Monday, June 11, 2012

1851: The Shepperds arrive at Chariton

This substantial chunk of red granite in the northwest part of the Chariton Cemetery marks the graves of John W. and Clerenda Shepperd, their daughters Juniata and Adaliza, an infant grandson and Clerenda's parents, Elisha and Junia Sanderson. Each has an individual headstone.

The late spring of 1851, among the wettest in Iowa history, was not an ideal time to settle in Lucas County. But John W. Shepperd and his wife, Clerinda Jane, did --- arriving at Chariton Point from Indiana on the 8th of May in horse- and ox-drawn wagons as members of a family party of seven that included her parents, Elisha and Junia (Wright) Sanderson.

Tacitus Hussey's 1902 "Annals of Iowa" report of the great flood on the Des Moines River during late May and June of that year can be found here, in a 2010 post. There were no newspapers in Chariton at the time, so reports of conditions here are lacking although it seems likely both the Chariton River and White Breast Creek as well as other streams flooded their valleys.

John was a blacksmith by trade who, as many did in those days, farmed on the side --- in Whitebreast Township northwest of Chariton. He and Clerinda had married in Indiana the previous December.

More that 50 years later, he sat down to write in pencil his recollections of that first year for Warren S. Dungan, prime mover of the Lucas County Old Settlers Association, apologizing in an attached note --- "Old friend, please excuse poor spelling and leaving words out and haveing to patch the holes caused by it in this communication and the ungrammatical manner in which it is written as I am unaccustomed to writing and know nothing about grammer .... I never went to free school or any other coledge." The manuscript now is in the collection of the Lucas County Historical Society.

I've done some editing here --- It's entirely clear what John intended to write; he just had trouble sometimes getting there. I appreciate it when someone corrects a world I've misspelled and figured that if was the least I could do for Mr. Shepperd.

John died during May of 1907, age 80, just six weeks after Clerenda's death. They had been among the earliest members of Chariton's First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And although John may have felt a need to apologize for his spelling and grammar, he and his wife had seen to it that their five surviving children would never need to, ensuring despite modest circumstances that all graduated from college, almost unheard of in that day. When John and Clarinda died, son Bruce was a professor at Drake University in Des Moines; son J.N., dean of agriculture at the University of North Dakota, Fargo; daughter Juniata L., a professor of domestic science at Iowa State University; son G.W., a farmer at Moscow, Idaho; and daughter Mary Powers, married to a farmer at Ogallah, Kansas.

The Shepperds' timber claim was in Section 4 in the northwest corner of Whitebreast. The home built with logs from that claim, however, was on a prairie farm north of what now is Hunter Tree Farm in Section 14, where they lived until their deaths. Here's John's memoir:


After a pleasure trip of three weeks duration in covered wagon propelled by horse and ox power, on the 8th day of May 1851 we landed our first footsteps in the then-called Chariton Point --- but after a few years the point by carelessness and gross neglect got knocked off and Chariton since then has been without a point.

We found some 6 or 8 log cabins near the square occupied by young and energetic men and women with high estimates of the greatness of the future city.

One log hotel on the southeast corner of the square --- where Ed Lewis’s store now stands --- engineered by Henry Allen, a native of the Old Dominion, a lawyer by profession, an honorable man and somewhat of a politician, and (who) was of great service to us later on as he made frequent trips to the land office at Fairfield on business and would bring back plats showing the vacant lands of the different townships.

There was a log courthouse a half block north of the Allen hotel on the corner south of the alley. So-called two stories high, i.e., it was five feet from the top of the lower floor to the top of the wall plate with stairway outside. (It) was not large but afforded ample room for all that had business before the court at that time. It had not yet been honored and dishonored as the case may be.

There was a log store building on the northwest corner where Wm. Smyth’s store now stands, kept by Jonas Wescott. Had a small amount of most articles his customers were likely to need. His amount of goods was small, but he sold at a large price, as all of his goods had to be hauled 150 miles with teams. The cost of freight to him was $1.50 to two dollars per hundred. He paid the freight in goods at his retail prices. Done a fairly good business as there was no other store nearer than Albia or Indianola.

A half block north of the store on the south side of the alley where Karns Shop now is, there was a smith shop run by John McGuire. Immediately after passing it we were in the country proper.

One of our company was here in 1850 and bought a quarter section of timber land in Section 4 of (Township) 72 N (Range) 22 W. There was no Whitebreast township by name here then. So we struck out across the prairie for Section 4 of above township. After we had gone about three miles we came in contact with the natives, who were not unlike ourselves except slightly in manners and customs. They were as honest and truthful as human nature ordinarily will permit people to be.

We inquired about vacant land, told them we were wanting to find locations for homes. They told us there was no land there that was (of) any account; (that) all (had been) claimed and entered; that they were organized in a club to protect their claims; and told us of a man who had entered a claim and they had took and would have hanged him had he not paid for the claim.

It was like the patent medicine cures --- didn’t happen in their immediate vicinity --- but they assured us that if we entered any of their claims without first paying for them we would be forced to go through the same process.

They all lived on government land. With one exception, all had claims to sell. Their claims they offered for sale (were) any land they might show a stranger (that) was situated outside of the land they lived on --- or, if he would pay their price, then they would take another claim and (there) still were plenty of claims to sell left. There was no legal land claim except the pre-emption and they didn’t deal in that kind of claims as they were not very flush with money and the time to prove up might come before the amount of money needed would come by some managing and the help of Henry Allen.

