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.

Story of Nevin (Iowa)

by J. Loran Ellis (1901)


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


Chapter II, 1856 - 1857.

Building Saw-Mills || An Anti-Slavery Recruit


As early as June, 1856, Turner and Smith realized that a saw-mill in the Nodaway timber, northwest of their Nevin lands, was the one thing needed to secure a permanent settlement of their lands.  So, they induced Mr. Daniel L. Smith to go west and join his brother Alden, for the purpose of building the needed mill.  But evidently they changed their mind on the subject, soon after.

Again in September Turner and Smith had a spell of special interest in the saw-mill business.  At this time there lived at Walpole, a Mr. Joseph L. Ellis, a farmer, unmarried.  He was a member of Dr. Nevin's congregation and Sunday school.  He, for several years, had aspired to be the owner of a western farm, at some not distant future time.  This Nova Scotia born descendant of Plymouth Colony ancestors, was induced by Messrs. Nevin, Turner and Smith to decide that, now was his opportunity to heed Horace Greeley's advice:  "Go west young man and grow up with the country."     And so he, incidentally, accepted a mission from Turner and Smith to build a water-power saw-mill, in the timber on the Nodaway, near the farm of Joseph Dunlap.    Here we have another example of misplaced confidence.  Mr. Turner at his Boston office had shown Mr. Ellis maps that showed the river with fine, large bodies of bordering timber; -- black walnut, basswood, oak and elm -- awaiting the hand of man to transform the stately trees into lumber worth $20 to $30 per thousand feet.   Mr. Turner pointed out a lovely spot on which to erect a saw-mill, and said that the river at the point shown, had a fall of about eight feet.  He assured Mr. Ellis that the owners of the timber land would grant the mill site and water-power to any one who would build a mill there, for the anticipated benefit they would receive in having their logs sawed on the spot.  Mr. Ellis, who had had some experience in water-power saw-milling, decided that if half of what Mr. Turner said were true, he wanted no better chance than this to make his everlasting pile.

It was agreed between Turner and Smith and Mr. Ellis, that each party should furnish half of the required capital to build the mill, Mr. Ellis to go west as soon as he could, so as to have time to build the mill before winter.  He to expend his part of the cost, and then to draw on them for their part.  Strange to say, neither party said anything about having the contract put in writing.

Mr. Ellis first went to Nova Scotia to procure a mill-wright who would be willing to go west with him to build the mill for a fair portion of the expected profits of the venture.     Not meeting with success there, he then went to near Salem, Mass., and having no success there either, he then started for western Iowa, all alone, on October 7th; trusting to being able to procure a mill-wright there, on some terms.

His route west was by way of Suspension Bridge and Detroit, to the Mississippi.     This (then) unbridged river was crossed on a steam flat bottomed barge to Burlington.  From here, after two days tarrying, his journey was pursued westward, by the regular mail and passenger hack to Afton, where he stayed over night at Wm. Lock's log hotel, the "Rough and Ready."  The next day he rode on Mr. Lock's two-mule buckboard mail rig, over the Mormon trail route (Pisgah to Lewis) as far as Joshua Chapman's grove; from there he walked in the afternoon to Hazel Green.

When Mr. Ellis, on the 17th, arrived at his destination, he discovered that there was no water-fall on the stream there, nor within miles of the place.  So, he was "left" for sure, in his water-power mill project.  In the mean time, the colony men at Hazel Green had not been idle; they had looked the place over, and had decided that a stream saw-mill was the proper thing to have.

In this connection we will remark that Turner and Smith anticipating the needs of the prospective colony at Nevin, had a few months before this time, secured from the "Secors" of Johnson county, the owners of the timber land, an option to buy their 200 acres of land along the Nodaway, near Hazel green, at an average price of $7.50 per acre.  One forty of which took in the reputed eight feet water-fall that our Walpole friend came west to find.

A month or so before Mr. Ellis came here, Mr. Jordan and Mr. Austin, having arranged with Turner and Smith as to their timber land option, had embarked in the steam saw-mill enterprise.  The two men, accompanied by Mr. Dunlap and Mr. Thomas, with the needed teams had started for Burlington to procure the mill outfit.  While there, Mr. Clark, an engineer from Maine, met them.  Mr. Jordan having previously sent for him to come.

About the last week in October, the mill arrived at the timber, and the men interested proceeded to "plant" it on the "water-fall" tract, and on the left side of the river, close by a pebbly and gravelly bar that extended across and down stream a rod or more.

At this point in our narrative we pause to venture a Yankee's guess; that this pebbly, gravelly bed, crossing the stream, is the veritable eight feet waterfall, about which Mr. Turner "stuffed" Mr. Ellis in Boston before he came west.  It may be that the measurement was intended to be made along the surface of the rippling water, and not vertically as in the usual manner.

