History of Clay Township, Iowa
Marion County, IA Biographies


This township is one of the eastern tier. As originally established by the order of January 6, 1847, it embraced "That part of townships 75 and 76, range 18, lying south of the Des Moines River," and it is one of the few townships in the county that retains the original boundary lines. It is bounded on the north by the Des Moines River, which separates it from the Township of Lake Prairie; on the east by Mahaska County; on the south by Liberty Township, and on the west by Knoxville and Polk. Its area is about thirty five square miles. English Creek flows eastwardly across the northern part and empties into the Des Moines River near the Town of Harvey, Cedar Creek crosses the southeast corner. Its principal tributary is Walnut Creek. Along the streams the surface is somewhat broken, but the greater part is undulating prairie with a fertile soil, well adapted to all the crops grown in this section of the state. At the time the township was erected a large majority of the voters were admirers of the celebrated Kentucky statesman, Henry Clay, and it was named in his honor.

It is believed that the first white men to attempt a settlement in what is now Clay township were David T. Durham and Andrew Foster, who visited that part of the county in the summer or fall of 1842, in company with a man named Clark. The following year Durham and Foster returned to the claims they had selected and Andrew Foster built the first house in the township. Clark sought a residence elsewhere. Closely behind these two pioneers came Thomas Kirtan, John Linpod, Benajah Williams and Matthew Ruple, all of whom settled in the township in 1843. The next year the little colony was increased by the addition of John and Garrett G. Harsin, Thomas Gregory, Andrew C. Sharp, Thomas Tong, Squire B. Zane, Jasper Koons, John Wise, David Gush, Francis A. Barker and a few others.

Matthew Ruple's daughter Frances, born on Aug. 26, 1843, was the first white child born in Marion County. She grew to womanhood in Clay Township and became the wife of Albert Spaur.

Prior to its organization as Clay Township, this section of the county was a part of Cedar precinct. The first election held in that precinct was on the first Monday in August, 1846, when Benajah Williams and Sennet Ramey were elected justices of the peace and Elias Williams constable, within the limits of what is now Clay Township. When the township was organized the house of Jasper Koons was designated as the place of holding the first election, at which John R. Whaley and Garrett G. Harsin were chosen justices of the peace, and David T. Durham, clerk. The first election of which a full and accurate record can be found was held at the house of Jasper Koons on April 2, 1848. Thomas Gregory, Elias Moore and Andrew C. Sharp were elected trustees; John Randall, justice of the peace; David T. Durham, clerk; Francis A. Barker, inspector, and Jasper Koons, treasurer.

Among the pioneers of this township were two men - David Durham and Francis A. Barker - who became somewhat prominent in the affairs of the county. Mr. Durham was born in Belfast, Maine, July 7, 1792, and in 1828 removed to Morgan County, Ohio. He was later employed at Ramey's salt works, on the Muskingum River, until he learned the business, when he engaged in the manufacture of salt on his own account. In 1838 he decided to go farther west, and settled in Jefferson County, Iowa. Five years later he located in what is now Clay Township, and when the county was organized in 1845 he was elected a member of the first board of county commissioners. He was also the first mail carrier between Oskaloosa and Knoxville. His death occurred on March 15, 1866.

Francis A. Barker was a native of Dutchess County, New York, where he was born on April 2, 1798. When nineteen years of age he went to Western Virginia, where he was engaged in teaching school for about two years. He then went to Washington County, Ohio, where he married in 1827, and was engaged in various lines of business until overtaken by financial failure. In 1844 he turned over to his creditors all he possessed and came to Iowa to start anew. He selected a tract of land in section 14, township 75, range 18, not far from the Des Moines River, and after undergoing the hardships of the frontier succeeded in amassing a competence. He was elected the first probate judge of Marion County in 1845, and during the legislative session of 1854-55 he was enrolling clerk in one branch of the Assembly. In 1855 he was appointed warden of the penitentiary at Fort Madison, which position he held until in 1858, when he returned to his farm in Clay Township. During the Civil war he was stricken with paralysis. He then sold his farm and removed to Knoxville, where he died on January 17, 1871.

A luxury enjoyed by the early settlers in this part of the county was wild honey, which the bees stored up in the hollow trunks and branches of trees. Donnel says that bee trees were so plentiful the women would sometimes hunt them as a sort of diversion. As most of the land was then unclaimed by private owners, the finder of a bee tree had no difficulty in appropriating its stores. It was his "by right of discovery."

In the summer of 1849 a man came from Red Rock to the Clay Township settlement and was soon afterward taken ill. With true neighborly kindness the citizens joined in contributing to his comfort and were soon afterward surprised to learn that his disease was smallpox. About sixty cases resulted, several of which proved fatal. Among those who died of the scourge were Thomas Gregory and Andrew Foster.

First Things - The first house in the township was built by Andrew Foster. It was located in section 33, township 76, range 18, not far from where the Wabash Railroad now crosses the Des Moines River. The first orchard was planted by Benajah Williams, who afterward sold his farm to George W. Harsin and went to Oskaloosa, where he died in 1848. The first postoffice was established at Durham's Ford early in the year 1849, with Charles H. Durham as postmaster. After a few months the office was removed to the English settlement, in the western part of the township.

The first school was taught by David T. Durham, but the date when it was taught cannot be ascertained. The schoolhouse was the little cabin erected by Andrew Foster for a dwelling upon coming to the township. Mr. Durham's pupils numbered about a dozen from the few families residing within convenient distance. According to the report of the county superintendent of schools for the year 1914, Clay then had eight schoolhouses valued at 4,850, in which ten teachers were employed. In addition to these district schools, four teachers were employed in the Town of Tracy, and four at Harvey, the school buildings in these two towns being valued at $6,200. The number of school children was 413.

Clay is well provided with transportation facilities. The Wabash and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroads both enter the township near the southeast corner and run almost parallel to each other to a point near the Town of Harvey, where the latter turns west. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific crosses the northern portion. Durham, Harvey and Tracy are the principal towns.

In 1910 the population of the township was 1,321, an increase of 57 over the census of ten years before. The valuation of the taxable property in 1913 was $1,252,552.

History of Marion County, Iowa
And its People
John W. Wright, Supervising Editor
W. A. Young, Associate
Vol II
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chiago 1915

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