Herriman Mansion Restoration Project - Wadena 1897-1972 Anniversary Book

Excerpts From Wadena 1897-1972 Anniversary Book, History of Wadena, Assembled by the Anniversary Committee

[Three articles published in the 75th anniversary book are of special interest to the Herriman Mansion and the restoration project. The first article on pages 4 and 5 of the anniversary book included information on the Culver Trading Post.]


The history of Wadena had its beginning in 1841 when Culver built a double log cabin on. the north bank of the Volga River (Section., 26, Township 93-N, Range 7-W). This cabin was an Indian Trading Post. Rocks of the foundation can still be seen a mile to the east of the present cheese factory in Wadena, on the Wilder Mattocks' farm, formerly owned by William D. Mattocks. The cabin was built in. 1841, a year after the Wilcox brothers built the first house in Fayette County, south of Fayette just off highway 150. The DAR's have placed a historical plaque at the site of the Wilcox cabin. It is hoped that they will mark the site of the Culver Post with an historical marker, also.

George Culver, a banker from Ypsilanti, Michigan came to Iowa Territory to trade with the Indians. His partner was Joseph Hewitt. When the Indians moved to Minnesota in 1848, Culver followed them but returned early in 1849, soon after Illyria Township was surveyed.

In the winter of 1842-43 the Culver Post was surrounded by the Indians, who were threatened with starvation and exposure due to the severe winter. Culver supplied them provision on credit. He and Hewitt went to Washington to receive pay from the government for the help given the Indians.

Exposure and disease wiped out many Indians that severe winter of 1842-43. The red man had a unique type of burial, a primary burial and a secondary burial. For the primary burial they drove four posts into the ground. Each post had crotches cut in it. Over these four posts they laid poles from one end to the other, putting shorter poles crosswise. Then they placed the body upon this platform-like structure. Here the corpse lay exposed to the elements and vultures until only the skeleton remained. The superstition was that, when so elevated, the deceased could more easily reach the Happy Hunting Ground. Many such structures were seen by the early settlers in Illyria Township. The bones of the skeleton were gathered into a bundle before being buried in the ground. This was the Secondary burial. The practice of bundling the bones made it possible to bury more than one body in a single grave.

The Indian burial ground was on a little knoll at the junction of Brush Creek and the Volga River down river from the Culver Trading Post.

According to George Fitch's Fayette County History, 1910 Volume I, page 404 to 405, quote, "The first entry after Culver's near Wadena, seems to have been made by Samuel Stevens, in 1851, a forty acre lot lying on both sides of the river which crossed it about mid-way and included the mill site, and most of the land where Wadena now stands."

Mr. Stevens sold to Horace Countryman and his father, both mill wrights. They constructed a dam, and the elder Countryman built a house and sawmill on the south side of the river in 1853-54; four years later, in 1857-58, Horace built a gristmill, and the Mill and High Water Bridge at Wadena on the north side of the river in partnership with Major D.B. Herriman, the latter furnishing the funds and the former the plans and much of the workmanship."

"Many years ago the sawmill referred to above was dragged from its foundation by a tree catching in its timbers when floating down the river in a flood. The dam likewise was destroyed in 1903 and the gristmill badly damaged. On the representation of Mr. Olmstead (Mr. Culver being short of funds ), Major D.B. Herriman bought the section on which the Trading Post was located, without seeing it, and on visiting the place, was so well pleased that he also bought the 40 acres entered by Stevens and added gradually to his domain until 1400 acres were his. It was he who gave the name Wadena to the place, in memory of a former chief, a friend of his. He built the largest house in the county at the time and Thomas Fennell made the bricks close by."

[The second story beginning on page 6 and running through page 10 of the anniversary book addressed Major David B. Herriman and his involvement in the early history of Wadena and the surrounding area.]


Since I have always lived in Wadena, I am primarily interested in the early life of David B. Herriman and his contributions to the town of Wadena, Iowa.

