Dallas County IAGenWeb

History Index


Dallas County

by Scott Snyder

Five hundred and seventy-six miles of God's Country; peopled by 25,493 energetic, educated, home loving people; made up of productive, fruitful farms and prosperous urban communities; watered by abundant streams and Nature's never failing rainfall; blessed with natural resources and beauty; populated by a high type of citizenry; a place where want and poverty is unknown and where every man has a chance to win in material, educational and spiritual things --

That's Dallas County, an area 24 miles square in the south central part of Iowa, named after George M. Dallas, vice president of the United States in 1841, when James K. Polk was President.

Historically, it is less than 100 years old but in that time it has reached the peak of civilization.

In the space allotted for a history of Dallas County it is impossible to give anything but the high lights.  But between them there is a fascinating story of pioneer life, of battles for existence, of steady fight for improvement and better living conditions.  There is also the reward which comes from a goal which has been reached.

The county are 368,640 acres of generally level land, rolling or broken in the vicinity of streams but for the most part tillable and ideal for general farm operations.

The elevation is from 1,000 to 1,100 feet above sea level.  It is traversed by the North, South and Middle Raccoon rivers, the Des Moines river and numerous creeks and smaller streams.  The climate is healthful and invigorating.  The elevation and natural drainage make it free from disease peculiar to lower regions and it is midway between the hot and cold sections of the state and of the nation.

Under the fertile soil, Nature has provided an abundance of coal and in its production at this time Dallas County ranks among the first counties of Iowa.  Clay for the manufacture of brick, tile and other building material, gravel and stone for road construction, together with limestone for soil conservation is available in large quantities. A never failing supply of water from artesian or other wells and from the numerous streams helps the soil from three geological formations keep the county at the top in productiveness.

Dallas County was made available for settlement on April 30, 1843.  A year previously the land was purchased from the Sac and Fox Indians and it was stipulated in the contract all Indians were to be removed within a period of three years.  Most of them were transferred to Kansas Territory and as a result the early settlers of the community experienced little trouble, although history does recall a serious battle in 1841 and a minor depredations and troubles from roving bands a few years later.  All were out of the territory by 1845 and the land was rapidly taken up.

Considerable controversy has arisen as to who were the first settles of Dallas County, but they are generally believed to have been Daniel and Lewis Stump, who staked out claims in Van Meter Township, in the southeast part of the county, in the fall of 1845.  In February of 1846 their sister, Mary, and brother, John, came from the east to make their home with them.  John Wright located a claim early in the fall of 1845 but returned to the east and moved his family out in March of 1846.  The same year Samuel and William Miller, Eli Smithson, Levi Wright, James Wright, Trisham Davis, John Longmire and others followed the river from Fort Des Moines and established homes.  Among them were George and Shubal Haworth, John and William Ellis, Noah Staggs, Henry Stump, Greenbury Coffin, Levi Davis, Joseph Cordell, O. D. Smalley, Judge McCall, Samuel Ramsey and others whose descendants have since played an important part in the development and growth of the county.

These hardy pioneers took up claims, paid the small government fee, built homes, cleared the land, established the towns, started the schools, mills and stores and laid the foundations for future comfort and prosperity.

With ox teams they broke up the prairie sod and planted gardens; with rifles and nets they took from the wooded areas and streams the meat for sustenance; from the timber they sawed lumber and erected their cabins.

The nearest trading post was Fort Des Moines, the nearest mill at Oskaloosa.  There are many authentic tales of hardships and suffering, but there are also true stories of the primitive pleasures and relaxations of the honest, God-fearing men and women who braved the conditions that their children and their children's children might eventually have comfort and contentment.

Dallas County was formally organized following an act of the new state legislature early in 1847.  Eli Smithson was appointed organizing sheriff and an election was held on Monday, March 5th, of that year.  Two polling places were designated, one at the home of W. W. Miller, two miles east of the present town of Adel, and the other at the home of Henry Stump, in Van Meter Township.  At the former place 8 votes were cast and at the latter 17.

