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HISTORY OF WINNESHIEK COUNTY.
History: Its Basis of Fact, Tradition and Legend; First Settle
ment; First Birth; First Marriage, First Death; First Settlements, no Longer Existing; First Public School and School Teacher; County Organization; First Assessment and Tax List; First Tax-Payers and Settlers by Townships.
When some of the old historians wrote their histories they were forced to admit that fact and legend had become so intermingled that it was impossible to clearly separate truth from fiction. The legends of the past were such a mixture of facts, traditions and tales of ancestors, varied in many details, as brought down from father to son, that it was a relief to come to common ground on which all were agreed, and where was found a firm basis for the historian.
And though the settlement of Winneshiek County by the whites has little of fable, and is not invested with mythological tales of gods and demi-gods, yet there are always, in recalling the history of early and pioneer life in new countries, fancies and traditions, generally with some kind of basis of truth, that become so interwoven with facts, that it is difficult to distinguish the one from the other, and the shrewdest head may become bewildered in the attempt. The sooner the separating process is commenced the better, and it is fortunate that even before the present day important facts have been collected, and in many cases placed on recordfacts gathered from the lips of those who were witnesses of the early scenes of pioneer life in this county,—while there are still dwelling among us those who can verify many of the incidents and details of early history.
Our indebtedness to books and papers published in years past is freely and gratefully acknowledged; and it is our purpose to attempt to collate from them, as well as to collect from other sources, and from personal interview and observation, such additional facts and incidents as may help to preserve and continue down to the present time, such history, records and pictures of early life in our county, as we are able to do with the tine and resources at our command. Permit us to say at the outset, that we shall draw freely from Mr. C. H. Sparks' history of Winneshiek County, written in 1876, and published early in the year 1878, and from papers from the pen of Mr. A. K. Bailey, quoted in the above volume.
EARLY SETTLEMENT. It was forty years ago that the first steps toward the coming of white settlers into this county were taken, by establishing the Indian Agency at Old Mission, although it was nearly ten years later before actual settlement commenced. We quote as follows from Sparks' History:
"As early as 1835, Rev. D. Lowery, the man who afterwards established the Old Mission, conducted a school of like nature near the mouth of Yellow River. Mr. Lowery emigrated from Tennessee, and was a strict adherent to the sect known as the Cumberland Presbyterians. In his youth he had received the benefits of a thorough education, and was peculiarly qualified for the arduous duties of ameliorating the condition of the Indians. In 1874 he took up his residence in Pierce City, Missouri, where he died on the 19th of January, 1876, at the advanced age of 82 years. Mr. Lowery was a man of marked ability, and during the more active portion of his life was prominent in all that pertained to the history of the country in which he lived. He was, for perhaps more than fifty years, a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. A man of unusual physical make-up, and possessed of a large brain, which eminently fitted him for the frontier life which he led. He was one of our noble men, and will be long remembered by many of our people, and especially by the early settlers of this portion of the great West.
In 1842 Mr. Lowery was appointed Indian Agent for the reservation which included the tract of land now known as Winneshiek County. The same year he received instructions from the Government to form a Mission and farm on the reservation, for the education of the Indians in husbandry and the English language, in hopes of civilizing and morally benefitting them. The erection of the Mission was commenced, as near as can be ascertained, in June, 1842, the Rev. D. Lowery superintending the work. The Mission was a large, commodious wooden building, located about five miles southeast of Fort Atkinson. A remnant of one of the buildings still exists.
The Government had authorized Mr. Lowery to open a farm for the instruction of the Indians in agricultural pursuits, the expenses incurred thereby to be deducted from their annuity. Mr. Lowery turned over this part of the work to his assistant, Col. Thomas. The first year, under Col. Thomas' supervision, a farm of three hundred acres was opened, and endeavors were made to instruct the Indians how to till the soil, but they were so careless and indolent that but little work could be got out of them. The crops planted began to show neglect. In fact the farm began to retrograde, when Col. Thomas had a force of garrison men detailed to cultivate it—they being paid for their labor out of the Indian annuity. One year served to demonstrate that the Indian as a husbandman was a failure. In 1843, Col. Thomas, under in
structions from the Government, built the first gristmill in Winneshiek county. The Mission and farm was continued under Col. Thomas' supervision, until the Indians sold their reservation to the Government, when they were removed, and there was no further need of these enterprises.
"Lowery continued in charge of the Indian Mission some time after building it, but finally resigned to take charge of a Mission in Minnesota, whereupon Gen. Fletcher was appointed to serve in his stead.
"It is difficult to discriminate, exactly, as to whom belongs the honor of being the first permanent settler. It lies between Mr. A. R. Young, of Fort Atkinson, and Hamilton Campbell and wife, of Bloomfield township. Mr. A. R. Young, residing on his farm, celebrated as the defunct Lewiston, was a member of the garrison stationed at the fort, and the only soldier who remained and became a permanent resident. He married a daughter of one of the first comers. If to him is accorded the right of a settler from the time of his coming to the fort as a soldier, then he is the oldest resident beyond all dispute. But if, on the contrary, the honor of being a settler is not accorded to him until after he was mustered out of the service and began to till the soil, then to Hamilton Campbell and wife belongs the credit.
"Hamilton Campbell and wife made a claim June 7, 1848, on sections 23 and 26, in what is now Bloomfield township, and there to-day they are honored residents.
Dr. F. Andros, formerly of Decorah, was surgeon at the fort, but on its abandonment he removed to Clayton county, where for twenty-five years he was a useful and honored citizen.
