Mills County, Iowa


The financial history of the county, unfortunately, bears no direct rating of improvement as compared with its wonderful progress in other directions. Through a mistaken policy in its earlier days-some portions of which have been more than once repeated-the county has had a long and hard struggle to free itself from debt, a result not yet attained.

In the earliest report on the finances, the business covering so little ground, and the causes of the heavy drafts of later days not existing, but little effort was required to keep the books in a condition easily understood. In those days the office of treasurer resembled, in part, the New England office of itinerant collector. He not only had a business headquarters, but was obliged to call upon delinquent tax-payers in order to secure their assessment. The duties of the treasurer were therefore doubly onerous and his remuneration by no means adequate to the toil incurred. Few men sought office in those days; perhaps because the emoluments thereof were not sufficient to warrant any stenuous canvass. It was reserved for a later day and another generation to seek office for its spoils. Political contests, while excited so far as regards state or national issues, had nothing in common with them when matters of a local nature came up for suffrage. Personal vituperation and insidious attacks upon character were not then so prevalent as now. Persons were sought to fill offices, and should their duties appear onerous they were ready at once to resign. Salaries were small, and the temptation to use funds belonging to the public was stronger oftentimes than the determination to do right. Without instituting any invidious comparisons between the present county officials and those of an earlier day, it may be proper to note that the county treasury contributed more often to the funds of private individuals, than the reverse.

It became necessary, in the course of a few years, to have the financial standing of the county investigated, and the records relating thereto were subjected to a most careful and painstaking examination. In 1858 a commission, consisting of Nathan Dean and H.J. Graham, was appointed by the county court, "to examine the accounts and finances of the county." They met at the court house in Glenwood, July 7th, 1858, and made a thorough examination of such accounts and records as were available. Their report dates back to 1852. The county treasurer was C.W. Tolles. He is charged with the tax list of 1852, amounting in the aggregate to $1,127.69, for which he gave his receipt. How much of that tax there was paid is not and never can be known. When he went out of office his deficiency amounted to $106.00. His successor was Azoe Richardson, who entered upon the duties of his office in August, 1853. He is charged with $1,517.51, against which there is a credit of $970.17, leaving a deficit of $547.34. The commission reported that they were "unable to hunt up papers and receipts to make the account reconcile." This exhibit follows a like line from 1852 until 1858, the time of making the examination. In none of the settlements do debts and credits agree. The committee reported August 14, 1858, and at the conclusion of the tables of the financial exhibit, they remark:

"We have failed in many instances even to satisfy ourselves, and have come to the conclusions here presented after a protracted investigation, showing a result, we believe, as correct a s possible under the circumstances. Several causes have operated as impediments in our progress, and the protraction of our labors, and have contributed to the want of that complete success which we could have wished to have rewarded our labors. One thing is the great want of books which the county has suffered for, until a recent period, rendering it a very difficult task for the county officers to manage their affairs as they should do, and keep a clear statement of everything recorded correctly, trusting less to memory, which is very fallible and seldom to be trusted, rather than to the immediate entering of every transaction upon an enduring record. This want of books has been greatly relieved by the present incumbent, Judge E.C. Bosbyshell. "To this lack of books must be added a want of regularity and system in the entries themselves, which must invariably lead their successors, if not themselves into great confusion. And we percieve that the tax lists have been passed over to the treasurer for the last three years in a very imperfect state. We are glad to report, however, that a very great improvement has been made, and we may expect to see a much clearer exhibit in the affair of the county hereafter.

"In regard to the papers appertaining to the business of the county, many are known to be lost, and more mislaid, some of which were of great importance. The great desideratum is to have everything entered at the proper time, in the right place, and in a correct manner; to have a place for everything, and everything in its place. This will obviate the necessity of calling together another committee, or if called together will render their labors comparatively light. It is hoped that the settlement now made, establishing as it does, a tangible basis for future management, and the sufficiency of books which they now have, will enable the county officers to inaugurate a new system, and transact the county business in a correct manner and satisfactory to all."

Concerning this statement it is but due to state that deficiencies may have occurred through mere carelessness, or want of proper entry rather than that they occurred through intent to defraud the county or pilfer its treasury. No settlements often appearing the commissioners "assumed" that moneys had properly been paid and cared for, with which assumption the charitably disposed will concur.

To better exhibit the material prosperity of the county, the census tables for 1856, are herewith given. By instituting a comparison between them and the abstract of assessment for 1880, the material increase in wealth may be readily observed:

For additional details, please view.

1881 Mills County History Home Page

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