Union County Genealogical Society

The Early Days

Union County, Iowa consisting of twelve townships: Dodge, Douglas Grant, Highland, Jones, Lincoln, New Hope, Platte, Pleasant, Sand Creek, Spaulding and Union, was created in 1853 from the prairie covered rolling hills of southwest Iowa 75  miles southwest of Des Moines, IA and 80 miles southeast of Omaha, NE. 
When Iowa became a state in 1846, the area that became Union County was open prairie and virgin timber, the land of the Pottawattamie Indian tribe.  In that year, the land was officially exchanged for a reservation in Kansas and the first white settlers, the Mormons arrived establishing a way station named Mount Pisgah in the future Jones Township. They used this temporary home until 1852.
The first permanent settlers were Norman Nunn and Joseph B Nunn with their families, emigrating from Putman County, Indiana in February of 1850, after spending two years in Madison County.  Norman Nunn, a blacksmith, and his wife were the parents of six sons and three daughters.  The Nunn families seem to be of some means, arriving with several yoke of oxen, two or three wagons as well as a limited number of household goods. 
Arriving about the same time was the James H Stark family from Mahaska County.  The three families purchased claims from the Mormons at Pisgah, who were leaving for the west.  They immediately made plans for permanent improvements to the settlement. A blacksmith shop was erected, a one room cabin was put in order, and the new settlers were ready to provide entertainment for both man and beast. It was not long before they were stretched to capacity serving the tide of people traveling west to the California gold fields.  From Spring to August of 1950, they provided supplies or shelter for a night.  Early to late the blacksmith’s fire was burning as he was mending broken wagons and setting shoes on horses for the California travelers.  It is said that blacksmith Nunn, at the end of the season, had to make a strong box to hold the $2,500 in gold that he had accumulated.
Starting west from Quincy, IL with three teams of oxen and horses, the William M Locke family arrived at Pisgah in May 1850 and decided to stay.  Following the footsteps of the other families, the Lockes purchased a Mormon cabin to make their home.  The cabins were about sixteen feet square, built of small trees, the roof was covered with rived clapboards and the exterior had a covering of sod to keep out the cold.  The floors were made of puncheons and the doors of rived clapboards fastened with pins and closed by a latch with a latchstring, which among pioneers, always hung outside inviting the stranger to enter.
The first white child the permanent settlers was a son Charles born to Mr. and Mrs. Locke in August 1850.  He was a bright child of promise but unfortunately died when he was eleven.  The new settlers planted crops this first year and were blessed with a bountiful harvest.  Their supplies were hauled two hundred from Keokuk and the nearest post office was at Winterset, twenty-five miles away.
In September, Benjamin Lamb arrived in the county to settle on section 26 of Pleasant Township with his wife, eleven children and three nephews.  He made a claim, built the sides of a cabin.  Not entirely pleased, as soon as the claim was secured, he traveled west to Kanesville (Council Bluffs) with his family where they rested the team of horses a few days before continuing south to St. Joseph, MO.  The family remained there until February 1851 when they decided to return to their claim in Union County.  A heavy snow when they arrived convinced they needed to quickly add a clapboard roof and puncheon floor to their cabin.  Though their cabin was neither large or elegant, for years it was known far and near a stopping place and it was not uncommon for this family of sixteen to shelter fifteen or twenty for the night.
For more information on the development of Union County, check out History of Union County by George A Ide  or Illustrated Centennial Map and Directory of Union County, Iowa by C J Colby,