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Harrison County IAGenWeb


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April 2003

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NOTE: For more information on Harrison County, Iowa
Please visit the Harrison County, IAGenWeb page
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Lying on the Missouri River, in the fourth tier from the southern
boundary, Harrison is one of the western border counties of the state, is twenty-
four miles north and south by an average of about twenty-seven east and west,
and contains a superficial area of nearly six hundred and sixty square miles.


Like most of the counties in Iowa bordering the Missouri River,
Harrison presents a greater variety of surface configuration than is found in the
inland counties to the eastward. A number of streams, that are more or less fully
described in the histories of adjoining counties, gain the Missouri bottoms
within the limits of this county, issuing from the uplands through the bluffs,
causing them to assume those strikingly picturesque and peculiar shaped
characteristic of the scenery of the valley of the middle Missouri. Nearly every
portion of the county is well watered and drained by clear, sparkling streams and
brooklets, which flow diagonally across its territory in a general southwest
direction. The principal of these water-courses are the Boyer, Soldier and Little
Sioux Rivers, and Wilson, Pigeon and Mosquito Creeks, several of which are of
considerable size, and afford along their course in this county a number of
excellent mill sites, only a portion of which have been improved. The valley of
the Boyer is a beautiful tract of alluvial land, from one-half to two miles in
width, bounded upon either hand by gently ascending slopes until it nears the
Missouri bottoms, where the surroundings become more abrupt and bold. The
course of the Little Sioux in this county is mostly through the bottoms, though
where it merges from the uplands it is marked by bluffs of peculiar interest,
whose tops are conical peaks flanked by sharp-crested, spur-like ridges. One of
the most beautiful valleys of this slope is that of the Soldier River, which is
bordered by bluffs which are unrivaled in the variety and picturesque beauty of
their scenery. The bottoms slope gently from the foot of the bluffs toward the
river, and form well defined terraces, which afford beautiful rural situations. The
valleys of Pigeon and Mosquito Creeks, in the southeast are margined by high
sloping upland, and their beds occupied by tracts of rich alluvial lands, which
are unsurpassed for beauty and fertility. The current of the Missouri River,
which bounds this county on the west, is very rapid, with a deep, constantly
changing channel, often cutting off whole sections of land in one season. These
bottoms are vast level plains, varying in width from four to ten miles, and are
bordered on the east by beautiful rounded bluffs, rising from one to three
hundred feet above the river level. They are traversed by low benches or
undulations, which, running more or less parallel to the river, are intervened by
low grounds that afford natural drainage channels, that receive and confine
within bounds much of the surplus waters of the Missouri in seasons of freshets,
which would otherwise flood extensive tracts of the best land for agricultural
purposes in the West. A belt of cottonwood timber extends through the county
up and down the river, from one-half to six miles in width, interspersed with
elm, mulberry, walnut, willow, ash, etc. the cottonwood grows very large and
tall. In passing over the bottoms through the timber, a person will observe a
streak of very heavy cottonwood timber, and then of tall willow trees from a
foot to three and four feet each in circumference. The willow follows the old bed
of the river, and as soon as the channel changes and leaves the bed dry it springs
up rapidly, and when the bed of the river is raised to a certain height, then
cottonwood crowds in, and a dense forest is soon made. The soil in the bottom is
very rich and deep, producing every kind of grain and vegetables in the greatest
abundance. Corn grows very large. The grass is said to be so rich and luxuriant,
that cattle will keep fat on it even in Winter without cutting or curing. Many
farmers in mild Winters have let their cattle range in the bottoms without any
feed, pasturing them on the grass and keeping them in good order. Water
underlies the soil of the bottoms at the depth of fourteen feet, and wherever you
find water there you find quicksand. It is supposed that the whole bottom, from
the bluffs on the Nebraska side to the bluffs in Iowa, have been one vast lake,
and the Missouri River running through it has filled it up and formed the bottom
lands. There is every indication of it. Every few rods along the bottoms you will
see evidence of where once has flowed the channel of the river. The settlers on
the bottoms say that they are getting drier every year, and less subject to
inundation. The agent who located swamp lands in 1857 relates that he rode for
miles through water where there is now fine, high and dry farming lands. The
low places along the bottoms are fast filling up, and where once were ponds and
marshes are now dry land with good farms upon them. The Missouri bottoms
will be at no distant day covered with the finest farms in the Union.

