IAGenWeb Project

Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



History of Iowa

Volume III


On the 17th of June, 1882, the Weather Service observations showed that Iowa was in an area of low barometric pressure which extended from Dakota to the Mississippi River.  An immense storm cloud began to form in the northwest which was observed in Cherokee, Carroll, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties over which it was gathering and increasing in size before it assumed tornado formations.  As the thunder storm swept on into Greene County a terrific wind arose accompanied by a heavy fall of rain.  As it passed over Rippey, swiftly flying clouds from the northwest met others driven by a strong gale from the south.  Then began the whirling mooting of the clouds.  The storm increased in fury and blackness as the stronger southern current of wind swept it in a northeasterly direction and the deadly funnel began to form, hanging down toward the earth.  It first touched the earth in the southwest corner of Boone County, destroying houses, barns and live stock and killing a boy.  It then raised and for nine miles no damage was done.  After crossing the Des Moines River the funnel again descended to the earth carrying death and destruction in its path.  It was about six o'clock in the evening when the tornado passed into Story County and several funnel shaped clouds were observed to be lowering and rising as the storm swept on in an easterly direction.  A continuous heavy roar was heard and the electrical display was continuous and fearful.  People sought safety in cellars and caves at the approach of the storm.  Buildings were suddenly reduced to fragments; orchards and groves were destroyed; crops and fences ruined, while domestic animals were mangled and killed.  Hundreds of persons lost all of their possessions except the bare land or lots upon which an hour before stood comfortable homes.  For more than a hundred miles the tornado swept eastward over farms and prairie, fortunately missing towns, until at half past eight in the evening it struck Grinnell.

Eye witnesses give the following description of the tornado as it was seen approaching:

"An hour before sunset the northwestern sky was hung with conical downward pointing clouds, the like of which none of us had ever before seen.  After sunset and even when the darkness was gathering the western sky half way to the zenith was lurid, brilliant and unearthly; an ominous sight which fascinated while it filled us with an ill defined dread.  Almost before the brilliant apparition in the west had disappeared the storm broke upon us.  A distant heavy roar was heard like the rumbling of a dozen heavy freight trains.  With a dense dark cloud of dust the wind came sweeping leaves, branches of trees, chimneys, houses and everything in its awful pathway.  The rain came like a waterspout, blinding flashes of lightning were continuous and amid the wreck and roar came total darkness, wild confusion and chaos.  As the tornado bore down upon us, most of the terror stricken people fled to their cellars for such safety as they could afford.  All say the felt the monster coming and that it had the power and rock of an earthquake in it.  It seemed to strike a sliding or gyrating blow, as if its mighty power were taking them in a circle to compress them to utter demolition.  At places it would appear to crush a house together as in a vise, then it would expand itself hurling the debris in every direction or carry it miles away, leaving hardly a fragment where the house had stood.  In places it would cut off the front or side or take out the end of a building. Again it would lift a house from its foundation and drop it in a complete wreck near by.  Some houses were crushed into shapeless wrecks and their ruined rooms were filled with fragments of other buildings.  A phaeton was taken from a barn and its wreck lodged in a tree thirty feet from the ground.

The College buildings were struck with terrific force; the stone building was unroofed and the upper story destroyed; while the brick building went down in a mass of  ruins.  Seven students were in their rooms in the third story, three were killed and others severely injured.

One-fifth of the town was in ruins in less than ten minutes from the time it was struck.  Dead, dying and mangled forms of more than a hundred men, women and children were strewn around, torn, bruised and mutilated in every conceivable way, covered with mud so that they could not at first be recognized.  Thirty loaded freight cars were hurled in a confused wreck from the Central Railroad, and three miles away an approaching Rock Island train was caught up and thrown into the ditch, crushing to death two men in the ruins."

Six miles east of Grinnell the tornado struck the village of Malcom where seven persons were killed, many injured and several business houses and one-third of the residences wrecked.  As it passed Malcom three distinct branches of the tornado were visible and many farm houses were destroyed for a distance of thirteen miles.  Raising and lowering as it swept eastward its branches spread over a wide scope of country and damage, was done in Iowa, Keokuk, Johnson, Jefferson, Henry, Washington and Des Moines counties.  As it spread out wider in its eastward sweep, the whirlwind funnels disappeared and a straight wind took their place.  In Keokuk County several houses, barns and orchards were destroyed but no lives lost.  In Henry County the destruction of property was great.  In Mount Pleasant many residences, business blocks and several churches were wrecked while in the country many farm buildings, orchards and groves were in ruins.  Two person were killed and the loss of animals was large.  The number of persons killed was two in Boone County, two in Story, seven in Jasper, fifty-seven in Poweshiek and two in Henry.  Of the hundreds crushed, mangled and mutilated many died after intense suffering and others were crippled for life.

The property destroyed was estimated at more than a million of dollars.  Governor Sherman promptly issued a proclamation calling upon the people of the State to aid the sufferers.  This was generously responded to.

The week following this tornado brought three more terrific storms which wrought great destruction.  They came on the 22d, 23d and 24th, and swept over Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.  While extending over the entire upper Mississippi valley and destroying property to the amount of more than a million of dollars, the loss of life was comparatively small.  In Iowa the greatest losses were in the counties of Sioux, O'Brien, Clay, Emmet, Cherokee, Palo Alto, Buchanan, Linn and Black Hawk.  Eleven persons were killed in Iowa and many seriously injured.  It was a week of terrifying storms of wind, hail and rain such as had never been known in this latitude.

The Greenback party held its State Convention at Des Moines on the 6th of June and adopted resolutions substantially reaffirming the declaration of previous platforms.  The following candidates were nominated for State officers:  Secretary of State, W. J. Gaston Treasurer, George Derr; Auditor, G. A. Wyant; Attorney-General, J. H. Rice; Supreme Judge, M. H. Jones; Clerk of Supreme Court, E. N. Clark; Reporter Supreme Court, J. H. Williamson.

The Republican State Convention met at Des Moines on the 2d of August and nominated the following ticket:  Secretary of State, J. A. T. Hull; Treasurer, E. H. Conger; Auditor, J. L. Brown; Supreme Judge, W. H. Seevers; Attorney-General, Smith McPherson; Clerk Supreme Court, G. B. Pray; Reporter Supreme Court, E. C. Ebersole.  The resolutions reaffirmed former declarations.

The Democratic State Convention met at Marshalltown on the 16th of August and nominated the following candidates:  Secretary of State, T. O. Walker; Treasurer, John Foley; Auditor, Wm. Thompson; Attorney-General, J. H. Bremerman; Supreme Judge, C. E. Bronson; Clerk Supreme Court, H. F. Bronorden; Reporter Supreme Court, L. A. Palmer.  The resolutions adopted were similar to the usual declarations of policy.

The Republican ticket was elected by an average plurality of about 36,000.

The election for Representatives in Congress resulted in the choice of McCoid, Wilson, Cutts, Kasson, Hepburn, Holmes and Struble, eight Republicans; Murphey and Pusey, two Democrats; and Weller, Greenback.

The Prohibition State Convention was called to assemble at Des Moines on the 7th of February, 1883, to confer upon the nullification of the constitutional amendment by the Supreme Court and decide upon what action it was advisable to take in the premises.  James Wilson of Tama County was chosen president and J. R. Sage of Linn County secretary.  The committee on business reported in favor of the union of the different temperance organizations of the State for the purpose of making their work more effective.  A committee was appointed to present to the Governor a petition for an extra session of the Legislature to be called for the purpose of taking the steps necessary to again submit to the people an amendment to the Constitution for prohibition.  Among the resolutions adopted by the convention the following were the most important:

Resolved, That it is the deliberate judgment of this convention that the Executive and General Assembly should immediately take steps to put in force and effect the will of the people as expressed by the vote of the 27th of June last, by providing an extra session called at as early a date as can legally be done; first, for submission of a prohibitory amendment to the Constitution of Iowa; second, for such other relief by statutory law as will relieve the people and the homes of the State from the cause of the liquor traffic.