The first officers elected were:  district clerk, George S. Hills; commissioners, William Miller, Trisham Davis and Greenbury Coffin; assessor, Isaac Miller; commissioner's clerk, Samuel Miller; sheriff, Jesse K. Miller; recorder and collector, L. A. Davis; surveyor, Martin W. Miller; justice of the peace, William Ellis; constable, George Haworth.  At the election the same rivalry so often seen in present day political contests was evident ad the vote was close.

The first courthouse was a log structure in Adel, which had been chosen as the county seat and which has remained as such in spite of numerous efforts to make the seat of government to Perry, Dallas Center or Waukee.  The courthouse was a double log house, erected in July, 1848.  The furniture and fixtures were all constructed of native, unseasoned lumber and were of a primitive nature, but the building and equipment were used until 1853 when a frame building, 20x40 feet was erected.

Efforts were made to get a larger building for several years, but it was not until 1857 that a proposition was voted upon and carried by a vote of 401 to 240.  The following year a two-story brick structure, 42x64 feet and costing $20,000 was erected.  In 1874, when the main building was found to be inadequate to care for the county business, a small brick edifice costing $5,000 and housing the offices of the treasurer, recorder and auditor, was built o the southwest corner of the public square.  It was known as the "county stables."

The present courthouse building, authorized by the voters after numerous strenuous elections, was erected in 1901 and 1902 and was dedicated in September of the latter year.  It was constructed of Bedford stone at a cost of $109,243 and is still a magnificent building.  The county jail and sheriff's quarters are in a separate building.  A county home and hospital, maintained on a county-owned farm of 526 acres a short distance north Adel takes care of the mental and physical unfortunates as well as the aged and penniless.

Coincident with the history of the early settlers and early government are many stories and anecdotes deserving of more space and attention than can be given here.

The first session of the circuit court was held at the home of William Miller, and Judge James Charlton of Iowa City, presided.  But there were no cases to be tried able. [looks like the beginning of the sentence is missing] able which was large enough to accommodate the sixteen men selected for duty and deliberations were held under a tree in the yard.  No cases were investigated and no indictments returned.  The principal act of record was an order by the judge that the eagle side of a 25 cent piece be used as the seal of the county until a proper seal could be procured.  Judge Charlton was succeeded by Judge L. D. Burns, who came to the county in 1848 and who for many years was one of the leaders of the pioneer community.  The first matter of record of a probate nature was the appointment, in 1851, of W. W. Miller as guardian of the minor children of Eli Smithson, deceased.

It was many years before permanent roads or bridges were built in Dallas County.  The roads were trails following the lines of least resistance and taking the shortest routes.  The first ferry in the county was authorized in 1850, when Horatio Morrison was given a license to operate a ferry over the North Raccoon river at Adel.  He paid a fee of $2 for the privilege and was allowed to charge 5 cents for footmen, 10 cents for a man and a horse, 25 cents for a one-horse carriage, 35 cents for two horses and a wagon.  the price for ferrying cattle was 5 cents per head and for sheep and swine it was 3 cents.

The first deed recorded in the county was made in 1850 and by the instrument Judah Ludington and wife conveyed to Martin Tucker 160 acres of land for a consideration of $100.  The land is now worth nearly twice that much per acre.

The first big excitement in the county occurred in 1849 and 1850 when the gold rush in California caused an exodus of the more adventurous settlers and necessitated elections to fill numerous vacancies in county offices.

The first grist mill was a crude affair constructed by Samuel Miller and operated by him (with horse power) for several years.  The first water power mill was build on Hickory Creek, north of Adel, by Buel Lathrop, in 1848.  Old settlers state that it was capable of grinding grain at the rate of a bushel and half an hour.

The first school in the county was taught i 1847-48 in a log cabin east of Adel.  Stephen H. Scovell was the first teacher and he received $8 per month and board.  The school was free to all who cared to attend.

The first secret organization was known as the "Claim Club" and was designed to protect members against claim jumping, land speculators or other sharpers.

The first railroad in the county (it traversed the south part) was the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific.  It was built in 1868-69.  The Des Moines & Ft. Dodge, passing diagonally across the county from the southeast to the northwest, was built in 1869-70.  In 1878 a company was formed in Adel and the following year a narrow gauge railroad was constructed from Waukee to Adel.  The first train into the county seat crossed a wooden bridge on April 27, 1879 and was met at the depot by everyone in the town.  Later this road was extended to Fonda as a narrow gauge and still alter it was widened to a standard gauge and extended to Spirit Lake.  It is now part of the Milwaukee system.

