Fremont County, Iowa

by Evelyn Birkby

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of January 19th, 2009

According to author Bernard DeVoto the year 1846, was the Year of Decision, a pivotal turning point in the life of the United States. This was true for southwest Iowa as well.

1846, was an unsettling time with the Mexican War flaring hot. When America and the British were feuding over the Oregon territory, Kansas was bloodier than ever as people on both sides of the argument sought to bring it into the Union either slave or free. This brought about the Underground Railroad and the uprising of John Brown. It was at a time when John Charles Fremont was doing some of his great exploits, all events which affected Fremont County (including the origin of its name). The seeds of the Civil War, DeVoto states, were planted during these turbulent times, slave and free, north and south, England and Mexico, and the tremendous number of people beginning to move west.

The spring of 1846, found the Latter Day Saints fleeing Nauvoo, Illinois, and slogging across the southern part of Iowa during a wet, cold spring. They finally reached Kanesville on the Missouri River (now Council Bluffs). While they were settling in at Florence to regroup and make plans to continue westward here, came the U.S. government army recruiters who asked Brigham Young to raise a battalion of some 550 young men to fight in the Mexican war.

In July of 1846, the Mormon Battalion came marching down the bluff road (now called the Loess Hills Scenic Byways) through Mills and Fremont Counties. They walked WALKED! all the way to San Diego, California, arriving there in January of 1887, exactly 182 years ago this month, with approximately 450 men. By then the Mexican War was over.

As the armies marched into war south and westward, immigrants had begun following some of the same trails. The Donner party, in 1846, did not go by the known marked roads, but decided to take an untried cutoff, a shortcut they thought, into California with disastrous results.

Meanwhile, Independence and St Joseph, Missouri, and Nebraska City became staging areas for people moving west. Many hundreds of wagons came through southwest Iowa carrying immigrants who were vital to the expansion of the country. The idea of Manifest Destiny was developed at this time and many who traveled the early trails felt they were led by God and fate to their destiny as well.

DeVoto’s book, “The Year of Decision, 1846” will be in the new genealogy library of the Fremont County Historical Museum once it is ready to open. Meanwhile, many people are wondering if this year is another pivotal year in the life of our country, our state and southwest Iowa. As time goes on, history will tell if 2009 parallels 1846

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