Early Holt County history parallels that of Forbes Township. The History of Holt County 1882 notes that the area had large expanses of limestone deposits, prairie, timber which included stands of walnut trees, and was bordered by the Little Tarkio, Missouri and Nodaway rivers, which held large numbers of buffalo, pike, salmon and catfish, and was thus considered to be a prime area for settlement. When the Holt County court met in Oregon on March 22, 1871, a new township was ordered to be created out of the southern portion of Nodaway Township; that township was named the Forbes Township, named after railroad magnate, philanthropist and abolitionist John Murray Forbes. However, Forbes Township history began much earlier than 1871.
Also according to The History of Holt County 1882, the first white settlers of Holt County were Peter Stephenson, his brother Blank Stephenson and his wife, who came from Indiana. They arrived in the spring of 1838, and immediately planted a crop of corn. Later that year more settlers from Indiana arrived – John Russel with his wife and seven children; R.H. Russel, who later became a judge of Holt County, another unnamed Russel brother, James Kee, and John Sterritt, his wife and two children. Since at that time the Stephenson group were the only known white people west of the Nodaway River, they eagerly welcomed the new settlers. The first white child born in the county was John Russel’s son, William R., born October 9, 1838. John Russel built the first frame building in the county, a one-story house with three or four rooms. Blank Stephenson became the first constable in Holt County.
In the spring of 1839, a widowed lady, Mrs. Rachel Jackson, arrived from Indiana with a large family of children. Mrs. Jackson opened a hotel and was known as “a woman of rare executive ability and great force of character.” Her building was a substantial double log house, each room being eighteen feet square, with a nine-foot-wide hall between them. The building was constructed of white oak logs and was considered to be the best house in the county at the time; the county court convened there several times before Oregon was named as county seat. The first doctor in what was later Forbes Township was John C. Norman, who made his Mrs. Jackson’s hotel his headquarters and office. Several of Mrs. Jackson’s children became representatives for the county; her oldest son, Andrew, founded Jackson’s Point, now known as Mound City. The first preacher in Holt County was Rev. William Thorp, a Hardshell Baptist preacher from Clay County. Since most of the population of Holt County at the time was clustered around the area which later became Forbes Township, it is believed that this is where he preached his first sermon. The first organized church in Holt County was the Methodist Episcopal Church, organized by Rev. Edwin Peary, at the home of Elias Davidson, about two miles north of present-day Forbes and held in winter or spring 1841. The county’s first Sunday School was organized in 1841 by Rev. William Hamilton, of the Iowa and Sac Mission, in an old log cabin school house, which also held the distinction of being the first school house built in the county.
This building, put together by a joint effort of neighbors in the spring of 1840, was a crude log house located about three miles southeast of Oregon. Each man who helped brought logs or whatever material he was assigned to bring and they put the 18-square-foot building up in just one day. Benches were made from puncheons split from linden logs; the floor was also constructed of linden logs. Greased paper covered the window. The first teacher was Gilbert Ray; the first students were children of the early pioneers.
The first town attempted in what is now Forbes Township was Dallas, laid out on April 17, 1843, by Abraham Brown, about one mile above the mouth of the Nodaway River. Although it never amounted to much, it was a noted shipping point and was used at times when Iowa Point was not accessible. A hemp press and several large warehouses, along with a small store owned by James Whitehead, comprised the town. Another early town, West Union, was laid out on April 12, 1844, by H. Utt, Henry H. Utt and E. M. Samuel. West Union was located between Dallas and the mouth of the Nodaway River, but never really got off to a start, as people were reluctant to buy lots there.
The town of Forbes was laid out in 1869 by Levi Devorss, formerly from Buchanan County, who was prompted to locate the town at this location because the Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs railroad was completed to that point by the summer of 1868, with the first cars running through the site on August 9, 1868. The first building erected there was a small store, built by William Herron. Herron & W. D. Taylor sold goods there during the summer the road was being built, but had such a good business that within three years they built a larger store, and added a new partner, George Meyer. They built a two-story brick house in 1871 and opened another store there, doing business there until 1881.