There are quite a chain of lakelets commencing near the mouth of Little
Sioux River and continuing along the bottoms. Some of them are near the bluffs,
others out in the bottoms and near the river, while all have at one day been in the
channel of the river or are the old bed of the Missouri. Many of these little lakes
have fish in them, and are beautiful and nice little sheets of water. The channels
of the streams in the bottoms are, or have been, changing. The mouth of the
Soldier River is one mile from where it was twelve years ago, and the Missouri
also, at this point, is over a mile from where it was in 1855. The land in the old
channel is as high as that of the surrounding country; no more subject to
inundations, and is covered with a heavy growth of cottonwood. The lakelets, it
is said, are fast filling up, and perhaps when the country becomes settled and
cultivated will entirely disappear. Persons digging wells frequently find logs,
driftwood, bark, etc., several feet below the surface. A farmer digging a well
recently, near what is known as Soldier's Lake, found a large pocket knife
fourteen feet below the surface.

The soil in the uplands consists of the light colored deposits of the bluff
formation, which does not differ materially from that in the bottoms, except that
the silicious material of which it is largely composed is more finely
comminuted, and has a less amount of vegetable matter or humus. As the soil of
the uplands and bottoms was derived from the same source, it only differs in
degree, that in the former reaching a depth of sixty or one hundred feet below
the surface. It is said that dirt taken out of wells sixty feet deep seems to produce
as well as that on the surface. The soil is easily cultivated, and produces all the
grains and vegetables common to this latitude in great abundance. It does not
cave; wells do not have to be walled, except for a few feet down from the top
and at the water's edge. The soil never bakes, but can be plowed without injury
in wet weather. It stands both wet and dry weather remarkably. A failure of
crops has never been known. The soil in the bottoms is more of a clay nature,
and in wet weather is very sticky.

Harrison contains more timber than any other county on the Missouri
slope, yet it is limited in extent, is distribution being governed by circumstances
favorable to its preservation, and is consequently found in the deep shaded
ravines that crowd up into the bluffs, and along the small streams which are
confined to narrow valleys hemmed in by steep bluff ascents. But, as
observation has repeatedly shown in all parts of the state, forests are not
necessarily confined to the valleys and moister localities, and thrive as well in
one location as another, when the devastation of the prairie fires are checked for
a period of sufficient duration to allow the young trees a few years of unretarded
growth. Hundreds of acres of prairie have been overgrown with thrifty groves of
vigorous young timber within the memory of early settles, which period extends
back scarce a score of years. These tracts of young forests add a pleasing feature
to the landscape in these beautiful undulating divides, as that near Magnolia, and
Harris' Grove south of Logan, attests. Fine groves are met within the valleys of
the Soldier and Little Sioux Rivers, while the banks of the Missouri throughout
its course in this county are lined with a belt of the forest growth.

Numerous orchards have been set out in the county, and apples, pears,
quinces and grapes grow in abundance, and of excellent quality. Some peaches
have been raised, while in the bottom lands the finest quality of wild grapes are
found in great profusion. In 1867 over five hundred barrels of wine were made
from these grapes and shipped to Chicago, besides large quantities which was
used at home.

Limestone is found, the best and most extensive quarries being found
near Logan, from which a considerable amount is annually shipped to Council
Bluffs and other points. There are also two or three other quarries which have
been worked to some extent in other parts of the county.

As a stock-raising and producing county, Harrison has had quite a reputation
the native grasses being very nutritious and affording excellent pasturage at
nearly all seasons of the year. Fat cattle from this county have for years
been famous in Chicago markets and command the highest prices. It is said that
an old fellow on the Missouri bottom had quite a large drove of very fat
cattle one season, and he concluded to take them to Chicago. He drove them
slowly to the railroad, and then shipped them, and when they arrived every body
admired, and wanted to know where they were raised, and how in the world they
were made so fat. The owner replied, "In the Missouri bottom, and that he fed
them on green grass." "How in the world do you feed them green grass in the
winter?" asked some one. "Why," says the owner, "I put green spectacles on
them, and they imagine when eating hay, that they are eating green grass."


Daniel Brown was the first white man who settled in the county,
locating where the village of Calhoun now is, April 3, 1848. His nearest
neighbor was twelve miles distant, his nearest mill twenty-two miles, and
nearest post office Council Bluffs, twenty-five miles. He had to go to St. Joseph,
Missouri, one hundred and fifty miles for provisions that season, and while he
was gone the Indians came and robbed his family of provisions and all the
necessary articles of comfort. When he returned he found his family destitute of
food and clothing. Soon after his return the Indians stole all his horses, and all
those of the other settlers in the county. He and his son followed them for
several miles, trying to recapture them, but were unsuccessful. They fired a
number of shots at the Indians. The Indians frequently killed his cattle and
annoyed him a great deal during the first few years of his residence in the
county. The following were also among the first settlers, Silas Condit, two
brothers by the name of Chase, Charles Lepenta, James Hardy, Dr. Robert
McGovern, Andrew Allen and Jacob Patee.

