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History of Guthrie and
Adair Counties, Iowa, 1884

Adair - The Beginning.


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Chapter II.


To the readers of local history the chapter relating to the early settlement, the first events and beginning of the history of a country is of general interest.  Especially is this the case with pioneers themselves;  those who have witnessed the changes that have been made, who have seen a trackless wilderness or prairie transformed into a beautiful country, and filled with an enterprising and happy people.  He reads here slowly and critically, every word recalling memories of the past, which for a generation have been buried among a host of recollections which now arise before him like a dream.  His old associations, the deeds, the trials and battles against hunger and cold, while settlers were few and far between, and wolves howled about the little log cabin, sending a chill to his heart, and the wind driving the sifting snow through the crevices --- all arise now vividly before him.  Often it is with pleasure he can recall these recollections, viewing with satisfaction the thought that he lived through it all to see a thrifty and wealthy land, dotted with schoolhouses and churches, and villages and cities.

But again it will be with sadness that the past is recalled, as thoughts spring up of the dark and painful side of weary days.  How a wife, whose virtues, bravery and simplicity will always be remembered, or a child, prattling in its innocence being called from earth to its eternal home, was laid away under the cruel sod in solemn quietude, by the rough but tender hands of the hardy pioneers.  Time had partially allayed the sting, but the wound is now uncovered by the allusion to days gone by, and the cases are not a few, where a tear of bitter sadness will course down the cheek in honor of the memory of those who have departed.

Notwithstanding the many disadvantages, and even sorrows attended upon the first steps of civilization, and the adversities to be encountered, the pioneer led a happy life.  The absense of the aristocratic and domineering power of wealth and position must have been a source of comfort and satisfaction.  Merit alone insured equality, and this could not be suppressed by tradition.  The brotherhood of man was illustrated in a sincere and practical way, and hospitality was not considered so much of a christian trait as a duty to humanity.



To learn with any degree of accuracy the first actual settler of a locality that has been settled for a generation is a more difficult task than would be imagined.  There is only one rule which can be adopted, and that is to state the arrivals in the order in which they came, giving the dates as given by the parties themselves, and let the reader judge for himself.  For years past there has been controversy over the question as to who was really the very first settler in Adair county.  The historian does not dispute a single claim, but presents the statement of each claimant.

Early in the spring of 1849, Thomas Johnson, a native of Indiana, came from Page county, Iowa, whither he had gone in 1841, and seeing the fairness of the land, made a settlement on section 4, in what is known as Washington township, on the David Coffeen farm of the present.  Here he built his cabin, the first permanent habitation erected upon the soil of Adair county, and broke up a small patch of ground and raised thereon a small crop of grain and vegetables for the support of his family.  In 1850 he, growing tired of going long distances to mill, erected a primitive grist-mill upon his farm, and in 1854 he built a saw-mill upon the same stream.  In 1853 a mial route was established through Washington township, on the road from Afton to Lewis, and the house of Thomas Johnson was made a postoffice, with that gentleman as custodian of the mails, and was thus the first postmaster in the county.  After living here for about twelve years, in 1861 Mr. Johnson emigrated to Oregon, where he now resides.  The first school in this county was taught in Mr. Johnson's house in the winter of 1851 and 1852, by Miss Dianthe Richardson, of which further on.

In April, 1850, James R. Campbell built a cabin on section 3, in what is now Washington township, and on the 11th of May of the same year, he removed into it with his family.  He afterwards removed to section 33, where he still resides, the oldest living resident of the county.  The points at which Mr. Campbell traded until the year 1856, when several stores were established at nearer points, were Savannah, the county seat of Andrew county, Missouri, one hundred and twenty miles away, or St. Joseph, still farther away.  He had his grinding done at Cox's mills, on river One Hundred and Two, so called, it is said, because it is the one hundred and second stream crossed in traveling from the Mississippi river west.  This mill was seventy-five miles from Mr. Campbell's house, and the journey there was often long and dreary.

James R. Campbell resides on section 33, Washington township, where he owns five hundred and sixty acres of land, and carries on farming and stock-raising.  He was born in Bourbon county, Kentucky, on the 28th of March 1822, and is the son of James and Polly (Lock) Campbell, natives of Kentucky.  He remained in Kentucky until seventeen years of age, when he moved to Lawrence county, Indiana, and remaining there one year h moved to Putnam county, and there remained until 1841, when he settled in Page county, Iowa.  In the spring of 1850 he came to Washington township, Adair county, where he has since resided.  He first settled on section 3, where he lived until 1853, when he went to Page county to spend the winter, and in the spring of 1854 he came to his present farm.  Mr. Campbell was married on the 14th of March, 1850, to Miss Susanna Johnson, of Lawrence county, Indiana.  By their union four children have been blessed --- Emily, Horant, James H. and Robert.  Mr. Campbell has been very successful in all his undertakings, and has secured the respect and confidence of the community.

