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News :: Vinton native Chauncy Leverich credited for founding Austin, Minnesota
· 10:28am March 15th, 2012
Many Vinton residents know about Vinton, Louisiana, the small town near the Gulf of Mexico that was founded by several residents from Vinton, Iowa in the late 1800s.
But historians credit another Vinton native with a role in founding another, much closer and larger city: Austin, Minnesota.
Laura Helle, the director of the Hormel Historic Home in Austin, recently wrote an article about that city's history for the Austin Post-Bulletin.
Helle quoted an article from the Austin Daily Herald in 1956, when Austin was celebrating its centennial:
"Chauncey Leverich was almost a legendary character. Although he was the founder of Austin, he lived here only two years. Historians failed to record from whence he came, and it was only recently that the Austin Daily Herald traced him to Vinton, Iowa. Even the location of his grave was a mystery for almost a century.
"Leverich was struck down by a murderer before he was yet 30 years old, but the two years he spent in Austin were packed with action. At the time of his death in August 1856, he had purchased the first claim in the city, per-emptied 160 acres of land, built a saw mill, erected the first frame house in Austin, and started this city off to its official career.
"Early historians, it seems, failed to preserve even a tintype or sketch of him, although a few of the older residents recall some sort of picture. Word has been handed down through the years that Chauncey was tall and powerfully built. He had flowing black hair and sideburns, ruthless eyes and a strong face. His large frame was activated by an agile mind that not only dreamed up a city on the banks of the Cedar River, but put that dream into the form of city lots, streets and buildings...
"When Leverich came to Austin in 1854, he probably brought his young wife with him, for there is no record of their having been married here. Present-day historians believe he crossed the Mississippi at Dubuque, coming north along the Cedar. This was the customary route from the East in those days."
Austin is about 20 miles north of Iowa, and like Vinton, the "old" Highway 218 runs through it says Helle, who is from Victor, Iowa.
The name of Chauncey Leverich appears in history books of several counties in Iowa, and in the research done by his ancestors.
Leverich was apparently the first person to be put on trial in Fayette County, where he was arrested for "retailing spirituous liquors."
"That sounds like him," said Helle. Austin historians say that Leverich was a saloon keeper and the first murder victim in that city.
Two patrons attacked him, hitting him on the head, Helle said.
Some of Leverich's ancestors credit him with building the first cabin in the area that later became known as Vinton.
The History of the Brody's Family Book contains the following statements:
Chauncey Leverich, who built the first cabin on the present sight of Vinton and was generally suspected of being one of the gang who operated for more then ten years thru Cedar, Linn, and Benton and other counties. Horse thieving became so common that a man who owned an animal never presumed to leave him alone overnight in an unlocked stable and in many cases, the owners of horses slept in their stables with rifles by their sides.
The name of Chauncey Leverich is also mentioned in some Benton County history books. (While Austin historians spell his first name Chauncey, there is no "e" in that name in Benton County books.)
Leverich was involved in one of the first major public controversies of Vinton: Where to put the courthouse
Below is some information from the 1878 History of Benton County:
Re-Location of the Seat of Justice
The town of Northport was laid out in 1846; was re-surveyed and re-christened Vinton in February, 1848, on the northeast quarter of Section 21, on the spot where the County Seat Commissioners drove the county seat stake. During the following Summer an Fall, Chancy Leverich, John Alexander and others interested in property lying nearer the river, where the present business portion of Vinton now stands, determined to make an attempt to move the county seat, and accordingly circulated a petition asking the Legislature to grant a re-location by a vote of the people. To prevent all opposition and make the thing doubly sure, a the same time when they circulated the petition they carried a remonstrance, which they asked all to sign who would not put their names to the petition. In that way they secured the signatures of nearly all the citizens of the county, and when obtained, they cut the names form the remonstrance and attached them to the petition. By this sharp practice, they were able to make a very strong showing to the General Assembly, and without opposition secured the passage of an act as follows:
An act to provide for the location of the county seat of Benton County;
Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Iowa, That the legal voters of Benton County shall vote, at the next April election, for such points in said county as they may deem proper; and if, upon canvassing the votes, it is ascertained that any one point has received a majority of votes over all others, then the point receiving such majority shall be and remain the permanent seat of justice of said Benton County; but if no point shall receive such majority, then and in that case the said legal voters of said county shall vote for the two points receiving the highest number of votes at said April election, at the next August election, and the point receiving the highest number of votes at said August election shall be and remain the permanent seat of justice of said Benton County.
At the election held on the 2nd day of April, 1849, the friends of removal came very near removing the county seat farther than they desired – to the other side of the river, two or three miles from the present Court House. One more vote for that location would have carried it.
The following extract from the abstract of the votes, made by E. H. Keyes, Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners, and Fleming Sanders and David S. Way, Justices of the Peace, is an interesting item of history:
"The southeast fourth of the northeast quarter of Section three (3) in Township 85 north of Range 10 west of the 5th P. M., received fifty-seven votes for the county seat of Benton County; Lots No. 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the west half of Section 16, Township 85 north of Range 10 west of the 5th P. M., as shown by the plat made by the Trustees of Taylor Township, in the county aforesaid, made on the 17th day of March, 1848, had fifty-seven votes.
A Compact and Its Result
By the terms of the act, if no point received a majority of the votes at the April election, the people were required to vote again in August. But the closeness of the vote in April alarmed those who had anticipated no serious opposition to their scheme of moving the seat of justice from Northport (Vinton) to a spot nearer the river. In April, both points voted for, received an equal number of votes. Mr. Bordwell was unavoidably called away on that day. He, had he remained at home, would have voted, as he says, in favor of the location on Section 3 which would have moved the county seat some distance father than was desirable. Something must be done. "Uncle Tom" Way had control of seven votes. At the April election, he had voted the "seven" in favor of Section 3. Should he repeat the operation in August, the result might be fatal to the hopes of the west side people. At this junction, John Alexander and John Royal went over to Way’s and remained there a day and a night, and at last made a solemn compact with "Uncle Tom," that if he (Way) would attend the election and vote his "seven" in favor of Lots 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the west half of Section 16 for the county seat, they (Royal and Alexander) would exert all their influence to elect him (Way) to the office of Treasurer and Recorder. The compact made, the high contracting parties shook hands across the head of a whisky barrel, and Alexander and Royal, elated with their success, returned to the future site of the capital of Benton County, confident that the election, so far as their wishes and interests were concerned, would result as they desired.
On the day of the election, "Uncle Tom," with his crowd and with the inevitable whisky jug slung over his shoulder, appeared, voted his "seven" as he had promised, and the canvass of the votes by Clerk Keyes and Justices F. Sanders and Charles Cantonwine showed the result as follows: Lots 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the west half of Section 16, township 85, range 10, received sixty-two (62) votes; the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 3, Township 85, Range 10, received twenty-five (25) votes. This settled the vexed question, and Vinton was no longer the county seat of Benton County.
Way had faithfully fulfilled his part of the contract. Were the other parties as faithful? The impartial historian is compelled to admit that the weight of evidence is against them; for, upon counting the votes for Treasurer and Recorder, it was found that Way had received only thirty-six votes, while his successful competitor, Johnson, received forty-four votes.
In November following, James Leverich, who had purchased the claim of Chauncy, laid out a town on the lots above mentioned, and called it Fremont, in honor of Gen. John C. Fremont, which became the capital of Benton County.
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