We secured locations without loss of life or limb --- or paying them for a claim.

They lived in log cabins; 16 feet square was their standard size, i.e. logs that length which left them about 15 inside, covered (roofed) with clapboard and weight poles, a sod chimney a foot or so above the roof. A fireplace; often no floor but the dirt the house was built over. A hole cut in the logs in one side of the house about two feet square and a shutter made of clapboard hung on wooden hinges served as a window, no glass or sash. One door made of clapboards and hung on wooden hinges, a latch made of wood with string fastened to it. A hole through the door above it. String put through it to the outside. When the string was pulled inside it formed a burglar-proof lock, but we had no need of a lock then as burglars were unheard of here then. They seem to be a product of a higher civilization than we could boast of here then. Their furniture consisted of three or four old chairs, benches and stools, goods boxes in many cases for table and cupboard.

They had (a) small amount of land in cultivation to grow corn for meal and hominy, vegetables, &tc. They made considerable of their living by the chase as deer and turkeys were plenty here then.

They had some half wild razor back hogs running in the woods and brush subsisting on acorns, nuts, roots, &tc. They were admirably suited to digging roots as they had noses almighty and rooters ever ready to penetrate any earth they wanted to prospect. In the fall after their hogs had fatted enough for pork they would resolve to go on a pork expedition, take their gun dogs, hatchets and butcher knives, and some then-called sod corn whiskey and strike out for the hog ranch.

They were liable to have some casualties among their dogs as the old males were very dexterous in their movements and used their weapons with remarkable precision and were liable to rub a dog off the map of existence at a single stroke. But both men and dogs were well posted in razor back tactics. Men were good marksmen and dogs, good corralers, therefore they seldom had much difficulty in securing the amount of pork they wanted at that roundup. Pork secured, they took it to their homes and salted it in one corner of their houses in boxes or troughs.

In those days, we had to go from 40 to sixty miles or more to mill. Two or three of them would go to mill and bring back loads of meal. Then their neighbors would come and borrow the meal till they would all have about equal amounts, and when the supply run low other ones would go to mill, come with their loads, pay their meal debts and they were all equal again.

There was not any bridges over any of the streams then and often they could not go to mill when their supply run out. Then they would substitute hominy for bread till the streams went down, let that be a week, a month or longer.

The spring and first half of summer in 1851 was the wettest I ever seen until 1902 brought a complete match for it, except in 1851 it began about the tenth of May.

Well we went on to the timber and fixed up a shed covered with clapboards, laid linn bark on the ground under it for a floor, put up a cook stove under it to do our cooking. Slept in our wagons nights and put in our time between showers cutting logs for a cabin. Could not haul a quarter of a load, ground was so soft team and wagon would go through the tough prairie sod. Under any other circumstances almost we would have thought it impossible to undertake to use a team at all, but as the boys say, we had to.

It took three men of us three weeks to cut logs, hew puncheons, haul them out and put up a round log cabin sixteen feet square, the standard size of the cabins of the natives and were glad to get one of any kind that would shelter us. We lost no time between showers in getting it so we would get into it. Seven of us, all grown, moved into it. Put in what furniture must have to do with. We had plenty of room and it seemed to be the most comfortable house we were ever in. We had slept in the wagons about two months from the time we started to move till we got in the cabin.

The cabin was a partnership concern. We now proceeded to put up houses for each family and break as much prairie as we could that summer. We hewed the logs for them as we expected to have to occupy them (for) some time; didn’t know how long. We proceded with the work as fast as we could, the rain and mud still impeded our progress, but we put in all the time that the weather would admit of.

We did not have to go to the mill that summer. We laid in a supply of flour and provisions at the river as we came through which saved us much time to put in on our houses. The work went slow but a steady drop will wear a stone. We finally got the bodys (of the cabins) up and covered and then went down into Monroe county with teams thirty miles to get flooring, glass, sash, &tc., to complete them.

Beginning to make improvements in a new country is very easily understood. For when one thing is done, then next thing is something else to be done. By the next spring (1852) the townships were named and organized; elections held in those having a sufficient population to do so.

The first election ever held in White Breast was on the 1st Monday in April 1852 at my shop, where the present shop now stands on the S.E. corner of the N.W. quarter of Section 14. Uncle Sam’s servants here didn’t furnish us a ballot box. We used a hat for a ballot box and when time of day came to close we did so and counted the votes and deposited them in the pocket of a coat worn by one of the election board, struck a pin in above them, and they were delivered to the Chariton authorities as pure and undefiled as they ever have been delivered since in locked ballot boxes.

I will give a list of the names of men who voted at that election. It may be on interest to some of their descendants. There is not one living that attended that election, to the best of my knowledge and belief, except myself. Names are as follows:

A. J. Melvin, Miles F. Vanmeter, Jacob Philips, John C. Watson, Wm. Mitchel, James Mitchel, John K. Mansfield, Jacob Burleigh, John Powers, E. Sanderson, Wm. A. Sanderson and J.W. Shepperd.


Unknown said...

John Wesley Shepperd is my great-great grandfather; his son, George Washington Shepperd, is my great grandfather. Thank you for posting his history of the family's arrival in Iowa. I will share it with family members. I also have photos of J. W. and Clarinda Jane Sanderson Shepperd that I could share with you.

--Timothy Shepperd
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Frank D. Myers said...

Tim --- I would greatly appreciate having copies of photos of J.W. and Clarinda Shepperd to post with this blog entry, as well as to keep with J.W.'s original hand-written manuscript at the museum. Please contact me at