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illyra Township
fayette county, iowa
1878 history

Early Illyria Township
1841--Culver's Trading Post on Volga, 2mi E of Wadena.
1840's--Indians pushed out, white probe and settle.
1850--White settlers in small numbers, 10-20 families.
1855--Countryman starts sawmill at site of Wadena.
1857--Wadena platted by Countryman and Herriman.
1858--Flour mill started by Countryman and Herriman.
1860's--Increased numbers of farmers and craftsmen.
1870's--Railroad comes and a new era of commerce.

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some 1878 history of
Illyra Township, fayette county, iowa
edited notes from "Fayette County History, 1878"

The village of Wadena is located on the Volga River six miles to the east of Fayette, Iowa, in Illyria Twp., Sec 27, R7, T93. To the east of Wadena about 2 miles, is the site of the cabin erected about 1841, by George Culver, for a trading post, in Sec 26, T93, R7, Illyria Twp. This was probably in the next season or year after Franklin and Nathaniel Wilcox made their claims 8 and 5 miles, to the west just south of what would be the Westfield/Fayette Valley. Culver had give up a pleasant occupation in a bank in Michigan 2-3 years before, to settle on elk Creek in Clayton County (the valley of Elkport), and had been called upon immediately to hold at least two offices in that newly organized county, but preferred to live alone in the Indian reservation, trafficking trinkets for furs and pelts. Culver had for a partner, the eccentric Joseph Hewitt, who built his cabin 7-8 miles south of Culver just inside the Clayton County western line, about in the middle of the Fairfield Twp line of Fayette County and about even with what would be the town of Tayorsville, in the 1850’s.

In the winter of 1842/43, Culver’s cabin was surrounded by Indians, driven there by famine caused by the severe weather causing the inability to successfully hunt. Records often refer to the Indians as shiftless, lazy, and with improvident habits. These being words from later soft, lazy whites who had not lived for centuries and had not survived in the NE Iowa winters. Hewitt and Culver apparently made an attempt to help feed and overwinter the Indians, and in later years journeyed to Washington to claim compensation for their outlays of stores in keeping the Winnebagoes alive during that tedious Winter. We must remember that the Winnebagoes had been displaced to the Neutral Grounds formed in the 1840’s, from their homes in Wisconsin under the guise of keeping the Sioux and Fox away from each other, but in reality the move was to open up lands to the east of the Mississippi River to more white invasion. Hewitt and Culver secured in Washington, the allowance for their claim plus some judiciously added accumulated interest. In 1848, Hewitt and Culver dissolved their partnership, with Hewitt gong to Minnesota as the Indians were pushed north and out of more Iowa land.

The site of the town of Wadena was purchased by Samuel Stevens, in 1851, being selected as part of the sate school lands. The beginning of the town was made in 1855, by Horace Countryman and his father, who built a house and saw-mill.

In 1858, Major David B. Herriman bought the interest of the elder Countryman in the mall property, and in connection with the younger Countryman beban to build a flouring-mill on the north bank of the Volga (which would have been just to the NE of the present Wadena bridge; 2000/z). At the same time, a substantial dam was constructed, which was anchored against a rock wall both sides. The dam had been improved from time to time, until by 1878, it was one of the best on the Volga, and withstood the severe storm and flood of 1878.

In a storm, in 1871, a large tree floated down the Volga and caught against the saw-mill, which was on the south side of the river. The log operated like a wing dam and caused the water to raise and float the old saw-mill off its foundation. The dam and flouring-mill were, however, uninjured.

In 1878, the town is approachable by several roads with easy grades, thus enabling the flour mill to do a large business. Under the management of Talcott and Nye, the mill machinery has been greatly improved, and the four made, equal to any on the Volga.


The name of Wadena was bestowed upon the little hamlet by Major D. B. Herriman, who selected the name of an Indian Chief who had been a warm friend of the Major’s while the latter was living at Crow Wing, Minnesota. Wadena was an old man when Major Herriman was in Minnesota, and had just found his way to Crow Wing, with his band, to close his eyes in death, far away from the romantic spot that bears his name.

Just before the Government had completed it preparations for removing the Indians, in 1848, another old Winnebago Chief, Whirling thunder, sickened and died. The Indians had great affection and reverence for the old man, and to honor his remains, in Indian fashion, built a structure of split logs, about three feet high, situated a little way from the Indian burial grounds, within which, at the further end of the entrance, they place the dead chief, in a sitting posture, without other sepulture than his blanket.

