Owen County Pioneers
from a paper written by Maxine Mcintosh Drescher, and Undine Dunn
Read at the dedication of the Dunn Memorial Bridge at Spencer, June 23, 1962.
James Dunn, the founder of the Dunn Family, was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1724. He married Martha Long, and with his family came to the Colonies, settling in Virginia about the year 1762. He later moved into Kentucky, where he died in his 82nd year, 1806. Samuel Dunn, second generation, a son of James Dunn was also born in Ireland in 1750. He died in Danville, Kentucky in 1802, age 52. His sons, Samuel Jr., John, Nathaniel and Williamson, struck out for themselves with their families, into the wilderness and came to Indiana Territory from Kentucky as early as 1809. Indiana became a state in 1816.
To give an insight of this pioneer family and their accomplishments, a sketch of these four sons (third generation) and their more outstanding descendants will follow. It will be noted that the Dunns were patriots, Christians, successful statesmen, lawyers, farmers and of eminent worth.
John Dunn was born March 22, 1779 in Virginia. He died in Spencer February 20, 1860. He was married in 1800 to Margaret Karr of Tennessee. In 1812 he and his family along with two brothers, Samuel Jr. and Nathaniel and their families, came from Kentucky to Indiana Territory. They settled in Jefferson County. These families moved farther north in 1817.
John and Margaret, with their six children, Eleanor Brewster Dunn, Samuel Williamson Dunn, Mary J. Dunn, Margaret Karr Dunn, Sarah Jane Maxwell Dunn, and Martha Alexander Dunn, were the first white settlers to reach Owen County. On a very cold day in February 1817, they drove across the solidly frozen White River in their four horse team conveyance, near the site of the now Dunn Memorial Bridge just east of Spencer. Eight inches of snow covered the ground and without a house of any kind, they commenced life here in a rude camp. Almost at once John Dunn set about building a log cabin. The family moved in after one week. This first cabin was near a big spring, on what in later years became the Curtiss-Hayes farm. They found this to be so infested by snakes that they later moved to higher ground and had a more spacious home than the cabin.
Margaret rode on horseback to Virginia and returned bringing apple tree sprouts and salt. Some of these apple trees were still living a few years ago, on Dunn farms.
Two years after the family had come to this wild region, things were civilized enough for the county to hold a court. The first one met at the home of John Dunn in March 1819. Spencer was first staked out on his 600 acre tract, east of its present site. John's wife was not pleased with the plan so Spencer was then laid out at its present location in 1820.
John Dunn was the first Judge of Owen County serving ten years, after which he continued as an agent for the county for many years. He held court in his home.
Their seventh child, John Robert Karr Dunn, was born December, 1817, the first white child to be born in Owen County. He died November 25, 1879; Felix A. Dunn, sixth generation, of Spencer, is a grandson.
John and Margaret Karr Dunn were the grandparents of the late Frank C. Dunn (1863-1951) of Spencer and Owen County. Now living in Spencer and Owen County are their great-grandchildren, Mrs. Goldie Dunn Mcintosh, Spencer, Felix A. Dunn, Spencer, and Eugene C. Dunn, Freedom. Other descendants presently living in Spencer are Mildred Dunn Howard (Mrs. Ritter Howard), and Maxine Mcintosh Drescher (Mrs. Morgan L. Dreseher) who are great-great-granddaughters; also a great-great-great-grandson, John W. Dunn, of Gosport. Other descendants include: Robert Dunn Archer, Sr., Robert Dunn Archer, Jr., and James Archer, all of Spencer (sixth and seventh generation).
Samuel Williamson Dunn (fourth generation) was born in 1804 in Kentucky, the son of John and Margaret Karr Dunn. When he was eight the family went to the Indiana side of the river where all the wilderness clearing had to be done over again. When he was twelve they again moved on - this time to settle in Owen County. Again the wilderness had to be cleared. He had always carried much responsibility for the family, being the oldest son. He became a livestock buyer and seller, driving his stock to the markets as far as Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He acquired considerable real estate in Milwaukee. When he was forty-two he married Susan Alma Harrison. Her father, John Harrison, was related to the same family that produced two presidents. Samuel and Susan made their home in Spencer where she died December 23, 1902. He died in 1884 and both are buried in Riverside Cemetery.
According to the records, Samuel Williamson Dunn gave the ground where the present Methodist Church in Spencer is located.
Samuel Harrison Dunn (fifth generation), the son of Samuel Williamson and Susan Alma Harrison Dunn was born in 1849 in Milwaukee. He was married to Emma Lavina James in December of 1870 at Ellettsville. He was educated at DePauw and at Indiana University, first as a teacher and after that a lawyer. He died at the age of 34 of pneumonia.
The Owen County Bar Association said in a resolution of respect.. ."we recognize the loss of an able and honest lawyer, one who loved the law for the law's sake, a kind and generous husband and father, one of the community's best citizens, and a brother with whom our relations have been so uniformly pleasant, and while zealous and untiring in the interest of his clients, was always upright and honorable in his professional relations."
