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John McGlothlen (1811-1878)

The following stories were from a 1954 letter to Alex Tilton, Jr. from Ms G. Reynolds, granddaughter of J. D. McGlothlen.

John D. McGlothlen was an early Polk County settler, bringing his wife, Charity, and their four children to this area from Indiana, in 1846. His claim is described as being “on the west side of the Des Moines River, and extended west-ward to North River, sloping gradually back from the two rivers.”

Their first home was a pole cabin which needed extensive up-dating. By October of that year, he was building a new one-room log cabin. At first there was no window, and the entrance was the chimney opening which they used until the fireplace was built.

John had brought corn and flour on the “Prairie Schooner” from Indiana, but soon that supply was exhausted and he headed to Oskaloosa, 60 miles away, which was the nearest mill. He took along grist for the mill, but found the first one too busy, so he continued on to Fairfield, and yet to Bonaparte, where he could finally get his supplies. Bad roads caused his four-horse team to mire, and he had to load and unload the grain. Additionally he had bought sheep and hogs, and the entire trip took 21 days. His family was glad to see him return, as they were running out of food, and suffering from a fever and an ague epidemic which was spreading throughout the area.

More of the story

This story appears to have been from William A. Meacham. He tells the story of the Reeves Gang of horse thieves and general marauders. The gang, on their way to Missouri, had camped near McGlothlen’s place, and during the night one of their wagons was burned by fire from their own camp. The settlers in the neighborhood, not knowing the character of the outfit, made up a purse to compensate the gang for their loss, at which time the Reeves gang hurried out of the state escaping the Vigilance Committee.

The following continues the letter of Ms. G. Reynolds:

In 1848, the settlers began to consider some form of civil government. In August , the Old Settler’s Claim Club was organized. J. D. McGlothlen was elected first Vice-President of the Club. In the same year he was elected a County Commissioner. At that time the Commissioners had control of all county affairs. They could levy taxes, organize townships, locate public roads, build bridges and public buildings. Since their decisions could not be appealed it was important that the Commissioners execute good judgment.

The first Court House was a two-story brick standing on Cherry Street. The first floor was used as a court room, public hall and on Sunday for religious meetings. The second story contained offices for the auditor, clerk, recorder, and treasurer.

In April 1849 the Board granted a license to build a dam on the Des Moines River at the foot of Center Street, to be maintained for 50 years. The license expired but the dam remained.

In 1850, during discussions concerning moving the Capitol from Iowa City, McGlothlen suggested an “appropriation of eight thousand dollars be and is hereby made for the purpose of erecting a Court house of sufficient capacity that the same be used by the State of Iowa as a State House so long as the state desire to occupy the same.”

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