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

WOODBURY TOWNSHIP up to February 6, 1860, was known as Sergeant's Bluff township, and comprised at the date named, and until 1867, the southwestern one fourth of the county. September 5, 1859, the county court upon application of petitioners, ordered the name changed as just stated, but in consequence of not sufficient notification to those who might be opposed to the change, the order was not carried out. January 2, 1860, however, the court ordered that a hearing of the applications would be in order at the next regular term, which occurred, and no one appearing to object, Judge John P. Allison declared the prayer of the petitioners granted. From 1867 onward, successive divisions and subdivisions reduced the territory of Woodbury to its present dimensions, about seven miles east and west, and six north and south, two sections and a half being invaded by the young giant, Sioux City, the limits of that rapidly growing western metropolis projecting into the township. Its boundaries are Sioux City and Concord township on the north, Floyd township on the east, Liberty township on the south and the Missouri river on the west. About one half of the township is Missouri river bottom land, as rich and productive as any soil on earth, and it is generally level, but in some places slightly rolling. The other half of the township consists to a large extent of bluffs and other elevations, somewhat broken, but there is a source of wealth within those bluffs which will in time make them far more valuable than the low lands.

Immense beds of brick and pottery clay underlie those water formed mounds, and already much of it has been utilized, as will be shown hereafter. Beds of the finest glass sands are occasionally found, being nearly pure silicate, and equal to any of the Ohio or Pennsylvania sands. Very little timber is to be found in the township, except cottonwood, and here and there a clump of the salix longafalia (common willow), which grows along most of the prairie streams. With the exception of a few drift rock embedded in the bluffs, and a straggling bowlder or two, which have evidently been exposed by the action of the waters on the bluffs, there is no stone of any consequence. The native rock of the entire township has been too thickly coated by the drift and silt deposits; to make any surface showing, except at the beds of streams. Gravel pits tell the tale of the glacial epoch, and those beautifully rounded and polished diminutive true bowiders suggest the untold ages that have rolled between the time they were crushed from their parent rock in the far north, and the present progressive days of modern civilization. In addition to the Missouri river, which washes the western boundary of the township, there are the Big and Little Whiskey rivers, or creeks, in the eastern portion, and Deadman's run which empties into the big slough which has its source in Woodbury, and stretches diagonally across Grange township. Other inferior and nameless streams afford plenty of water to the township.

The peculiar scenery presented to the view along a considerable portion of the Missouri river, is to be seen in Woodbury in its most beautiful aspects. For miles the eye is gladdened by the singularly rounded formations. The smooth, almost perfectly hemispherical bills, of ever varying size, without a tree or bush, but clothed with an even greensward, as regular as a well kept lawn, delight the vision by their very oddity, and illustrate the resources of nature, whereby she can, without rock, tree or stream, please the eyes of her children with scenery as grand as can be found anywhere. To this section, then, and to this scenery came the first settler of Woodbury township, who, consequently, was the first settler of the county, for not a white man lived within fifty miles of the point where he located.

Undoubtedly the first white man to set his feet in Woodbury county, and to pass along the Missouri river in that portion of it known as the Sergeant's Bluff section, was a French interpreter, M. Durion, who preceded the exploring expedition under Capts. Lewis and Clarke in 1804, by several years. 31. Durion was a French Canadian, but the exact date of his visit to this section is not now known. Those forming the expedition named, arrived at what is now known as Floyd's Bluff, August 20. 1804. One of their number, Sergt. Charles Floyd, a soldier of the United States army, died on the day of their arrival here, and he was buried on the bluff which now bears his name. For many years before the arrival of the first man whose intentions were to locate permanently in Woodbury, there were a number of French-Canadian trappers and hunters, some in the service of the American Fur Company and others working on their own account. These, of course, at the time indicated, can not be called settlers. There were also a number of traders who dealt among the Indians, and many of these two classes afterward became residents of the county, some of whose descendants are here today.

