SALEM CEMETERY: BEGINNINGS, PART I
First settlers of Lucas County tend to be divided by those doing
the discussing into two camps: First permanent settlers in one
camp and the Mormons, in another.
However, the Sac and the Fox and members of other nations
were here first, encamped along the Chariton River, other
streams (English, White Breast, Wolf, Lost Branch creeks and more)
and their tributaries and hunting the high prairies
between, for thousands of years before folks of European
descent descended upon and displaced them. The earliest
of these were mound builders, but most of their ceremonial
mounds have by now been obscured or destroyed.
My grandfather, Irwin Myers, was good at finding arrowheads
and other artifacts on a parcel of his farm that we called the Lower
40, which stretched down toward the Chariton River.
And I'm looking now at a rough chunk of beaten copper about three
inches in length with a spur still showing clearly where it once
was bound by deerskin thongs to a stick to form an ideal club.
Grandfather and his brother, Raymond, found this artifact along
a stream in the Lower 40 when they were boys, and as boys would
do got into a fight over who would keep it. Grandpa won and so,
indirectly, did I.
Lucas County belonged originally to a large portion of Iowa ceded to
the United States by the Sac and Fox in a treaty signed at Agency,
southeast of Ottumwa, during the fall of 1842. The entire Sac and Fox
nation was assembled at that treaty session, with Keokuk as their
spokesman, and it was agreed that the original owners would vacate
the premises as far west as the red rocks on the Des Moines River
(in what is now Marion County, just north of Lucas) by the 1st of May,
1843, and the remainder by the 10th of October, 1845.
If you draw a line straight south from the red rocks, it passes roughly
along Lucas County's eastern border, dividing Lucas from Monroe
So Lucas County did not officially open for settlement until the fall of 1845.
The great rush into Monroe County, from the east to the west bank
of the Des Moines River, began just after midnight on the 1st of May 1843, and my
Miller and McMulin ancestors were among the first to claim unbroken
land on the western shore in Monroe County on that spring day.
Because of the treaty provisions, however, Lucas County remained pristine
for a little more than two years more.
There were, of course, incursions by prospective settlers despite
the fact federal troops were stationed at Agency and at the junction
of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers (now the site of Des Moines)
to enforce the provisions of the treaty. But the names of those
impatient pioneers have been lost.
The 1881 history of Lucas County, which has tended to be definitive
despite some obvious faults, declared William McDermott to be
Lucas County's first permanent settler. According to old stories, he
had settled first near Pella in Marion County, but didn't care for his
Dutch neighbors. And so, during the spring of 1847 he moved to what
now is Cedar Township, quite near the Monroe County line, and
built a cabin at a place he designated "Ireland," in honor of his
birth country. Ireland was located quite near what now is Bethel
Cemetery, the oldest portion of which was deeded to the township
trustees by my great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Rhea)
Rhea Etheredge Sargent and her third (and vastly younger) husband,
Edward Ebeneezer Sargent. William McDemott, who died 1 August
1875 at age 86, is buried in that old cemetery, which has been
enlarged substantially and now also is the location of Bethel United
There always have been grumblings, however, that one John Ballard,
who settled just to the north of Cedar Township, in English Township,
actually got there first.
This was the topic of an enchage of letters between Lucas County
pioneers Dr. Wyatt W. Waynick and Col. W.S. Dungan, published
in The Chariton Patriot of 3 May 1900.
In one of these letters, dated 20 October 1899, Dr. Waynick
declares, "In May, 1848, I, with my brother, D.W. Waynick, left
Indiana in company with Mr. James Rowland and family, and
about the 15th of May we landed in what is now Cedar Township,
Lucas county, Iowa. There Mr. Rowland made a claim and we
helped him to erect a cabin and were there about two weeks.
While there I became acquainted with William McDermit (sic),
who had settled one mile west of Rowland's. I saw him almost
every day. He informed me that there was a settler in the county
before he came. He said his name was John Ballard, who was
located in what is now English township. He did not claim to
be the oldest settler but I remember very distinctly that he
said John Ballard had settled there, at a place he called "Hickory
Point" before McDermit came to the county, and that Ballard
was there when he (McDermit) came to the county.
"I have informed the compilers of the history of the county of
1881 the facts above stated but they seem to have
disregarded it. (signed) Wyatt W. Waynick"
And so it generally is accepted these days that John Ballard
actually got here first, but the McDermott tradition is embedded,
too, in Lucas County lore.
Next: The Mormons