I am posting each of these stories here in order to demonstrate what can be done, and, to make the information available to interested others. PLEASE NOTE: these have not been edited and updated for new information, so if you read this, take the information WITH THAT IN MIND! Thanks! Enjoy reading this slice of our lives.
The Prairie City Connection - Part I
The town of Prairie City, in Jasper county, Iowa, just east of Des Moines, was (and is) home to many of our ancestors and relatives (and relatives of relatives). There have been Wilsons, Offills, Adkins, Weavers, Yagers, Stauffers, Elliotts, and others who played a variety of roles in the settlement and development of Prairie City. This episode will look at the early settlement of Prairie City and those of interest who took part.
Mary (Polly) Offill married John S. Elliott on 10 Oct 1818 in Kentucky. Their first son was James Hickland Elliott, born 20 Nov 1819. He was only eleven years old when his father died. In the 1830's he went to Owen Co., IN, where in 1839 he was married to Julianna Emaline Hicks. Nine of their sixteen children reached adulthood (See note 1, p. 7).
"After the 1850 census they left Owen County and moved to Coles Co., IL. In the autumn of 1851 they left their Illinois home, leaving the crop in the field and selling it with his cows for almost nothing. The locality they left was stricken with swamp fever and his neighbors were dying of cholera, so he took his family in a wagon, drawn by two horses, and went to seek a future home. The low swamp lands caused him to look for higher ground.
"They came to Iowa and the family picked their way along the Old Indian Trail between the Des Moines and Skunk Rivers and on to the Raccoon River. On all sides lay the virgin soil lush with tall prairie grass, a habitat for prairie chicken and migratory birds by day and night. James Elliott was intrigued and decided to stake a claim and found a town, calling it Elliott. He went to the nearest timber near Walnut Creek and built a cabin, close to timber so his fuel would be handy. This was only a temporary location, for the spot chosen for the dreamed of town was on the prairie.
"They encountered many hardships in building their real home. Wood had to be hauled from Walnut Creek and there was no road. Mud was deep in the sloughs and all creeks had to be forded and picking one's way across the pathless prairie was an arduous task. The beauty of the springtime was enticement for more settlers as the fragrant blossoms scented the air. Finally when Mr. Elliott applied for a postoffice for Elliott along the stage coach road, he was informed that there was another postoffice in Iowa named Elliott so the name was changed to Prairie City (See Note 1, pp. 7-8)."
John and Mary (Offill) Elliott's other five children also migrated westward. Mary died on 16 March 1854 in the settlement, then known as Elliott. (She was buried in Westview Cemetery, Prairie City, Iowa - along with many, many other relatives!)
L.P. (Levi Parsons) Wilson was the son of Eli and brother of George F.H. (father of Norman) Wilson. He was born 16 Jul 1822 in Oneida County, New York, and moved to Peoria Co., IL, in 1834, with his parents. In about 1855 he moved his family to Jasper County, Iowa.
From a Directory of Jasper County: When he (L.P. Wilson) came here, there were only two buildings in sight. He bought 560 acres of land at $1.25 per acre and has improved his land. (He is noted earlier in the sketch as "farmer and stock raiser.") He first moved into a shanty with a man of the name of Elliott (described above). He stopped there four weeks while Mr. Elliott was East. When Mr. Elliott returned, he had two more families besides his own, making four families in a shanty 18 x 22, and only one story, where twenty-nine or thirty persons lived for four weeks. The first few years after he came here, he could buy buffalo meat for 1 cent per pound, brought here from the Northwest. There were plenty of buffalos within fifty miles and elk, deer, wolves, wild turkey and prairie chickens were plentiful. It was reported that one hunter killed forty-one elk in one day. He has ridden wolves down and killed them with a club. He has been backward and forward five times to Peoria, IL, in what they called a prairie schooner.
In some other comments about L.P. Wilson, referring to the first settlers, the Prairie City News reported: He was one of the first constables in these parts. When he came here, there were two houses, owned by J.H. Elliott and William Means.
James A. Offill (subject of the book in Note 1, our direct ancestor, a first cousin of James Hickland Elliott, above) was born 17 May 1819 in Carter County, KY. On 21 Jan 1841 he married Mary Ann Walters in IN. The couple established their new home on a five hundred acre tract of land five miles from Olive Hill, KY. Nine of their eleven children were born in this Kentucky home.
"The peace and quiet was broken by the Civil War which began in 1861. The Morgan band of rebels went through Kentucky burning houses, taking prisoners, stealing horses, and pillaged the small town of Olive Hill, just five miles from the Offill home. Quickly John Franklin (second child, oldest son) joined the Home Guards to help fight the rebel band in that way. When word was received of the coming of the rebels, the horses were hid in the hills by the Home Guards to aid in the escape of the family since the rebels burned homes in their wake. Mary Ann hid bedding and other articles of value in the fodder shocks and other places where they would not be found in a hurried search.
