IDA COUNTY HISTORY
On January 15, 1851, the Iowa Legislature
created nineteen new counties in Western Iowa, Ida being among them. No further action was
taken until 1853, when authority was given to organize Woodbury and attach Ida to it for
revenue, election and judicial purposes. At this time there were no permanent settlers in
Robert Townsley built a cabin at the Grove, and the Ed Smith family
lived in a small log house near what is now the north end of Moorehead Avenue. Smith was a
typical frontiersman and could speak the Indian language. While living here, their girl
baby was born and given the name Ida. She was the first white child born in Ida County.
The family soon moved to Woodbury County and founded the Village of Smithland. About this
time, Samuel King settled a mile down the valley and broke a few acres of prairie bottom.
These families proved to be but transient settlers. The first permanent settlers were the
families of Ebenezer Comstock, who came from Michigan, in May, and John H. Moorehead, from
Ohio, June 16, 1856.
Ida County was organized in 1858. The first election was held in the Moorehead home
in August, 1858, when the following officers were elected: John H. Moorehead, county
judge: J. S. Loveland, treasurer and recorder, and Bushrod Warren, clerk.
At this time the population of the county was about forty. The county was
originally divided into four townships and named by the first county officers, Douglas,
Silver Creek, Corwin and Maple, each comprising three civil townships. On June 27, 1877, Griggs
Township was detached from Douglas, Galva and Logan from Silver Creek, and Hayes from
Corwin. On June 6, 1878, Battle Creek was detached from Maple, and January 4, 1881, Garfield
was detached from Maple.
The following is a copy of the report made by the commissioners after locating the
In accordance with the directions of
His Honor, A. W. Hubbard, as given by commission dated October 15, 1860,
We, T. J. Stone, Richard Stebbins and E. Criss, have this day located the
County Seat (of Ida County) on the east half of the Northwest Quarter of Section
Fifteen, Township Eighty-seven, Range Forty, West, 5 P. M.
(Signed) Richard Stebbins.
T. J. Stone.
Dated Ida, Dec. 17, 1860.
The first postoffice and the only one in the
county for many years was in Judge Mooreheads house, which also served as a
courthouse and a tavern. John H. Moorehead was appointed postmaster, July 21, 1857. The
name of the office was Ida. Notice of appointment and key to open mail bags were sent by
John Oakford, chief clerk.
The name Ida was given by the surveyors who ran the township lines in 1850. This
party camped on the high ridge six miles east of Ida Grove, on what is now the John Jones
farm. From here they saw camp fires on the high hill west of Ida Grove. These fires were
so constant and visible all night that they suggested to the engineer the vestal fires of
Mount Ida in Greece and he called it Mount Ida. The Judge Moorehead bought land and
located here. Mrs. Moorehead, who was from Virginia and accustomed to having country homes
bear a name, called her new home Ida Grove. The name was so fitting to the home built in
the protective fringe of great walnut and oak trees that travelers all remembered it as
Ida Grove, though the post office was known as Ida until the railway was built. The
present town of Ida Grove was platted in 1877 and given its name in compliance with Mrs.
John H. Moorehead and family of four children arrived in Ida County June 16, 1856,
and from then on, for many years, the history of Ida County centers around their home.
They came with a three-seated carriage drawn by horses, and two wagons drawn each by two
yoke of oxen. With the family came Mrs. Mary A. Goode, Mrs. Mooreheads mother; a
girl, Mary Mercer, better known as Mary Bohemia, from her nationality; and three workmen.
As this small caravan came over the hills and down into the valley, they beheld a
scene of unusual beauty. It was one of those delightful evenings in June; the unending
mantle of green grass was broken only by the Smith cabin, and this, having a dirt roof
planted to bright flowers, was scarcely noticeable but for the white wood smoke that
curled from the stick chimney and carried the odor of cooking to the new arrivals. As they
approached the river and the sun sank behind the grove, a drove of deer assembled on the
crest of the hill and stamped their feet impatiently at the invaders.
Great maple trees skirted the river and from their branches innumerable and
vari-colored birds, half tame, filled the air with their chirp. Wild ducks and geese
lazily swam in the river, the water of which was so clear that schools of fish could be
seen on the hard, clean sandy bottom. The family occupied the Townsend shack which was
built at the foot of the hill where the Timber Creek flows into the Maple. A comfortable
log house was then built where the Moorehead house now stands. This house had upper rooms,
and portholes were cut in the logs on all sides for defense against possible Indian
attacks. Giles Cooke Moorehead was born in this house, November 2, 1856, and was the first
white boy born in the county.
The winter of 1856 and 57 was the coldest ever known in Iowa. The snow was so
deep that travel was suspended. A Doctor Benine and his wife, who had been traveling for
his health, attempted to get East from Sioux City, but finding the snow too deep for the
buggy, they abandoned the conveyance and rode horseback to the Moorehead home, which now
was known as Ida Grove, and here put up for the winter.
