Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Van Buren County was one of sixteen counties of Wisconsin Territory formed in December, 1836 that included a portion of what is now Davis County. The area that became Van Buren County already contained a few settlers. At least two villages already existed, namely Farmington and Portland.

Most of the information about the early settlers is a result of the requirements necessary to belong to clubs such as the Old Settlers’ Association. Originally, people were required to prove when they first settled in Van Buren County in order to secure membership.

Abel Galland and William Jordan made claims in the Farmington area in the spring of 1833. At least one source has Galland’s claim dated 1832. Also, a resident of Salubria named R. B. Gray claimed to have settled in the area in 1832. Peter Avery staked out a claim near Kilbourne in November, 1832 and Margaretta Morris of Jackson Township had a document proving that she came to Van Buren County in August, 1832.

William and Caroline Phelps began operating a trading post near the Indian village of Iowaville on the Des Moines River in 1830. By 1835, they supervised another trading post within the horseshoe bend called “Old Garrison” located near the river about a mile below the County Farm.

Peter Avery’s brother William staked out a claim in Lick Creek Township in 1833, and James Jordan operated a small trading post in that area, probably along the river near Kilbourne. James Lamb settled near Kilbourne in 1835.

In 1833 John Holcomb first settled in Portland (Leando) where he found half a dozen squatter settlers already living there. In 1834, he was joined by Sam Holcomb, Stephen Holcomb, Clinton Holcomb and Zephaniah Holcomb. John laid out a town and named it Portland after the town in Maine from where the Holcomb clan originated.

Ceilington Ferguson settled near Iowaville In 1835, as did John Tolman. Those settling at or near Farmington in 1835 or before included John Fretwell, Jonas F. Denny, Zeke McCarty, John Maxwell, Sam Maxwell, H. Bateman, John Newport, H. G. Stuart, Tilford Reed, William Brattain and families named Swazey, Houghton and Crow.

Dr. Roger N. Cresap and Samuel C. Reed settled east of Bonaparte in 1835. A man named Ely built a cabin and settled at a ford bearing his name above Keosauqua. The Purdom family settled within the horseshoe bend and Sigler staked claim and built a cabin where Hotel Manning now stands.

Although Van Buren was not yet organized as a separate area, it was already home to several hundred settlers.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick