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A Glimpse of Iowa in 1846
By John B. Newhall

Pages 40-49

Page 40.



The country ceded to the United States in 1842, usually known as the New Purchase, is one of the richest and most desirable regions of the country to be found in the whole Valley of the Mississippi. In picturesque beauty, general configuration, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate, the New Purchase is probably without a rival, not even excepting the fertile valleys of the Columbia, the plains of California, or the luxuriant prairies of Texas! The adventurous pioneer, whose watchword is "onward," may look in vain for a more favored region than this. The ideal El Dorado is never reached; it is always, and ever will be, a little farther. This country is settling up with a rapidity hitherto unknown. As an evidence of the estimate in which the people held this country, it may be well to observe, that the 1st of May, 1843, was the time specified by the treaty for the Indians to leave, and, as in the days of the earliest settlements of Iowa, scarcely had the "red man" turned his face towards the setting sun, ere the settler, with his flocks and herds was following his footsteps, to make a new home upon the fertile prairies of the New Purchase. For weeks and months previous to the 1st of May, the whole frontier border was lined with settlers, who, with their families, had made encampments in sight of the "promised land." So great was their anxiety to secure an eligible spot for their future homes, that, from 12 o'clock, midnight, until sunrise of the morning of May the 1st, the whole country was literally settled up with claims. The tide of emigration poured in like the "rush of mighty water," and well might the wayfarer exclaim in the language of holy writ-
                                             "Who hath heard such a thing?
                                             * * Shall a nation be born in a day?"


     The New Purchase is laid off into counties, several of which are organized; among which are Wapello, Mahaska, Davis, Keokuk, Appanoose, Marion, Polk, &c.


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     This is one of the earliest organized counties of the New Purchase. It is situated immediately west of and adjoining Jefferson, and is bounded on the north by Keokuk and Mahaska, west by Kishkekosh, and south by Davis county. Wapello county was opened for settlement to the white population on the 1st of May, 1843, and was organized into an independent county in April, 1844. It is regarded as being one of the best counties of land in the Territory of Iowa. The writer of these pages has traveled extensively over this country, both before and subsequent to its organization, and can bear corroborating testimony to the high reputation it has so deservingly attained. The Des Moines river passes, diagonally in southeasterly course, entirely through the county. The timber is of excellent quality, consisting of white and black oak, ash, hickory, cherry, black and white walnut, sugar and all the varieties usually found in other portions of the Territory. The water power is abundant; the county likewise contains building material-both sand and limestone of the very best quality. But few counties have had a more rapid growth than Wapello. Its present population is estimated at about 5,000, with a voting population of 800.

   Ottumwa (the Indian name for rapids, or rapids place) is the seat of justice. It is situated on the Des Moines river at the Appanoose rapids, about three quarters of a mile from the centre of the county, twenty-five miles from Fairfield, and seven miles from the old Sac and Fox Agency, now Agency City. Ottumwa contains a population of about 200 inhabitants, several stores, two hotels, a respectable mill for grinding and sawing, one tannery, one blacksmith shop, a cabinet-making establishment; likewise several other mechanical establishments. In August, 1845, a survey of the Appanoose Rapids, at this place, was made by David Armstrong, Esq.; when it was ascertained that there passed at the rapids, every minute, 42,000 cubic feet of water; a


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sufficient quantity to fill a lock 42 feet wide, 150 feet long; being a sufficient quantity to run 28 pair of burrs 4 feet in diameter, under a head of six feet of water. There is a fall of 4 feet at these rapids in one mile, and a dam 5 feet high, would give 6 feet 10 inches rise and fall. There is already in successful operation at this place, a steam mill, making from 1,500 to 2,000 feet of lumber, and grinding from 150 to 200 bushels of grain very 24 hours. When the capabilities of this water power shall be fairly developed, Ottumwa will rank among the most flourishing towns in the interior of Iowa.



    Merchants.- S. Richards & Co., A.J. Davis, and Thomas Devin.
     Lawyers,- H.B. Hendershott, George May, Joseph J. Taylor, and James Baker.
     Physicians,- Chas. C. Warden, V.W. Coffin, Hiram H. Taylor.
     Churches,-1 Methodist, 1 Congregationalist.


