Fremont County, Iowa

Riverton's Beginnings
by Carole Hamilton
View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of May 10, 2015

Cities can start in a most simple manner. Take Riverton, Iowa, for example, Isaac Smith, at 23 years of age, came from Shamokin, Pennsylvania, to work in Nebraska building a ferry. After it was completed, he worked his way down the Missouri River. We learned that he was a carpenter in the Fremont County area by the spring of 1857. He was impressed with the land around the Nishnabotna Rivers and the scenic view from the hills nearby. At that time good corn and stock producing land was selling for $1.25 an acre.

Isaac persuaded his older brother Coleman to join him and he did so in 1858. Together they acquired the land which became Riverton. Riverton--named because the town was located near the junction of the two Nishna rivers.

Its post office was established in 1871 with, not surprisingly, Isaac Smith as its first postmaster. The town's first newspaper, The Riverton Advocate, was started in 1874. Four years later, in 1878, it was moved to Sidney when the railroad was finished into that town and the county seat was settled in Sidney. There it became the Sidney Argus Herald.

In 1878, The Riverton Enterprise was started. It would be interesting to learn why one newspaper moved and a new one was started.

Towns in this period had roaming livestock through their streets. If they wanted to protect their yards, home owners had to build fences to keep out the pigs and milk cows that had free access to the roads. The sound of a cowbell gave warning that an animal was approaching.

In 1879, the town had 700 residents. By then it held one fine school building, two churches--the Methodist church established in 1872-3 and the Baptist in 1877.

A Mr. Bently opened the first bank and then sold it to Tommy Thompson who continued it for 3 years before starting a hardware business.

In July of 1881 the Poke Wells duo rode into town on horseback and gave Riverton one of its earliest thrills when they robbed the bank. It was Tommy Thompson who dashed from his store and planted a bullet in Well's leg as the robber galloped madly away.

More businesses were started: a meat market, weaver's loom, J.F.Lewis photo studio (in 1889) a flour mill, carpenter, implement store, a grain dealer and, as one would expect in such a rural area, many farmers.

Then in 1908, Lott Shull and his son, Kimber Cleaver Shull, purchased the hardware store. But that is a story for another day.


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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau