Civil War Veteran Joins Vigilance Committee

Nation Family Farm, 1880

William Nation
William Nation with sons Jesse & Oma

This week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks theme is “nonpopulation,” referring to a series of agricultural, manufacturing and business schedules largely conducted in the 1800s. Agricultural schedules, in particular, provide information on the farm owner, the cash value of the farm, farming machinery, the acreage used for each kind of crop and the number of horses, cows and sheep kept. Not every farm was included in these schedules; in 1850, for example, small farms that produced less than $100 worth of products annually were not accounted for in the census. Most of my ancestors were farmers, but I have only been able to find one individual in a nonpopulation census schedule: William Franklin Nation.

According to the 1880 agricultural census schedule, William had tilled 46 acres of land in the past year and owned an additional 4 acres of forest and woodlands in Geneseo, Iowa. His land was valued at an estimated $1,000–almost $25,000 today–and he owned $60 worth of farm machinery and $150 in livestock, including two horses, one milch cow, twenty-five pigs and forty barnyard chickens. In 1879, William’s farm produced 100 pounds of butter, 100 dozen eggs, 1,000 bushels of corn and 1,000 bushels of potatoes. William and his family built a large farmhouse on a portion of their land, and although they lived in an isolated area of Geneseo Township (far away from stores or doctors, for instance), the farm eventually provided them a comfortable home.

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William Nation, 1880 Agricultural Census Schedule

Born on the Banks of the Cedar River

William’s agricultural census record led me to an account of his life in The History of Black Hawk County, Iowa, and its People by John C. Hartman. William Franklin Nation was born on August 25, 1844 in Center Point, Iowa to Joel and Mary (Gritton) Nation. Hartman writes of William’s childhood, “William was born on the banks of the Cedar River and the locality is very dear to him, for he has spent the greater part of his life along that beautiful stream. His opportunities for an education were only such as could be secured in the little old schoolhouse with its hewed log benches.

His father died when William was but five years of age and his mother, left with a family of three children, kept the little ones together for a year or so…His father had taken up 160 acres of land before his death and upon that claim his mother lived and strove to bring up her family. When William was seven years of age she removed to a farm at Center Point and an older brother then began working out, but William was still so small that he could do little.

The first year that William worked he received 100 bushels of corn in compensation for his service. The following year he was employed at $8 per month. His wages were increased as he grew older and more efficient, but there were many years in which the family struggled hard for a living. The mother eked out their scanty income by doing washing for the neighbors. Later, however, she became the wife of Gabriel Sayer, and about that time William left home and worked for others.”

“No! Shoot me or send me to my regiment.”

In September 1862, at the age of 18, William enlisted in Company F of the 102nd Illinois Infantry. He was taken prisoner at Bowling Green, Kentucky in October; after three days, though, he was released on parole, the Captain saying, “I would rather fight than feed the Union men.” William reported to his commanding officer in Springield, but since William was on parole, the officer wanted to put him on garrison duty until the end of the war; William responded, “No! Shoot me or send me to my regiment,” but the officer refused. William’s Civil War registration record includes the line, “approved to be a deserter from Illinois.”

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William Nation, U.S. Civil War Pension File

William returned home and found his mother in “destitute circumstances,” and he immediately went to work to take care of her, providing her with two cows and other livestock. “His spirit of patriotism would not allow him to remain contentedly at home,” though, and he enlisted in Company G of the 9th Iowa Cavalry in the fall of 1862, serving two years under Captain Montague and General Steele. William enlisted under the name “William Franklin” at the time, as he was not approved to reenlist under his own name on account of his capture and parole.

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Grand Army of the Republic Veterans, Tama Co., Iowa (William Nation is standing, fifth from the left)

Bandits & Horse Thieves & Lawbreakers

Hartman continues William’s story, “At the close of the war, William went on horseback with three others to Falls City, Nebraska and ranged all through that country. On reaching Falls City he spent his last fifty cents for a dinner. He told the landlord of his financial straits, however, and was allowed to remain at the hotel until he could get work. William was first employed to conduct a saloon for a proprietor who was sick and went away. Afterward he did any work that he could secure.

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The Nation Family

While in the saloon, William was made a member of the vigilance committee for running down bandits, horse thieves and other lawbreakers who terrorized the country. His partner in this work was Henry Boyer, and the first capture made was one of their own company. There were many exciting incidents and episodes connected with this service in the west and there are few who have a more vivid picture of life in those strenuous times than has been imprinted upon the memory of William Nation.

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William Nation’s Last Home in Waterloo, Iowa

While living on the farm in 1876, William lost his first wife and in 1877 married again, his second union being with Miss Sara A. Bowers. Following her death he wedded Eva S. Parsons. There were three children by his first marriage: Ora; John; and Oma. The children of the second marriage are: Ernie; Olive, the deceased wife of John McBride; Walter; Mamie, the wife of Henry Henning; William; Sadie, the wife of Ray Bowers; Pearl, the wife of Joseph Ferris; and Jesse.

William Franklin Nation has had an eventful life, filled with many interesting and sometimes exciting experiences, and is thoroughly familiar with the development of the west and its upbuilding. Whatever success he has achieved is attributable entirely to his own labors, and he has so directed his business affairs that he is now the possessor of a comfortable competence.”

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8 thoughts on “Civil War Veteran Joins Vigilance Committee

  1. You share the Nation line with my husband. His maternal grandmother was a Nation – John and Bethiah Nation, Christopher, William, Isaac who married Jane Tillman, Henry, Joseph Michael Nation, Clayton Columbus Nation and then Ethel Anne Nation.

    Liked by 1 person

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