The first steam flouring mill in the town of Forbes was erected in 1876 by Shirley & Taylor; it was destroyed by fire shortly after it opened. E.B. Bumps opened the first drug store in Forbes in 1870 and operated it until he moved away in 1877. The first blacksmith shop was opened by John Brownlee. The first physician was Dr. Jason Bumps. Levi Devorss was the first postmaster.
The first schoolhouse in the town of Forbes was built in 1869 by Rev. Mr. Bloomer, a Protestant Methodist preacher, at a cost of $560. The first teacher was Lud Wyet. A new two-story brick building was put up in 1878 & 1879 at a cost of $3000.
Other prominent early settlers were Smith McIntyre, who arrived in 1839 and his brother, Judge George McIntyre. John Stephenson of Indiana, Thomas Ramsey, and John Brownlee of Virginia also arrived in 1839; Brownlee started the first saw mill within Forbes Township. In 1840 James Forster, one of the first attorneys admitted to the bar in Holt County, arrived. Felty Worley, J. Frank Worley, Abraham Brown and his sons all arrived in 1841. Abraham Brown planted the first apple orchard in Holt County. Elias and Benjamin Davidson; Josiah Pierce and sons Charles, Lorenzo, and Silas from Maryland; Robert Patterson; William G. Patterson; W. D. Taylor; Squire P. Shambaugh and his brother Charles; George Meyer; and Henry Clark arrived between 1843 and 1857, and were distinguished men, known for their contributions to the county.
Pictures and information for this article were compiled from information found in internet searches, History of Holt County 1882, History of Holt County 1917, newspaper articles, pictures and personal research housed in the Holt County Historical Society’s Genealogy/Research Center in Mound City, and submitted by Helen Morris Smith.
The first white settlers of Forbes Township were also the first to locate within the limits of Holt County. These were Peter and Blank Stephenson, brothers, from Indiana. Blank brought with him a wife. Peter was unmarried. They arrived in the spring of 1838, and settled on the southeast quarter of section 7, township 59, range 37. This section is contiguous to the present eastern boundary of Lewis Township, and is about five miles southeast of the site of the present town of Oregon. The farm is now (1882) the property of George Meyer. Immediately on their arrival, the Stephensons put in a crop of corn. In the fall of the same year came, also from Indiana, John Russel with his wife and seven children, R. H. Russel, the present (1882) judge of the Probate Court of Holt County, a younger brother, and, at the period of his arrival, an unmarried man, John Sterritt, wife and two children, one of whom, W. H. Sterritt, is now a prominent merchant of the town of Oregon, and James Kee, also from Indiana. At the period of the arrival of these new-comers, Blank Stephenson and wife and his brother Peter were the only white people living west of the Nodaway River, and the arrival of the new- comers was hailed with a welcome which only pioneers know how to extend and to appreciate.
John Russel first settled on the southwest quarter of section 8, township 59, range 37, directly east of Blank Stephenson's. This farm is also the property of George Meyer.
John Sterritt settled on the northwest quarter of section 8, township 59, range 37, directly north of John Russel's. Peter, Blank Stephenson's brother, settled in the same section. He moved away during the progress of the civil war, about 1864, and, going south, settled where he now (1882) resides, in Dade County, Missouri, near Golden City post office, in Barton County. There was no other arrival that fall until the 9th day of October, 1838, when William R. Russel, the first born of the white population of Holt County, first saw the light on the above described farm of his father, within the limits of what is now Forbes Township. In the following spring and summer settlers began to flock in. Among others, came from Indiana, Mrs. Rachel Jackson, a widow lady with a large family of children, among them Alexander Rogers, a grown son by a former marriage.
