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The 1879 History of Jones County Iowa was transcribed by Janet A. Brandt.


"James Van Voltenbergh was the patriarch of these first settlers, and with his wife and nine children, one son-in-law, one daughter-in-law, and one grandchild, whose death we have mentioned, made up the fourteen persons. Of these, there are five still living, Joseph, in Decatur County, a voluntary exile from the land of his fathers, not sold into captivity by jealous and envious brothers; while in an adjoining township, still lives Taylor and his wife, and also Peter and Dan. They have long since dropped the patronymic name, in part, and are now known by the more euphonious and simple cognomen of Van. The old name took in number, one more than half the entire alphabet, and one less than half of the whole number of letters.
"The first meeting these people had the privilege of attending was five miles beyond Canton, and thither the three women wended their way on foot, the men were too busy to leave, there was too much to do, and these unprotected women started out to hear 'the glad tidings of great joy.' The first day, they went as far as Mr. Beers', ten miles east of here, the next day went to meeting and back to Mr. Beers', and the next day came home, having traveled on foot more than thirty miles to hear the Gospel. The preacher was a Presbyterian. The first meeting in this township was held at Van's. The preacher was a Presbyterian, and his text, 'Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there?' This was in 1842. The audience was not large, and probably not very fashionably attired; but they could listen to the preacher, as he unfolded the great truths of the Gospel, explained the grand plan of salvation, and told the rich mercies of redeeming grace, a balm for every wounded soul, and pictured the everlasting beauties of a 'home over there.'
"This isolated condition was favorable to the development of feelings of dependence. At that time, the inhabitants of the township were less than two score. They felt their dependence upon each other, were mutually interested in each other's prosperity, and mutually expected to share hardships and enjoy the happiness in store for them. The minister before alluded to was traveling through the country, perhaps a missionary looking up the sheep that had wandered from the fold. Here he halted and broke the bread of life acceptably to those spiritually famishing people; continued his journey, sowing the seed, but not knowing what the harvest would be; his name forgotten, his theme cherished, his lesson remembered. The next minister was Moses Garrison. He belonged to the United Brethren, and organized the first church in Wyoming Township. The organization was effected at James Van's, and the meetings held there about three years. After this time, the Campbellites effected an organization, and the Society of United Brethren was abandoned, some of its members going to the Methodists, some to the Campbellites, and some went-God only knows where. In 1844, the North Mineral Society was organized by Joel B. Taylor, then in the interest of the Methodist Church. He was a young man, whom Conference has since honored with prominent and responsible positions. He is still a watchman on Zion's Tower, and proclaims the Gospel at Belle Plain, in this State. I allude to this Church as a part of the early history of this township because this whole region was tributary to that organization, and there was build the first church edifice in all this vicinity. It was not remarkable for its architectural beauty, but it sheltered early Christians from pelting storms, was a place for them to assemble together to hear the preached Word, where prayer was wont to be made. It was situated in Clay Township, and was a kind of religious Mecca, where religious pilgrims wended their way from a large region of country round about. The north part of this township furnished several Gospel guns, who met there regularly for target practice, the hardened sinners being the targets. Some of them fired solid shots of truth, while others hurled empty, screeching, bursting shells, the fragments of which hit by accident, but sometimes did fearful execution. There were Thomas and Joel B. Taylor, father and son, the former gone home; J. D. Williams, now living at Ackley; James Johnson, living at Camanche; John B. Nichols and Otis Cutler, gone to their reward, besides many others from other places round about. I have been told that the wicked were sometimes very turbulent over there, and it has ever been said that the professedly pious too sometimes wandered from the paths of moral rectitude. On one occasion, it is said that an old preacher, in rebuking those who were indecorous in their behavior, said it seemed to him as though the worst 'helements' in society congregated there. It has long since ceased to be a place where God is worshiped. The development of the country has made new centers for business and religious worship, and the church has been torn down and moved to this township, near the residence of old Mr. Conally. It has been rebuilt, much improved, and is a useful as well as ornamental structure in the neighborhood. In it are held many religious meetings by clergymen located in the vicinity, and from it the dead are buried in an adjacent cemetery.
