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1914 County History
Early Explorations - Preparation

The old saying, "Rome was not built in a day," applies with equal appropriateness to every political division or subdivision of the civilized countries of the world. Long before Lee County was even dreamed of, the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, started a chain of events that led to the establishment of the Republic of the United States and the division of the central portion of North America into states and counties. It is therefore deemed advisable to give a brief account of these events, in order that the reader may form some idea of the evolution of the State of Iowa and Lee County. 

In 1493, the year following the first voyage of Columbus to the New World, the pope granted to the King and Queen of Spain "all countries inhabited by infidels." At that time the extent of the continent just discovered by Columbus was not known, but, in a vague way, this papal grant included the present State of Iowa. 

Henry VII of England, in 1496, granted to John Cabot and his sons a patent of discovery, possession and trade "to all lands they may discover and lay claim to in the name of the English crown." During the next three years the Cabots explored the Atlantic Coast and made discoveries upon which England, at the close of the Fifteenth Century, claimed all the central part of North America. 

Farther northward the French, through the discoveries of Jacques Cartier, claimed the Valley of the St. Lawrence and the region about the Great Lakes, from which they pushed their explorations west- ward toward the headwaters of the Mississippi and southward into the Valley of the Ohio. 

Following the usage of nations, by which title to land was claimed by right of discovery, it is not surprising that in course of time a controversy arose among these three great European nations as to which was really the rightful possessor of the soil. The grant of the pope was strengthened in 1541-42 by the expedition of De Soto into the interior and the discovery of the Mississippi River, by which Spain claimed all the land bordering on the great river and the Gulf of Mexico. The charter granted by the English Government to the Plymouth Company in 1620 included "all the lands between the fortieth and forty-eighth parallels of north latitude from sea to sea." In 1628 the Massachusetts Bay Company received a charter from the English authorities that included a strip about one hundred miles wide through the central part of Iowa. The northern boundary line of. this grant crossed the Mississippi not far from the present city of Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. Thus Iowa, or at least a portion of it, was claimed by both England and Spain "by right of discovery." No efforts were made by either nation, however, to extend their explorations into the interior, the English being content with the colonies established in Virginia and New England, while the Spaniards were so intent on discovering rich gold or silver mines that they made no attempt to found permanent settlements. 

As early as 161 1 Jesuit missionaries from the French settlements in Canada were among the Indians along the shores of Lakes Michigan and Superior. In 1634 J ean Nicollet passed still farther to the westward and reached the country about the Fox River in Wisconsin. In the fall of 1665 Claude Allouez, one of the most zealous of the Jesuit fathers, held a council with representatives of several of the leading western Indian tribes at the Chippewa Village on the southern shore of Lake Superior. At this council were chiefs of the Chippewa, Sioux, Sacs, Foxes, Pottawatomi and Illini. Allouez promised the Indians the protection of the great French father and thus opened the way for a profitable trade with the natives. At the council some of the Sioux and Illini chiefs told the missionary of a great river farther to the westward, "called by them the Me-sa-sip-pi, which they said no white man had yet seen, and along which fur bearing animals abounded." 

In 1668 Allouez and another missionary, named Claude Dablon, founded the mission of St. Mary's, the oldest white settlement within the present State of Michigan. The accounts of the region carried back by Nicollet and the missionaries led the French authorities in Canada to send Nicholas Perrot as the accredited agent of the Government to arrange for a grand council with the Indians. The council was held at St. Mary's in May, 1671, and before the close of that year Jacques Marquette, another Jesuit missionary, founded the mission among the Huron Indians at Point St. Ignace, which mission was for many years regarded as the key to the great unexplored West. 

Marquette had heard the reports concerning the great river and was filled with a desire to discover it, but was deterred from doing so until after Perrot's council, which resulted in the establishment of friendly relations between the French and Indians. In the spring of 1673, having received authority from the Canadian officials, he began his preparations at Michilimackinac for the voyage. It is said the friendly Indians there tried to dissuade him from his undertaking by telling him that the Indians along the great river were cruel and vindictive, and that the river itself was the abode of terrible monsters that could swallow both canoes and men. 

