History of Fort Dodge and Webster County, Iowa - 1913 - W

Webster County >> 1913 Index

History of Fort Dodge and Webster County, Iowa
by H. M. Pratt. 
Chicago: The Pioneer Publishing Company, 1913.


Unless noted, biographies submitted by Dick Barton.

No history of Fort Dodge would be complete without extended reference to James Blakely Williams, who was but twelve year of age when he first visited the site of the city.  It had been selected as an army post but it was not until the following year that the city was laid out, with his father as one of its promoters and incorporators.  From that period until his death he lived here and his life work became an integral chapter in the history of the community.  James Blakely Williams was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, May 11, 1836, a son of Major William Williams and Judith Lloyd (McConnell) Williams, both of whom were natives of Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the latter being Huntingdon.  Of the five children born to them, two survived, James Blakely and Mary Augustine, who became the wife of J. F. Duncombe.  The father, Major Williams, was a banker in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, until 1849,when attracted by  the opportunities and advantages of the growing west, he left his native state.  He was born in Greensburg, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, December 6, 1796, and was reared and educated among the frontier men of that period, men who had served in the Revolutionary war and had participated in the contest with the Indians for the supremacy of the country.  In early life Major Williams became well versed in military tactics and it was his desire to enter upon a military career.  When sixteen years of age he obtained his father's consent to join the  army but circumstances arose that made this course impossible.  He visited both Pittsburg and Carlisle, where schools were established for cavalry and flying artillery.  Events, however, forced him to turn his attention to a commercial rather than a military career and he obtained the position of teller in the Westmoreland Bank of Pennsylvania at Greensburg. This was one of the forty banks chartered during the administration of Governor Snyder.  After serving in that capacity for some time he resigned his position and began the manufacture of salts on the Kiskiminitas river.  With his father's death the responsibility of providing for and educating the other children of the family devolved upon Major Williams, a burden which he assumed willingly, recognizing at once his obligation in that direction. About that time he accepted an appointment which gave him charge of seven different mercantile establishments, the principal one of which was at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.  It was while there that he was married on the 19th of August, 1830, to Miss Judith Lloyd McConnell.  On the completion of the canal he removed to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, where he opened and conducted a store, and while there he was tendered the appointment of teller of the Exchange Bank of Pittsburg, which position he accepted, removing to the latter city.  The bank determined to establish a branch at Hollidaysburg and Mr. Williams returned to that place to become cashier of the new institution, with which he was thus connected for some years.  On the 15th of May, 1842, his wife died and about that time he was tendered the command of the Third Regiment in the Fenian cause, intended to act in concert with Smith O'Brien in Ireland. This regiment was made up mostly of officers and soldiers who had served in Mexico.
On the 12th of February, 1844, Major Williams was again married, his second union being with Miss Jeannette J. Quinan, a daughter of the Rev. Thomas H. Quinan, of Philadelphia.  They continued residents of Pennsylvania until March, 1849, when they started for Iowa, Major Williams bringing out a company of one hundred and forty-one people.  Upon arriving at Muscatine he found that the Indians were occasioning considerable trouble, three companies of United States troops, under command of Major Samuel Woods, arriving at Muscatine about that time on their way to Indiantown.  Being acquainted with the greater number of officers, Major Williams accompanied them, taking with him his son James Blakely Williams, then a youth of twelve years. A site was selected on which to establish a post, called Fort Clark, now Fort Dodge, and Major Armstead was dispatched with a company of troops to the points designated.  