Mr. Moorehead had sent two ox-teams to Council Bluffs for provisions, but owing to
the early snows, their return had been delayed. Finally the men returned on snow shoes and
stated that they had gotten the wagons to near where the town of Schleswig is now located.
All hands turned out to bring in the much-needed provisions, and after a hard and tedious
trip they reached home, but the exposure had told on the men. Two of them suffered badly
frozen hands and one his feet. All these cases required amputations and the doctor now
came in handy. With a butcher knife and hand saw, he successfully performed the first
surgical operation in the county. Other travelers came and stayed that winter, and a
family of twenty lived in the new log house.
The next spring, 1857, Mr. Moorehead built a dam across the river where Kings
Mill was located years afterward. He put in a sawmill and burrs to grind corn. The work
had been completed a short time, some lumber sawed and meal ground, when a big flood came
and carried the mill miles down the river. It was not rebuilt.
In the late fall of 1857, a messenger arrived from Smithland notifying the settlers
of an Indian raid. The few families were gathered into wagons and driven to Deloit, thirty
miles distant, for safety. No depredations were committed and the families returned in a
In 1859 a town site was surveyed and lots staked out on the level land just west of
Ida Grove. No houses were built, the town site having been laid out in anticipation of the
railroad being built down the Maple Valley. However, the privilege of building down the Boyer
Valley and at the same time a grant of all the land in Ida County that had not been bought
by the early settlers. This act took out of the market practically the entire county and
the few families settled down to living by themselves without much prospect of additions
being made to their numbers for an indefinite future.
They found game abundant, the elk being as plentiful as cattle are here today. At
one time when floating ice filled the river, the elk traveling north, gathered on the land
now covered by Ida Grove in such numbers that they covered the ground and extended south
as far as could be seen by the settlers across the river. Deer were plentiful. Mary Bohemia,
who came with the Mooreheads, caught one in their front yard in a snowdrift and killed it
with a knife. Wild turkeys were abundant and were caught in rail pens constructed for the
purpose. Prairie chickens were almost tame and were trapped and shot at pleasure. Quail
were almost as abundant as sparrows today. The cool, clear waters of the Maple River were
filled with pickerel, catfish and red horse. Ducks, geese, curlews and sandhill cranes
rested in the ponds and bayous, and in their spring and fall flights literally covered the
water. The crane could be domesticated, and Judge Moorehead had one for a pet. It stood
about four feet high and would follow a wagon like a dog. It would enter the house and eat
from the cupboard, to the great annoyance of the family.
Trapping was a favorite sport. Beavers were so numerous that they had dams across
the river and Odebolt Creek wherever the opportunity was offered to build one. Otter and
mink were plentiful; muskrat houses were as numerous on the low ground west of the Village
of Ida as cornshocks are today. Wildcats infested the timber and annoyed the settlers.
Panthers and lynx would gather about the house when an elk or deer had been brought in.
Wolves in small packs preyed upon the poultry and small animals.
Bands of Indians came and went constantly, a favorite camping ground being under
the great elm tree, the largest in the valley, a mile up under the river near the
Trains of covered wagons now began to pass through the county on their way to the Missouri
Valley and Dakota. These needed grain, hay and provisions, and the settlers found a market
for all they could produce. The mail was carried by chance travelers. Groceries and dry
goods were bought at Fort Dodge and Sioux City.
Then, as now, the education of the children was uppermost in the minds of the
settlers. Miss Van Arsdall was employed to teach the first school in Judge
Mooreheads home. Here she met William J. Wagoner. They were married and settled in
the grove near what is now the Russell home. In 1861 a schoolhouse was built on the
hillside above the mill dam. Miss Flora Atwood, from Ohio, was employed as teacher, and
following the example of her predecessor, married the young express agent on the stage
coach, William Marsh. This was the third marriage in the county. The first was Mary Bohemias
to Henry Cleveland, the ceremony being performed bye Squire Comstock in 1860
The first minister was Rev. Landon Taylor, a presiding elder of the M. E. Church,
who made occasional stops. The first death in the settlement was that of Mrs. Hart Warn,
in 1862. She lived on what is known as the old Smith ranch below the Catholic Cemetery.
Her remains were buried on the hillside west of the Moorehead home. Later, Mrs. E.
Comstock died and was buried near her. A monument marks the grave, the remains never
having been removed. Mrs. Comstock is spoken of by all the early settlers as a woman of
An occasional addition was made to the settlement by the arrival of a new family,
and young adventurers seeking their fortunes came to the county. Among these young men who
remained here were Peter Lloyd, S. V. Carr and T. S. Snell, all of them becoming prominent
and helpful in developing the county.
During these years, trains of emigrants traveled the old Fort Dodge and Sioux City
road that passed by the Moorehead home and skirted to the edge of the timber. Many
soldiers passed through to protect the Dakota frontier. In 1863, a company of twelve
soldiers and two officers under the command of Sergeant Lyman were stationed near where
the Kings Mill stood.
