 1845. Percentage 40 cents. James W. Watts, constable.
"November 20, 1845, Recieved of John Johnston, in full, all costs in this suit, wherein John Johnston is plaintiff and William M. Blankenship is defendant, the sum of one dollar and five cents, over and above the constables return. RICHARD R. WATTS, J. P."
It seems that an attachment was afterward issued and four yoke of oxen, the property of the defendant, were attached.
After the case was in court for quite a time and the costs had amounted to $18.45, the plaintiff withdrew his suit. Rather expensive litigation for such early day, but poor though they were, the pioneers would not deny themselves the luxury of suing and being sued.
Owing to the size of the township at present, and there being but one polling place, Knoxville, persons are under the necessity of going quite a distance to vote; but this seldom works a hardship to anyone, as the average American citizen is very willing to give an entire day to his country on election day; moreover it is quite an improvement on the accommodations in some parts of the State in early times when the voter had to go fifty miles to deposit his ballot.
The present officers of Knoxville township are as follows:
Justices of the Peace-J. K. Casey, C. B. Boydston.
Constables-C. B. Thompson, William Shields.
OITY OF KNOXVILLE.
The commissioners appointed by the Territorial Legislature to locate the seat of justice of Marion county, made their report and officially filed the same August 25th, 1845; this then was the beginning of Knoxville, and from that date, through a period of but little over thirty-five years extends the career, and was accomplished the events which pertain to the history of the city. Though the building up of the city and the development of its business enterprises have not been characterized by the dash and enterprise characteristic of the mining towns of the Pacific slope, and notwithstanding the fact that the growth of Knoxville was greatly retarded during the period extending from 1860 to 1875, on account of its unfortunate position in regard to railroads, yet when we consider how a bleak and tenantless parcel of land, hundreds of miles from market and miles from a single hab