McCarty, Dwight D. History of Palo Alto County. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch Press, 1910


Chapter II
The West Bend Settlement


     The first settlement in Palo Alto County was made in May, 1855. William Carter and son, Fayette Carter and wife, and Jeremiah Evans and family selected permanent claims on the east bank of the Des Moines River near where West Bend now stands. 1 They came from Benton County, Iowa, making their way through the sparsely settled country by slow-going ox teams, and from Fort Dodge following the dim trail to the northwest, known as the "Military Road." It was the route that the soldiers had taken in going north to Fort Ridgely, and the subsequent supply wagons had left their marks on the prairie grass. Slight and uncertain was the trail, but it led these pioneers straight to their new home.
     Before making a final location they decided to look around a little more, and went farther north, camping on May 30th on the east bank of Medium Lake in what is now known as Jackman's Grove. As it was late in the season it seemed best to return, and early the next morning the settlers retraced their steps and began at once to make a permanent settlement at West Bend. Samuel McClelland, who accompanied them, did not stay but returned home. Carter and Evans had taken adjoining claims on a beautiful rolling piece of land near the shore of the river, with plenty of wood and water close by-an ideal place for a pioneer cabin. 2
     On the 31st day of May, 1855, on the line between the two claims, the first prairie in Palo Alto County was broken with five yoke of oxen hitched to a 28-inch plow. It was a great day for those settlers, who now began to see that nature's wilderness was in fact the provider of their future home. In the days that followed, trees were cut and roughly shaped into logs, and a log house built. It was about 14x18, of rough hewn logs, with no floor, roofed over with "shakes," rough slabs about three feet long lapped over each other, and kept in place by poles placed across above them. Only a small piece of ground was sown that spring. Game of all kinds was plenty. Elk and deer were often seen, and the settlers fared well during the spring and summer, and they had brought some supplies with them.
     Some time that summer, perhaps in July, a band of Sioux Indians, under the leadership of the famous chief, Inkpadutah, came and camped near by. They did not appear to be hostilely inclined, but were nevertheless very troublesome. The settlers' covered wagons, containing all their provisions, were drawn up in the shade of the trees about a hundred yards from the Carter cabin, which was just being completed. Mrs. Evans saw an Indian sneak into one of the wagons and shortly afterward a butcher-knife and some small bags of beans were missing. The settlers had a very savage dog which they tied to the wagon and it kept such good watch that the Indians maintained a respectful distance, although they longed to get their itching fingers on some more of the white man's property. Finally the Indians drove the settlers' cattle away, killing and devouring one of the oxen. The rest of the cattle were found near the east fork of the Des Moines River, a good many miles to the south. The little colony was glad to be well rid of this insolent band of Indians.
     In the fall William Carter returned to Benton County and brought back Mrs. Carter and their son Ben (A.B. Carter), who was then fourteen years old. They traveled in a wagon drawn by oxen, and after leaving Fort Dodge it was a slow and tedious journey for sixty miles along the rough trail over the waving plains of grass. They arrived at the settlement in October, 1855, and received a royal welcome to their new home.
     The Carter and Evans families were the only settlers during the year 1855. They raised some sod corn, forty or fifty bushels of buckwheat, and bout two hundred bushels of turnips. This was considered a good return for the few acres of prairie sod. These pioneers did not suffer for food, as they had brought flour and bacon with them, and wild game was plenty. They threshed the buckwheat with flails, ground it in a coffee mill, and had plenty of buckwheat cakes.