In September, 1848, William B. Thompson came from Morgan county, Ill., where he had been living, and where he had lost his wife by death. Having his strongest tie thus broken, he set out for farther western fields, and the Indian title to northwestern Iowa having been extinguished the year previous to his coming (1847), he landed at what was known even then as Floyd's Bluff, and took up a claim, which he shortly afterward staked off as a town, calling the bantling, Thompsontown. The town grew to the proportions of a log house, and, although it attained the dignity of "county seat" for a brief period, yet, it never got beyond its original dimensions- "one little but among the bushes." Old Bill Thompson, as he was familiarly known, is said to have possessed a kindly heart, and would do almost anything to accommodate a friend, and was very slow to anger, but when he did get "riled," everybody had to "stand from under." He was a tall, wiry and muscular man, of great strength, and somewhat eccentric in manner. Not long after the arrival of Thompson, his brother, Charles, came in, and was followed later by Marshall Townsley and his wife, who occupied the cabin that had just been built by William B. Thompson. A number of French-Canadians also came in about this time, all of whom took up claims, and among them were Augustus Travesee and Guizeppe Merrivalli, a Spaniard, known usually as Joseph Merrivall, and more commonly as "Jo Spaniard." Townsley afterward purchased the claim of Merrivall, who went westward and finally settled on the Cache le Poudre. He had married a Sioux squaw. He always had fine horses, and was a splendid horseman, bestriding his animal with exceeding grace. "Jo Lean," as a writer on the early events of Woodbury county calls him, but who was no other person than Joseph Leonais, also stayed about the vicinity of Thompsontown. He it was who purchased from Theophile Bruguier the 160 acres of land used as a cornfield, and which is now the heart of Sioux City. He was also a French-Canadian and a daring horseman, and when well loaded with "tangle foot" would do the most reckless things. It is said that he leaped with his Indian pony from the summit of Floyd's Bluff, a distance of about 150 feet, almost perpendicular, down to the water's edge, and came out of the affair with but a scratch or two. The principal part of the "leap," however, must have been a roll and a tumble, judging from the present appearance of the bluffs. Early tales of this character are very like snowballs they gather as they go. For several years after these first settlers came in, and until after the organization of the county in 1853, very few names can be added to the list in the section that is now strictly Woodbury township. And a proof of the slow growth at that early day, lies in the fact that the entire county, at the date named, could only muster up seventeen votes.

By the spring of 1854, a number of persons had settled in and around what has since become Sergeant's Bluff, and among those were J. D. M. Crockwell, who forthwith proceeded to lay out a town which he called by the name just given. He was instrumental also in having the county seat removed from Thompson's embryo city to Sergeant's Bluff, where it remained until its removal to Sioux City, which was decided at an election held April 7, 1856. Eighty votes were cast for the removal and seventy one against it. Crockwell and T. Ellwood Clark and all the other residents out of the influence of Sioux City, remonstrated against the act, but the fiat had gone forth, and there was nothing left to be done by the chagrined Sergeant's Bluffians but to submit. During the years 1854 and 1855 came William P. Holman, Leonard Bates, Gibson Bates, T. Ellwood Clark, William H. James, and a few others. Mr. Holman built a frame house, the first of the kind in the township, and opened the first hotel in the township. The lumber used in this building was the first that was sawed at a mill which had just been erected by Thomas Robinson and Samuel Watts, who came from the eastern part of the state, and located about half way between Sergeant's Bluff and the Missouri river. The building was of cottonwood lumber, and it stood many years afterward. It had been built in the fall of 1855. The first crockery dishes brought to the township were possessed by Mrs. W. P. Holman, and were considered quite luxurious and aristocratic, in that pioneer time, when tin was universally used among the settlers. H. O. Griggs came, among others, in 1855. The first white child born in the township was Charles Ritz, son of John W. and Nancy Ritz. Mrs. W. P. Holman died in July, 1856, she being the first woman to die in the township. In the fall of 1855 the first postoffice was established at Sergeant's Bluff, and T. Ellwood Clark was appointed postmaster. By 1856-57 Luther Woodford, Harry Lyons, Samuel F. Watts, L. M. Brown, James Allen, J. W. Mather, John W. Ritz, E. K. Kirk, F. M. Ziebach and A. Cummings had arrived in the township.