In the fall of 1849, William McDonald, or "Uncle Billy," as he is so familiarly called by all, came from Missouri to Adair county in search of a home.  In the following spring he removed here and settled upon section 26 in Harrison township.  William McDonald is a native of Pike county, Ohio, and was born April 20, 1809.  He is the son of Charles and Nancy (Tubbs) McDonald.  His first remove was to Peoria, Illinois, but 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 in 1849 came to this county.  The appearance of the country to his eye as he came into the county at that early day gave little promise of the Adair county of to-day with its splendid farms, flourishing towns and villages, and valuable improvements in all departments.  But it offered as good a field at least as the average land in the wild west, and here he decided to cast his lot.  When the count was organized he was chosen as its first recorder, and gave satisfaction to his fellow-citizens who placed him in the position.  He was also one of the first trustees of the township, and has held the office of school director.  Mr. McDonald has been married three times.  April 2, 1829, he was married to Miss Maria Kirkendall, a daughter of George and Mary Kirkendall; no children by that marriage are living.  On November 5, 1836, he was united in marriage to Miss Mary Dixon, daughter of John Dixon;  by this marriage he had two children -- Emily and Elizabeth.  He was married in 1869 to Letitia McAferty.  He owns two hundred and twenty acres of land in section 26, Harrison township, besides the town property on which he resides.  He has the honor of being one of those who paved the way for the present prosperity of Adair county.  Mr. McDonald is a member of the Christian church.

In the early spring of 1850 there appeared upon the scene of action in Adair county, a man by the name of William Alcorn, who made a claim on section 27, in Jefferson township, and putting up a cabin settled down to the hard life of a pioneer.  He resided on this place until 1852, when he sold the claim to John Febus, and took up another on section 33.  In 1854 he left Adair county, and now lives in Dallas.

With Mr. Alcorn came John Gilson, who made a settlement in the same township, on what is now the McGinnis farm.  A sketch o him will be found under the heading of county clerks, he having been the first to occupy that position in the county.

Daniel Vancil came to Adair county about the same time and made what is now Jefferson township his headquarters.  He made no claim, and was what is called "a claim jumper," and not finding the climate congenial to his disposition, in 1853 returned to his native state, Illinois, where he afterward participated in a "hanging bee," figuring quite prominently on the end of a rope, as a reward for some little pleasantry on his part.

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, but on the organization of the county was elected county judge, and after the expiration of his term of office, left the county under a cloud.  A fuller sketch of him may be found under the caption of county judges.

Azariah Root, afterward county judge, was one of the early settlers of this county together with his son Abner.  In 1853 he made a settlement upon section 11, in Jackson township, where he resided for some time, when he removed to section 12, and later to the village of Fontanelle.  Both these gentlemen having served in an official position, sketches in detail of them may be found in that connection.

Charles Wilson, in the spring of 1853, made the first settlement in what is now Union township, on section 12, where he still resides.  A memorial of pioneer days.

Christian Gerkin, a native of Germany, made a settlement on section 2, in the same township in the latter part of July, 1853.  He came here directly from his German home across the sea, and is still a resident of the same place.

Charles Wilson, a native of England, was born in 1816, and is 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, New York, and a year later he moved Allegany county.  He then moved to Genesee county, Indiana, 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 came with his family to Madison county, and began to work on his claim, his family living in a tent.  He came to Adair county soon after, and began cultivating his farm.  He was obliged to go ninety miles to a mill, with but few houses between his farm and Winterset to a mill, with but few houses between his farm and Winterset.  He owns four hundred and thirgy acres of good land, and is engaged in farming and stock-raising.  He was married in October, 1838, to Miss Sarah Brough, a native of England.  They have been blessed with eight children --- Thomas K., George, William, Lewis K., John, Mary, Lizzie and Harriott.  Mr. Wilson has held the offices of township assessor and justice of the peace.

John Cears, one of the representative old settlers of this county, came here in the year 1854, and taking up a claim upon section 3, in Jackson township, has lived there ever since.  John Cears, one of the prominent men of Jackson township, was born in Switzerland on the 18th of October, 1820, and in 1823 the family moved to America, locating in Alleghany, where he remained until 1832, when his father died, and his mother and children went to Monroe county, Ohio, and there remained until 1850, when he came to Platt county, Missouri, and one year later he came to Des Moines county, Iowa, and there remained until 1853.  He then came to Dallas county, Iowa, and in several months he came to his present location, and his house was stage station for some time.  He now has a farm of four hundred and forty acres, and three hundred and twenty acres in Eureka township, and his farm is known as one of the best farms in the township.  He was married in January, 1844, to Miss Phoebe Tucker.  They have two children living --- Frederick H. and Anna.  He was married to his present wife, Miss P. J. Perry, in March, 1858, by whom he has eight children --- William P., Joseph H., Martha C., George B., Jennie I., Frank E., Thomas J., and Albert W.  Mrs. Cears' mother was a native of Vermont, died in 1861, and her father, a native of New York, died in 1872.

