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a Fayette Iowa History page
The Mission Road, 1840
and the "Wilcox Settlement"
The trail built to bring supplies from Dubuque to Ft. Atkinson also was one of two main entry points for the first few white settlers to "probe" Indian lands in Fayette County.  The other entry was from the east long the Turkey River tributary system, including the south fork of the Turkey or Volga River. 

  It is along the mission road and from the "Wilcox Settlement" that the first white settlers moved two miles north to take up land in the Westfield/Fayette Valley along the Volga River.  It is the obscure activity along the Mission Road as it ran east-west, 1-3 miles south of the Lima, Albany, Fayette, Westfield area from 1840 to 1850 that is the of great historic significance in understanding the beginning of the white settlement along the Volga River near Fayette.

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The Mission Road, 1840

The Mission Road ran from Dubuque, Iowa, a Mississippi River port, northeast across Dubuque, Clayton, Fayette Counties and into Winnesheik County to Fr. Atkinson, a military fort erected under the guise of "protecting" the Winnebago Indians of the area from the Sioux, and also control the white encroachment on the Neutral Ground.  In reality the trail functioned as a road to lead supplies and white settlers into the area in the 1840’s.

When the United States government first began to service the Neutral Lands, in the late 1830’s, Dubuque was the seat of supervision, and a trail was established between the two areas. Later, in 1841, an official "Territorial Road" was plotted following the old trail. Because the majority of early settlers in northeastern Iowa came in over this trail, it has significant historical value. Many of the early pioneers would travel the early trails/roads multiple time’s searching/probing for land to claim. Early settlers often were not sure which land was the best, what was available in another place, if they wanted to put forth the significant effort to make a farm go in an area, or if they really wanted to make an area their permanent home. There was a lot of wondering, claiming, and moving in the early years. The early roads and trails often followed the time proven trails of the Native Americans and game trails. The early roads were just worn paths in the timber or through 6-12 ft tall prairie grass, or broad areas of travel where ox-teams were guided along ridges to avoid wet grass prairie, sloughs, stream crossings. Level paths were always at a premium so loads did not have to be split and hauled up the big hills. Generally reach individual settler/teamster had to use his own judgment as to the course of travel. As more travel occurred, the best route became more worn and more travels, thus was the establishment of many of the early roads in Fayette County that would be traveled well into the 1900’s.

From the Edgewood area of Clayton County, the trail followed a range of hills to the future town of Strawberry Point, which was built along the old trail, with the long east-west main street being called Mission Street. About three miles west and three miles north of the Point, half way to Brush Creek (Arlington), an Indian trader, Joseph Hewitt, who had a trading post utilized by both Indians and white men in 1840. His trading post was often a resting-place for early settlers whiles they ventured out looking for ground to settle on. The ox-trains hauling supplies and produce to the military post at Fort Atkinson stopped at Hewitt’s on a regular basis.

From Hewitt’s trading post, the Mission Road continued northwesterly for about four miles to the future town of Brush Creek (Arlington), just south of the creek which would also be known as Brush Creek. Here in later days the town’s Main Street, which runs diagonally to the NW, was built along Mission Road. About three miles NW of the Brush Creek crossing, a Major Mumford settled on a claim and built a cabin in 1842 (exact timeline has not been verified). The Mumford’s may have been the parents of the first white child born in the area.

The new Mission Road continued NW over the "Corn Hill" country to a point a couple of miles SW of the NE corner of Smithfield township where Hewitt and a man named Culver set up another trading post. Culver soon bought out Hewitt and moved the post to a point about a mile east of Wadena, next to the hill on the N side of the Volga River, as it was nearer the Indians in the Neutral Lands just to the north of Wadena and the Elgin Valley which was always a major settlement for the Indians on the Turkey River. This time frame was probably 1841-1842. About this time, Nathaniel Wilcox took a claim just west of the big spring in the Grannis Canyon, which at that time was to the north of Bear Grove which included the timber areas of the present day Brush Creek Park, to the north of Arlington. From the Corn Hill area the Mission Road turned to the W and continued to a point a couple of miles SW of present day Fayette. 

Picture info---You are looking east right down the Mission Trail coming up from Brush Creek.  The Cabin of Wilcox is on your left about at the point you can see the road reappear from the curve of the modern road.  Orrear and Beatty had their cabin behind the grove of trees on the right.  Teagarden's cabin would have been behind your right shoulder about 3/8 mile.  Just to your back about 3/4 miles the Mission Road would turn north, ford the Volga River and slant to the NW then back to the north to the Fort.  The Neutral Grounds started just behind the modern house on the left.  

