Biography of Thomas Bilderback of Adams Township, Iowa

The farming interests of Adams township find a prominent representative in Thomas Bilderback, one of the extensive landowners of this part of the county. His property interests comprise six hundred and forty acres and his farm is splendidly improved, indicating the spirit of enterprise and progress which has ever dominated him in his business life, making him one of the prosperous and leading agriculturists of this part of the state. He has now reached the age of three score years and ten and is still actively engaged in the supervision of his farming interests. He has been closely identified with the county and its upbuilding since 1856, and prior to that time had resided here for a long period, so that he is numbered among its oldest settlers.

His birth occurred in Holmes county, Ohio, on the 24th of May, 1837, his parents being Masson and Rebecca (Jackson) Bilderback, both of whom were natives of Washington county, Pennsylvania, the father’s birth having there occurred in 1810, while the mother first opened her eyes to the light of day in 1814. Masson Bilderback became a resident of Ohio in 1830 and there remained for two decades. In the meantime he married and several children were added to the family during their residence in the Buckeye state. The year 1850 witnessed his arrival in Iowa, at which time he settled in Dallas county, entering a claim of one hundred and sixty acres in Adams township. He established the first blacksmith shop of the district and began the development of his farm, but his life’s labors were ended in death in 1851, when he was but forty-one years of age. In 1853 the mother returned with her family to Ohio, where her remaining days were passed, her death occurring in 1890, when she had reached the advanced age of seventy-six years. The members of their family were: Hannah, now the wife of John Metzler, a resident of Ohio; Thomas, of this review; Mary Jane, the wife of Cornelius Glick, also living in Ohio; Sarah Ann, the wife of Rollin Bowers, of the Buckeye state; Joseph, whose home is in California; Masson, a resident of Newton, Iowa; and one deceased, Margaret, wife of D. W. Snyder, who died in Madison county, Iowa, June 6, 1899.

Thomas Bilderback was a youth of thirteen when he accompanied his parents on their removal to Iowa and was about sixteen years of age at the time of their return to Ohio. He had formed a liking for the Hawkeye state, however, and in 1856 he came again to Dallas county, where he started in business life as a farm hand, working by the month until 1865. Being the eldest son of his father’s family he had previously provided for the support of the other children and although this was a heavy responsibility he faithfully discharged the trust that devolved upon him. Strenuous toil was his lot but he met his duty unflinchingly and the same spirit of determination and courage has characterized him throughout his entire life. In Iowa he bore the hardships and trials incident to life on the frontier and has contributed his full share to the transformation of wild land for the uses of civilization. In 1862 he made two trips to Denver, Colorado, with an ox-team, carrying loads of flour. The next year he crossed the plains of California with a mule team and in 1865 returned on horseback.

Mr and Mrs Thomas Bilderback
Mr and Mrs Thomas Bilderback

It was on the 26th of December, that year, that Mr. Bilderback made preparations for having a home of his own through his marriage to Miss Susan Meads, a native of Sangamon county, Illinois, born February 6, 1838, and a daughter of William and Sarah (Johnson) Meads, the former a native of Illinois and the latter of Kentucky. Her father died in his native state and the mother afterward removed to Missouri, where she lived until 1852, when she came to Dallas county, Iowa, residing here up to the time of her death. Mr. and Mrs. Bilderback have become the parents of two sons and a daughter: J. E., who now operates a part of the home farm; Eva Jane, the widow of B. C. Reeves, now living with her father; and F. C., who resides on one of his father’s farms in Colfax township, Dallas county.

The success which Mr. Bilderback has achieved in his business life is due entirely to his own efforts. He started out with few advantages but he possessed the perseverance, ambition and diligence so necessary to success and as the years have gone by he has gradually worked his way upward until he now occupies a prominent position among the leading agriculturists of the community. He made his first purchase of land in July, 1861, securing eighty acres of the old homestead, whereon he built a little house fourteen by twenty feet. In 1882 he erected a fine residence and he has many modern buildings and equipment upon his place, all of which are indicative of his progressive spirit. As the years have gone by he has added to his possessions until he is now the owner of six hundred and forty acres of valuable land in Adams, Adel and Colfax townships, from which he derives an excellent income.

Mr. Bilderback has always been interested in the welfare of the community and has done much for the cause of public education. For twenty-three years he has held the office of school treasurer and has ever advocated the employment of good teachers and the maintenance of excellent schools. He is a democrat in politics and cast his first presidential vote for Stephen A. Douglas. He and his wife attend the United Brethren church and his influence is ever on the side of right and improvement. His name is a synonym for honor and integrity in business circles, for he has never been known to take advantage of the necessities of his fellowmen in business transactions and on the contrary has ever been found just and fair in his dealings. His example should serve to encourage others who start out in life as he did — without capital — for his history shows what may be accomplished when one has the perseverance to continue in a chosen line of life, wresting fortune from the hand of fate.

Source: Past and Present of Dallas County, Iowa, by Robert F. Wood, S. J. Clarke Publishing Company Chicago, IL, 1907.

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