John Febus made a settlement in Jefferson in 1853, where he remained until the fall of 1855, when he removed to Winterset.  He is now numbered with "the great majority" that have passed death's portal.

John Gilman, another of the hardy band of pioneers who opened up this beautiful country to the uses of civilization, came here in 1853, and made a settlement on section 5 in the Richland township of to-day.

With him came Harvey Fortner.  He shortly afterward left the county, and his present whereabouts is unknown.

Jefferson township received another settler in the year 1853 in the person of Jacob Bruce, who located upon section 33, where he now lives.  In giving the biographical sketches of the most prominent men of this township, we must not fail to mention Jacob Bruce, who is one of the most substantial citizens.  He was born on the 27th of October, 1825, in Union county, Pennsylvania.  In 1835 he moved with his parents to Sandusky county, Ohio, and there remained until the fall of the same year, when he went to Fulton county, Indiana, where he was married in October, 1850, to Miss Catharine Hoch, a daughter of Samuel and Rebecca (Kline) Hoch.  They have been blessed with two children -- Barbara and A. Bruce.  In 1853 Mr. Bruce came to Adair county, and settled on section 33, Jefferson township, in the spring of 1854.  He owns four hundred acres of good cultivated land, fine meadows and a good cultivated land, fine meadows and a good pasture, all being under fence.  There were large numbers of deer here when he first came to this county, having known a man who killed fourteen in one day.  He was in the service of the Mexican war, having enlisted in 1846, in Peru, Indiana.  He had charge of a train of twenty-five teams, and was in several skirmishes.  He was one of the bravest soldiers, and was always at the front when any fighting was to be done.  Mr. Bruce owns the finest orchard in the township, having now six hundred and fifty trees, and intends planting one hundred and fifty more next spring.  He has been township clerk, road supervisor, and one of the first trustees of the township, and township supervisor for the term of four years.

Titus, Elijah and J. B. 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, where he still resides.

John Sullivan, a native of Monroe county, Indiana, was born on the 11th of November, 1836, and is the son of Henry S. and Sarah Sullivan, who were early settlers in Indiana.  John's parents died when he was quite young, and he went to live with some relatives and friends until old enough to do for himself.  He was raised on a farm where he lived until 1853, when he removed to Clarke county, Iowa, where he engaged in farming until 1855, when he came to Washington township, Adair county, where he worked with his brothers T. H. and E. B. Sullivan.  In 1856 he built his present farm house in Jackson township, where he owns seven hundred and ninety acres of land, and a small orchard.  He was married on the 16th of October, 1856, to Miss Margaret J. Roberts, a native of Indiana.  They have five children --- Eli H., Mary A., Pleasant P., Ida B. and Oscar J.  Mr. Sullivan is a member of the Christian church, and has been a member of the school board almost ever since the township has been organized, and has been township trustee for seven years.

Alfred Jones, Sr., a native of the state of North Carolina, made a settlement in what is now Jackson township, on the 3d day of June, 1852.  This was on section 4.  Here he made him a home, and resided until he died, October 18,1881.

Willis Lyons, in the middle of June of the same year, "squatted" upon a portion of section 12, in Jackson township, and erected a cabin.  A fuller account of his will be found in the history of that township.

At this date the settlement of the county began quite rapidly.  For a more minute and detailed description of the many who came to seek homes in Adair county, the reader is referred to the several township histories, which are as complete in every particular as could be secured with persistency by our conscientious historians.


The first white child born in what is now Adair county, was Margaret Johnson, daughter of Thomas and Rosa Johnson, the pioneers of the county, who first saw the light of day in May, 1850, in the cabin of her parents in what is now Washington township.  She is now a resident of California.

The first death was that of a child of John Gilson, a praenomen now unknown, that was chilled in the icy arms of death, in the fall of 1850, in the territory now known as Jefferson township.

The first marriage of residents of the county was that of Joshua E. Chapman and Miss Dianthe Richardson, in 1853.  These parties were married in Tremont (Fremont?? -lck) county, but lived in this county at the time of their marriage.

The first marriage within the bounds of Adair county was the ceremony that united the destinies of William Stinson and Elizabeth Fredonia Crow, and who were made one upon the 7th of May, 1854, by Judge George M. Holaday.

The pioneer school was taught at the home of Thomas Johnson, on section 4, in what is now known as Washington township.  The teacher was Miss Dianthe Richardson, who afterwards married Joshua E. Chapman as above related.  This school was taught in the winter of 1851-2, and had but a small attendance.

The first mill in the county was a small grist-mill, built by Thomas Johnson on the stream that ran through his land on section 4, in Washington township.  This was a simple affair, of but rude construction, and would grind corn without bolting it, making but a coarse meal at best.



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