    Two miles south of Fayette and about a half mile west, off present day Hwy 150, Franklin Wilcox, in 1840, erected the first permanent log cabin in Fayette County (there is a granite marker on the site today, just to the west of the bridge crossing the little stream, and to the north of the road). It has been written Wilcox broke up a small area close to the cabin and planted it to garden and oats. If so, this would justify as the first land broken in Fayette County. 
    Just north of the Wilcox cabin, around the bend of the creek and below a cove in the hillside was a favorite camping spot known as "Uncle Sam’s Tavern," by the early settlers. The area offered a flat, protected, secluded area with fresh water nearby. There is some speculation that Wilcox's Cabin was back in this area.  If so, knowing the area, the first choice would be on the west side of the creek/brook at the base of the hill on that side.  Second choice in this area would be just across the creek to the east next to the hill. I lean toward the area around the Granite boulder marker, as this would be very near the creek, closer to the Mission Road, and more protected from the NW winter winds.  
    The creek in Wilcox time ran more to the west and may have had two branches at this as there were "springs" coming down from the wet grass prairie to the south of Wilcox's and to the south of Mission Road.  The area to the west was untouched by man's activities so retained a great deal of moisture and would have been tall and wet grass prairie.  The wet grass prairie, we would call a slough.  These springs are really just major drainage areas which run down to a lower point or creek bed.  When you see the word spring in prairie county, it really is describing such a drainage pattern.  The work brook was often used for a creek running through trees and timber.  
    Orrear and Beatty would locate a cabin on one such spring area just to the south of the Wilcox Cabin.  And back over the hill about 1 1/4 mile to the west of Wilcox, Tegarden and Atwood would have their Indian Trading post in the winter of 1842/43, the site of the Tegarden Massacre of March 1843, and described in more detail on another page.  As will Orrear and Beatty's area.  
    The series of several Cabins along the Mission Trail from Wilcox to the west where the Mission Road turned north was referred to as "the Wilcox Settlement" from about 1840 into the mid to late 1840's.  The settlers coming along the Mission Road from Dubuque to Ead's Grove to Mumford's and Hewitt's would have talked about heading up to the Wilcox Settlement on the Mission Road, and maybe stopping over on their way to the Mission or to Fort Atkinson, or maybe talking about taking up land around the Wilcox Settlement.  
    Keep in mind, the Indians had not been "run off" yet, and everything north of the Mission Road and the Wilcox Settlement was  off limits for farming or milling the land.  One has to assume the other cheek was turned for "probers" and "traders" into the area, as this was and would be the was of running the Indians off the land so the government and money people to the east could continue "progress."  
    In studying and being interested in the history of the immediate Fayette and Volga River Valley, the history of the "Wilcox Settlement" is the vital importance, as it is from here that most of the major first surnames of Westfield/Fayette took up land in the Valley just two miles to the N, NE of the Wilcox Cabin, especially Alexander, Robertson, Hensley, etc.

Picture Info---Your are looking at the creek just to the north of the Wilcox cabin.  "Uncle Sam's Tavern" is the area on your left.  You are looking into Neutral Ground.  The Volga River is just a mile down the creek, which comes our right at old Abutment's Bridge, which is now long gone, but the cement abutments of the last bridge remain.  The snowy crest of the hill on the right of the pic is Grandview Cemetery.  It is down this valley both up and down the Volga River that a few of the early settlers would "probe" for land and mill possibilities.  One would have to assume the "probers" of Indian Land in this valley knew it would be just a matter of a few short years before the government would make another "treaty" and remove the Indians so the "white tide" could continue. It is down this valley a mile to the Volga and then another mile on the Volga to a point just on the edge of present Klock's Island park that Robert Alexander would start building a sawmill that would become functions by 1851. There were very, very few white settlers in Fayette County even in the early 1850's, and probably no more then 10-20 serious "probers" the Volga Valley from Eagle point to Albany/Lima.  The Alexander's and Robertson's, related by marriage, would be among the first serious settlers into the valley in front of you.  They would with a few other settlers be the stable backbone of the Fayette area in the coming decades.  


At this time the Wilcox cabin was in the south edge of Sec. 32 of Westfield Twp., in unsurveyed land. The four SE townships of Fayette County, Fairfield, Smithfield, Scott and Putnam, had their boundary lines surveyed in 1836 and sup-divisions were made in 1837. The north line of Fairfield and Smithfield was not surveyed until 1848. It is not known if Wilcox knew this or not at the time.

Pic Information:  This is in theory the exact site of the Wilcox cabin, the first permanent cabin location in Fayette County.  Right behind the cabin was the start of Neutral Ground.  Just in front of the cabin was the Mission Road.  

