Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thomas Brandon's remarkable memoir

Thomas Brandon was buried during 1923 near his second wife, Mary J., in the cemetery at Iconium, a mile or so south of where he had first settled 80 years earlier.

If I have a favorite straight-from-the-horse's-mouth account of Lucas County's history, this is it --- Thomas Brandon's memoir commencing in 1843 of his first years in south central Iowa. Brandon and his father, James, along with two other men, entered Monroe County (Lucas County's neighbor to the east) during May of that year --- as soon as it opened for settlement after expiration of confederated Sauk and Meskwaki treaty entitlement to it.

My great-great-great-grandparents, William and Miriam Miller and Joseph and Mary McMulin and their families, also rushed to cross the Des Moines River and claim Monroe County land that May, but settled down not far from Eddyville in its northeast quarter. The Brandons traveled to the extreme southwest corner of the county --- the "four corners" area where Monroe, Appanoose, Lucas and Wayne counties join --- before James Brandon made his pre-emption claim. This was due north of what now is the tiny Appanoose County town of Iconium.

At that time, Lucas County was not yet open to settlers --- the Sauk and Meskwaki still had more than two years to clear out of Iowa west of the Red Rock Line and cross the Missouri River into "Indian Territory." But that did not stop the Brandons and others from exploring the territory. His accounts of visits to Chariton Point, now the location of Chariton, before Lucas County existed are the earliest known to have been recorded.

Thomas had just passed his 81st birthday when he wrote the following, read during a meeting of the Lucas County Old Settlers Association on Sept. 25, 1907. His timing is very slightly off in a few instances, and I've indicated corrections. The Mormon Trace, for example, became the principal route west for Utah-bound Saints during the summer of 1846, for example. But his retention of detail is remarkable.

The original hand-written manuscript of Brandon's memoir is in the collection of the Lucas County Historical Society. It also was published in The Chariton Leader of October 3, 1907.

Thomas married Ruth Barker during 1849 in Appanoose County. She was a daughter of Matthew and Tamar Barker, pioneer millers along the South Chariton River just northeast of Confidence where Jones Chapel church and cemetery now are located. She died during the 1850s and he married as his second wife, Mary J. Stephens.

Brandon, who lived to celebrate his 96th birday, became a successful farmer and businessman in both Monroe and Lucas counties. He was a hero of the great banking disaster that brought Chariton's First National Bank down in 1907. A principal, with Chariton's Frank R. Crocker, in the Russell Bank, Brandon used his personal funds to repay all the losses Crocker was responsible for, saving the Russell Bank from receivership and its depositors from losses.

Thomas died February 24, 1923, and was buried with his wife, Mary J., in the cemetery at Iconium, very near where he had first settled 80 years earlier.


At your request, I have written a few lines according to my best recollections, regarding the early settlement of Monroe and Lucas Counties. On May 10th, 1843, my father, James Brandon, and a Missourian by the name of Wm. Moore, and an old gentleman from Maine, we called him Captain Higby, and myself, landed in what is now known as Franklin Township, Monroe County. It was not surveyed at that time. Afterwards, when it was surveyed, we were in Kishkekosh County. Mr. Moore took for a claim what is now called Dodge's Point, which proved to be in Appanoose County.

We had a team of oxen which we had hired from a man by the name of Miller in Missouri. By the first half of June we had broken nine acres of prairie and two and one-half acres on Mr. Moore's place with those cattle, and planted it in sod corn. Our plow got so dull we could not break any more.

About that time three men drove up to the camp, and said they had been out west looking at the land. They lived in Missouri also and we knew them when they drove up. They stated to us that they had crossed the Chariton (River) pretty much west of a point we called Chariton Point. The timber growing up on the prairie showed grand for four or five miles east of there. They had got one of their horses down; it had got the single tree hook in its foot, and had lamed it so that they could not bring it. They told father that if he could go back and doctor it up he might have the horse.

Next morning we started, and took their wagon back, and followed on foot until quite late in the evening when we came to where they had left the horse. I don't think the horse had lain down from the time he had got hurt until we found him. Father had on a wool hat which he gave me to carry some water to the horse. I had to go nearly a quarter of a mile before I found a slough hole where I could get the hat full of water. I carried two hats full and the horse seemed very thirsty, as it was a hot day. We tried to move the horse, but only succeeded in moving him about a rod. This was about a half mile east of the timber that we called Chariton Point. Some time afterwards we came up to see if we could tell anything of what became of the horse; we supposed though he was dead, and sure enough we found a pile of bones just about where we had left the animal when we went away.

We called it twenty-five miles from where we first landed, to Chariton Point. Father looked around at the timber and admired the place as the timber came up so boldly to the top of the prairie, but he would not think of changing his place as he had such fine spring water.

This took place in the spring and summer of 1843. I was 17 years old the 27th of August, 1843. The last part of June 1843, we decided we would see if we could find anybody in the country. So we turned the oxen on the grass and left Captain Higby, the man from Maine, to look after them.

My father, Mr. Moore, and myself, started out pretty much north, taking an Indian trail that ran right through the grove my father claimed. We thought we were near the Des Moines River. When we started we each had a blanket and a little grub to do us two or three days. We traveled on till quite late in the afternoon, and we got out on the prairie just about where the public square is in Albia now. There was a pole with an elk's head with two horns on stuck on the top of the pole. We sat down there thinking it was too big a prairie to follow our Indian trail across that night.

While we were still sitting and standing around, thinking of what do do, we discovered a smoke northwest. We supposed it was some Indians camped there. We started out thinking it wouldn't be more than a couple of miles to walk, but we found it to be about four miles before we got there, and to our surprise, when we arrived, we found Wareham G. Clark and John Clark, men whom we had been acquainted with from January until May when we started for Iowa, at which time each one took his course, and did not meet again until in June.

We were very glad to find someone we knew and stayed with them that night. The next day we went back to camp. In the course of a month or six weeks we went back to Mr. Clark's and found him living in the same little shanty covered with hickory bark, and they were still breaking prairie with their oxen. It wasn't very far from the timber and we named the place Clark's Point, which name it goes by till this day. That was the first time I met Dr. Dungan. I think he was there when I went there the second time. I think that was in August 1843. Dr. Levi Dungan died in 1846 and was buried at Clark's Point, Monroe County.

The Clark boys were batching and seemed to have a good time. They were the closest neighbors we had at that time and were 20 miles from us, but afterwards we went in with them. We split open an oak log, about a foot and a half or two foot through and bored the flat side full of auger holes and drove in short pins and went to making our roads. We hitched three of four yoke of oxen on to that log and I believe we started from Clark's to father's with the drag and it was a very good day's drive. We stayed all night at father's and went back to Clark's the next day, going twice in the same track. This made us a very good road to travel in and I guess the road is there yet if someone has not fenced it. That was a nearer way to Clark's Point than to go by where Albia is now.

During the fall of 1843 or the spring of 1844, Mr. Moore had not come back to improve his claim, and a man by the name of John Ballard, from near Tippecanoe, Missouri, took his claim, or as we called it then, "jumped" his claim. He had quite a little family and we were very much pleased that he went on it, as we wanted more settlers. His stay with us wasn't long, as in 1844 or 1845, I am not positive which (it was actually 1847), he moved away, north and west from where he lived. Said he was going on English River (English Creek). I understood when the counties were laid off he was in Lucas County. The last time I saw Mr. Ballard he came by our place. He said he lived in Missouri. I would be be pleased to hear from any of the family. (John Ballard and his family generally are recognized as the first permanent Euro-American settlers of Lucas County.)

In the fall of 1844 there were a couple of families moved in north of us, about six miles, one by the name of Ingham and another by the name of Searcy. That winter, December I think it was, Mr. Ingham went to Missouri to get some corn for his team and meal to eat. There were no roads in the country at that time, and if there had been, we could not have found them from the fact there came a snow almost knee deep. Instead of going the way he should by where Moravia now is, he came farther west around on the main ridge not far from where John Ballard lived, and not very far from where we lived on the north side and Mr. Ballard on the south side of the ridge. The water that fell on my father's side of the ridge ran into the Cedar and then into the Des Moines River. Mr. Ballard lived on Honey Creek, and that creek emptied into the Chariton River and thence into the Missouri River, so Mr. Ingham had to pass between Mr. Ballard's and Mr. Brandon's.

Mr. Ingham must have been badly lost, as the weather was cold and the snow drifting and I cannot understand how he lived through the storm. He must have turned north a little east of where the Russell Depot now stands. We did not hear any more from him till he got down near English, near where John Ballard finally moved. Someone lived there as he saw smoke and unhitched his team and started towards it; he either got to the shanty, or they saw him and helped him in, as his feet and hands were badly frozen. They had to keep him there several days before he was able to go home. I would be pleased to know who took care of him, and who took him home when he was able to go. If there is any man here today that knows anything about this case, I would be pleased to meet him.

