Interesting History of Iowa
Three Foreign States Have Claimed Jurisdiction
At various times this State has been ruled by the monarchs of
Spain, France, and England; that is, they have ruled it to the
extent of giving it away to various people whom they didn't dislike
enough to behead. The State of Iowa has been passed around like a
municipal franchise among people who didn't appreciate it, and at
last had to develop itself without any foreign aid.
Capt. Frank E. Landers, Secretary of the State Executive Council, is
the author of a little work that has much merit as a graphic
exposition of some of the most interesting figures in connection
with the history of the State. It consists of a book of maps,
showing the development of the territory that is now the State of
Iowa, from the dawn of the history of the Western world. There are,
in all, about 150 maps, carefully drawn with the pen, showing the
State at each period when some legislative or other change was made
to mark a period or a development in its history. They show first
the developments of the Territory and State, and afterward the
changes from time to time in the Congressional, legislative, and
judicial districts; also the organization of the counties and their
changes in name. On the margin of each map are notes indicating the
changes, and explaining the legislative or other enactments by which
they were brought about.
The first alleged owner of the State of Iowa was Spain, which
claimed everything in the world for a while, by virtue of the
accidental discoveries of Columbus, who never knew he had found a
new continent. Then John Cabot came along and discovered Labrador,
and England claimed everything in sight, or out of sight, on this
Capt. Landers, presumably being of English extraction, doesn't pay
any attention to the other claims, and begins with that of England.
His first map is a simple outline of the State, marked "Plymouth
Territory." The marginal notes explain that it was part of the
territory granted to the Plymouth Company in 1620, by James I of
England. The grant comprised the territory between the 40th and
48th degrees of north latitude, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The Plymouth Company concluded not to build any railroads west that
year, and the next map shows the State divided into three zones, by
east and west lines. The south and north zones still belong to the
Plymouth Company; the middle one to the Massachusetts Bay Company.
The next map shows the south zone owned by Lords Say, Seal, and
Brooke, by virtue of another grant from the King of England, who,
whatever faults he may have had, was a good fellow about his land,
and gave it away freely.
After this there is a map which shows that the south part of the
State belonged to the Province of Virginia. The next change is
shown by the map of 1652, which gives the whole north half of the
State to Massachusetts. This grant included the site of what has
since become famous as Sioux City. On the whole, it would have been
cheaper if Massachusetts had held on while she had it, instead of
waiting 250 years and then lending all its money on Sioux City town
lots, and taking the place under foreclosure.
The same map which gave Massachusetts the north half of the State
names Connecticut as the owner of the next strip south. The
Connecticut people had as that time just set themselves up in
business, and for some time they held on to the strip, for even at
that time it was known that Iowa had the most fertile soil on earth.
It was about this time that the French began to claim rights in this
territory. They doubted the right of King James and his successors
to give away a lot of ground that they had never seen, and that may
be was not there at all. So they sent over a man named La Salle III
to find out if there was such a country. He found it, and advised
his King, Louis XIV to go to giving it away too, just by way of
manifesting an interest in it and establishing a claim. For in the
peculiar system of generosity which Kings and potentates affect, the
giving away of a thing gives them a peculiar and inalienable right
to it. So Louis gave the entire Mississippi Valley to Anthony
Cruzart. Mr. Cruzart, however, was infatuated with the effete and
luxurious life of Paris, and in a short time he ceded the country
back to the King, who gave it away again, this time to the Western
This company was as unappreciative as its predecessor, and, after
raising corn and potatoes in its mind's eye for three years, got
discouraged, and ceded the whole back to the King.
After a while, along in the latter part of the eighteenth century,
France ceded a large part of the Western Hemisphere to England,
including all that section west of the Mississippi River. But the
next time the thing appears the entire State of Iowa is named
"Province of Louisiana," having been re-ceded to France. Finally,
in 1803, the United States bought from France the Province of
Louisiana, and Iowa for the first time became a part of the United
The next map shows the State labeled "District of Louisiana." A
district was a sort of overgrown county in those days, and the
District of Louisiana was under the control of the Governor and the
Judges of Indiana Territory. After this the Territory of Louisiana
was established. It was ruled by a Governor and three Judges,
appointed by the President -- that is, it was nominally ruled in
this way. As a matter of fact, the three Judges, the Governor, and
the President at that time supposed there was nothing here except a
section of the Great American Desert. They regarded it probably as
somewhat less valuable than the Territory of Alaska is now esteemed.
The next map, dated 1812, shows the State marked "Territory of
Missouri." It was part of one of the Territories carved out of the
Louisiana Purchase. After a while, when Missouri was made a State,
the name, which was about the only thing to indicate that it had any
connection with civilization, was changed to "Territory of
Michigan," and Iowa was for a while a dependency of Michigan, which
was then about one-third as large as the whole of Europe. At this
time appears the first subdivision of the State. The Blackhawk
Indian boundary, about forty miles west of the Mississippi, and
practically parallel to it, marked the territory which was then open
to white settlement. The County of Dubuque included most of the
eastern end of the State. The other county included the southeast
corner of the State, and was named Domine. The imported style of
spelling had not at that time been adopted; the people of the
section were poor, and they managed, by hook or crook, to struggle
along with the domestic article of spelling of a French name. There
is no more pleasing evidence of the early development of culture in
the great West than the fact that at an early date the people of
Iowa discovered their homespun system of spelling was too old
fashioned, and adopted the Parisian article. But for their
forethought the capital of Iowa might be an ordinary place instead
of a French city.
The next thing that happened to the State of Iowa was its annexation
to Wisconsin. Michigan had got admitted to the Union. The
Territory of Wisconsin, was organized out of the battered remnants,
and the present State of Iowa became a part of it. Several more
counties were cut out of the eastern part of the State, but all
except a fringe along the Mississippi was still wilderness, and a
man who wandered out of sight of the Father of Waters after night
was liable to leave his scalp as an evidence of good faith in the
hands of some Blackhawk Indian.
After this the changes are rapid. New counties were organized by
each Legislature. In 1838 the name of Iowa was adopted for the
first time, and appears on the map of this date. It was then
"Territory of Iowa."
The name "State of Iowa" adorns the 1846 map. A line drawn from the
northeast to the southwest corner of the State on this map will just
about cut off the organized from the unorganized part of the State.
East and south of this line the counties were about as now; north
and west the Pottawatomie and Winnebago Indians were still in
control, and no counties had been organized.
On the 1851 map appears for the first time the list of counties,
nearly as it now is. What is now Lyon was then Yell, the present
Calhoun was then Fox, and the Hamilton of to-day was then Risley.
From this time on, the development of the State into its present
form was rapid; in fact, the internal lines have changed little.
The Congressional, judicial, and Legislative districts have changed
considerably from time to time and all the developments are marked
by the maps. At one time there was a curious legislative mistake by
which a tier of townships, now belonging to Guthrie County, was left
out in the cold, and formed a sort of No Man's Land for a while. In
the reorganization of the boundaries of the counties these four
townships were accidentally cut off from one county, but not annexed
to another, and during the biennial period from one Legislature to
another they had no allegiance to any county. The people could not
hold any elections for county officers, and, in fact, had few
pleasures left in life. The next Legislature annexed them to
Guthrie, and they have never rebelled against its rule.
~Des Moines Leader, September 18, 1895
~transcribed for the Iowa History Project by S. Ferrall