In 1854 Leonard Bates put in a crop of corn on the farm which afterward came into the possession of A. R. Wright. Bates also started the first blacksmith shop. In the spring of 1855 Harry Lyons brought a stock of goods from Des Moines, and opened it in a small building in Sergeant's Bluff. He had a general stock of everything, and not much of anything. Indian goods were prominent in his collection, as he had great expectations of trade with the red skins.

Early in 1857 F. M. Ziebach and A. Cummings started the first newspaper in the county at Sergeant's Bluff. It was named "The Independent," and after running for about seven months was moved to Sioux City, and became the "Register." Zeibach afterward went to Dakota, where he became, and still is, prominent in politics. In 1857 J. D. M. Crockwell & Co. began running a steam ferry boat from Dakota City to the eastern bank of the 'Missouri, for the purpose of bringing a portion of the crossing trade to the vicinity of their town, but, after operating it for about two years, it was discontinued for lack of paying patronage. The first brick made in the township were produced by T. Ellwood Clark in 1856, and were sold for $25 per thousand. The first physician was J. D. M. Crockwell, the founder of the town, who, like the founder of Sioux City, Dr. J. K. Cook, was a physician. Dr. Crockwell was an excellent physician of the old school, and his services in a new country, as this then was, were invaluable. He was a man for the times, and highly respected. The first school taught in the township was conducted in the winter of 1856-57 by Judge Oliver, who was afterward elected a members of congress from the tenth congressional district of Iowa, which included this county and some half dozen others. The school was taught in a small building, which is still standing, or was some time ago. About ten or fifteen scholars attended the school. In May, 1858, an election was held, and a tax of one fourth of one per cent was voted to be levied for school purposes in the township, which shows that at that comparatively early day, the citizens of Woodbury were alive to the fact of the great benefits of proper educational facilities.

The first sermon preached in the township was delivered in October, 1855, and the minister was Rev. Mr. Black, the store room of Harry Lyons, in Sergeant's Bluff, being used for the purpose. The preacher was an itinerant Methodist Episcopal worker in the vineyard of the Lord. Methodism and Catholicism are more generally in the outer fields of Christian work, where man is trying to push his civilization, than any other of the Christian denominations. Opposite as they are in many of the fundamental points of their respective creeds, and differing as they do in the forms employed in their church service, yet they are one, when it comes to the hazarding of the lives of their priests and preachers for the sake of spreading the gospel and in assisting the pioneers to hew out from nature's crude materials, such examples of civilization as one can witness anywhere throughout the west. These grand old soldiers of the cross, these henchmen of the Lord, these valiant knights errant in the cause of religion, render service that is as valuable as though they themselves were the actual pioneers with ax and gun. Man by nature is essentially religious. He must have his church as well as his dwelling place and school, and when he goes out into the wilderness, the next thing that he looks after when he has builded his rude cabin and provided for his family, is somebody to preach to him. He was raised to respect religion in his New England home or in the sunny clime of the south, and the words of the traveling preacher in the little primitive school house, or under the shadow of the trees in the forest, are golden to him. They remind him of his far off home where he was born, and they bring to him consolation in his time of hardship. They encourage him to renewed exertions in his efforts to make the wilderness blossom. They nerve him to meet the savage foe, and impart strength to his arm for any emergency. And the itinerant preacher and mission priest were not faint hearted. They were prepared on many an occasion, to draw a bead and use the knife on savage or brute, as promptly as they were to enforce their doctrines or console the dying. Mr. Black was the pioneer preacher of the northwest, and he was followed by Rev. Landon Taylor, who was appointed presiding elder of what was then known as the Sioux City district. Mr. Taylor arrived at Sergeant's Bluff in the spring of 1856, and was met by T. Ellwood Clark, who gave him a "hearty reception," as the minister expresses it in his book published in 1883, "and kindly proffered to take me in; and at Sioux City, Brother and Sister Yeomans had always an open door" for him. The salary paid the new minister was not sufficient to keep him, and he raised a crop of corn. He remained on this (Sergeant's Bluff) circuit until the summer of 1858, when he was succeeded by Rev. George Clifford, as presiding elder. Mr. Clifford was a very zealous worker and a worthy successor of Mr. Taylor. Whilst here, in 1860, he was instrumental in organizing what was projected as the "Woodbury Seminary and Collegiate Institute," at Sergeant's Bluff. The institution was to be a Methodist college, and considerable funds were raised for the purpose, but the matter fell through from various causes. The money raised, however, was appropriated to the erection of two good school houses.