Mrs. Jackson, who died in January, 1882, at the advanced age of upwards of ninety years, was, at the period of her demise, a resident of Council Bluffs, Iowa, where, until very recently, she was engaged in keeping a hotel. She is described by those who have known her for more than a generation, as a woman of rare executive ability and great force of character. The place which she settled is the southwest quarter of section 5, township 59, range 37, now in the northern tier of Forbes Township sections, was in that day included within the limits of Nodaway Township. This farm is now (1882) the property of Judge George Mclntyre, and here still stands the building erected by Mrs. Jackson. It is a substan tial double log house, each room eighteen feet square, with a hall between them nine feet wide. The white oak logs of which the building is composed were afterwards weather-boarded. This, at the period when it was first built, was the best house in the county. It is still, though unoccupied, in an excellent state of preservation. Mrs. Jackson in an early day, here kept the first house of public entertainment in the county. Here, also, convened the March term of the Circuit Court of Holt, County, just one year after the organization of that body in the house of William Thorp, on the northwest quarter of section 12, township 59, range 38, of Lewis Township, where it first assembled, March 24, 1841. This latter farm is now (1882) owned by the heirs of James Stephenson. On the 4th day of March, 1841, just twenty days before the assembling of the county court, the house of William Thorp was also the scene the inauguration of the first Circuit Court of Holt County, the proceedings of which are elsewhere detailed. Mrs. Jackson's house was, on several subsequent occasions, used to accommodate these courts, and was long a noted locality in the early days of Holt County. Of Mrs. Jackson's children by her second marriage, several afterwards became representative men in the country. Andrew, the eldest son, is the founder of Jackson's Point, now Mound City, in Holt County. In 1853, he moved to California and settled in the Susune Valley, midway between Sacramento and San Francisco, where he has been, for years, a leading grain merchant; Franklin Jackson, his brother, is a prominent insurance man of San Francisco; Wilson Jackson, a fourth son, died young; Ellen, her eldest daughter, married Alexander Record, now of Glenwood Iowa; Mary, another daughter, was the wife of Abijah Duncan, since dead ; Margaret, the youngest died young.
It is related that the first born of the land of Holt experienced, in early infancy, a narrow escape from the consequences of what proved to be a groundless terror on the part of a number of the community of settlers : It appears that one Vesser, an itinerant trader, had killed an Indian in a remote part of the county, and an undue apprehension, on the part of the small band of settlers had been awakened, that the Indians would wreak their vengeance upon them. Alexander Rogers, above referred to, was especially persuaded that such would be the case. John Sterritt and John Russel had both gone to the bottom-lands, some miles distant, to look after their cattle which were there being wintered on the rushes that grew rankly in that locality. The only men about the settlement then were R. H. Russel, Isaac Massey and Alexander Rogers. The alarm was given late in the evening, and these three, with the women and children, promptly fled through the snow to the neigh boring woods. In the course of their flight the infant, William Russel, began to cry. This so terrified Rogers that he promptly expressed himself in favor of smothering the child, whose screams, he believed, would reveal their presence to the murderous Indians. The indignation of the mother and jeers of the men, however, triumphed over his insane alarm, and the sacrifice failed to take place. After a halt of some hours in the cover of a dense wood, about midnight, the snort of a horse which happened to be in the party was instantly construed into a signal of the approach of the blood-thirsty red-men. In an instant all was excitement, and the valiant Alex, again bethought him of that baby and of the possibility of its again giving a scream. Fortunately the destroying savage proved to be an antlered buck whose glaring eyeballs gleaming in the pale starlight, had startled the horse. By no means, however, satisfied of their safety, the fugitives proceeded through the snow to the Nodaway River, a distance of four miles. Crossing this stream on a raft, the men left the women and children on the Andrew County side, and returned. On their arrival they found John Sterritt and John Russel, who had just got back from the bottom. They immediately went to work and barricaded and otherwise fortified the house, which was a log building, on the Russell farm. In a few days, however, it became apparent that the scare was absolutely groundless. No Indians were in the immediate neighborhood, and those in other parts of the Purchase had not, if they were conscious of their existence, the slightest idea of in any way injuring or molesting the settlers. Thus, the first estampede from the settlement proved happily the result of a causeless alarm at which the pioneers could afford to laugh, as the almost daily increasing neighborhood pursued the even tenor of its way. William R. Russel, whose escape from the effects of terrors of Rogers, which produced the incident above detailed, not only survived his infant flight, but grew to manhood, and is now (1882) a resident of San Bernardino County, California, where he is successfully engaged in the nursery business.
