1879 History of Menard & Mason Counties
Published by: O.L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publishers
186 Dearborn Street

Mason County

Early Settlement
Page 538

The first settlement made in the township was by Isaac Engle, in 1830, at what is now the S. C. Donevan place, at the northeast side of Swing's Grove, and, during the same year, John Powell built a round-log house on the west side of the place now owned and occupied by C. L. Stone, about one hundred yards southeast of W. S. Hardin's present residence. This rude hut was succeeded by a hewed-log house built by Austin Melton in 1840, Powell having moved to Oregon. Here Melton lived until 1847, and kept a ferry on Salt Creek, and for him Melton's Ford was named. From here, he moved to Mackinaw, and, after several years' residence there, went to Walker's Grove, in Crane Creek Township, where he died in the spring of 1877. Mr. Melton was succeeded as a resident at Swing's Grove, in 1847, by John Alkire, who built a frame house, which has long since been removed, and the site being cultivated, hardly a trace of this landmark of early habitation remains visible.

Isaac Engle, who, as before stated, settled on the Donevan place, sold out to Michael and Abram Swing, in 1838, when he moved to Fulton County, and died there some years ago. The Swing brothers were both unmarried at that time, and, by a trade between them, Michael became sole owner of the land which, up to 1840, they had held in partnership. The year 1846, Michael Swing was elected to the Legislature, and was the first member ever elected to that body from this county. He served one term of two years, and while at Springfield attending the session made the acquaintance of the lady who soon afterward became his wife. Their wedded life was but a few years, for Mr. Swing died of the measles, the latter part of December, 1852, at that place, although he had sold it to the Donevan brothers a coupe of years before, still occupying it, however, by renting. Mr. Swing was a surveyor, and taught school occasionally in addition to his other somewhat diversified business. The winter of 1851-52, he taught the district school at Big Grove, going on horseback and returning home each day, a distance of six miles, for the compensation of $1 per day. The present editor of the Mason City Independent was one of his pupils at that school. At his death, he left his widow with one child, a daughter, who, upon reaching womanhood, married T. M. Beach, Esq., a prominent lawyer, of Lincoln, Logan County, but she died a month or two ago, after only a few years of wedded life. The widow married a gentlemen named Cass, near Mount Pulaski, Logan County, some years ago, and he died. She was living with her son-in-law, Mr. Beach, at Lincoln, at the time of her daughter's death, and is still keeping house for him and taking care of her little grandchildren.

The year 1840, Ephraim Brooner built a round-log house on what is now the Cease-Hubly place, about a quarter of a mile west of the old "Beebe place," now owned and occupied by John Appleman. Mr. Brooner died in 1841, and his widow married Rezin Virgin, one of the pioneers of Salt Creek Township, as will appear in the history of that subdivision of the county. Mr. Brooner was succeeded at that place by Robert Melton (brother of Austin, before mentioned), and lived there until 1853, when his wife, himself and daughter died within the space of only a few months. From the death of his wife, Mr. Melton seemed to have lost all interest in this world, and gradually his life ebbed away in silent grief, and, in a few months, he, too, was no more. He held the office of Justice of the Peace several years during his residence there, and many amusing incidents of this early court are remembered by the proverbial "oldest inhabitant," some of which will appear in their proper order. This place of primitive habitation is now marked only by a few storm-wrecked and venerable apple-trees, which can be seen by the traveler as he passes along the public road to and from the Iron Bridge over Salt Creek.

The year 1840 seems to have been favorable to the immigration of Pioneer adventurers and home-seekers. Robert Melton and S. D. Swing, at Swing's Grove, and Stiles and Homer Peck, on Prairie Creek, settled in the township that year. S. D. Swing, now, and since 1860, a resident of Mason City, improved the greater part of the farm now owned and occupied by C. L. Stone. Having married Mary A. Sikes, daughter of Edward Sikes, Sr., and old settler of Salt Creek Township, Mr. Swing and his young wife settled there in 1840, where, by years of toil and privation unknown to the beginners of life's matrimonial voyage now-a-days, they built up a beautiful home and valuable farm. Swing's Grove Cemetery, a beautiful location on a high point of Salt Creek Bluff, about one-eighth of a mile southwest of the house, was set apart for that purpose by them, and consecrated to the dead by the burial there of their first-born, in 1846, since which time the public has used it as a repository for the remains of the departed, until this "village of the dead" now numbers its inhabitants by the hundred. Earlier burials were made at the place now owned by Malcom Robertson, and on a knoll in the west part of the grove; but only a few were buried in each, and they were entirely abandoned after the one given by Mr. Swing was started. Stiles and Homer Peck, brothers, made a settlement on Prairie Creek, in 1840, about a mile northwest of where the village of New Holland now stands. They erected there a water-power, saw-mill, and the mill-dam was used as a public wagon road in crossing the creek. Although this saw-mill was a very small affair, it was by common usage and general consent a "signal station" from which "bearings" were given and taken to all surrounding points for many miles distant, and is yet relatively referred to by old residents. As there were no means of estimating distances, the traveler in those days was given the course form one point to another. At this saw-mill, the pioneer obtained the sawed lumber with which to make the doors, door and window frames of his crude dwelling, and from which they obtained, after a few years' progress in aristocracy, the lumber to take the place of the primitive puncheon floor. A. S. Jackson, of Mason City, made a walnut table from lumber sawed at the mill in 1843, which relic is now in possession of Mr. Cooper, of that place.