Such stories had no effect upon the intrepid priest, unless it was to make him more determined, and on May 13, 1673, accompanied by Louis Joliet, an explorer and trader, and five voyageurs, or boat- men, in two large canoes, the little expedition left Michilimackinac. Passing up Green Bay to the mouth of the Fox River, he ascended that stream, crossed the portage to the Wisconsin River, floated down that river and on June 17, 1673, first saw the Mississippi, opposite the present town of McGregor, Iowa. Turning their canoes southward, they descended the Mississippi, carefully noting the landmarks as they passed along. On the 25th they landed on the west bank, "sixty leagues below the mouth of the Wisconsin River," where they noticed footprints in the soft earth. Sixty leagues from the mouth of the Wisconsin would throw this landing somewhere near the present town of Montrose, in Lee County. This is the earliest account of any white men having been within the present State of Iowa. 

Leaving the five boatmen to guard the canoes and supplies, Marquette and Joliet followed the trail westward until they came to an Indian village, and noted two other villages in the vicinity. They were received with hospitality and a dinner of four courses was served. The first course consisted of a stew of coarse corn meal, cooked in oil, which the Indians called "tagamity"; the second course was of fish, which the visitors enjoyed; the third was of roast dog, but this the Frenchmen declined and it was taken out, and the fourth was roast buffalo, cooked in a way that rendered it quite palatable. After dinner the calumet, or pipe of peace, was tendered to the visitors. 

Marquette and Joliet remained for several days among the Indians, who were a part of the great Illini tribe or nation. They informed Marquette and Joliet that the name of their village was Moingona and that the river upon which it was built bore the same name. Some authorities state that the explorers went back from the Mississippi a distance of six miles to the Indian village, but it was probably farther, as nowhere does the Des Moines (Moingona) River run within six miles of Montrose. At the conclusion of their visit, they were accompanied back to their canoes by the chiefs and a large party of warriors, who watched them reembark for the continuance of their voyage down the river. One of the chiefs, on behalf of the band, presented Marquette with a finely decorated calumet as a token of the good wishes of the tribe. The explorers then descended the river to the mouth of the Arkansas. There they came to some Indians whose language they could not understand and returned to Canada. 

In 1678 Louis XIV, then King of France, granted to Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, a patent to explore the western part of New France. After several unsuccessful attempts to reach and descend the great river to its mouth, La Salle finally carried out his purpose, and on April 9, 1682, at the mouth of the Mississippi, claimed all the territory drained by that river and its tributaries, to which region he gave the name of Louisiana, in honor of the French king. This claim was afterward acknowledged by other European nations and Iowa became recognized as part of the French possessions in the New World. 

On April 8, 1689, Nicholas Perrot took formal possession of the upper Mississippi Valley in the name of France and built a fort and trading post on a river, to which he gave the name of St. Nicholas. Eleven years later Le Sueur went up the river seeking lead mines, which Indian traditions said existed somewhere along the river, but it was not until many years afterward that the mines were discovered by white men. Thus matters stood at the close of the Seventeenth Century. 

During the next century the frontier of civilization was pushed gradually westward. The Hudson's Bay Company had been organized by the English in 1667 and its trappers and traders went into all parts of the interior in spite of the French claim to the territory. In 171 2 the French Government granted to Antoine Crozat a charter fixing his control of the trade of Louisiana. Crozat, who was a wealthy merchant of Paris, sent agents to America, but found the Spanish ports on the Gulf of Mexico closed to his vessels, because Spain, while recognizing the claim of France to the Territory of Louisiana, was jealous of French ambitions. At the end of five years Crozat surrendered his charter and was succeeded by John Law, who organized the Mississippi Company as a branch of the Bank of France. Law sent some eight hundred colonists to Louisiana in 1718 and the next year Philipe Renault went up the Mississippi to the Illinois country with about two hundred more, the intention being to estab- lish posts and open up a trade with the Indians. In 1720 Law's whole scheme collapsed. It has become known in history as the "Mississippi Bubble." On April 10, 1732, he surrendered his charter and Louisiana again became subject to the jurisdiction of the French Government. 

