History of West Fork Township, Woodbury County, IA
From: History of the Counties of Woodbury and Plymouth, Iowa
A Warner & Co., Publishers
Chicago Illinois, 1890-91


WEST FORK TOWNSHIP, constituted June 2, 1868, and formed out of portions of Woodbury and Little Sioux townships, originally comprised a much larger territory than it now does, it having been portioned out into several other townships. It is now simply one congressional township eighty seven, range forty five. The dimensions as laid down by the supervisors in 1868 were: "All of townships eighty six and eighty seven, range forty five, and also sections five, six, seven, eight, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty nine, thirty one, thirty two of township eighty six, range forty four." The first officers of the election held in October were: Judges, Elanson Cody, John E. Harrison, Eli Lee; clerks, Noyce Snyder, M. W. Metcalf.

The surface of West Fork is slightly rolling and somewhat broken toward the bluffs and about the streams, but the land is excellent, and quite varied crops can here be raised. It is well watered in all sections. The West Fork of the Little Sioux river runs through the center of the township from north to south. Wolf creek passes through the northeastern portion, and several smaller streams contribute their waters to the needs of the husbandman. These streams also afford good fishing, and in the olden time when the Indians encamped along them, and for many years after the white man made his settlements, seine of the most valuable fur bearing animals were found in large numbers, such as the beaver, otter, mink and muskrat, and even at the present time some of these animals are trapped or shot. There are numerous roads running through West Fork, as the township lies in the route of the road from Sioux City to the southeastern portion of the county. On the west of the bluffs these roads are very crooked, but when they reach the east portion of the township they mostly run along the section lines. Wild fruit was found in abundance when the first settlers came in, and along the streams some is still gathered in season. Fine beds of sand exist in the bluffs near the West Fork and at other points along the bluffs. Hay, corn and stock are the principal products, and several large ranches overlap from the adjoining townships. D. T. Hedges' stock and hay ranch is partly located in West Fork, the rest of it being in Grange, Willow and Sloan. It covers about six sections of land, and immense quantities of hay are raised, and large herds of cattle may be seen grazing upon the rich prairie grass. These cattle are all used in the Sioux City stock yards and packing establishments, and afford employment to hundreds of workmen throughout the year. Skinner's bay and stock ranch is another large enterprise, which also affords work for many persons. This firm has erected on the ranch a considerable number of houses for the ranch men.

West Fork is, take it all in all, one of the best townships in Woodbury county, the laud being varied from bottom and prairie to well elevated upland. The scene presented to the eye from any of the higher points is one of the most charming to be witnessed anywhere. A writer, describing a scene somewhat similar, so well puts it that an extract is here given: "Eastward of these elevations the country for a few miles is broken into bluffs and ridges, but beyond these come the broad and elevated prairies that roll away to the eastward in successive elevations and depressions, resembling in appearance the long swells of the ocean." Numerous streams can be seen glittering in the sunshine like silver threads, and those farthest distant fading away and reappearing as the angle of the sunlight is changed. On the west, at one's feet, almost, are the rich bottom lands of the Missouri, where now can be seen Sioux City, sitting like a queen among the hills, and southward is Sloan and Hornick, and over yonder to the westward lie Sergeant's Bluff and Salix, whilst beyond all these stretch the fertile prairies of Nebraska and Dakota. Everything is covered with luxuriant vegetation, embellished with fragrant flowers of every hue, and up to the top of every ridge of bluff it is the same. Winged songsters of the air are reveling amid the leafy boughs, and warbling their sweetest strains, and then a little valley between two high bluffs, with a crystal stream winding its serpentine form through the willows and cottonwood that line it almost its entire length. These were the scenes that met the gaze of the pioneer settlers when they came in thirty five or forty years ago, and no wonder they were so charmed.

Mendall Metcalf, W. O. Sluyter, C. E. Ostrander, J. E. Harrison and Henry Decamp are admitted to have been the first to make settlements in that portion of Little Sioux and Woodbury townships now comprised in the territory known as West Fork, for the present West Fork was cut from two of the original townships which had been created in 1855. Mrs. Mendall Metcalf was the first person to die in the township, which event occurred not many years after the first settlement. C. E. Ostrander is said to have erected the first house. Some dugouts had been constructed prior to the building of Ostrander's cabin. There used to be a hotel near Climbing Hill, which was kept by George Henry, but it is now simply a stopping place for the stage that runs from Sioux City to Danbury, making the round trip in two days. The line is kept up for the purpose of carrying the mails to points not reached by the railroads. This old tavern was a great place of resort for the country boys before the advent of the iron horse. The first postoffice in the township was kept by this same George Henry, and the mail station called Odd postoffice.

Thirty years ago Rev. George Clifford, who succeeded Rev. Landon Taylor as presiding elder of the Sioux City circuit, preached in the old school houses, there not being a church in West Fork, or anywhere else in the vicinity. It is altogether probable that Revs. Black and Taylor also preached at one or more of the cabins before Mr. Clifford came. Rev. Mr. Plummer also preached occasionally. There are now two very good churches in West Fork, both of them Methodist Episcopal. One of them is at Climbing Hill, built in 1882, with Rev. Mr. Stephens as pastor, and the other is Beulah church, located in the southern portion of the township, which is supplied by visiting ministers. There is a cemetery on section twenty two. The township is well supplied with schools, there being school houses on sections two, three, five, seventeen, twenty one, twenty three, twenty nine, thirty two and thirty four - nine in all.

West Fork has had its share of the disasters that have visited Woodbury county in various shapes, during the past thirty years and more. The grasshoppers played havoc there during their great raid, and the western portion of the township more particularly. One immense cloud of these pests dropped down as though it were a cloudburst, and covered the fields instantly with the crawling, hopping insects. Every green thing fell before the devouring plague, and when they rose again to hie them to newer fields and pastures green, the earth was left almost as bare as after a raging prairie fire. The freshets, that occasionally occur on all streams, make no exception to the West Fork of the Little Sioux. Some damage was done in 1868, but nothing very serious. A small cyclone passed across the township a few years ago, but with the exception of blowing a couple of outhouses down and injuring some fruit trees by tearing away limbs, nothing serious occurred. Prairie fires occur nearly every year, some years more serious than others, when a barn or two is destroyed. These drawbacks to the farmer and stock raiser, taken altogether, are very discouraging, but the extreme productiveness of the land in good seasons, is so great as to fully equalize matters, and present balance sheets that tally.

Climbing Hill is the only postoffice in the township, and a very pleasantly located little hamlet it is, lying near the very beautiful West Fork river. It has two general stores, kept by S. D. Bayne and W. H. Hurd. Ed. Bassford is the village blacksmith. Dr. S. D. Angle, a practicing physician, formerly lived at Climbing Hill, but his practice not being sufficient, he moved away, to a more thickly settled community, or where the climate is not so distressingly healthy as West Fork. There was at one time a grist mill near Climbing Hill, which was permitted finally to lapse into "innocuous desuetude."

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