The county was organized in 1853, when Stephen King was elected
County Judge; P. G. Cooper, District Court Clerk; Chester Hamilton, Sheriff;
William Cooper, Treasurer and Recorder; George White, Surveyor; and Jacob
Huffman, Coroner. The first county court was held August 5, 1853, by Stephen
King, Judge. First road petition presented was for the establishment of a road,
commencing at the south line of the county, running thence to the residence of
Daniel Brown, and thence to Magnolia. The first mortgage on record was made
by Samuel Jack to James Jack, acknowledged by Frank Street, County Judge of
Pottawattamie County. First deed on record was made by Ezra and Catharine
Vincent, to Walter Barrenger, conveying the northeast of the southeast of
section 8, township 79, range 48. The first wedding was celebrated June 9, 1853,
Stephen King, County Judge, uniting in the holy bonds of wedlock, John Jones
and Miss Elizabeth Outhouse. The second occurred on the 16th of the following
August, when the same judge united Samuel McGaven and Miss Mary M.
Harden. The total number of marriages since the organization up to January 1,
1868, was four hundred and ninety.

The first district court was held by Honorable S. H. Riddle in May,
1855, at which time the first cause on the docket was William Kennedy vs. D.
Pate, while the total number were four civil and one criminal. The first grand
jury were; Creed Saunders, James Garnett, John Conger, Chester Staley, H.
Locklin, T. Meadus, P. R. Sharp, Thomas Sellers, S. A. Seaman, Solomon
Barnett, John Deal, I. H. Holton, D.E. Brainard, Silas Rue and Solomon Garnett.
D. E. Brainard was appointed foreman. John Jeffary was the first person
naturalized, and Thomas Thompson the second. The number of cases since the
organization of the county up to November 25, 1867, were; civil, 749, and 91

At this first term a young man who was better posted in the habits and
customs of frontier life than in legal lore, made application for a license to
practice law. Judge Riddle appointed R. L. Douglas, A. C. Ford, and N. G.
Wright a committee on examination, who retiring with the candidate to a shade
tree not far from the court room, commenced the examination by inquiring how
many kinds of property there were? The candidate promptly replied in a
stentorian tone, "three."

Examiner—"What are they?"
Candidate—"Personal, Real and Mixed."
Examiner—"Define personal property?"
Candidate—"Horses, cattle and rails."
Examiner—"Define real property."
Candidate—"Lands and town lots."
Examiner—"What do you understand by mixed property?"

The candidate scratched his head, pulled nervously at his mustache,
changed a large chew of tobacco from one side of his mouth to the other, at the
same time squirting the juice on the ground, and at length said in tones not so
loud as those he first used; "That question is too hard for me."

Examiner—"You need not give the precise language of the books, but
use your own?"

The candidate again scratched his head, took a fresh chew of tobacco,
looked serious, and after studying a few minutes exclaimed:

"Mules by G---."

It is unnecessary to say that the candidate was informed that he must
read a little more Blackstone before he could be admitted to the bar.

In the Fall of 1853 a party of Indians camped on Willow Creek. The
settlers were afraid that they would commit some depredations, organized a
company and went to drive them off. Among the number was a gentleman from
Virginia, who had been a captain in the Virginia militia, and had brought his
broad sword and regimentals with him, and was "decked out" in full dress and
took command. He boasted of his bravery and would "show the bloody red skins
a trick or two." The company set out on horseback, marching in gallant style, led
by their brave and daring officer---in his own imagination. The bloody savages
were to be exterminated, a brilliant victory to be obtained, and the troopers were
to return home covered all over with glory. While marching along to the scene
of conflict, they discovered the Indian encampment about a mile ahead across
Willow Creek. They halted, commenced firing, and continued it for some time.
The Indians hearing it, some half a dozen warriors got on their ponies and rode
towards the troopers to see what was the matter. The latter seeing the warriors
approaching, suddenly imagined that they would be surrounded, overpowered,
slaughtered, and scalped, broke for their homes as fast as their horses could
carry them. Many of the troopers were so badly scared that they did not know
their own houses but went on past them. The warriors seeing the fleeing troopers
raised a big laugh and rode back to their encampment in safety.
For several years the Indians annoyed the settlers a great deal, by
stealing or begging. Companies were frequently organized to drive them off, and
some times there would be some shooting, but no one was ever hurt. Mr. Brown
states that in 1853 there was a large party of Indians encamped on the Boyer; he
with twenty-six others went out to drive them off. They came near the
encampment and formed in battle line. The chief and a half-breed got on their
ponies and rode out to them. The chief proposed to make a treaty with the
whites, and it was made with the condition that the Indians should leave the
county. There were 120 warriors with their women and children. The Indians
left the county.

