The Bender family left Pennsylvania in 1845 or ’46, heading west. The father was Jacob (John in some records) Bender born October 31, 1800 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, a blacksmith by trade. The mother was born Mary Pealer on February 5, 1808 at Fishing Creek, Columbia County, PA. Along with the parents were their first six children. They probably traveled in a covered wagon, going to Ohio until 1849 or ’50 when they continued west to Illinois. In 1851 they went to Jackson County in eastern Iowa, and the following spring to Madison Township in Jones County, just west of a developing village later called Wyoming.
On June 4, 1852 the oldest son John, age 17, borrowed a yoke of oxen from a neighbor and plowed the virgin soil, breaking prairie. This was determined to be the first furrow plowed in Madison Township, 1½ miles west of Little Bear Creek in Wyoming. The undulating hills of Jones County held rich soil, clear creeks, and varied flora and fauna thriving in the tall prairie grasses.
The German Mr. Bender “entered 240 acres of land in Madison Township, and afterward sold to S. W. Johnson.” (page 598 and 614 of The History of Jones County, Iowa, Western Historical Co., Chicago, 1879). A large farm for the times, perhaps Mr. Bender thought for the future of his children:
Elizabeth b. Feb. 23, 1827 at Columbus, Luzerne County, PA. She married in 1848, probably in Ohio, Joshua Crawford, and arrived in Jones County in 1854. They were the parents of ten children, none of whom remained in the Wyoming area. Elizabeth died Apr. 22, 1907 at Wyoming.
Magdalena (1828-1873), married Jacob Haun.
Sarah Ann b. 1830 in PA, m1 Turner, 1 child d.y., m.2. 1859 Samuel McAlmont (McCalmant) b. 1835 in PA, son of Robert & Catherine. They had two daughters.
Catherine (1832-1901), m. Nicholas Countryman.
John (the plower) b. Feb. 4, 1835 at Columbus, Luzerne Co. PA, m. July 21, 1859 Lavina/Lovina R. Brownell b.1840 in NY. The marriage license was issued July 18 to James Bender, his given name in error. The couple had 6 children:
Mary Rosina b.Jun.30, 1860, d. Feb. 1, 1952 in CA, m. Dec. 25, 1883 John S. Westfall (1862-1937), lived in Blairstown, IA. They had eight children.
LeRoy James “Roy” (aka James L.) b. Sept. 1862 or ’63 who m. Nov. 28, 1888 Arminda A. French (1868-1942), daugher of Joseph & Grace, and farmed near Wyoming. They had five children.
Carrie Irene b.1868, d. Dec. 10,1904, m. Dec. 21, 1887 James Myron French (ca.1864-1948), son of Joseph & Grace. They farmed the original Bender farm and had nine children.
George b.Oct. 2, 1872, d. Oct. 4, 1872.
Ada Elzora b.1874, m.1899 John R. Jenkins (1870-1952), lived Wyoming until 1919 when they moved to Arkansas. She returned to Wyoming in ca. 1955. They had at least one son, Carl.
Arthur Grant b.Oct. 19,1879, m.Lettie Ireland, lived Anamosa and Vinton, and d. in or after 1917. They had three children.
The two marriages to Frenches connected the two pioneer families. All the French of the Wyoming area were related and they were all welcomed into the Bender families. Many descendants include Garside, Westphal, Marshall, Buck, Willman, Eganhouse, etc., surnames still in the area in 2009.
John served as School Director and was a Republican per the 1879 county history. He and Lavina retired into town in 1903 after 44 years on the farm west of Wyoming. John died January 7, 1917 and Lavina died Mar. 24, 1918. Burial Wyoming Cemetery (see photo of their gravestone). The long obituary of John states that he was a religious man whose aim in life was to do right by all men, at all times. He attended the church at Madison Center and later the Methodist in Wyoming. “Did he realize on that bright June morning that that day was to mark the beginning of turning this vast field of Hazel Brush and Raw Prairie into one of the Garden spots of the world? Man passes away but his labors live on and on in the hearts of those who remain.” (from the obituary, Wyoming Journal, January 18, 1917)
Isaac b. Oct. 3, 1839 PA, m. June 16, 1863 Ann Eliza Richardson (1840-1925), and had a son Thomas who m. 1889 Lottie Horn. Isaac d. Oct. 19, 1868.
