DAVENPORT PAST AND PRESENT
WILLARD BARROWS, ESQ.
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Willard Barrows was born in Monson, Massachusetts, in 1806. At the age of ten years, his father removed, with his family, to New Braintree, where the subject of this notice spent most of his youthful days, enjoying the benefits of New England Common Schools, and, at the age of fifteen, was place at the Worcester Academy. His mind, from his boyhood, seems to have been bent on travel and exploration. He loved to roam over the rocks and hills of his native land, and often, at an early age, accompanied an old mountain hunter in his night rambles after "coons," among the precipices and glens for which that county is noted. He left the paternal roof at the age of fifteen, and after spending some time in Pomfret and Thompson, in Connecticut, at school, he passed two years at Brimfield, at his Uncles, and, in 1827, located in Elizabeth Town, New Jersey. He was for many years a very acceptable teacher of youth in that place, and married there in 1832. His natural love of the "wild and beautiful" in nature, led him to select as his profession, for life, that of a surveyor and engineer. His first introduction to his profession was on a contract with the Government in 1835, to close up the public surveys of the Choctaw Indian Purchase in the cypress swamps and canebrakes, on the Yazoo and Sunflower Rivers, in the State of Mississippi.
This expedition was full of danger, and interesting incident.
In the Winter of 1836 and '7, a sudden and unusual rise in the Mississippi cut him off from any communication with the world - his supplies grew short and he was driven, with his party, to the severest hardships, and for many weeks they were forced to live upon short allowance. The whole country was covered with water, except the few ridges that appeared above the flood. The country was uninhabited. The larger game, by instinct, had fled the country, and for several weeks he, and his party, lived upon the fruit of the persimmon tree, and the Oppossum. These animals being slow of locomotion, had only time to reach the higher ridges of land, and were easily taken, and then eaten, without bread or salt. Occasionally an owl or hawk was killed.
About the first of March, the water subsided, and the whole party, after many hardships and privations, reached a settlement upon the banks of the Mississippi, nearly opposite the mouth of the Arkansas River, and procuring canoes, descended the river to Vicksburg and Natchez. After making his report to the Surveyor General, at Jackson, in that State, he ascended the Mississippi to St. Louis, and hearing much of Wisconsin territory, determined to visit the country, and then ascend the river to Galena, and return to New Jersey by way of Chicago and the Lakes. About the first of May, 1837, we find him on board the old Olive Branch steamer, bound for Galena.
Here he first became acquainted with Col. George Davenport and D. C. Eldridge, citizens of this place. Much persuasion was used by these gentlemen to induce Mr. Barrows to stop at Davenport, and make it his home. He seems to have thought but little about it, until he found himself sailing along the shores of Scott county. "When," he says in a letter afterwards to a friend, in explanation of his object in settling in the far West, - "the beauty of the landscape, the richness of the soil, the salubrity of the climate, and, above all, the rich and rolling prairies, which seemed to me so easily cultivated, were inducements enough for me, or any one else to settle." Mr. Barrows landed at Davenport, and soon after, he, with Gen. Sargent, and two others, were mounted, and on a trip of exploration to the Cedar River, then but little known.
Mr. Barrows was so favorably struck with the beauty and prospects of the country, that he determined at once to remain for a season, and accordingly, reported himself to the surveyor General's office for the North west, then located at Cincinnati, and he was that fall engaged upon the first surveys of Iowa. During that Winter he was upon the Wapsipinecon River, having left here in October, and did not return until the first of April, and lost but three days, during that winter, of actual labor, being in camp with nothing but a common canvas tent. "The succeeding winter," says Mr. Barrows, "was much the same in its mildness, and resembled the present winter here, (1857 and '8.")
The Indians, at this time, were his only neighbors and friends, always supplying his camp with plenty of venison, turkeys, geese and ducks, and maintaining the most friendly relations.
In the Spring of 1838, he returned to New Jersey, having been absent from his family for nearly two years, and returned with them in July of that year, and settled in Rockingham, five miles below Davenport. The most direct route at that time, from New York to the far West, was by way of the Pennsylvania canal to Pittsburgh, down the Ohio River, and up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, and thence to Rock Island. The time necessary for this trip, at that day, was four weeks.
In 1840, Mr. Barrows was engaged in the survey of the Islands of the Mississippi, from the mouth of Rock River to Quincy, Illinois.
In 1841 and '42 the public surveys being suspended, he turned his attention to farming, and being Justice of the Peace, Post Master, and Notary Public, at Rockingham, his time was occupied in discharging these duties until the Spring of 1843, when he was sent into the country lying north of the Wisconsin River, called the Kickapoo Country, to perform the surveys of that rough, broken, uninhabited land, where he spent most of that season.
It was, while engaged upon this work, that his depot of provisions was plundered by some straggling bands of the Winnebago Indians, and himself and party reduced almost to starvation. Mr. Barrows had left the camp in the Kickapoo River country for Praire du Chien after provisions. Upon his return to the Kickapoo, with supplies, he found the whole country laid waste by a Tornado. The country through which he had to pass to his camp, some seventy miles, was heavily timbered, and the effects of the storm were almost utter destruction for miles in extent - the forest was torn up by its roots, trees up in the unlimited confusion. The occasion was one demanding prompt, vigorous action - and Mr. Barrows found himself equal to it. He first made the attempt to follow his old trail, and cut his way through, with the help only of a few Indians, who love anything better than work, but, after two days of hard labor, gave it up, having made only two and a half miles. His next, and only chance of reaching his men, who were fastened by the tornado, and whom he knew to be in a starving condition, was to ascend the Kickapoo, with Indians, in canoes, until he should reach a point opposite his camp, and beyond the tornado, when he could pack out supplies through the wilderness, and reach his camp in time to save his men, if no serious obstacles opposed. The Indians took up the provisions, and Mr.Barrows went up by land, with one pack-horse only. The provisions were landed, the Indians discharged, and Mr. Barrows left alone upon the banks of the stream, just as the sun was setting. That night he carried his provisons about half a mile, into the forest, and cached them as well as he could, and early the next morning set out with a small bag of flour, and a little pork, on his pack-horse, upon his unknown and perilous journey, to reach his starving camp, full of intense anxiety as to the fate of his mission, and those whom he desired to save. Any one who has ever visited this portion of Wisconsin, can well imagine the difficulties to be overcome. It is the country formerly owned by the Winnebago Indians, and purchased from them by Gov. Dodge in 1834 - and very correctly named the "Sugar Loaves of Wisconsin." It is almost impassable for man or beast - abounding in steep precipices, high and inaccesible points of rocks, deep ravines, and inpenetrable thickets. It was through this country that the celebrated Chief Black Hawk, led his trusty followers, after his defeat at Dixon, on Rock River, and Buffalo Grove, while on his way to Bad Axe, where he was captured. And it was among these very hills and dells, that Col. Atchison, in pursuit of Black Hawk, got entangled, and abandoned his wagons, baggage, &c., with the loss of many of his horses. No man, with pack-horses, can cut his way over five or ten miles per day. Without any trail, or even maps of the country to guide him, Mr. Barrows persevered, alone, with only his faithful horse, to accompany him, with indomitable courage and perseverance, swimming the streams that opposed his course, and resting only when darkness compelled him. On the fourth day, to his great joy, and surprise, he struck an old outward bound trail, made by himself and men, in his first entrance into the country. It was near dark, and his camp-fire was kindled, his solitary meal was eaten, and in blanket, alone in the dense wilderness, he slept again till daylight, when he was upon the trail, familiar to him, that led to the camp. He had gone but a few hundred yards among the deep glens, when, on turning an abrupt bluff, he came suddenly upon one of his men, who informed him that another of the party was a short distance behind in a starving condition, and too weak to proceed; that others of the party were left at the camp, two days previous, in dispair of receiving any help, as they had supposed him murdered by the Indians, and that they had been unable to kill game of any kind, except one small pheasant; that they had eaten the two bear dogs, and boiled up the bones with nettles for soup, and that they had had nothing for six days, but such wild berries as they could chance to find. They said they had boiled coffee, of which they had plenty, and drunk quite freely at first, but its effects upon them were very unpleasant, and at times even distressing, and that they had abandoned it. They were not long in reaching the companion of the first man, to whom he soon gave, in small portions, some food, and hastened forward to the camp; here he found the rest of his men, in a pitiable condition of emaciation, and with looks of wildness and despair that was distressing to witness. They had settled down into the belief that he was either dead or hopelessly lost. They had awaited in confidence too long, without and effort to save themselves, by leaving the country, and, perhaps, not having confidence in themselves sufficient to find their way out of the wilderness.
