Montgomery county was first surveyed in 1851, at which time there were but five families living in the county. It was organized in 1853, the last one of the counties in southwestern Iowa, and named for Richard Montgomery, a young Irish patriot who lost his life in the Revolutionary War in 1775.
The first white man who with his family located in Montgomery county was John Ross from Kentucky, who came from Page county, in 1849, and made his home about 3/4 of a mile from where the town of Villisca now is located.
Swedish settlers played a great part in the settlement and development of this county, and the so-called Halland settlement, which ultimately included large sections of Page and Montgomery counties and extended also into Cass and Fremont counties, had its main center at Stanton in Montgomery county. The settlement was named for B. M. Halland, a Swedish Lutheran minister of the Augustana Synod, who was its founder and chief promoter. He was born in Drängsered, Halland, Sweden, October 15, 1837, and emigrated to America in the spring of 1855. After attending Augustana College in Paxton, Ill., he was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1864, and served in that capacity in Burlington, Ia., from 1864 to 1870.
The Burlington railroad was then building to the Missouri river, and, in 1869, the railroad officials offered B. M. Halland the right to select for Swedish colonization such lands along the road in western Iowa, as he thought suitable for his countrymen. In April of the same year, B. M. Halland made a trip from Burlington to Council Bluffs, in company with an official of the road, and selected Frankfort, Scott and Grant townships of Montgomery county, and Douglas and Fremont townships of Page county, for colonization.. Several excursions were run to the lands in the fall of 1869, but no land was sold till the following year. To B. M. Halland was granted the sole agency for the sale of these lands which were sold to Swedish settlers for from $6 to $11 per acre. The railroad was finished in 1869.
The first settlers came overland in covered wagons from Neoga, Ill., in the month of June, 1869. The party included Samuel Anderson and his wife and six children, and Johannes Larson and wife. It took them three weeks to make the trip. Two of Anderson's brothers, Frederick and Carl, and their wives, went by train from Neoga to the end of the line at Afton, Ia., traveled from there to Villisca by wagon and joined the other party at Villisca. They camped first at a place about 31/2 miles southwest of where Stanton now is, Johannes Sellergren and Carl Wilgren walked the whole distance from Neoga. Others who joined the early settlers were Mr. and Mrs. Peter Lantz, Mr. and Mrs. Gustaf Anderson, and Nels Sandberg. In the fall of 1869, the camp was moved to the Stanton location where the settlers took up their homes in dugouts during the winter. The following spring, they all moved out to their respective farms which they had purchased, and erected unpretentious homes of one, two, or three rooms each.
Quite a number of settlers arrived during the year 1870. Stanton became the center of the settlement, and B. M. Halland the adviser and spiritual guide of the colonists. Principally through his effort and recommendations, a large number of Swedish families located on the Burlington lands, and Swedish communities were established over a large territory, both in Montgomery and Page counties. The meager resources of the settlers, the grasshopper scourge and often recurring hailstorms during the first few years, made pioneering anything but easy for these early settlers, but with characteristic perseverance and hard work, coupled with strict economy and a firm determination to succeed, they fought their: way through the hardships of the pioneer period, and their children and grandchildren are now reaping the fruit of their labor. No section of the great agricultural state of Iowa presents today a more prosperous and progressive aspect than does the Halland settlement.
Montgomery county has a population of 16,752, of whom about 3,000 are
of Swedish descent. The early Swedish settlers were nearly all farmers,
and the majority of the Swedes in the county still live on farms, but during
the last two or three decades a considerable number of retired farmers
have moved into Red Oak and Stanton where they have acquired fine residences.
Nearly all the business men of Stanton and a goodly number of the business
men and professional men of Red Oak are of Swedish nationality. The town
of Villisca also numbers several Swedish families among its residents.
Red Oak is located on the Burlington main line, between Omaha and Chicago, 52 miles east of Council Bluffs. The town was laid out in 1857, and was first called Red Oak Junction. The county seat of Montgomery county, first located at Frankfort, was removed to Red Oak in 1863. The first entry of land where Red Oak now is was made by James Shank, March 11, 1854. Today Red Oak is a well built and prosperous city, with a population of 6,000, of whom about one-fifth are of Swedish descent, and a large number of retired Swedish farmers reside in the city.