The reader will pardon the digression for a moment while we give a brief description of the dwelling-house of this early day. The usual size was 18 x 20 feet, made of round logs, notched at the corners so as to make the logs fit as closely as possible together, and give strength to the building to withstand the frequent storms of wind which swept over the prairies with the violence of a hurricane. Chimneys were constructed of split sticks and clay, and were invariable placed on the west end or side of the house, so that the strong winds which nearly always came from a westerly direction, would be the better resisted. Those primitive domiciles all had a kitchen, sitting-room, parlor and bedroom-but all in one. At the usual mealtimes, it was all kitchen; on rainy days, when the neighbors of four or five miles away came in to have a chat about the number of deer and wild turkeys killed since they last met, it was all sitting-room; on Sundays, when the itinerant preacher was around, and the young men, with their "new jeans," paid their tender respects to the young ladies in their best "tow dresses," it was all parlor; at night, when the "wee, sma' hours" passes imperceptible over a sleeping world, it was all bedroom. The crevices between the logs (the best that could be done to fit them) were large, and, with all the chinking and daubing, afforded ample ventilation; a laughable illustration of which means of a "free circulation," is given by John Powers-"Irish John," as he was universally cognomened in the days of this incident. He now lives in a beautiful and substantial farm house about a mile south of Mason City; but when he first went to housekeeping, about twenty-five years ago, he lived in a round-log house of the primitive pattern, a quarter of a mile south of his present residence. This house was not in any inclosure of fence, and was protected from cattle making too free of the premises, by dogs. One Sunday, he and his young wife went to spend the day with a neighbor; and, while they were gone, the cattle gathered about his house and, with their tongues, they pulled out of his bed, through the crevice between the logs, the straw of his bed, and finished up the day's sport by chewing the tick into the consistency of a cud, in which condition he found his dormitory department on his return. These log huts were covered with "clapboards" about three feet in length, and held to place by "rib poles" underneath and "weight poles" on the top of each course of boards. The floors were laid fo puncheon slabs, split from three to four inches in thickness, and from six to eight feet in length. The top side and edges were hewed so as to make them as nearly level as possible, and fit close enough together to prevent the foot from going down between them in walking about the house. The firs-place was from four to eight feet wide, and supplied cooking facilities, hear to keep the inmates comfortable, and light to do the night indoor work by. The Jambs, in the proper season of the year, were decorated with strands of apples, cut in quarters with the peel on, and the joists bore a heavy burden of pumpkins, cut in rings and hung on poles. The bedsteads were improvised by boring holes in the logs and driving in wooden pins supported at the inner end by upright pieces. This rude frame was interwoven with buckskin rawhide or bedcord, if the latter could be had; and with a tick of prairie hay and one of wild-goose feathers, our ancestors slept soundly and snored as contentedly as the people now do on veneered bedsteads, woven-wire mattresses and all the gaudy surroundings of a high-toned bed-chamber.

In 1846, John Douglas built a log house in the prairie, about a mile and a half west of Peck's Mill. This was the first house out in the prairie, and his venture so far from timber was looked upon as a daring one. The site of this habitation is now marked by a few dilapidated apple-trees, which are desolate monuments of the first settlement of this prairie. Mr. Douglas died a few years ago, and two of his sons, Ebenezer and William, now reside on good farms with their families, near the wild scenes of their boyhood days. A man named Tullis also settled on the place now owned and occupied by Alexander Appleman, about the same time that Douglas settled there.

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