Early Settlement of Northern Part of Van Buren County
January 16, 1898
The Gate City Company
Keokuk, Iowa
(Incidents Connected with the Early Settlement of the Northern Part of Van Buren County.)
Birmingham, Enterprise:  This strip of territory was thrown open for settlement in 1836, and when Titus Moss and Henry Holmes came in 1837 they found four families within five miles of where they settled.  This country was known as the Black Hawk Purchase, in Wisconsin territory.  The government had purchased a strip about fifty miles wide, west of the Mississippi river, with Missouri bordering it on the south and running north taking in the great lead mines of Dubuque.
Now we will go back a little among the early settlers.  When Titus Moss settled in this neighborhood he was the first man that pretented [sic] to be religious, but there was no place to worship.  The cabin on his claim was occupied by James E. Richey and William Patterson, two bachelors who came into the territory to make claims and sell to men that came to settle.  They made some money in that way, but soon spent it.
I will give you a description of that cabin and how many occupied it for a time.  The cabin was built of small logs, notched together at the corners and left with a large crack between each log, large enough to put your hand through.  It was covered with clap-boards you could see through the roof.  There was a large fireplace cut out of one end that was built up as high as a man's head with split logs so there was room to fill in clay to make a place for the fire; then on top of the fireplace was built a stick chimney and inside the sticks it was plastered with mud to keep it from burning.  Women had to cook everything by the fireplace.  We had never heard of a cook stove at that time.  Then we had a one-legged bedstead in each back corner of the cabin.  The cabin was 12 x 16 feet.  There were the two bachelors, Titus Moss and his family of seven, Henry Holmes and five of his family, and James Whitney, a single man, who had fallen in company with us on the road - fifteen in all.  We made the bedsteads high enough to sleep under as well as on top.  We peeled elm bark and put on the ground to sleep on under the bedsteads;  we also put elm bark on the loft for the boys to sleep on.  There was no floor, window or door in the cabin - hung up a blanket for a door.  A happier set of people you never saw.  The first year we were here we had to go to Illinois and Missouri for all of our provisions.  We had to go from seventy-five to 100 miles and then pay $1 per bushel for corn meal, and other things in proportion.  We brought our cows from Illinois.  The first two winters we had to winter our stock on prairie hay.
In the summer of 1837 Dr. William Miller bought a claim adjoining Titus Moss and in the fall brought his brother Thomas Miller with him to help build a cabin.  They boarded with us while erecting their house.  We sometimes ran out of cornmeal; then we lived on lye-hominy and sometimes corn was hard to get.  In the fall father and Mr. Hawk went to Farmington to get some bread.  There was a settlement that came in 1836 and had raised a crop of corn in 1837.  Father found corn to sell, but their oxen got away in the night.  Mr. Hawk went to hunt the oxen and father got a bushel of corn, ground it on the hand mill, and came from Farmington on foot and carried the bushel of meal so his family and boarders would have something to eat while they were waiting to get the team home with a load of corn.  The corn was large fine ears; they counted 100 ears for a bushel and paid $1 per bushel.  When the corn came we took tin vessels, punched holes in them to grate the corn and make meal.  At night the men would take turns and grate meal to make bread for the next day.  We had some buckwheat and the writer of this article would grind it on a coffee mill to make cakes for breakfast, it being sifted through a sieve.  The women would make lye-hominy.  We got our bacon from Illinois.  Dr. Miller and his brother enjoyed the way we had to live.  Those were happy days and we had lots of fun.
In the fall of 1838, J.N. Norris contracted to teach a subscription school of four months - the first school ever taught in this section of the county.  The school was in a small log cabin that had been occupied by Mr. Sutton.  The cabin in which Dr. Norris taught his first school was small, had a puncheon floor that was hewed out of logs, one end of the cabin was taken up with a fireplace large enough to burn four-foot wood; a piece of one log was cut out on each side for a window to give light; the seats were made of split hickory logs, with holes bored to fit the legs in; the legs were so long the smaller children could not reach the floor and their feet had to dangle; the writing desk was made by boring holes into one of the logs and wooden pins drove in, and on this a board was fastened.  He was a good teacher, and each noon would play ball with the scholars.  It might be interesting to some of your readers to mention the names of some of his scholars.  The most of them are gone: William, Elijah and Martha Redman; Nancy, Sarah, Robert and William Rutledge; William and McCray Parker; Pattison, Emily, Rhonda and Jane Martin; Jacob, David, and Kathy Ann Griffiths; Joseph, Isaiah and Judah Foster; C. L. James, Mary and Reuben Moss; Jane and James Bickford and others.
In 1844 John Harrison laid out the original town of Birmingham.  So Birmingham is now fifty-seven years old.  There have several additions since made to the tow [sic].  Dr. Norris helped plat the town and named it.  Then he taught the first school in the town.  His school occupied two rooms joining; one was made of logs, the other a frame.
The first school house built here was a hewed log house; the seats were split logs with legs and had a fireplace in one end.  After a time got a box stove in it.  The house stood where the present school house is.  In process of time that log school house was occupied by the different denominations - Methodist, Presbyterian, Seceders [sic], United Brethren, True Wesleyans - for a church on Sunday.
That house got old, was taken down and a brick one built on the same ground.  That got old and was taken down.  Now a third house stands on the same plat and it is getting old.

Source: clippings from scrapbook located in the Van Buren Co. Genealogical Society Library, Keosauqua, IA

Contributed by Volunteer Transcriber Paul French


Van Buren Co. GenWeb Project