Kinyon Digital Library

Civil War Rosters
County/Local Histories
Census Transcriptions
Local Maps and More

Home  ||  What's New?  ||  Notes  ||  Census Data  ||  Data By State  ||  Military Records  ||  Links  ||  Tombstones  ||  Poetry  ||  Privacy

Custom Search

Kinyon Digital Library

Copyright 1999-2013,
 all rights reserved.

History of Adair
County, Iowa,
and its People.  1915.

Volume 1.


Iowa Index || - || Previous Page || Table of Contents  || Next Page







Pioneer history is in many respects an elusive subject.  Records of the days when the settlers hewed their homes from the unbroken wilderness have not been adequately preserved and consequently the sources of information which have survived are treasures which must be kept and immortalized by the present generation and the ones to come, lest the tales of the hardships and sturdy deeds performed be lost to view forever.  Such is the purpose of history.  Pioneer history, as well as any other, grows with the telling.  There is glamour and interest centering around the hard-fought battles of the early days which will bear the retelling many times over.  What if bits of imagination are introduced in the retelling?  Any life is prosaic in the stern reality --- and narrative beauty is added by the coloration of the bare facts; but, of course, strict adherence to these same facts is the prime requisite.

In the beginning of Iowa history, and also that of Adair County, settlements were miles apart and social intercourse was difficult.  Log-rollings, husking-bees, barbecues, cabin-buildings and other entertainments significant to the pioneers supplied the only opportunities for the people to congregate together and these periods were often months apart.  So the pioneer lived alone with his family in the silent and mighty forest and on the monotonous level of the prairie, sallying out before dawn to shoot the game for the day's food and to cast a line in the nearby stream.  The clothes were manufactured by the good housewife, who sat for days before the loom and spinning wheel, patiently working; linsey-woolsey and homespun, adorned with the skins of wild animals, were the popular fabrics.

An extreme hardiness of body and soul resulted from this life; men were cast in steel.  Writers of today lament the deterioration of the twentieth century civilization, praying for the spirit of the pioneer days.  This may be true, but the effect of money and luxuries are too familiar to merit discussion in a work such as this volume.  It is to the first men of the county and their influence in building up the community and to the men of the present generation who are stolidly retaining this standard that this work must be dedicated.

Every authority will agree with the statement that the sole motive of early settlement in any land or locality is an economic one.  It is when living conditions become difficult in larger settlements, when competition becomes strong, and when the desire for larger space becomes uppermost, that an exodus to a new land occurs.  So it was in the early settlement of Adair County.  The emigrants came here with the purpose of building new homes, raising crops and opening up a new country for their children's happiness.  They were but following the law of existence and the survival of the fittest.


The identity of the first settler in Adair County has been disputed for many years, even since the first settlements were made.  It is impossible to state exactly who made the first home in this county.

Thomas Johnson, a native of Indiana, came from Page County, Ia., in the spring of 1849 and settled on section 4 in Washington Township.  He had gone to Page County as early as 1841.  He constructed a log cabin, probably the first in the county, and cleared a small patch of ground in order to raise sufficient grain and vegetables to supply himself and small family.  His trips to mill were made over long distances, and he soon grew tired, so in 1850 built a small grist mill upon his farm and four years later added a sawmill.  In 1853 a mail route was established through Washington Township on the road from Afton to Lewis, and the house of Thomas Johnson was made a postoffice, he acting as postmaster.  There is no doubt but that he was the first gentleman in the county to act in this capacity.  After living here for about twelve years Johnson removed to the State of Oregon, where he lived until his death.

It is a notable fact that the first school in Adair County was taught in Johnson's house in the winter of 1851-52 by Miss Dianthe Richardson.

In the month of April, 1850, James R. Campbell built a cabin on section 3 in what is now Washington Township, and on May 11th of the same year he moved into the crude home with his family.  He afterwards moved to section 33.  Until he had closer trading points he bartered his goods at Savannah, the county seat of Andrews County, Mo., 120 miles from here, and he also took some of his goods to St. Joseph, Mo., even farther away from home.  He had his grinding done at Cox's mills, on River One Hundred and Two, so called, it was said, because it was the one hundred and second stream crossed from the Mississippi when traveling westward.  This mill was seventy-five miles from the Campbell home.

James R. Campbell was born in Bourbon County, Ky., on March 28, 1822, and was the son of James and Polly  (Lock) Campbell, natives of Kentucky.  He remained in the Blue Grass State until he was seventeen years of age, then went to Lawrence County, Ind., and thence in one year to Putnam County, where he stayed until 1841, when he settled in Page County, Ia.  He was married on March 14, 1850, to Susanna Johnson, of Lawrence County, Ind., and to this felicitous union there were born four children:  Emily, Horant, James H. and Robert.

In the autumn of 1849 William (Uncle Billy) McDonald came to this county from Missouri.  His first trip was to search for a comfortable site for a home, which he evidently discovered, for in the following spring he moved here and settled upon section 26 in Harrison Township.  He was a native of Pike County, Ohio, and was born April 20, 1809, the son of Charles and Nancy (Tubbs) McDonald.  His first removal was to Peoria, Ill., and that place not proving a satisfactory location, he returned to Ohio, but again went to Illinois and made a trial of Sangamon County.  From there he went to Missouri and, as above stated, came to Adair County in 1849.

After the organization of the county McDonald was chosen as the first recorder and was also one of the first trustees of his home township.  For a time he served as a school director.  Mr. McDonald was married three times.  On April 2, 1829, he was wedded to Maria Kirkendall, a daughter of George and Mary Kirkendall; no children were born of this union.  On November 5, 1836, he was married to Mary Dixon, daughter of John Dixon; two children, Emily and Elizabeth, were born.  In 1869 he was married to Letitia McAferty.