In the summer of 1840 George and Augustus Borchers started, within the present limits of Forbes Township, the "Pioneer Store" of Holt County. The senior member of this primitive and original mer-j cantile enterprise of this county has been dead for some years. Augustus Borchers is now (1882) a resident of Hamburg, Iowa. They were the first Germans to settle within the limits of Holt County, and the first foreigners naturalized there. They bore the character of men of stricl integrity, as well as of sterling business capacity. Their initial start ir business was, of course, in keeping with the demands of the settlement and necessarily on a very small scale. Their store stood on the northwest corner of the southwest quarter of section 7, township 59, range 37 on a farm now the property of George Meyer, within the present limit.' of Forbes Township, but included, in that day, in the area of Nodaway the eastern of the two original townships into which the county, on it: organization, was divided. They continued to do a fair business her; for about two years, when the newly established town of Oregon absorbed their trade.
It is related by the few who here survive of the original settlers this neighborhood, that the winter of 1840-41 was, unlike its several predecessors, one of unusual mildness. During the entire season there was no frost on the ground, and plowing was feasible during all the winter months.
It appears that Blank Stephenson was the first to hold the office constable within the limits of Holt County, at that period include within the limits of Buchanan County. This was in 1839. His first official experience is rather amusing, and was as follows: He started on the track of a horse thief, and pursuing him as far as English Grove, a locality now included within the present limits of Atchison County, he halted for the night. Awaking the next morning, the astute constable was amazed to find that the thief had overtaken him, and made a second haul by stealing his horse. The baffled official was thus reduced to the necessity of walking back home, where his crest-fallen appearance, in due time, failed not to excite the derision of the community, in which his first exploit long after remained a standing joke. The unfortunate Blank Stephenson met a tragic and untimely end. In the month of July, 1840, as he was in the act of crossing his yard fence with a load of kitchen wood in his arms, he was struck by lightning and instantly killed. The first violent death of a white person in the county was thus the visitation of Providence on the head of the first settler. It appears that this untimely victim of the thunderbolt, though a person of honorable impulse, was a man of turbulent disposition and powerfully athletic frame. On that very morning he had prepared himself for a fisticuff encounter with another who claimed the championship of the neighborhood, and was almost in the act of starting to the scene of the anticipated fight, when he was suddenly and terribly conquered by an invincible adversary. The spot on which transpired this lamentable occurrence was near the site of Borcher's store, on the farm above described as the present (1882) property of George Meyer. Blank Stephenson was the first who obtained a license to sell whisky in the county. This was granted March 21, 1841, by the first county court. The instrument granted to George Drane and Blank Stephenson license to keep "grocery" for the term of twelve months by paying ten dollars. In 1839, William, the father of John and Peter Stephenson, came out from Indiana, and remained in Holt County, residing in Forbes township up to the period of his death, which occurred at the age of fifty-two years, in December, 1841. With their father, in 1839, came William Stephenson, Jr., who died of the measles while serving in the Mexican War, John now (1882) living four miles from Oregon. Mike and also Alexander Stephenson died in 1843.
The first to preach the gospel within the limits of what is now Holt County, was the Rev. William Thorp, a Hardshell Baptist minister from Clay County. It is believed that, inasmuch as the bulk of the population were at that time residing within what is now included within the limits of Forbes Township, that it was, in that locality, that the reverend pioneer preached his first sermon. It is a circumstance worthy of notice that, notwithstanding the subsequent general development, and comparative wealth existing in Forbes Township, there is not, nor has there ever been erected within its present limits, a building exclusively devoted to the purposes of public worship.
OTHER EARLY SETTERS
Prominent among the other early settlers of what is now Forbes Township, were Smith Mclntyre, who arrived in 1839, and died, in 1881, on his farm, in the southeast quarter of section 6, township 59, range 37, of Forbes Township. Judge George Mclntyre, his brother, who now (1882) lives at home, on the quarter adjoining on the east, in section 5 John Baldwin, from Parke County, Indiana, settled in Forbes Township, in 1839. John Stephenson, from Indiana, came in 1840. In the same year came Thomas Ramsay, who settled the farm now owned by N. Murray & Bros. About the same period, Joseph Brownlee, from Virginia, settled in the Missouri River bottom. He was the first man to start a steam saw mill within the limits of the township. This was about a mile and a half below the present Town of Forbes. In 1840, also came James Foster, one of the first attorneys admitted to the bar of Holt County. He was born in County Monahan, Ireland, February 18, 1818. In 1837, he came to the United States, and settled in Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1839 ne was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court, at Boonville. In the following year, he moved to Holt County, and settled in Forbes Township, making his office and residence at the Widow Jackson's, where he continued to make his home, till the founding of the Town of Oregon, the county seat, when he took up his abode and continued to reside there in the practice of his profession, for many years after. His professional standing in the state was high, and his personal popularity great. He represented Holt County in the legislature of 1848-49. A strong sympathizer with the cause of the South, during the period of the rebellion, he moved his residence from Oregon. At the close of the war, he returned, but a few years after again left, moving his residence permanently. In 1841, Felty Worley settled on the farm now (1882) owned by Huitt. J. Frank Worley, who came at the same time, now lives in the bottom. In the same year came Abraham Brown and his sons, E. R. Brown, A. Mc. Brown and Dr. M. D. Brown. The three former are dead. Dr. Brown is now a resident of Forest City, Missouri.
