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Below is a family biography included in History of Union County, Iowa published by S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., in 1908.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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On the record of prominent business men and leading financiers of Union county appears the name of George W. Bilbo, who is living on section 5, Highland township, and is one of the large landowners of this part of the state. His success has come to him through judicious investment and well directed energy and in business affairs he has at all times manifested sound judgment, keen discrimination and strong executive force. He is well known in Union county, for his entire life has been passed here, his birth occurring within its borders June 26, 1859.

His father, Benjamin D. Bilbo, was a native of Kentucky, where he spent the days of his boyhood and youth. With his parents he removed to Indiana, settling near Perrysville, and in that state he was married to Miss Maria Robertson, also a native of Kentucky. The year 1856 witnessed their arrival in Iowa and they settled in Union county, entering land from the government in Highland township. Not a furrow had been turned nor an improvement made upon the place and the entire county was largely unsettled, giving little evidence of the rapid development which was soon to occur, transforming it from a wild and sparsely settled district into one of the populous, thriving and prosperous counties of this great state. Benjamin Bilbo resolutely carried on the work of the home farm until 1862, when in response to the country’s call for aid he offered his services to the Union, joining Company H of the Twenty-ninth Iowa Volunteer Infantry. With that command he went south and was killed in the battle of Jenkin’s Ferry on the Saline river, April 3, 1864, thus laying down his life on the altar of his country. His widow survived him and reared their family and she now makes her home with George W. Bilbo of this review, who is one of a family of two sons and a daughter, the brother being J. A. Bilbo and the sister Mrs. Eva Barber, the wife of David Barber, of Afton. The father was one of the trustees of Highland township in the early days and was a class leader and an active member in the Methodist Episcopal church.

The journey westward from Indiana was made with an ox-team through a country that was almost as it was when it came from the hand of nature. In fact such was the pioneer life that coon skins were accepted as legal tender and could be used for paying taxes. The homes of the settlers were log cabins with a fireplace and primitive furnishings. Farm machinery which was very crude as compared to that of the present time, was used in cultivating the fields and it was only here and there that a tract of land had been brought under cultivation, much of this great state being still a wild and windswept prairie. The Bilbo family, however, have borne their full share in bringing about the transformation that has made this one of the richest agricultural states of the Union.

George W. Bilbo was reared amid the wild scenes and conditions of frontier life and shared with the family in all the hardships and privations incident to settlement upon the frontier. He was reared to manhood on the old home farm in Highland township, attended the common schools in his youth and afterward pursued a course in the Davenport Business College. He then returned to the old home farm and in connection with tilling the fields he also began raising and feeding stock. Subsequently he engaged in breeding and dealing in Aberdeen Angus cattle and built up a big business, gaining a wide reputation in this line. On the 26th of September, 1904, he had the largest public sale ever held in America by one man, disposing of one hundred and eighty head, all pure blooded registered stock. This was the closing out of his herd of fine cattle, for he wished to turn his attention to other stock-raising interests. He had previously gone to Europe and imported some Percheron and Shire horses and has since been a dealer in draft horses, selling about thirty head of imported stock each year. He has also been very successful in his land speculations, buying, improving and then selling farms in Union county. When his father entered the army he was the owner of an eighty acre tract of land and after the father’s death George W. Bilbo purchased this property of the other heirs and paid off the indebtedness. He started out in business life at the very bottom round of the ladder but has gradually climbed upward and as he has mounted round upon round he has gained a broader view, wider outlook and greater opportunities. Making judicious investment in property from time to time, he has bought and owned several farms in Highland township and is today one of the most extensive landholders of his part of the state, having eight hundred acres in Highland township and one hundred and sixty acres in Dodge township. All of this is well improved, for he has brought his land under a high state of cultivation and therefore derives from his property a very gratifying income. He has also been connected with a number of other business enterprises. Some years ago he bought mining stock in the west and induced a number of others to do the same. This proved a very profitable investment and Mr. Bilbo and those interested with him have been paid large dividends upon their stock.

On the 31st of October, 1884, in this county, occurred the marriage of Mr. Bilbo and Miss Mary Robinson, who was born and reared in Madison county, Iowa. Mr. and Mrs. Bilbo have two children, Ray Sherman and Queena May. The family is prominent in the community and the hospitality of the best homes of this part of the state is freely accorded them.

Politically Mr. Bilbo has been a life-long republican but has never sought or desired public office, preferring to concentrate his energies upon his business affairs, in which he has met with most gratifying success. While his property holdings are extensive, all are free from debt and his real estate is the visible proof of a life of industry, energy and capable management. He has always lived in this county and has watched its development from a wilderness and swamp into one of the richly improved districts of the state. In all this work he has borne his full share, desiring ever the best interests of the community and its substantial upbuilding. His name has long been an honored one on commercial paper and without invidious distinction he may well be termed one of the foremost business men of southern Iowa.

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This family biography is one of 247 biographies included in The History of Union County, Iowa published in 1908.  For the complete description, click here: Union County, Iowa History and Genealogy

View additional Union County, Iowa family biographies: Union County, Iowa Biographies

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