"The camp presented a scene," says Mr. Barrows, " that I could not look upon without tears. Upon a log were stretched the skins of our bear dogs, while their bones were bleaching around the camp. Some harness had been cut up, and roasted, to eat, and many extremes resorted to to relieve them from utter destruction. The next morning we commenced our slow march back to the depot of provisions, which I had made upon the Kickapoo River. The scanty supply that I had taken with me, was now being exhausted with fearful rapidity, and we hastened our march, to reach the depot, that we might once more be fed with plenty. But what was our surprise and consternation, when we reached it, to find it plundered of its precious contents, and all carried away! Our misfortunes seemed still to hang over us, and we felt that our sufferings were not at an end. Our only chance of escape now was, to ascend the Kickapoo some twenty miles further, to a ford, the place where Black Hawk crossed in his flight to Bad Axe, where his last battle was fought. This we accomplished, and then struck across the prarie country towards Prarie du Chien. On the third day we reached a settlement, where we remained a week to recruit. There were remnants of the Winnebago tribe of Indians encamped near this place. We informed them of our loss, and instituted search through the entire camp, but found nothing. The chief of this band told us, that some Root River Indians had been on a hunt in the neighborhood, and had gone to Prarie du Chien. I pursued them, but on my arrival there, found they had left for Root River. Many articles of our clothing, that had been plundered from the depot, were found in the liquor-shops of Prarie du Chien, which had been sold by this strolling band of Indians. Our pack-horses, that strayed away at the time of the hurricane, were found some four weeks afterward, and brought into camp. Thus, by their absence, our party were compelled to eat dog instead of horse flesh!"
Up to this date, nothing definite was known of the Territory lying between the waters of the Mississippi and Missouri. The title to the lands bordering upon the Mississippi were being extinguished slowly, and in small parcels. The Winnebagoes occupied a strip running from the Mississippi River, at Prairie du Chien, to the Des Moines River, forty miles in width, called "Neutral Grounds." The Pottowattomies had removed from Rock River, Illinois, to the Western side of this state, bordering on the Missouri. But few, if any but Indians, had ever crossed this Territory to the Missouri. Trappers and hunters told many highly colored tales of the beauty of the country, of its glassy lakes, with pebled shores, the abode of vast herds of buffalo, elk, and deer; of feathered game, and of the finney tribe. The spirit of enterprise, the love of research, and of Nature's grand solitude, again prompted Mr. Barrows to shoulder his rifle and start upon the trail of the red man. He wrote to Gov. Lucas, the Secretary of State, the surveyor General, and others, proposing to explore the country lying between the two rivers, sketch its topography, and project a map of all the country lying between these rivers, as far North as the forty-third parallel. This was accomplished in three successive years. On his first tour he experienced many hinderances and difficulties from the Winnebago Indians. He had ascended the Wabisipinica River to the boundary line of the Neutral Grounds, early in September; built him a cabin for a winter depot, but could get no communication with the Chief of that nation, until the return of the Indians from their annual payment at Prairie du Chien, which was not until the first of November.
The Chief's village was some five mile from his cabin. Mr. Barrows had furnished himself with a native youth from the Mission School at Fort Alkinson for interpreter. The arrival of the Chief, Chos-chun-ca, (Big Wave,) was at last announced, Mr. Barrows invitation presented in due form for the Chief to visit him in his cabin, which was not upon his grounds. At the time appointed, the Chief made his appearance, with some twelve of his warriors.
"He was clothed," says Mr. Barrows, "in a buffalo over-coat, a stove-pipe hat, and a pair of green spectacles. These had recently been presented by some officers and friends at the Fort. I exhibited my passport from Gov. Chambers, and told him I wished to go across his country, to make a picture of it, to show his great father, the President.
