Biography of Nathan Andrews

A prominent pioneer of Polk County, and one who was active in laying the foundation of the prosperity which has come to the present generation, was Nathan Andrews. He was born near Rochester, New York, December First, 1815, of an ancestry dating back to the Crusaders. In 1818, his father, a farmer, removed to Tippecanoe County, Indiana, where Nathan passed his boyhood days, and acquired what education he could in the common school of that period. He continued farm labor until 1840, when he went to Jasper County, Indiana, preempted Government land, and for eight years labored to cultivate and improve it. In March 1850, he came to Polk County, and preempted a tract of land in what was then Madison Township, to which he subsequently added sufficient to make his holdings about fifteen hundred acres. He at once began farming on an extensive scale. It was his ambition to be the possessor of a model farm. The best machinery, fine buildings and sheds, and the best breeds of cattle were his standard.

Madison Township was an attractive point for the pioneer settler. Des Moines River crossed it diagonally near the center, and north of it, Big Creek and Mosquito Creek ran diagonally southeast across it, while south of the Des Moines, Beaver Creek meandered southeast across it, thus affording ample timber belts, prairie, and water. It was early dotted over with groupings, or settlements, as they were called, of intelligent, enterprising and industrious people, whose sole purpose was to build homes. Among the prominent families were Groseclose, McClain, Burt, Kuntz, Ayers, McHenry (“Old Bill”), and, to quote from Leonard Brown’s Hiawatha list: “Wiess and Wheelhouse, Smutz and Skidmore, Leightsy, Eslick and the Murrays — Isaac Nussbaum, Henry Beeson, Peter Suter, Amos Stevens, Myers, Mercer, Mosier, David Reuser and Neuswander — Blain and Burley and the Griggsbys — Doctor Mather — first physician — Stephen Harvey and George Bebee, Bristow, Leonard Small, and Davis, Hanna, George and Jacob Hauser, Jacob, George, and Bill Van Dorn, and the Martses, George and Jacob, Adolphus and Josiah Hopkins, Schiedler, Hammond, Swim and Baker — D. B. Spalding and John Messersmith — Conrad Stutsman, Father Crabtree — Benjamin Hunt and P. G. Miller — Samuel Hays and J. C. Bennett, Hiram Smith and brave John Kellison.” They were noted for their public spirit and sterling character. They battled against the hardships of pioneer life, did their whole duty as citizens, and the world was better for their living in it.

In June 1849, Jacob Hauser laid out the town of Montecute, later called Springfield, built a store and post office, got the appointment of Postmaster, and every two weeks came to Fort Des Moines, got the mail for his settlement, put it in his pocket, and went home. In 1851, a mail route from Fort Des Moines to Fort Dodge was established, and the mail was carried on horseback.

In November 1850, George Bebee laid out the town of Polk City, started a store, post office and shops, and began to do things.

In November 1853, James Skidmore laid out the town of Corydon. He and Hauser were vigorous rivals of Bebee with their new towns, but the latter had the advantage in location and trade, and succeeded in

"Knocking Montecute all to flinders,
And discomfiting the merchants
Who had opened there their storehouse,
Uncle George and Jacob Hauser
And Polk City rose in splendor.
And the Square was cleared of timber."

It was soon an active village, with the store of Justice Bebee, and the mill of Conrad Stutsman, and Ives Mark’s great chair factory, with the wagon shop of Crabtree, and with Nubro’s anvil ringing, and the school taught by Miss Mather, by the maid, Desire Mather. In January, 1851, the County Commissioners bisected Madison Township, set off all of it south of Des Moines River, and named it Jefferson Township. It was in this township the Beaver Creek, or McCain, Settlement started; where Judge McHenry, Sr., settled, and where the first Settlers’ Claim Club was formed, to protect the settlers from claim-jumpers, horse thieves, and other undesirable persons. McHenry and Tom Baker formulated the by-laws of the club, and, as McHenry was wont to put it, “When claim-jumpers or horse thieves were brought before it, no continuances were allowed; no dilatory pleas were heard; no appeals granted by Judge Lynch. His judgments were swift and certain. The pioneer settlers were a law unto themselves.”

In this township occurred the first murder in the county, by Pleasant Fouts, of his wife, August Ninth, 1854, because she refused to sign a deed for the sale of his land claim. He was sent to the penitentiary for life, and died there twenty-three years later. So soon as the township of Jefferson was organized, Andrews took an active part in improving its civic and social condition. He built, at his own expense, the first schoolhouse in the township. It was also used for religious purposes. The Reverend William Coger, of the Christian Church, and Ezra Rathbun, a Methodist, both pioneers, were frequent preachers in it.

In 1857, Andrews, to keep pace with his contemporaries, laid out the town of Andrews, on the south side of Des Moines River, about two miles southwest of Polk City. A post office was established there, named Lincoln, and maintained for many years. It never aspired to great commercial importance, got side-tracked in the building of railroads, yet it was, and is now, a favorable resort of farmers thereabout on rainy days to swap yarns and discuss the generality of things in general.

Socially, Andrews was hospitable, genial, and of kindly temperament, and a liberal contributor to all public and private enterprises tending to help the community in which he lived. He was an active member of the Farmers’ Alliance, and a vigorous opponent of the Barbed Wire Trust.

Politically, he was independent of all party organizations, and gave his influence and vote in favor of what he deemed best for the public good.

Two other prominent men in Jefferson Township were the brothers, John D. and John McClain, who started what was known in the very early days as the McClain Settlement.

John, a Virginian by birth, came in 1851, a typical pioneer, who became very prominent in public affairs, and was one of the solid men of the county. In 1860, when the Board of County Commissioners, which consisted of three members, was abolished, and a Board of Supervisors substituted, consisting of a representative from each township, he was elected from Jefferson Township, and reelected every two years until 1871, when the Legislature abolished that system and returned to the old plan of three Supervisors, and he retired from public office. He was notable for his integrity, watchfulness of public interest, economy, and sturdy opposition to schemes for increasing taxation. He was a Democrat of the true Jacksonian variety, and a radical Granger when that “ism” was rife. He deceased in 1874.

John D. was a Virginian by birth, and a boat builder by trade. He came to Henry County in 1845, and to Jefferson Township in 1851, and began farming on an extensive scale. His activities and sterling qualities at once brought him into notice, and in 1852, he was appointed Deputy County Assessor for two years. In 1853, Byron Rice, the County Judge, appointed him the first Justice of the Peace in the township. He held the office until 1874, when his health became impaired and he resigned. In 1876, he was again persuaded to take the office, and served until 1878, when his health again compelled his resignation. Such was public esteem of him, he was frequently pressed into service as Township Clerk and other highly esteemed and prominent families were the Murrays, John and Thomas, the latter having the notable distinction of bringing with him to the county, in 1851, his seventeen robust and buxom children, who grew and made good.

September Eighth, 1907.


Andrews, Lorenzo F.; Pioneers of Polk County, Iowa, and reminiscences of early days; Des Moines: Baker-Trisler Company, 1908.
The date given at the close of each sketch is that on which it originally appeared in The Register and Lender and will explain discrepancies respecting incidents and changes occurring since those dates and that of this publication.

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