The work on the mill continued as the increasing cold of early winter permitted, till along in February, when they commenced to saw; and as the weather then moderated, lumber was forthcoming in abundance before April came in.

The mill men boarded as best they could, some at the Dunlap home and some at the Cutler home, until they could saw boards at the mill; after which they built themselves a boarding cabin close by the mill.  In the meantime they had to buy some lumber from the Johnson mill to build sheds to protect their work and the machinery from the snow.

The Dunlap house, where Mr. Jordan and Mr. Thomas boarded before their Burlington trip, was a fair sized one story, one room, log structure.  It had a shingled roof, a board floor, and a rock and mud chimney.  There was a fire place at one end of the room;     there were also doors on two opposite sides and two sash windows.    Inside, the conveniences were quite crowded--especially when they had roomers.   In one corner, opposite the fire place, was a low trundle bed for Mr. and Mrs. Dunlap and the two smaller children; in the other opposite corner was their son Charley's bed, shared by Mr. Thomas until October.  This bed was rather short for a man, and was also quite narrow for two men.  A cook stove was near the centre of the room, and a table was at one corner.  As may be seen at a glance, there was scant room for boarders, or even lodgers.  The Dunlaps, however, were very accommodating when strangers came; doing their best to feed and sleep them.

The afternoon that Mr. Ellis from Boston, came there, he met Mr. George S. Harris, of the firm of Harris, Cowles & Co., of Boston, who, on his way home from a business trip to Rochester, Minn., one of the then boom towns of that state, had called here to take in the situation of the colonists and the outlook of Nevin, so as to be able to report the matter to Turner and Smith.  He had been at Hazel Green a day or two when Mr. Ellis came.

Here at the Dunlap home both men had to find accommodations.  The good woman, of hospitable Irish blood, did her best to entertain them.  Her larder had run very low while her Joseph, the Vermonter, was away to Burlington with the steam mill party.     For supper that evening, the two big men from Boston had corn bread, some baked Canada peas, and a scrap of port.  The men were hungry as bears and you may believe they enjoyed their limited supper.  When bed time came, the only place for Harris and Ellis was in with Charley in his small bed.  The two newcomers retired first, one on either side of the bed, then Charley had to shove himself down in between them for the night.  Soon Charley began to perspire profusely, and then to paw and squirm, and to try to get more room, but it was no manner of use; the two men had to lie as straight as bean poles, close to the edge of the bed, with their feet and shins extending at least eight inches down over the hard cross-piece of the foot of the bed.    They had to turn over and back almost all the long night, trying to rest and get sleep.  The next day the men went to Fontanelle, leaving Charley to share his bed with Mr. Thomas again, when he should come back from the Mississippi.


Early in August, 1856, Mr. Fred C. Nichols, a carpenter, from Malden, Mass., arrived at Fontanelle, to "spy out the land," both at Nevin and in eastern Kansas.     Before coming west, he had been a member of the local military company at Malden.   He had become interested in the Emigrant Aid Society of Boston, in its efforts to people Kansas with Yankee men.  He also had in the meantime become that summer interested in the advertised project of Turner and Smith, to colonize their Nevin lands with Yankee families.  He decided to go west at once; buying from Messrs. Turner and Smith before leaving, 2 1-2 acre lot No. 139, of the 1856 plan of Nevin, on the usual half cash, half credit terms.

On his way west, Mr. Nichols fell in with some of the later followers of the notorious John Brown, who had gone west from Ohio passing through southwestern Iowa earlier, with his small cannon and cases of Sharp's rifles (labeled "Bibles"), to live or die for freedom in "bleeding" Kansas.  Mr. Nichols tarried at Fontanelle a few days to take in the situation at Nevin, and then went on to the new territory of Kansas, where he remained till October, helping to farm the "Topeka" constitution for the future state.

Returning to Fontanelle, he decided to settle there, and soon  bought an out-lot at the east border of the embryo village.  During November and December he built a cottage on his lot, and, his wife soon came, when they established their western home.

The present writer was on the street when, towards evening one day, Mr. Nichols drove into Fontanelle from his Kansas expedition.  His rig was a one-horse rickety buggy, which seemed just able to do duty in bringing Mr. Nichols back from the "Sunflower" land.  The horse was very lame in one fore-leg.  It bore evidence of its having been to the "war"; its upper lip and a large part of one ear had been shot off, and a wound in the leg almost crippled the poor beast, though the wiry broncho was still ambitious enough.

This Mr. Nichols, or Captain Nichols as he was sometimes called, was a fine specimen of Canadian-American military officialty, his physique was robust, and his bearing was kindly.

After a few years of Iowa life, he sold his place, and later he entered the army, where he was doing good service in the territories when last heard from many years ago.



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.