Monday, January 04, 2016

Pioneer history of Union Township, Part I

This is the first half of a paper read by James L. Washburn (left) during a September, 1910, reunion of Union Township Old Settlers in Derby and published in The Chariton Herald-Patriot of Sept. 15. The second half of the paper, published Sept. 23, will follow another day. Washburn (1860-1923) was secretary of the old settler association at the time.

I've lifted a couple of paragraphs out of the paper for use in earlier posts about Argo and the Fancy Hill Inn, so if you're read those posts you'll recognize something familiar. Note the length of his first sentence. It's an award-winner.

Interesting Paper Read at the Derby Reunion Last Week
by Secretary J.L. Washburn

Upon request of a great many members of the society, that the early incidents and historical facts of a heroic people of the pioneer days of our community be not lost, but may be handed down to posterity for their enlightenment and pleasure, I have endeavored to gather facts, that may in part, at least, recall to those yet remaining of our older inhabitants, many things of interest and serve to remind the rising generation and those yet to come of the things and conditions in existence here when our forefathers first settled this beautiful land, where prairie chickens were as thick as blackbirds are today, when deer were almost as plentiful as our cottontail rabbits, when the roads crossed our prairies as the crow flies, when father took his family to church in a lumber wagon, when yokes of cattle were more numerous than driving horses are today, when the whole county blossomed as a rose, when mother earth was covered with the waving bluestem and nature reigned supreme.

I desire at the start to thank especially John H. Lowe, Alfred Conner, A.J. Irvin and M.E. Hitt, as well as many others, who contributed to this article.

It seems to me that this being but one of a series of such papers as should follow from year to year, that a brief outline of our geographical setting be called to mind. We are one township only of the twelve (12) which comprises our family group, forming Lucas county. In selecting our township names, as well as the others, we find our forefathers were doubtless men of broad minds and patriotic motives, yet kept in close touch with nature herself. 

A glimpse at our township's names as they appear on the county map, brings to view such names as Washington, the father of his country. Warren next greets the eye, which carries us back to that patriot. We mourn his untimely death, the chief victim of Bunker Hill (Dr. Joseph Warren, commissioned a major general in Massachusetts militia, fought as a private soldier in the Battle of Bunker Hill and was killed when British troops stormed the redoubt atop Breed's Hill on June 17, 1775).

John Trunbull's "The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill"
(Andrew) Jackson appears next, that we may not forget that great man among men, who lived to do things rather than to dream of them. (Thomas Hart) Benton follows, he who was contemporaneous with Clay, Calhoun and Webster, a man who with his illustrious son-in-law, John C. Fremont, were such great factors in opening up the Louisiana territory, which today forms such an important part of our great government. Last among the list of great men comes the immortal Lincoln. How great must have been the foresight of those men. An everlasting monument was thus dedicated to his sacred memory.

Nature next appeals to our minds as we read the names of Whitebreast (White Breast Creek), Cedar (Cedar Creek), Ottercreek (Otter Creek) and Pleasant, probably so named because of Nom Deplumes given them by early travelers and trappers. To the fact that our early population was predominently English, was doubtless due the fact that that name was given to one township (English Township was named after English Creek, not people of English descent).

A great burning question had confronted our people, even from its foundation. Millions of souls within our broad land were crying with anguish for freedom, thus we find the word Liberty written across one township, a noble sentiment indelibly fixed to remind us of how our forefathers viewed the issues of their day and for which so many noble hearted men bled and died.

The chain lacks but one link to make it one compact whole. What shall be given as a name to that remaining township? The issues of the day were warm, communities were divided, yea even families were arrayed on different sides of the cause. Yet they all agreed that when it was all over we must be reunited, hence the spirit of Union was uppermost in their hearts and Union they named us and Union it will be forever.


Union township came into existence in the spring of 1852 and the first election was held at the home of Jacob Fudge, who lived where Andy Troutman's home is, just north of the center of the township, on the first Monday of April. I have as yet been unable to secure the returns of this election.