In about 1843, a year after the Wilcox cabin went up, a pair of unmarried young men, James Beatty and William Orrear, settled about 600 feet south of the Wilcox cabin and erected a cabin in the north edge of Sec 5 of Smithfield Twp., near a spring (Remember, springs out on the prairie are not coming out of drainage in the limestone layers of the big hills such as lie just to the north of this area, but instead are major exit point of drainage from sloughs and wet grass prairie of the region. When several prairie springs enter a bigger drainage they produce enough water flow through distance to be considered a creek.)  Beatty and Orrear  were reported to be very industrious, and broke land and erected split rail fences. In February of 1844, Orrear married Mary Wilcox, daughter of the elder Franklin Wilcox, who by that time had moved on up the trail to a point near what would be called Dunham’s Grove. This was reported as the first marriage in Fayette County. In 1847, the Orrears sold their holdings to Horace Bemis who entered the NW ¼ of Sec 5, of Smithfield Twp., which was the first official entry of land in Fayette County. In the meantime Beatty squatted on land near the western edge of the future town of Westfield/Fayette.

The Mission Road beyond the Orrear claim followed a line of low hills about a quarter mile south of the Westfield Twp. Line, to a point near the intersection of Smithfield, Harlan, Center and Westfield Twps., where it turned north. There it crossed the southern boundary of the Neutral Lands just north of the Volga River crossing and on the boundary line of Center and Westfield Twps. Along the Road between Orrears and the township corners were several squatters cabins, including that of Henry Teagarten or Tegarden, who along with a man named Atwood  had a trading post for the supply of whisky, black power long guns, power, ball and flint, and other supplies for the Indians and early settlers. Tegarten’s cabin was located about a mile east and a quarter mile south of the four-township corner, near a large spring. This would be the site of the "Tegarten massacre" references elsewhere in the history of Fayette County.

The Mission Road continued into the Neutral Land across the eastern edge of Center Twp. Continuing in a NW direction across Windsor Twp., into Windsor Twp., into Auburn Twp., crossing the Little Turkey river and proceeding in a N direction just east of the present day St. Lucas and into Winneshiek Co., Washington Twp., to Ft. Atkinson.

The exact locations of the Wilcox Cabin, Orrear and Beatty's Log Cabin Farm, and Tegarden/Atwood's Trading Post seem not to be know.  Therefore, from written descriptions and having trapped and roamed these exact slough, springs, creeks, woods, prairies, I am making some educated guesses in map form.  I have to hope someone with scientific background and resources will at some time take up the hunt and do a valid study to produce a historic treatise of the "Wilcox Settlement."

a very brief overview
After 1849 the Indians were all but gone and the "white tide" flooded into the Neutral Grounds
and all so northeastern Iowa yet to be opened.  Pioneer times in Fayette Co. start in 1850.

The United States Army was commissioned to built the fort in 1840, in effect to enforce an 1836 "treaty" between the U.S. government and the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) tribe.  This "treaty" required the Winnebago's of give up their lands in Wisconsin and move to  "reservations west of the Mississippi River.  This "reservation was on land which was established in Iowa territory in the 1830's as a strip of land called "neutral ground," which was a 40 mile wide buffer zone between the Sauk and Meskwaki to the south, and the Sioux to the north.  Many in the Winnebago nation were not happy about being displaced from their homeland and being placed between to enemy tribes.  By 1847 the Winnebago's living in neutral ground where once again were given a "treaty" which forced them north into Minnesota.  The "treaty" plan would continue moving the Winnebago nation to South Dakota and Nebraska as their number dwindled.  Today a segment of the original bloodlines live in SD and NB, with another segment buying up some of their native land in WI.    


The fort was built on a hill overlooking a stream valley just to the south and west.  Outside of the fort walls were secondary support buildings. In the valley below the fort, Indians, traders and craftsman would establish camps and cabins.  The town of Fort Atkinson grew out of this encampment and was named and platted in 1857.  As the Indians were moved out of the area in the late 1840's, the fort would cease to function, and was decommissioned in 1849, with much of it structure being taken over by the traders, farmers, merchants.  Some of the building materials were broken down and hauled away for used in local construction.  A little of the original structure can still be seen and part of the Iowa parks system.



One of the remaining original structures at Ft. Atkinson is the north barracks.

A few original limestone foundation building blocks are still in place.


Run a search on for more info.  Try typing in; fort atkinson and iowa. 
State of Iowa Timeline. 
Short explanation of Ft. Atkinson. 
Winnebago or Hochunk nation time line and removal to the neutral grounds. 
Iowa's Indian Cultural History 
Native Nations of Iowa, the Winnebago. 
The Ioway Nation. 
Index of Native Nation/Iowa. 

The U. of Iowa, Neutral Ground Project. 


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