Friday, March 14, 2014

Bethel Cemetery (Part 2): The McDermotts

William McDermott's tombstone with Bethel Church in the background.

William McDermott was by all accounts quite the story-teller, which may be how he got to be Lucas County's first permanent settler --- which he wasn't. But he and wife Nancy were close --- pulling into Cedar Township on the 7th of September, 1847, with their four oldest children, Daniel, Mary, William and James.

The McDermotts, certainly Cedar Township's first permanent EuroAmerican settlers, came in second countywide, however, behind John and Hannah Ballard, who brought their family up from Appanoose County to a newly built cabin in English Township --- a few miles northwest --- during August of 1846.

Many of the McDermott stories were embedded in Lucas County's 1881 history by its author, Daniel M. Baker. You can find free access to that volume online here, at Google Book,  in case you want to check my accuracy. Be warned, however, that the search name is "McDermit." Dan managed to spell his subject's name right only once.

According to William's obituary (The Chariton Leader, Aug. 7, 1875), he was born on Feb. 28, 1795, in County Longford in the Irish midlands. We know nothing about his early life, only that by about 1835, when he was 40, he had emigrated to America and landed in either Ohio or Illinois, where he married Nancy, who was 20 years his junior. Their four oldest children were born in Illinois.

About 1844-45, William and Nancy and their children moved west to Marion County, Iowa, purchasing land from the government in the vicinity of what now is Pella.

Dan Baker picks up the narrative and describes what happened next, during 1847:

"He came from Illinois and first settled near Pella, Marion county, but the Dutch were crowding too closely, and he sold his claim there for $1,000, and pushed out to a new locality. With his capital thus acquired, two yoke of cattle, a wagon, his household effects and family, he started for Monroe county, where he reached the house of Henry Harter, in August, 1847, with whom he left his family while he made a prospecting tour for a new home. He came into Lucas county, some fifteen miles distant, and he was so pleased with the country that he laid claim to one hundred and sixty acres in section 16 (Cedar Township) of its virgin soil upon which to make his future home and rear his family. He then returned over to Monroe county where he had left his family and worldly effects and with them he at once returned to his claim in Lucas, which he reached early in September, bringing with him some men --- Henry Harter, John Bell, Sam Richmond and Charles Reynolds, of that settlement, to aid him in the construction of his cabin. It was 16 feet square, built of round oak logs, and covered (roofed) with clapboards. This accomplished, his friends, who thus aided him, returned to their settlement in Monroe County.

"This accomplished, he found that winter was approaching and he must provide supplies for it. He made every arrangement for his family he could by making a log heap in front of the new shanty, upon which his wife could cook their food, as he had not yet built a chimney in it. The next morning he was to start to Oskaloosa, 45 miles away, to mill, for his groceries and other supplies for the winter, and to his surprise he found his oxen were missing. Concluding that they had gone back to Harter's, which was on the route, he gathered up his sacks and started out on foot. Finding his cattle there he borrowed a wagon and proceeded on his journey. He was gone some 10 days. During this period Mrs. McDermit (sic) with her four children --- the eldest but nine, and the youngest short of a year old --- as her sole companions, remained at the cabin in her solitude. The cabin had no door, no window, nor floor, though places were cut for the former. She cooked upon the log heap in front, and slept alone in the open cabin at night, as her only shelter. Not a white being, save her children, nearer than 15 miles away; and a band of Pottawattamie Indians were camped on the Cedar Creek not far away, who, in their hunting ranges, would occasionally call at the cabin in the day. However, they were friendly and did not molest her .... During those 10 days that McDermit was thus absent, the wolves broke the solitude of the nights and made them hideous with their howls; and not infrequently they would surround the cabin and attack the faithful watch dog, who would keep them at bay until they retired and their howls were lost in the distance ....

"When McDermit returned he at once finished his cabin, placed it in condition for comfortable occupancy by building a chimney, putting in a window, making a door and floor. The latter was made of basswood logs, with one side hewn smooth and edged, and laid down so they made a comfortable surface. The openings between the logs were filled with prairie mud. It is said that he made the floor the next Sunday after his return for his winter's supplies, which he probably regarded a work of necessity. To his new home and settlement McDermit gave the name of 'Ireland,' after his native land ...."

Ireland was never a village, only the McDermott cabin, grounds and outbuildings that, commencing the following spring, became the arrival point as other settlers came in across the prairie and camped temporarily around it. These included Elijah Baldwin and his family who arrived in March 1848; and in June, four young men, brothers Wyatt W., Iverson H. and Dr. David W. Wayick and James Roland. The Waynicks did not settled at Ireland, but Roland staked a claim, fetched his family and settled down, too.