In 1856 a small board building was erected in Sergeant's Bluff for church purposes by the Methodists and other friends of religion, which was used till the building of the school house some time in the sixties. In 1880 the present neat building was erected. The pastor (1890) is Rev. T. Edson Carter.

A church society of Congregationalists was organized in 1873, but the regular church organization took place in the fall of 1874, which was effected by Rev. John Morley of Sioux City. There were at the time about eighteen members. Mr. Morley preached the first sermon in the old school house. The present church was built in 1887. It is a handsome structure and cost about $2,500. The first preacher in this new church was Rev. John Marsland, who remained only about six months. The present pastor is Rev. John Gray.

The winter of 1856-57 will be remembered by all who were living in Iowa at the time, as the most severe that ever occurred within their experience. Hundreds of cattle and even deer and elk perished, and a number of human lives was lost in the terrific storms of December and February. Rev. Landon Taylor, who, as related above, arrived in Woodbury county in 1856, writes of his experiences so vividly that a quotation from him will tell a portion of the tale so well remembered by all the early settlers now living here:

The fall of 1856 was very beautiful, and within a few days I went to work and put me up an office 12x16, and before cold weather I had it furnished, using it for a study, bed room and chapel. Council Bluffs was 100 miles south of us, upon which we depended for provisions, but the weather had been so pleasant during the month of November that a supply had not been obtained. On the first day of December, winter commenced with snow from the northwest, increasing in severity until the afternoon of the second day, when the climax was reached. To give my readers something of an idea of its character: About 2 P. M I started from my office to dinner, about ten rods distant. When about one rod on my way I became lost; not being able to see my hand before me, and the storm cutting my breath, I halted and queried: "Strange if I should perish within a few feet of my door." But I thought "as I am facing the storm northwest, if I return southeast I will strike my office," and this happy idea brought me into safe quarters, but dinner was dispensed with for that day. The storm continued for three days and snow reached the depth of four feet on the level, accompanied with a crust so hard as to bear up a man. No one could travel for weeks, and the people being short of provisions, many had to subsist upon hominy and a few potatoes.

The preacher and his friends had a little bacon in addition to corn and potatoes, but those soon were about to run out; so he and T. Ellwood Clark planned a trip to Council Bluffs, a description of which he gives thus:

Brother Clark and myself, each one with a team, started out upon this perilous journey of 100 miles. When we met a team loaded we gave the whole road. In that event we shoveled a side track sufficiently large to admit one team until the other went by, and thus we continued until we reached our destination. Having obtained our supply, we faced the storm, which at times was so furious that we could scarcely see our teams, the drifts filling up the road as soon as it was broken, when on the eighth day we reached home. * * * Such was the depth of snow during this winter that in some instances it was dangerous to venture far from home, in view of the hungry wolves. A. Mr. Little, where we put up one night, had been out to his grove about a mile from home after a load of wood, when his large dog was set upon by wolves, and in less than five minutes the hungry brutes left nothing of the poor dog but his bones. In another instance a negro had been out a little distance from home chopping, when he was driven into a fence corner by a pack of the wolves, who left nothing of him but his bones, by the side of which was his as and six dead wolves. These were found when the snow had partially left the soil bare.

Many scenes similar to those related are said to have occurred.

