Volume 2


Printed by the Clio Press Iowa City, Iowa 1918
Copyright 1918 by Clarence Ray Aurner

Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, June 21, 2013

pgs 9-18

When the first settlers crossed the Mississippi they came into a country which had not yet been named. Indeed the present boundaries of our State had not even been thought of, and they were not fixed until 1846. Before that time many things had happened which one must know, in order to become acquainted with the beginnings of Iowa history.

All of us understand that there are laws which we must obey. Everywhere we go we come upon this fact, although no one really notices that there are laws unless he breaks one or undertakes some business which must be done in definite legal ways. But when the settlers were first allowed (in 1833) to claim the land west of the Mississippi where our State is now, they found a very unusual state of things; there were no laws by which they could carry on common business, or punish men for doing wrong. It was necessary, then, for them to agree upon laws which they could make among themselves until the government of the United States could arrange otherwise.

To show how this part of the new land came to be without such laws, we shall need to go still farther back in our story. Now all this country west of the Mississippi as far as the Rocky Mountains was first claimed by France; then it belonged to Spain, and again in 1800 to France. In 1803 the United States bought it from France. These changes would make a long story if full told; but the whole account is written out in histories of the United States. This large territory was known afterward as the Louisiana Purchase because it had been called Louisiana. If there were any white men then in this part of the Louisiana Purchase, they were governed by the same laws as those in the most distant part of it. It was not long until the large territory was divided, and for a number of years the part which now belongs to Iowa was under the same laws as Missouri. By and by Missouri became a State and the part of the Louisiana Purchase north of that state was left without any laws except such as were passed by the Congress of the United States for the government of the entire territory. But Congress does not make the laws by which people carry on the greater part of their daily occupations; that is buy and sell, build cities and schools, lay out roads, build bridges, and do a hundred other things which are mentioned in the big books where the laws are found.

From 1821 to 1834 no local laws were made for this part of the Louisiana purchase. No doubt the few white men who happened to be in this region before it was lawfully opened to settlers in 1833 where not caring very much about any kind of law; but when men came to make homes and to begin a new territory or state they had to behave according to some rule and not as each one might decide for himself. And so in 1834 Congress passed a law which attached all this part of the Louisiana Purchase which lay north of Missouri and which extended westward to the Missouri River and northward to Canada to the Territory of Michigan. That action meant that when there was a law for holding an election or for doing anything in a county, a township, or a city in Michigan, the same law would be obeyed in this new country west of the Mississippi. At the same time it should be remembered that Michigan included the present State of Wisconsin and joined the present Iowa at the Mississippi. And, as we shall soon see, the Iowa country was also for two years under the same laws as the Territory of Wisconsin, after it was set off from the Territory of Michigan. Among the first acts of the law makers of Michigan was the making of two counties out of all the land lying in the part that is now Iowa and extending as far as the Indians had given it up to the United States. These counties were named Dubuque and Demoine (as spelled then); the first was north of a line running west from a point on the Mississippi near where Davenport is now, and the other lay south of that line to the Missouri boundary. Both of them extended as far west as the Indian land boundary. There were other laws which required men to hold an election for officers in these counties; and there was little delay in doing as the government of the Territory of Michigan had directed. The offices to be chosen were named in the law and from that time there was no longer any trouble about the way business should be conducted in the counties. There must have been good citizens in these new counties, since they acted so promptly in calling the elections.

These two counties—Dubuque and Demoine—took in all the land that had been given up by the Sac and Fox Indians in 1832 just west of the Mississippi (See map, p. 163, part marked 1832). If they are compared to the counties now in that same part of the State it will be seen that they were very large. But there were few people at that time and smaller divisions would not be made until there were more settlers. Besides, it should be said that each of these counties was also called one township—Julien Township in Dubuque County and Flint Hill Township (as the law of Michigan said) in Demoine County. But we shall learn more about these townships in another chapter. Here it is only needful to say that both county and township officers were chosen at the first election in the new settlements. It was June 28, 1934 that Congress put this new territory under the care of Michigan; and in September of the same year the two counties were established. In making such large counties (each one a single township) the legislature of Michigan was doing for the new country just what it had done for the home Territory of Michigan. But it is believed that the two townships of Julien and Flint Hill were the very first of such local government divisions west of the Mississippi River.

In Dubuque County the town of Dubuque became the “seat of government”, or the county seat, as men are accustomed to call the county capital today. In Demoine County the town of Burlington became not only the county seat, but also within a short time, as will be seen, the capital of a new territory. If one is interested in the real, first records of some of these events, let him examine the books in the office of the county auditor at Burlington or at Dubuque. Or if one wishes to look into certain historical facts in any county he will find them in the office of the auditor.

As early as September, 1835, there was a meeting of the county board of supervisors in Demoine county. They, the three men, came together at the home of Mr. William R. Ross; and it should be remembered always that they were acting under the laws of Michigan. It seems, according to the records in the office of the county auditor at Burlington, that Mr. W. W. Chapman had been sent to Galena, Illinois, to get a copy of the laws of Michigan in order that the three men who were to carry on the business for the county might know how to do so. How he happened to get these laws in Illinois does not matter; but it is certain that it cost the county twenty-five dollars to secure the book, since that amount was allowed for the trip. It was not until May, 1836, that the first record was made of a meeting of the board of supervisors in Dubuque County. As to the place of meeting in either county, it will be seen that there were no public buildings for the use of the officers. Any private house might be used until a time should come when counties could afford to construct court houses. To be sure, the owner of the house would be paid for the use of it.

For only about two years did Michigan officials have authority over this country beyond the Mississippi. In 1836 a part of the large Territory of Michigan became a state and the rest of it was made into a new territory called Wisconsin. The new division took in all of the territory which had been attached to Michigan, and after July 4, 1836, therefore, the laws of Wisconsin were over the part which lay west of the river. For one year, perhaps, the capital of the new Territory of Wisconsin was east of the Mississippi (at Belmont), and men were sent there from this side of the river to help make the laws; then the capital was moved to Burlington and men came from east of the river to help make the laws. It would be very hard now for us to say “Burlington, Wisconsin Territory”.

pg 17
But in many of the old county records in the eastern part of Iowa it would be easy to find the letters “W. T.” which stand for Wisconsin Territory. Indeed, one may read right along in some old books and come to the place where the clerk changed from “W. T.” to “I. T.”--that is from Wisconsin Territory to Iowa Territory. Or the earliest record in Des Moines county would have “M. T.” which, one will see at once, stands for Michigan Territory. But there are places where the clerk forgot to change his reading and wrote “W. T.” after the time had come to write Iowa Territory. His habits were so fixed that it was hard to change them.

It was only two years after the Territory of Wisconsin had been set apart that another new territory was made out of the part which lay beyond the Mississippi, and it was called the Territory of Iowa. There had been an Iowa County in the Territory of Michigan which was continued later in Wisconsin, so that the name had been long is use. Besides, the name, which is an Indian one, had been given to a river of the region. From July 4, 1838, the Territory of Iowa had its own laws and its own officers. It could now act as an independent territory; it had its own capital at Burlington, and the Wisconsin men who had come to that city to help make laws came no more. They met on the other side of the Mississippi at a new capital. Thus the real history of Iowa under its own government begins with July 4, 1838.

Page created June 25, 2013 by Lynn McCleary

Return to Iowa Stories Volume 2 Contents

Return to Cedar Co. IAGenWeb Home Page