Abraham Brown settled the northwest quarter of section 10, township 59, range 37, in what is now Forbes Township. In the year of his arrival he planted on this farm, which is now (1882) the property of F.C. Honnen, the first apple orchard ever set out in Holt County. The trees were grafted on crab apple stocks. Josiah Pierce, with his sons Charles, Lorenzo and Silas, came from Maryland in 1841, and settled in the present Forbes Township. Elias and Benjamin Davidson were also early settlers. Robert Patterson, a large land-owner, who now resides on the southwest corner section 4, in the same township and range, settled there in 1841. William G. Patterson is also an old settler. W. D. Taylorand Squire P. Shambaugh both continue to reside where they first settled in Forbes Township, in 1843. Charles Shambaugh, a brother of the latter, also came about the same time. John and Daniel Huitt settled in the neighborhood in 1846. George Meyer, the fruit man, came from Lewis Township in 1857, and settled in Forbes Township on the splendid farm he now owns in sections seven and eight. Henry Clark settled in an early day in a locality in the neighborhood of Nodaway River, known as Cracker's Neck.
The first to practice medicine in what is now Forbes Township, was Doctor John C. Norman, the pioneer physician of the county. Previous to the laying out of the town of Oregon, to which he afterwards moved, he made his headquarters and office at the Widow Jackson's tavern. John M. Briggs, a native of Tennessee, who afterwards moved to Iowa, where he died in 1877, started in 1840, the first blacksmith shop within the limits of what is now Forbes Township. His stand was about six miles southeast of the site of Oregon.
BUILDINGS AND PEOPLE
The first frame building erected for a residence in the county was put up by John Russel, on what is now the George Meyer farm. It is a one-story house, with three or four rooms, and is still in a good state of preservation. The class of citizens wlio settled in what is now Forbes Township, with a fair share of the roughs and restless characters who float everywhere in the van of civilization, were generally men of enterprise and often persons of substance, for that early day. Some of them yet remain reputable and honored members of the community, while the descendants of many are living representatives of the best class of the inhabitants of the county. About the year 1846 organized gangs of outlaws rendered property in horses yery unsafe ; and, though an eminently law-abiding people, the better class of citizens were reduced to the necessity of associating themselves into companies for the purpose of putting down the source of these outrages. The people inhabiting that section of the county now known as Forbes Township were especially sufferers by these robberies. About one hundred of these organized themselves into a vigilance committee, of which William Thorp was chosen captain and James Craig (now Gen. Craig, of St. Joseph,) lieutenant. For a while it seemed difficult to fix suspicion on any individual. It, however, began to be remarked that a quiet and seemingly inoffensive citizen, by the name of George Carter, who had formerly resided in the neighborhood, occasionally returned to visit his friends ; further, that these visits were periodic, and, also, it began to be the subject of remark that, whenever George favored his Holt County friends with a visit, his sympathetic nature was sure to be wounded by hearing, shortly after his arrival, of some of their horses having been stolen. The strangeness of the coincidence soon became the subject of general remark. Suspicion was directed against Carter, and immediately acted on. He was arrested, tied up and severely whipped. He finally yielded to the pressure of circumstances, and disclosed the whole business, giving the name of an unsuspected accomplice, by the name of Bass, who was forthwith arrested and subjected to the same discipline. The thieves were then given three days in which to leave the county, an injunction with which they promptly complied. This effectually broke up horse-stealing in these parts.
Source: The History of Holt and Atchison Counties, Missouri; 1882