"The raiders passed the Offill homestead before daylight, about a quarter of a mile away. Forty men of the Home Guards were armed with guns and shot thirty of the raiders, without losing a man. The women spent the night in the hills, Mary Ann holding Rhoda Jane (the youngest) on her lap throughout the night. Fifteen homes were burned within a radius of thirty miles, but no harm to the Offill homestead. Mary Ann could hear the fighting, which deeply aroused her anger. In the morning she returned to her home and had breakfast for twenty-five women whose men were fighting with the Home Guards. At noon she prepared dinner for a yard full of men of the Guards.
"Feeling sure the raiders were gone, the horses were brought back from the hills by the men, and the families disbanded for their own homes. Mary Ann warned them to watch for more raiders, but they all laughed at her warning. Her husband's uncle, returning home, rode up to some of Morgan's raiders before he realized who they were. They took his horse and made him a prisoner. When one of the rebels mounted the horse, it promptly threw him over its head.
"In the spring of 1863, the family left the home place in Kentucky, bound for Iowa, to save their children from the perils of the border state. They gave their household furniture and dishes to an elderly couple whose property had been burned by the raiders. Fifty friends gathered to bid them adieu. Why Iowa? Mary Ann's sister and husband, Rhoda Jane & William Gulliams, had come to Iowa and settled in the late 1850's and encouraged the Offills to come to a spot they had selected.
"They traveled on horseback from their home near Olive Hill, KY, to Portsmouth, Ohio, accompanied by two soldiers to protect them from the rebels. They went by boat down the Ohio to the Mississippi, thence to Keokuk, and took the train to Eddyville. Some have said that they went on to Prairie City by stage, while others state that the Guilliams met them at Eddyville with wagons and escorted them to their new settlement. At any rate, kindly hands soon built a log cabin home, but the mother, older sister and brothers had contracted small pox on the way and there were sad days in the new home.
"There were then only thirteen houses in Prairie City. There were no trees except a few planted at Dan Main's. There was no hotel. Mail was brought in by "horse power" and left at Mr. Bundy's to be called for. There was one store, but only a few things could be purchased there and then only in small quantities. There were no flour sacks, either cloth or paper. Wheat flour was obtained by driving to the mill and exchanging wheat for flour. Sacks for flour or other uses were made of "tow" or course linen, and flax was not raised in Iowa (it was in Kentucky).
"The Offills settled on a farm south and a little west of Prairie City. They watched and helped the town in its growth, and by 1872 it had a population of 350 (See Note 1, pp. 21-22)."
Ezra Adkins was born in Plymouth, Litchfield County, Connecticut, 5 Dec 1824 (he was a brother of Lydia, who married George F.H. Wilson). He was married to Lydia (a popular name in those days!) Ann Vertner 18 Oct 1843 in Schuyler County, Illinois. He "came to Jasper County in 1862, enlisted, fought in the battle of Knoxville where he was wounded in the arm with musketball which caused amputation of his arm. He purchased 160 A. of land in Jasper County, and built a Hotel on part of it (See Note 1, p. 22, caption of a picture of the original hotel and other buildings)."
From the Directory of Jasper County of Ezra Adkins (listed as hotel keeper): Held the offices of Assessor, Township Trustee, Councilman and Justice of the Peace. A member of the Congregational Church and was Sunday School Superintendent for twelve years.
The first schoolhouse was built in Prairie City in 1856, the year in which the name of the town was changed from Elliott to Prairie City. Prior to that, school was held in a small building owned by James Elliott (See Note 1, p. 22).
John Franklin Offill, oldest son of James and Mary Ann Offill, had moved to Iowa with his parents and enlisted in the 3rd Iowa Cavalry. After he returned to Jasper County, he was engaged in farming, then lumbering and for years engaged in grain and livestock business. On 28 April 1882 he bought the grain office and crib at Zachery's Switch and employed G.H. Childs to work there for him. On 27 Nov 1885 he had a new office near the depot and had purchased lots east of the elevator from J.H. Elliott. He was Representative of Jasper County during the 1930-1932 session of the General Assembly of the Iowa Legislature.
After the Civil War, Norman David Wilson came to Iowa from Cambridge, Illinois, to start work on the Prairie City News. It was here he met Mary Ellen Offill (a daughter of James and Mary Ann Offill) to whom he was married at Newton, Iowa, on 16 Nov 1871. They made their home near Prairie City for the first five years of their married life where he continued to work on the News until 1876.
Manchester Offill was born 31 July 1856 in Olive Hill, Carter County, KY, the son of James and Mary Ann Offill. He moved to Iowa with his family when he was six years old and spent the rest of his life as a farmer in Jasper County. Potato production became big business in the area and the Offill family was no exception. For years, potato diggers, like fruit pickers and harvest hands, were a common thing in harvest season. Not only were many acres planted to potatoes, but since the railroad, and later highway, cut through the property, the right of way was leased and planted to potatoes. The yield was good, but the market value was sometimes most discouraging. The Dowden Potato Digger was founded and developed in this area and reduced some of the labor problems (See Note 1, p. 68). Floyd was the fourth child of Manchester and his wife, Melissa.
