John Rodman took township from nothing to $300K operation

John Rodman must have been quite a guy. He is supposed to have been the first man to settle in what is now Mamre Township. The funny part of that story is that he went there by accident, then filed a claim on land which no one wanted at the time.

He was just passing through that part of the country on his way to Alexandria when a couple of men from the Norway Lake area invited him to stay with them for a few days. Even Railson and Andrew Hedin showed him land in the area which they claimed was better than anything to be found at his destination.

Rodman agreed, filed his claim in 1866, and named the place “Mamre,” a biblical reference to Abraham’s home in the “Promised Land.”


Surveyors and settlers alike called on him for help in locating claims. He could walk right up to survey stakes no one had even seen.

This led to his spending a good deal of his time helping settlers break ground on their new farms. Mamre was prairie so most of its settlers had a much easier time breaking ground than those who settled a little farther north in the forested areas. That made it possible for them to harvest their wheat crops in less than a year after settling in. They had to take their grain to the nearest mill at Cedar City in Meeker County, that first year. From then on they went to the mill which Edgar Nichols had built in Green Lake Village, which was much closer than Cedar City.

Many of the Mamre settlers bought land from the railroad for $5 an acre. This was a much faster way of acquiring it than the homestead system, which required settlers to live on and work their land for five years before they received a clear title to it. Between those two methods of land acquisition, almost all the land in Mamre was privately owned by 1870.

That was just in time to be included in the first census. That was also the time when the first taxes were levied. Only three people in the whole township had to pay personal property taxes — Elling Ellingson was taxed for a team of horses and two cows, Swen Nielson had a team of horses and three cows and Rodman had the most property. At that time he owned nine cows, five sheep and a hog. Two years later the 38 people living in Mamre were taxed for a total of four horses, a hundred nine cows, sixteen sheep, four watches and $157 in cash.

It was John Rodman who brought the first grain binder, which cost $300, to Mamre. He and three other men bought the first horse-powered threshing machine a year later in 1870.

The Norway Lake Post Office was the polling place for Mamre’s first election. Rodman got a group of young men together to go with him to vote for U. S. Grant for president of the United States. The Republicans protested strongly on the grounds that Rodman’s “boys” had just arrived from Sweden. They voted despite the protests, but learned all there was to know about working out poll taxes by building roads in what is now Arctander Township.

Life was not easy on the frontier. The weather in those days was severe, and there was no escaping it.

At one time, one of Rodman’s neighbors borrowed a yoke of oxen to haul some wood for fuel. It was a beautiful day so Rodman was wearing only a light coat. Then the blizzard hit! The first thing that happened was that he and the oxen lost their way and he lost his sense of direction. He spent two days and a night in a muskrat house. When the storm was over he dug his way out of the muskrat house and found that he was okay except that his feet were frozen solid, and his legs were black to the knees. Most people thought he would lose his legs so he was treated in the Indian way and they were saved. There were plenty of similar incidents but no fatalities.

Spring, summer and fall brought prairie fires. The last of them brought out half the population of Mamre to fight it. That was in 1885 and that fire moved faster than horses could run.

Nature wasn’t their only enemy. In 1889, seven of the eight children in one family died, and seven others from several families did manage to survive the typhoid epidemic. Also, in those early days, one man was killed by lightning, another fell through the ice and drowned, an 18-month-old girl was hit by a train, and a man was killed when he fell from one.

There were other deaths, in those years, mostly caused by cramped living conditions.

Mamre’s first town meeting was held in Rodman’s home in April 1870.

No one knew how such a meeting should be conducted so E. C. Welin, Monongalia County’s register of deeds, was called on to preside, and that meeting established Mamre’s government.

Early on Mamre assesed an average of $161 for roads and bridges, and it assessed each voter two days’ work on the roads in lieu of taxes,

John Rodman saw what he had started grow from nothing to a governmental entity with an assessed valuation of over $300,000.

John Rodman left the township which he had organized in 1904. He left his farm to his son, Peter, and moved to California.