Major Williams, at the request of General Churchill, Major Woods and Captain Caster, went to Fort Snelling, as Governor Ramsey was then having difficulty with the Chippewa and Sioux Indians, who were collecting their forces for a general war.  after the soldiers left Fort Dodge, the object of their mission having been accomplished, Major Williams opened a sutler's store and traded with the Indians. The firm, Henn, Williams & Company platted the town, now the city of Fort Dodge and here Major Williams resided until his death, which occurred February 26, 1874.  He was not only the founder of the town but one of its chief promoters, his labors constituting an important element in its substantial growth and improvement for many years. His name is inseparably interwoven with its history. Major Williams was the first postmaster and the first mayor of Fort Dodge and he cooperated in all the various movements which tended to advance the interests of the community.  During the latter years of his life he lived retired, enjoying a well earned and well merited rest.  a man of liberal education and of high moral character, he was also of a genial disposition and kindly spirit.  These combined qualities well fitted him for leadership and he left the impress of his individuality for good upon the community in which he made his home.
James Blakely Williams, son of Major Williams, became a resident of Fort Dodge when thirteen years of age.  He pursued his education under the direction of his father and when the Civil war broke out enlisted as a member of Company I, of the Thirty-second Iowa Volunteer Infantry, under Major Hutchinson, continuing at the front throughout the period of hostilities. He was a fine penman, by reason of which he was detailed to act as chief clerk at headquarters under General A. J. Smith.  Following the war he returned to Fort Dodge, where he opened a set of abstract books of the county, and continued in the abstract business until his death, having as his partner his niece, Miss Maude Lauderdale, who now owns the books and the business and is well known in Webster county as the present incumbent in the office of county recorder. Like his father, James B. Williams was active in promoting the welfare, upbuilding and progress of Fort Dodge along many lines.  In his business affairs he was ever methodical and systematic, his records being accurate and reliable, while his books were a marvel of neatness.  He was one of the best known men in the county and none were held in higher regard.
On the 2d of June, 1862, James B. Williams was married, while home from the army on a furlough, to Miss Annie R. Marshall, a daughter of Robert and Mary Catharine (Luther) Marshall.  Mrs. Williams was born in Brooklyn, New York, August 8, 1842, and is a granddaughter of Thomas and Fanny (Freelove) Marshall, the former a native of England and the latter of New York.  Both died during the cholera epidemic in that state in 1838.  They were parents of the following named:  James, Thomas, Mary, Robert, John R., Sarah and Hettie.  Of these the first three died of cholera.  The maternal grandfather of Mrs. Williams was John Luther, who married Catherine Baizley.  They were both natives of New York and lived to a ripe old age.
Robert Marshall, father of Mrs. Williams, was born in New York city and while in Brooklyn was a rope manufacturer, owning an extensive factory which covered nine blocks. He removed westward in the '60s, making the journey with a company of seventeen people, and settled on the borders of Humboldt and Webster counties, where he engaged in farming.  Unto him and his wife were born thirteen children, Catharine E., Robert J., Thomas A., Mary Grace, John Luther, Sadie F., Annie R., John Luther II, Margaret Antoinette, William K. and Fanny F., twins, Cornelia Cox and Fanny Freelove II.  The father, Robert Marshall, died on June 26, 1875, at the age of sixty-seven years, and the mother, Mary C. (Luther) Marshall, passed away October 7, 1899, at the age of eighty-eight years.
To Mr. and Mrs. James B. Williams were born three children:  Alfred and Robbie Lloyd, both now deceased;  and one, who died in infancy.  The death of Mr. Williams occurred August 25, 1903, when he was sixty-seven years of age.  He had been almost a lifelong resident of Webster county and the circle of his friends was almost coextensive with the circle of his acquaintances.  He was held in the highest regard by reason of his reliability in business, his loyalty and progressiveness in citizenship and his devotion to family and friends.  Mrs. Williams died at Fort Dodge, on August 15, 1912.

