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Platt Family - Civil Bend Early Pioneers

posted Aug 1, 2018, 6:47 AM by James Nennemann   [ updated Aug 1, 2018, 6:48 AM ]
By Lona Lewis

Imagine building a house in Fremont County in the 1840s.  Some of the early pioneers coming into the county arrived via the Missouri River and settled in what was known as the Civil Bend area. The river bottoms were covered with large trees, mostly cottonwoods.  In our museum collection is a picture of a cottonwood tree from that area. It was declared the largest of its kind in Iowa.  
One of the exhibits in the museum is a hand-hewn log from the Platt Family home built in Civil Bend in the mid 1800s.  The heavy timber was estimated to weigh 65 pounds and is only about four feet long with a notch at one end.  The piece likely would have been used in a short wall, maybe in the corner, where the notch would have fit with other timbers, and the other end helping make a window frame. We have large axe blades typical of the kind that would have been used to cut down the tree and fashion the log into a house timber. There is also a picture of the house which is much larger than most of the early log cabins.
Looking at the axe blade and the timber, what comes to mind is the strength it took to physically cut down the tree and then shape the timbers. There had to have been a lot of manpower to help lift each timber in place. One last observation:  Though they had no machines to make a straight cut, it is remarkably uniform in its width.
 Lester Ward Platt and his wife Elvira Gaston Platt came from Oberlin, Ohio, in the 1840s and settled in the Civil Bend area. They were graduates of Oberlin College, the first federal grant college in the nation, and Elvira was one of its first women graduates. Their mission was to help the Pawnee Indians living in what is now the Bellevue, Nebraska area. They left a civilized Ohio to come to Fremont County, which was still very primitive. 
Working with the Pawnees was not easy because they were constantly attacked by the Lakota Sioux. The Platts’ first year’s work was to help the Pawnees survive after their crops had been destroyed by the Sioux. They had arrived intending to build a school immediately but instead had to put it on hold. It took a year to build and open the school, during which the Sioux constantly harassed them. The couple came close to leaving and going back to Ohio, but instead they stayed and eventually spent several years working with the Pawnees.
Lester worked in Nebraska running a trading post for the Native Americans. Elvira used her degree in agriculture to work with the Pawnees to grow better crops. In the warm weather they would live among the Native Americans and then come to Civil Bend to live in their house the rest of the year. In later years, the couple became very active in the Abolitionist movement and helped to establish Tabor College. Today their relatives still live in Fremont County.