Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick



James Franklin Ward was born in Scott County, Indiana on October 22, 1826. One of his earliest memories is of the Leonid meteor shower in November, 1833 when the countryside was deluged with a hailstorm of rock from outer space, some of which bounced off the ground and were the size of hen’s eggs!

He describes his early home life, the election of 1836, his Kentucky grandfather who owned slaves, and the day they moved from Lexington.

“A big Conestoga covered wagon drawn by four horses stopped at the door and we said good-bye to friends and took our places in the wagon.” They traveled several days to Crawfordsville, Indiana and settled. When his sister was married and took off for Iowa, it was decided that he would travel with them even though he was only 10 1/2 years old.

At Ft. Madison, they crossed the Mississippi on a steam ferry and continued to Keosauqua, arriving in the late spring of 1837. He described the mill and the building of houses going on there, but it was the river and the Indians that interested him the most.

He said that a few days after they landed, he was looking down at the river from a porch, and he saw 40 canoes with four Indians in each canoe, making their way down the river with furs piled high in the center of each vessel. They were traveling to St. Louis where they sold the furs and bought American horses, new saddles, bridles and guns. In three weeks they returned in single file. He said that the Indian chief and several braves came up to the porch of the house asking for bread and meat, and a lady met them that could speak enough Indian to let them know that they had nothing available. The chief bowed politely, and they rode away.

He said that during the following year (1838) Capt. Phelps brought a small steamboat up the river to Keosauqua with supplies and goods for the Indians. He went aboard to look around and the boat took off, so he rode several miles around the bend with Capt. Phelps and got to know the man personally.

There are several interesting things about his account. Whereas Susanna Fellows describes coming to “Des Moines City” in May, 1837 when there was only one double-cabin and the mill hadn’t yet been built, he calls the destination Keosauqua and describes the mill and the work of building houses that was already in progress.

During the summer of 1837, the Van Buren Company laid out the triangle they called Van Buren and built the first house. Des Moines City had been a reference used in advancing the frontier area in advertising back east. “Keosauqua” usually referred to the entire region.

This seems to further substantiate the idea that the three names of Des Moines City, Keosauqua and Van Buren (along with the post office name Port Oro) were interchangeable during the early years before 1839. Duncan had purchased the mill site earlier, but did not build a mill until the summer of 1837. Thus Ward either arrived in the horseshoe bend a few months later than he indicated, or his early memories of the area blended the progress of the community over several months as though it was happening immediately.

He also describes the place where he was living as having a porch and he could look down on the river. “Within a few days after arrival,” they would not have been able to build a cabin with a porch. Perhaps they were staying at the doublewide cabin where Fairman and Carnes resided. This was the old Sigler cabin located where Hotel Manning sits and was built in 1835. Since part of it was used as a store by 1837, it probably had a porch.

James went home to Indiana and learned the tinner’s trade, then returned to Keosauqua and operated a business. Later, he took his kit of tinner’s tools to Ottumwa and practiced his trade. He set up the first tin shop and hardware store in the new city of Des Moines, pioneered at Jefferson, and started a tin shop and hardware store in Ft. Dodge around 1860. By 1867 he opened a shop in Humboldt, and later had the first shop of its kind in Springvale, thus pioneering all over the state of Iowa. He died in 1902 at age 78.

(from an article in the Humboldt Independent written by Carolyn Saul Logan, contributed by Rich Lowe)

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