Major William Williams, the first mayor of Fort Dodge, was a native of Pennsylvania, being born in Westmoreland county, December 6, 1796.  He came to this city in 1850, taking the place of sutler for the United States troops stationed here. On the removal of the troops in 1854, Major Williams bought the government buildings and platted the town.  When in 1857 news came of the Indian depredations at Spirit Lake, he organized and commanded the expedition which went to the relief of the settlers.  On August 22, 1869, by order of the circuit court of Webster county, Major Williams and four others were appointed commissioners to call an election and to do all things necessary for the incorporation of the city of Fort Dodge.  The result of this first city election, held October 1, 1869, was to give the mayoralty honors to Major Williams and this office he held until 1871.  His age and feeble health compelled Major Williams to refuse to continue in the office, which the people would gladly have given him.  Full of years and honors, this pioneer tradesman and founder of the city died at his home in Fort Dodge, February 26, 1874.

JOHN W. WONDERS, successfully engaged in business as the proprietor of a lumberyard at Otho, was born in Illinois in July, 1863, his parents being Thomas and Elizabeth (Bennett) Wonders, both of whom were natives of England. The father, who worked as a miner in that country, was employed in the coal mines of Pennsylvania after coming to the United States. Subsequently he removed to Illinois and later came to Iowa, locating in Boone county, where he was engaged in mining for some time. Coming to Webster county, he first worked in the coal mines here but afterward embarked in the mercantile business at Kalo, conducting an establishment of that character until his death, which occurred in 1884. His wife was called to her final rest in 1889.
John W. Wonders, who was about nine years of age when he came to Webster county with his parents, was here educated and reared to manhood. He embarked in the mercantile business at Kalo in association with his brothers and later opened a store at Ogden, which was subsequently closed out. The brothers then began business at Otho, conducting stores at Kalo and Otho for about twenty years, on the expiration of which period they dissolved the partnership. John W. Wonders afterward made his way to Fort Dodge, where he spent a year with the Granger Implement Company, in which he still retains an interest. Returning to Otho, he purchased a lumberyard and has since been successfully engaged in business along this line. He is a stockholder in the Farmers Elevator Company of Otho and well deserves recognition among the substantial and progressive citizens of the community.
In October, 1890, Mr. Wonders was united in marriage to Miss Emma Schnurr, who was born near Davenport, Iowa, in 1867, her parents being Andrew and Amelia (Hasse) Schnurr. Her father, who was for a number of years engaged in the lumber and grain business at Otho, is now a resident of California. The mother is deceased, her demise occurring in November, 1903. Mr. and Mrs. Wonders have three children, Sylvia, Frank and Donald. John W. Wonders exercises his right of franchise in support of the prohibition ticket, being a stanch advocate of the cause of temperance. In religious faith he is a Metl1odist. Both he and his estimable wife have a host of warm friends throughout the community and justly merit the regard and esteem which is uniformly accorded them.

THOMAS W. WONDERS is busily engaged in the operation of an excellent farm of one hundred and twenty acres on section 20, Otho township. His birth occurred in Kewanee, Illinois, on the 5th of September, 1860, his parents being Thomas and Elizabeth (Bennett) Wonders, more extended mention of whom is made on another page of this work in connection with the sketch of John W. Wonders, a brother of our subject.

Thomas W. Wonders acquired his education largely in Boone county, Iowa, being four years of age when the family home was there established. He went into the coal mines, when a youth of twelve and was thus employed until twenty-five years of age. About 1885 he came to Webster county and embarked in the mercantile business in association with his brother at Kalo, while later the brothers opened a store at Otho, continuing to operate the same until 1901. For some time afterward Mr. Wonders was not identified with any business pursuit and traveled to some extent. Subsequently, in association with others, he became engaged in the brick and tile business at Kalo, remaining an active factor in its conduct for about five years and still retaining an interest in the concern, which is known as the Central Brick & Tile Company. He next operated a rented farm for two years, was then married and has since devoted his attention to the cultivation of his wife's property, which comprises one hundred and twenty acres of rich and productive land on section 20, Otho township. In the work of the fields he has employed modern methods of agriculture and success has attended his undertakings.

On the 28th of December, 1911, Mr. Wonders was united in marriage to Mrs. Theta (Hart) Findlay, the widow of George Findlay and a daughter of Norman and Jane (Fuller) Hart, a sketch of whom appears on another page of this volume. Theta Hart, who was born on the home farm on the 27th of October, 1863, gave her hand in marriage to George Findlay, a farmer of Otho township, who died on the 17th of January, 1908. They adopted two children: Raymond, who is twenty-two years of age and follows farming in Otho township; and Berdena, who is fourteen years old and lives at home.

At the polls Mr. Wonders supports the prohibition ticket, for it is his opinion that the liquor traffic is an evil which should be eradicated. In religious faith he is a Methodist, while his wife belongs to the Congregational church. Mr. and Mrs. Wonders are people of highest worth and respectability, and their pleasant home finds favor with their numerous friends.