This is one of the new townships, so far as settlement and improvement of the land are concerned. Until within
comparatively recent years a large portion of the territory was "wild prairie," over run by herds of
cattle driven for herding purposes, from the more thickly settled portions of the county. Quite a good business
was built up by Benjamin Cowan, an early settler in Banks, who for a number of years devoted his time almost entirely
to gathering up cattle, driving them to the open prairies in Banks township, and herding them there during the
pasturing season To facilitate his work, he had built a large stockade or corrall on his own land, where the cattle
were kept from wandering away during the night, and from which they started out on their wandering in the morning.
The herd was quite a menace to growing crops on adjacent lands, as the writer can assert from experience. The smooth
wire fences then in vogue were no protection against the depredations of unruly cattle, and many of them were sent
to the herd because they were lawless at home. The "barbarism" (?) of dehorning had not then taken its
place among the "modern improvements" in stock raising, and all the stock came in full equipment for
warfare. But as pieces of land here and there over the prairie began to be occupied by actual settlers, and the
best fence that could then be made was no protection against the encroachments of unruly stock, the herding business
became unpopular, as well as unprofitable, and was gradually driven out.
But it must not be assumed from the foregoing recital that there were no early settlers in Banks, for such is not
the case. The vicinity of Wilson's Grove, on the boundary between Fayette and Bremer counties, was occupied by
actual settlers nearly as early as any other portion of the county north of the center. Theodore Wilson is credited
with being the first settler in that locality. He entered all the land then embraced within the limits of the "Grove,"
a strip a mile and a half wide, east and west, by about Three miles long, the greater portion of which was in Fayette
county, but it also extended over the line into Bremer county. Wilson's Grove was named in honor of this pioneer,
who located in the county in 1851, and entered the land from the Dubuque land office soon after. Robert Armstrong
came to the township in 1852, and the year following Oliver T. Fox purchased a part of Wilson's holdings at the
north end of the Grove, and soon located his family upon it. George Linn and William and Peter Robertson located
in the vicinity of Wilson's Grove during the year 1853. In May, 1854, William T. Wade and Levi Williams came from
New Jersey to visit the Fox family and view the country. They found but four families in the township (not then
organized), and all about them was the treeless, trackless prairie. There were but two or three houses between
Wilson's Grove and West Union, some twenty miles. They were somewhat discouraged with the apparent barrenness of
the country and returned to their eastern home. Mr. Wade returned to the township in May, 1855, and became one
of the useful pioneers of the county. He lived to a ripe old age, and always maintained his home near Wilson's
Grove. Two churches were organized at his house, the Free Will Baptist church, in 1856, and a Presbyterian organization
in 1859. His home was also a preaching point for all the early pioneer ministers, and he was elected justice of
the peace at the first township election, and held that office for many years. He was also the first postmaster
at Wilson's Grove, the office being established in 1861, and held that office until it was abandoned. Mr. Wade
was the last survivor of the six voters who cast their ballots at the first election held in the township. These
were David Linn, Sr., and David Linn, Jr., George Linn, Oliver T. Fox, Levi Williams and William T. Wade. It required
all the electors of the township to fill the offices, and Mr. Wade was elected to two offices, those of justice
of the peace and township clerk. David Linn, Sr., Levi Williams and Oliver T. Fox were elected township trustees,
and George Linn was chosen township assessor. This election was held at the house of George Linn, April 7, 1856,
two months after the creation of the civil township of Banks by order of the county court. The township was named
in honor of the distinguished statesman of Massachusetts, Hon. N. P. Banks.
There have been five church organizations in Banks township, the Methodist Episcopal, United Brethren and German
Evangelical, in addition to those mentioned as organized at the home of William T. Wade. The last named organization
built a church edifice near the southeast corner of the township, on section 35, where it accommodates people of
that faith in the adjacent territory of Fremont, Harlan and Center townships, as well as the populous German settlement
in southern Banks. This is the only religious body having a church building in the township, but the nearby towns
of Sumner, on the west, Hawkeye, on the northeast, and Randalia, to the eastward, accommodate the people without
serious inconvenience. These are also the market towns most conveniently accessible, though Westgate, in Fremont,
and Maynard, in Harlan, draw considerable trade from Banks township. As may be inferred from the above recital,
this is distinctively an agricultural township, and does not at present have a postoffice or "crossroads store"
within its boundaries.
About 1876 the speculators' lands began to be absorbed by actual settlers, largely of the German nationality, many
of whom own large tracts of this fine prairie land, and have improved it almost to the point of perfection. An
unfenced piece of land in Banks township is now a rare exception, and school houses and beautiful homes dot the
The first school in Banks township was taught by Jane Spears, in the house of David Linn, Jr., in the summer
of 1857. George Linn was also an early teacher in the township. The first school house was erected in 1865, and
this was the nucleus to the present well organized system of public schools. This is a district township organization,
and there are nine sub districts and nine school houses in the township. Schools were taught in these by sixteen
female teachers, at an average monthly salary of thirty five dollars during the past year. Of two hundred and fifty
seven pupils of school age, two hundred and forty were enrolled in the schools, with a total average daily attendance
of two hundred and six. The average cost of tuition per month for each pupil was one dollar and fifty three cents.
The school property is valued at five thousand one hundred and twenty five dollars. Value of school apparatus,
three hundred and eighty dollars; and there are eight hundred and ten volumes in the school libraries. Banks township
expends annually over three thousand dollars in support of schools, which, of course, does not include the home
sacrifices on the same account.
The Saint Paul branch of the Chicago Great Western Railroad passes diagonally through the southwest corner of Banks
township, having two and one third miles of track accessible in that township. In the early seventies the Iowa
& Pacific Railroad Company graded through this township from east to west, but the project was abandoned, and
no railroad touches the township except as mentioned.
In the early days when thousands of acres of tall prairie grass died on the ground where it grew, there was great
danger to the inhabitants on account of prairie fires, and a number of the early settlers were burned out, losing
not only their houses and stabling, but gathered feed for their stock, and in some instances people were seriously
burned in trying to save their property or lives from this ruthless destroyer. Great suffering was also endured
in crossing the trackless prairies in the blinding snow storms which were more prevalent in early days than now.
A night on the open prairie when lost in a blizzard is not a comforting reflection, even at this distance!