Jan 01
Abraham A. Fonda (1803-1871); William Cornelius Fonda (1807-1885); John Henry Fonda (1808-); George Farrell Fonda (1859-1943)
Abraham A. Fonda (1803-1871) Sources: Western Historical Manuscript CollectionBorn in Wynantskill, Rensselaer County, NY; 1850, 1860 & 1870 Census, Louisville, Jefferson Co., KY; participated in a 1838 Jackson County, MO land sale (Prudhomme Tract) which eventually became Kansas City. Engaged in the family grocery business in the City of Louisville and owned two lots of land therein, also owned one tract of 320 acres of land in Orange County, MO per his will dated 1867. Married Fannie Stumbaugh 1844 in Van Buren (now Cass) County Missouri, remained a short time until returning to Kentucky. Had six children from 1847 to 1858.

Mississippi Riverboat

On February 1, 1831, French-Canadian fur trader Gabriel Prudhomme patented 271 acres of land in Jackson County, Missouri for $340. The land, originally part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, contained a natural rock ledge on the south bank of the Missouri River that would later be known as “the levee” that proved to be an excellent steamboat landing site. After an altercation in 1831, Prudhomme died leaving a complex legal battle among his heirs. The courts finally declared that the land should be auctioned-off and the proceeds equitably distributed among his children. On July 7, 1838, James H. McGee as a guardian for the Prudhomme heirs auctioned the land. He received $1,800 for the land from Abraham Fonda but the courts ordered a new sale due to charges of a lack of adequate advertising and a suspicion of collusion between the two men. The land, including the landing for the loading and Mississippi River Steamboat unloading of materials on the Missouri River, had begun to be used regularly by businesses as early as 1836. The second auction of the estate was advertised as far away as St. Louis and cried-off on November 14, 1838. A group of men, led by William M. Sublett made a bid of $4,220 and successfully purchased the tract of land. Next, the group formed a corporation with the intent of using the landing and its nearby surroundings as a business settlement, complete with warehouses. The corporation originally consisted of 14 members and shortly after the sale allowed an additional three members. Members included John C. McCoy (the city’s first surveyor), Fry P. McGee (the group’s first financial officer), and William M. Chick (Kansas City’s first Postmaster). Other members of the group were: Oliver Caldwell, William Collins, Abraham Fonda, William Gillis, Russell Hicks, Samuel C. Owens, Jacob Ragan, James Smart, George W. Tate, and Moses G. Wilson. The additions were Robert Campbell, William B. Evans, and Henry Jobe.

Missouri Wilderness - 1840's

The initial order of business for the group was what to name the proposed town. The 14 committee members retired to the log house on the riverbank at the foot of Main Street occupied by “One-Eyed Ellis” to select a name for the new town. No doubt there was much laughter as those roughly dressed men sat in front of the blazing fire and suggested one name after another. Old Squire Bowers, a spectator who lived on the river, facetiously suggested “Rabbitville or Possumtrot” but was treated with silent contempt. Another suggested, “Kawsmouth” and “Port Fonda” in honor of Abraham Fonda, then a prominent member of the committee. Unfortunately Fonda became involved in a quarrel with another part-owner, Henry Jobe, who threatened all sorts of legal, fistic, and even shotgun remedies, and the results were that “Port Fonda” was not accepted. Finally “Town of Kansas” was agreed upon, because of the Kansas River and the Kansas Indians, and was the name under which the new town site was surveyed and by which it was called until 1853. At that time it became known as the “City of Kansas” and in 1880, as “Kansas City.”


William Cornelius Fonda (1807-1885) Sources: History of Calhoun CountyWilliam was born in Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York; in 1835 he moved his young family to Michigan, casting in his lot with the earliest settlers of Calhoun County. He settled upon a farm in Pennfield Township, which constituted a part of the farm now owned by the heir of Henry Foss. From the government he entered about five hundred acres of land, which was entirely unimproved, and with characteristic energy he began to clear and develop his property.

Developing Michigan Farmland

Joining the state militia, he served for some years in its ranks and won the title of Colonel. He was pre-eminently a military man, tall and erect and without a knowledge of fear. He married Lauraa Avery, and when they came to the west there were three children in their family, while after their arrival, three more were added to the household. Colonel Fonda was a man of marked intelligence and enterprise in his day and was also a most progressive agriculturalist, becoming the owner of one of the finest farms in his part of the county. He took an active and helpful part in the early development of this section of the state and his name certainly deserves to be high on the roll of honored pioneers.

