EDITED BY John C. Parish
Associate Editor of the State Historical Society of Iowa
Copyright 1921 by the State Historical Society of Iowa
(Transcribed by Gayle Harper)
THE WAY TO IOWA
June first, 1833, saw the
restraints to settlement in the Iowa country removed. A year
earlier the treaty of the Black Hawk Purchase had been signed,
by which the United States secured from the Indians the
cession of a strip of land approximately fifty miles wide
extending along the western bank of the Mississippi River from
the northern boundary of Missouri to the southern boundary of
the Neutral Ground. In the meantime the Indians had withdrawn
to their new homes and the soldiers who had patrolled the
region near the "Mines of Spain" had marched back to Fort
Crawford. Then the white invasion began. True, a few bold
adventurers had crossed the river at Dubuque to mine lead
before this date, but they were trespassers in the eyes of the
government, and they had been repeatedly driven out.
George H. Catlin, artist and historian, had foreseen the
oncoming rush of settlers, and after a visit to the Des Moines
River Valley had written in prophetic vein:
march of our growing population to this vast garden spot will
surely come in surging columns and spread farms, houses,
orchards, towns and cities over all these remote wild
prairies. Half a century hence the sun Is sure to shine upon
countless villages, silvered spires and domes, denoting the
march of intellect, and wealth's refinements, In this
beautiful and. far off solitude of the West.
later the first census of Wisconsin Territory gave the two
Iowa counties a population of 10,531. Two years later, in
1838, a census taken in May, showed a total of 22,859
inhabitants west of the river. The population had doubled. In
two years more, 43,000 people had settled in the Iowa country.
Between 1840 and 1850, 150,000 moved to Iowa and the next
decade saw a tide of immigrants that "was to sweep over the
waste places of the State and to inundate the valleys and
hills with more than sufficient human energy to build up a
Commonwealth of the first rank".
allurements drew this flood of people from their far off homes
in Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania or the nearer regions of
Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois 7 At an earlier date her
supply of furs had lured the hardy frontiersman and trapper to
the Iowa land. Then her veins of lead, with the promise of
quick wealth in the hills and bluffs about Dubuque, drew their
quota of adventurers. But the fame of Iowa's bountiful land
constituted the principal attraction for the pioneer.
Speculators docked to land offices hoping to enter claims and
to re-sell at a profit; mechanics expecting to ply their trade
joined the throng; and homeseekers planning to obtain fertile
acres at a low price made the migratory movement an annually
increasing one. There came glowing reports of bountiful crops.
News that game was plentiful and that the rivers swarmed with
fish was sent back in letters to the old home and, published
perhaps in the village paper, furnished to friends and
relatives the impetus to make the Journey.
immigrants to Iowa could come in one of three ways: by boat
over the available water routes, by wagon over roads and
trails and in part over trackless country, or by a combination
of the two. As the railroads crawled westward they came to be
used more and more by the newcomers, but even to the end of
the migratory period the Lake route, the Ohio Mississippi
waterway, and the overland trails provided a way of transit to
many of the movers.
follow the fortunes of two families, one from New York, the
other from Pennsylvania, setting out for Iowa by the water
route in 1840. One has come to Buffalo by the Erie Canal,
passing through Utica, Rochester, and Lockport. Here father,
mother, and the children embark on the steamboat
"Constellation" bound from Buffalo to Chicago. On one corner
of the deck they pile their few possessions. Soon the corner
is a promiscuous heap of chairs, pots, kettles, and bedding.
Nearby, an emigrant family from central Europe is sitting on a
pile of strange looking farm implements and large chests. They
are on their way to Wisconsin. A party of English gentlemen
from Canada on their way to a hunting expedition in the West
comes on board. Tourists for pleasure, and speculators going
out to inspect land they have bought but have not seen, swell
the passenger list.
gets under way. It hugs the shore, gliding swiftly along past
low green wooded banks and hills on one side, by the
wind-tossed waves of Lake Erie on the other, to Dunkirk,
forty-five miles from Buffalo. To Erie next, thence on past
Conneaut, Ashtabula, and Fairport to Cleveland, the boat plows
its way—about one hundred and ninety miles in a day and a
half. Here the travelers to Iowa disembark to take the Ohio
canal to Portsmouth.
Let us turn
our attention now to the Pennsylvania farmer who has decided
to go West. He holds a sale, then hires a neighbor to take him
and his family with a few household goods to Pittsburgh They
engage passage on the steamboat "Monsoon" bound for St. Louis.
They go on board and pile their belongings at the end of the
lowest deck near the bow. Both ends of this deck are piled
high with freight and the possessions of those who can not
afford to pay the cabin fare.
mother settle down to rest and await the start, but the twelve
year old son begins an investigation of the boat. He ascends a
stairway to the deck above and finds a narrow piazza from
which doors enter the cabins. At the rear of this deck he
locates the ladies' cabin with staterooms grouped around it,
in the center he finds the dining-room surrounded by the
cabins for gentlemen, forward he discovers the barroom with
space in front where the men can smoke and chat. He climbs
another stairway to the hurricane deck, above which rise the
twin smokestacks and the hissing steam pipe. Descending to the
middle deck he notices a sign containing the rules of the
boat. Among them, four read somewhat as follows:
shall go to table without his coat.
No gentleman must pencil-work or
otherwise injure the furniture.
No gentleman shall lie down on a
berth with his boots on.
No gentleman shall enter the ladies
saloon without permission from them.
below to rejoin the family and to enjoy the confusion of
sights and sounds as the boat prepares to get under way. Drays
rattle over the wharf, discordant cries of the workmen loading
a late consignment of freight mingle with the river songs of
the negro boatmen. The hoarse puffing and panting of the
high-pressure engine adds to the general din. Finally the
boatmen loose the moorings, the steamer slowly wheels around
to start downstream on its twelve hundred mile journey.
stop is made at Wheeling, ninety-five miles distant, to load
and unload freight. Here, immigrants from Maryland and
Virginia, westward bound, come on board. Thence the steamer
follows the winding channel of the river past tiny islands,
between shores lined with fields of grain, with alternating
hills and gloomy woods to Marietta, eighty-three miles below
Wheeling. Then on past the villages of Belpre and Gallipolis,
stopping perhaps at one or the other to replenish the wood
supply for the firebox, the "Monsoon" comes to Portsmouth on
the Ohio shore. Here our New York immigrant and his family
whom we left at Cleveland embark for St. Louis.
Cincinnati, to Madison, and to Louisville the boat steadily
makes its way. Here it enters a canal to avoid the rapids,
returning to the waters of the Ohio at the small town of
Shipping Port. It leaves Fredonia, Rockport, Evansville,
Golconda, and Paducah in its wake. Halts at these towns to
leave or take on freight, or to purchase cordwood at the wood
yards, allow the passengers to take a stroll and the
immigrants to renew their supply of food.
plows on. Far removed from the heat of the fires and boilers,
from the chatter of the deck passengers or the jar of the
engines a group of travelers sit for hours on the upper deck
watching the rush of steam from the pipe above their heads and
the passing panorama of bluffs and hills, of prairies and of
groves of beech, walnut, oak, and maple. A returning steamer,
the "Ione", comes in view. The bells of both boats ring out in
salutation. Cairo appears in the distance, and the boat,
leaving the glassy waters of the Ohio, turns its prow upstream
on the turbid bosom of the Mississippi.
Up the long
irregular sweeps of this river to Cape Girardeau, Chester, and
St. Genevieve the journey continues. Herculaneum with its high
shot tower and Jefferson Barracks on its limestone bluff are
reached and passed. St. Louis comes into view.
Iowa-bound travelers take passage on a smaller boat for the
north. A month has passed since they set out from Buffalo and
Pittsburgh. They move upstream past long stretches of prairie
land; they reach Iowa, they stop at the landing at Burlington.
A motley crowd disembarks—our two farmer families and others
eager to push on to a new home, mechanics with their tools and
personal effects expecting to find steady employment, the
trader with goods for the frontier trade, the speculator with
his money, and the visitor who will return to write about the
Turn now to
the journey of the overland pioneer. Although many used the
water routes to Iowa, travel by wagon predominated. Of this
migration, John B. Newhall, Iowa's early press agent, has left
a clear picture.
The "flood-gates" of emigration were
now opened, and scarcely had the "Red Man" set his footsteps
in the order of march, toward the "setting sun", ere the
settler began to cross the Mississippi with his flocks and
herds, to make a "new home" on the fertile plains of Iowa. . .
. The writer of these pages, frequently having occasion to
traverse the great thoroughfares of Illinois and Indiana, in
the years of 1836-7, the roads were literally lined with the
long blue wagons of the emigrant slowly wending their way over
the broad prairies—the cattle and hogs, men and dogs, and
frequently women and children, forming the rear of the
van—often ten, twenty, and thirty wagons in company. Ask them,
when and where you would, their destination was the "Black
start of the journey. An Ohio farmer sells his farm and stock.
He builds a frame on the wagon box and covers the bows with
canvas to protect the inmates from the sun and rain. He loads
in a few household goods. His horses are hitched, or the oxen
yoked. Sad farewells to friends are made. The family is stowed
away inside, the cow is tied behind. He mounts to the driver's
seat, cracks his whip and the wagon rolls down the road. High
are the hopes of the group as they start: visions of a new
home and big crops cheer them on their way.
At sunset a
halt for the night is made by the road weary travelers.
Newhall has left a picture of such a stop. I well
remember, one beautiful autumnal evening in 1836, crossing the
"Military Tract" in Illinois. The last rays of the sun was
gilding the tree tops and shedding its mellow tints upon the
fleecy clouds, as my horse turned the short angle of a
neighboring "thicket", I encountered a settler "camped" for
the night.... The "old lady" had just built her "camp fire"
and was busily engaged in frying prairie chickens, which the
unerring rifle of her boy had brought to the ground; one of
the girls was milking a brindle cow, and that tall girl
yonder, with swarthy arms and yellow sun-bonnet, is nailing
the coffee mill on the side of a scrub oak which the little
boy had "blazed" with his hatchet. There sat the old man on a
log, quietly shaving himself by a six-penny looking-glass,
which he had tacked to a neighboring tree. And yonder old
decrepit man, sitting on a low rush bottomed chair, is the
aged grandsire of all; better that his bones be left by the
way-side than that he be left behind among strangers. He sits
quietly smoking his pipe with all the serenity of a
patriarch—apparently as ready to shuffle off this "mortal
coil" that very night, as to sit down to his prairie chicken
They go to bed as soon as it grows
dark. Early in the morning they are up and on their way again.
Slowly they move on day by day, week by week. They join others
bound the same way. They travel together. At times heavy rains
make the road bottomless and the wheels mire down till broken
traces halt the caravan. Wagons are unloaded and all help in
extricating them. Sometimes a stop is made overnight at a
tavern along the way. Ohio and Indiana have been left behind,
the canvas-topped wagons roll across Illinois. They reach Rock
Island and across the river the travelers see a gateway to the
land of their dreams.
into a large encampment, each family awaiting its turn to be
ferried over in the order of arrival at the camp. Our Ohio
farmer is next. He drives his oxen on board the flat-boat, a
huge barge like affair propelled and steered by long sweeps.
The current carries barge and all downstream and it must be
towed back to the landing on the Iowa side. He drives on
shore. He has reached Iowa.
came, the pioneers, to the land of their vision. They crossed
the river at the points where cities grew up on the Iowa
shore, at Dubuque, Davenport, Muscatine, Burlington, and
Keokuk. The man-propelled flat-boat gave way to the horse
ferry, and it, in turn, to the ferry propelled by steam, and
each was taxed to capacity by the oncoming horde. The way to
Iowa was open.