Glimpse of Iowa in 1846
By John B.
THE NEW PURCHASE
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
The New Purchase is laid off into counties, several
of which are organized; among which are Wapello, Mahaska, Davis, Keokuk,
Appanoose, Marion, Polk, &c.
DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTIES IN THE NEW PURCHASE
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
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.
OTTUMWA DIRECTORY, 1846.
Merchants.- S. Richards & Co., A.J. Davis, and
Lawyers,- H.B. Hendershott, George May, Joseph J. Taylor, and
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.
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
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
Is situated immediately west of Washington, and north of
Wapello, and is settling up with an industrious and enterprising
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
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
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.
STATISTICS IN APRIL, 1846
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.
COUNTY DIRECTORY, 1846.
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
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
FORT DES MOINES, ETC.
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.
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
STATISTICS, PRICES, ETC.
The number of persons who paid poll tax, this Spring,
354. The number of votes cast in April (the first election ever held),
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
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.
FORT DES MOINES DIRECTORY.
Dry Goods and Groceries- B.T. Hoxie, A.
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
(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.
BLACK HAWK COUNTY.
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
* John B. Gray- well known as one of the earliest
merchants of Burlington
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