    Sheriff, - Joseph Hayne.
     Judge of Probate,- Paul C. Jeffries.
     Coroner,- Milton S. Wright.
     Treasurer and Collector.- James Caldwell.
     County Commissioners,- Jas. B. Wright, Henry Smith, John C. Evans.
     County Commissioners' Clerk,- Chas. Overman.
     County Surveyor,-Walter Clement.
     Clerk of District Court,- John W. Ross.
     District Prosecutor,- H.B. Hendershott.

     Agency City, formerly the old Sac Agency post, is also situated in this county. In beauty of location it will challenge a comparison, in natural scenery, with the most favored spots in the country. This point was selected by the late Gen. Street, as the most desirable and judicious location for the establishment of the late Indian Agency. The town is principally built on one street, commencing with the old Agency mansion (now the residence of the Street family). The traveller will find it much easier to imagine himself


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approaching the venerable mansion of some old Virginia planter, that he is in reality entering a frontier village in one of the frontier States of the Union. Agency City is a post town, and contains two or three stores, one lawyer, one doctor, and a number of mechanics. It is situated about three miles from the Des Moines river, on the main road from Fairfield to Ottumwa.

     Eddyville occupies the site of an old Indian village and trading post, on the Des Moines. It was laid off by T.P. Eddy, Esq., the late Indian trader, now of St. Louis. The site is eligible and beautiful in the extreme. It is destined, in a few years, to command a vast trade from the surrounding country. The buildings in Eddyville, in proportion to their numbers, will not suffer by a comparison with any other point in the Territory. Several brick warehouses are already in progress of erection.




Is situated directly west of Van Buren county, and is increasing rapidly in population. The soil of this county is of an excellent quality. Bloomfield is the county seat, and promises to become a thriving inland town. A considerable portion of the population of Davis have emigrated from Missouri, to which State it is adjacent.




     Appanoose county lies immediately west of Davis, and is quite new. It is bounded north by Kishkekosh, south by the State line of Missouri, and west by Lucas county. The soil is represented to be of an excellent quality; the timber and prairie well arranged for the convenience of the agriculturist. Appanoose is well watered by the Chariton and its tributaries, among which are Shoal and Walnut creeks. This county is well worthy the attention of emigrants, being situated in the most southern range of counties of the territory. The climate will be found mild and agreeable. Many eligible locations might be made for the trouble of "staking them off" and fulfilling the "claim" regulations of the country.




Is situated immediately west of Washington, and north of Wapello, and is settling up with an industrious and enterprising


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population. This is also a beautiful county of land, being traversed by the Checauque and its tributaries, and having a good supply of timber. Sigourney is the county seat. This country, though fast filling up, has many excellent locations well worthy of the attention of the emigrant. The village of Richland is situated in the southeastern corner of the county. This neighborhood has a numerous settlement of Friends, or Quakers.




     This is one of the most interesting counties of the New Purchase. It is situated immediately west of Keokuk and is bounded north by Poweshiek, south by Wapello and Kishkekosh, and west by Marion county. The Des Moines passes diagonally through the southwestern portion of the county. The northern part is well watered by the Checauque (Skunk) river and its tributaries.

     Oskaloosa is the seat of justice; situated about the geographical centre, at a point called the "Narrows," where the Des Moines and Checauque river timber approximates to within a mile and a quarter of each other. The surrounding country is highly beautiful and picturesque. The neighboring farms, with their extensive enclosures and cultivated fields, carries the impress of a country settled for years; although it is only about twenty months since civilized man held dominion over any part of the domain. It is but two years since the first frame house was erected in Oskaloosa. It now contains more than seventy handsome frame buildings, most of them neatly painted white. A court house, two hotels, five dry goods stores, two groceries, mechanics' shops, &c., &c. Such is the thrifty and rapid growth of some of the towns of this New Purchase, which can hardly be realized by those who are not familiar with the rapid growth of new countries.

     Within the past year, Mahaska has increased with a rapidity unsurpassed by any county in the New Purchase. This region abounds with fine mill power for grinding and sawing; and mills are already established and doing a profitable business. Much good land still remains in Mahaska to be taken up by settlers.