The following in regard to several of the early settlers has been furnished the writer: William H. James, who lived at Sergeant's Bluff, went to Dakota City. He was probably the first lawyer to come to Woodbury county. He came in 1854, and none among the other settlers could claim to have studied Blackstone and Chitty. Marshall Townsley, the county judge, and Orrin B. Smith, the prosecuting attorney, knew nothing of the principles and practice of law, save what they may have picked up in watching trials before they came west. There were only fourteen votes cast at the April election of 1854, although there were probably ten or a dozen others in the county entitled to vote. Among those, whose names and location the writer has, there was no lawyer. James was elected secretary of state of Nebraska, and the governor dying, he became governor through the provisions of the law made and provided for the emergency. He was termed the "accidental governor," but very ably filled his position. Samuel F. Watts, one of the partners in the steam saw mill that was put into operation in 1855, between Sergeant's Bluff and the river, was a surveyor. He moved to Colorado, and the last heard of him he was living near Julesburg. R. E. Rowe was from New York. He boarded with Marshall Townley, and was eccentric in manner, which finally developed into insanity. He died in 1856, or about that date. R. Haszard worked for Thompson at Floyd's Bluff. He was a wild, reckless fellow, and a great scrapper and wrestler. He went to Denver and became a miner. Several years ago he was very severely injured by being thrown from his pony. L. Cunningham was the first assessor. He stayed about Thompson's.

The origin of the very singular name that has been bestowed upon a small stream which runs through the center of Woodbury township - Deadmans Run - is as follows: About 1853 the body of a man was found near the little stream mentioned, or rather, as the best authenticated account gives it, attention was called to the body by one of the party to which the dead man belonged. A party of surveyors was encamped near the stream, and one of them, a young man, whose name was never given, was killed, either accidentally or by design. One of the party went to the settlement at Floyd's Bluff and informed the authorities there, who held an inquest on the corpse where it was found, and buried it on the spot. There was considerable mystery surrounding the affair, and the truth did not leak out till some time afterward, when it was ascertained that the young man who was killed, and his slayer, were lovers of the same young lady, who lived not far from Council Bluffs. They either fought a duel, or got into a quarrel which resulted in the death of one of the men. There was. evidently, nothing underhanded in the affair, as the rest of the party would not do or say anything to criminate the unfortunate slayer.

Game was very plentiful in the early days, such as buffalo, elk, deer, turkeys, beavers and all aquatic animals peculiar to the northwest. The Indians lived truly on the fat of the land, for it was only a matter of going out and shooting a fine elk or half a dozen turkeys, whilst beaver tail was on the figurative red skin bill of fare, whenever a bronze Lucullus so desired it. Elk occasionally passed along the bluffs in full sight of the settlements, and Mr. W. P. Holman in 1855, saw a herd of these beautiful and powerful animals numbering perhaps fifty. They were grazing along the bluffs not far from the village of Sergeant's Bluff. As soon as they discovered they were seen they took flight to the northward, and before the hunters could get their guns, they were far on their way to Minnesota. Wild bees were to be found in great abundance, and in some instances, literally tons of honey could be gathered, being the result of the work of years of countless myriads of the industrious little insects. Rattlesnakes were also abundant, entirely too much so, and a sad case of bite of the venomous reptiles would occasionally occur. Wild fruits of the choicest and most luxuriant character, indigenous to the western country, were to be found here in great quantities, such as plums, grapes, blackberries and raspberries.

Prairie fires were of annual occurrence, and did much damage. They were usually the result of careless hunters, who would be the means of destroying thousands of dollars worth of property in crops and improvements. Some special cases will be found in another portion of the sketches of the townships. The cyclone would now and then give an intimation that it was around, but like the prairie fires, an account of its doings will be deferred to other townships, where it made more display of its power. The grasshopper is such a hackneyed subject that one feels a hesitation in giving anything in regard to it. It is difficult to say anything new in relation to that terrible plague, but the ravages were so dire, that a word or two will not be out of place. A gentleman in Sergeant's Bluff, among many others that could be quoted, states that the 'hoppers, in less than three hours time, ate two fields of corn and oats so completely, that not a sign of anything green could be seen in the entire space. The genuine 'hopper he with the voracious appetite, and not our comparatively harmless annual summer visitor always comes from the northwest, hopping or flying to the southeast, only resting when the winds anchor him for a space, or when he seeks the earth for his breakfast, which lasts all day, and night, too, for that matter.

