Drake Family Chronicles: Part 3

Week 16: #52 Ancestors – Out of Place

By Eilene Lyon

The Iowa Delegation

Samuel Drake, Jr. clearly saw land as the key to achieving the American dream. The patents he purchased in Highland Township, Winneshiek County, totaled 320 acres.1 The rolling, forested terrain had likely never been cultivated. The government had forced the Native American tribes from the area less than a decade earlier.

IMG_2223
Excerpt from 1874 gazetteer showing land purchased by Samuel Drake, Jr. that was later sold/given to other family members. (Public domain)

He sold a 40-acre piece to William Murphy.2 William and Mary Ann (Drake) had come to America with two sons, but only one survived to live in Iowa, William Douglas Murphy.3 Mary Ann was widowed in 1861, not long after her brother, Samuel, Jr. died.4 William Murphy, and later his brother-in-law, Robert Halse, were buried in the Big Canoe Lutheran Cemetery near Highlandville. Mary Ann and her son continued to farm the land until the clan moved to South Dakota in 1881.5

2019-04-28_160132
Nearly identical headstones for Robert Halse (left) and William Murphy in the Big Canoe Cemetery. At some point, the epitaph at the bottom of Robert’s stone was broken off. (E. Lyon 2012)

Per the terms of Samuel, Jr.’s will, the rest of his land went either to Robert Halse or to William and Richard Drake. William returned to Iowa and claimed his share, and acted as the absent Richard’s attorney.6

William Drake seemed to settle down, marrying Mary Bell Thomason in 1860 and having eight children, five surviving: Thomas, John, Eliza, William, and Margaret.7 But family life really didn’t suit him at all. As Earl Drake continued in his tale:

He eventually returned to the midwest, met and married Mary Bell. They lived in a log cabin close to the Halse house at Bear Creek, IA. After having 5 children, sometime in the 1870s William walked out of the house one night and never returned. Rumor was that he was killed in a gun fight, but this was not verified.

Mary Bell Drake remained with her children in Highland Township until the clan moved to South Dakota. In the 1900 census, the widow stated she was married for 27 years.8 This information suggests that William may have died in 1887, or possibly she had a court declare him dead at that time.

I’ve written earlier about Eliza J. and Robert Halse and their homestead in Iowa, so won’t cover them here.

BigCanoeCemetery
Big Canoe Lutheran Cemetery near Highlandville. This area was settled predominantly by Norwegians and they established this church in Highland Township. (E. Lyon 2012)
Samuel Drake, Sr.

Robert and Eliza Halse, and Samuel Drake, executed a convoluted series of real estate transactions in May 1862.9 Samuel was about 70 years old and nearing the end of his days. Robert Halse sold his father-in-law the south 40 acres of his homestead. Simultaneously, Samuel sold that land to Eliza J.

Then, Eliza J., at the same time, sold the land back to her father, but with the provision that the deed would be void if she honored a life lease to Samuel. She was to ensure he had a house, food and clothing and not want for normal comforts for the remainder of his natural life.

The land remained in the Halses’ possession, but the date of Samuel’s death and burial place remain a mystery. In fact, I do not know where Samuel, Jr. or William Drake are buried, either. It’s probable that the two Samuels were buried on the Halse homestead and the little cemetery, known as the Quandahl Cemetery, has been erased by time.

Richard Drake

Richard Drake’s whereabouts between 1850 and 1861 are still a mystery. I confess that the information I’ve compiled here could be in error – it seems so out of place. “Rich” Drake appears in the 1861 Canadian census in Montreal, Quebec, married to Sarah (Murphy) Drake.10 There is also a John Drake (age 20) in the household, which confuses things. Sarah could possibly be related to Richard’s brother-in-law, William Murphy.

Richard and Sarah had no children and remained married until Sarah’s death in 1892. They belonged to the Catholic Church, unlike the other Drakes.11 Richard certainly didn’t seem to conform to anything his family did, so that itself isn’t surprising.