Resolved, That as a law must be enacted and enforced by State officials who are elected by the people and who ought to be their representatives, we pledge our support at the polls only to such as are unreservedly pledged to carry out in good faith the expressed will of the people on the subject of legal prohibition.

After mature consideration Governor Sherman declined to call an extra session of the Legislature for the purpose of inaugurating proceedings for a constitutional amendment.  The principal reason given by the Governor for this decision was that he had serious doubts as to whether it was competent for an extra session to propose such amendments to the Constitution.  At the April term of the Supreme Court an attempt was made to secure a reversal of the decision on a petition for a rehearing which had been filed by Judge C. C. Nourse and J. A. Harvey in February.  Able and exhaustive arguments were made for the validity of the amendment by James F. Wilson, John F. Duncombe and C. C. Nourse and against it by John C. Bills.  The majority of the Court, however, adhered to its former opinion and the amendment was finally set aside as invalid.  In relation to a new point raised by the counsel for the prohibitionists, that it was not competent for the Court to determine whether an amendment to the Constitution was legally adopted where a majority of the legal voters had approved the amendment, the Court uses the following language:

"No heresy has ever been taught in this country so fraught with evil as the doctrine that the people have a constitutional right to disregard the Constitution.  It ends to revolution and anarchy.  it is incumbent upon all who influence and mould public opinion to repudiate so dangerous a doctrine before it bears fruit destructive of republican institutions.  The cause of temperance can sustain no injury from the loss of this amendment which would be at all comparable to the injury to our republican institutions which a violation of the Constitution would inflict.  Whatever interests may be advanced or may suffer, whoever or whatever may be voted up or down, no sacrilegious hand must be laid upon the Constitution.  Abidingly and firmly convinced of the correctness of our former conclusions, recognizing no superior higher than the Constitution, acknowledging no fealty greater than loyalty to its principles and fearing no consequences except those which would flow from dereliction of duty, we adhere to and affirm the doctrine already announced.  The petition for a rehearing is overruled."

The friends of prohibition were sorely disappointed by this affirmation of the former decision as it would require nearly five years to secure a new amendment to the Constitution.  The more practical among them, however, saw that the Legislature had ample power and undisputed authority to enact as rigid prohibition without a change in the Constitution, as it would had the amendment been held valid.  The contest must now be made direct in the choice of members of the next Legislature and the Governor.  The fight with the liquor power must begin in the political nominating conventions.  It was evident that a majority of the Republican voters were in favor of prohibition and it was equally certain that a majority of the members of the Greenback party were also prohibitionists, while on the other issues they were too widely at variance to afford any hope that they could be united upon candidates in the next election.

The Democratic State Convention met at Des Moines on the 6th of June, 1883, and nominated the following candidates:  for Governor, L. G. Linne; Lieutenant-Governor, Justus Clark; Supreme Judge, W. I. Hayes; Superintendent of Public Instruction, E. B. Farr.  On the subject of prohibition, which was regarded as the chief issue likely to be involved in the campaign, the following resolution was adopted:

"Resolved, That we are opposed to constitutional prohibition and in the interest of practical temperance we favor a well regulated license law, with penalty of forfeiture of license for violation thereof."

In nomination of Judge Hayes, who had given the decision in the District Court declaring the prohibitory amendment to the Constitution to be invalid, and the resolution of the convention declaring against constitutional prohibition, the challenge was made to the prohibitionists to fight the battle out in politics.  They accepted the issue and determined to carry it into the Republican State Convention and, if possible, procure an outspoken declaration for prohibition from that body.  It soon became evident from the tone of the Republican press and the voice of many of the leaders of that party that the prohibitionists would be easily control the convention and that the challenge of the Democratic Convention would be accepted, making prohibition the chief issue in the approaching campaign.

The Republican State Convention convened at Des Moines on the 27th of June, 1883, and was one of the largest ever held by the party.  The opening speech of the president, Hon. John A. Kasson, in which he declared that "the Republican party in this contest would not take the side of the saloon" clearly indicated the temper of the convention on the absorbing issue.  There was no opposition to the re-nomination of Governor Sherman and Lieutenant-Governor Manning; J. R. Reed was nominated on the second ballot for Supreme Judge over Judge Day, who was vigorously opposed by the prohibition delegates owing to his action on the prohibitory amendment, uniting with the majority of the Court in declaring the amendment void.  J. W. Akers was nominated for Superintendent of Public Instruction.  On the subject of prohibition the convention declared:

"Without making any new test of party fealty we recognize the moral and political obligation which requires the enactment of such laws by the next General Assembly as shall provide for the establishment and enforcement of the principle and policy affirmed by the people at the non-partisan election and to this end the faith of the party is pledged.

"That while we extend our earnest sympathy to the people of all countries who are struggling for their rights, in opposition to oppressive laws and systems, we also plant ourselves on the side of the homes of our own people in their contest against the saloons."

The fifth resolution made a clear declaration on another issue which had become prominent in many other States of the Union which was as follows:

"The General Assembly at its next session, should enact a law prohibiting the giving to or receiving by public officers any railway pass during their term of office and the same should be enforced by proper penalties both against the giver and receiver."

The Greenback State Convention met at Des Moines on the 11th of July, 1883, and, by unanimous vote nominated General J. B. Weaver for Governor.  Sanford Kirkpatrick was nominated for Lieutenant-Governor; D. W. Church for Supreme Judge; and Abbie O. Canfield for Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Among the resolutions adopted were the following:

"The manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors as a beverage shall be prohibited and the will of the people as expressed in the non-partisan election of June 27th, 1882, he respected and carried out; and we arraign the present Executive of the State for permitting the will of the people to be overthrown:"

"We demand equal political rights for all men and women."

The campaign was conducted with great vigor, especially as to candidates for the Legislature.  Prohibition was the chief issue and there was a large defection from the Republican vote on that account.  The loss of that party from the vote of 1880 was 19,984, while the Democratic vote for the same period was increased 33,363.  The loss of the Greenback vote was 9,691 during the same time.  There was a Republican majority over the combined vote of the other parties, of less than 20,000.  The contest over members of the Legislature was very warm but the Republicans elected a majority of each branch of the General Assembly.

M. E. Cutts, a Republican member of Congress, died before the expiration of his term and a special election in the Sixth District for his successor resulted in the choice of J. C. Cook, the Democratic candidate over E. H. Stiles, Republican, by a majority of two hundred forty-one.

The winter of 1882-83 will long be remembered by the fruit growers of Iowa from the great and widespread damage to orchards.  During the latter part of the summer and the early weeks of autumn an unusual drought prevailed and early in October warm rains began to fall.  The vegetation which had been dried up and withered in August was revived by the moisture and heat of October, making an unusual and very late growth.  Buds started and sap was found to be abundant.  While in this abnormal condition a sudden and very hard freeze came in November, which found an unusual amount of sap in the stimulated late growth which had not ripened.  When spring came it was observed that the orchard trees were suffering from some severe injury.  Careful examination disclosed the fact that the inner bark, next to the wood, was discolored and as the season advanced it was observed to turn black and the trees to wither and gradually die.  The greatest damage was found to be in the bearing orchards while the nursery trees and young orchards which had not yet come into bearing were, as a rule, nearly exempt from injury.  Bearing cherry trees were seriously injured and thousands of them died as the season advanced.  A very few varieties of apples seemed to have escaped with slight injury but many which were heretofore regarded as hardy were as badly damaged as the tender kinds.  All through the central and southeastern counties the destruction was very great and hundreds of thousands of bearing orchard trees perished  as the season advanced.  It was a discouraging sight to the fruit growers who saw widespread ruin of the orchards that had cost them long years of patient waiting and care.  Of the bearing orchards of more than forty counties in the central, eastern and southeastern portions of the State, very few escaped great and fatal injury.  Many of the trees lingered for several years producing fruit of an inferior quality but their vitality was so seriously blighted that it was never recovered.  The escape of the younger orchards and the trees in the nurseries seemed to puzzle the most experienced fruit growers as to the cause of the general destruction of the older trees.  There was wide differences of opinion on the subject and it is still an unsettled problem.

The Twentieth General Assembly met at Des Moines on the 14th of January, 1884, and William P. Wolfe of Cedar County was elected Speaker.  Lieutenant-Governor Manning presided over the Senate; Governor Sherman and Lieutenant-Governor Manning were inaugurated for a second term on the 17th of January in the new State House which was so far completed as to accommodate this General Assembly.  As the members prepared to vacate the old Capitol building to assemble in joint convention for the first time in the new State House, the following entry was made on the journal of the House:

"As the Senate filed into the room the Speaker's gravel fell for the last time upon the time-worn desk; a desk the blows upon which had wakened into existence concurrent legislation which had brought relief to the oppressed and suffering, pangs and dread to those who choose the ways of darkness rather than light.  The walls re-echoed to the stately tread of progress and the old legislative halls which had, biennially since 1856, sheltered the representatives of a great people from the incipient days of pioneer zeal and self-sacrifice, in panic and war and into the bloom and fruition of peace and prosperity; halls in which statesmen have been made and heroes been sent to perform missions of freedom, to free men, as only such truly noble patriots and freemen could.  These rough old walls scarred and picked, seamed and worn by the work of weary years, saw the departing shadow of former greatness, as at 2:14 P.M. the last line of members left the old house and silence fell like leaves from memory's journal upon the beach of years, whispering a regret, yet sighed relief that time had worked such changes."

The magnificent structure which now became the permanent State Capitol is classic in style with a superstructure of buff limestone.  It is three hundred and sixty-three feet in length, two hundred and forty-seven feet in width, with a central dome rising to a height of two hundred and seventy-five feet.  At the time of completion it was surpassed only by the Capitol of the State of New York at Albany.  The building was dedicated in January, 1884, with imposing ceremonies, at which Hon. John A. Kasson, delivered the principal address.  It was due to his untiring efforts in past years that the General Assembly was induced to adopt the general plan and make appropriations for the erection of a State House commensurate with the rank and growing wealth of Iowa.

At the biennial meeting of the Pioneer Lawmakers' Association in 1896, Mr. Kasson gave an interesting history of the legislation leading to the erection of the building.  He says:

"From this time onward the three active Commissioners manifested the greatest care and a most wise discretion in every detail of the work.  Never was s corrupt or misspent dollar charged to their account.  The prime principle of honesty in the expenditure of public money, which requires a dollar's worth for every dollar spent, was their constant guide.  Thanks to their unusual fidelity to this obligation and to their wise tact in procedure, the Senators and Representatives trusted them session after session with amounts largely in excess of the original estimates until the cost of the finished structure has amounted to $2,871,682.05.  Instead of grumbling and dissatisfaction on part of the people over the cost, there was universal pride in the noble building. *   *   *   Every farmer and mechanic, every merchant and patriotic citizen of Iowa, as he views the grandeur of its proportions, the massive, time-defying walls, the splendid legislative chambers, the beautiful library, the fire-proof vaults, the large and convenient executive offices, the ample committee rooms, and its general adaptation to the wants of an intelligent and advancing State, feels and expresses satisfaction over this home of his State government.  It is his constant boast that there is not a dishonest dollar from the base course to the crown of the dome.   *   *   *   The names of John G. Foote, Peter A. Dey and Robert S. Finkbine should long be remembered among us as names of men who executed their duties faithfully and well, and who were above the sordid temptation to make private profit out of a public trust, under which so many men elsewhere have fallen."

On the 23d of January William B. Allison was elected for a third time to the United States Senate for a term of six years.  The Democratic members voted for Benton J. Hall and the members of the Greenback party gave their votes to D. M. Clark.

In reaction to the prohibitory amendment to the Constitution, which had been declared void by the Supreme Court, Governor Sherman in his message says:

"The proposition to amend the fundamental law by the prohibition of the sale of intoxicants as a beverage, having passed the several stages of legislation prerequisite, was at last submitted to the citizens of the State and by them adopted by a decisive vote.  The amendment so adopted was attempted to be nullified by the coordinate branch.

"Various opinions prevailed as to such an attempt and its binding force and effort; but one only can obtain as to the moral obligation resting upon the representatives of the people in the General Assembly in such an emergency.  The duty remains to the lawmaking powers that the principle thus adopted by the people must be voiced in proper statutory enactments; and I confidently trust that ere your session shall end, the legal remedies will be provided whereby the people may protect themselves from further devastation caused by this unlawful traffic, destructive alike to present and future generations. *  *  * Partisan ties should be laid aside in consideration of this great question and forgetful of all else save the ultimate good of the State, let us vie with each other in perfecting the law in response to the public demand."

the General Assembly proceeded to amend the prohibitory liquor laws of the State, strengthening them in many important features, providing additional penalties and declaring buildings in which the illegal traffic was carried on, public nuisances.  All of the reasonable demands of the advocates of rigid prohibition were enacted into law.

One of the most important acts of the session was that providing for the semi-annual payment of taxes.  A bureau of labor statistics was provided for.  The amendment proposed to the constitution by the Nineteenth General Assembly, granting suffrage to women, was defeated by this Legislature, while the other proposed amendments were adopted changing the time of holding elections, from October to November; permitting any General Assembly to reorganize the judicial districts of the State; providing that a grand jury might consist of any number not less than five nor more than fifteen, to be determined by the General Assembly; and providing for the election of county attorneys.

The presidential campaign of this year opened with the Greenback National Convention which was held at Indianapolis on the 28th of May, at which General B. F. Butler was nominated for President and A. M. West for Vice-President.  The Democratic National Convention assembled at Chicago on the 10th of July, nominated Grover Cleveland for President and Thomas A. Hendricks for Vice-President.  The Prohibition National Convention met at Pittsburg on the 23d of July, nominated John P. St. John for President and Wm. Daniel for Vice-President.

The Republican State Convention was held at Des Moines on the 20th of August, 1884, and nominated the following candidates:  for Secretary of State, Frank D. Jackson; Auditor, John L. Brown; Treasurer, V. P. Twombly; Supreme Judge, J. H. Rothrock; Attorney General, A. J. Baker.

The Democratic Convention convened at Davenport on the 3d of September and nominated the following candidates:  Secretary of Stare, James Dooley; Treasurer, George Derr; Auditor, J. E. Henriques; Attorney-General, M. V. Gannon; Supreme Judge, L. E. Burton.

The election resulted in the success of the Republican candidates for state officers by a plurality of about 18,500; the vote for President was, for Blaine, Republican, 197,089.  The Democratic and the Greenback parties effected a fusion on the Presidential electors, as well as on the State officers and the combined vote for Cleveland and Butler in Iowa was 177,316.  St. John received 1,472 votes.  The majority for Blaine of 18,126, was the smallest majority given by Iowa to a Republican candidate for President since 1860, when the entire vote of the State was 128,205.  The Congressional delegation stood politically, seven Republicans to four Fusion.

Upon the reelection of J. L. Brown as Auditor, a controversy arose between that officer and Governor Sherman as to the approval of his official bond.  When the bond was presented to Governor declined to approve it on the ground "that the Auditor had failed to account for all of the funds during his first term" and had failed to produce vouchers as required by law for public money expended.  As the two officers were unable to reach an agreement over the subject in controversy, the Governor appointed a Commission to make an examination of the accounts in the Auditor's office.  The Commissioners reported some irregularities in the affairs of that office and upon the filing of the report the Governor issued an order suspending Auditor Brown from exercising the duties of the office.  The Auditor refused to vacate the office and thereupon the Governor called the military and on the 19th of March, 1885, the Auditor was forcibly expelled from the office and J. W. Cattell installed in the position upon appointment by the Governor


back to History Index