In the meantime the English traders had been extending their operations into French territory and in 171 2 incited the Fox Indians to hostilities against the French. The first open conflict between the English and French did not come, however, until in 1753, when the latter nation began building a line of forts from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River to prevent the English from extending their settlements west of the Allegheny Mountains. The territory upon which these forts were built was claimed by Virginia and Governor Dinwiddie of that colony sent George Washington, then just turned twenty-one, to demand of the French commandant an explanation for this invasion of English domain while the nations were at peace. The reply was insolent and the following year Washington; with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, was again sent into the disputed territory. This time he was furnished with a detachment of troops and instructed "to complete the fort already commenced by the Ohio Company at the forks of the Ohio, and to capture, kill or drive out all who attempted to interfere with the English posts. This incident aroused the indignation of France and in May, 1756, that nation formally declared war against Great Britain. The conflict that followed, known as the "French and Indian War," kept the American colonies of both nations and Indian tribes in a state of turmoil for several years. 

On November 3, 1762, the French and Indian war was concluded by the preliminary treaty of Fontainebleau, by which France ceded all that part of Louisiana lying east of the Mississippi River, except the city and island of New Orleans, to Great Britain. The treaty was ratified by the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763, and on the same day it was announced that, by an agreement previously made in secret, all that portion of Louisiana lying west of the Mississippi, "including the whole country to the head waters of the great river and west to the Rocky Mountains," was ceded to Spain. By this treaty the jurisdiction of France in America was brought to an end and Iowa became a part of the Spanish possessions. The French inhabitants became Spanish subjects, though many of them remained in the province and took an active part in business affairs. About the time the transfer was made to Spain, a fur company was organized in New Orleans to trade between the Upper Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. Pierre Laclede, one of the projectors of this company, laid out the City of St. Louis, Missouri — its representatives were operating in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. 

Independent English trappers and traders also visited the upper valley about 1766, and some writers think they traded with the Iowa Indians. They operated without the sanction and support of the English colonial authorities and were not always strictly within the limits of the law in their transactions. This was the beginning of the Northwest Fur Company, which a few years later contested with the French traders for the patronage of the Indians of the Northwest. 

Then came the American Revolution, which again changed the map of Central North America. At the close of the French and Indian war, many of the people living east of the Mississippi refused to acknowledge allegiance to Great Britain and removed to the west side of the river. Shortly after the beginning of the Revolutionary war a number of them recrossed the river and allied themselves with the colonists in the struggle for independence. The British had established several military posts in the territory acquired from France, the most important of which were the ones at Vincennes, Indiana, and Kaskaskia and Cahokia, Illinois. In 1778 the Virginia Legislature authorized an expedition under Gen. George Rogers Clark for the reduction of these posts, and by Clark's conquest of the North- west the western boundary of the United States was fixed at the Mississippi River by the Treaty of 1783, which ended the Revolutionary war and established the independence of the American Re- public. 

It was not long until the new nation became involved in a controversy with the Spanish authorities in Louisiana over the free navigation of the Mississippi. The final settlement of this question had a direct and important influence on the region now comprising the State of Iowa. The great river constituted the natural outlet for the commerce of a large part of the United States, but the Spanish officials established posts along the river and every boat descending the stream was forced to land at these posts and submit to arbitrary revenue duties. This was not only humiliating to the American merchants, but it also materially decreased the profits of their trade. After much diplomatic discussion and correspondence, the vexed question was finally settled by the Treaty of Madrid, concluded on October 20, 1795, which stipulated that "the Mississippi River, from its source to the gulf, for its entire width, shall be free to American trade and commerce, and the people of the United States shall be per- mitted, for three years, to use the port of New Orleans as a port of deposit, without payment of duty." 

At the expiration of the three years the free navigation of the Mississippi again became a subject of vital interest to the people of the United States. While it was under discussion a secret treaty was negotiated between France and Spain, at San Ildefonso in the fall of 1800, by which Spain agreed to cede Louisiana back to France, under certain conditions. The terms of this treaty were made public by the Treaty of Madrid (March 21, 1801) and soon after that Rufus King, the United States minister to England, sent a copy of the treaty to President Jefferson. The transfer of the province back to France changed the whole situation and offered a favorable opportunity to secure the free navigation of the river. 

Slow progress was made, however, and on January 7, 1803, the lower house of the United States Congress adopted a resolution declaring that "It is the unalterable determination of the United States to maintain the boundaries and the rights of navigation and commerce through the Mississippi River, as established by existing treaties." Before the close of that month President Jefferson sent Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe as special envoys to Paris, to negotiate a treaty that would secure the free navigation of the great river, "not as a favor, but as a right." Livingston and Monroe were instructed to secure, if possible, the cession of New Orleans and its island to the United States. When this subject was presented to M. Talleyrand, the French prime minister, he suggested that it might be possible for the United States to acquire the entire Province of Louisiana. A few days later Livingston had an interview with Napoleon, who offered to sell all Louisiana to the United States for $25,000,000. Further negotiations followed and the purchase price was modified to $15,000,000, which was accepted by the American envoys and a treaty on this basis was concluded on the last day of April, 1803, making Iowa a part of the territory of the United States. 

The treaty was ratified by the Federal Government and on December 20, 1803, Governor Claiborne, of Mississippi, and General Wilkinson, as the commissioners of the United States, took formal possession of the territory and raised the Stars and Stripes at New Orleans. Had Livingston and Monroe adhered to their original instructions and acquired only the island and city of New Orleans, leaving all west of the Mississippi in the hands of France, what the history of Iowa might have been can only be conjectured. But to Napoleon's desire to dispose of the entire province and the fact that the envoys went beyond their instructions — which was afterward ratified by the Federal Government — Iowa owes her position as one of the states of the American Union. By that treaty the territory of this country was extended westward to the Pacific Ocean, and northward from the Gulf of Mexico to the British possessions. 

On March 26, 1804, President Jefferson approved an act of Congress authorizing the division of the newly acquired territory, and on October 1, 1804, all that portion south of the thirty-third parallel of north latitude was designated as the Territory of Orleans, that part north of the thirty-third parallel becoming the District of Louisiana, in which was included the present State of Iowa. 

During the next thirty-five years the status of Iowa was somewhat unsettled. The Northwest Territory, comprising the present states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and that part of Minnesota east of the Mississippi River, was organized in 1787. In May, 1800, it was divided and the Territory of Indiana was established, with Gen. William H. Harrison as governor. When the Province of Louisiana was divided by the act of 1804, the upper portion, or District of Louisiana, was placed under the territorial authorities of Indiana, where it remained until July 4, 1805, when it was organized as a separate territory with a government of its own. In 1812 the Territory of Orleans was admitted into the Union as the State of Louisiana and the name of the District of Louisiana was then changed to the Territory of Missouri. Upon the admission of Missouri into the Union in March, 1821, the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase, including Iowa, was left without any form of civil government. The Black Hawk Purchase was made in 1832 and the next year preliminary steps were taken by the Government for the settlement of the territory west of the Mississippi. It then became apparent that some provision must be made for the government of that section of the country. On June 28, 1834, President Jackson approved the act erecting the Territory of Michigan, which included all the territory from Lake Huron westward to the Missouri. In September of that year the territory legislature of Michigan created two counties west of the Mississippi — Dubuque and Des Moines — separated by a line running due westward from the foot of Rock Island. 

These counties were partially organized and on October 5, 1835, Gen. George W. Jones was elected a delegate to Congress from this part of the Territory of Michigan. Through his efforts and  influence, Congress passed an act, approved by President Van Buren on April 20, 1836, dividing the Territory of Michigan and creating the Territory of Wisconsin, which included the region west of the Mississippi. This act went into effect on July 4, 1836, with Gen. Henry Dodge as governor of the new territory. One of the first official acts of Governor Dodge was to order a census, when the two counties west of the Mississippi were found to have a population of 10,531. He then issued his proclamation for an election to be held on the first Monday in October, 1836, for members of the territorial legislature. 

In Des Moines County Jeremiah Smith, Jr., Joseph B. Teas and Arthur B. Ingram were elected members of the council ; Isaac Leffler, Thomas Blair, John Box, George W. Teas, Eli Reynolds, David R. Chance and Warren L. Jenkins, members of the house. The legislature met on October 26, 1836, at Belmont. During the session Des Moines County was divided into the counties of Lee, Van Buren, Henry, Muscatine and Cook, the boundaries of which were defined and provisions made for their organization. 

In the early autumn of 1837 the question of dividing the Territory of Wisconsin and establishing a separate territory west of the Mississippi began to be earnestly discussed by the people living west of the river. Late in September the following notice was circulated throughout Lee County: 

"A county meeting will be held at the house of C. L. Cope, in the Town of Fort Madison, on Saturday, the 14th of October, next, at 1 o'clock P. M., for the purpose of choosing three delegates to meet in convention at Burlington on the first Monday in November, next, to take into consideration the expediency of petitioning Congress for a division of the Territory of Wisconsin and the organization of a separate territorial government west of the Mississippi. Also the attempt being made by the State of Missouri to extend her northern boundary line, and to call the attention of Congress to the necessity of granting preemption laws to actual settlers, and for other purposes. Dated September 23, 1837." 

At the Fort Madison meeting at Mr. Cope's house, Henry Eno, Philip Viele and Hawkins Taylor were chosen as Lee County's delegates to the Burlington convention. On the appointed date delegates from the various settlements west of the Mississippi assembled at Burlington. A petition asking for the organization of a new territory west of the river was adopted without a dissenting vote. The territorial legislature, then in session, indorsed the action of the convention. In response to this expression of popular sentiment, Congress passed "An act to divide the Territory of Wisconsin, and to establish the territorial government of Iowa." President Van Buren approved the act on June 12, 1838, "to take effect and be in force from and after July 3, 1838," and appointed Robert Lucas, of Ohio, as the first territorial governor. William B. Conway, of Pennsylvania, was appointed secretary; Charles Mason, of Burlington, chief justice; Thomas S. Wilson, of Dubuque, and Joseph Wil- liams, of Pennsylvania, associate judges. 

The Territory of Iowa, as first created, included "all that part of the Territory of Wisconsin which lies west of the Mississippi River and west of a line drawn due north from the head water or sources of the Mississippi to the northern boundary of the Territory of the United States." 

On February 12, 1844, the Iowa Legislature passed an act providing for the election of delegates to a constitutional convention as a preparatory step for admission into the Union as a state. The convention assembled at Iowa City on October 7, 1844, and completed the constitution on the first day of November. When the constitution was submitted to the United States Congress, that body refused to accept the boundaries proposed by the people of Iowa, "in constitutional convention assembled," but by an act approved March 3, 1845, provisions were made for the admission of Iowa, if the act was accepted by the people of that territory. The Constitution of 1 844 was submitted to the voters of the territory at an election held on August 4, 1845, and was rejected by a vote of 7,656 to 7,235. 

On May 4, 1846, another constitutional convention met at Iowa City and completed its work on the 18th of the same month. This second constitution was ratified by the people at an election held on August 3, 1846, by a vote of 9,492 to 9,036, and on December 28, 1846, President Polk approved an act admitting Iowa into the Union as a state. Under the operations of this act Lee County became a political subdivision of one of the sovereign commonwealths of the ' American Union.

Source:  History of Lee County, Iowa, by Dr. S. W. Moorhead and Nelson C. Roberts, 1914

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