     This county is quite new, having been organized on the 1st day of September, 1845, and contained, at that time, 720


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inhabitants, and, on the 1st of April of the present year (1846) it contained 1,450 souls. Marion is situated directly west of Mahaska county.

     Marion is not only one of the best counties of the "New Purchase" but may be regarded as one of the most attractive portions of the Territory of Iowa. The river Des Moines flows, in a southeasterly course, entirely across the county. Cedar, English, White Breast, and Lower creek can all afford sufficient water power to keep one run of stones constantly in operation; English creek will afford sufficient water to run a mill three-fourths of the year. The prairies of Marion are generally high, dry and undulating. Soil is excellent, the timber well distributed, tall, straight, and good size. This county offers strong inducements to the exploring emigrant. There are many excellent "claims" yet untaken on the Lower river, English, Whitebreast, and Cedar creeks.




     The prices of "claims" range from 50 to 600 dollars, according to the amount of improvement, location, &c. Wheat is worth 56 cents per bushel, in cash, when delivered at any point on the Des Moines; Indian corn 22 cents per bushel, cash; good milk cows $10; sheep $1.50 per head; day laborers, 50 cents per day and boarded.


  Knoxville is the seat of justice of Marion, and is situated within one mile of the geographical centre, on a high ridge of prairie. It has but just commenced improving and presents a favorable and promising appearance. A merchant or two would do well to locate in Knoxville, as there was not, in April last, a store in the county! and what is still more remarkable, but one lawyer, at the same period.  A good blacksmith is much needed in Knoxville and would be well patronized; likewise, mechanics generally would meet with success. There is an extensive vein of bituminous coal in the bluffs of the Des Moines, near the centre of the county. The stratum is nearly eight feet thick.




     Sheriff,- James M. Walters.
     Clerk of District Court, and ex-officio Clerk of the County Commissioners' Court,-L.W. Babbitt.
     County Commissioners,- Conrad Walters, David Durham, William Welch.
     Treasurer,- David T. Durham.
     Recorder,- R.S. Lowery.
     Assessor,- Geo. Gillaspy.
     Judge of Probate,- F.A. Barker.
     Notary Public,- L.W. Babbitt.
     Coroner.- W. Norseman




     Polk county embraces that celebrated region known as the "Raccoon Fork" of the Des Moines; and in many respects one of the most interesting, as well as one of the most recently organized portions of Iowa.

When the reader reflects that Fort Des Moines was in possession of the United States troops as late as the 10th of March of the present year-then a frontier out post in the midst of the Indian hunting grounds-he cannot fail to be surprised at the unparalleled advancement is has already made in every department of civilized life.

    Polk county contains twenty townships, and embraces 720 square miles. The principal rivers are the Des Moines, Raccoon, Checauque, Upper, Middle, and Lower rivers, and numerous other tributaries, uniting with the Des Moines. The Des Moines river pursues a diagonal course, south-easterly, entirely across the county.

     The Prairies of Polk county, generally, are remarkably fertile and productive, partaking more of a sandy mixture (not too light, however,) than some of the eastern counties.

     The most extensive prairie is the intervening scope of country, situated between the Des Moines and Checauque rivers. Upon the south side of the Des Moines, perhaps, no portion of Iowa is more susceptible of heavier settlements. The streams approximate to within one to three miles of each other, fringed with narrow belts of timber, and presenting that park-like appearance, so captivating to the eye of the traveller.


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     This county is amply supplied with water power, both for mills and machinery. A mill has been erected on the Middle river, owned by Capt. Allen, U.S.A. and J.D. Parmle, at a cost of about $7,000. There is also an extensive mill in progress of erection by Messrs. Ehle and Hall, immediately adjoining Fort Des Moines, the county seat-intended for sawing, grinding, and carding-at a cost of $10,000.

     To the enterprising capitalist, who desires to establish himself in the milling business, I know of no interior point presenting more flattering prospects. He could, at trifling expense, possess himself of all the advantages that Nature has so lavishly bestowed-water, power, bituminous coal, and wood, in abundance. Likewise, the certainty of a home market, for some years to come, and when the home demand ceases, good flat boat navigation to the great "Father of Waters."




