Robert C. Risk was one of the earliest residents of Washington county and a man whose honesty was never questioned
not withstanding the fact he controlled extensive business interest. His success was gained entirely through his
own labor and enterprise, diligence, perseverance and integrity were the salient points in his careen No history
of the county would be complete without extended mention of him, for he was one of the best known citizens here
for many years, casting his lot with the early settlers at a time when the Indians still frequently visited this
part of the state.
A native of Ireland, Mr. Risk was born in 1814, and when a lad of five summers was brought by his parents to the
United States, the family home being established in Pennsylvania, where he was reared. In early manhood he made
his way westward to Illinois, settling in Tazewell county, where he remained for three or four years. This was
about the time or soon after the Black Hawk war, wherein the white men contested with the red over the supremaey
of these great prairies of the Mississippi Valley. He was one entire week crossing the Black Swamp on his way westward.
In 1836 Mr. Risk arrived in Washington county, traveling by wagon in company with his family, and upon arriving
at what is known at the present time as the Slough bridge north of Skunk river, the wagon broke down, and, as it
was almost sundown, Mrs. Risk, brave as was always her nature, taking their only child Sarah, on in front on one
of the horses, followed the Indian trail as directed by her husband, as this was her first trip to the cabin. Darkness
overtook her before reaching there, and upon arriving she was greeted by two Indian braves leaning against the
cabin. They remained there until Mr. Risk came and told them to Puckachee, or go. They went peacefully. The Indians
though numerous on this side of the Mississippi, usually maintained peaceful relations with the settlers. They
would frequently be seen in large numbers visiting the village. After living here some time, on one occasion, Mr.
Risk was told that an Indian had stolen his white horse and was taking it away. Mr. Risk followed and overtaking
the supposed thief, demanded his property, whereupon the Indian informed him the horse was his own. Each protested
in his respective language that the ownership of the animal was his. Mr. Risk in looking the horse over saw he
was mistaken and the Indian to show his good feeling dismounted and embraced Mr. Risk, and told him as best he
could to go home and look in the stable for his horse saying Nischaschinee man, Nischaschinee horse, (good man,
good horse). Another incident with the red men shows in part their friendly feeling toward the white men. One day
the family were going visiting when a lot of Indians came and left a drunken one in the stack yard, whereupon Mr.
Risk decided to stay at home. In the afternoon, when the Indian awoke, he took after Mr. Risk, who ran as best
he could, but the Indian overtook and simply threw his arms around Mr. Risk and laughed good naturedly. Another
time one cold, stormy winter day an Indian brave pushed the coverlid to the door aside, walked in, threw himself
down on the hearth in fronth of the fireplace, and pulled from his blanket a butcher knife. Mrs. Risk thought her
time for scalping had come, but instead the Indian cut a chew from a plug of tobacco. Presently some, squaws came
and Mrs. Risk ceased to be uneasy, but had toe endure and let them lay by the fire until her husband came, who
spoke in their native tongue, Puckachee (or go). They left at once.
It was some years before Iowa was admitted to the Union, and the district bordering Skunk river was mostly an unsettled
region, giving little promise of the development which was soon to transform this district into one of the thickly
settled and prosperous counties of the state. He located in Brighton township and entered land from the government,
securing a tract which his daughter Ella owned until her death.
With characteristic energy, economy and perseverance, he began the development of the farm, gaining foothold slowly
as prices were menial in those days compared to prices of the present day. In 1843 Mr. Risk drove hogs on foot
to Burlington, receiving the average price of one dollar and a half per hundred pounds. He then turned his attention
to merchandising, establishing a general store in Brighton, but not finding the occupation congenial, he sold the
stock, but still remained in Brighton and again engaged in farming for the next three years. On the expiration
of that period he went to Chicago and bought another stock of merchandise and in the spring of 1859 started in
business again in Brighton and after four years gave his son C. C. Risk a half interest in the stock. It was at
this time he assisted in organizing The National Bank, the first bank of Brighton, now known as the State Bank
of Brighton. He was chosen its first president and established it upon a safe and conservative basis. He owned
and operated the Merrimac mills for some time, also purchased the Manhattan mills in Keokuk county, and in 1867
he sold his son, C. C. Risk, a half interest. They then run the store, carding machine and gristmills together.
