CIVIL WAR VETERANS HELPED BUILD FREMONT COUNTY
By Lona Lewis
Fremont County had a few war related
incidents during the Civil War. There is the story
of the Court House being burnt in Sidney with rumors
linking it to the Civil War effort. However, there
is no definitive answer as to who and why it was burnt.
There were minor skirmishes mostly related to slaves.
Captain Day led a unit from Fremont County that was
involved in the battle of Shiloh.
When the War ended the local veterans
came home to southwest Iowa and, significant to the
County, an influx of veterans from other parts of
the country also started arriving. Early accounts
in the histories of Fremont County towns make note
of the population growing because of Civil War veterans
migrating to the area. Why they were moving west is
not clear. Perhaps, they went home to find so much
gone with the economy wrecked and decided to look
for greener pastures.
It was a time when veterans could qualify
for large tracts of land in undeveloped sections of
the country. Railroads were interested in increasing
the customer base so they were also offering free
land to homesteaders to grow a population for them
to serve. The impact of the migrating veterans was
to increase settlers enough to create towns from what
had been small settlements.
Major U. D. Coy purchased a large tract
of land and later sold 160 acres to the railroad for
them to create a town originally called Lawrence or
Lowland by the railroad workers. Major Coy was an
admirer of Admiral Farragut, the Naval hero of Mobile
Bay. On December 2, 1872, Coy named the town Farragut
after the Admiral with streets named either for men
who served Farragut or a naval-related term.
The Fremont County Home, originally
called the poor farm, had its origin in providing
a place for wounded and homeless veterans. The group
was large enough that private homes and individuals
could not provide the support needed. The County Home
filled the need and the veterans farmed the land to
provide food and helped maintain the facility. The
home remained an important institution in the County
well into the late 1990s, far beyond the last Civil
With a large number of veterans in the
County, old soldiers reunions became an important
summer activity in each community. Pictures of long
rows of tents and people watching a Chautauqua events
show huge crowds participating in the summer fun.
Riverton's Chautauqua building is one
of only three original structures left in the United
States. It was built in the late 1890's for an Old
Soldiers Reunion. There was a rush to complete the
structure so William Jennings Bryan could speak. His
speech attracted the largest crowd ever in Riverton
and demonstrations were set off, including women carrying
brooms and calling for a "Clean Sweep' in Washington
In the late 1920s when only a few Civil
War veterans remained, the Old Soldiers Reunion, morphed
into the Sidney Rodeo. The year of 2013 Iowa's Championship
Rodeo in Sidney will celebrate its 90th anniversary.
It is a reminder of all the veterans who made this
land their homes and enriched our lives as well.