     The prices of claims vary, according to their location, extent of improvements, &c.; they will range from $50 to $1000. Good  claims can be purchased within five miles of the county seat, for one dollar per acre, possessing good soil, and every natural advantage.




     The population at a recent census, was 1,301; but is believed at the present period (July) to exceed 1,600. In a country increasing so rapidly, no precise estimate can be made of the number of inhabitants. Even while the statistics are being penned, the population is continually increasing.




     The number of persons who paid poll tax, this Spring, 354. The number of votes cast in April (the first election ever held), 180.

     Prices.- Indian corn, 25 cents per bushel; corn meal, 50 cents per bushel; flour, $5 per barrel; bacon, 7 cents per pound; hogs, $1.50 per hundred; sheep, from $1 to $1.25 per head; neat cattle, $8 to $15 per head; horses, $30 to $60.

     Fort Des Moines is the seat of justice at Polk county. This place was evacuated by the U.S. Dragoons on the 8th

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and 10th of March of the present year, 1846. After the troops left, the permanent settlers consisted of four families, embracing a population of about 20 souls. There are now, 1st of July, 24 families and 130 inhabitants. The increase would have been much greater could accommodations, of any description, have been obtained.




     Dry Goods and Groceries- B.T. Hoxie, A. Mitchell.
     Hotel.- Des Moines House, M. Tucker.
     Lawyers.- Col. Baker, W.D. Frazer, Wm. McKay, L. D.Winchester.
     Physicians.- Dr. Fagan, Dr. Kilbride.
     Churches.- Two regularly organized, viz; Methodist and Baptist; one resident minister, Rev. E. Rathburn.
     There are likewise two groceries, exclusively; one carpenter's shop, one wagon maker, one cabinet maker, one plasterer, bricklayer, &c.




     Sheriff. - Thomas Mitchell.
     Clerk of the District Court.- P.L. Crossman.
     Recorder- Thomas McMullen.
     Treasurer- Wm. F. Ayers
     Coroner - Jacob Minter.
     County Surveyor-A.D. Jones
     County Commissioners.- W.H. Meacham, Benj. Taylor, Eri Fouts.
     County Commissioners' Clerk. - Wm. McKay.




     Monroe county is situated west of and adjoining to Wapello, being in the second range of counties form the Missouri line. It is the same county that is frequently alluded to as Kishkekosh; the name having been changed during the recent session of the Legislature (1846). The land of Monroe is represented to be of an excellent quality, although portions of it will be found more broken than several of the neighboring counties. Monroe county will present admirable facilities for extensive stock farms. The writer, during the past summer, while journeying through Kishkekosh

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(Monroe), spent the night with an old friend,* whose extensive improvements, barns, enclosures, &c. would do honor to the best improved portions of Pennsylvania, or the celebrated Miami Valley, although but eighteen months had elapsed since the face of nature had been disturbed.


Iowa County is situated west of Johnson and north of Keokuk. The Indian boundary line (cession of 1837) passes through the eastern portion of this county. Its physical aspect is similar to that of Johnson. The main branch of Iowa waters the northern portion of this county. Poweshiek's band of Indian warriors had their village in this county, and resided there up to the treaty of 1842. Iowa county is attached to Johnson, for judicial purposes.


Is situated directly west of Iowa county; and is bounded north by Tama, south by Mahaska, and west by the unorganized portions of the Territory. Its general appearance and configuration resembles the adjacent counties. The soil is of an excellent quality, the climate temperate and favorable to health, being situated on a parallel with Rock Island. Poweshiek county will present a wide field, to the adventurous emigrant, for claim-making. In a few years, this comparatively new and uninhabited region will be spread over with finely cultivated farms, and extensive fields, teeming with the bountiful harvest.


     This county named in commemoration of the illustrious chief whose name it bears, is situated north of Benton and Tama, and is bounded east by Buchanan, and north by the Neutral Grounds of the Sac and Sioux Indians. Black Hawk is situated in the same range of counties with Dubuque, and is the fourth county from the Mississippi river. The Cedar fork of the Iowa flows diagonally, in a southeasterly direction, entirely across the county. Black Hawk, although situated somewhat remotely in the northwestern

     * John B. Gray- well known as one of the earliest merchants of Burlington

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