Iowa History Project






No man knows the age of Iowa.  Its origin dates back many thousand years-so many that the mind cannot comprehend the time.  Geologists tell us that all Iowa was once covered by a sea; that for another period a huge mass of ice, termed a glacier, enveloped the region; and that when neither sea nor glacier was here strange animals and plants lived and thrived in an almost tropical climate.

Finally hills and valleys, rivers and lakes, trees and grass, such as we see to-day, were fashioned, and Iowa was ready to greet the eyes of man.  One race succeeded another, until the Indian was master.  At last European nations sent their explorers and adventurers to carry civilization to this wonderful country.  From the Atlantic coast, Canada and the Gulf of Mexico the line of settlement pushed on and on, until the Upper Mississippi Valley was reached, the river was crossed, and Iowa's prairies welcomed the whites.  Iowa Territory was organized and soon Iowa State.

So far as history shows, for nearly two hundred years after Columbus' first voyage the region now called Iowa was unvisited by a white person.  It was still another century ere the white man settled here.  While the States along the Atlantic were providing homes for emigrants from England and France and Spain and Holland, this section of the Mississippi Valley was inhabited by savages only.

But although nothing of a definite nature was known concerning the country in the interior of the new continent, several kings were anxious to own it.  They did not understand how great was the area embraced in the unexplored portion of North America, but each was afraid the other would obtain too much land.  Each, therefore, endeavored to claim all he could, first, and investigate the property, afterward.

As a rule all were disappointed in their possessions.  When they had grasped by right and might every mile they could, they promptly undervalued the territory, and frequently they lost their interest in it.  They willingly parted with districts that since have proved to be the richest and best country in the world.  The old kings wanted gold and silver.  When they did not find these metals they were disgusted.  They were not content to wait for revenue from tilling the soil.  They were anxious to get something for nothing-that is, they desired to procure gold at once, instead of earning it.

Spain was first to claim Iowa.  In 1493, the year after Columbus discovered the West Indies, the pope granted to Spain all the lands touched by the great navigator.  It was thought that he had found a continent.  An imaginary line was drawn from pole to pole; the territory east of this, and not owned by any other Christian prince, was to belong to Portugal; the territory west, to Spain.

So ignorant were the people of those times concerning the world, that this line actually passed through the Atlantic Ocean three hundred miles west of the Azores Islands.  Portugal received only an expanse of water!  Even when, later, the line was moved about eight hundred miles farther west, the situation was little changed.

England was determined that she, too, might as well have a share in the discoveries which were then amazing the old world.  She granted to John Cabot and sons permission to go forth, and see what they could find.  In 1497 they landed on the mainland of this continent, in the vicinity of Labrador, and on this fact England based her claim to right of possession.

Therefore, Iowa, in common with the rest of the continent, was claimed by both Spain and England, at the same time.

Spain really cuts but comparatively small figure in the story of the continent north of Florida's latitude.  England pushed ahead rapidly in the work of colonization until France suddenly stepped in as a strong rival.  It was France who was the first of all the nations actually to explore the Mississippi Valley, and by right of exploration assert her claim to this region.  The French traders and hunters and missionaries were the ones who penetrated west of the Allegheny Mountains.  They were the advance agents of civilization.

The French had established a line of settlements extending into Canada along the St. Lawrence River, and had named the country New France.  In 1534, Jacques Cartier had discovered the river, and France gained a foothold that she did not relinquish for over two centuries.

In 1673 two Frenchmen from the New France colonies led a small party westward, to see what was contained in the western portion of New France.  These leaders were Marquette and Joliet.  They went down the Wisconsin River into the Mississippi, and descended the Mississippi about as the mouth of the Arkansas River.  Then they were forced to turn back.  What they saw in Iowa will be told in another chapter.

Robert Chevalier, of the estate of La Salle, and commonly known in history as Robert de la Salle, or simply as La Salle, was the man who claimed the Mississippi Valley for France.  While he was in Montreal he heard from the Indians of a great river to the west, which he thought must empty into the Gulf of California, at that time called the Vermillion Gulf.  He believed that through this river a route by water to the Pacific Ocean could be found.  In his opinion Marquette and Joliet had not accomplished enough and so he determined to win glory for himself and his king.

In 1678 he set out, and after many trials and disappointments, in 1682 descended the Illinois River to the Mississippi, and the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.  Of course he soon saw that the direction of the river was toward the south, not the west, but nevertheless he continued until he attained the mouth.  Here he built a fort, to prevent the Spaniards from using the channel.  Spain had some colonies along the gulf.  They formed New Spain.  In 1541 Ferdinand de Soto had discovered the Mississippi at a point in the present State of Mississippi.  But as no gold came from this land Spain was not zealous in maintaining herself here.

France may be designated as the first nation that really had the right to call itself owner of the Mississippi Valley.  La Salle claimed for his king all the country drained by the Ohio, or River St. Louis, and the Mississippi, or Colbert River, and their tributaries.  He named the territory Louisiana.  Thus Louisiana extended from the Alleghenies to the Rockies, and from the source of the Mississippi to its mouth.  What a vast claim was this of Robert de la Salle!

Now France and England were crowding each other on this continent.  The French and Indian War broke out.  History tells us that the French and the Indians were allied against the English, and that the English were aided by their colonies in America.  At the close of the war France had lost Canada, and that part of Louisiana cast of the Mississippi.  The boundary between the French and the English possessions in what is now the United States was fixed in 1762 at the middle of the Mississippi River.

The name Louisiana henceforth refers to the territory between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains.

France was a little uncertain about her ability at this time to keep her remaining American possessions.  Great Britain was much stronger than she on the sea.  So to please Spain, and as an act of convenience, in 1762 France secretly gave Louisiana to the Spanish government.  The open transfer took place in 1769.  Thus Iowa became Spanish property.

France did not intend that the act should be permanent, for in a few years-in 1800-arrangements were made whereby Spain ceded back the territory to the French.  But in the meantime while these explorations and transfers were under way, the American Republic had come into being.  The United States achieved independence, and England was forced to give up all her property, south of Canada, on the continent.  Then foreign control of Louisiana proved distasteful to the United States.  The people demanded free and uninterrupted passage up and down the Mississippi.  So long as the Spanish exercised authority at New Orleans the river traffic of the settlers was interfered with.  The negotiations by which Spain returned Louisiana to France indicated that Americans would still be annoyed when they attempted to float their produce to the gulf.

Many persons were ready to plunge the Republic into another war, this time with France, over the subject.  But a much better solution of the difficulty was found when the United States proposed to buy New Orleans.  The proposition was met by Emperor Napoleon with a proposal to sell all of Louisiana.

The offer took the people by surprise.  They had not dreamed of acquiring such an extent of country.  Quite a faction was opposed to purchasing it.  The region was too large.  It could not be used.  It would prove a burden.  However, President Jefferson directed that the negotiations be pushed, if reasonable terms could be agreed upon.  President Jefferson may have overstepped his office here, and certainly he offended a large number of citizens, but he looked ahead and saw the necessity for his course.  He acted with farseeing wisdom.  Time has proved it.

The treaty by which the territory changed ownership for the last time was signed April 30, 1803.  The price paid for Louisiana was about twelve million dollars, and debts of the French government amounting to some three millions more were assumed.  At New Orleans, December 20, 1803, the United States formally took possession of the territory, but not until the following March was Upper Louisiana, with capital at St. Louis, transferred to the United States.

Although all Louisiana was under a Spanish officer, as no French officer had arrived to succeed him.  The Spaniard was Don Carlos Delassus.  Early in March, 1804, Capt. Amos Stoddard, of the United States army, with a detachment of troops, crossed the Mississippi from Cahokia, and entered St. Louis.  Capt, Stoddard first acted as the agent of France, and received from Don Carlos the surrender of this district, according to the treaty made several years before between Spain and France.  On the next day Capt. Stoddard became representative of the United States, and by the terms of the recent treaty took possession of the district in the name of the American Republic.

He published an address to the people of the district, informing them of the new order of things.  Tidings traveled slowly in these days, and the residents of St. Louis were accustomed to Spanish ways, they were acquainted with the French methods, but the thought of government by an entirely strange nation filled many citizens with alarm.  Their fears were groundless and vain.

No nation can to-day buy what comprised the Louisiana purchase, for many times the sum paid then.  France was anxious to build up the United States as a rival to England.  Napoleon hated Great Britain; and it may be added that he hardly expected the United States would care to retain so much land.  He figured that possibly a large portion of Louisiana could be secured later at a bargain.

When France surrendered to England all Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, the section south of Iberville, about one hundred miles above New Orleans, was reserved.  Thus New Orleans remained under French control, and was included in what retained the name of Louisiana.  Whenever Louisiana was transferred, New Orleans went with it.  Louisiana, as secured by the United States in 1803, was the territory from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, bounded on the southwest by the Spanish possessions.  These were what now compose Texas, New Mexico and other lands toward the Pacific.  The boundary was somewhat indefinite, until in 1819 it was fixed by treaty.  In 1819 the southwestern boundary of Louisiana was designated as follows:  From the mouth of the Sabine River, which now divides Louisiana State and Texas, to the thirty-second parallel of latitude; then north to the Red River, and along the Red River to the one hundredth meridian of longitude.  The meridian and the river now form the boundary between Texas and the Indian Territory.  Then north to the Arkansas River, and west.

The Pacific coast was not included in the original Louisiana purchase.  Oregon and Washington were later-much later-acquired by the United States by right of settlement and prior discovery.  California was obtained from Mexico by the Mexican War. __________________________________________________________________________

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