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Selkirk Settlers in Jones County

by William E. Corbin

Manitoba Pageant, Spring 1977, Volume 22, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

The story of the Selkirk Settlement in the Red River Valley is well known. Little has been written about the settlers who left the colony to find new land and opportunities in the south. The following article discusses the journey of groups from Red River in 1837 & 1838 and their establishment of the first settlement in what was to become Jones County Iowa. Reprinted from the Jones County Historical Review, Vol. 2, No. 1 & 2, 1976.

In 1835 a small group of Highlanders in the Red River Settlement prepared to brave the wilderness and go south to view the land which they had heard about. Hugh Livingston, 34 (originally spelled Livingstone) and Alexander McLain (later spelled McClain) were among the party.

Hugh Livingston had originally come from Argyll, Scotland, and now he, his wife, the former Isabella Rose, and their three children prepared for the long journey.

Livingston, a cabinetmaker, had built the two-wheeled carts to carry supplies and his family's belongings. Traveling was slow as the group made their way southward through the wilderness. It was especially tiring for the women and children.

When they reached Fort Snelling on the Mississippi River, Hugh Livingston built rafts which transported the women and children downstream while the men brought the ox carts along the bank. Their journey covered nearly a thousand miles by the time they arrived at Dubuque, a lead mining town on the Iowa side of the river.

The weary Highlanders spent the winter at Dubuque, where Isabella Livingston gave birth to their fourth child. The following spring the men traveled into the interior to explore the land which they had been told about during the winter.

They traveled in a southwest direction until they reached the open prairie land which gave the appearance of a sea of waving grass. The western edge of the prairie was bordered by the Maquoketa River. On either side of the river was a heavily timbered region which would provide the building materials for the settlers.

Hugh Livingston was impressed with the region and put his claim on a portion of high ground near the Maquoketa River in Delaware county near the present town of Hopkinton, which reminded him so much of the Scottish Highlands. Other locations were chosen further down the river in Jones county.

During the summer of 1836, Alexander McLain returned to the Red River Settlement with news of the land to the south. Plans were made and the Scottish families prepared carts and supplies for the trip to be made the following spring.

The Red River or Pembina carts were the vehicles used for the thousand mile journey. These carts were a product of the locality, doubtlessly of French origin, and handed down to the Bois Brules or halfbreeds, by their French ancestors.

For 75 years they were the common freight wagons and family carriages of the community. The only tools needed to make the cart were an axe to cut down a tree and a gun to shoot an elk or buffalo.

Two huge wooden wheels over five feet in diameter with 11 or 12 spokes set into a wooden hub seemed the most essential feature. The body was made of rough boards laid lengthwise and pegged down by one crosswise board pegged to the axle.

A rude framework several feet high to be covered by a buffalo skin completed the body. No nails or metal parts were used in the construction. The shafts were an extension of a board in the body with a hole bored about a foot from the end, to which the harness for holding the ox drawing the cart was attached.

John Sutherland who as a young man was among the first of the Kildonan group to come to the Red River, now in 1837, as a middle-aged man, was one of the early advocates of moving to the United States. He prepared to leave with his wife Margaret McBeth, who had come with the Churchill party at the age of 18, and their children: John, Alexander, George, David, Donald, Roderick, William, Catherine, Adam, and an infant daughter Christina.

Alexander Sutherland, who had come with the Churchill party at the age of 24, had preceded his father and mother, William and Isabella Sutherland, and the younger members of his family. Now with his wife "Aunt Jean" and those of their children: William, Elspeth, "Eapie" and John, who were all born at the Red River settlement, he too was ready to try a new life to the south.

James Livingston, 42, a brother to Hugh Livingston, who was waiting in Dubuque, also planned to make the trip. He and his wife Sarah Bowie and their seven children were ready to leave.

Joining the Livingstons were: Angus Matheson, his wife Isabel Livingston, a daughter of James Livingston; Alexander Rose and his wife Lilias, parents of Hugh Livingston's wife; and Hugh Rose, a bachelor brother. The Rose family came from Nairn, Scotland.

Other families in the party were those of Alexander McLean, David McCoy (originally spelled McKay), and Joseph Bremmer. He evidently was a widower, for he and his crippled son, "Willie" lived alone at Scotch Grove.