Corn, of course, is now the principal product of the township, but some little oats and fine potatoes are also raised. No improved fruit of any consequence is to be found, and not as much wild fruit as formerly. There is some stock raising, cattle and hogs, but not as much in that line as there was a few years ago. Fine beds of clay, however, make up for any lack of productions otherwise in the township. Near, or rather within the village of Sergeant's Bluff, there are deposits of the finest pottery, tile and brick clay to be found in the state. They have been pronounced very superior in quality for the purposes mentioned, and their value was recognized many years ago. As early as 1858, parties at Dakota City worked these beds of clay. Zeigler & Eckhart went into the manufacture of earthernware at the town named, but there being no market for their wares sufficient to justify them, the business was abandoned. The manufacture of stoneware was again commenced, but at Sergeant's Bluff, some years ago, and now J. L. Mattocks conducts the business on quite an extensive scale. He finds sale for his products, not only in Woodbury county, but ships much of it to various points in Iowa, Nebraska and Dakota. The firm of C. J. Holman & Bro, who commenced business in 1866, in quite a modest way, and who own the fine deposits of clay, sand and gravel where their works are located, just at the edge of Sergeant's Bluff, have improved their means of production to such an extent as to make their works one of the most important businesses of the northwest. They manufacture paving and sidewalk brick, hollow brick, ordinary building brick and drain tile. They run the latest improved machinery, and use the circular oven kiln, which insures more uniformity in the application of the heat to the brick and tile. This firm also do considerable in pork packing in the fall and winter, and the Holman lard is a well known staple in Sioux City and the surrounding country. The Sioux. City & Sergeant's Bluff Brick company is also a large concern, located at Sergeant's Bluff, and working the same class of deposits of clay as the Holman company. They have extensive works, all the latest improved machinery and brick and tile kilns, and their output is about equal to their competitor, the two plants turning out annually, about 10,000,000 bricks. The principal office of this company is at Sioux City.

Sergeant's Bluff (the oldest town in the county that has survived Thompsontown, which was staked off first, but which never became a town) was unfortunate in being so near its large sister to the north of it. It has one of the most beautiful locations in the state and many natural advantages. It had quite a set back in 1857, in consequence of hard times, when many of its residents left for more prosperous points. The stagnation lasted till the Sioux City & Pacific railroad reached it, since which time it has grown very perceptibly. Many new buildings have gone up, and it has good business establishments. It has a fine graded school, and an excellent building, with four teachers. There are two other schools in the township. In 1863 Mr. Holman laid out a cemetery, which has since been purchased by the township authorities. The Y. M. C. A. was organized in March, 1886, and the first president was G. A. Coombs; vice president, It. Hall; secretary, W. P. Holman; treasurer, F. E. Woodford. Present officers (1890) are: President, E. A. Brown; vice president, S. Sweet; secretary, G. A. Coombs; assistant secretary, C. H. Blake; treasurer, G. H. Dula. The association has a very nice hall for their meetings, with library and organ, and receive about thirty different periodicals and newspapers. They keep hanging in their room, the banner carried off by Woodbury county, as a reward from the corn palace exposition company for the best display in the procession of 1889. The business interests of the town are as follows: General stores, C. J. Holman & Bro., J. A. Taft, E. G. Ritz; drugs, Carl Ingvolstad; saddles and harness, Mr. Knutson; butchers, A. Hansen, A. Krouse; confectionery, N. Welch; millinery, Mrs. Gundersen; blacksmiths, H. Carter, M. Swalley; hotel, E. R. Evans; physician, F. W. Marotz; postmaster, J. A. Taft; dealers in cattle and hogs, Baker & Cheeseam.

Glen Ellen is a station on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad; also a postoffice, with Mr. Lukins as postmaster. Ed. Webster deals largely in stock at this point, and considerable quantities of grain are handled here.


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