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History of The First Swedish Pioneers

By: C. J. Johnson, 1915


Early Explorations in the State of Iowa and First White Settlers in Crawford County.

While endeavoring to write some brief history about the first Swedish settlers in Crawford, Sac and Ida counties, of Iowa, I considered that I would give a view of our state first and further on, say who first settled in Crawford county.

We find that the first visit by Europeans was that of Father Marquette and Louis Joliet in their journey from Canada down the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers in 1673. Further explorations were made by Hennepin and six other Frenchmen ascending the Mississippi from the mouth of the Illinois river to the Falls of St. Anthony in the year 1680.

Lead having been discovered by an Indian squaw in 1780, Dubuque, a French-Canadian trader, obtained from the Indians in 1788, and from the French government in 1796, a great grant of land and authority to work lead mines at the place now bearing his name.

Across the Mississippi river was United States territory. Iowa, as a whole or in part, was embraced in the Louisiana purchase of 1803. with the Louisiana district in general it was placed under the jurisdiction of Indiana, a territorial government of its own, the name being changed to Missouri territory in 1812. In 1834 all that part of Missouri Territory situated north of the state of Missouri was placed under the jurisdiction of Michigan Territory. In 1836 Iowa was considered a part of Wisconsin Territory, the seat of government for the whole territory being located at Burlington.

In 1838 Iowa was made a separate territory, the capital being removed to Iowa City. The following year, on Dec. 28, 1846, the territory was admitted into the union as a state. Although a few pioneers and hunters had lived among the Indians for some years, the United States government did not permit settlements by the whites until the year 1833. By treaties with the powerful tribes of Indians their titles to the land were purchased and all were removed west of the Missouri river. Since its admission to the union, the prosperity and growth of Iowa have been remarkable and uniform.

This is a brief statement of Iowa; now we are ready for Crawford county. During the year 1849, or sixteen years after Iowa was admitted into the union as a state, Cornelius Dunham came to Crawford county and settled at a grove six miles east of Denison, which has since been known by his name.

In June, 1850, Jesse Mason and Noah V. Johnson settled east of Deloit in the grove which since that time has had the name of Mason's grove. Levi Skinner and Calvin Horr came the same year. Thomas Dobson came in the spring of 1851. In 1854, Ben Dobson, A. R. Hunt, D. J. Fowler, Clark Winans and B. F. Wick arrived. In 1854 Ben Dobson built a saw mill at Deloit. In 1854 John Gilbreath, John R. Bassett, Moses and Dan Riddle settled at Coon Grove. In 1855 Ruben Vore, John Vore, S. E. Dow and S. J. Comfort settled near what is now Dow City. In 1855 James Purdy, Isaac Goodrich, S. B. Greek, Ed VanVleet, James Slater and H. C. Laub settled in Denison and vicinity. Deloit was laid out as a town in 1857 by Ben Dobson, with Morris McHenry as the surveyor.

The first births in Crawford county, according to the atlas, were David and George Jesse Mason, twin sons of Jesse and Eliza Ann Mason, born in 1852.

These men, with Messrs. Seagrave, McHenry Brothers, Frank Prentice and a few more, were the first white persons who located in Crawford county. These men, with their families, came to make their homes in Crawford county, but they had many hardships to go through, which no one, who has not been through the experience, can imagine. They had no railroads and they had no horses, as there was no grain raised for feed. They used ox teams for their transport as well as to cultivate their land, as cattle can live and do well upon prairie grass or hay.

Now, they were obliged to locate in or close to where there was timber so as to have timber to build their houses and stables, for which they used logs cut in the timber. They cut short logs and split them for shingles for the roofs and they also split logs for boards with which to make doors, by hewing them with the broadax.

Their nearest towns were Council Bluffs, on the west, and Des Moines on the east. Either of those towns was their trading point as well as post office and flour mill, and we can imagine the time it would take to drive to town and back with an ox team and no roads nor bridges on which to cross over the streams. They were compelled to find places where they could ford the streams when they had grain to take to the mills to grind to flour for making bread. We can well understand that it was not any extensive farming that was carried on during this period, as they did not have any close market for their surplus grain, and only enough was raised to live on and use for feeding the few cattle they might have.

Another thing with which they had to contend was the Indians, who made trouble and raids on them frequently. We have seen by what I have mentioned before that in the year 1833 the government had the Indians removed west of the Missouri river, but they crossed it and came onto this side just in order to steal and rob, as their custom always has been when they saw an opportunity open to them.

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