|HISTORICAL SKETCH OF BOWEN'S PRAIRIE
By Barrett Whittemore
The following, by Barrett Whittemore, though somewhat lengthy, is so entertaining that we give it entire, knowing full well that every subscriber to the Jones County History will be delighted with anything from the pen of "The Old Schoolmaster of Bowen's Prairie."
"Bowen's Prairie originally included all that prairie region west of Cascade, which lies between the two Maquoketa Rivers, and east of Plum Creek, and including a part of the counties of Dubuque, Jones and Delaware, comprising two townships of land, more or less. It derives its name from Hugh Bowen, who, in company with John Flinn, in the year 1836, first visited this locality; and, being charmed by its beautiful scenery, fertile soil, salubrious springs, and other desirable attractions, they selected adjoining claims. That of the former being well known as the "Bowen Farm," and the latter lying immediately west of it, and now owned by Ebenezer Little and Barrett Whittemore. The favorable reports which these adventurers gave of the country stimulated others to visit this section, and the same year, Moses Collins and Joshua Johnston came and staked off claims north of the two just named, and now owned by William Beatty and Robert Bunting's widow. Alfred Weatherford also arrived the same season, and, in the absence of Mr. Flinn, took possession of his claim, and, by intimidation, succeeded in holding it. About this time, Thomas S. Denson, Gillespie Laughlin, Charles Johnston and Franklin Dalby came and selected claims in the same neighborhood, all now or lately owned respectively by Joseph Hickman, William Brazelton, Philip Cline and Franklin Dalby. In the same year, the Delong family, consisting of father and mother, and their five sons, William, Parley, Perry, John and Jacob, and a daughter Susan, took possession of the Falls and the vicinity known as Cascade. They put up two cabins on the premises, one being situated about four rods west of the Falls and the other near the present site of G. G. Banghart's store. As there seemed, however, to be a prospect that their claim would be contested, they sold the water-power and the land lying east of the river, with a narrow belt 200 feet wide lying west of the river, to John Sherman, who afterward disposed of one-half his interest to Hugh Bowen. Near this time, Daniel Varvel and William Clark took possession of the present site of Monticello, where they built a commodious log house, and opened adjoining farms. About the 1st of January, 1837, Thomas Dickson, with his wife and two children, Elizabeth and William, moved to the prairie, laying claim to the premises now occupied by the Yousse family. After living on, and improving the same several years, he sold his claim to Benedict Yousse, who has been a resident on the same some thirty-three years. In the same year, William Moore, Sr., with his three sons, William, Thomas and John, came and took up claims south of the Yousse farm just mentioned. Two of the sons, William and John have lately died, and Thomas is still living on the original claim. The father, William Moore, a hale and hearty old gentleman, after leaving Bowen's Prairie, bought the Beardsley farm, some seven miles west of Monticello, where he lived until two years ago, when he died. I will illustrate some of the inconveniences of the good olden time, even extending to the important act of getting married, by relating the following incident: Mr. Moore, being a widower, and deeming it not good for man to be alone, sought a helpmeet, and succeeded in finding one who was willing to accommodate him, provided the necessary preliminaries could be compiled with. But here was a dilemma. Ministers and Justices of the Peace were not as plentiful as at present, and to obtain the services of either would be attended with delay, expense and trouble. A Justice, however, was found, in the person of Jacob Hamilton, then living at Whitewater in Dubuque County; and, being sent for, he came, but on his arrival, found himself in a different county, and, therefore, out of his jurisdiction. Here, then, was another difficulty to be surmounted. But necessity is truly the mother of invention.
"The parties could all walk over the line into Dubuque County, and then all would be right. So, shortly after, having made the necessary arrangements for a foot-tramp of some three or four miles, a party of five, including the important personage of Justice, with Thomas Dickson and wife as witnesses, set out on foot, and in due time reached the desired locality, just within the precinct of Dubuque County. And here, under the blue canopy of heaven, surrounded by the forest oaks, the knot was tied, the blessing pronounced, and the parties dispersed; and this is the history of the first wedding on Bowen's Prairie, just forty years ago.
"The United States surveys of the public lands in this vicinity, were made in the years 1836-37. As many claims were taken and improvements made previous to these surveys, some of the claimants were much annoyed by the Government lines passing through their improvements, thus frequently, essentially interfering with private boundaries established by the claimants themselves. A small inclosure was liable, in certain contingencies, to fall on four different sections, frequently placing the building on one section and the improved land on another. To the married man, this was of comparatively minor importance, as he would have the ability to purchase whatever he wanted. But these contingencies often made sad havoc with the poor settler's anticipations, whose means were frequently limited to the purchase of forty or, at most, eighty acres. A compromise in such cases was frequently made by accommodating neighbors, but selfishness, then as now, was not an uncommon element in the human heart.