David Herriman was born at Dover, Morris County, New Jersey, October 17, 1808. His advantages to acquire an education were below the average for that early day, and upon his arriving at the age of sixteen years, he was bound out as an apprentice at the Dover Iron Works, to the furnace or foundry business. Possessing a very active, vigorous, well.,. balanced mind, with a physical development sufficiently hardy to support it, he toiled by day at the works, and at night studied such books as would improve and prepare him for usefulness in whatever community his destiny might be cast.

He acquired a good business education, and at the same time became master of his trade. In 1832 he took charge of the construction of the foundry of Alcott, Watts, and Langworthy, Rochester, New York, which he completed to their entire satisfaction.

He immediately took charge of the building of a foundry for Bolch Lee and Company, at Waterloo, Iowa, which he completed and carried on, in the interest for three years.

Being of a bold and independent nature he determined to try his fortunes in the then far West; went to LaGrange County, Mulford Township, Indiana. He purchased eighty acres of land, turned the first furrow and laid the first shingle in the township. He sold out and moved to Orange Township, Noble County. Here he was surrounded by wild frontier life, which he enjoyed.

In the year of 1836 he was married to Mary Ann Judy. Their married life was blessed by the birth of eight children: John, Charles, David, Warren, Ann, Samuel, Hannah and Jesse.

In 1837 he was elected to the Lower House of the Indiana Legislature and served his state so faithfully as to be twice re-elected to this branch. In 1840 he was elected to the state Senate and, at the expiration of his first term was re-elected. Thus, for three years he was in the Upper House of the Indiana Legislature, making a total of nine years of public life there.

The death of Mrs. Herriman in 1850 brought grief to the family.

In the year of 1850, Mr. Herriman was appointed as Indian Agent for the Chippewa in Minnesota and stationed at Crow Wing. His recommendations to this position were integrity, courage, honesty, and good business qualifications. He remained in this position for several years and made a fortune.

In 1857 Major Herriman came to Fayette County, Iowa, trading land he held in Minnesota for the Illyria Township holdings of George Culver. Culver was an Indian trader who had established a post in 1841, about a mile east of the present site of Wadena.

When the Winnebagos were removed to Minnesota in 1848, Mr. Culver had followed them, and there, had become acquainted with Herriman. Herriman made the land swap, sight unseen. He was so satisfied with Illyria Township, however, that he eventually acquired 1400 acres of land there. Major Herriman was Indian Agent at Crow Wing, Minnesota --all Indian agents have military titles, usually that of "Major" --which answers a question often asked with reference to Major Herriman.

Soon after coming to Iowa, Major took as his second wife, a sixteen year-old girl, Elizabeth Dye. Herriman, then almost fifty, sent his young wife to school in Dubuque, and not until she was nineteen did they live together as husband and wife. The home of the Herrimans was established in the double log house erected for a trading post and continued there for several years.

The town was laid out by Horace and Elizabeth Countryman and David and Elizabeth Herriman, in July, 1857, and the plat was recorded May 11, 1859. The euphonious name of Wadena was bestowed upon the little hamlet by Major Herriman, who selected the name of an Indian chief who had been a warm friend of his while the latter was living at Crow Wing.

In 1858 Major David Herriman bought the interest of the elder Countryman in the mill property and, in connection with the son, began to build a flour mill on the north bank of the Volga River. After a few years, Countryman disposed of his share to Major Herriman, who retained the sole ownership until 1873, when it passed into the hands of Talcott and Dye.

In about 1860 the Herriman family moved into the three-story brick mansion, the huge dimensions a marvel to his struggling pioneer neighbors. The building had room for the Major and his five boys from his first marriage; for his young wife and for a dozen hired men. The hired men slept in a low ceilinged attic room, where legend has it, the Major won back his men's pay in Saturday night card games.

His two daughters by his second marriage were sent to the Catholic school at Dubuque, where, among other things, they learned to play the piano and dance. Occasionally the hired men would bring out their fiddles and the girls would play the piano and young folks from all around would gather in the plain, high-ceilinged rooms to dance; and in the moments of youthful enthusiasm the portly, paunchy Major would join the party, sing and dance gaily to his favorite tune, "Polly, Put the Kettle On."