     Mr. A.B. Carter, in telling about their experiences, says: "It was very cold here during the first winter, and I guess we all were nearly frozen to death. Every one of my toes and fingers turned black with frost. One time we started to go to Fort Dodge with a load of shingles that we had made. There was a great demand for those shingles then, and we had three pairs of cattle on the sled. Got down about Rutland, and it was getting dark and we got stuck in a snowdrift and had to camp there all night. We were nearly frozen to death.
     "During the winter of '55 a band of Sioux  Indians camped in our woods about fifty rods from the house. From that time on there were adventures every day. The old chief's name was Sleepy-Eye. He was undoubtedly a first class man, and kept strict control of the Indians. A few things were stolen from us that winter. One thing was a hatchet. We had just come home from Fort Dodge. The Indians got the hatchet out of our sled, and we told a young Indian about it. He shook his head and went to the camp. Soon he came back with the hatchet and told us who took it. The one who had taken it was the best hunter around and a pretty tough one, and that Indian never came there again. It showed the chief had pretty good control of them.
     "That was a hard winter. The snow was very deep and as all wild game was driven away, the Indians came pretty near starving. The Indians would watch us grinding buckwheat in the coffee mill and thought we had to work hard enough for our living. I used to try and get some of the young bucks to try the coffee mill, but only one of them would help me and I would divide with him. The Indians were in desperate straits for food. My brother and I went to Fort Dodge and got a dressed hog and what corn meal we could bring back, and peddled that to them. They bought what they could, and we bought lots of moccasins from them. We went to Fort Dodge and traded their moccasins and furs for provisions. There was one pair of oxen that they had noticed we did not work, so they came and demanded that pair of oxen that they had not seen us working, as they were about starving. The next day we hitched up all the oxen and hauled up some wood to show that we needed them. We went to Fort Dodge again and got them something to eat. When the wild birds came they went up north. Two days after one of the Indians came back and stayed with us all summer. He was about my age, a young boy, and the only Indian among them who would do any work. He came to help do the chores and took quite a notion to me, and that was what brought him back. He helped anything he could, tried to learn the language, and learned very fast. He tried to do anything he saw anyone else do. We called him 'Josh.'
     "We had hunting experiences-lots of them. In the fall of '55 my father and my brother and I came up here and I don't remember where we camped the first night, but the second night we camped up at Walnut Grove, about where the Laughlins settled later. Got up there in the afternoon. Were probably four miles from our team, when along about four o'clock we saw a drove of elk, probably two hundred of them. We got north of them, within a hundred rods, and saw that the main drove was on the south of the creek. On the bottom of the pond over beyond that, we saw two big elk by themselves. Father tried to get these two. He started and as he went along ducks would fly up, and we supposed that every time the ducks flew the elk would be frightened away, but they did not care at all. Father kept gaining on those two; we could see him as he waded through the pond. We lay there and watched him. He fired a shot. One elk laid down and the other started to run, but stopped in the middle of another report. The elk ran, and would stop, and finally the rifle popped again. Father shot seven times and had both down-two of the largest elk I ever saw. That was my first hunting experience. Deer were plenty. In the spring of '56 there were elk with our cattle half a dozen times. I wanted to take a gun and get after them, but Father said they were poor then and I should wait until they got fatter. I never got an elk. In the fall of '56, old Sam McClelland, my brother, and I, and this young Indian I have spoken about, went to Lost Island. There had been thousands of elk there, but an Indian told us that he saw four Indians driving them away." 3

     Early in the spring of 1856 William D. Powers joined the West Bend colony. He tells the story of his coming to Palo Alto County as follows: " I walked through Palo Alto under command of Major Sherman on our march to Fort Ridgely on the 7th of March, 1854. We marched from there to St. Paul and took boats and landed at Jefferson Barracks and from there took boats up the Missouri and landed at Fort Belknap, and from there to Fort Riley. I was discharged at that post on August 29, 1855. I worked two months in the bakehouse. I served fiver years as a baker. I came to St. Louis and bought one yoke of oxen and a wagon and I traveled up through Missouri and came up to Dakotah [City] and stayed a few days with Ed McKnight. He had a small log house to live in, the only one in Dakotah [City]. He brought me down to a steep bank of the river where there was a cave. He took me up to the south corner of Palo Alto and showed me a piece of land to live on. I made my claim on section 34 on the 21st day of December, 1855. I saw a log house about a mile from where McKnight and I were taking a lunch. We went up and found Jerry Evans living with his family. He told us there was not a nail in the house. A little further toward the river we found another log house occupied by William Carter, father of A.B. Carter, and family. I went back to Dakotah [City] and lived in a cave all winter. I came up to my claim and put up my army tent I had bought in St. Louis. This putting up my tent was on the 9th of April, 1856, at what is called West Bend now. The country looked wild, no people around. However, in the fall some of the Sioux Indians came down the river to hunt. There was plenty of game at that time. The chief, Och-see,da-washta, with a few of his warriors would pay me a visit and take some dinner with me. I had two barrels of hardtack I brought up from St. Louis. They are hard biscuit for army use. The winter of 1858 was a cold and snowy time. We wanted to go to Dakotah [City] to get some flour. We could not take any teams along on account of the deep snow. So J. Lynn, S. McClelland, and a few more made hand sleights and tramped the snow and dragged our sleighs along and started back with one sack of flour and fifty pounds of pork. It took four days to go and come. Oh, what a change from those hard times! The Indians would talk about the time I was captured by the Yankton Indians at Devil's Lake. But those wild times are gone and those dark days are set. The bright day of civilization has come. Those wild times and thousands of dark hours are gone forever." 4
The natural advantages afforded by the location and the fact that they were on the main route of travel to the north, combined to give this little settlement a very important position. Rugged and persevering in character, these first settlers have had a vital and lasting influence on the development of the county.


1 These facts about the early settlement at West Bend are from interviews with A.B. Carter, and from a letter written by him to the Semi-Centennial Committee may 12, 1906. I have often talked to Mr. Carter and listened to his interesting tales of those early days. Some important facts are corroborated by William D. Powers's letters to me and especially a letter to the Semi-Centennial Committee, June 20, 1906, which is later given in its entirety.

2 This was in section 21, West Bend township. William Carter's son, A.B. Carter, still owns the old farm and lived there until the spring of 1909, when he moved to the town of West Bend.

3 Interview with A.B. Carter. Some of the details given above regarding the crop of the first year are taken from a letter of Mr. Carter's to the Semi-Centennial Committee, May 12, 1906

4 Letter of William D. Powers, June 20, 1906