Williamson Dunn was the first white child born in Kentucky. He and his family came before his brothers, to Indiana Territory in 1809. In 1811 William Henry Harrison, as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Indiana Territory, issued two commissions to Mr. Dunn - one as Justice of the Peace, and the other as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County. He fought in the War of 1812 and was commissioned by President Madison as Captain. His company, with others, marched against the populous towns of the Delaware Indians on the west fork of White River. By these expeditions comparative safety was secured to the border settlements. Judge Dunn was mustered out of the service March 23, 1814 at Vincennes. He then returned home and to the labors of his farm. In 1814 he was commissioned as Judge of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County and as a second Associate Judge of the Circuit Court of said county. In 1823 Judge Dunn donated ground for the Hanover Church Meeting House. This was located near his residence. Judge Dunn gave from his farm the ground for Hanover Manual Labor College and fifty acres toward the endowment of the school. He contributed in other ways to this institution and was one of its Board of Trustees from its beginning to the end of his days. In 1829 he laid off lots for a village on his farm, which he called Hanover.
Judge Dunn was elected as one of the representatives of Jefferson County to the first, second, third, and fourth legislative assemblies of the state, and was Speaker of the House of Representatives at the third and fourth sessions. Judge Dunn was urged to become a candidate for United States Senator, but refused, giving as a reason that he had a young wife and a house full of little children, and would not separate himself from them so far and so long as would be necessary, were he elected.
In 1820 Judge Dunn was commissioned by President Monroe as Registrar of the Land Office established at Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1823 the office was moved to Crawfordsville. In October of that year he moved his family, cattle, sheep, and hired hands.
Families came rapidly and by the next summer a school was opened in Crawfordsville. In September, 1829 he moved back to his farm in Jefferson County where he occupied himself mainly with agriculture for the remainder of his life.
In 1832 he donated ground in Crawfordsville for the establishment of a Literary Institution that "at first should be a High Classical and English School, rising into a college as the wants of the country demanded." This was the beginning of Wabash College from which has grown a rich, flourishing and highly useful institution.
He died November 11, 1854 at the age of 73. Of him it might truly be said that it was better for mankind that he had lived.
William McKee Dunn (fourth generation) son of Williamson Dunn, was born in Hanover, Indiana in 1814. His education began in Hanover, and later in Crawfordsville, where his family moved in 1823. In 1826 McKee Dunn was admitted to the State Seminary, located at Bloomington, Indiana. There were but nine students that year. He received his degree there in 1832 and was less than 18 years of age. He was offered a professorship in the college, but returned to Hanover, where he was principal of the Preparatory Department of Hanover College. Two years later he entered Yale College. He received his degree and returned to Hanover as Professor of Mathematics at $800 per year.
A year of so later, he began to study law. In due time he was licensed to practice and opened an office in New Albany, Indiana. In a speech delivered in the House, Mr. Dunn was the first to favor free schools for Indiana. He served in Congress from 1850 to 1863. Having served in the Army, President Grant appointed him Brigadier General in 1875.
He died July 24, 1887 at his summer home in Virginia. Funeral services were in Washington, D.C., at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, which many persons of note attended.
Samuel Dunn, Jr., was born in Kentucky in 1784 and died in Danville, Kentucky in 1849. When he came north to Indiana he settled on a large farm in what is now Bloomington, Indiana. In 1884, Indiana University moved from its original site in the south part of town, to 20 acres of the Dunn farm, at the east end of town. This ground was deeded by George Grundy Dunn, a son of Samuel Dunn, Jr. The school's enrollment was 202 students in 1885 as compared with the 1962 enrollment of 26,791.
A family cemetery "God's Acre" remains east of the University's Memorial Union Building. The cemetery is tree shaded and grown full of myrtle, with an old, hand-laid southern-style plantation wall of limestone enclosing it. A little stream runs by, beneath the north wall dividing the cemetery ridge from Dunn Field, a baseball field that once must have been a fine bottomland cornfield. The University has flowed past, and surrounded this little cemetery. Thanks to Dr. Frank Orman Beck, a beautiful limestone chapel, a gem of architecture, now stands beside the cemetery. The chapel was dedicated in June of 1957 as a place for meditation and communion by students of all faiths. It is the first religious building ever to be on the campus. The building is very appropriately called "Beck Chapel." Dr. Beck has always been a very close friend of the Dunn family though not a relative.
George Grundy Dunn (fourth generation), the oldest child of Samuel Dunn, Jr., was born in Kentucky in 1812. He died in Bedford in 1857. His father intended that George should be a farmer and remain on the land near Bloomington, but finally consented for him to enter the state college. From college he went to Bedford, Indiana and began the study of law. When he was ready to begin practice, his eminent ability as an attorney soon ranked him with the first lawyers of the state. He became one of the greatest orators of the State and won fame as such in the State Legislature and later in Congress. While in Congress he was known as the "Young War Horse of Indiana." The eloquent Thomas Marshall of Kentucky, once said "Dunn has robbed me of my laurels." However his brilliant prospects were doomed. He died at forty five and was buried at Bedford.
Nathaniel Dunn forged into the wilderness farther north and settled in what is now known as Crawfordsville. Those
who knew him placed a seal of honor, respect, and esteem upon his character. He was married to Sophia Irvin and they
had seven children. Otherwise, little is known of him in history. He was born in Kentucky in 1790 and died in 1875.
Editor's note: Most of the descendants mentioned as still living in this 1962 document are now deceased. The log house believed to have been built by Samuel Williamson Dunn has been restored and is still standing in Washington Township today.