Major Herriman was a staunch Democrat; he and his sons had influence to keep Illyria Township Democratic for years. If someone crossed him politically, in business or personally, the Major could make life uncomfortable for the upstart through his control of township officials and his "pull" with county officers.

Four of his sons were given to help preserve the Union. Sergeant Charles Herriman enlisted in Company E November 4, 1861; was wounded at Pea Ridge in March 7, 1862; re-enlisted as a veteran January 1, 1864. Samuel K. Herriman enlisted February 22, 1864, in Company E. Corporal Warren B. Herriman enlisted in Company K, July 18, 1862. Second Lieutenant, Company A, John Herriman was commissioned November 4, 1862; he resigned August 6, 1863.

The coming of the railroad up the beautiful Volga Valley meant much to the progress of Wadena. Major Herriman donated a large amount of right of way to encourage the coming of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul. He realized that with the railroad came new people and business energy, and from 1877 Wadena took an upward trend.

For many years, weekly horse racing in the Herriman lane, with its attendant saloon equipment and other features, gambling, furnished the principal amusement and revenue -- to the fortunate.

Nearly all inhabitants in early days were dependent upon daily labor for a livelihood, and the Herriman estate, with the mills and lumbering interests, furnished employment. The people were all poor, so Major Herriman was looked upon as a kind benefactor. He was not over-exacting in the amount of work he required, and he was always ready to pay. Many of his employees received their pay, in whole or in part, in pork, flour, and other products of the big farm, and usually at fair prices.

The first schoolhouse was destroyed By fire. It was succeeded by a stone structure of somewhat longer dimensions --this one eighteen by thirty-six feet --all in one room. It was erected on contract with Major Herriman, for a consideration of $800.00. Land contributions made by Major Herriman to different denominations made it easier- for parishes to build their churches in the community.

The ground for the Wadena Cemetery was donated by Major Herriman, who erected a fine granite monument for himself and his wife, before the death of either. Mrs. Mary Ann Hidinger of Oelwein, Iowa, is the last survivor. She is a half-sister of the 16 year old girl whom the Major took as his second wife soon after coming to Iowa.

His aged sister-in-law would tell you that there lived a man who was considered so brilliant that his sons had his brains weighed when he died. This investigation, of course, revealed nothing unusual. But the man's huge old mansion, his big marble tombstone and the many tales Illyrians still repeat about him, mark him as one of the unusually colorful characters in Fayette County's early history.

Not far off, within sight of his huge mansion, the Major lies beneath his gravestone, which is still the most impressive of all in the Wadena Cemetery. The elements have left the inscription hardly legible, but if one looks closely, he can read:

Major David Herriman
Born October 17, 1908
Died December 16, 1875

[The final article in the anniversary book (page 10) which relates to the Herriman family and The Brick is about Major David Herriman's son, Jesse B. Herriman and his part in the founding of the insurance company which still exists as the IMT Insurance Company in Des Moines, Iowa, the company that had expressed an interest in restoring the Herriman Mansion.]


Jesse Herriman was a member of one of the earliest pioneer families of Fayette County. Major D. B. Herriman had several sons of B. Castle. J.B. was one of the last to die. J.B. Herriman first lived near Brush Creek. He later moved to the farm east of West Union now owned by Otto Schmelzer. J.B., with other men, organized the now present Iowa Mutual Tornado Company at a time when mutual wind insurance was a new thing. He was secretary of the company from 1883 until 1919, and was president until his death.

The company was moved to Des Moines in 1892. He remained with the company until his death in 1930, at which time he was almost inactive. The associated press item telling of Mr. Herriman's death, says that he at that time, was survived by his widow and one daughter, Mrs. W.P. Keasebey of Chicago. He, also, had several sons.

Mr. and Mrs. W.P. Keasebey lived at one time in the 1930's on the farm on the Arlington-Wadena road next to Brush Creek bridge. They have both since then made names for themselves as authors.

Iowa Mutual Tornado Insurance Company is still in Des Moines, and is still a top company handling not only wind insurance, but fire, auto, and multiple line.