Iowa History Project





Although June 1, 1833, was the first day on which settlers could legally occupy claims in Iowa, on several occasions previous to this date whites had crossed the river in attempts to establish homes in what was then an Indian country.

We have read of Dubuque, Lemoiliese, Gaillard, Blondeau and others, but they were only traders, not cultivators of the soil, nor intending to improve the claims obtained by them.

Also Dr. Muir built a cabin at Keokuk, and round the fur trading posts clustered whites and half breeds.  In 1828 Lee County held quite a scattering of whites, engaged in bartering with the Indians.  In the early days southeastern Iowa was the gateway through which the bulk of the pioneers entered the State.

The first community of whites in Iowa was at Dubuque, with the lead mines as the attraction.  After the death of Dubuque the Indians were unwilling to let any one else settle in the vicinity or work the mines.  However, in 1829 James Langworthy, who with his brother Lucius was mining at Galena, Illinois, having heard about the Dubuque country, resolved to visit it.

In the summer of 1829 he paddled over the river in his canoe, his pony swimming alongside the boat.  He landed where the city of Dubuque  now stands.  He went to the village of the Foxes at the mouth of Catfish Creek, and asked permission to mine in the hills.  The Indians refused  to grant it, but allowed him to travel in the interior three weeks.  Two young Indians guided him through the region lying between the Turkey and Maquoketa Rivers.  He secured much information, and was the first white man, save Dubuque, to look on this enchanting stretch of prairie and hill.

Indeed, we do not know that Dubuque went so far westward from Mississippi.

Langworthy returned to Galena and spread the new of  what he had seen.  His friends determined not to be afraid of the Indians, and in the winter and the following spring of 1830 the two Langworthys, with companions, crossed to the Iowa lead mines.  In June many others came, so that there was quite a settlement.

June 17, this year, the settlers assembled around an old cotton-wood log that had been cast ashore on an island and appointed a committee of five to draw up a form of government.  The articles reported by the committee were adopted.  There were only tow.  They represent the first laws for the regulation of white men in what is now Iowa.

The Indians had not sold their land west of the Mississippi, and they did not like the idea of having whites among them.  They protested to the government.  Colonel Zachary Taylor, commanding at Prairie du Chien, ordered the settlers to leave the territory, and troops were sent to enforce the command.  Soldiers were stationed here to protect the rights of the Indians.

Until the land was legally opened for settlement the soldiers had their hands full keeping the whites on the eastern side of the river.

A little later a similar scene was enacted near Flint Hills, the present site of Burlington.  The American Fur Company once had a post here, and among the white men connected with the business were Simpson White and Amzi D. Whittle.  They like the country so well that they determined to settle here.  They staked out a claim within one week after the treaty of 1832 between the Sacs and Foxes and the United States was signed.  M. M. Carver was a third in their party.

Others followed them, for many people supposed that as soon as the treaty was signed the lands were open for settlement.  But soldiers were sent from Fort Armstrong, at Rock Island, one detachment being under Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, and expelled them from the limits.  Cabins were destroyed and the owners were told to stay in Illinois or Missouri until permitted to return.

It became necessary to patrol the river border in Iowa to prevent over-anxious settlers from coming in and "squatting."  Otherwise, greedy men would seize on the best claims before the law-abiding people arrived.  Whites caught within the strip were obliged to give account of themselves, and were ordered out of the territory at once unless they were authorized to remain.

Finally the Black Hawk Purchase was ready for occupancy.  It had been impossible to keep all the settlers on the eastern side of the river, and during 1832 a number of claims had been taken up in portions of the strip not guarded by the military.  But the land thus occupied created no ill feeling.  The first rush into the Black Hawk Purchase did not at once use up all the tract.

In 1833 a post-office was established at Dubuque, and in 1834 the settlers there named their community "Dubuque".  Before it was referred to as the Lead Mines, the New Lead Mines, etc.  Davenport was laid out in 1836; Fort Madison in 1835; Flint Hills, now Burlington, in 1834.  More and more settlers came into the Black Hawk Strip, as it was termed.

They sent back word to relatives and friends in Illinois, and in Ohio and Indiana and other States to the southward, of the rich and beautiful country awaiting the people.  The result was that thousands of people flocked through Illinois to the Mississippi and crossed to find homes.  The strip of land filled up, and when in 1836 the Indians gave over the Keokuk Reserve even more room was wanted.

In 1837 the tribes ceded additional land, bordering the strip on the west.  In 1838 the settlers poured into this Second Purchase, and still looked eagerly on the region farther west.  The immigration to Iowa was increasing right along.  All through the East the marvelous "Iowa Country" was attracting attention.

The Old Strip, as the area now settled was termed, was widened by the New Purchase.  This New Purchase was composed of the remaining lands in Iowa to which claim was laid by the Sacs and Foxes.  The treaty by which the tribes gave up the tract was made in October, 1842.  This was the one which was agreed on at Agency City, when Governor Chambers, attired in a brigadier general's uniform, represented the government.

The Indians could remain in the eastern portion of the territory until midnight, April 30, 1843, but must then withdraw west of the longitude of Redrock, Marion County.  There they could stay until midnight,  October 10, 1845.  After that they were to to Kansas.

As soon as the news of this New Purchase was carried about among the settlers, a swarm of people pressed toward the country about to be thrown open.  Soldiers were stationed to keep them back until the proper time for settlement arrived.

During the last week of April the eastern border of the New Purchase was lined with men, women and children.  Forming the families of settlers, who were all ready to race for the best claims, and were but awaiting the word from the troops.  April 30 there was great excitement.  The fleetest horses were saddled and the swiftest runners selected, and everything was prepared in order to seize on the claims thought to be the richest.

All day the settlers heaped up piles of dry wood, and when night came lighted bonfires, which would serve to show the way.  At midnight, precisely, signal guns were discharged by the dragoons.  At once, with shouts and whoops and general uproar, the people rushed across the boundary.  They carried torches, axes and hatchets, and used all manner of methods calculated to lay out claims with the utmost speed.

When day broke the ground far and near was covered with rude marks.  Lines conflicted, and numerous disputes arose, usually to be amicable settled.   When the government surveyor measured the lines bounding claims he found many needed revision.

Between midnight and daybreak a large portion of the eastern part of the New Purchase was settled.

Midnight of October 10, 1845, the Indians' rights to the remainder of the New Purchase expired, and when the signal was given to the settlers, scenes similar to those of the spring of 1843 were enacted..  The settlers who had been camping along the border thronged in.

By 1850 settlements were scattered over Iowa from the Mississippi to the Missouri.  Shortly after 1839 white men established themselves at the site of Sioux City.  In 1839 the American Fur Co. sent one hundred men up the Missouri, on the steamer Antelope, to go to the headwaters of the river.  They changed to Mackinaw flat boars when the shallows made it necessary.  When the party returned several in the number stopped off at the site of Sioux City.  These were traders, but formed a nucleus of a community that rapidly enlarged.  In 1848 Floyd Bluff was settled, although before this, in 1836, Plymouth County and the valleys of the Big Sioux and the Floyd Rivers had a number of whites.

Pioneers made homes in Webster County in 1846 and traders had preceded them.  In 1846-48 Mormons settled where Council Bluffs is.  The name then adopted was Kanesville.

Immigration to Iowa was unparalleled.  In the papers of 1854 long accounts, full of exclamation points, are printed, telling of the vast crowds of people entering the State.  The roads were thronged with teams, and the groves and woodlands and prairies were alive with figures, and white with tents and canvas topped wagons.  Ferries over the Mississippi were busy day and night conveying the pioneers from Illinois to Iowa.  Cabins were going up like magic.

Oskaloosa reports that at least a thousand persons pass through every week, bound westward.  Three  hundred buildings go up in a season at Davenport.  Seven hundred immigrants a day travel over the Burlington highway.  It is estimated that in thirty days 20,000 traverse the vicinity of Burlington.  The boats on the Ohio and Mississippi are packed.  Six hundred persons go through St. Louis by river a day.  The trains that pull into Chicago with passengers for the Mississippi, are double headers.  In six days twelve thousand passengers from the East arrive in Chicago, destined for Iowa and the West.

According to the estimates and census taken in 1836 the State contained 10,531 people; in 1840 the population was 43,017; in 1844, 82,500; in 1850, 192,214; in 1854, 325,302; in 1955, 500,000.

The earliest settlers of Iowa came from Southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, and from the northerly Southern States.  Then followed Pennsylvanians, and Europeans force out of the Old County by political trouble.  Lastly, New York and New England States sent their people.

On foot, in teams, and by boat and by train, the future citizens of Iowa arrived at her eastern border and poured into their new home.



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