After hearing me, and examining, with much minuteness, my maps and sketches, some of which he corrected, he refused, with much earnestness, my passage into his country for any such purpose. He said he very will knew the object his great father had in sending me there, and that he had no great respect for the "Big Captain at Washington," if he took such a course to find out the value of his land-that if I found it good and pleasant for the white man to live upon, it would be well, and his father would purchase it, but if I found it bad, he would give him but little money for it, and, therefore, I should not go."
After many entreaties and presents, Mr. Barrows found it of no use, and, leaving part of his men at the depot, he set out, with but one man, across the country, to Fort Atkinson, one hundred and twenty-five miles, on Turkey River, without any map or trail, and with full expectation of being overtaken by the Indians, and brought back. But on the first day out, a dense fog covered the prairie, and it rained in torrents for twenty-four hours, overflowing the banks of all the streams, which made it necessary to swim it themselves and horses. On the second day, near night, they came back to the first night's camp, in a small grove, having been lost in the fog and rain the whole time, and traveling at good rates. It cleared up after a snow storm, and he reached and traveling at good rates. It cleared up after a snow storm, and he reached the Fort on the fifth day. The Rev. Mr. Lowry, who had charge of the Mission School, at that place, gave him a passport across the country, and wrote a letter to the Chief, which, being interpreted to him, he was allowed to proceed. Not, however, until he had made him presents of corn, pipes and tobacco.
"Barrows' New Map of Iowa, with Notes," was published in 1854, by Doolittle & Munson, Cincinnati; and was a work, at that day, of much importance. The Legislature ordered copies for each member, and for the officers of state. Many works since written on Iowa have been largely indebted to this valuable little work. It is brief, yet comprehensive, in its character, easy and vigorous, and was the cause of satisfying a wide-spread enquiry East in regard to the character and resources of Iowa.
From 1845 to '50, Mr. Barrows was engaged most of the time in the surveys of the Govenment, and those of the County which he had charge of for many years as County Surveyor, often making excursions into the newly settled portions of the State, examining the most prominent points of location, in many of which he has made, we believe, some very important investments. His knowledge of Iowa, as a State, is probably as extensive and correct as that of any man who ever traveled over it, and his judgment upon Real Estate investment has been of the most judicious and satisfactory character, not only to himself, but to those for whom he has operated as an agent. His present business is that of a Land Agent, and a partner in the house of Barrows & Millard of Sioux City, Iowa, and Barrows, Millard & Co., Omaha City, N. T. In the Spring of 1850, business of all kinds being dull in the West, he seized upon the opportunity to gratify his long and ardent desire to visit the plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the shores of the Pacific.
This was a project of long standing in his mind, and he entered upon it with much earnestness and vigor. Being fully equipped for such an expedition, he crossed the State of Iowa early in March, and left the Missouri River opposite Council Bluffs, in company with a California train, on the 23d of Arpil, following the north fork of Platte River, through the present territory of Nebraska, to Fort Laramie, through the Black Hills, and thence up the Sweet-water River to the South of the Rocky Mountains.
His outfit consisted of a light two-horse wagon, with five horses, and two men.
The year 1850, was one long to be remembered by those who passed over the route to California. The season was cold and backward, grass did not grow sufficient for forage until May, and for some two weeks of the early part of the journey, the animals were fed upon dry grass chopped, and rolled in wheat flour, and browsed upon shrubs and trees cut for that purpose. This misfortune, at the beginning, so reduced Mr. Barrows' horses, as well as others, that one after another of his team gave out, and either died, or was left by the way.
He left his wagon on the Humbolt, making pack-saddles for the horses that were left; and abandoning every thing but a few clothes, and his surveying instruments, he, with his men, traveled on foot upwards of four hundred miles before reaching the base of the Navada Mountains, at which place he was left with only one horse to pass the mountains with, and which died soon after reaching California, where he arrived the 15th of July. One of his men died soon after his arrival.
