Township Histories - Chapter XX

Among those who settled in this township at an early date, (besides those mentioned in the general history of the county, we note the names of the Jones family, John, Sen.; John Jr., Isaac, George and William; Elias Fuller, L.C. and John Conrey, Tyler Overton, J.R. Welch, Conrad Walter, R.S. Lowry, John Essex, M. Willcut, Michael Livingston, Lossen G. Terry, Christopher Cox, Smith Hanton, Landen J. and William Burch.

Landen J. Burch, a prominent old settler in the northern part of this township, and still a well-known resident there, was born in Virginia in 1801. He was subjected to many hardships and adventures during a long career of changes of place and occupation, till he finally located here in 1844. In relation to his adventurous experience as a pioneer, we will let speak for himself, quoting from an elaborate paper submitted by him to the "Old Settler's Association" of this county:

"I and my brother William shouldered a parcel of provisions, a coffee pot, an axe and a gun, and left Winchester some time in January. We traveled up the Des Moines valley to White Breast Creek, and there took the claim where I now live for myself, and my brother took that whereon John Fry now lives. We stayed there eight or ten days, made some little improvement, lived in camp and suffered a great deal from cold. During one day of the time it snowed, after which the weather became warm enough for the bees to come out, but still cool enough for some of them to become so chilled that they could not fly far. Then we went bee-hunting. Instead of looking up into the trees we traced up the hives by the fallen bees, and by this means we found several swarms, some of them quite rich.

"Then we had plenty of honey, but our bread and coffee soon gave out, and we went to an Indian trader at Red Rock, (or where the town now stands,) and got a supply of coffee, meal, and a little whisky. But the snow was so deep, and the weather otherwise so bad, that we could not go on with our improvements, so we concluded to go home and move our families up at the earliest practicable time.

"A thaw commenced about the time we started which was about the last of January, and continued till the ice broke on the river, and we began to prepare for moving. We had now been several years in Iowa, encountering all the difficulties attending upon a newly settled country, and I had spent what money I had brought from Kentucky. Besides improving several lots in Winchester, I had built a small boat on the Des Moines River, with which I had carried lumber from Passmore's mill, on Lick Creek, to Ottumwa, to build the first frame house there, and took my pay in trade.
"On the first of March we loaded our plunder on the boat, at the mouth of Lick Creek, and started up the river. A man named Miles Wilkenson took passage with us, intending to take a look at the country, and join with me in building a mill, provided he liked the situation.

Soon after we got on the way the weather became cold and stormy, and as our boat was an open one, and our children small, we had to camp on shore every night for the sake of fire. Besides, Wilkinson had the ague, and was not able to work the boat more than half the time. In this way we got along very slowly, and were twenty-one days getting to our claims. But here we were at last, with our wives and little ones, five children each. Not a neighbor's dog could we hear bark, nor a chicken crow. Wilkinson spent two days in prospecting between where Knoxville now stands end the Des Moines river, and came to the conclusion that the country would never be settled enough to justify the building of a mill, that the toll from all the custom we would get would hardly feed a few pigs. So he went back and built a mill somewhere in the southern part of Wapello county.

"As for Bill and me, we were located, and if we had no kind neighbors to hold friendly conversation with, we had frequent opportunities to listen to the howling of wolves. Yet we were not quite destitute of neighbors. The Joneses had settled in the timber west of Knoxville; Elias Fuller had made a settlement on White Breast, and Wm. McCord had located between there and Red Rock, and he was my nearest neighbor. Two bachelors living on the river, named Johnson, I also become acquainted with.

"As soon as we got into a shelter brother Bill took my boat and went to work on the river, carrying flour from Meek's Mill, (Bonaparte) to the garrison on 'Coon River, where Des Moines City now is. The river was high, and my brother worked hard to make even small wages. At the same time I worked about home, planted three or four acres of corn, fixed up my smith tools, did some little jobs in that line for my distant neighbors, and also for the Indians, repairing their guns, etc., for which they paid me punctually, with one exception. The children also traded with the Indians in little trinkets, and thereby obtained quite a friendly understanding with them. Both the children and I acquired a knowledge of their language very rapidly; but they left too soon to enable us to become perfect in it, or to make it useful to us.

"The creek was full nearly all summer, and as I had a patch of corn on each side of it, I had to cross pretty often in a little, unwieldly canoe. On one of these trips I came very near losing two of my children.
"This was the summer of '44, during the latter part of which my brother Bill moved to his own claim, and we lived about three fourths of a mile apart. In August our families all got sick, I being the only well one. We had got our stock up from Van Buren County, during the summer, and when sickness came the care and labor that fell upon my unaided shoulders were enough to have employed three men. Our oldest daughter died after a lingering illness of about three months. She died from the want of medical aid and attention, when there was not a soul present except I and my sick family. My wife was unable to turn herself in bed; and as for me, trouble and the loss of sleep had so nearly worn me out that I scarcely knew anything. But for the fact that I was in good health, we must have all perished.

"When I saw that my daughter was dying I went out every few minutes and blew a little tin trumpet as loudly as I could, hoping to attract the attention of some one who might be within hearing. As it happened, a young man named Moyer was crossing the prairie at day dawn, and hearing the blast, surmised it to be a note of alarm or distress, and came to the house. He and my brother laid out the corpse, and then went abroad among our scattered neighbors, who came in and assisted us to bury our child in a tolerably decent manner.

"Having failed, on account of sickness, to make a trip in the fall, our provisions gave out. We had plenty of milk, but no bread. During sickness and after, I had to beat corn in a mortar and sift it for bread; and now this process had to be kept up until the ice broke out of the river in the spring following. Then I made a voyage to the old neighborhood for a cargo of bread stuff. I shall never forget the rejoicing of the children on our return. Little ones that could scarcely utter their words plainly would cry out, "we'll have plenty o' bread now, mother."

"On reaching Eddyville, during one of these trips, we fell in with one of the agents of the contractor, named Scott, who was there after corn for the garrison at Ft. Des Moines, and who prevailed on us to ship a load to that place, offering a high price. There was no available means of transporting it by land just then, for the roads were so bad that a team could not draw much more than would feed it for the trip.

"So we agreed to turn back. The weather was good to start with, and if it so continued we calculated to make the trip in eight or nine days. It was important to get provisions enough to last us for that length of time. But, after insisting very hard, all the meat we could get were a couple of small thin sides of bacon. We had plenty of tea, and could have supplied ourselves with plenty of molasses, but could procure only one small jug to hold it. Meal we had none to start with, but supposed that when we should reach the horse mill, (or rather ox mill,) just above where Coalport now is, we could get a supply. But here we could get only about three quarts. We could have got some of our cargo ground, but didn't, thinking we could surely get a supply at Red Rock. But we were again disappointed, for the only eatable thing we could get there was a peck of very small potatoes, and what whisky we wanted.

"Here the weather turned cold, and the wind blew so strong against us that we had to lay by. It grew so cold that the water froze on our poles, making them so slippery and heavy that we could not use them. And to add to our troubles, our small potatoes, the only substitute we had for bread, froze and became utterly worthless. We, however, made the best we could of them by trading them to the Indians for maple sugar. -And they, in turn, made the best of them by thawing them and drinking the juice with much relish.

"Having at last reached the Fort and delivered our load, we started on our return voyage with nothing to eat, hoping to reach Red Rock before we should suffer much. At that time there was but one settlement between the Fort and Red Rock, on what is now called Butcher's Prairie. By the time we reached this point the wind blew so hard up stream that we could make little or no progress, though one hand went on shore with a rope to pull while the others paddled on board.

"The situation was by no means promising, and we were compelled to land and wait for fair weather. So I went to the house to see if I could get something to eat. It was occupied by a man and his wife, whose name I have forgotten. The man was a surly fellow. No dry joke that I could pass in stating my case, could make him smile, and he looked suspiciously at me and talked as though he thought the whole world was composed of robbers, and that I had come to impose upon him. In reply to my request for something to eat, he gruffly said he had nothing for himself. But the woman wore a different countenance, and from her pleased expression I was able to glean a hope. And not only her words but her works soon confirmed it. She said we were suffering and must be fed. So she went out and killed the only chicken she had, and with that and some flour, butter and milk, she provided us a full meal, cooked. I carried it to the boat, and after our feast, when I returned the vessels, she would receive only the moderate sum of fifty cents. She was truly a sister of charity. Blessed be her memory. Next morning the weather was quite calm, and we finished our voyage without any further difficulty.

"Some time in the spring or summer of 1845 1 commenced building a mill, and in about twenty months began to grind. It was a poor thing. I could not make more than sixteen or eighteen bushels of meal per day, but every bushel of toll was worth 50 cents, and, as many settlers had come into the neighborhood, I got all the grinding I could do. My custom extended twelve or fifteen miles around, and after this there was no scarcity of bread."