The McCoys and the Bremmers are not names in the ships list of the first parties, so they had evidently joined Selkirk's settlers at a later date. The McCoy springs has always been a landmark in the Scotch Grove area.

The caravan left the Red River in the early summer of 1837 with Alexander McLain as the guide. The Red River cart carried these pioneers and their belongings over a thousand mile journey.

They covered about 15 miles a day over nightmarish wilderness trails or in many cases no trail at all. There were rivers to cross, marshy ground to avoid, and lakes to go around. In sloughs or deep mudholes the long spokes enabled the wheels to reach solid ground.

When they had to cross deep streams, they lashed the wheels together to form a raft for the body, the men and animals swimming the current. There were no luxurious springs on the cart to tempt even the most tired travellers with promises of easy riding, and its approach was heralded for miles by the screech of the wooden axles.

With these carts loaded with from 700-1,000 pounds and followed by whatever livestock they owned, these pioneers travelled southward through the summer of 1837.

Burning sun, violent hailstorms, wind and rain beat upon them in turn as they plodded on; mosquitoes and flies tormented them; fear of wandering Indians harassed them.

At night the carts became their fortress as hub to hub they were placed in a circle, while within this rude stockade the travellers cooked, ate and slept, always guarded by one of their number.

After reaching the headwaters of the Mississippi River, they followed the western bank southward. Food was plentiful and they lived off the land as they travelled. The journey took four months to complete but in the fall of 1837 the party arrived at Dubuque.

Hugh Livingston was waiting in Dubuque for the arrival of his brother and friends. After their arrival there was a short rest after which Hugh brought his brother James, Alexander Rose, Angus Matheson, Hugh Rose, and their families to his claim in Delaware county, which he had selected the year before. This settlement became known as the Upper Scotch Grove.

Alexander McLain, the Sutherlands, Joseph Bremmer and David McCoy went to the area along the Maquoketa River in Jones county. That settlement soon became known as the Scotch Grove.

In 1838 a third party of Scotch settlers left the Red River and made the slow trip by ox cart to Dubuque. Again it took all summer to complete the journey.

Arriving at Dubuque and going to the Scotch Grove settlement were: Donald Sutherland, his wife Nancy Livingston and their two children; Ebenezer Sutherland, his wife Sarah Gunn; Isabella Sutherland, mother of Donald and Ebenezer, who died the following year at Scotch Grove; Donald Sinclair, his wife Ann Gibbs and their three children Christina, Elizabeth, and Angus; and the John McLain family.

Shortly after their arrival, Nancy Sutherland gave birth to a son on Nov. 23, 1838. The child was named Donald and was the first child born in Scotch Grove township.

In 1840 the fourth group left the Selkirk settlement. Among this party were Hugh Livingston's brothers, Donald 49, and John 32. Donald Livingston came to the Red River in 1812 as a ship's carpenter for Lord Selkirk.

He was paid $1.25 a week to build various types of boats at the settlement. The largest was a schooner used on Lake Winnipeg.

He and Angus Matheson were appointed the first constables at the settlement in 1817. But now, he and his wife, Ann McGiloray, along with their four younger children were leaving.

John Livingston was single, his wife having died in 1835. Also included in this group were David Essen and his wife Margaret Rose and the Lawrence Devaney family.

This caravan encountered additional hardships which made their trip more difficult than the earlier ones. The guide became sick and the caravan wandered aimlessly for days in an unknown region.

Ann Livingston was involved in an unfortunate fall which broke her hip. A bed was made on one of the carts but the ride was painful for her as the cart jogged along over the rough ground.

When they reached the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling, a raft was constructed to transport Mrs. Livingston downstream. Her 18-year-old son John was put in charge of poling the raft and caring for his mother.

The caravan arrived in Dubuque in the fall and continued on to the Scotch Grove settlement. The Devaneys remained in Dubuque where Mrs. Devaney soon gave birth to a son.

Upon their arrival at Scotch Grove, the new settlers selected some land for their future home. With the help of their neighbours a log cabin was soon erected and preparations made for the approaching winter.

These Highlanders had endured the hardships of the Red River region but conditions along the Maquoketa were also difficult for the early settlers. They lived a very simple life.

Wild game was plentiful and the hunter could bring in prairie chickens, turkey or deer with little trouble. Wild honey was abundant in the timber and was used in many ways by the housewife.

