Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Early Lucas County: Who were the first settlers here?

Another story written by John Pierce in the Chariton Leader, Tuesday, May 11, 1993.

Lucas County was formed in 1846 by the division of Monroe County; which lies directly east of Lucas County.  Monroe County at that time was known as Kishke-Kosh County.  There were not many objections to this name change.

Lucas County was organized on January 13, 1846 and was named for Robert Lucas, the first territorial governor of Iowa.

Much of the above history can be found in the various history books of Lucas County.  One fact this writer would like to examine concerns the first settlers of Lucas County.  Notice I said settlers, because more than one claim can be made for this honor.

William McDermitt, long recognized as the first permanent settler of Lucas County, arrived at the eastern edge of this new wilderness in September of 1847.  McDermitt had settled at Pella but felt crowded by the Dutch and had moved on to the frontier.  He settled in Cedar Township and established the town of LaGrange.

McDermitt died in Chariton on July 31, 1875, but not before he helped shape the direction of Lucas County.

One story reveals the hardships of those early pioneers.  This would have happened around 1847-48.  McDermitt stated that upon awakening one cold winter morning, the worst of all things, the fire had gone completely out.  In those days with no matches available, an ever-present fire was a life saving necessity.

McDermitt stated that the only thing to do was hitch up the oxen and load up a big kettle filled with chips of wood.  The nearest neighbor was 7½ miles away.  This ordeal lasted all day in knee-deep snow, but points out the extreme necessity of something we now take for granted.

A party of Mormons established a camp at Chariton Point in the fall of 1846.  Chariton Point is located around ½ mile southeast of the courthouse on the bluegrass road.  There is a rock marker at this point, which is near the Orie Noah residence.  The Mormons left in June of 1847 thus were not permanent settlers of Lucas County. 

At least four other individuals settled in Lucas County before William McDermitt.  James Brandon arrived in western Monroe County on May 10, 1843.  Thomas Brandon, James' son recalls when he was 16; they broke the prairie and planted nine acres of sod corn.  Getting the corn in the ground was more important than the erection of a log cabin, which came later.

In the summer of 1843, Brandon recalled how three men came from the west from what was later Lucas County.  The three men described themselves as bee hunters from Missouri.  The Missourians had crossed the Chariton River several miles west of the present town of Chariton.

The Missourians had to leave a lame horse near Chariton Point and told the Brandon's they could have the horse if they wanted to go doctor it.  The Brandon's followed the Missourians wagon trail to Chariton Point.  The horse was found but couldn't be doctored and had to be left behind

In the fall of 1843 or spring of 1844, the John Ballard family settled near the Brandon's at Dodge's Point.  Dodge's Point is now known as Iconium in northwest Appanoose County.

Ballard stayed at Dodge's Point until the spring of 1846.  At that time Ballard moved northwest and settled near English Creek in what later became English Township, Lucas County.

When the government surveyors came through Lucas County in 1847, they noted a small farm and cabin located in the east ½ of the northwest ¼ of section 12 in English Township.  The surveyors noted that the John Ballard family lived there.

John Ballard stayed but a few years before moving to Kansas where he died in 1859.  Some reports say he was killed by Indians while on his way west to search for gold.  John Ballard, perhaps the first settler of Lucas County, but always a true pioneer.

We might note that the surveyors record show that brothers Peter N. Barker and Daniel Barker were living in sections 11 and 14 of English Township in October of 1847.  There was a camp and the beginning of a house for Peter Barker and a house at Daniel Barker's.  No further record of the Barker's could be found after 1851.

One early incident, which relates to an early settler, was recalled by Thomas Brandon.  This incident happened in December of 1844.  A Mr. Ingram lived near the Brandon's and Ballard's in western Monroe County.  Mr. Ingram went to Missouri for corn and meal.  Before Ingram could return a knee-deep snow fell causing him to veer further west than he intended.

As no roads were established at this time, one can only imagine trying to find the right route in the heavy snow.  Ingram was supposed to return by where Moravia is now located but ended up northwest of Russell.  At least northwest of where Russell came to be.

When Ingram came to English Creek, near where John Ballard later settled, he discovered smoke and a small shanty.  Barely alive and with badly frozen feet and hands, Ingram was nursed back to health by persons unknown.

This leads one to believe an unknown pioneer was the first settler of Lucas County.  Perhaps Daniel Barker was already at his claim and nursed Ingram back to health.

Thomas Brandon later tried his hand at pioneer life by trading two heifers for land to be left behind by three Mormon families who were moving on in June of 1847.  Brandon lived there for a year selling out to one William S. "Buck" Townsend.

John Pierce is among many who are confused to who is the first settler of Lucas County.

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