|JOHNSON COUNTY IAGenWeb Project|
Rivers Attracted Pioneers to Region
The double cabin of pioneer trader John Gilbert is seen in a depiction from the cover of the 1909 yearbook of the Old Settlers Association of Johnson County. Gilbert moved to what is now Johnson County in 1826 as an agent for the American Fur Company. His first cabin was between two American Indian towns located on and beyond what is now the southern edge of Iowa City.
Homesteaders were required to erect a cabin to claim 40 acres for $1.25 each. Cabins were enlarged and embellished as seen in this one drawn in pen and ink by noted local early 20th century photographer, author and artist Bertha Horack Shambaugh.
By Bob Hibbs
Johnson County is favored
by a river, Iowa City was bestowed upon it in 1839 and the University of Iowa
gifted to Iowa City in 1847.
Creation of an American Mid-west is rooted in Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana
Purchase from France in 1803, which in large measure
Marquette and Joliet made explorations in 1804, and Zebulon Pike traveled to
the Mississippi headwaters in 1805, giving vague
It is highly probable that Johnson County was first touched by that push in
1822 when Sumner Phelps canoed the Iowa River to
He initiated a fur trade, and in 1826 was succeeded by New Yorker John Gilbert.
Gilbert built his own trading post in 1837 and died in 1839 before he could
be told he had been named the first local postmaster.
He was eulogized by a contemporary as "a fine scholar and an excellent
businessman, a remarkable man for the position he occupied."
Gilbert had enticed Philip Clark and Eli Myers to Johnson County from a
treaty signing in Davenport in September 1836. They returned
A year later Clark established a town, which he called Napoleon, on his farm.
Although never more than a cabin and a two-story frame
Clark and Myers would be drawn to the California gold fields in 1849, where
Myers died in Sacramento in 1850. Clark returned to cast a
Before European settlement, there were three towns in what became Johnson
County, all near the river. The largest, headed by
All were Sauk (Asakiwaki, people of the yellow earth) and Fox (Meshkwahkihaki,
or Mesquakie, people of the red earth), who were
"Algonquin" comes from "alligewinenk" which means
"come together from distant places." The language is described as
An estimate published in 1883 placed the 1830s population of the Poweshiek
community at 1,700 to 2,000, a level Iowa City wouldn't
From Johnson County, Indians were forced to Fort Des Moines in 1843 and to Kansas during 1845 and 1846.
Descendants joined in repurchasing Iowa land and founding a Mesquakie
settlement in the 1880s that flourishes today on 6,000 acres
The county seat was moved from Napoleon to Iowa City on Oct. 8, 1839, with relocation of sparse records, and by law the following Dec. 31.
Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and researches history related to them.
Copyright 2003 by Bob Hibbs