During the summer there were plenty of berries, grapes, and crabapples for the table. In the fall they gathered hazelnuts, walnuts and butternuts to be dried for winter use.

The wheat that they could raise was needed to make their flour. Threshing the grain from the stalk was a long, slow process. The Livingstons at the Upper Grove spread the wheat shocks on a floor and the oxen were driven over it continually.

The straw was raked off and the remaining material collected. The wind was then used to blow away the chaff, hulls, and excess straw as the collected material was poured from one container to another. After this was done several times only the grain remained. This process of cleaning the grain is known as winnowing.

Donald Sinclair brought the first querns or grindstones to Jones county. These two hand hewn stones were each six inches thick and two feet in diameter. They had been brought originally from Scotland.

To grind flour, one stone was placed on top of the other with the flat sides together. The top stone had a hole in the center into which the grain was poured. As the top stone was turned in a circular motion the grain was ground into a coarse flour used to make sweet bread. Fine bolted flour was needed to bake the snowy white bread.

In 1837 the closest gristmill was five miles above Dubuque. Later one was built on Catfish Creek and several years after that one was constructed at Cascade on the North Fork of the Maquoketa River. A trip to the mill and back in the early days would take three days.

The first sawmill in the region was built at Canton. Any building material which could not be hued out at home had to be hauled back from the Canton mill. In 1842 a sawmill was built at Rockville on the North Fork. In 1844 a sawmill was put in operation at the present location of Hopkinton.

Early settlers had their own tools for making wood shingles. Clear logs were selected and cut into short lengths. These blocks were quartered and then the men used a knife-like tool and a mallet to split off a rough slab or shingle.

The early Scotch people needed all the crops they grew for their own use, but one item they did market was hogs. Their hogs ran loose in the timbers where there were plenty of acorns and forage. In the fall they would be rounded up and killed when the weather turned cold.

The animals were dressed and the carcasses hung up to freeze. When frozen the meat was loaded on a sled or wagon and taken to Dubuque for sale. At this time $2.25 to $2.50 was considered a good price for a dressed hog. Usually the carcasses were traded for other supplies which the settler needed.

During the 1840s the Scottish settlers experienced some severe winters with heavy snow and strong winds which lasted for days. Both Hugh and James Livingston lost their lives as a result of these winter storms.

On January 31, 1845 the two brothers made a trip to the Cascade gristmill. On the return trip they encountered bad weather which developed into a severe storm. The brothers became separated and James failed to reach home that night. The next morning a search party found his frozen body.

Two years later Hugh Livingston and his nephew made a trip to Dubuque for supplies. They were returning home on Christmas Day when they were caught on the open prairie by a severe storm.

In the vicinity of what is now Sand Springs the tongue on the long sleigh broke and the team got away. The young man ran after the team while Hugh remained with the sleigh. By the time help was obtained and they returned to the sleigh Hugh Livingston had perished from the severe cold weather.

Donald Livingston acquired land in the southwestern part of Scotch Grove township. A quarter section of land next to him had been selected for a county seat and with the influence of the Scottish settlers in the area the site was named Edinburg.

When the Highland Scotch first arrived they organized church meetings in various cabins. During 1837-38 the Rev. Michael Hummer was a circuit rider, who was welcomed at Scotch Grove to preach to these stray Presbyterians.

When Edinburg was established, the Highlanders recognized it as a future town and in June, 1841, they organized the First Presbyterian church of Edinburg consisting of 12 members. Their minister was Rev. Salmon Cowles of West Point, Lee county. He made the 130 mile trip to preach at Edinburg five or six times a year.

In 1841 Donald Livingston's son John, who had brought his mother down the Mississippi on a raft, died. No cemetery had been established in the town-ship and since the church was now located at Edinburg, a burial ground was located there also, the first burial being that of John Livingston. The burial ground was used by the settlers until about 1851.

By 1850 the Highlanders realized that the town of Edinburg had failed to develop as they had expected. Ebenezer Sutherland offered the Presbyterians seven acres of land on the northeast corner of his farm for a church and cemetery.

The offer was accepted and a church building erected in 1851. In 1851 the name of the church was changed to First Presbyterian church of Scotch Grove. A larger church built in 1861 still remains today.

Page revised: 20 July 2009

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