A number of the early settlers of Fayette County have passed by this aboriginal mausoleum, and the memory of the Whirling thunder abides in their nostrils and memory yet. The bones could be seen for several years through the chinks of the log covering which in time decayed and disappeared; "and," says a correspondent of a Dubuque paper, "the unhallowed point of the plow turned the last remnants of defunct greatness under the sod. During the years while the tomb stood, a number of squaws visited it every Fall-time, just before the grass, which grew very rank there, became dry enough to burn. They plucked the grass for some distance around, for the purpose of guarding the sacred spot from prairie fires, which regularly swept over the ground, and in their fury, no doubt would have cremated Whirling thunder, body and bones, if precaution had not been taken by the tender-hearted squaws. When their work of devotion to the dead was done, they dolefully chanted a series of lamentations, and then departed homeward. No care like this was manifested toward other graves, of which there were many not far distant, all of common clay, however, and unmarked by evidence of remembrance, save one, of which stood an eight-square post, pretty smoothly hewn, and to the top of which was found, by an old pioneer, Thomas Markel, twenty-eight years ago (1850), the scalp of a white woman, whose long black hair silently told the story of the sad fate of her who had fallen a victim to the merciless scalping knife. As time passed over this savage graveyard, the graves were gradually leveled until all trace of them disappeared, and the ground was enclosed by an old man named miller Crow, who had no knowledge of its previous character until he passed his plow through it and turned up a bountiful crop of human bones. He was so horrified at the thought of plowing up dead Indians, whose spirits might not be so far away as the ’happy hunting grounds,’ that he immediately changed his fence and recognized the dead Indians’ right of pre-emption to the ground they had made such a permanent settlement on."

The town of Wadena was laid out by Horace and Elizabeth Countryman and David B. and Elizabeth Herriman. The surveying was done by H. Jones, county Surveyor, in July 1857, and the plat was recorded in West Union, May 11, 1859. The first store opened in Wadena was by A.H. Blake. The Catholic Church was built in 1870, under the supervision of Thomas Fennell, Sr., and the first sermon preached in the building was by Rev. Mr. Quigley, of Elkader, who is still in charge (1878). The building will seat comfortably about four hundred people.

Wadena has lately (1878) become a village of considerable note---the Volga Valley Railroad having been opened to this point during the present year. The construction train reached Wadena late in the Spring, and on June 2, 1878, the first freight shipment was made from this station, it being a barrel of apples, consigned to E. Hill, Volga City. Wadena is situated in a fertile farming region, with a valuable water power, a railroad, and with no very near rivals to draw away its rapidly increasing business. In 1876, the prospect of the railroad induced the Herriman’s to increase the size of the town, and accordingly, an addition was platted on the North side of the town, which includes the Indian graves referred to above.

Volga Valley Lodge, No. 138, A.O.U.W.---was instituted by W.H. Burford, D.G.M., November 24, 1877, with thirteen charter members. The officers now holding are P. Nye, M.W.; F.D. Talcott, F.; J.A. Lang, O.; W.B. Herriman, Rec,; O.O. Ayer, Fin.; E. Rawson, Receiver; John Herriman, Guide; Charles Herriman, I.W.; William Dorland, .W.; B. N. Talcott, William Talcott, J.A. Lang, Trustees.

A township fair was held in Illyra September 28, 1859, on which occasion addresses were made by R.A. Richardson, Judge Newcomb and S.B. Zeigler. The exhibitors who received premiums were H. Wyckoff, J. Herriman, Joseph Gibson, J. Abernethy, Wiliam Pritchard, Dexter Follensbee, S. Holton, Walter Humphrey, J. Cruzan, George Watrous, S.R. Eaton, William Morras, J. W. Fisher, Joseph Gibbon, John Sargent, William Welch, F.H. Chapman, Thomas Kinsey, R.A. Richardson, Charles Evans, J. Holsworth, John Sargent, Thomas Smith, L. Graves, Mrs. Kinsey, Mrs. Argent, Mrs. S.R. Eaton, Mrs. Humphery, Miss C. Eaton, Miss C. Kinsey, Mrs. C.M. Eaton, Miss Dora Eaton. Eighty-one premiums were awarded.


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