Lucy Jane b.Dec. 1, 1841 PA, d.Jan. 12, 1870, m. Linza E. Brownell (1834-1919). Three children died young. Perhaps they had more.
Joshua J. b.June 15, 1844 in Columbia County PA, m.1st July 21, 1864, Luella M. Arnold (1850-1870). Their three children:
Celina C. b. 1867 IA.
Hiram J. b. 1870 IA, m. 1889 Drusella A. Conley, had 2 sons.
Joshua’s 2nd m. Feb. 22, 1871, Mrs. Ann Eliza Bender (1840-1925) (widow of his brother Isaac). Issue:
Laura, b. 1876.
Ann’s children from her first marriage, reared by Joshua:
William R., b. Apr. 15, 1864, d. Nov. 26, 1909 in AZ. Was in military.
Lula or Lulu, b. ca. 1866.
Thomas, b. ca. 1868.
Joshua J. Bender served in the Civil War, and was a blacksmith in Wyoming in 1880. He moved to Olin by 1917. Joshua died August 28,1921 and Ann on April 4, 1925.
Joseph Clinton b. Mar. 24, 1847 in Ohio, d. Nov. 16, 1870.
In 1912 the Bender and French families began to meet every year on the historic June 4th for a picnic and celebration of their heritage. The event was called the Annual Bender Picnic, Old Settlers Picnic, and Old Timers Picnic. In 1913 they had a monument placed on the original farm, near the road which is now State Highway 64. According to the Anamosa Journal on June 13, 1946, a “huge niggerhead stone was first used for a monument but in 1913 was replaced by a piece of granite on which the inscription reads: ‘First Sod Turned in Madison township, Jones county, Iowa, with Oxen by John Bender on June 4, 1852. Memorial set up on June 4, 1913’. Monument is surmounted by a large wooden yoke, a replica of the yoke worn by the team of oxen used for the historic sod breaking. Ring on the yoke is the original one used at that time. Inscription on the yoke reads: ‘Ye Old Times’.”
The annual picnics were well-attended — anyone could go. The potluck dinner at noon was followed by a program, usually with a speaker, musical selections, and readings. A short business meeting was held with officers elected for the following year. LeRoy (Roy) Bender would give rides from town to those who needed transportation to the reunions. He was the oldest attending in 1952, nearing his 90th birthday. 1932’s picnic was advertised to be held on the J.M. French lawn (James and Carrie Bender French farmed the homestead after her parents’ retirement), “Take your baskets and enjoy a pleasant time”. Mr. French died in 1935 but the farm stayed in the family. In 1937 it was tenanted by Cornelius Martensen who allowed the picnic on his lawn. Myron French lived there and hosted in 1943 through 1952 or later . In 1946 attendance was 52 and in 1952, 118. The last year of the picnics is not known.
The modern address of the subject farm is 7954 Highway 64, Wyoming IA 52362. The distance between the farm/monument to the creek in Wyoming is 1½ miles. The roadbed has been changed severely since the early newspaper articles referring to 1 mile and 2 ½ miles.
John/Jacob Bender died September 8, 1873. Mary Pealer Bender died July 22, 1890. She was the daughter of Samuel Pealer (1782-1854) and Mary Marlenn Sheidy (1789-1853). John/Jacob had a brother who also came to Madison Township….. Thomas Bender b. ca. 1810 in PA was a farmer in the 1870 census of Madison Twp. He had a wife Barbara Pealer b. ca. 1813 PA (sister of Mary Pealer Bender) and four children: Emanuel L. b. ca. 1833 PA; George W. b. ca. 1841 PA; Catherine b. ca. 1844 PA, m. David McDonald and had a son George D. McDonald b. 1872 who m. 1907 Sarah Buck; and Levi b. ca. 1858 in IA, living in 1885.
Other Benders in the Wyoming area not matched to the above family are:
Jerome Bender b. 1865 IL, d. Jan. 11, 1927, m. Jennie Smith (1872-1925), issue:
Olive, b. 1895 IA, worked as telephone operator.
Archie, b. Nov. 8, 1897.
Grace, b. 1900, m. 1921 Everett Vrooman. She was a school teacher.
John, b. 1903.
William H. Bender b. ca. 1855 in IN, son of D. Bender & A. Codlin (Conley?), m. 1884 Jennie Tate b. ca. 1858 WI.
Additional data on Bender researched by Joyce Fishwild is in the Wyoming Historical Museum, Wyoming IA.