A very interesting account of this trip was given by Mr. Barrows in a series of letters from California, published in the Democratic Banner of this city, at that time, describing, in most vivid colors, the difficulties and dangers, trials and hardships, of a journey to the Pacific. His description of the South Pass, in the mountains, so long looked upon as the great barrier of all communication with the Pacific by Railway, is the most graphic and satisfactory we ever remember to have read of this celebrated land-mark of the mountains. He details, in full, the face of the country in ascending the Platte and Sweet-Water Rivers, and at all the most prominent points, gives the latitude, longitude, and altitude, showing the feasibility of a Railroad thus far to the Pacific, which has since been fully endorsed by more scientific research. We cannot here refrain from giving a single extract form one of his letters:
"The South Pass," says Mr. Barrows, "is far different in its appearance to what I had imagined, from any description that I had ever seen. It is true, but little was known of it, and much less written. I had imagined some chasm, or deep cut in the mountains, through which we would be complelled to wind our way, or that I might,, perhaps, find a pathway rent apart in the mountains by some great volcanic action, and thus we should find our perilous way through this wonderful Pass.
"But it is far different. It is a beautiful prairie country, even upon the summit level; and no one, with ordinary observation, can possibly mistake the spot, marked by Fremont as the highest point attained in the Pass.
"For days, the traveler, in his gradual assent, finds all the streams running back towards the Atlantic, and as he follows up the last rivulet to the summit, and passes over a level space of a quarter of a mile, all the little brooks and streamlets begin to run for the Pacific. Then you have passed the summit of the Rocky Mountains! I cannot describe my feelings, as I stood and gazed from the lofty eminence upon all that is good and noble in the works of Creation. A sense of solitude pervades the whole scene. Upon the right hand, away to the North, are the Wind River Mountains, with their tops covered with perpetual snow, and although some sixty miles distant, yet so clear and transparent is the atmosphere is this high altitude, we could even discern bodies of trees, and the drifted snow, as it hung over the rocky precipices. The antelope, or the mountain goat, can be seen feeding in quiet for miles distant, and the hunter is often deceived in his approach to animals of the chase. The purity of the atmosphere is such, that the traveler feels buoyed up with unusual vigor, and speeds his way with uncommon ease and rapidity. Before you lies the Great Basin, five hundred miles in extent, and as far as the eye can extend, nothing can be seen but a vast plane, sleeping amid the solitude and grandeur that has filled this desolate region since its creation.
"This Pass has derived its name, probably, from a depression of the mountain chain at this place, and is seen only when at a distance of a hundred miles. As the traveler approaches from such a distance, it has the appearance of a gap, or cut, but when in it, it is one vast space."
Mr. Barrows spent the Summer in California, traveling much of the time. As the rainy season approached, he left there for Central America, and thence to Cuba, where he spent some time, and returned to Iowa early in 1851.
From that time until the present, Mr. Barrows has resided in Davenport, busying himself in attending to his lands, Land Business, and in erecting a capacious and handsome residence. This last, is about half way up the bluffs, nearly opposite the Island, and overlooks a magnificent view of natural and architectural beauty. The house is ample, finely finished, and prejected upon a plan that marks its owner as a man of taste.
Mr. Barrows, we are happy to add, has secured, as the result of his active life, an ample fortune, which no one is better qualified than himself, by education, habit, and inclination, to enjoy.
His life has been a stirring and useful one; for, while ever laboring to secure a competence, he has at no time been unmindful of the claims of society upon each of its members, and has, therefore, at various times, given letters to the public, containing valuable scientific, and other information, while his work upon the map of Iowa has done more to disseminate a knowledge of our State than anything of the kind ever published.
In regard to his social character, Mr. Barrows takes a high rank. He possesses an illimitable fund of anecdote, pointed as to witticism, and valuable for their information and he enjoys the sparkling bon mot of conversation with the fine relish of a Frenchman. His own portly form shaking with laughter over some reminiscence of the ludicrous, and a choice audience roaring with mirthfulness, is a common sight to all who have the pleasure of his acquaintance.
Liberal, charitable, a Christian, the possessor of a fortune, respected, enjoying the best of health, and with social relation, harmonious, and desirable, Mr. Barrows now rests after his eventful life, and it is the sincere wish of all who know him, that many years will yet be his protion, which may be as pleasant and happy as his early life has been laborious and active.