"The 16th Section, being reserved for school purposes, and placed under the control of the State, was liable to be kept out of market for a series of years, and, when offered for sale, was put up with such limitations in regard to price, as was deemed most advantageous to the school fund. Therefore, should a settler have made valuable improvements on such lands, he was liable to be subjected to pay a higher price per acre for his lands than he would have been had such land been under the control of the General Government. The cutting and using of timber on such lands, except under certain restrictions, was declared by law an indictable offense.
"On the 1st of January, 1838, Barrett Whittemore first took up his permanent residence on Bowen's Prairie, and commenced improving the premises now occupied by himself, and including the farm immediately east, now owned by J. Hickman, consisting of 100 acres of prairie and 80 acres of timber. His first domicile was a log cabin 14x16 feet, built some three rods north of his present residence, and into which he moved on the 19th day of May in the same year entering into a temporary partnership with T. Dickson, and boarding with him.
"On the 28th of February, in this year, John Gillman, a Methodist minister, held the first religious meeting on Bowen's Prairie and probably the first in the north part of the county. He preached here regularly every three weeks afterward, during his stay on this circuit.
"On the 24th of April following, a most melancholy event transpired on the prairie, filling the whole community with gloom, and the family immediately interested with unspeakable anguish. The circumstances were these: We had finished our out-door work and chores, glad to enter the house to sit down and enjoy the cheerful fire blazing upon the hearth, which the cold, bleak northeast wind and rain rendered peculiarly grateful to our chilled bodies. Darkness had set in, rendering the out-door desolation doubly so. Suddenly we were aroused by a knock on the door, and the entrance of two of our neighbors, who informed us that a boy was lost. Alfred Denson, a remarkably bright and amiable lad of six years, and the light of the household, had wandered from the house and was lost, either on the cold, bleak prairie, or in the still more dismal forest. The instant the information was communicated, we felt that the poor boy's fate was sealed. If he had wandered into the thick woods, he might possibly survive until morning, but if, as we feared, he had strayed out into the wide, unprotected prairie, we felt that his sleep that night would be 'the sleep from which there is no awakening.'
"Dark and dreary and uncomfortable as was the night, the citizens were aroused, and started out with the resolution to do what they could. But the night was intensely dark; we were destitute of lanterns, and were obliged to depend on torches to guide us in our travels, and these were comparatively useless on account of the strong wind and rain. We expected to get lost ourselves, but this did not deter us. Our first design was to search the forest in the vicinity of the child's home, and to build fires in different places, if possibly the child might discover some of them; they also might be guiding-stars to the searchers.
"There was a timber road leading into the forest, which we thought possibly the boy might have taken, and, examining it particularly with the light of our torches, we discovered his track leading into the forest. This encouraged us to proceed, thinking now we had ascertained the direction he had taken. We were also the more encouraged in regard to the safety of the boy, as, if we should not find him that night, he might obtain a shelter which would save him from perishing. Soon, however, we found another track of his retracing steps, and leading back into the prairie. On this discovery, we were thrown into confusion in regards to the course we should take. We knew not whether he would abide by the road, and thus reach the open prairie, or whether, in the darkness, he might have left it and still be wandering in the forest. We, however, followed it, and again discovered his track near the northeast corner of Hugh Bowen's field, and some 100 rods out into the open prairie. Here we took rails from the fence, and built a large fire, which could be seen all through the settlement. We built the fire also, partly, as guide to the child, if he should be fortunate enough to see it, and partly as a pilot to ourselves.
"Hoping that possibly he might, in his wanderings, have reached some of the neighbors, we visited those living on the north side of the prairie, to wit: Moses Collins, Charles Johnston and Franklin Dalby. Not discovering any further trace of the child, we proceeded thence westerly on a neighborhood road, became bewildered, losing our track and course. We then commenced shouting, and obtained a response from the elder Mr. Dalby. We groped our way to his residence, and deeming it advisable to hunt no further before daylight, we encamped by the fire for the night.
"For two succeeding days, the whole community, including Cascade and Monticello, comprising some thirty persons, made a systematic search through the timber, north and south of the settlement, and the prairie between, but without success, and it was not until the fourth day afterward that the lifeless body of the boy was discovered nearly covered up with tall slough-grass, some eighty rods north of the present residence of T. W. Little, and nearly two miles distant from his home. He doubtless perished on the first night of his wanderings. The sympathizing neighbors immediately collected and assisted as best they could in performing the last rites of burial. There was no minister to officiate. A little band of sincere mourners bore the child to its last resting-place, there to rest in peace until the resurrection morn. And this marks the era of the first death and burial on Bowen's Prairie.
