Wassonville, Iowa Historical Account Published in 1889

From The Wellman Advance  - originally published Friday, November 15, 1889.


 Its Early History and Reminiscences.

Chapter IV.

From 1846 to '48 was a period of unusual activity among emigrants.   Settlers came thick and fast, among whom we enumerate the following:  Horatio McDowel, who settled on the place where Ed Varney now lives; Mathias Whetstine, who planted his cabin in the bunch of cottonwood trees just north of J.S. Rose residence; John McCallister, who purchased the farm owned by the Downings; Jonah Moone settled on the farm that he still owns and enjoys; Sam Sidenbender, who settled on the north side of the English River near where N. D. Yoder now lives; also one Gray, who served in the capacity of constable at one time, and whose chief occupation and pastime was hunting.  About this time came the Kings, parents of our J.R., accompanied by his brothers Abraham and Frank, the latter afterward becoming a son-in-law of Lewis Longwell, also, by his three sisters, one of whom married C. C. MacIntosh, and another Norman Witherell.   All have since died.


The principle source of amusement for the men was in hunting, which was supplemented, however, by frequent old-fashioned dancing, at which all hands joined.  Fourth of July celebrations were occasions of great joy, and celebrated in such a manner as only pioneers are capable of doing.  It is a fact that whiskey was sold at Wassonville (sometimes nicknamed Sodom,) but that didn’t interfere with the quality of the red liquor, nor its ability to hanker after the stomach of the man.  At one time a party of old settlers gathered at Wassonville to celebrate the good feeling and brotherly love that existed among them, and in order to stimulate the “kind feeling”, borrowed the store-keeper’s tin wash basin and bought it full of whiskey, which they sweetened with molasses.

Then they repaired to the mill to drink dry the cup of social joy.   Just the exact time required we are unable to determine, suffice it to say that when they awoke, they were scattered in all directions from the mill.   They proceeded to arouse the more sleepy members of their company, as gently as circumstances permitted.   When the process was completed, as they supposed, it was discovered by actual “nose count” that one brother was missing.  Search was instituted and the “lost sheep” found in a secluded corner of the mill, still safe in the embrace of old Morpheus and the wash pan.  Being too suddenly aroused he started up, slapped the wash basin on his head instead of his hat and followed his companions into the store.  The gallant son of that erring brother says he can easily remember how his “dad” labored combing his hair and persuading his mother that the perspiration had “fearfully tangled ‘em.”


Robert Wasson was a great hunter.  One day he went down to the river a few miles to kill deer.  He suddenly halted, for just ahead in a thicket he saw a fine specimen of deer.  His heart bounded with joy!   He sprang forward, leveled his trusty rifle, pulled the trigger, crack, bang, thud, a heavy fall, and in an instant he stood over the lifeless, helpless mass of quivering flesh, and to his dismay found he had killed an Indian pony.  He did not tarry to help eat the venison of that deer, but fled instantly for the Flint Hills where he remained for some time.   When he did return the Indians would point their fingers at him and say “man-shoot-a-horse.” 


About this time a new industry was started which bid fair at the start to become and important one.  A Reverend Jones and Joseph Wasson started a tan yard, and were getting along admirably with their process until it reached the vats, where it was termed “jerk.”  Here their jerk was destined to come to grief, for neighbor Sidenbender had a dog, and that dog was fond of jerk, and nightly stole a sufficient quantity out of the vat to picnic on the next day.   Jones threatened the life of the canine, but to no avail; the dog got the jerk.  Owing to the kleptomania of the dog and other minor embarrassments, the tannery proved a failure.


When Lime Creek was organized there were only seven voters in the township, and the polls required that the polls be kept open all day at an election.  When a township election was held there was no difficulty in giving every man an office.  Some were compelled to take more than one.   Such would be a very satisfactory state of affairs in this day and age.  No one slighted; everyone gets an office!

In ’49 the California gold fever broke out and depleted the ranks of the settlers.  Hundreds from the east passed through Wassonville on the way to the Golden State.  (To be continued next week.)   

Project Wassonville

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


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.


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