John and Rebecca Keller – Early Citizens of Council Bluffs


John Keller was born in 1815 in France. He came to America in 1836 with his brother. After an apprenticeship in cabinet making he started to make his way west. First to Cincinnati, OH, then St. Louis, MO and by 1850 to Weston, MO.

Rebecca Runyan was born in 1810 in Pennsylvania. Later she moved to Cincinnati, OH where she married John Keller in 1841.

They had one son Victor who was born in 1842. The Keller’s also had three foster children they raised as their own.

John served in the army during the Mexican-American War. Over the years he traveled to several reunions with his fellow soldiers.

In 1853 the Keller family moved from Missouri to Iowa because “neither of them could accustom themselves to the peculiar institutions of a slave state”. John Keller bought the land around 4th and Broadway from Timothy Joiner. Keller had a residence at 13 Fourth Street for the rest of his life.

John Keller began a successful lumber business. He was also an avid gardener and outdoorsman. He developed a hybrid grape and was known to grow very large tomatoes. He also had several fruit trees on his property. In 1903 C. A. Rose grew the largest tomato in Iowa from a seed provided by John Keller. The tomato weighed 1 pound and 15 ¼ ounces.

John Keller led an active life, but it didn’t come without some injury. In 1872 his hand was severely wounded in a hunting accident. While loading his gun, the black powder accidently ignited and “tore his hand to shreds”. The explosion also set off a keg of powder in the wagon, which injured the rest of the hunting party. As severe as this accident sounds, a year later John was able to participate in the annual Spring hunt of the Council Bluffs Shooting Club.

In 1878 he broke his left wrist while helping a wagon out of a rut and in 1883 he fractured his hip after a fall.

In 1882 Rebecca Keller passed away at the age of 73 after a long illness. She is buried in Fairview Cemetery.

On October 19, 1882 John Keller married Eliza Wollman. John was 68, Eliza was 34. Eliza Wollman was born in Baltimore, MD and came to Council Bluffs in 1880.

After his marriage to Eliza, the couple began to spend winters in California. John still tended his garden on 4th street during the summer.

Sometime around 1887, John was working in his garden on 4th Street when he dug up the skeleton of a musk ox. It was in remarkably good condition and was sent off to the University of Iowa. If you’d like to read the report on the find, it’s available in the American Journal of Science.

John and Eliza were enjoying their winters in Santa Monica, CA, trips to Colorado and the World’s Fair in Chicago. John began to sell some of the property he owned in Council Bluffs. In 1901 his son Victor took exception to this. Victor claimed that it was his mother who purchased the property and that he should receive two-thirds of the property. Victor also claimed that his father’s much younger wife had undue influence over his father. The case was dismissed a year later.

Victor Keller died on November 14, 1907 in Marshalltown, IA at the age of 65. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery.

John Keller died at the age of 92 on April 2, 1908 in California. Eliza Keller continued to live at the house at 13 Fourth Street till her death from liver failure on July 24, 1910. She was 59. John and Eliza are both buried in Fairview Cemetery.