Fremont County, Iowa

History of Fremont County
by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of June 6, 2008

Last week “View from the Attic” talked about our curiosity in learning about our family roots.  We all know “there is no place like home” but many times we lose sight of the importance of our home to others and its place in history.  The popular wisdom is the settlement of our country was from the east to the west.  This is especially true for all of the states east of the Mississippi River.  The states just to the west of the Mississippi such as Iowa generally followed the same pattern.   History books when reciting the history of Iowa concentrate on eastern Iowa as the place where the state began. Even today many in eastern Iowa are not aware of the richness of our history or how early it began. 

The Historical Society is renovating the existing museum and adding a building to tell the Rodeo story.  Will Thomson, a museum designer, was commissioned to develop the plans for the displays and exhibits for the project.   His journey in learning our story and his excitement about our history is interesting in terms of eastern Iowa learning about western Iowa.  Will, who lives in Iowa City, related that when he took the job, he was asked why he was going way out there for a museum. Will relates that as he got into our history his answer to the question was to begin to educate about our varied and interesting past.  He states in a report to the project organizers” This county’s (FREMONT) history is one unique among Iowa counties. The story of Fremont County has aspects of great historical moment: Lewis and Clark, the Abolitionist’s Struggle, State hood and Civil War and so on.”  

  Because the western border of the County is the Missouri river, this area was positioned along one of the country’s first inter-state routes.   Early visitors did not get to Fremont County via wagon trains crossing Iowa.  They floated the river from St. Louis and entered in the area in the early 1800’s.  William Clark in July of 1804 wrote about riding away from the river into an “open and bound less prairie.  This prospect was So Sudden and entertaining that I forgot the object of my pursuit and turned my attention to the Variety which presented themselves to my view.”   He was approximately three to four miles up the river from modern day Nebraska City.   Forty-five years later, what Clark saw would become Fremont County.  

The river brought French trappers, white and Indian settlers and government surveyors.  The County was claimed by Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska at different times. Mormons traveled through on their way to Salt Lake. 

The tensions of the Civil War played out in the county because of our proximity to Missouri. There were border patrols to guard against a confederate attack coming up from Missouri.  The Abolitionists were active in Fremont County working with John Brown and the underground railroad.  During the war there was an attempt to blow up the courthouse in Sidney, was it related to Southern sympathizers? Did the governor of Iowa think the county was a haven for southern sympathizers? 

As Thomson says, “such color and texture in the tapestry of history is not common in this part of the world”.  Yes, our home is special and beyond the ordinary.  We have great stories to tell that are of interest well beyond the county line and well beyond Iowa’s borders. 

  When Thomson reported to the project organizers in late April of 2008, he left drawings and two detailed books describing his vision for the main museum and Rodeo Museum.  To date everyone, who has reviewed the plans, is enthralled and excited.  During the summer, the Historical Society main museum is open on Sundays- 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.   The drawings and books describing the proposed exhibits and designs are available for review by the public.  We invite you to stop by and look at the plans.  Additionally, the Sidney, Hamburg and Randolph Libraries have copies of the books for review.    

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Page updated on June 20, 2017 by Karyn Techau