The war between the states found Dallas County ready to contribute her share of money and men toward the preservation of the union.  Histories record that several companies were organized in the county and the records of the men are the records of gallant soldiers.  It is impossible to properly chronicle their deeds, but the present generation and those to come will forever eulogize their actions and honor the memory of the men who participated.  The Spanish-American War likewise found hundreds of Dallas County men in the government ranks and more recent history with honor and respect the deeds of Dallas County men who participated in the World War.

The first sermon preached in the county was by Rev. Thompson Bird, a Presbyterian minister from Des Moines.  A short time later Rev. Wm. Busick, a radical Protestant Methodist pastor, preached at the home of James Black in Van Meter Township and then organized a class.  The first church was organized by Elder John Glenn, a Christian minister, and services were held in the cabin erected by Wm. Miller for school purposes.  Itinerant ministers and circuit riders often traveled through the county holding church or funeral services and taking charge of baptisms.

Outstanding in Dallas County educational history is the Thomas D. Gregg fund.  Mr. Gregg, a wealthy land owner of the pioneer days, deeded 160 acres of land to the county, the sale of which was to provide funds for the establishment of an institution of higher learning.  The gift was accepted and other funds were promised.  Three trustees were named by the court to manage the fund.  The loss of Mr. Gregg's will in the burning of a courthouse in Virginia and the attendant lawsuits and legal difficulties resulted in a compromise settlement in which Dallas County was allowed a fund amounting to $9, 873.  By careful management this sum has grown until it amounts to $166,522.  A recent court ruling gives the trustees (L. V. Russell, A. M. McColl and R. K. Craft) permission to use the earnings of the fund to help worthy boys and girls secure a college education.

The first newspaper in the county was "The Ship of State," published by Rippey & Reed in 1856.  It saw various owners and editors and the name was changed to The Prairie Flower.  The latter became the Dallas County Gazette, which continued until 1878.  Since that time there has been a succession of newspapers in nearly every town in the county, but today there are only eight.  They are:  The Perry Daily Chief, The Chief-Advertiser and the Perry Press, all published at Perry; the Dallas County News, established in 1872 and still issued under that name at Adel; the Times at Dallas Center; the Enterprise at Woodward; the Review at Redfield and the News at Dexter.

While the chief industry of Dallas County is agriculture there are a dozen or more prosperous towns and villages, several of them boasting of manufacturing plants, and all of them in the center of life for adjacent rural communities.

Chief of the urban communities is the city of Perry, located in the extreme north part of the county and boasting a population of 5,881 (census of 1930).  The town of Perry was established in 1868, on land owned by two brothers, John and Harvey Willis.  Numerous settlers had located along the nearby river, but a survey for a railroad, known then as the Des Moines & Fort Dodge, passed through the land of the Willis Brothers and it was there that the townsite was established.  The owners gave five acres of their land and 32 lots to the railroad company and the new town was named Perry, after one of the officials of the road.  The rest of the tract was platted and made into a townsite, and the growth was rapid.  The first train passed through the village on July 4, 1869, the wood burning engine pulling a string of cars filled with settlers and adventurers.  A small settlement had previously been established at Alton, a short distance northwest of the new town, and David J. Pattee, later one of the county's most prominent men, moved his store from Alton and became Perry's first merchant.  The first house built in the town was erected by Benjamin Campbell and his son, Harry Campbell, was the first child born in the town.  A school was established and first teachers were Jesse Macy and Miss J. Perkins.  A steady growth was enjoyed by the new town and a remarkable boom occurred in the early '80's when the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad was built and Perry was made a division station.  Another boom came in 1912 when the Milwaukee line was double-tracked and new shops and roundhouse were constructed.  Chief of the industries of the city aside from the railroad activities are:  The Perry Packing Co., organized in 1913 by Charles Hausserman; the Osmundson Spade Co., specializing in the manufacture of spades, cultivator shovels, etc.; the Grimes Canning Co; the Perry Milk Products Co., established in 1908 by the Van Camp Co.; the Fazel Bros. Seed Corn Co.; the Perry Mill Co.; the Des Moines Valley Produce Co.; and the Weiss New Process Welding & Mfg. Co.