"On the 26th of May, in the same year, Williams Collins first visited the prairie, taking up a claim on the north side-now more familiarly known as the Collins farm. He soon afterward moved to the prairie with his wife and two small children-Mary and Ann. The elder one, Mary, is living in Delaware County and is the widow of the late Dr. Moses Perley. Mr. Collins was a native of Kentucky, and first came up the Mississippi River about the year 1827, landing at Galena, and thence proceeding to the Blue Mounds, in Wisconsin, where he resided some six years, when, in 1833, at the first settlement of Iowa, he came to Dubuque and commenced mining on Catfish Creek, some two miles southwest of Dubuque. Thence he moved to Durango, where in January, 1835, he married Kezah Hogan, a daughter of David Hogan, with whom, as above stated, he moved to Bowen's Prairie. I do not feel justified in closing his history just here. Born in Kentucky, he possessed in an eminent degree that frankness, hospitality, that stern independence, that delicate sense of honor, which marks the true Kentuckian. His wife, also, was a model woman, remarkable for her intelligence and grace, and for all those noble qualities of mind and heart which characterize the true Christian lady. She died suddenly on the 30th day of September, 1842, leaving a family of five helpless children and a broken-hearted husband. During the gold excitement, Mr. Collins went to California, where he remained fourteen years and then returned to Bowen's Prairie. After remaining here some five years, he moved to Warrensburg, Johnson County, Mo., where he died some years ago.
"On the 24th of May, 1838, the Delong brothers raised a saw-mill some two miles above Cascade, being the first saw-mill built in this vicinity. On the 12th of June following, the Territory of Wisconsin was divided by act of Congress, to take effect on the 3d of July following, that portion west of the Mississippi River to constitute the Territory of Iowa. On the 11th of September, 1838, the first general election in Jones County was held at the house of Barrett Whittemore, for the purpose of electing a Delegate to the legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa. Eleven votes were cast. Mr. Whittlesey, a candidate from Cedar County, was present. On the 7th of December following, a meeting of the citizens of Jones County was held at the house of Barrett Whittemore for the purpose of taking the preliminary steps toward the organization of Jones County. Hugh Bowen was Chairman of the meeting and William Hutton, Secretary. On the 24th of January, 1839, the county of Jones was organized by act of the Legislature, to take effect on the 1st of June following; also on the same date, January 24th, an act was passed appointing three Commissioners to locate the county seat of Jones County. The names of the Commissioners were: Simeon Gardner, of Clinton County; Israel Mitchell, of Linn County, and William H. Whitesides, of Dubuque County, who were instructed to meet at the house of Thomas Dickson, of Bowen's Prairie, for that purpose, on the second Monday in March, 1839. On the day appointed, Mr. Mitchell arrived, and, after waiting two days and the others failing to make their appearance, he returned without accomplishing his mission.
"On the 1st of January, 1839, an act was passed providing for the establishment of common schools. February, 1839, marks the era of the first settlement of Fisherville, some two miles above Anamosa, on the Buffalo, by George H. Walworth and Gideon H. Ford, for the purpose of building a saw-mill. Hon. Timothy Davis, of Dubuque, was also a partner in the concern. A hewed-log house twenty-four feet square, was erected for the accommodation of the firm. Shortly after, two younger brothers of Mr. Walworth, to wit, C. C. Walworth and J. D. Walworth, arrived and formed a part of the household. On the 16th of April, 1839, Harrison Bowen, a brother of Hugh Bowen, arrived with his family from Ohio, taking up his residence with his brother. Joseph Berryhill, a half-brother of Mr. Bowen, arrived at the same time. On the 23d of May, in the same year, the engineers appointed to survey the military road from Dubuque to Iowa City, passed through the prairie, locating the road substantially where it now runs; $20,000 were at first appropriated by the General Government for surveying, bridging, grubbing and opening the same. Subsequently, $13,000 additional were appropriated for the same purpose. Out of this appropriation, a Mr. Reed, of Fairview, was paid for building the first bridge across the Wapsipinicon at Anamosa. In the same year, 1839, James L. Langworthy, of Dubuque, also took contracts for bridging, grubbing, and opening the road, paying $3 per mile for running a furrow to indicate the locality of the road. July 3, 1839, witnessed the raising of Walworth's mill, at Fisherville. Runners were sent some eighteen miles for hands to raise. Thirty were obtained. This was probably the first heavy raising in Jones County without whisky. Strong coffee, richly prepared with sugar and cream, was used as a substitute. As the raising occupied two days, all hands encamped for the night on the ample floor. As a pastime, during the evening, an interesting discussion on banking was held, George H. Walworth being in favor and James L. Langworthy opposed, to the institution.
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