Eli Clayton and Family by Elizabeth Zaring


Even though Eli Clayton lived in Iowa for only 19 years, it seems he had a significant positive impact on Pottawattamie County. Let me tell you a bit of where he came from. Eli was born on September 28, 1833 in Buxworth, Derbyshire, the rural midlands of England, to John, a coal miner, and his wife Mary Bate. Eli was the 11th and last child born to them. In 1837, John and Mary sent their two oldest sons to America to see if the glowing reports encouraging people to move there were true. The sons gave a thumbs up, so in 1839, John Clayton and his remaining family sailed from Liverpool to New Orleans. By 1840, the Clayton family had settled in the mining area of Grant and Iowa Counties in southwestern Wisconsin. Eli purchased 8 acres of land near Mifflin, Wisconsin from the government in 1855.

In 1856, Eli married Hannah Woodward of Grant County at Platteville, Grant County, Wisconsin. Hannah was born on August 30, 1839 in Tipperary, Ireland, to Ralph and Elizabeth (Livingston) Woodward. The Woodward family came to the United States in 1843.

Eli and Hannah moved to Annaton (New California), Wisconsin in 1860; there Eli had a dry goods store. He became involved in local affairs and was Chairman of Clifton Township in 1868 and was treasurer from 1869 to 1871.

The May 28, 1874 issue of the local newspaper reads; “Mr. Eli Clayton, known citizen of Iowa and Grant Counties for the past 34 years, has moved with his family to Lewis, Cass County, Iowa. Mr. Clayton’s departure from Grant will be regretted by many. He is one of those men of sterling qualities and strict integrity, by whose loss any community will suffer.”

On September 20, 1877, Eli bought the west half of lot 8 block 22 in the town of Walnut. Here, at the south end of Walnut’s main street, he had an office and scale. It was at 601 Pearl Street, now part of the Granary Mall. His elevator was to the south and next to the railroad tracks.

In 1878, The Walnut News said that Eli Clayton & Co. owned the largest elevator in western Iowa and did a fine business. The elevator was destroyed in a fire on August 16, 1887. Eli sold part of the west half of lot 8 to his partner, J. H. Schofield, in November, 1889 and the other part in November, 1890.

The Hon. Eli Clayton’s obituary said he was president of a Nebraska Insurance company. The Walnut Bureau said, on July 26, 1889, that he was “until recently connected with a loan company of Omaha.”

Eli was one of the largest land owners in Pottawattamie County in 1882. He owned 240 acres in section 2, 320 acres in section 3, and 320 acres in section 4 of Wright Township. In Lincoln Township, he owned 80 acres in section 33 and 240 acres in section 34, making a total of 1200 acres. He also co-owned 160 acres in section 10 of Lincoln Township with J. D. Edmundson.

In 1879, Eli was elected to the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors. In 1880, he became president of the board and served in that capacity until October of 1883. The following was taken from the Council Bluffs Weekly Herald, October 17, 1883:

“Eli Clayton (president board of supervisors)

Surprised with a party at Pacific House

Gold headed cane given to him

About 8 o’clock last evening, Eli Clayton, president of the board of supervisors and one of the retiring members, was taken in tow by his associates on the board and invited into one of the parlors of the Pacific House. Mr. Clayton was surprised to find all the members of the board, the county attorney, Auditor Kirkland, Sheriff Guittar, and several citizens present, and he was still more surprised when Capt. Hight, the county attorney, stepped forward and in a neat little speech, presented him with a fine gold headed cane as a token of esteem from his fellow officials and friends. Mr. Clayton replied as best he could under the circumstances, and spoke feelingly of the pleasant associations of years on the board. The cane bears the following inscription, ‘To Eli Clayton, from friends and associates, Oct. 16, 1883’.”

Also, a resolution was made upon the retiring Eli Clayton and J. M Phillips, by the board of Supervisors: “Be it Resolved that we tender to Messrs, Clayton and Phillips, the retiring members our sincere thanks for their uniform kindness and consideration towards those associated with them officially, and that we desire hereby to express our hearty appreciation of the high character, strict integrity, impartiality, zeal and the faithful performance of all official duties which have distinguished them in the discharge of the arduous and responsible duties appertaining to their positions as members of the board of supervisors, and which have won them the confidence, respect and esteem, not only of their associates, but also of all others brought in contact with them in their official relations.”

