Monday, May 14, 2012

Greenville along the Trace

Greenville was located for the most part in the southwest quarter of Section 13, Washington Township, on land owned by 1896, when this plat was drawn, by Daniel and William Quinn. A cross marks the site of Greenville Cemetery; and "No. 2," the site of the Greenville School.

One of these days, I'm going to get back to the Greenville Cemetery down southeast of Russell. It's an interesting place, out in the middle of fields, a remnant of the oldest settled place in Washington Township, as well as the burial place of Xury E. and Polly West, the township's first settlers, and of Nancy Payne, the first permanent resident to die in the township.

It's also not the easiest place to get to since there really isn't a road to it, and it seems like every time I think about going to Greenville, it's raining.

The West cabin, as well as that of their neighbors, Samuel and Mary McKinley, second settlers in the township (The Wests arrived in May 1848, the McKinleys, in October), was near the Mormon Trace and was remembered by Susanna (Millan) Custer in her memoir, posted here last week. Her brother-in-law, John Shellar, then county surveyor, also platted Greenvillle when it was laid out as a town that really didn't go anywhere --- other than leaving its name behind to identify a neighborhood.

In 1899, Leander O. McKinley, a son of Samuel and Mary then living in Miller, S.D., set down his memories of old Greenville in the form of letters to Henry Gittinger, at that time editor of the Russell newspaper. Few issues of that early Russell newspaper survive. However, Henry went on to become editor of The Chariton Leader and republished the letters there on Sept. 16, 1909. The following is transcribed from those articles. Leander, then only in his 50s, died during 1905, reportedly at Creston.

Leander's timeline of the Trace is a little off. It actually was blazed and first used extensively during the summer of 1846, shortly after Brigham Young and his pioneer party of Saints arrived at Garden Grove and sent scouts back east to warn others that the route he had traveled to get there, now called the Mormon Pioneer Trail, was too hazardous. Young directed those who followed him to use instead what now is known as the Mormon Trace, which passes by Greenville and through what became Chariton.

The Trace remained a busy road for many years, but had already been in use for two years by the time the Wests and the McKinleys from Indiana arrived to settle along its route.


The Chariton Leader, Sept. 16, 1909

The following sketches of local history were written ten years ago --- in August 1899 --- by L.O. McKinley, then of Miller, South Dakota. Since then he has crossed over the "great divide" as many others to whom he alludes.


The Letters of J.G. Robinson in your paper of July 21 and 28, giving some reminiscenses of early times in Lucas county, interested me very much and brought to my mind many events that happened in those early days that might interest many of the people that reside in the county at present. Many have been born and raised there that readily note the contrast in the way business is conducted now and the way it was conducted then.

My father (Samuel McKinley) settled with his family in Washington township, in October 1848. I was young at that time, being but a few months over five years of age, but I remember events that happened at that time and later on as if it were but yesterday.

Xury E. West, the first settler in the township, made his settlement in May 1848, and his cabin was the attraction for all emigrants to that part of the country --- everybody went to "West's." I well remember the emigrant wagons, with their white canvas, drawn in a circle around the cabin and the horses picking the prairie grass while the harness and bed-clothing, chairs, cooking utensils, etc., were scattered around as they were used last and seemingly with the idea that one place was as good as another, which was, in fact, true. Among those stopping at West's at that time were Thomas J. Hancock (of Bethlehem), Wm. T. May, H. G. May, and Hon Greenwood Wright.

Thre were no improvements in the county at that time except that made at LaGrange by Mr. Robinson and that made at Ireland by Mr. McDermott, the first settler in the county (David Ballard, on English Creek, now generally is recognized as the first permanent settler). These were in Cedar township.

But in Washington township there nothing but the West cabin at that time. In the spring of 1849 the emigration to California and Salt Lake commenced (the emigration toward Salt Lake had commenced in 1846) and the country put on a lively appearance. This road known as the Mormon Trace, is the road that Mr. Robinson mentions that kept on the divide. It was a common thing and every day occurrence to see from a hundred to a hundred and fifty wagons in line, one directly after another, trailing slowly over the prairies, bound either for the gold fields of California or the Mormon Zion at Salt Lake. Mr. West's place was a stopping point on the trail and at times it looked like a fort where an army was being organized and supplied as there were so many wagons, horses and armed men.

In those days our nearest post office was Albia, 25 miles away. There was a mill at Bonaparte, 60 miles away. The first mill built in Washington township was in 1851 by A. G. Kendall and Samuel McKinley. I remember a great deal of fun was made about the mill. It was a kind of Noah's ark affair --- a livesaver, so held by the builders. This mill was a cheap arrangement. It did not have the modern roller process, nor electric motor power. But it was a creature of necessity. Such material as was at hand had to be used. This mill when completed and ready for business was composed of four upright pieces seven feet long, eight cross pieces four feet long, a cog wheel, a trunnel head, two cranks and a "niggerhead" rock. This was the kind of mill that furnished us our bread stuff, and it was some satisfaction to the builders, I suppose, to see some coming to "the mill" to get their grinding done who had sworn they would gnaw the corn off the cob before that would patronize that mill.

The first death in Washington township was Mrs. Nancy Pain (Payne), wife of Samuel Pain (Payne), second sheriff of the county. Mr. Pain came to the county in 1849 in May and occupied a cabin that had been built on Honey Creek in 1848 by Samuel Dicks (Dicks having later located at Dodge's Point --- Iconium). Mrs. P. took the typhoid fever in August but did not seem bad (Mr. Pain and son had commenced to improve what is known known as the Blue farm, south of Russell), but that insidious fever was making its fatal inroads on the system and when the true condition was discovered, it was determined in council of the neighbors to move her to the Greenville neighborhood and to the house of Abner McKinley (So. half J.W. Rouse's farm). She was moved there on Thursday and died on Friday at about 6 o'clock p.m. and buried Sunday. I remember the funeral services were conducted by Mr. Clifford, who afterwards was the first clerk of the courts of Wayne county. She was the first person buried in the Greenville cemetery 50 years ago next month.

Of course there is an immoral side in all history and Washington township had its immorality on one occasion to a game of chance. Early in the fall of 1851 the Chariton river overflowed its banks on account of heavy fall rains, and as was the custom, a party went to the river to see if anybody wanted to cross. The party, if I remember correctly, consisted of A.G. Kendall, Stephen Van Benthuysen, E. L. Kendall, Samuel McKinley and Henry Evans. They found a deer drowned in the river and when the deer was skinned they all wanted the hide and as it could not be divided they determined who should have it by chance. Someone proposed the game "Finger in Danger," so they each placed a finger on a stump and the chief mogul commenced by touching each finger, saying:

"Briar, wire, limber lock,
Three geese in a flock, etc."

Samuel McKinley was the winner. I have great respect for the old settlers of the county for I know what they had to endure.

Respectfully, L.O. McKinley
Miller, S.D., July 28, 1899


In 1852 the town of Greenville was laid off and platted by John Sheller (still residing in Chariton), county surveyor, by order of X.E. West, A.G. Kendall, and Samuel McKinley. There were four blocks platted on the land of Mr. West and Mr. Kendall. Samuel McKinley suggested the name of Greenville for the new town, which was agreed to by the others and so recorded. A post office was established and X.E. West was appointed postmaster.

The same year a schoolhouse was built of logs, 18 x 20 feet and covered (roofed) with clap boards, these being weighed down with poles. The floor was made of puncheons; the door was in the south end, a window on either side and in the north end. The size of the panes was 8 x 10 inches, the side windows having twelve lights and the end window six. The seats were made of poles six or eight inches in diamoeter split, one side hewn off, logs put in on the round side. The ceiling was made of clap beams four feet apart. The cracks between the logs were daubed with mud.

Such was the schoolhouse. Scholars of today, how would you like it? The teacher was paid by subscription. Our first teacher was Miss Anna Miles, summer of 1853. Winter of 1854, W.A. West, teacher; 1855, Miss E.J. Van Benthuysen, teacher; 1857-9, E.L. Kendall, teacher; 1860, D.J. McCoy, teacher; 1861, J. H. Little, teacher; 1862, James Coffman, teacher; and in 1863, Miss Mary Chaney was teacher. These are all that taught in the log schoolhouse. It was sold to Wm. Norris in 1863, moved away and used for other purpposes.

The first manufactory in Washington township was a bell factory, located on the northwest eighty of the J.W. House farm, near Greenville, by Frances Chaney in 1851. The factory was only operated one summer as had rented the place of A.G. Kendall, who had purchased it of James Peck early in 1851. Mr. Chaney made a good bell, which was in great demand in those days. Mr. Chaney was the father of the late Judge John Chaney of Osceola, Iowa.

The first public dicussion of the political issues in Washington township was at the house of S. Hickman (Knowles farm) in 1852; between Dr. W.H.H. Lind, whig candidate for representative, and Henry Allen (who operated Chariton's first hotel), democrat. Allen was elected. Lind was doubtless much the abler man but a strict party vote elected Allen. Scott and Pierce were candidates for president that year and the voters stuck to their respective parties to a finish.

In 1866-7 the C.B.&Q. railroad was built through Washington township. Before we got a railroad, all stock and produce sent to market was hauled or driven to Burlington or Keikuk and the merchants hauled their goods from these points.

In those days we used the cradle for cutting grain and the scythe for cutting hay. It will be noticed that from 1848 to 1860, people worked on the primitive principles of the fathers and mothers, with but slight improvements over the ancient modes. We raised flax to make our summer wear, and sheared our sheep to make our winter's clothing. The manufacturing was all done at home. We made our own clothing, raised our own bread stuff and manufactured our own shoes. We cured our own meat and lived happy and independent.

In 1853, James P. Woodruff brought a stock of goods to Greenville. In 1855, X.E. West started a store at Greenville and in 1853 A.G. Kendall established his blacksmith shop. In 1856, E.M. Crawford built a blacksmith shop. But be it known Greenfield never had a house built in it, not to this day. But the name was elastic and could be stretched for a mile either way.

The first military company organized in the township was in April, 1861 --- J.H. Little, Captain, Stephen Van Benthuysen, 1st Lieutenant, Wm. Casidy, 2nd Lieutenant.

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