Calhoun County, Michigan

William’s brother, Cornelius C. Fonda (1809-1897), father of William Henry Fonda (see next entry), spent the days of his boyhood and youth in the state of his nativity (New York) and then he too became a pioneer resident of Michigan, arriving in Calhoun County in the spring of 1838. He made the journey up the Hudson River by steamer, across the country by the Erie canal to Buffalo, thence by boat to Detroit and from there by wagon to his destination, twenty-three days being required to make the trip. He was accompanied by his wife and three sons and the journey across Michigan was made with a double ox team. In New York he had married Miss Esther Moe, who was born in Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County, NY, in 1814.

Family Blacksmith Business

Arriving in Calhoun county they settled upon the property where the Independent Congregational Church now stands and at the Verona Mills. Mr. Fonda secured slabs with which he erected a small slab shanty, this being the first home of the family. Soon afterward, however, he built a (traditional) house across the road. He was a blacksmith by trade and opened a smithy where the Trump block now stands.

It was entirely unroofed, save that there was a covering over the bellows. Cornelius Fonda made the iron work for the first thresher built by Nichols & Shepard Co. and in his later years he presented the firm with the hammer with which he did that work; today the implement is to be seen in their office. For many years he followed the blacksmith’s trade and became the first foreman in the blacksmithing department in the Nichols & Shepard shops. He was an expert mechanic and proved a most capable and trusted employee of the house, but about 1850 he retired from active connection with blacksmithing and removed to his farm east of the city. He had there one hundred and five acres of land now comprised within what is now known as the Fonda addition to Battle Creek.

Early Days on the Family Farm

On that property Cornelius spent his remaining days, devoting his energies to the supervision of his agricultural interests. He was a great lover of horses and owned some of the finest running stock to be found in the county. He took great pleasure in testing their ability and he once trained a horse to run without a rider and it made such splendid records that it passed everything on the race track. Mr. Fonda died in 1897, having survived his wife by about three years and his remains were interred by her side in Oak Hill Cemetery. Mrs. Fonda was a member of the Methodist Church and a most estimable lady. Mr. Fonda cast his first presidential ballot in support of the Republican party. Through an active business career he gained an enviable reputation for reliability that made his name an honored one in trade circles.


John Henry Fonda (1808- ) Sources: State Historical Society of Wisconsin; Chicago: Its History and Its BuildersBorn in Watervliet, Albany Co., New York; trekked to Prairie Du Chien, Crawford Co., Wisconsin in 1825. He was an Explorer, Trader, Mail Carrier, Indian Agent and Civil War Officer (Colonel). Although he moved away from the family homestead at an early age, John had six brothers (some half-brothers) that also served in the Civil War, and both of his grandfathers served in the Revolutionary War. There is a life-size painting of Col. John H. Fonda hung in Wisconsin Capital Building. In 1827, during Red Bird’s Winnebago rising, John H. Fonda ran the mail from Fort Dearborn (today’s Chicago) to Fort Howard at Green Bay. In 1829, under the direction of Col. Z. Taylor, he served as pilot for an expedition to the pineries of the Menomonee River to cut logs for the construction of Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien. He later served as Crawford County Coroner (1846), District Court Justice (1850), Indian Agent and Constable for the county at which time consisted of the entire western half of present-day Wisconsin.

Colonel John H. Fonda

John H. Fonda, trader and mail carrier of Prairie du Chien, passes through Chicago in 1825 and will later record his experience: [Lake Peoria] … At length the councils were concluded, and our [Indian] guide signified his willingness to proceed. Under his direction we paddled along until we came to the Des Plaines river, from which we passed into a large slough or lake [Mud Lake] that must have led us into a branch of the Chicago river, for we followed a stream that brought us opposite Fort Dearborn. At this period, Chicago was merely an Indian Agency; it contained about 14 homes, and not more than 75 to 100 inhabitants at the most. An Agent of the American Fur Company, named Gurdon S. Hubbard, then occupied the Fort. The staple business seemed to be carried on by Indians and run-away soldiers, who hunted ducks and muskrats in the marshes. There was a great deal of low land, and mostly destitute of timber. The principal inhabitants were the agent, Mr. Hubbard, a Frenchman by the name of Ouilmette, and John B. Beaubien. It never occurred to me that a large city would be built up there. … But to go on with my story, we departed from Fort Dearborn in a fishing boat and proceeded north along the Lake shore toward Green Bay.

Exploring the Frontier

John H. Fonda returns again during the winter of 1827 and later shares: “… I was mail-carrier in the North-West before there was a white settlement between Prairie du Chien and Fort Snelling. … It was the winter of 27, that the U.S. Quartermaster, having heard of me through some of the men with whom I was a favorite, came to me one day and asked me if I could find the way to Chicago. I told him it wasn’t long since I made the trip by the Lake. He said he wanted a person who was not afraid to carry dispatches to the military post at Fort Dearborn. I said I had heard that the Indians were still unfriendly, but I was ready to make the attempt. … [willing to] carry the mail between Fort Howard, at Green Bay, and Fort Dearborn, commanded by Capt. Morgan, that stood on a point now forming a part of the City of Chicago. …

I chose a companion to go on the tramp with me. He was a Canadian, named Boiseley, a comrade with me for many years. It was in the company of this Boiseley that I presented myself before the Quarter-Master, and reported ourselves ready for the start. He intrusted me with the mail-bag, but a tin canister or box of a flat shape, covered with untanned deer-hide, that contained the dispatches and letters of the inhabitants. … One noon we arrived at the southern terminus of our journey at Fort Dearborn after being on the way for more than a month. It was in January, … and with the exception that the Fort was strengthened and garrisoned, there was no sign of improvement having gone on since my former visit [1825]. This time I was on business, and I advanced up to the sally-port with a sense of my importance, was challenged by the sentry, and an orderly conducted me to the Adjutant’s office, where I reported myself as the bearer of dispatches for the commanding officer. Captain Morgan was in the office, and, advancing, intimated that he was that person and took the case of letters, directing me to await his further orders. Getting a pass, I went outside the palisades to a house built on the half-breed system partly of logs and partly of boards. This house was kept by a Mr. Miller, who lived in it with his family. Here Boisely and I put up during the time we were in the settlement. I received my orders from Morgan about the 23d of January, and prepared to return with other letters. We started up one branch of the Chicago river, and after leaving this we followed the Des Plaines, taking pretty much the same way we had come.”

Winnebago Indian Skirmishes

Concerning the removal of the Winnebago’s, John H. Fonda says: “During the year 1848, just previous to the adoption of the State Constitution, the Winnebago Indians were scattered through the country along the Wisconsin and Fox rivers, through the Kickapoo timbers, and the Lemonweir Valley. Orders came from the sub-Indian agent, J E Fletcher, to collect and remove them to their Reservation, near Fort Atkinson, Iowa.”

“In 1848, when orders were received at Fort Crawford to remove the Winnebago’s, several attempts were made to do so, but with poor success. Early in the same year I received the following official letter:”

Office Sub-Indian Agent, Turkey River, Jan. 4, 1848

Sir: In answer to your inquiry respecting the disposition to be made of the Winnebago Indians, who may be found wandering about through the country, I have to say that I wish you to arrest them, cause them to be securely guarded, and report them to me as early as may be practicable. Very respectfully your obedient servant, J E Fletcher, Indian Agent.”

“To Lieut. —, Commanding Ft. Crawford, Wisconsin Territory

Upon receipt of the above, I made all necessary preparation, and started with fifty men to collect the Indians. This attempt was quite successful, and several hundred were arrested, and sent to Fort Atkinson, Iowa. It may appear strange to some persons that such a handful of men could take many hundred Indians prisoners, and guard them day and night as we traveled through a wild unsettled country; but it was done, and I have a list of names of those men who accompanied me on that expedition. My journal, kept during the time we were hunting the Indians, presents numerous interesting items, only one or two of which, I will relate…”


George Farrell Fonda (1859-1943) Sources: Biographies of Denver and VicinityGeorge Fonda – Pioneer of Boulder County, Colorado; born in Augusta, Illinois, son of Henry Dockstader Fonda, a Hollander; mother, Catharine Farrell of Pennsylvania Dutch. He moved to Solomon City, Kansas in 1874, then at the age of 15 on to Denver on the Kansas Pacific Railway as a peanut boy.

Giles. H. Fonda Drug Store Boulder, Colorado, 1880's

Having purchased a suit of clothes, he had four 5 cent shinplasters as his only capital; one of which he managed to hold on to. At the depot his mother handed him three $5.00 bills. He arrived in Denver too late to go on to Boulder, leaving the next afternoon at 4 p.m. via The Boulder Valley, and arriving at the depot on 24th Street about 6 p.m. on may 6, 1874. The fare was $2.40. He walked to town, carrying his belongings in a square wooden tobacco box. He went to the store of his brother Giles, whom he had not seen for eight years; his brother recognized him immediately. He was conducting a drug and stationery store which later was the Fonda Building, at 1216-18 Pearl Street. Worked for his brother at $10.00 per month and board; slept on the floor with the dog for company. Later, the brother moved the drug stock to Leadville, and George continued in business with the stationery stock, and gradually worked into the drug business at the age of 18. The brother later returned to Boulder and they were again in business together. He acquired the building and remained in business at that place until 1919.

He married Mary E. Jones November 26, 1879 at Nederland. Took the Rev. Thomas V. Wilson with him in a two-horse rig, starting at 6 a.m. through six inches of fresh snow. At Boulder Falls they met a messenger from Caribou who wished the Rev. Wilson to conduct a funeral in Boulder that same day. They hurried on to Nederland and the ceremony was advanced to 11 a.m.

Center of Town, Boulder, Colorado - 1880's (Fonda's Drug Store on left)

No marriage license was required. The funeral party from Caribou waited in Nederland until the marriage ceremony was performed. He returned to Boulder the same evening with his wife. Started housekeeping at his own home at 17th and Spruce streets, which he had acquired with money presented him by backers in foot races which he had won. A sister had prepared a supper mainly of oyster stew, and that had been the anniversary supper menu for fifty-two years.

Although he never had a music lesson, he played in the Boulder Band, a E Flat Base Tuba about 1876. He played in all the events of Boulder and surrounding towns, and took parts in amateur theatricals and comic operas: Poobah in Mikado; Major General in Pirates of Penzance; Bob Acress in The Rivals; was also in Pinafore.

Boulder Sports

He sung “The Vacant Chair” at Lodge of Sorrow and funerals for the Elks for thirty-five years. Joined Macky Hose Team in 1875 and was the first foreman. For many years took part in Firemen’s Tournaments, locally and in various places in Colorado. Was famous as an expert plug man, and was instrumental in winning numerous championships for Boulder, at one time holding a world’s record. Chiefly responsible for the justification of the slogan “Boulder in the West Test.”

In 1878, went to Chicago with Bates Hose Team of Denver. Won many long-distance races, 200 to 400 yards. Never bet on himself, but was liberally compensated by admiring backers. Was Fire Chief of Boulder for many years, under volunteer and paid departments. Largely instrumental in having a paid fire department installed. Always went to fires at any and all times of night and day. Played baseball on the Boulder team from the time of his arrival in Boulder for many years and in various of the surrounding towns; played first base. Played lawn tennis with various of Boulder’s expert players. Played football on a town team organized to give practice to the Varsity. Hunted big game in various parts of Colorado; fished all over the State, and made trips East to fish on the Illinois, Mississippi, and Kentucky Rivers.

George Fonda was always a Democrat. He became acquainted with Gov. Elect James H. Peabody on a quail hunting trip to Texas, and shortly after the inauguration was appointed a Colonel on the Governor’s staff. He served as a member of the Court in the famous General Chase Court-Martial proceedings; served as alderman of the City of Boulder, and was a candidate for County Treasurer on the Democratic ticket; served as Director and vice-president of the First National Bank for a number of years. George built his residence at 2135 8th Street, Boulder Colorado, in 1901; joined Columbia Lodge No. 14 in 1883; worshipful Master in 1888; shortly thereafter made a Royal Arch Mason and received the Order of the Temple in 1885; treasurer of Mt. Sinai Commandery in 1913.


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