Fremont County, Iowa

Civil War Veterans Helped Build Fremont County
by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of October 3, 2012

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 War veteran.

With a large number of veterans in the County, old soldier's reunions became an important summer activity in each community. Pictures of long rows of tents and people watching 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 D.C.

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.

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Page updated on June 22, 2023 by Karyn Techau