The balance of this episode consists of excerpts from the Prairie City News between 1880 and 1888, gathered in a booklet called: In Years Gone By. Many provide insight into life of the times as well as show relatives.
23 Jan 1880: Mrs. Mary M. (Eli Pomeroy) Wilson of Farmington, IL, is visiting her daughter, Mrs. W.H. Curley, who has been ill.
20 Feb 1880: On Monday, quite a number took the train for Audubon county. Among those were Mrs. D. W. Hendricks, Mrs. Yager and family, Mrs. Hawkins and family. Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Hendricks went overland with their teams.
6 Jan 1881: Mrs. Geo. Wilson of Cambridge, IL, is visiting here with her brother, Ezra Adkins.
13 Jan 1881: Norman Wilson of Glidden, Iowa, is here visiting his old home.
3 Feb 1882: Mr. Ezra Adkins went to Plymouth, IL, to see his mother.
2 Jun 1882: Miss Julia Wilson of Cambridge, IL, is visiting her sister, Mrs. F.M.Austin.
23 Jun 1882: Jessie and Lila Wickwire (granddaughters of Eli Wilson, also) have gone to Farmington, IL, to spend the summer with their grandpa Wickwire.
3 Nov 1882: Henry Wallace has bid goodbye to Vandalia (a few miles southwest of Prairie City, where the Yagers lived, also) and started with his family to Coon Rapids, where they will make their home.
24 Aug 1882: Mr. L.P. Wilson's mother (Mrs. Eli Wilson) died in Illinois recently. She was 93 years old.
5 Jan 1883: Miss Hattie Wilson, daughter of L.P. Wilson, returned Wednesday, from Oak Hollow, Dakota, where she entered a homestead of 160 acres.
26 Jan 1883: Mr. Ezra Adkins, the genial landlord of the Prairie City House (the hotel), is being visited by his sister, Mrs. Phelps, of Illinois.
8 Nov 1883: Mrs. Eva Brous, daughter of L.P. Wilson has entered a homestead in Dakota.
1 Aug 1884: Chancey Comstock, of Prospect, Dakota, is here. He is a nephew of Mrs. L.P. Wilson.
3 Oct 1884: Ezra Adkins has sold his farm of 160 acres to William Montgomery of Fairmont.
31 Oct 1884: Mrs. G.F.H. Wilson, of Henry County, IL, is here. She is a sister of Ezra Adkins and mother of Mrs. F.M. Austin.
6 Feb 1885: L.P. Wilson 's received word of the death of their grandson, Donnie Brous. The mother is Eva Eilson Brous.
22 Jan 1886: Norm. Wilson, now of Coon Rapids, sent us one of the early numbers of the Gleaners and Herald, published here by Jacob Saunders. It is dated February 3, 1870.
Among several sale notices: There will be offered at public auction on the farm of E.B. Adkins (deceased), three miles east of Prairie City, on February 15, 1887, sale to begin at 10 a.m., the following property to-wit:
14 head of cattle, 2 horses, 65 hogs, 450 bushels of corn, 50 bushels of oats, 2 1/2 tons of hay, scales, corn planter, corn sheller and corn grinder, feed cooker, mower, stalk cutter, hay rack, hay rake, wagon and other articles. M.A. McCord, Auct. Ezra Adkins.
27 May 1887: Mr. and Mrs. James Wickwire, of Farmington, IL, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, May 17. Two mile east of Farmington, IL, stands a large stone house, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wickwire. In the rear of this building stands the old log house in which they were married. It was the home of the pioneer, Eli Wilson, father of Mrs. Wickwire. This humble building was a station on the U.G. railroad in slavery days. Mrs. Wickwire is a sister of L. P. Wilson, of Prairie City and of Pomeroy Wilson, of Des Moines. They both attended the anniversary.
27 May 1887: Mr. Henry Wilson, of Delmont, Dakota, arrived here. He is the son of L. P. Wilson. [Note: "Dakota" still was a territory, until 1889.]
4 Nov 1887: L. P. Wilson received a telegram Thursday, that his daughter, Mrs. Hattie Adair, of Delmont, Dakota, was dangerously ill with typhoid fever. Mr. Wilson and daughter, Emma, left on the train.
13 Jul 1888: L. P. Wilson and wife attended the golden wedding anniversary of E.P. Wilson, in Des Moines, last night, July 12th.
6 Apr 1888: George Stauffer will take his family to Kingston, Missouri.
4 May 1888: The men are sinking a shaft and mining operations will begin on the Alva (Son of L.P.) Wilson farm two miles north west of town.
10 Aug 1888: Ezra Adkins, a one arm soldier, is our county Recorder.
This last entry brings another little item to mind. Yesterday, 21 August 1995, we received copies of some of Norman Wilson's diaries. One entry from the Civil War era diary related to receiving mail. On several occasions he had expressed disappointment when the mail came and he didn't get any letters. On Friday, July 22, 1864, he wrote,"mail came in last night and brought me a letter which I was glad to get it was from Uncle Ezra Adkins."
Note 1. From "The James Offill Family Came to Iowa" by Ethel I. Harryman.
Families are Forever! ;-)