In 1868 he sold the balance of his interests to C. A. Bryan. After disposing of the mills he turned his attention
to the cultivation of a tract of land for some time and subsequently retired.
In all of his business affairs he was very successful, gaining the greater part of his prosperity after locating
in Brighton. He regarded real estate as the safest of all investments, and from time to time purchased property
until he became the owner of a large tract and from his property interests derived a substantial income.
He possessed unqualified business honor, to which he held with the greatest tenacity, never sacrificing the truth
in the slightest degree in any business transaction. He was thoroughly just and expected the same treatment of
others. As the years went by great changes occurred and in the work of general improvement Mr. Risk always bore
his full share. As the country became more thickly settled and the red people went to reservations in the west,
the white men transformed this into a district the advantages, opportunities and improvements of which are equal
in every respect to those found in the older settled states of the east.
In his political views Mr. Risk was formerly a democrat, but his father in law, George Roberts, a stanch republican
on the tariff question, convinced Mr. Risk that the republicans were on the right side, and from that time on Mr.
Risk was a stanch republican until his death.
He was reared in the faith of the Presbyterian church, giving liberally to the support of the cause of Christianity,
at one time paying off the last payment of the mortgage on the Methodist Episcopal church of Brighton, of which
his wife was a member. He withheld his endorsement from no movement which he believed would prove of benefit to
the community, his efforts being attended with effective results, not only because he possessed the determination
that enabled him to carry forward to successful completion whatever he undertook, but also because his name was
an influencing factor in public affairs.
When he passed away November 12, 1900, his death was the occasion of deep and widespread regret. The words of the
Philosopher "An honest man is the noblest work of God," is a well merited encomium of his life.
His wife, who bore the maiden name of Susan H. Roberts. was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, June 18, 1814.
They were married in Muncy, Pennsylvania, in 1837, and for more than six decades they traveled life's journey happily
together, being separated by the death of Mr. Risk. The mother survived for about four years and passed away December
9, 1904. They were the parents of nine children; Sarah C., who is the widow of William Brier, deceased, and resides
near Bloomfield, Iowa; C. C., who has been engaged in the mercantile, milling and stock business in Fairfield,
Iowa; George, who died at the age of twelve years; Jennie, the wife of Gilbert Lowe, a retired farmer living in
Webster, Iowa; Rosetta, who died when two and one half years of age; Clara, deceased wife of Oscar De Long of Wright,
Iowa; Cora R., wife of Joseph W. Stapleton, of Dubuque, who is division superintendent for the Milwaukee Railroad
Company; Ella, to whom we are indebted for the material concerning her honored parents; and Minnie R., the deceased
wife of Lewis B. Johnson.
After the death of the husband Mrs. Risk and her daughter Ella made their home in Brighton in the family residence.
It is a fine and massive brick structure, one of the best homes in Brighton, standing in the midst of four. lots
constituting a well kept lawn beautifully adorned with trees and flowers.
Since the above sketch was written and order given for portraits by Miss Risk in honor of her father and mother
she has answered to the Master's call. While Miss Risk was never a figure in public work she did her ministry in
a quiet and unassuming manner, always more thoughtful of others than of herself. She was born near Brighton, September
3, 1851, and died July 12, 1909, in Brighton. She was educated in the public schools of Brighton and after her
school days still remained with her parents, and at the death of her father, cared for her aged mother and looked
after the business interests for different members of the family as well as her own, which she continued to do
until the time of her death. The deceased was a member of the Methodist Episcopal church of Brighton. She was an
enthusiastic worker as one of the trustees of the Ladies' Cemetery Association of Brighton when it was organized.
Although of a quiet nature, she always had a pleasant word for her friends. She died suddenly while apparently
in good health and she will be greatly missed in the community.
History of Washington County, Iowa
From the First White Settlement to 1908
BY: Howard A. Burrell
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Washington County, IA
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