Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


James Jordan played a role in the history of several Van Buren communities because of his profession. He was a trader. He and comrades Peter Avery and Bill Phelps roamed the woods all over the territory trapping and hunting. Avery wintered near Kilbourne in 1832.

According to his testimony at the Old Settlers Reunion in 1871, Jordan first crossed over into Lee County, Iowa to trade with the Indians in 1822, thus he boasted that he was southern Iowa’s first permanent settler. Eleven years later, in 1833 he established a trading post in the little sandy bend across the Des Moines River opposite the mouth of Lick Creek. He was described as a neighbor to a family of settlers at Reed’s Creek east of Bonaparte in 1835 and was known well enough by the children to be called "Uncle Jimmy." He may have operated a post near there to trade with the Indians. Hardfish, Kishkekosh, Black Hawk, and his two sons were among those that lived in the area.

After the Black Hawk War, Jordan and deposed Chief Black Hawk became good friends. A sizable band of Sacs and Foxes had wigwams in the hills around Ft. Madison. Some moved to Van Buren County near the present town of Bonaparte while the rest moved to Iowaville. Jordan seems to have followed them closely as they provided a friendly, lucrative market for his trade. Eventually the remainder of the band moved to Keokuk’s village at Iowaville, then most of the tribe relocated to Wapello County at the beginning of the year in 1838.

Jordan was stiff competition for Bill Phelps who followed the Indians into Wapello County. After the tribe left, Black Hawk resided above Iowaville near the James Jordan farm until his death in October, 1838. In honor of his request, old Chief Black Hawk was buried on Jordan’s farm. Jordan took up farming after he had retired from trading.

John Tollman was another settler who changed locations frequently. First to dwell along the Des Moines River in Lee County, he settled opposite St. Francisville in 1834. Tollman was an Easterner, an U.S. soldier, and was married to a half-breed. He moved to Summit (Mt. Zion) in Van Buren County in the fall of 1834 and according to his affidavit at the Old Settlers Reunion, he also was one of the early settlers in Portland (Leando,) locating there sometime near the end of 1834. Also according to some accounts, he later resided in Iowaville.

Another Indian trader named Giles Sullivan located near Lee County’s settlement of Nashville in 1833. His cabin, located 1.5 miles below the village was known as the "Burtis Place," and had been built by John Tollman before he made his claim over on the Des Moines River. In 1835 Sullivan supplied whisky to the dragoons. Sullivan was a good trader because he spoke Indian dialects fluently.

Sullivan fell in love with the daughter of a Mr. Willis from Illinois who opposed their marriage. One day he obtained a marriage license from the clerk of Hancock County, Illinois by threatening to burn him with hot coals from the fireplace. With certificate in hand, Giles Sullivan took the girl before a Methodist minister and was married in December 1834. He immediately left Nashville and settled at Bentonsport in Van Buren County.

Likewise, Ceilington Ferguson came to Farmington in 1835 but ended up in Iowaville. In between these moves, he staked a claim above Bentonsport. Although many newcomers came to Van Buren County to establish permanent residency, an even larger number moved on after a brief stop. As I have shown from historical accounts of early settlers that stayed, some moved about so often that they seemed to be everywhere!

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