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History of Cedar
County, Iowa, 1878.

  
 

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Early Settlement

The earliest settlements made in Iowa were along the Mississippi River.  In 1833, miners from the east side of the Mississippi, at Galena and the adjacent district in Wisconsin, were permitted to cross the river and settle upon the land included in the Black Hawk Purchase.  The gelena section around Dubuque was the first great center of attraction, but as soon as the settlers commenced raising mineral the United States appeared, by an agent, and assumed direct control of all the mineral-bearing lands, requiring the miners to take out permits for limited privileges, and to deliver the ore to a licensed smelter, who paid the Government a royalty on the lead manufactured.    These restrictions became so exacting and so hard to enforce that the Government abandoned them, in 1846, and put the lands into market.

The men who first came to the Dubuque region were not long in discovering the exceeding beauty and fertility of the lands embraced in the Black Hawk Purchase, and their fame soon spread far and wide.  Indiana was pretty well occupied; Illinois, admitted into the Union in 1818, had received a large rush of immigration; and, pushing on through these States, adventurous men and women soon began to cross the Mississippi River and to settle in various parts of the famous Black Hawk lands of Iowa.  West of the Father of Rivers, there were no roads.  When once a pioneer crossed the great river, he left behind, if we may except the few miners' cabins that sprang up at Dubuque, all evidences of the civilizing influences and surroundings of white people.  A pocket compass or the North Star were the only guides.  Hundreds of the first pioneers to the "Forty Mile Strip" of Iowa had no definite point of settlement in view when they left their old homes to found new ones in the far West beyond the Mississippi; but, bold, fearless, determined and resolute, they pushed on and on until they found a locality to suit their fancy, and then pitched their tents or lived in their wagons -- those great, schooner-like concerns of the Conestoga (Pennsylvania) kind, that would hold about as much as an ordinary canal boat -- until cabins could be reared.

Previous in 1829, there were no regularly established ferries at any point on the Upper Mississippi, and but little, if any, use for ferries.  Dubuque and his men, when they had occasion to cross the river to the Illinois side, used Indian canoes.  Dubois, who is said to have come to the Dubuque region about the same time with Dubuque, but who settled on the Illinois side in what is now Dunleith Township, Jo Daviess County, as a trader among the Menominee Indians, used the same means of crossing when he had occasion to visit his contemporary.  December 8, 1829, the County Commissioners of Jo Daviess County, Illinois, granted license to John Barrel to establish and maintain a ferry at Rock Island.  At that time, Jo Daviess County, Illinois, extended from the northwest corner of the State to the south line of the north tier of townships in Mercer County, and not far from the present site of Keithsburg, and thence east along the north line of the military tract to the Illinois River.  Until about 1835, when new counties began to be formed out of Jo Daviess, all that region of country, now including nine full counties, and several parts of counties, was subjected to the jurisdiction of Jo Daviess County, so that when the first immigrants to the Cedar River country crossed the Mississippi River they were subject to ferry charges established by the Commissioners of Jo Daviess.    Barrel's Rock Island ferry was established December 8, 1829.  License had been granted to Col. Davenport for a similar purpose, at the same place, a few months previous.   When the ferry license was granted to Barrel, the Commissioners ordered that he be permitted to charge the same rates as those established by Col. Davenport, which were as follows:

Man and horse $0.25
Horses or cattle, per head, other than cattle yoke 0.37
Road wagon 1.00
For each horse hitched to said wagon 0.25
Each two-horse wagon 0.75
Each two-wheeled carriage or cart 1.00
One-horse wagon 0.75
Each hundred weight of merchandise, etc. 0.06

"As far back as 1831," says Judge Tuthill, "Col. George Davenport established a trading post with the Sauks and Foxes, on the west side of Cedar River, just above the mouth of Rock Creek, which was kept up by him for a period of four years, until its abandonment in 1835.  Poweshiek, a noted Fox chief, with a considerable number of his tribe, made his headquarters near this trading post in 1834, and while there encamped was threatened with an attack from the fierce and warlike Sioux, between whom the Sauks and Foxes there existed a chronic feud.  Upon receipt of the startling intelligence, Poweshiek immediately commenced throwing up sod embankments and earthworks to protect his people from the ferocious enemy, who were supposed to largely outnumber the threatened party.  A sanguinary combat seemed inevitable; the Sioux steadily approached, and had reached Mason's Grove, their savage paraphernalia and war paint betokening unappeasable vengeance.  When lo! the angel of peace appeared in the shape of the United States Indian Agent, whose power and authority being duly and successfully exerted, the untoward affair was speedily brought to a peaceful conclusion.

"The debris and somewhat obscure remains of that primitive fortification, and of the neighboring trading house and surroundings, may be seen to this day in the shape of miniature mounds, fragmentary embankments and superficial excavations, and their origin not being within the memory of the oldest inhabitant of the vicinity, they have excited the curiosity of the speculative, and given rise to various fanciful theories of some ancient and long forgotten settlement by inhabitants of an unknown period, attracted perhaps by the rich mineral wealth of 'Old Cedar.'

"Another irruption of Indians occurred in the Winter of 1836-7, when a band of some five or six hundred in number, said to be Poweshiek's tribe, giving out that they were pursued by their ancient enemy, the ferocious Sioux, again encamped and fortified themselves against their dreaded opponents, but this time however on the east side of Cedar River, just above Rochester, and near the mouth of Rock Creek, and between the junction of Rock Creek and Cedar River.  Their defenses were not earthworks, as in 1834, but a picketed stockade, formed by splitting logs some ten feet in length, and setting them closely together endwise in the ground.

"Whether the location of this block-house had some peculiar advantage, or that its occupants had become intimidated without sufficient cause, has not been fully determined, but the fact gradually manifested itself that no fight occurred; and after a short sojourn the copper-colored warriors abandoned their protecting walls, and went on their way rejoicing.

"In June, 1835, a party consisting of Antoine Le Claire, Col. George Davenport, George L. Davenport, Maj. Wm. Gordon, Alexander McGregor, Louis Hebert, with some others whose names are now forgotten, started from Rock Island for the purpose of making claims, under what has been called squatters' rights, in the groves north and northwest of the Island.

"They first located claims in Hickory and Allen's Groves in Scott County, and entering Cedar County at Posten's Grove, blazed and staked out their claims so as to include all the timber in that grove.  From thence they went to and took possession of what is now called Onion Grove.

"It is supposed that this was the first party of white men that attempted to secure a right to the occupancy of any part of the county, but the intention so manifested, not being followed by actual residence, the presumptive right so acquired was, by the squatter law of that day, considered as abandoned.

"There are a number of competitors for the honor of being the first white inhabitant of the county, the most prominent claimants being Robert G. Roberts, Enos Nyce and David W. Walton.

"As the question can only be settled by satisfactory evidence, all the obtainable facts relating to the several claimants are now presented, and justify the conclusion that Col. David W. Walton was that ubiquitous personage -- 'the oldest inhabitant.'

"Robert G. Roberts, a Pennsylvanian by birth, but who had long resided in Indiana, arrived here in July, 1836, and made a claim on what was afterward known as the Dillon farm.  He only remained there a week or two, when he abandoned his claim, and, crossing the river to what was afterward a part of Muscatine County, jumped the claim of some person in that locality.  This being an infraction of the 'claim law,' he was speedily notified by the self-constituted authorities to quit the premises; and, neglecting to obey the mandate, was summarily ejected by a party of 'claim regulators' from the Muscatine slough.  Disgusted with this arbitrary proceeding, he left Muscatine and returned to Cedar, where he settled in what is now Iowa Township, in August, 1836, and was, unquestionably, the first settler on the west side of the river.  The Indians said that his daughter Eliza was the first white woman who crossed the Cedar.

"Roberts was considered a good citizen, honest and upright in his dealings, and, possessing the rudiments of a common school education, was elected as the first member of the House of Representatives of the Territorial Legislature of Iowa, from Cedar, Linn, Jones and Johnson Counties.  His principal fault was his natural sluggishness of disposition -- a sort of torpidity, which, by many, was called laziness.  This was so fully developed in his system that he could readily fall asleep at the slightest opportunity, and enjoy the sweet pleasure of a sound repose.

"While in the Legislature, a memorial to Congress had been introduced, asking for an appropriation to improve the navigation of the Iowa River, and Roberts was greatly interested in having Cedar in the bill.  One day, while indulging in his favorite recreation of a good, sound nap, the yeas and nays were called on a bill subjecting real and personal estate to execution.  One of the wags of the House hastily aroused Roberts from his somniferous repose, and informed him that they were now viting on the 'river bill.'  This thoroughly awakened our sleeping hero, who, rising at once to his feet and gesticulating wildly, called out in sonorous tones, 'Mr. Speaker!    Mr. Speaker! is Cedar in that ere bill?  because if Cedar is in that ere bill, I goes for it.'

"This ludicrous mal entendre occassionned a hearty laugh all over the House, and our friend Roberts was afterward known as 'Old Cedar.'

"This cognomen, together with the fact that he was the first person who settled on the west side of the river, in all probability gave rise to the widespread belief that he was the first settler in the county.  That this conclusion was erroneous, is fully shown by the date of his arrival, which, being in July, 1836, after some fifteen or twenty persons had already made a settlement, effectually disposes of his claim to the coveted honor.

"Enos Nyce, a native of Ross County, Ohio, with his wife and two children, came to the county about the 20th day of May, 1836.  He built and occupied a cabin on the northwest quarter of Section 32, Township 79, Range 2, known for years as the Billopp place, afterward as the Ira Bond farm, and now owned by the Widow Drake.  Mr. Nyce sold his claim to Luke Billopp, in the Fall of 1836, and removed to the west side of Cedar River, near the west branch of the Wapsinonock, where he died in the Fall of 1840.    His widow and family are still residents of the place.