In the spring of 1850 William Alcorn made a claim on section 27 in Jefferson Township and constructed a cabin home.  He lived here until 1852, when he sold his property to John Febus, and took up another claim on section 33.  In 1854 he left the county.

With Alcorn came John Gilson and he made a settlement in the same township.  He was chosen as the first county clerk in Adair.

Daniel Vancil came to Adair County about the same time and settled in Jefferson Township.  He made no legal claim, but was reputed to be a claim-jumper.  Not finding himself in good standing in this community, he left in 1853 and returned to his native state of Illinois, where he was afterward lynched.

Among the first settlers of Jefferson Township was George M. Holaday, who made a settlement on section 26 in 1853.  Here he built his cabin and resided for a time.  Upon the organization of the county he succeeded in obtaining the office of county judge and served the full time with little credit to himself or the community.  At the expiration of his term he left the county.

Azariah Root, afterward county judge, was one of the early settlers of the county, together with his son, Abner.  In 1853 he made a settlement upon section 11, in Jackson Township, where he resided for some time; then he removed to section 12, and later to the Village of Fontanelle.

Charles Wilson, in the spring of 1853, made the first settlement in what is now Union Township, on section 12, where he resided for many years.

Christian Gerkin, a native of Germany, made a settlement on section 2 in Union Township in the latter part of July, 1853.  He came here directly from the Vaterland.

Charles Wilson, a native of England, was born in 1816, the son of Robert and Sarah Wilson.  He resided in his native land until eighteen years of age, when he came to America, first settling in Rochester, N. Y., and a year later he moved to Allegany County.  He then moved to Genesee County, Ind., and then to Lake County.  He remained there until the fall of 1852, when he came to Iowa, spending the winter in Mahaska County on the Des Moines River.  In the spring following he brought his family to Madison County and began work on a claim, his family occupying a tent.  He came to Adair County soon afterward and began the cultivation of his farm.  He was obliged to travel ninety miles to a mill.  There were but few houses between his home and the Town of Winterset.  He was married in October, 1838, to Sarah Brough, a native of England.  Eight children were born to them, namely: Thomas K., George, William, Lewis K., John, Mary, Lizzie and Harriott.  He held at different times the offices of township assessor and justice of the peace.

John Cears, one of the best known of the early settlers of the county, came here in the year 1854 and took up a claim on section 3, in Jackson Township.  He was born in Switzerland on October 18, 1820, and in 1823 the family moved to America, locating in Allegany, where they remained until 1832, when his father died, and then his mother and the children went to Monroe County, Ohio, and there remained until 1850, when he came to Platt County, Mo., and one year later he came to Des Moines County, Ia., and there remained until 1853.  He then came to Dallas County, Ia., and after several months came to this county.  For a long time after his coming his house served as a stage station.  He was married in January, 1844, to Phoebe Tucker, and again in March, 1858, to Miss P. J. Perry.  To this last union there were born the following children: William P., Joseph H., Martha C, George B. Jennie I., Frank E., Thomas J. and Albert W.  There were also several children born to Mr. Cears' first wife.  

John Febus made a settlement in Jefferson Township in 1853, where he remained until the fall of 1855, when he removed to Winterset.

John Gilman came here in 1853 and made a settlement on section 5 in what is now Richland Township.  With him came Harvey Fortner, who shortly afterwards left the county.

Jefferson Township received another settler in the year 1853 in the person of Jacob Bruce, who located upon section 33.  He was born on October 27, 1825, in Union County, Pa., and in 1835 moved with his parents to Sandusky County, Ohio, and there remained until the fall of the same year, when he went to Fulton County, Ind., where he was married in October, 1850, to Catherine Hoch, a daughter of Samuel and Rebecca (Kline) Hoch.  Jacob Bruce served in the war with Mexico, having charge of a train of twenty-five teams and participating in several skirmishes.  During his life in Adair County he served several times in official capacities.

Titus, Elijah, John and Jahu Sullivan located upon section 16, Washington Township, in the fall of 1853, where the two first named took up claims and the latter worked for them.  In 1856 J. B. removed to Jackson Township.  Jahu Sullivan, a native of Monroe County, Ind., was born on November 11, 1836, the son of Henry S. and Sarah Sullivan.  His wife was Margaret J. Roberts, also a native of Indiana.

Alfred Jones, Sr., settled upon a portion of section 12 in Jackson Township on June 3, 1852.  He was native of North Carolina.  He made his home here until his death in 1881.

Willis Lyons also settled in Jackson Township.


The first white child born in what now comprises Adair County was Margaret, the daughter of Thomas and Rosa Johnson, the pioneers of the county, in May, 1850.  She later lived in the State of California.

The first death in the county was that of John Gilson's child, name unknown, in the fall of 1850.

The first marriage was that of Joshua E. Chapman and Dianthe Richardson, in 1853.  These people were married in Tremont County, but were residents of Adair County at the time of their nuptials.

The first marriage within the bounds of Adair County was that of William Stinson and Elizabeth Fredonia Crow on May 7, 1854.  Judge George M. Holaday performed the ceremony,.

The first school in the county, as before mentioned, was taught at the house of Thomas Johnson.

The first mill in the county was a small grist mill erected by Thomas Johnson on his farm.


Iowa Index || - || Previous Page || Table of Contents || Next Page


Home  ||  What's New?  ||  Notes  ||  Census Data  ||  Data By State  ||  Military Records  ||  Links  ||  Tombstones  ||  Poetry  ||  Privacy

Site Statistics By

since 17 December 1999.

Copyright 1999-2013
Kinyon Digital Library,
All Rights Reserved.