The first white settler to locate in Union township was Hiram M. Holmes, a Kentuckian by birth, who came here with his wife and family from Indiana, having lived for a short period of time in Van Buren and Wapello counties respectively. He arrived here on the first day of September, 1849, located on what is known as the K. Wolverton farm, being Section 19, 4-1/2 miles due west of Derby. To this family belongs the distinction of having born to them the first white child born within our borders. This child was Mary Angeline, born Nov. 26, 1849, who became the wife of M.E. Hitt, one of our patriarchs. She lived and died in sight of her old home, highly respected by all who knew her.

Among the other very early settlers was the late Granville Westfall, whose son, David, was the first white male born in our township, Nov. 5, 1852. There was about this time living here Leonard Fisher, Jas. McMains, John Cherryholmes, Amos Sayers, who still lives on his old farm, Abraham Sayers, Joseph Garland, Matthew Irvin, Wm. McKnight, Mark J. Mabry, Jacob Fudge, Mrs. Henry Levalley, Simeon Chapman, Jas. Leech, Joseph Mundell, Levi Westfall, Capt. Low and Jacob Byerly. The above named men still have descendants among us, except it be Jacob Fudge and Capt. Low. There may be others who came prior to some of these, however.

In harmony with our government's early methods of taking census and to get a starting point I have chose to begin with the arrival of my venerable father-in-law, the late Joseph W. Sprott, who came in the year 1858, when we find in Union township the following additional heads of families: Levi Westfall, David Fudge, Geo. Noble, Conrad Fisher, McCommas Fisher, Jacob Taylor, John Robinson, Geo. Courtney, Bennett Robinson, Mr. VanDevender, Adam Sanders, Elijah Sommers, John Hollingsworth, John McKnight, Peter Warringer, Elijah Ayers, Joseph Davis, Wm. Hood, A.J. Hood, Noah Brotherton, Roboert Mundell, James Mundell, Pat Bean, Jeremiah Norris, Wm. Sanders, Acy Pollard, Hezekiah Pollard and Joseph W. Sprott.

The only known living members of heads of families is Amos Sayers and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Abraham Sayers, of Cambria, Iowa. I have prepared a map showing the place of residence of each of the above named men and their families to be filed among the archives of this society for future reference (the map did not survive).

Were it possible I should like to give a brief history of each of these named, but alas! Twas not kept then and the ferreting out of the final destiny of that great body of heroic pathfinders will require the hard efforts on the part of some future historian of the society, who should be selected without further delay. I have dug out many facts and made record of them and find myself none too soon, ere the men and women who played such a conspicuous part in the making of our early history shall have passed from among us forever to that great unknown from whence no traveler has yet returned.

Turning again to the political side of our township's history, I have ascertained that it appears our first Justice of the Peace was Esq. Matthew Irvin, father of our society's venerable ex-president A.J. Irvin, also M.G. Irvin. He resided on the south (north) side of the Mormon trace road, just west of the present home of A.J. Irvin. He was not only a man of high mind and lofty purposes, but he chose to build his dwelling on the very crest of our watershed, which divides the waters of the Missouri from those of the father of waters. Here he could watch the rain descend and know that by the works of his own hands make it flow in opposite directions from one house top. His well was so located that he could without changing his feet pour water first into one great river, then the other.

As I take a retrospective view, I behold him with the scale of justice in his hands, with that lofty purpose always in mind, of meting out justice and equity to one and all alike. His docket, which is still in the hands of the family, is interesting in many ways. Thought it is still plain and distinct its pages are yellow with age. It was formed by placing one leaf after another of foolscap paper between a back formed by folding a newspaper about them. As the docket grew he simply added more paper.

His maiden case was between two of his neighbors and over the subject of a security debt. Attorneys were fortunately conspicuous by their absence, and his Hon. seemed to have acted more as a court of arbitration than otherwise, for it appears the defendant conferred judgment, whereupon the court instead of issuing an execution, took the matter into his own hands and gave him an extension of time to meet the obligation before any further action could be had. The case was dated Dec. 23, 1859, and doubtless the two neighbors each enjoyed his Christmas dinner the better for having the matter off his mind.

To be continued

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