"David W. Walton, familiarly known as Col. Walton, from his having been appointed to the command of a regiment in the Territorial militia by Gov. Dodge, of Wisconsin Territory, was a native of New Jersey, and, possessing great mechanical ingenuity,    superadded to his practical skill as a blacksmith, he gradually accumulated a small capital of several thousand dollars and removed to Pike County, Ohio, where he embarked in milling operations, and, after remaining there a few years, and not meeting with the success he had anticipated, he again removed with his family to Tippecanoe County, Indiana.  He lived there several years, until, having heard of the richness and fertility of the "Black Hawk Purchase," he determined to ascertain the truth or falsity of the statement by personal examination.  Accordingly, in the Summer of 1835, (Note: A son of Col. Walton, who sill lives in the old neighborhood, says that, in the Summer of 1835, his father had removed a son-in-law from Tippecanoe County, Ind., to Muscatine County, not far from the Cedar County line.  Col. Walton was accompanied on that trip by one of his older sons.  The country presented such a grand appearance that the Colonel determined to make it his future home, and, with this resolution, he selected  a claim, built a cabin, broke some of the prairie sod, and then returned to Indiana to winter.  The following May, he returned with the family, coming by ox wagons, and bringing cows, hogs, etc., sufficient to stock his claim and provide milk, butter, meat, etc., for the family.  To Mrs. Walton, therefore, belongs the credit of cooking the first meal ever cooked by a white woman in Cedar County, then a part of Dubuque.  During that season (1836), the Waltons broke and put under cultivation ground plowed immediately after their arrival.  They also sowed some Spring wheat, which was harvested and threshed.  The Waltons, therefore, are entitled to the honor of preparing the ground, planting, sowing, harvesting and garnering the first crops grown in the county.)  he, with his son George, made an exploring trip to Iowa, crossing the Mississippi River at Clark's Ferry, and, after having traveled over and examined a considerable portion of what afterward became Cedar County, made choice of a location near the small stream, to which he gave the name of Sugar Creek, from the orchard of sugar maples he had discovered on its banks, some two or three miles south of the place he had concluded to make his home.

"Here he staked out two claims, on what is now the south half of Section 15, Township 79, Range 2, erected a log cabin and commenced making improvements, perfectly satisfied with this new region, where an abundant supply of game was so readily procured by his unerring rifle, until the approach of cold weather warned him that it would be rather lonesome to remain there during the long, dreary Winter months, and he concluded to go back to Indiana and remain until Spring.

"As soon as the roads were practicable for travel, the Colonel, with his family, consisting of his wife, five sons and two daughters, returned to Cedar County, amply provided with all the necessaries and essentials requisite for frontier life, including, among other things, an excellent "breaking team," consisting of four yoke of fine-looking, strong and heavy cattle.  They crossed the Mississippi River, at Rockingham, on the 1st day of May, 1836, and arrived safely at the well-known place he had selected the previous year and commenced his actual and permanent settlement on the 10th day of May, 1836, thus entitling him to the honor of being the first settler in Cedar County.

"Col. Walton was a good specimen of the hardy Western pioneer; rough and outspoken in his language, but honest and straightforward in all his dealings, he won the esteem and confidence of all who knew him; and being an ardent Whig, as well as a strong Tipton man, was elected by that party, at the exciting contest of 1841, to the somewhat important office of Judge of Probate.

"As characteristic of his intense hatred of fraud or injustice, the following anecdote is told:  It is said that in the settlement of the estate of a person named Shepherd, the son of the deceased -- an idle, profligate fellow, who was never known to have done a day's work in his life -- filed in a bill for work and labor, amounting to some $150.  When this claim was presented to our worthy Judge to be probated, he sent for the prodigal son, and having had him placed conspicuously before him, in open court, addressed him as follows:  'Adam, I have carefully examined your claims.  I want you to understand that I am placed here, as it were, a judge between the living and the dead.  I have made up my mind that your bill is a devilish outrage, and I'll be d----d if I'll allow it.'

"The justice of this somewhat unique decision was never questioned; but it is said that Dr. Bissell, who was then Acting Clerk of the Court, did not record it in the same emphatic language in which it was given.

"A number of persons followed Col. Walton from Indiana, influenced, perhaps, by his glowing description of this new region, several of whom reached here in June."

Commencing with David W. Walton, and assisted by a record of dates and arrivals, made in 1858 or 1859, by Nelson C. Swank, Esq., we are enabled to pretty accurately fix the arrivals for three years, 1836-7-8.  Judge Tuthill has also kindly placed at our disposal a like memoranda; and from these papers we make the following record:

 

 
 

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