Richard remarried and had a daughter late in life, but sadly she lived only six years.12 Richard died in 1899. He, Sarah, and little Ethel May are all buried together in Montreal. Their headstone indicates both Richard and Sarah were from County Down, Ireland, strengthening the case that I have the correct Richard.12

But then, it could be that he died in the mines out west and was never heard from again.

South Dakota Calls
DrakeDaughters
Sisters Eliza J. Drake Halse and Mary Ann Drake Murphy, who both went to South Dakota as widows, are buried side-by-side in the New Helgen Lutheran Cemetery in Codington County.

The first wave of farmers in northeastern Iowa did not engage in sustainable farming practices. They tilled the land and planted the same crops year after year, depleting the soil. What the heck, the government was giving away land out west.

In the late 1870s, the Dakota Territory was sending out encouraging calls over the wire. Ads were published in newspapers all over the country. The land was flat, there was plenty of water. No trees to cut down – in fact, you could get additional acres from Uncle Sam if you agreed to plant some trees. No mention was made of the harsh winters.

The Halses, Drakes, and Murphys sold out and picked some homestead land in Codington County. Many other associated families from Winneshiek County joined them. To this day, descendants of those families still live and farm in Codington County. And, yes, there are trees now.

Feature image: Bird’s-eye view of Highlandville, Winneshiek County, Iowa. (Public domain)


  1. Patent IA1600__.183 ; Patent IA1600__.184 ; Patent IA1600__.196 
  2. Winneshiek County, Iowa, Deed Book E, page 244. 
  3. William Murphy. Ancestry.com. U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010. Original data: Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research, 2012. Son John  is listed on the manifest, but never appears in later records. 
  4. Death date from gravestone in Big Canoe Cemetery; personal visit in 2012. 
  5. Mary A. Murphy. Year: 1870; Census Place: Canoe, Winneshiek, Iowa; Roll: M593_426; Page: 95A; Family History Library Film: 545924; AND Year: 1880; Census Place: Canoe, Winneshiek, Iowa; Roll: 370; Page: 63C; Enumeration District: 341 – via Ancestry.com. Interestingly, in 1870, Mary Ann says she was born in Scotland. In 1880 (William D. is head-of-household then), it state that she and both her parents were born in Ireland. 
  6. Winneshiek County, Iowa, Deed Book H, page 387. 
  7. William Drake. Year: 1860; Census Place: Highland, Winneshiek, Iowa; Roll: M653_345; Page: 947; Family History Library Film: 803345; AND Mary Drake. Year: 1900; Census Place: Webster, Day, South Dakota; Page: 12; Enumeration District: 0128; FHL microfilm: 1241549 – via Ancestry.com. 
  8. Mary Drake. Year: 1900; Census Place: Webster, Day, South Dakota; Page: 12; Enumeration District: 0128; FHL microfilm: 1241549 – via Ancestry.com. 
  9. Winneshiek County, Iowa, Deed Book H, pp. 76–78. 
  10. Rich Drake. ibrary and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1242 – via Ancestry.com. 
  11. Ibid. 
  12. Richard Drake and Ann Walsh married in 1893. Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, comp. – via Ancestry.com. 

12 thoughts on “Drake Family Chronicles: Part 3

Add yours

  1. No mention was made of the harsh winters

    A former columnist for the Minneapolis Star & Tribune published a collection of letters and photos from pioneer Minnesota titled: Bring Warm Clothes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really did happen with sad frequency, particularly earlier, during the war. Some of the men who survived never went home. Some changed their names. Others didn’t. Lots of bigamy, of course.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “No mention was made of the harsh winters” and your comment “People would get lost and die within yards of their houses and barns” reminded me of Laura Wilder Ingalls’ story about her pa being lost during a blizzard during Christmas time, and how he was very close to the house. Those were brave people!

    Liked by 1 person

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