Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


There were no highways into Van Buren County for the early settlers to follow. However, a few trails led the pioneers to well-known spots from which they could find their way to claims they had purchased, or to the tiny existing settlements along the landscape.

In March of 1837, James Duffield and his family crossed the Mississippi at Ft. Madison by ferry, then made a difficult ascent up the bluffs on the Iowa side to reach the "Ioway Settlement Trail" that would take them to Pittman’s cabin near West Point. It was a slow, arduous task because they continually mired down in the rich, black soil and had to unload their supplies until the oxen could pull the wagons free from the sticky mire.

The Goodall cabin at Utica Prairie was known far and wide as another rest stop. Here the trail split three ways. One arm of the trail backtracked up to Burlington; the other trail the Duffields took into the Horse Shoe Bend. On April 4th they reached the Des Moines River at the mouth of Paul’s River (later renamed Chequest Creek) and employed a group of Indians for help in crossing the high water with their belongings.

About the same time Asahel and Susanna Fellows waited for the fierce winds to calm down on the Mississippi at Burlington so that they could cross by ferry. From Burlington, they came down the other trail that led to Utica, through Augusta where they ferried across the Skunk River. From Utica the trail brought them past Purdom’s sugar grove and down to a double-wide cabin occupied by two men across the river from their claim site, which they reached on May 7, 1837.

This cabin where Hotel Manning now stands was already known back east as Des Moines City, Wisconsin Territory. Fairman and Carnes occupied the building, which served as a store. Later they would join Manning in laying out a village called Van Buren. Before the Star Route to St. Francisville, Missouri was extended into Van Buren County in 1837, John Fairman would jog by horseback along a trail that led into Missouri to secure mail for the "illegal residents." He became the first postmaster at Port Oro, later named Keosauqua.

Susanna Fellows said that their group rested at Mr. Purdom’s sugar grove. He brought his wife and family of 15 to the bend area in 1835, where he built a large double-room log cabin. Purdom hospitality was also known far and wide. In spite of such a large family, they offered food and lodging to any wayfarers coming into the area. This is how the Fellows family made friends with the Purdoms.

John Silvers, said to be Keosauqua’s first citizen, occupied the only other cabin in the vicinity of "Des Moines City" at the time. This cabin was on the old Meshack Sigler claim and appears from descriptions as though it was located somewhere in the vicinity of the Pearson House. Susanna Fellows does not mention this cabin in her written descriptions of pioneering into Van Buren County. She does mention Mr. Duncan, who later was the millwright, but it is not clear where he was staying at the time of her arrival.

A horseback trail led from the Des Moines City cabin along the bend to Ely’s Ford where a cabin existed on the opposite side of the river. Through the hills, a trail angled west to the flat prairie that became known as Indian Prairie. Most of the trails that existed within the county were originally Indian trails and were suitable only for horseback riding or for running. Oxen and horse teams encountered great difficulty as they attempted to pull heavy wagons along these primitive roads, which were no more accessible than today’s cow paths.

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