The setting was ideal for Iowa pioneers --- open and unbroken prairie to the south, mature timber stretching north to Cedar Creek. The McDermott cabin was located to the west of where Bethel Cemetery and Church now are located, some distance beyond a ravine, reportedly near what now is a pond just south of the road. By the end of 1848, eight families reportedly had gathered in the Ireland settlement.

On this 1895 Cedar Township map, the Section 16 tract of 120 acres labeled "Charles L. Drake" plus 40 acres north of its central portion formed the McDermott claim. William and Nancy also purchased 160 acres to the north in Section 9, much of it timber. On this map, this property and more has been divided into small wood lots that were for the most part sold to settlers on prairie farms who needed a supply of logs, fence rails and fire wood.

Twenty-seven years after the McDermotts arrived, they sold out to David Shuler on Jan. 7, 1874, and on Oct. 6, 1875, The Chariton Herald Patriot reported that "Mr. David Shuler, living on the old McDermott farm, has built a nice two-story residence this season, which adds much to the beauty of the place." This was what most of us know now as the Helen and Floyd Coulson home.

The original cabin home, however, remained in good shape and in use through 1881, when it was occuped on a rental basis by the pastor of Bethel Church, then located in a former schoolhouse a mile southeast in Section 15.

Until 1849, Lucas County --- and all territory in a narrow strip stretching west to the Missouri River --- was administered by Monroe County. During the summer of 1849, however, Monroe County supervisors appointed McDermott neighbor James Roland as Lucas County's organizing sheriff and he called the new county's first election for Aug. 6, 1849, in two precincts, one in Whitebreast Township and the other at the McDermott cabin at Ireland. Twenty-five voters turned out at Ireland.

By most accounts William McDermott could neither read nor write, which disqualified him from holding most public offices. None-the-less, he was elected the county's prosecuting attorney during 1852, but did not qualify --- and speculation is, this was intended to be an honor rather than an actuality.

During January of 1850, Nelson Lowder died in the Ireland settlement at age 29 --- reportedly the first settler death in Lucas County. In the absence of a cemetery, the McDermotts allowed one to be established on their property at the edge of the woods east of their home. Until soon after 1900, when a new Bethel Church was built on adjoining land, this was known to most as the McDermott, occasionally the Sargent, Cemetery.

The McDermotts prospered in the years after settlement. When the county agricultural census of 1860 was taken, William and Nancy were among Cedar Township's largest land owners. They held 160 acres of improved land and 220 acres of unimproved land. Their livestock included 4 horses, 5 milk cows, 22 other cattle and 65 hogs. During the season preceding the census, the farm had produced 44 bushels of wheat, 3,000 bushels of indian corn and 100 pounds of tobacco.

Four additional children were born in Lucas County --- Nancy, about 1850; Thomas (or Nelson) about 1852; Charles, about 1854; and Robert W., about 1858.

The eldest McDermott son, Daniel, was 23 when he enlisted for Civil War service on Sept. 18, 1861, in Co. C, 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He died after becoming ill at Jefferson City, Missouri, on Dec. 30, 1861, just three months later.

This tombstone marks his grave in what then was McDermott Cemetery. More of the stone, bearing a lengthy inscription, is buried under the visible part of the fallen slab. It is possible his remains are buried here --- families could claim remains if they could manage it and Daniel died during the winter not too far from home. On the other hand, it may be just a memorial. Short of excavation, there's really no way to know for sure --- and the authorities frown on cemetery adventurism.

The McDermotts lived at Ireland until about 1873, when William and Nancy separated. She was some 20 years his junior and wanted to move west to Nebraska where some of the older children had relocated. William, then nearing 80, had no intention of moving anywhere. As a result, their property was sold and the revenue divided. Nancy moved west and William moved into Chariton, taking up residence in the Chariton House, then located on the site of the Hotel Charitone.

His health was beginning to fail and perhaps because of poor circulation a condition then called "senile gangrene" developed in his right leg during 1875. Although his physician, Dr. Charles Fitch, advised against it --- the leg was amputated above the knee during late July by Dr. Fitch, assisted by Drs. D.Y. Collins, J.E. Stanton and J.A. McKlveen. William died at the Chariton House at the age of 80 on Sunday, Aug. 1.

William had been, according to his obituary, an "honest, warm hearted, generous minded man and a better friend to everybody than to himself."

Old friends and neighbors claimed the body and took it back to Ireland for burial beside Daniel's grave in the McDermott Cemetery.

Nancy, 20 years younger than William, lived a quarter of a century longer --- at Osceola in Polk County, Nebraska. She died there just short of her 90th birthday on April 22, 1903, and is buried in the Osceola Cemetery with her widowed daughter, Mary (McDermott) Wilson, who died on Feb. 1, 1918.

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