I was only up to Chariton Point a couple of times during 1843, the first time in June and the last time in September. We had no road from our place to Chariton Point, neither did we have any stream, not even a slough to cross. We followed the main ridge from where we lived to Chariton Point. I still own a portion of the land that father took for a claim, May 10th, 1843.

In the fall of 1845, the Mormons viewed and established what they called the Mormon Trace from Ballard's Point, afterwards called Dodge's Point, to Chariton Point. That winter (1846), if I am not mistaken, Iowa was admitted into the Union. Late in the fall of 1845 (actually late in the fall of 1846),  three Mormons and their families got snowed under at Chariton Point. They drove down on Chariton River and wintered there. They cut elm and lynn for their cattle to browse on it; it was all they had until the snow went away; then they found quite a bit of winter grass in the bottoms that helped them through. I don't believe they lost many cattle, but they got very thin. In the spring of  1846 (actually 1847)  they came up to the edge of the prairie and built them each a shanty as their stock was too poor to travel. Some time in June 1846 (actually 1847) I heard they wanted to sell their claim as their stock had got able to pull their wagons and they wanted to go on.

The prairie was covered with covered wagons, mostly going west so I had no trouble in sending the three Mormons word at Chariton Point that I would buy their claim if I was able. In a few days the most business one of the three walked down to where we lived; that was near Ballard's Point. His name was McGuff. I showed him what stock I had, which was two heifers and a three-year old cow, that was all I had excepting a horse. He agreed to take the hiefers provided his two partners were willing. I took my horse and went home with him, he being on foot, and stayed all night with him that night, and traded for his claim. They were to give possession in a week or ten days. This was on or near the middle of June 1847. So I went back down to father's and got my brother to hitch up a yoke of oxen my father had. We hitched them to a cart and moved me to Chariton Point, taking a straw bed, some cooking utensils, a little meal and a blanket, and set up house-keeping.

During the summer that I bached at Chariton Point, Gen. A.C. Dodge came through on horseback from Garden Grove, which place was settled by the Mormons in the fall of 1845 (actually, the spring of 1846). Mr. Dodge had got off his road and in crossing a creek had lamed his horse. He got up to my place and stayed about a week, he and I doctoring his horse. Also the same summer Mr. John Brophy had an appointment from the state to select so many sections in the different counties -- saline land. He stayed with me about two weeks. He and I rode over the country hunting where we could find any marshes that the deer would visit.

About the 15th of November Wm. S. Townsend, a man I was very well acquainted with, came up from Appanoose County, and I let him move in with me. I remained with Mr. Townsend, as he had a family, and I was not nearly so lonesome. I stayed with him at Chariton Point until the next spring. I hardly know how we managed to get along as neither of us had any money, and he had four or five of a family.

In the spring of 1847 (actually, spring of 1848) I sold out to Mr. Townsend for a horse and a two-horse wagon and went back to father's and took a claim joining him, and my brother younger than I went in with me. We batched there till the fall of 1848, when we quit baching, my brother going home, and I went down and stayed with a man by the name of Nowels that had settled in the fall of 1844 about four or five miles southeast of our claim. He had a wife and one child, and I stayed with them from the fall of  1848 to the spring of  1849. That was the winter we had the big snow. If there is anyone here today that was in the country at that time they will remember the winter of the big snow.

In September 1849 I was married (to Ruth Barker) and went back on my claim and lived there until April 6th, 1853, when with a couple of ox teams I, with wife and two children, my brother George, 16 years old, and my wife's brother about 17 years old, started for California, landing at San Jose about the 22nd of September, 1853.

I remained there until the 16th of February 1854. We all went down to San Francisco and shipped for New York, crossing the Isthmus of Panama on mules to Aspinwall, where we took passage on a boat for New York. After resting up a few days we bought tickets to Chicago and then bought tickets to Rock Island, thence down the River to Fort Madison by steamboat. There we hired a liveryman to take us out to Salem where my wife had a sister living. We hired a man to bring us up to her mother's. Her father was the man (Matthew Barker) that built the mill on South Chariton, in Wayne County, south of where Confidence now is.

(signed) Thomas Brandon


Ken said...

Fascinating. Must have been quite a time -- literally making your own roads!

Scott Ullem said...

Thank you for posting this. Thomas Brandon was my great great grandfather. The farm he settled is still in our family and we have expanded it over the past 150 years. The boulder in the picture above was donated anonymously by my grandfather, Ben F Ullem, and it was transported by helicopter from our farm to the cemetery.