In the tradition of Thanksgiving, when our nation looks back at its early history, we here at the Chronicle Times thought it would be appropriate time to share some of Cherokee's early history with our readers in this special edition of Times Gone By. The following article that first ran in 2003 and it was an article that was found in an old scrapbook, the writer was E.C. Herrick and was prepared for and read at the Fourth of July Celebration in Cherokee on our nation's Centennial year of 1876. Happy Thanksgiving and we hope you all enjoy this early look at the history of Cherokee.
Pioneer Days In Cherokee
By E. C. Herrick
The formation of a new county is but a natural outgrowth of that vital principle of our form of government, local sovereignty. A portion of previously unoccupied territory becomes instinct with the life and activities of new settlements, and, under the rights secured by the wisdom of our ancestors, it wheels into the line of progress, and becomes a factor in state government.
That is the common history of all counties formed since the declaration of independence. As a factor of state government its political life becomes a matter of interest to the public, and no history is complete which fails to recognize and record its influence upon the affairs of state.
One hundred years ago today the sons of America, feeling strong in their cause, declared themselves a nation among the nations of earth, and on that day inaugurated a far more splendid scene of progress and triumph in civilization and liberty than the story of the past can reveal to us. From that day until the present the advancement of American liberties, and the gathering of the sons of the nations of earth under the banner which floats as the emblem of that liberty have presented a spectacle more grand, more magnificent, and more sublime than the splendid story of Roman civilization and Roman greatness. Step by step has the foot of progress wended its way across this broad continent, and wherever the magic foot pressed, there has the wilderness blossomed like the rose. Townships, counties, territories and states have each and all contributed their individual and united efforts toward this one century of republican government and American civilization, until today we stand a nation composed of forty million of free people.
First Settler Arrives
Toward this grand sum of prosperity our young and beautiful county has contributed her share. Possessed of an area of 576 square miles of as beautiful and fertile prairie as nature ever bequeathed to men, it could but tempt the traveler to make it his home. Formed in January 1851 by the third general assembly, at which time most of her sister counties were also created and their boundaries defined, it was in January, 1953, attached to the county of Wahkau (now Woodbury) for revenue, election and judicial purposes. But her fertile prairies and beautiful streams failed to attract the attention of the emigrant until the spring of 1856, at which time it was visited by Robert Perry of this county, who was seeking a home in the west.
In the early part of that year a number of the citizens of the city of Milford in the old commonwealth of Massachusetts, desiring to emigrate to the far west, selected as their objective point the counfluence of the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers, the present site of Sioux City. Carlton Corbett and Lemuel Parkhurst were sent by these citizens in advance to explore the region and secure a location for the colonists
Shortly after the departure of Corbett and Parkhurst, a joint stock company was formed called the "Milford Emigration Society." Under the auspices of this company, which numbered fifty-four members, about twenty persons started for northwest Iowa, intending to meet Corbett and Parkhurst at the objective point of the colony.
On the arrival of Corbett and Parkhurst at the mouth of the Big Sioux River, they discovered that others were in advance of them. Here Mr. Corbett left Mr. Parkhurst, and after exploring the country, for fifty miles to the north of Sioux City, he, in company with one Martin, started for the county of Cherokee. His attention had been called to this county by the glowing description of Mr. Perry, whom he met in Sioux City.
Upon the advise of Mr. Corbett, the whole colony proceeded up the Little Sioux River until they reached the county of Cherokee. Struck by the beauty and fertility of the prairies, and especially the valley of the Little Sioux, whose banks were at that time fringed with large and beautiful groves, they concluded to make it their future home.
The colonists, among whom were G. W. Lebourvau, Carlton Corbett, B. W. Sawtell, Lysander Sawtell, Robert Hammond, Albert Simonds, Asa Slayton and others, were men accustomed to toil. Full of courage and believing in a bright and prosperous future, they immediately set about constructing a place of abode.
First House Built
A log house, 17x18, the first habitation of civilized man in Cherokee county, was erected near the present site of the Mill Creek Mill, and served the wants of the settlers for a while. During the season four more houses were built, one by G. W. Lebourveau, one by the Sawtell brothers, one by L. Parkhurst, and one by W. Holden; the two latter, together with Albert Phipps, having joined the colony late in the season.
The nearest trading point and post office were sixty miles from the place of settlement. Yet, notwithstanding these discouraging circumstances, the settlers depending on their own resources, prospered during the first year of their frontier life. One hundred and fifty acres of prairie were broken, and thirty acres planted to corn, which, in spite of a severe frost in early fall, yielded a fair return.
The government lands having come into the market, the colony purchased a tract of 5,000 acres, including some of the finest timber land on the river. The lands selected were principally west of the Little Sioux River and south of Mill Creek, and located near the center of the county. The prairie land thus taken was laid out into 20 and 60 acre lots, and the timber into 10-acre lots, each member of the colony taking an allotted share. In the fall of this year Dr. Russell and Albert Phipps returned to Massachusetts.
The balance of the colony experienced an unusually vigorous winter, the snow at one time lying three feet deep on the level prairies.
Banister Colony Arrives
Shortly after the arrival of the Milford colony, another consisting of G. W. Banister, John Banister, John Moore, Alfred Moore, Charles Moore, Tip Lane, Jacob Miller, Martin Burns and Marvin Allison, arrived from Hardin county of this state. They reached this place on the 18th day of June, 1856, and immediately started a settlement about seven miles below the Milford colony. Another small settlement was attempted in the northern part of the county, in the same year, by one Enoch Taylor and two or three others, but with poor success. With the coming of winter, the population of the county must have been about fifty, and on the whole a fair and prosperous start had been made. During the winter Mr. Corbett, in company with L. Sawtell, made a trip to Council Bluffs, with ox teams, for the purchase of procuring provisions for themselves and other members of the colony.
But the settlements so auspiciously begun were soon to meet with disaster and almost total ruin. In the early part of February, 1857, a strolling band of Sioux Indians visited the valley of the Little Sioux and, having been deprived of their guns by the settlers at Smithland, they took practical vengeance on the settlers of Cherokee, compelling them not only to give up their guns and ammunition, but also killing cattle and carrying away a portion of their winter provisions. From Cherokee they proceeded to Spirit Lake, where their fury and rage culminated in the brutal and inhuman murder of the settlers at that place.
The news of this tragedy struck terror into the hearts of the colonists, and acting upon their better judgment they abandoned the settlements entirely in the latter part of March. Quiet, however, was soon restored, and in May following the most of the settlers returned and put in crops.
Up to this time Cherokee, had remained attached to the county of Woodbury for revenue, election and judicial purposes. The county seat of Woodbury County was then Sargeant Bluffs, and all business for Cherokee county had to be transacted at that place. This, owing to the great distance between Cherokee and Sargeant Bluffs, was a serious inconvenience to the settlers, and in August of this year (1857), the county was completely organized and its political life fully inaugurated by the election of the regular county officials. The election was a special one, and by it, A. P. Thayer was elected county judge; B. W. Sawtell, district clerk; Carlton Corbett, prosecuting attorney; G. W. Lebourveau, recorder and treasurer; S. W. Haywood, sheriff, and G. W. Banister, coroner. There were twenty-three votes cast at this election.
During this year the village of Cherokee was plotted and 320 acres of rich prairie devoted to unproductible purposes. The first school in the county was taught this year by funds sent on from Milford Mass.
In the following years, 1958, the first tax was levied, being in the aggregate twelve and a half mills on the dollar. The total valuation of property was $97,820. The first county warrant was also issued this year, and was drawn in favor of D. N. Stoddard, and called for four dollars and thirty cents.
From the year 1858 to the year 1863 was a period of gloomy darkness and unpromising future. During all that time the colony was barely able to sustain itself. Isolated from the comforts and conveniences of old communities, the little colony, such as remained, became a world by itself. The land grant made by congress in 1856 had led the colonists to look for an early completion of the Dubuque and Sioux City railroad. A provisional survey was made in 1857 and prospects seemed to promising.
From 1860 to 1863, the population dwindled as the Indian put an effectual stoppage to the migration to this part of Iowa. There was a small band of troops who tried to provide security but eventually it seemed prudent to withdraw his troops here and be stationed in Sioux City. For a second time, settlers abandon their homes and left the settlements.
Mr. Corbett, the treasurer however returned in the fall to collect the taxes and Capt. Millard returned shortly after with his company, O. S. Wright, J.A. Brown and Robt. Perry also came back accompanied by their families and stayed the winter.
The Civil War thinned the ranks of the settlers. Cherokee furnished more than quota of soldiers. Among those who went from this county were G. W. Lebourveau, Silas Parkhurst, Joll Davenport and Albert Phipps. Mr. Phipps being the only one who went south, the balance being kept at the frontier posts.
In 1863 the present court house was built at a cost of $1,900 with the exception nothing note occurred to vary the monotony of frontier life until the year 1865. During that year erected the first saw mill. It was built on the site now occupied by the Bliss mill. Albert Phipps returned again in the fall and settled permanently. The population of the county this year was but 64, less than doubled the number with which the colony had entered upon its first winter nine years before.
For some years previous to 1866, the only mail facilities enjoyed by the colony was a monthly mail between Cherokee and Sioux City. During this year however, a weekly route was established and the settlers brought in closer contact with the outside world. In the spring of this year several of the old settlers returned, among them were G. W. Lebourvean, G. W. Banister and Silas Parkhurst. From this time the colony developed slowly until the year 1869. In 1868 there was a population of 227. At the general election held in the fall of this year three were 64 votes polled. Cherokee furnished the successful candidates for representatives in this district in the person of Eli Johnson.
During the session of the general assembly which met in 1868 the unearned portion of the land grant to the Dubuque and Sioux City. Railroad company was resumed by the state and re-grant to the Iowa Falls and Sioux City Railroad company with the condition attached that the road must be completed by Jan. 1, 1872. The hopes of the settlers were once more enkindled, this time to meet with disappointment. In the summer of this year, R. W. Huxford opened a store in the old log building near the stockade.
The spring of 1969 ushered in a full tide of emigration. People flocked in large numbers and the public lands were rapidly taken up by actual settlers. Wm. Van Eps purchased and laid into town lost a twenty acre tract just west of the Bliss mill. Here erected the first frame store and filled it with goods. Lots sold briskly and before winter set in the different trades and professions were represented and Blair City was a thriving village of over a hundred inhabitants and 24 buildings. During the year and following winter large forces were kept at work along the lines of the railroad, grading, bridging and preparing it for the iron which was to be laid in the spring.
The road was completed in May 1870 so far as to admit of through trains. The village of New Cherokee had been laid in March by Carlton Corbett and G. W. Lebourveau and as soon as the depot was definitely located the citizens of Blair City departed to the new town taking their houses along with them. Here all was life and bustle. The buzzing of saws and the clicking of hammers were heard on all sides from morning until night. By December there were 94 buildings.