Bill Wundram

"Country roads and their names are the seedbed for so much that is distinctly MidAmerica," wrote William Carter, in his classic "Middle West Country." He meant roads with names like Pig Stand Road near LeClaire in Scott County and Plugtown Road, in Goose Lake, Clinton County, and Frog Pond Road near Fulton, Ill. It took a discipline to admit that you lived on Skunk Hollow Road in Clinton County.

Those grand road names are disappearing, replaced by ho-hum citified numbers like 312th Avenue and 918th Street. Those numbers have no personality, like Whoopee Hill Road and Chicken Coop Road in Clinton County, or Barber's Pond, for that matter. No matter what number the county maps show, it's still Tobacco Road and Blue Goose in Whiteside County and Turkey Hollow, Loud Thunder and Indian Bluff roads in Rock Island County.

None can quite measure up to Slopertown Road in Scott County, because archives claim that Sam Sloper apparently is buried someplace under the road. That is an untoppable legend.

Just the other day, LeRoy Marten, 91 and with a memory as crisp as these spring mornings, produced a bunch of archives that solves once and for all how the name Slopertown Road came to be.

Slopertown is not just a backwoods road, but a thoroughfare, part paved, part gravel, near bustling, growing Eldridge. It's been insulted as Sloppytown Road, though all the farm houses along it are tidy and clean. Others pronounce it Sloopertown.

Actually, it's 245th Street. But the sentimentalists insisted, when new road signs were put up, that it be called Slopertown. Marten, who lives at Ridgecrest, shuffles through packets of papers to tell the story of Slopertown. He is a man obsessed with the road along which he owns 120 acres of rich farmland.

"The Keppys, all the folks around the county, want me to get it straightened out about Slopertown," Marten says.

Many of them are white-haired and long in years; they want the genesis of Slopertown told before they pass to that great grainfield in the sky. They want the folks around Eldridge, who live in new six-figure houses, to know what their rural roots are all about.

Back in the 1830s, before Davenport became a town, Sam Sloper grew tired of dodging his plow around the trees of Allen's Grove Township and began farming near what now is Eldridge on land that is claimed (emphasis claimed) to have cost him $12 an acre.

He and his wife, Hulda, had nine boys and six girls, and the boys grew up to be wise businessmen. A few of them built mills for the grinding of grain, grown by pioneer farmers. Marten likes to tell the story of how Joseph Seeman arrived at one of the Sloper mills with a sack of grain, but had lost the quarter to mill it into flour. They ground the grain on credit.

The Slopers gave Seeman a bottle of arsenic, advising to use it on a cow that was already near death. When the cow died of arsenic poisoning, wolves ate the poisoned cow, and they, too, died. Seeman collected a bounty on the wolves, and returned to the Sloper mill to pay the quarter.

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

Loma Taylor, of Renton, Wash., comes from the Sloper family and has done pages of research on the Slopers and Slopertown Road. She noted that Sam Sloper died June 28, 1849, and his place is burial is listed as Slopertown Road.

Marten says that long years ago when the county was widening the road, county engineer Howard Brownlie kept checking to be sure that Sam Sloper's grave was not disturbed. He was said to have been buried in what, through the years, became part of a gullied road shoulder.

"We'll never know what happened, but folks believe that in the widening of Slopertown Road from a lane, the remains of Sam Sloper was buried under the road," Marten says. "I don't suppose he would mind … sort of a memorial to him."

End of Country Road History 101

Bill Wundram can be contacted at (563) 383-2249 or bwundram@qctimes.com.