Wassonville, Iowa Historical Account Published in 1889

From The Wellman Advance  - originally published Friday, November 8, 1889.


 Its Early History and Reminiscences.

Chapter III. 
Yankee Diggins

In the year 1842, George Pinkerton, Ezra Bradford, Phil Hairns, and Horace H. Wilson came to the southern border of the new settlement and erected cabins.  The exact spot where they located is just west of Rufus Whetstine's, up the hill farther, and was called "Yankee Diggin's," located on the NE 1/4 of Section 26, Twp. 77-9. Pinkerton moved to Sigourney five years later, and two years thereafter moved to Oregon, and a year later was killed by the falling of a tree.  Ezra Bradford's wife came the following spring, and great was the joy of Ezra.  "Yankee Diggins" was famous for its jubilees, and rumpuses and many and great were the mysteries of the Kentucky term "knocking under."  The first winter in the "diggins" was spent in rather destitute circumstances by two fellow laborers in the cause of pioneerdom; Ezra Bradford and George Pinkerton.  Uncle Ezra busied himself by making willow baskets his compensation amounting to the quantity of corn the basket would hold when completed.  Pinkerton was the great hunter, and killed deer and other wild game.  Their only means of existence being johnny cake and meat.  For clothing they tanned the hide of the game slaughtered by Pinkerton.  The first school in the township was taught by Nancy Pinkerton in 1843-4, in a little log dwelling house built by Allen Benton on the S.E. corner of his claim.  Her salary was paid in articles of uncertain quantity and value.  Some brought her corn, some beans, some a lamb or a pig.  In fact, anything they could spare in the spring when the school closed. 

Yankee Diggins had the first 4th of July celebration in the settlement, D.K. Shaver, (who set a local concerning himself in this office some two weeks ago,) and family, were compelled to ford the English River in a skiff, as the ferry boat has been sunk in the river early in the spring.   Such was the zeal manifested in early times to celebrate the day of all days.  Yankee Diggins, was afterward turned into a brickyard, and a number of homes to this day, made of those brick manufactured at Yankee Diggins, are inhabited, and stand as grand monuments of the tireless energy of pioneerdom.  But the glory of the Diggins has faded away, and Rufus alone wanders in the footsteps of that early civilization. 


About this time another tent was pitched in the neighborhood of Pilotsburg.   Three families composed the triangle.  Ed Farley and John and Henry Rickey -- ancestors of our "Reub."  This small troup was soon reinforced until the whole prairie was alive with settlers.  The first County Commissioner was David Bunker in 1840.  He was also the first man to represent the county in the territorial legislature in 1842, and served a series of years in that capacity, making an efficient and faithful official.  He was also the representative in the State Constitutional Convention in 1857. 

At that time the capital was located at Iowa City, - Des Moines being unknown and unheard of.  The ground now occupied by Wellman was the original claim of George Pinkerton, which he sold to Thadius Squires in 1844, and getting up a company went to the Mexican war.  Upon returning he moved to Sigourney as narrated above.   The early habits and customs of pioneer life were shifted to suit the various occasions and emergencies.  We shall have more to say upon this feature of the subject in some future issue.  The first merchant to do business in Wassonville was our venerable and esteemed fellow townsman and merchant J.R. King, who began business there on the 20th day of April, 1847.  His store room was a log cabin, 12 X 13' and his first stock of goods was valued at $140 --his entire capital in trade.  However, prosperity smiled upon Mr. King, and he was soon enabled to erect a comfortable frame store room and branch out in his business.  He did business there for 32 years, and then moved to Wellman.  He is one of the oldest merchants in the county and keeps his store from force of habit, though he is abundantly able to live in luxury and ease without labor.

  (To be continued next week.)
Project Wassonville 2007

1889 articles from Wellman Advance  - Community History Project, January 14, 2005. View Original Images

Chapter I

Wassonville Mill from The Palimpsest, January 1961 Iowa State Historical Society, "Iowa -  Land of Many Mills" - (1940) Jacob A. Swisher.  Photograph courtesy of Susan Webb Wright

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Project Wassonville 2005

Map showing the tri-county area including portions of Washington, Keokuk and Iowa Counties in Eastern Iowa.  Hinkletown and Wassonville were trading and stage stops on the early leg of the Diamond Trail that carried settlers from the Eastern Iowa port cities on the Mississippi River to Fort Des Moines and points westward, including California and Oregon.  From the county maps published in the 1875 Atlas of Iowa.


Yellow:  Fillmore and Greene Townships - Iowa County
Blue: Liberty Township - Keokuk County
Red: Lime Creek Township - Washington County


Founded in 1839 and settled in 1840, Wassonville was the first village in Lime Creek Township, Washington County, Iowa.   Discovered by an expedition from Burlington, Iowa, the mill site on the winding English River became the early center of activity. Wassonville quickly grew into a significant trading post on the early trail between the Mississippi towns of Burlington, Muscatine and Fort Des Moines, which would replace Iowa City as the Capitol of Iowa.  With early Indian activity, the town served as a stop on the underground railroad,  and served as a base for representatives of the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society, who agitated and recruited travelers to settle Kansas as a Free State.

Project Wassonville 2007

English Valleys History Center
P.O. Box 70
North English, Iowa 52316

Open Saturdays 6:00 AM - NOON

108 N. Main Street

"Promoting the rich history of towns along the English River"


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