[Dr Andros has since, within a year or two, removed to Dakota, to renew his experience in pioneer life).
"From 1842 to 1848, the only resident families on the Winnebago reservation, except such as were in Government employ, were those of Joel Post and Mr. Wilcox. The latter resided about forty rods south of the fort, on the road leading to the Indian Agency, or Mission. Both these men were special favorites of office holders, and were permitted by the Indian Agency to keep houses of entertainment for the accommodations of persons visiting the fort and agency. The information to be obtained in relation to Wilcox is very meagre. Beyond the above fact we have been unable to ascertain anything in relation to his history, and it is not believed that he was long a resident.
"Mr. Joel Post was the first farmer, and first actual settler on the reservation. Soon after the Government had decided to establish Old mission and Fort Atkinson, he conceived the idea that a half-way house for the accommodation of parties engaged in transporting building material and supplies from Fort Crawford to Fort Atkinson would prove profitable. He therefore made application to the General Government to establish such a house on
the reservation, which he was allowed to do. He erected a log house in 1841, on the site where Postville now stands.
The same spring, he broke up some ground and raised crops. This preceded the mission farm by a year.
"Harmon Snyder was the first blacksmith who worked at his trade in Winneshiek County. He came from Prairie du Chien with the force detailed to build the fort, and was employed, chiefly, in work for the garrison. At the same time, he did a great deal of work for the Indians. They would stand around and watch him while at his work, with wonder and abmiration. How long he remained and whither he went, must remain an untold story, for lack of information.
"The credit of being the first white child born in the county belongs to Miss Mary Jane Tapper, this being her maiden name. She was born at the fort, on the 16th of January, 1841. She is the daughter of Mr. James and Mrs. Ellen Tapper, who were married in New York city in 1838, and emigrated from there to St. Louis, arriving at their destination on the 10th of May, 1840, Mr. Tapper met Government officials at this place, and with about fifty other mechanics contracted to come out into the then wild and comparatively unknown region of lowa, and construct a fort, said fort" being Fort Atkinson. Mr. Tapper is an Englishman, and came to this county in 1828. He now resides two miles southeast of Monona.
"Mary Jane Tapper, the first white child born in the county, married a Mr. Robert M. Boyce, and resides with her husband two miles north of Monona.
"The honor of being the second white child born in the county, so far as can be ascertained, belongs to Miss E. Thomas of Prairie du Chien, a lady of marked talent and pleasing social attainments. She was born in 1844, at the Old Mission, where her parents resided, her father, Col. Thomas, being in charge of the Mission at the time.
“The settlement of the county was so rapid that in 1850 the pioneers felt themselves old enough to organize. Prior to that time the land had been surveyed and brought into market. In 1850, J. L. Carson was appointed organizing officer, and an election for a temporary organizatton ordered. At that time there were fewer polling places than now, there being only three. Their names serve to show where the settlers were located. They were Decorah, Moneek and Lewiston. Many have asked without receiving an answer, "Where is Lewiston ?" My researches enable me to answer this query: In 1850 it promised to be a town of note. It was the speculator's "Napoleon;" but Lewis Harkins, then in charge of the Government property, and Mr. Francis Rogers, joint owners of the land, became involved in a quarrel regarding their individual interests in the town plat, which finally resulted in the wreck of all the bright hopes before entertained as to the future
prosperity of Lewiston. To-day there is not a vestige of its remains. Even the records give no account of its whereabouts and this one vote is the only recorded evidence of its existence. In another generation this fact would have been buried from the researches of the historian, as only a few of the settlers remain who are able to verify the early existence of such a place. Francis Rogers and Lewis Harkins were the proprietors of the land where Lewiston was laid out, and the place derived its name from Harkins' given name. The old settlers say that Lewiston was a regularly laid out town, situated one mile north of Old Mission, on what is now known as the Rogers farm, owned by Aaron Young, who at that time was Second Sergeant of Company C.
"Among the defunct places of notoriety that existed in the early history of Winneshiek County, was a spot bearing the euphoneous name of Grab-all. The place noted by this title was a high bench of timber land, half way between the Iowa trail and Postville. It was given this name because the Government stationed a sergeant's guard there, to "grab all" the Indians passing that way, for removal.
"The next place worthy of special mention is Rattletrap. Rattletrap of early times is known to-day as Castalia. At the time the town bore this name it consisted of one solitary log house, owned and superintended over by one of the most natural and original of Erin's daughters, Mrs. John Powell. I have it from reliable authority that she was capable of talking a common regiment of Decorah lawyers blind in less than no time. It would be comforting to believe this statement, but when one stops to consider the capability of the Decorah lawyers, it is accepted only as a rough joke perpetrated on the old woman.
Whisky Grove was a popular resort for the soldiers stationed at Fort Atkinson. The grove that became thus noted is located just east of Calmar. An incident showing why it was given this name, is related in substance as follows: It was near the time when the Indians would receive their annuity, and the soldiers at the fort their pay, that a half-breed would procure a barrel of whisky at Fort Crawford, loaded it on his wagon and transported it to this particular grove. The soldiers were secretly informed of the fact, and the most of them got gloriously drunk. The first intimation the commander of the garrison had of its existence was the beastly intoxication of his men, and even then he was unable to ascertain its location. The half-breed remained here for some time, and carried on a thriving business. The soldiers who patronized him would not betray his whereabouts to their commander.
The winter of 1853-4 the first immigration of Bohemians came to the county, settling in the vicinity of Fort Atkinson. There were eight families of them. The winter was severe in the extreme, and the following incident is told of it: