Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

Chapter 5
Past & Present of Allamakee County, 1913



As had been heretofore shown, the area of the present Allamakee county was included in the two counties of Clayton and Fayette by the first legislative assembly of the Territory of Wisconsin in its first session on Iowa soil, at Burlington, December 21, 1837; far the greater portion of it in Fayette. No further changes looking to our civil organization were made until after Iowa had become a state.

The first general assembly of the State of Iowa convened at Iowa City, November 30, 1846, and adjourned February 25, 1847. Chapter 66 of the laws of this assembly approved by Governor Briggs, February 20, 1847, was “An act to establish new counties and define their boundaries in the late cession from the Winnebago Indians.” This refers to the treaty dated October 13, 1846, but not proclaimed until February 4, 1847, surrendering the Neutral Ground. This chapter 66 names but two counties, Allamakee and Winneshiek, and defines their boundaries as at present constituted. Both were taken from Fayette, except a small triangle in the southeast corner of Allamakee which had theretofore belonged to Clayton, which county was reimbursed therefore by a similar though smaller parcel from within the Neutral Ground, squaring out its northwest corner.

The question of the origin of the name given to our county by this act of the Legislature had long been a mooted one, but the prevailing opinion is that it was an Indian name. At a meeting of the Early Settlers’ Association of Lansing, the proceedings of which were published in the Mirror of November 28, 1879, “Dr. J. I. Taylor spoke of the selection of the name of the county, as he had it from John Haney, Jr., deceased. It was his recollection that David Olmstead, in the Legislature for this unorganized portion of the state, gave the county its present title. And old friend of Olmstead was Allen Magee, an Indian trader, who was familiarly known to the Winnebagoes and in their guttural dialect called Al-ma-gee. Calling to mind this fact, Mr. Olmstead caused the name Allamakee to be inserted in the organizing act and it was thus legalized.”

According to the official records, however, Dave Olmstead did not represent this section in the second general assembly (which organized this county, in 1849), although he was a member of the constitutional convention of 1846, from Clayton county. The name was given to this county by the first general assembly as before stated, in 1847, when its boundaries were defined, this being the actual birth of the county, and Samuel B. Olmstead was a member of that Legislature. Col. S. C. Trowbridge, who came to Iowa in 1837, stated positively that the name Allamakee is an Indian name purely; and Fulton, in his Red Men of Iowa, says the same. If so, it is remarkable that we nowhere find the name mentioned in printed accounts of the Indian Tribes, as we do the names Winneshiek, Decorah, and Waukon.

Allamakee county was organized under Chapter III of the acts of the second general assembly, approved by Governor Ansel Briggs, January 15, 1849, and taking effect the 1st of march. The first organizing election was to be held April 2, 1849. Thomas C. Linton was appointed organizing sheriff, and William C. Linton, John Francis and James C. Jones were selected to locate the county seat. The sheriff thus appointed was required to appear at the county seat of Clayton county to qualify for the office, and to make returns of his doings thereto. In the performance of his duties Sheriff Linton called the election to be held at his house, the Old Mission property, on Monday, the 2nd day of April, 1849, and the officers chosen at this election were as follows:

County Commissioners – James M. Sumner and Joseph W. Holmes
Sheriff – Lester W. Hays
Clerk Commissioners’ Court – D. G. Beck
Clerk District Court – Stephen Holcomb

The officers elect qualified at the house of Thomas C. Linton, April 10, 1849.

While there is no written record remaining of this election, or of any election in the county prior to 1856, the results here stated are quite well substantiated by old newspaper files; and as to dates by the legislative records.

It has been claimed that an earlier election was held at the Old Mission, and that is very likely true, as it was designated several years before as a voting-pace in Clayton county; but the election above referred to was undoubtedly the first in our county organization. At a session of the county commissioners of Clayton county, held April 4, 1844, the boundaries of various election precincts were defined, and one was described as follows: “Yellow River precincts (No. 4), commencing at the Painted Rock on the Mississippi river; thence down said river to the corner of township ninety-five, range three, west of the fifth principal meridian; then down said river two miles, thence due west on section line to west side of township ninety-five, range four, west; thence north to the neutral line; thence following said line to the place of commencing, at Painted Rock.” In this election precinct “the house of Thomas C. Clinton, on Yellow River,” was designated as the place for holding the elections.” Hence it is quite probable that an expression of the few voters in this precinct may have been taken on the submission of the state constitution, in the elections occurring in April, 1845, and August, 1846.

Indeed, there was a still earlier election precinct established embracing the Old Mission. The first meeting of the county commissioners of Clayton county was held at the county seat, Prairie la Porte, now Guttenberg, October 6, 1838, at which meeting the county was divided into four election precincts, the third precinct being defined as follows: “Commencing at the southeast corner of range three west, ninety-four north, thence west to the southwest corner of fraction six west, ninety-four north, then following the Black Hawk line to the obtuse angle of six west, thence following the purchase line to the Mississippi river.” While a little ambiguous, this description necessarily includes the two northernmost tiers of townships in the present Clayton county (except a triangular tract in the northwest corner) and that part of Allamakee south of the Neutral Ground; the place of elections were designated at the house of Jesse Dandly. The jurisdiction of Clayton county extended a great distance, shown by the following order of the commissioners, of date July 13, 1839: “License is hereby granted Lewis Massey, of St. Peters, to keep a ferry across the Mississippi one mile above Fort Snelling, for one year from date hereof, for the sum of $10.” At the December, 1839, meeting it was “ordered, that the settlement at the outlet of Lake Pepin compose an election precinct, to be called the sixth precinct,” and “that the settlement at the mouth of St. Peters River compose an election precinct, to be called the seventh precinct.” And at the meeting held February 1, 1841, the assessor was ordered to assess the people at St. Peters, and at all intermediate points between the county seat and that place. But at the October session the assessor was instructed not to assess any property more than fifty miles beyond the bounds of Clayton County.

At the December, 1839, meeting the third election precinct, the boundaries of which are above given, was abolished by the commissioners, and no further provision seems to have been made for any voter that might be in our old Mission vicinity until the Yellow river precinct above described was established in 1844; but under a former ruling it was left to the discretion of those living in any precinct not of sufficient number to organize an election, to cast their votes at the nearest voting place adjoining their place of residence.

The second election in Allamakee county was held at the same place on the first Monday of August, 1849,
and the following officers elected:

County Commissioners – James M. Sumner, Thomas A. Van Sickle, and Daniel G. Beck
Clerk Commissioners’ Court – G. A. Warner
Sheriff – L. W. Hays
Treasurer and Recorder, and Collector – Elias Topliff
County Surveyor – James M. Sumner
Judge of Probate Court – Stephen Holcomb
Inspector of Weights and Measures – G. A. Warner
Coroner – C. P. Williams

The list of officers elected at the first two elections mentioned, is quoted from a copy of the North Iowa Journal, published at Waukon in 1860; and in most instances there are official signatures in the various early records of the county to substantiate its correctness. It also says that at the August, 1851, election, Elias Topliff was elected the first county judge, succeeding the county commissioners, and served until 1857. James M. Sumner was elected recorder and treasurer, combined; and Leonard B. Hodges, clerk of the district court. And these statements are substantiated by the county records – not, however, by any election records, because, as the editor adds, “the records previous to 1856 are very incomplete.”

The paper gives the total amount of taxable property in the county in 1849, $1,729; in 1851, $8,299; in 1854, $700,794; and in 1859, $1,967,899. This would indicated a very rapid development in the first ten years.

From a paper read by G. M. Dean before the early settlers’ association of Makee township, in January, 1880, we quote the following:

“Thomas Van Sickle died in Nebraska about 1878. Daniel G. Beck died in Missouri about 1866. Thos B. Twiford moved to Minnesota and was the founder of the town of Chatfield. * Stephen Holcomb died at the Mission about 1851. Moses Van Sickle (who was elected school fund commissioner at the August, 1849, election, according to his recollection) is living at this date, in Fairview township. Elias Topliff died in Waukon in 1860. Thomas C. Linton lives in Oregon. [Where he died a few years later. – Ed.]

“Lester W. Hayes was for several years before his death a county charge, living sometimes at the county
farm, and sometimes in Fairview township, where he had a little log hut hardly high enough to stand erect in, nor large enough to afford room for many visitors; and being about eighty years old and too infirm to labor, he was allowed from the poor fund the pittance of $1.00 per week, and this with the charity of kind neighbors kept life in the old man until last Christmas night, the coldest night of the year, when the mercury ran down to thirty-three degrees below zero, he perished. The next morning some of the neighbors went to the hut and found the old man lying on his rude cot, and his legs and arms frozen. The county furnished a coffin, and poor Hays is no more.
'Rattle his bones over the stones,
for he’s but a pauper, whom nobody owns

“The county records of those early times as left by the commissioners, are either lost, mislaid, or were made in so transient a manner as to preclude their being handed down to posterity, and so much as we have gathered has been obtained from other official records, and the personal recollection of our early settlers, and has taken much time and labor, and as the years roll on these items of early history are more and more difficult to obtain in consequence of the death, removal or incapacity through age or infirmity of the parties participating in them.

“From Elias Topliff I learned that the first tax list was put into his hands for collection; that the gross amount of it was about ninety dollars; that he traveled all through the eastern part of the county to collect, and that after doing his best, collecting about one-half of the list and making his returns to the commissioners, they charged up to him the uncollected portion and took it from his compensation as treasurer.”

Mr. Dean himself, who penned the foregoing, - widely known as Judge Dean from his serving as county judge in the early day, or as Captain Dean from his rank in the Civil war, - remained an honored citizen of Waukon for twenty-four years after the date of the above paper, and a brief biography appears in another chapter. He was an interesting writer on our early history, and liberal quotations from his sketches will be found in these pages.

The number of voters at the two elections heretofore mentioned, is not known; but Moses Van Sickle in 1880 stated that only about fifteen votes were cast at the election in August, 1849. The officials elected in the later years, so far as can be ascertained, are named in a separate chapter on county officers.

[*Thos. B. Twiford had been a lieutenant in Captain Parker’s Company, Iowa Volunteers, in the Mexican War, and as such received a warrant for forty acres of government land, which he sold to Alden N. Merriam, who located it upon the S.W.N.E Sec. 17-98-3. After going to Minnesota Twiford prospered, but lost what he had in the panic of 1857, and removed to Kansas]

No record of the number of voters is found until 1853, when at the August election, it was as follows:
Franklin twp. 21
Jefferson twp 19
Lafayette twp 44
Lansing twp 46
Linton twp 32
Ludlow twp 22
Makee twp 47
Paint Creek twp 25
Post twp 36
Taylor twp 15
Union City twp 8
Union Prairie twp 36
Total 351

At this date it will be noticed that six out of the eventual eighteen townships were not yet organized. Of the twelve above which made returns six had as yet no definite boundaries and doubtless included the unorganized townships for voting purposes. The township organizations will be treated more fully further along.

~transcribed by Lisa Henry

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