Eli Claytons’ obituary states the following: “He had held many offices of trust and as a member of the board of supervisors of Pottawattamie County he revolutionized the business methods of the board and reformed the legislation of that county. Mr. Clayton was an inveterate hater of fraud, chicanery and indirection. He was frank, progressive and in accord with that class of men who are anxious to build up. His plans were practical. His life was a success.” (The Weekly Telegraph, Atlantic, Iowa, May 24, 1893, p. 6)

When Eli and Hannah moved to Iowa in 1874, they had 7 children ranging in ages from 17 to 3. In 1882, they had their 8th and last child. Their children were Mary born in 1857; Ralph Wesley b. 1859, William R. b. 1862, Sherman b. 1864, John b. 1866, Eli b. 1869, Charles b. 1871 and James G. b. 1882. Eli and Hannah placed great importance on educating their children, as evidenced by the children being enrolled in schools in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The school records of Penn College and Normal School show children of Eli and Hannah attending from 1878 to 1886. Mary, Ralph Wesley, William, Sherman and John attended school in Oskaloosa. It may have been unusual for the Claytons to send a daughter to college in 1878. William was the only one to graduate from Penn College, and went on to receive a degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University in New York. The youngest son, James, later trained to be a physician, following Eli’s advice when James was quite young.

None of the children stayed in the Walnut area. Eli’s son, Charles was a very successful livestock dealer in Denver, Colorado; son Ralph Wesley worked for the U.S. Department of the Treasury; William had a successful engineering career; James had a long career as a physician in the northwestern corner of Colorado; daughter Mary married a wealthy lumber dealer and lived in the Chicago area. Their two oldest children,

Mary Clayton Embree, and Ralph Wesley, married into and converted to the Quaker faith, the Religious Society of Friends. Ralph worked at times for lumber concerns in Omaha and Chicago with his brother-in-law, Jesse Embree.

It is not clear what happened to James when he was orphaned in 1895, but he may have lived with his uncle John F. Clayton, on the farm formerly owned by his father, Eli. James did run away from home and became a cow puncher working for his uncle Charles, the successful livestock dealer in Denver. A few years later he attended a medical school in Chicago, where his sister, Mary Clayton Embree, lived. The following is a story from the Craig Colorado Courier, May 15, 1929. “Dr. J.G. Clayton of Craig was the subject of an unusual operation Thursday, at the Fort Collins hospital. Clayton watched while Dr. L.L. Little and other surgeons removed his appendix and conversed with his fellow workers while the operation was underway. A recently developed spinal anesthetic was used, this deadening the pain in the area opened by the surgeon’s knife, but having the patient otherwise in full control of his facilities.”

Dr. James Clayton rode a saddle horse in the first years of his practice in Craig and Moffat County, Colorado. He served the county as coroner for four terms, as mayor for two terms, served on the town board for eight years and as county health officer. James’s obituary from Greeley Colorado states that he practiced at Craig, Colorado, from 1916 to 1932; there he was a member of the city council, mayor, and served as the coroner of Moffat County as well as being a member of the Elks, Masons and Odd Fellows. This obituary says Dr. James next moved to Palatine, Illinois and then moved to Eaton, Colorado in 1939. At his final job at Eaton, he was a member of the Weld County Medical Society, Colorado Medical Society, and was on the staff of the Weld County Hospital. At his death, he was survived by his wife Fay (White) Noble Clayton, and a sister, Mrs. Mary Embree, of Evanston, Illinois. The children and siblings of Eli Clayton kept in touch and helped one another when needed.

Eli had two brothers who made important contributions; Joel founded Clayton California, and Charles was the U. S. Representative to Congress from California from 1873 to 1875. The Clayton Historical Society has a museum in Clayton, California, devoted to the history of their town and this Clayton family.

Eli had other relatives who lived in the area. His sister Elizabeth was married to William Hopper; their family came to Walnut in 1877. In 1885, William Hopper was the postmaster at Walnut. Elizabeth died at the age of 62 years on November 11, 1889. She and William were interred at the Walnut Cemetery.

Eli had a brother Peter, whose son John F. married Alice Jane Crooks. John and Alice Clayton bought Eli’s farm in Wright Township in 1891. Eugene Clayton of Walnut is a great-grandson of John F. Clayton.

Eli’s sister Mary, Mrs. William Bainbridge, had a son, also named William, who became an attorney in Council Bluffs in the late 1880’s and 1890’s.

The last three years of his life, 1890-1893, Eli was ill with cancer. By that time, he and his wife and son James had moved to Atlantic. At least 4 members of this family died from both stomach and liver cancer. Eli passed away on May 21, 1893. Son James was 13 when his mother, Hannah, died on her 56th birthday, August 30, 1895.

Eli Clayton and his wife, Hannah Woodward are buried in the cemetery at Atlantic, Iowa. Two of their sons, John and William, are also buried beside them. My great grandfather, Ralph Wesley Clayton, his wife, and their daughter and her husband, my grandparents, are buried in Forest Cemetery in Oskaloosa, Iowa.