In the spring of 1834, Benjamin Nye and his nephew, Stephen Nye, built cabins on the opposite sides of Pine Creek, near where it meets the Mississippi. Benjamin took a quick trip to St. Louis to buy goods for a trading post (coffee, molasses, salt, pork, whiskey) that he turned around and sold to the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians who lived in the area. In the fall, Nye moved his wife, Azuba, and daughters, Harriet and Laura, from Ohio to Iowa. The next year he opened a sawmill and soon after that set up a post office for the area. If you wanted to send him a letter, it would have been addressed to: “Iowa Post Office, Black Hawk Purchase, Wisconsin Territory” and cost you 25 cents.

By 1837, Benjamin was feeling pretty good about the prospects of his little settlement, so he platted a village that he named Montpelier (he and his wife were Vermont natives) and built a better sawmill and a new grist mill. For a while the village was a convenient stopping point on the road between Davenport and Muscatine, it was about halfway, but the village saw little growth until the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad came through in 1881-2. For about 30 years after that, Montpelier had a pottery industry of generally good repute.

Sunset over the Mississippi near Montpelier, Iowa

Sunset over the Mississippi near Montpelier, Iowa

A family dispute brought Nye’s pioneering days to a sudden end. One of his employees, George McCoy, married Nye’s daughter, Harriet. Nye didn’t approve of the union, so the couple eloped, slipping across the river to marry in New Boston, Illinois in 1836. In 1849, McCoy went off to California in search of gold, leaving Harriet behind but in the care of a respected member of the community, Judge Samuel Bissel. When McCoy came back to Iowa in 1852, Harriet had a young baby that obviously wasn’t McCoy’s. He wasn’t especially happy about that, so he apparently decided to round up his children and take them out of town.

On March 3, 1852, when Nye was in town on business, McCoy rode to Nye’s house and retrieved his kids. Nye soon arrived home and realized what was happening. He stormed after McCoy, confronting him on the road out of town. As Nye walked to the wagon to get his grandchildren, McCoy fired a couple of shots at him, so Nye changed direction and went after McCoy directly. In the ensuing fight, McCoy pulled out a knife and stabbed Nye a couple of times, mortally wounding him. McCoy turned himself in, but a Grand Jury refused to indict him, citing self-defense. McCoy promptly divorced Harriet, sent his children to live with his sister in Michigan, and went back to California, where he became a rather prominent early resident.

Where to Sleep
Clark’s Ferry Recreation Area (3860 Sunset Beach; 563.381.4043) has 45 campsites with water and electricity and a shower house between the river and the railroad tracks (open April to October).

Next town upriver: Buffalo

Next town downriver: Fairport

©Dean Klinkenberg, 2014

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