In the Fall of 1853 quite a large party of Ottoe Indians were encamped
within eight miles of Magnolia. One evening the settlers informed them that
they had better leave or the Sioux would attack them before morning. In the
night a firing was heard by the settlers. They went upon a high bluff to see what
was the matter, and sure enough the Sioux's were pouring a heavy fire into the
encampment of the Ottoes. The latter were screaming and yelling with all
vengeance, and fled into the Missouri River. They swam the river on their
ponies. Harrison County seemed to have been a hunting ground for the Indians,
as no tribe resided in the county.

On Willow Creek, about six miles from Magnolia, there are old ruins of some
kind of a house that has the appearance of having been built out of burnt brick.


The facilities enjoyed by Harrison County for getting produce and stock to
market are unexcelled by any county on the Missouri Slope. The main line of the
Chicago & Northwestern enters the county near the northeast corner, and passes
through it in a southwest direction, affording stations at convenient
distances, while the Sioux City & Pacific, one of the connecting links on a
through line between St. Paul and St. Louis, runs up the Missouri bottom in the
western portion.


HENRY W. GLEASON, Clerk of the Courts.
JOHN W. WOOD, Treasurer.
JESSE J. PECK, Sheriff.
LEMUEL GALE, Supt. Common Schools.
H. B. LYMAN, Chairman of the Board of County Supervisors.


This place is the county seat, and is situated a little west of the center of
the county, about ten miles from the Missouri River, on a high rolling prairie,
with timber convenient. It was located by A. D. Jones and A. Fletcher, locating
commissioners, March 14, 1853, and before the completion of the railroads was
the most important town in the county. The first court-house erected was a log
one, and was consumed by fire in 1853 or '4. The town has a number of
churches, good schools, and a newspaper called the Harrison County Courier,
established January 14, 1875, by Alpheus Davison, which is an enterprising
local paper, strenuously opposing the removal of the county seat from Magnolia,
which is being agitated by some of the neighboring towns.


Is probably the most important town in the county, is situated at the
junction of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, at the foot of the bluffs, some
six miles from the Missouri River, and three and a half north of the southern
boundary line of the county. It was laid out January 1, 1867, and the first
building was erected soon afterwards by Smith Cogswell, and used for a store. It
is surrounded by a farming country of unequaled fertility, and is a flourishing
place containing a number of good residences and business houses, a large brick
school house, a number of good churches and a printing office, where is
published the Missouri Valley Times, a neatly printed Democratic sheet, which
was established by D. M. Harris, August 1, 1868, who continued its publication
until the Spring of 1872, when he sold to M. H. Goltry. In January, 1875, the
present publishers, Gore & Cutler, succeeded to the proprietorship of the Times,
and have since conducted it.


Is situated near the northeast corner of the county, on a high terrace overlooking
the beautiful valley lands of the Boyer River, and is surrounded on all sides by a
tract of land rich in agricultural resources, and quite well improved. There is a
large tract of native timber, containing nearly forty sections, within five miles of
the town, and a good unimproved water power on the Boyer River. It was laid
out in the Fall of 1867, Rufus Harrington erecting the first dwelling house,
Hillas Cassady & Co. establishing the first store, and J. W. Lawson erecting the
first hotel. It is a division station on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, the
company having erected a large passenger depot and eating house, have also a
round house, machine and repair shops, freight house, etc., etc. Several religious
societies have organizations here, and have erected good houses of worship. The
town also contains good school houses, some fine residences and large business

The Dunlap Reporter, a neat, wideawake local newspaper, is published
by F. F. Cook, who deserves and is receiving a good support from Dunlap and
the surrounding country.


Is a pleasant and growing town, situated on the second bottom
of the Boyer River, a little southeast of the center of the county, and some six
miles south of Magnolia, was laid out in June, 1867, and is an enterprising town
containing a number of good business houses, residences, etc. It has a good
retail trade, and does a large shipping business.

LITTLE SIOUX, CALHOUN, and WOODBINE are enterprising villages, which are all
struggling to increase their business, and will make towns of more or less
Source: A.T. Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875
History and Biographies