"Old Mrs. Van Voltenbergh died in 1846, aged sixty-five years. Her's was the first funeral sermon preached in the township. Rev. John Sterling was the minister, who lived in the big woods beyond Rome, or Olin, as it is now called. Old Mr. Van Voltenbergh died in 1853, aged eighty-five years.
"William Knight moved into this township in 1840, about a year after the first settlement was made. I have not been able to learn much of his antecedents. The whole family left this part of the country many years ago, and located in California, where Mr. Knight died. He first located on the farm owned by S. G. Franks, then where Henry Aldrich resides, then on the farm owned by J. B. Wherry, and from here moved to California. I said he came in 1840. There may be some mistake about this, for there are some reasons for believing that he was here at the time of Noah's flood, and he might have been Noah himself. He would tell with great candor of seeing this valley deeply submerged with water, and tradition says he boasted of having swum from the present residence of Henry Aldrich to this hill, with a log-chain around his neck. For aught I know, this valley might have been the theater of Jonah's wonderful exploits, and Mr. Knight might have been Jonah himself, or, if the doctrine taught by some is true, he might have been the whale that swallowed Jonah; at any rate, he had a very large mouth. In conversation, he was vehement and boisterous, but is said to have been quiet a kind-hearted man. His wife was entitled to the lasting gratitude of many of the earlier settlers. On many and oft-repeated occasions, she visited the sick and afflicted, ministering to their necessities and alleviating their suffering. She was a useful woman, and this simple sentence tells more than would a whole volume written in the interests of fashion.
"Johnson Knight and Anna Simpson were the first persons married in the township. Who performed the ceremony, whether it was a wedding in high life or not, what the bridal presents were, or how many cigars it took to prevent the boys from "serenading" them, I have been unable to ascertain. The bride probably thought that Knight was not always darkness. The Knight boys were very useful in breaking up and subduing these primitive prairies. Ten yoke of oxen, hitched to a plow that turned a furrow three feet wide, was a terror to the indolent rattlesnake, and a caution to the Indian to 'stand from under.' Indeed, it looked a good deal like business to a white man to see ten yoke of oxen drawing a plow that was turning a furrow a yard wide, not guided by human hands, the oxen being driven by a man on horseback, with a whip that looked like a long fishing pole, with a lash for a line, big enough to hold Jonah's whale. To those of us who, in early life, were accustomed to plow in the stony and stumpy grounds of the East, with fields so small that our heads became dizzy with frequent turning, it looked strange to see a furrow as straight as an arrow, a mile in length, turning over the rich, black prairie soil that had been enriched from year to year by deposits from the decay of its own productions, adding the fertilizing wealth of unknown ages to its latent productive resources. On every acre of this prairie land were tons of roots of various grasses, woven and interwoven so as to form a fibrous mass, which, when exposed to the air and warmed by summer heat and moistened by summer showers, decayed, adding their fertilizing influence to the great future's useful vegetation. In those primitive days, the ox did the greater part of the work connected with farming. The almost universal use of the horse for domestic purposes is a modern innovation in this region. Twenty or twenty-five years ago, it was a very common thing to see six or eight yoke of oxen with an empty wagon attached, coming to town. It looked a little extravagant, and a waste of power; but remember, when men were breaking prairie then, there were no pastures to put cattle into, and, if the plow needed repairs, the whole force had to go with it.
"The first sod that yielded to the plowshare in this township was about where Green street is located, and commenced at the creek and ran east to where stands those cottonwood trees in the road, north of S. G. Franks, a distance of three-quarters of a mile. There were no cottonwood trees there then; those trees are of later growth. The Indian must have thought that the world was being turned upside down, as he witnessed the rolling-over of the prairie sod. Little did his untutored mind contemplate the great process of civilization that was being begun. Little did he dream that that was the beginning of a process that, in a short time, would change the productions of the soil of this valley, from grass that was used only to kindle the prairie fire, to fields of golden grain for the use of man and beast, and help develop this Western country and give it the grand name, 'the granary of the world.'
"These were the times that tried men's souls some and women's more. We can hardly imagine the deprivations these pioneers must have endured, their nearest neighbor being ten miles away. No saloons to visit, no store in which to lounge, no dry-goods boxes on which to sit and whittle, no school, no taxation (what a comfort), no milliner to charm and fascinate with bonnets in the four seasons' latest styles, no dressmaker to fit the human form divine and make it a little more divine, no tailor to make your suits in the latest fashion, no barber to shave the down from the anxious youth's lip or color the mustache of the veteran who would disguise age with youth's beauty. They were a distinct people, and except the Indians and wild beasts, there were 'none to molest or make afraid.' When the scanty supply of provisions they had brought with them was exhausted, they were compelled to retrace their steps along the log-beaten track they had made to the settlement in Jackson County, purchase grain and go to Dubuque to have it ground. There was honey in the land, but no locust with heavenly manna scattered by the bountiful hand of Omnipotence. The staff of life must be brought from afar. Fourteen persons were thus to be fed, where no raven proclaimed the interposition of Providence, and no supernatural power produced food with which to maintain life. Energy, decision and firmness were necessary to provide sustenance, when situated so remote from the haunts of civilized life.
This isolation could be endured in summer; but when winter came with its icy desolation, and the earth was covered with the white frost of crystallization, lonely indeed must have been this immigrant band. The log-beaten track obliterated by the fallen snow, and communication with those distant neighbors made exceedingly hazardous. Disease invaded the realm of this people the first year, and a little child a year old was taken from the parental embrace to fields of everlasting light. It was a pioneer from this section to the unknown realm of immortal glory. It was the first link in an ever-lengthening chain that binds Wyoming to heaven. A little grave was dug near Mr. Hanna's residence, and there silently was borne the mortal remains of David Pence's child. A few friends gathered around that silent grave and dropped the grief-laden tear upon the rude coffin. No minister with uncovered head, in priestly garb or sacerdotal robes, stood there to pour the oil of consolation into those wounded hearts. No lesson was enforced on the brevity of life or the evanescence of things sublunary, no finger pointed heavenward, no voice proclaimed, 'Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.' There, on that ridge of land running out into the prairie like a promontory into the ocean, was this grave made. The mother followed a few years later; the father afterward gave his life to his country, and no brother or sister is left to shed tears of sorrow over the unmarked grave of this first victim of the relentless destroyer. I will add, no doctor tried to assist Nature's recuperative powers, and you may say, if you like, that the death was probably natural.


"The first schoolhouse in the township was built half a mile east of S. G. Franks' residence, in 1844. The size was 12x14 feet, and was made of logs. Silas Garrison was the teacher, the number of scholars seven, the price was $8 a month, the teacher boarding himself. The Indians were much delighted with school, and would often go in to visit it, and, I suppose, note its progress. They seemed to be superintendents of the institution generally, and after becoming satisfied with its workings, would give the Indian grunt and leave.
"The first store opened in the township was where Daniel Cooley now lives, or in a framed building standing in front of his present fine residence. The merchant was M. Q. Simpson, and, I think, he was once Sheriff of the county. There was talk at that time of laying out a town at that place, but like many such projects in the West, ended in talk. That part of Jones County now embraced in the townships of Washington, Clay, Scotch Grove, Madison and Wyoming, was first organized under the name of Clay Precinct, and the first election held at Abraham Hostetters, on Farm Creek, north of Walter's Mills. I have been informed that at the third election there were twenty-one votes polled from the territory now constituting the five townships before mentioned.
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