Johan August Scipio (Shepherd), who arrived in Red Oak in 1869, is said to have been the first Swede locating there. He was born in Askeryd, Småland, in 1846, and emigrated to America in 1867. The arrival of Swedish settlers in larger numbers began with the establishment of the Halland settlement in Montgomery and adjoining counties. In 1870 the Swedes in Red Oak were numerous enough to prompt visits from the founder of the colony, the Reverend B. M. Halland, who gathered them together in their homes for religious services, and two years later a Swedish Lutheran Church with 23 charter members was organized under his leadership in the home of Mr. P. Johnson. Prominent among the organizers was Mr. C. P. Wenstrand, who acted as secretary. The first church building was erected in 1874 on a lot near the railroad station, donated by the railroad company. Eleven years later the church was moved to its present location. The congregation now numbers 530 communicants.
The Swedish Mission Church was organized in 1890. 'The congregation first held its services in a small church on First avenue, near the depot. A new church was erected in 1901-2. Its cornerstone was laid November 16, 1901, by the founder of the denomination, Dr. P. P. Waldenström from Sweden, who was then visiting in United States. The church was dedicated June 15, 1902. The present membership is 211.
The Swedish Viking Order is represented in Red Oak by The Red Oak Lodge No. 77, organized in 1928, with 25 members. The lodge has made a substantial growth and has now a membership of 72.
Several of the Swedish residents of Red Oak have attained prominence in their civic and business activities. Peter Larmon, who was born in Skettiljunga, Skåne, in 1848, and emigrated to America at the age of seventeen, has taken an active part in the development of the Halland settlement. He was the founder of the first Savings bank in Stanton and, after retiring from business, located in Red Oak where he has become noted for his acts of philantropy. Peter 0. Ostrom, whose parental home was in Roalöf, Färlöf parish, Skåne, where he was born in 1863, arrived in America in 1880. He served as county auditor of Montgomery county for 14 years (1906-20) and was succeeded by his son, Philip Ostrom, who in 1930 relinquished the county office to take a position with The Thos. D. Murphy Co. Mr. S. C. Nordquist was born in 1858 in Tiderum parish, Östergötland, came to Burlington, Iowa, in 1868, and to Red Oak in 1873, where he was actively engaged in the clothing business for 27 years. Though now retired, he is still active in church affairs as a leading member of the Lutheran Church. He is also president and director of The Red Oak Building and Loan Association, having been an officer of that organization for 40 years. His father, John Nordquist, was one of the first colonists that purchased land of B. M. Halland.
An institution that more than anything else has put Red Oak on the map
is The Thos. D. Murphy Co., the great Calendar house that has carried the
name and fame of Red Oak far and wide, not only in United States but also
in foreign lands. Thos D. Murphy, the man, and Red Oak, the town, share
the honor of originating and developing the calendar industry. It was back
in 1889 that Mr. Murphy and his partner, E. P. Osborne, two youthful publishers
of a weekly paper in Red Oak, conceived the idea of making the first wall
calendar with the picture of the new courthouse of Red Oak for a centerpiece.
Through many difficulties the business forged ahead until in 1895 Mr. Murphy
found cause for selling out to his partner. Three years later Mr. Osborne
decided to move the business to New York, convinced that Red Oak was too
small a place for such an expanding enterprise. This gave Mr. Murphy, who
had remained with the Red Oak weekly, the opportunity to start anew in
the calendar business, and on February 1, 1900, he and his brother-in-law,
William Cochrane, incorporated The Thos. D. Murphy Co. with a paid-up capital
of $35,000. Since then the business of the firm has grown by leaps and
bounds. One addition after another has been made to the first large factory
building, located near the Burlington depot, until the whole complex now
has a total floor space of nearly 120,000 square feet or approximately
three acres, besides a large separate power and heating plant. The firm
employs several hundred people in the factory, and around a hundred salesmen,
and The Murphy Calendar has become a household phrase all over this continent.
Besides Art Calendars the firm prints Greeting Cards, Booklets, Blotters,
Maps, Pencils, Fans, etc. Thos. D. Murphy died September 15, 1928, and
the business is now carried on by Mr. Cochrane, Tbos. L. Murphy, a son
of the founder, and their associates. It deserves to be added, that when
Mr. Murphy, Sr., and Mrs. Murphy died, it was found stipulated in their
will, that their faithful Swedish servant, Miss Augusta Johnson, who had
been with the family since 1894, should be rewarded with a cash bonus of
The town of Stanton, the center of the Halland settlement, is typically expressive of the best characteristics of those sturdy Swedish pioneers who converted the raw prairies of this section into one of the most productive agricultural regions of the state. Situated on the Burlington railroad, eight miles east of Red Oak, Stanton itself is a charming community of between 600 and 700 souls. Its wide, clean "main street" and its well built homes, surrounded by neatly kept lawns, speak of a well-to-do citizenry, and the large, white church that stretches its spire heavenward from the dominating hill in the heart of the town bears silent but eloquent testimony to the religions fervor of the men and women who laid the foundation of this community.
The village was laid out in 1870, but not incorporated as a town until 1882. The founder of the settlement, B. M. Halland, wanted to name the place Halmstad in memory of the capital of his native province in Sweden, but as this name proved too difficult for the railroad men to pronounce, it was changed to Stanton. The township which was organized the same year was also called Stanton. Alfred Swanson, Holmes Taylor and Victor Swanson were elected trustees, J. W. Scott, clerk, and Charles Lund, assessor. The name of the township was later changed to Scott. Pastor B. M. Halland built the first house where the town of Stanton now is, and Charles Eklund, the section foreman, the second. The first postmaster in Stanton was Andrew Swanson. Mr. Hogvall erected the first store.
The first lot in Stanton was bought by Malcom Holm who with his family located there in 1869. He was born in Skåne, Sweden, in 1831, attended school in Lund, and later studied navigation in Germany, whereupon he became mate on a German mail steamer and sailed the seas for some years. Mrs. Holm (Hanna Håkanson), who was born in Blekinge, Sweden, in 1841, emigrated to America with her parents and three brothers in 1854, requiring eight weeks for the crossing of the ocean. They located in Galesburg, Ill., where, in 1863, the Swedish maiden met and married the former sailor. A son, born to them in Stanton, was the first child born in the village, and was also named Stanton. In 1874 the Holms left Stanton and moved to Villisca, where they made their home for many years, removing from there to Omaha in 1912. When the destructive tornado struck Omaha in March, 1913, Mr. Holm suffered injuries that resulted in his death the following month. Mrs. Holm is still living in Omaha with two of her children, Malcolm and Clara. She celebrated her ninetieth birthday March 25, this year (1931).
The Mamrelund Swedish Lutheran Church in Stanton was organized In the house of Johannes Sellergren, May 25, 1870. The Rev. B. M. Halland was chairman of the meeting, and 42 charter members were enrolled. A small church building (32x40) was erected the same year, but the interior was not finished until 1875. B. M. Halland continued as minister of the congregation till 1883. Later he became business manager of Augustana College, Rock Island, 111. He died in Stanton in 1892, and his remains were laid to rest in the Mamrelund cemetery, where, in 1903, a fitting memorial was erected on his grave. The present Mamrelund church was erected in 1884-85, and dedicated in 1891. The congregation is now one of the largest in the Iowa Conference, numbering about 1,000 members.
The Swedish Mission Church of Stanton was organized April 3, 1878, with ten charter members. Two years later a church was erected which in 1908 was replaced by a larger church building. The congregation now has 122 members.
Nearly the whole population of Stanton are of Swedish descent, and the business of the town is conducted almost exclusively by people of that nationality. The Farmers Mutual Telephone Company that provides the town and the surrounding farm community with telephone connections is a Swedish concern with Swedish officers. So 19 also The Swedish Mutual Insurance Association of Southwestern Iowa, whose business now extends over a number of counties in this part of the state. Originally organized in 1871 by some of the first Swedish pioneers of the Halland settlement, it is one of the oldest concerns of its kind in Iowa. Mr. Albert Ossian of Stanton is now its president, and J. A. Swanson, Clarinda, its secretary.
Among the Swedish pioneers of Stanton, the Ossian family deserves special mention. Anders Magnus Ossian, the father of the clan, was born in 1818 in Locknevi, Kalmar Län, Sweden, and his wife (Anna Lovisa Svenson) the same year, in Dalhem, Kalmar Län. Having united in wedlock in 1840, they emigrated to America in 1869, and, after a brief stop in Illinois, reached Montgomery county, Iowa, in 1870. A. M. Ossian died at Stanton in 1875, leaving seven children. Two of his sons, A. J. Ossian, born in 1840, and Gustaf Anton Ossian, born in 1843, preceded their father to Illinois, the former in 1865 and the latter in 1867. They both, with their families, removed to the Stanton settlement in 1870 and became active in church life and civic affairs of the colony. Another brother, Jonas L. Ossian, born in Sweden in 1849, emigrated to Illinois in 1869, and came to Stanton in 1871. The descendants of these various Ossians have become very numerous and now number nearly 200 in all, having located in different communities in this country. Albert Ossian, a son of G. A. Ossian, is now mayor of Stanton, and president of the school board.
Johannes Sellergren, in whose home, south of Stanton, the Mamrelund Church was organized, was born in Västergötland, Sweden, in 1816, emigrated to Michigan in 1864, and later to Illinois, where his wife died in 1866, leaving eight children. He went to Montgomery county, Iowa, in 1869, walking the whole distance, as mentioned above. His grandson, Walter Sellergren, now conducts an undertaking establishment in Red Oak.
Very few of the first pioneers of the Stanton colony are still among the living. Among these few are two brothers, from Norrunga, Elfsborg's Län, Sweden, Johannes Larson, born in 1837, and Carl (Larson) Anderson, born in 1834. They both emigrated to Illinois in 1864 and were among the first colonists of the Stanton settlement. Mr. J. Larson is now residing in Stanton, but his elder brother spends his declining years on a farm some distance from town.
In 1871 B. M. Halland bought 160 acres of land, about one mile south
of Stanton, for the establishment of an orphanage for Swedish Lutheran
children. The proposition was accepted by the Iowa Conference, and a governing,
board for the orphanage was incorporated the following year. The first
orphan house was erected in 1881. Additional land (80 acres) has since
been bought and several commodious buildings erected, so that the whole
orphanage property now has an estimated value of $112,000. Altogether,
347 children have received care at the institution since the establishment
of the orphanage. The number of children is now 54, ranging in age from
2 to 16 years. During the school year, children of school age are transported
daily to and from the town schools in a bus. While the original purpose
of the orphanage was that it should serve as a home for Swedish children
bereft of their parents, lack of orphans of Swedish parentage has caused
a change in this plan, so that now children of any nationality, in want
of a home, are admitted. Thus the orphanage has become a Home for Homeless
Children within the State of Iowa. The present superintendent, Mr. P. W.
Benzon, has lately started a special department for subnormal children,
ten of whom are now cared for at the institution. The Orphanage receives
an annual allowance of $7,000 from the Conference, and the accompanying
farm yields an estimated revenue of $6,000 per year, the balance of its
needs being made up from voluntary contributions.
Villisca is a town on the Burlington main line, eight miles east of Stanton, with a population of 2,032. It was located in 1868 and got railroad connections the following year. Formerly quite a number of Swedish families lived in Villisca, and Lutheran church work was carried on among them by ministers from nearby towns, but only a few Swedes now remain. Among these are one attorney and two business men of Swedish descent. One of the latter, Mr. Frank Pierson, owns a grain elevator and has been engaged in grain business in Villisca since 1906. His father, John P. Pierson, same to Villisca in July, 1870, direct from Småland, Sweden, and started work for the Burlington railroad the following year. Afterwards he was promoted to section foreman on the road, continuing the work for 40 years, and died in 1923.
The Tabor Swedish Lutheran church is located at Wallin, a country place, 12 miles northeast from Red Oak. The congregation was organized in 1894 with 27 charter members. A country postoffice, named Wallin, was formerly located there, but with the arrival of rural mail routes the office was discontinued. The church now has a member-ship of 127. Besides the church and the parsonage, a store and a blacksmith shop are located at Wallin. One of the first Swedish settlers in this community was Johan August Anderson Hoglund, from Gammelkil, Östergötland, who arrived from Sweden in 1879 and established himself at Wallin the same year.