Perry boasts of a splendid high school and four grade schools, churches of many denominations, a fine Carnegie Library, two strong banks, dozens of up-to-date retail establishments, two theatres and every activity that goes to make up a thriving little city.  All are promoted and enthused by a senior and junior chamber of commerce, a daily and two weekly newspapers.  There is a splendid volunteer fire department, housed in its own building, excellent service by the Bell Telephone Co., the Iowa Railway & Light Co., and the Perry Gas Co.

Adel, the county seat of Dallas County, is the second largest town.  County government affairs center here.  Adel has a population of 1, 735 people.  Started on land owned by John Miller, it has enjoyed a small steady growth yearly since 1847 and is now an attractive little city with modern, comfortable homes, miles of paved streets, good schools and churches, high-class mercantile establishments, a theater and recreation centers including municipal swimming pool and park, an electric light and power plant, a brick and tile manufacturing plant and everything that goes to make a progressive, up-to-date county seat town.

Much of the county history centers around Adel.  It was the first relay station on the stage coach line between Des Moines and the wild west country; it was the home of the first county officers; it has produced many people who later became prominent in the affairs of the state and nation.  For many years the town was without a railroad until citizens took the matter in their own hands, organized a company and built a narrow gauge road connecting the town with the outside world.

The names of Benjamin Greene, Judge L. D. Burns, Cole Noal, Levi Diddy, David Moffitt, A. D. Hotchkiss, J. W. Russell, John R. Joy, John B. White, George W. Clarke, S. M. Leach and many others have been prominently identified with the growth and development, not only of the town, but of the county and state.  Outstanding in the town's history was the bold daylight robbery of the Adel State Bank on March 6, 1895, when two bandits entered the bank and told Cashier S. M. Leach to "fill that sack."  They secured only a small amount of money, but i a wild attempt to escape, short five people before being captured by a posse seven miles southwest of town.  One of the robber, Orlando Wilkins, was a man with a criminal record.  He was killed and the other, C. W. Crawford, was taken prisoner.  It was with difficulty that a lynching was prevented.

The third largest town is Woodward, located in the extreme northeast part of the county.  It has a population of 901, augmented by several hundred inmates, attendants, doctors and nurses at the state colony.  Woodward came into existence when the Milwaukee railroad was constructed in 1880 and the early residents were drawn from Old Zenia and other nearby trading centers established by pioneers who had followed the Des Moines river northward in search of homes nearly a hundred years ago.  The first new dwelling was built in 1881 by Al Hughes, and is still standing.  Today many well managed retail establishments serve the people of that part of Dallas and Boone Counties and good schools and churches make it a splendid place in which to live.

About twenty-five years ago, A. M. McColl, who is still as leader in Woodward affairs, was a member of the state board of control and through his efforts the town was chosen as the site for a newly provided state institution, the Iowa Epileptic Colony.  The institution has since been enlarged to include the feeble minded and now cares for several hundred wards of the state.  Beautiful, modern buildings on a farm of 1, 175 acres, house the inmates and the attendants needed for their care.  The Woodward Enterprise, now edited by Hal Shiltz, ably serves the community.

One of the best towns in the county is Dallas Center, with a population of 852.  It is the center of activities in a highly developed agricultural section, is populated by many deeply religious people and is the home of seven religious organizations, the church of the Brethren, Methodist, Presbyterian, First Brethren, Dunkard Brethren, Brethren in Christ and the River Brethren.  It is the original home of the prominent Brenton Brother banking interests, which operate numerous farms and banks at Dallas Center, Perry, Woodward, Granger, Waukee, Adel and Van Meter.  The town has electric and power service, municipal water works and sewer system and is the home of the Farmers Mutual Fire and Lightning Insurance Association.  The community is well served by an old established newspaper, the Times, edited by E. A. Emmert.

Redfield is one of the oldest towns in the county.  It was named after Col. James Redfield, who was killed in action of Altoona during the Civil War.  The original settlement was known as New Ireland and was located on land owned by Patrick, Thomas and Michael Cavanaugh, in 1850.  The name was changed ten years later.  A settlement still known as Wiscotti had been established a short distance southeast of Redfield and for many years was a thriving village, but the coming of the railroad caused the settlers to move to the new place.  Today there are 780 inhabitants, and business of nearly every character is carried on.  The town has a large consolidated school plant, several churches, a branch bank, theatre, many retail establishments and two brick and tile plants employing many men.  It is the home of the Redfield Old Settlers Association, the reunions of which are one of the big annual events of the community.  The Redfield Review, in existence 36 years, has served the town successfully since 1904.  The Review succeeded the Redfield Clipper, established in 1889.

Dexter, with a population of 748 people, is situated in the extreme southwest part of the county.  The town was surveyed and platted in 1868 and for many years was regarded as one of the most progressive little cities along the line of the Rock Island railroad.  It was the home of the Dexter Normal College, which flourished until 1896, when it was consolidated with the public school system.  Today there is a fine school plant, erected in 1905, two churches, many stores and business concerns necessary to care for the needs of the community, and a candy factory of more than local renown.  Nearby is the tract formerly known as Dexfield Park, where the notorious "Bloody Barrows" gang of bandits was captured and broken up in 1933.

Van Meter, a hustling little town of 400 people was established in 1869 and was originally known as Tracy.  Shortly afterward it was changed to the present name in honor of J. R. Van Meter, a pioneer settler who operated a flour mill.  It was once a big coal mining center and for many years the mine produced an enormous amount of coal.  The mine was first opened by Boag & Van Meter in 1878.  Later, when the coat supply was exhausted an extensive business was done in the manufacture of fire brick made from the clay found in the mind and nearby.  The community today is rich in historic interest, but like so many other small towns has gradually diminished in population due to the centering of interests in larger places.  Van Meter, however, has an enterprising group of business men, a fine school and churches is known throughout the nation as the home of Bob Feller, world famous baseball player.  Each year when the baseball season closes, Van Meter people stage a "Bob Feller Homecoming" which attracts thousands of people.

Granger, located in Grant township in the east part of the county, is a thriving little town of 319 people and is known throughout the state as the home of the Granger Subsistence Colony, which was established by J. B. Hill and D. F. Rogers.  For many years, before paved roads and other more rapid means of transportation prevailed, it was an aggressive little place, taking its part in all county activities and served by a newspaper and progressive business men.  It still enjoys a good local patronage and has a fine school and churches.  Two elevators and several business houses take care of the wants of the people of the community.  The population is 328.

Waukee, also officially established in 1869 when the railroad was completed, was for many years one of the most progressive villages of the pioneer days.  For several years the town was a contender for the location of the county seat, but was unsuccessful.  Its location on two railroads was a big factor, but the voters, decreed otherwise and like many other places Waukee finds itself caring for the needs of the farmers of the community and of the people employed at a nearby coal mine.  The town has a population of 445.

Other small towns in Dallas county are DeSoto, which started off with a boom in 1868 and which has since deteriorated to a trading center of 319 people; Linden, with a population of 314 in the west part of the county; Dawson, a town to 262 population in Dallas Township; Bouton, which a number of years prospered in the community between Perry and Woodward; Kennedy, a trading place in the old days between Adel and Redfield, and Booneville, which in reality was the first settlement in the county, named after Wm. D. Boone, an early pioneer, whose descendents are still among the prominent people of the county.

The present (July, 1940) county officers are:  State Representative, Curtis W. Gregory; Supervisors, James Manning, George Benson and Orin Hadley; Sheriff, E. A. Burger; Auditor, B. F. Pringey; treasurer, F. C. Bengtson; recorder, Amelia Fidler; clerk, George A. Bennett; county superintendent, Miss May Hills; county engineer, L. W. Croft.

Source:  The Iowa Press Association's Who's Who in Iowa, A Biographical Record of Iowa's Leaders in Business, Professional and Public Life, Published by Iowa Press Association, Des Moines, Iowa, 1940. From pages 334-337. Transcribed by Conni McDaniel Hall for Dallas County IAGenWeb, July 1, 2014

NOTE: This book contains a 1940 copyright notice, but no evidence could be found that the copyright was renewed. Accordingly, the copyright is presumed to be expired and the book in the public domain. Sources checked: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/cce/, http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm, and http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/renewals.html.

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