On April 8, 1871, the village of Ida was laid out by Judge Moorehead, W. J. Wagoner
and Charles Hathaway. Isaac Bunn built the first house on the southeast corner of the
The Ida County Pioneer was established in 1872, by W. P. Evans, and later purchased
by George T. Williams. Matt M. Gray came the next year and was the first attorney. Dr. F.
B. Seeber located about the same time, and in 1877 took in as partner, Dr. E. C. Heilman.
Noah Williams opened a bank in 1876. The Maple Valley Era was founded by C. N. Clark in
In 1877, the Maple Valley branch of the Chicago & North Western Railway was
built and the Town of Ida Grove laid out. The influx of settlers was then phenomenal and
in five years practically every acre of land was bought from the railroad company, the
purchase price varying from $5 to $15 per acre.
Frank Teal bought a farm just north of the present Town of Battle Creek in 1868,
and built a house near the present Wolcott home on the valley road leading to Mapleton. A
little later, a man by the name of Knott put up a building on the road near the Teal home
and opened a wayside store.
Henry Durst, a real miller, had started the construction of a water mill where the Battle
Creek joins the Maple River. This settlement was called Willow Dale, on account of the
abundant growth of willows fringing the stream. Soon Romeo Campbell located up the stream.
Chris Lund and the Warnock family built south of the river. Thomas Crane came with a big
family of boys. Willow Dale was made a post office; then came the railroad. The present
Town of Battle Creek was platted in 1877 and given its name form the stream, Battle Creek,
that winds about the foot of Battle Hill, an historic high ridge where a battle was fought
by a troop of cavalry accompanying a surveying party, about 1850, with a band of Indians.
In 1882, the Kingsley branch of the
North Western Railway was built across the northern part of the county, adding the fifth
finger to the hand that grasped this part of Iowa. The Town of Galva was located in
October, and Holstein in November, 1882. Galva was named by Sam Eldridge, who came from Galva,
Illinois. The Town of Galva was an Aladdin product; saloons were a prominent factor. A man
by the name of Oldenburg was killed in a saloon row, and with his remains the cemetery was
started. In a few years, a number of families living near moved into town, entered into
business and set the pace for Galva society that yet makes it distinctive. Among these
were the Crowleys, Coles, Clapsaddles, Davises, Whealens, Ackerts, Lanks, Newlands, and
Crees. These families all possessed unusual personalities, were educated, refined, social,
religious, and enterprising. If you knew them, you knew Galva.
Holstein was named from the former nationality of the farmers in this part of the
county. Scott and Cedar County Germans had come a few years before and bought up this
section, covering more than a township, for their children. All these German farmers spoke
their native language. They lived to themselves, were industrious, thrifty and
law-abiding. When the town was started, there was a wild rush for saloon sites and fevered
haste to build dance pavilions and a Turners hall. One saloon boasted of having the
longest bar in Iowa. Charles Wohlenberg was the first banker. John Greves, Henry vonDohren
and Doctor Walker opened stores. Dr. J. C. Edgar was the pioneer physician, Dr. George
Crane coming a little later. Frank Hutton, a young printer, started the Holstein Advance,
a paper destined to direct the political thought of this section.
Blaine Township settlers came with the building of the railroad. They were mostly
from eastern states. One family, the Loves, were from North Carolina. George Ellis, Miles
Rees, E. Churchill, Ralph Gaylord, Adam Miller, Sam Arthur, Fred Bruecker, Gay E.
Clifford, J. J. Smith, John Waugh, John Hoaglund and the Hemers were among the first. A.
M. Jacob bought a mile west of the present Town of Arthur. Roads were bad in the early
days and a demand grew for a post office and Mr. Jacob was appointed by Congressman
Struble, and the name Struble given to the office. Later, this was found to be a
duplication and the name Arthur was selected, in honor of President Arthur, then in
In 1885, the Town of Arthur was platted and the name Arthur given it on account of
the nearby post office. At first the town grew slowly, then it was found that popcorn did
exceedingly well in this locality. Buyers began to contract with farmers at from $1 to $2
a hundred for what they could raise. It proved profitable and soon mammoth cribs and
elevators were required to care for the corn. The town grew rapidly and is now known as
the popcorn center of the world.
The present population of Ida County is 11,618; 5,042 live in the five towns of Ida
Grove, Holstein, Battle Creek, Galva and Arthur. The population of Ida Grove is 2,020; of Holstein,
1,248. There are in the country 1,438 farms averaging 189 acres to the farm; 513 farms are
occupied by owners; 870 by renters and 55 both own and rent. In 1925 there was 103,015
acres planted to corn, producing 4,388,439 bushels; 10,447 acres was planted to popcorn,
producing 19,568,410 pounds.