Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
OLD SETTLERS AND PIONEERS
The Pioneer Association of Van Buren County was founded in 1871 and held its fifty year reunion at the County Fair in 1922. Interest in the organization had waned, but the newspapers began calling the event the "Old Settlers Reunion," representing a new beginning and new format.
In 1928 the Fair Board took the Pioneer Association under its wing and gave it financial support and finally, George Barker succeeded in getting the name officially changed to "Old Settlers Reunion" at the 1935 County Fair.
It was originally thought of as an Old Settlers Reunion. Efforts had been underway for years before the first reunion was staged on August 5, 1871. Five men were in charge of obtaining food through donations to hold the most lavish feast ever imagined. A building was constructed to house donated food and tables with benches were set up to feed hundreds of people. Many women were solicited to prepare and serve the immense feast consisting of roast or baked turkey; boiled ham; baked bread, cakes, pies; cole slaw; pickles; gallons of applesauce and other sauces; roast beef; roast mutton; potatoes; boiled cabbage; coffee and tea--enough to feed everyone in attendance.
The name selected for the organization was the Pioneer Association, and the only requirement to belong to the group was to provide the organization with the month and year that their family arrived in Van Buren County, as long as it was prior to August, 1841. Ralph Arnold says that arguments and altercations broke out among the 254 pioneering families over claims of arrival so that officers quickly changed the requirement. It was necessary only to answer "yes" to the question, "are you an Old Settler?"
When the official name of the Pioneer Association was changed to the Old Settlers Reunion at the 1935 Van Buren County Fair, the terms "pioneer" and "old settler" were defined and outlined by George Barker. He explained that whereas a pioneer was someone who settled in the county from another state or country, an old settler was someone actually born somewhere within Van Buren County.
The purpose of the lavish feast at the first Old Settlers Reunion was to remind younger generations that the Old Settlers had made prosperity possible in Van Buren County.
The notations alongside names on the register are interesting. Peter Avery stated that he arrived in Lick Creek Township in November, 1832 and penciled in is the notation "he didnít pay his dues." Mrs. Margaretta Moris of Jackson Township said she came in August, 1832 and the notation reads "she has a certificate to prove it."
Newspapers reported crowds numbering between 5,000 and 6,000 at this free picnic gathering and some accounts were very critical of crowd conduct and behavior. However, officers voted to continue the reunion as an annual event.
It was convenient for the Pioneer Association to link with the County Fair, because this was already an established annual event. The Iowa Territorial Legislature encouraged agricultural events, and one of the first fairs held in Iowa was in Van Buren County in 1841. Ten years later the Van Buren County Fair began as an annual event with J. D. Elbert serving as the first president. People enthusiastically supported it and looked forward to attending, usually starting their trip to the fairgrounds before daylight.
Unfortunately, the fair went bankrupt in 1901 and went out of existence. When W. B. Tade and A. J. Secor revived the county fair in 1922, the Pioneer Association quickly made plans for their 50 year reunion to coincide with and help promote the new fair.
When the Fair Board took the struggling Pioneer Association under its wings, this appears to have been a good marriage, as neither association could prosper independently.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick