By MARY WEAVER
RIPPEY, Iowa, Sept. 13, 2016 – The first white settlers in Greene County, Truman and Mary Davis, arrived about this time 167 years ago – in October of 1849. Historical documents available at our Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson say the Davises brought their six children, ranging in age from 2 to 16, and traveled in a prairie schooner pulled by a yoke of oxen. They brought one cow, a horse, 12 chickens, eight sheep, two pigs and a dog.
They came from Missouri and were eager to settle into the log cabin that Truman and the two older boys, Charles (16) and Lewis (14), built when they visited earlier that summer. They planted a garden then, too.
In the fall, the Davis family stopped in Adel and procured coffee, sugar and salt – the things that wouldn’t be available from the garden, by picking in the wild, or that Truman and the boys couldn’t trap or shoot.
That garden included turnips and potatoes, and I can visualize Mary directing they be dug up right away and stored in a large hole in the side of a hill. The hole was then covered with dirt. Imagine a small side-hill cave for food storage! Those provides places to store vegetables so they’d be protected from the freezing prairie winters, and cool enough to avoid spoilage in hot weather.
That following spring, in 1850, Mary was home with the children James (3), Catherine (6), John (8), William (10), and Lewis also called Levi (15). She happened to be pregnant with the first white child to be born in Greene County, Mary Ann.
Charles, the oldest son, and Truman were out trapping when about 25 Indian braves raced in on their ponies. They rode single file, but held a tomahawk in one hand and a rifle in the other. They came in fast, whooping and hollering.
Of course the family was frightened and the document indicates that 10-year-old William grabbed a rifle from above the fireplace, and was prepared to protect his mother and the other children. Lewis (Levi) cautioned him, saying all the Indians could not be killed before the family was murdered.
Rather, Levi went out and began to try and talk with them. Despite the language barrier, they somehow agreed to a shooting contest. Levi rubbed a mark on a tree, and being a good shot, could fire right into the middle of the mark. The Indian braves tried it, but were not as accurate. The document continues, “It became a game. We eventually gave them some salt, and they went happily on their way.”
Seven years later, there was another Indian scare. Greene County was more populated and the town of New Jefferson had been established. Word came about the “Spirit Lake Massacre” in northwest Iowa. Some settlers feared the Sioux might come south, and “some of our neighbors went and stayed in town,” the Davises reported. But no related fighting happened in Greene County.
One excellent source for such stories about the settlers’ early life here is a hand-written memoir by Gillum Toliver, who was 14 years old in 1854 when he settled in Greene County with his parents, Isom and Matilda Toliver. Gillum served in the Union Army in the Civil War and later became an attorney and state legislator.
At some point in his life, he decided to record the stories he knew about the early settlers, and he did that in long-hand writing.
“The Toliver family lived in a large house on Wilson Avenue in the north part of Jefferson,” says Mary Lynch, of Jefferson, a member of the board of directors of the historical society who has read the memoir. “Years after Gillum Toliver wrote the memoir, it was found in the attic of that home.”
Gillum’s great-grandson John Milligan, who lives in Jefferson today, later had copies of the memoir made and gave one of them to the museum, Lynch said.
“I took time to read the stories, and they’re just wonderful,” she said. “Gillum didn’t just write the story of his own family. It’s like he wanted to leave an accurate account of the early years here, so he writes about many of the early settlers and what life was like for them. Everybody who’s interested in our local history should eventually take time to read the memoir.”
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