Mills County, Iowa

1881 Mills County History

With regard to the origin of the division of individual states into county and township organizations, which in an important measure should have the power and opportunity of their own business and governing themselves, under the approval of, and subject to the state and general government of which they each formed a part, we quote from Elijah M. Haines, who is considered good authority on the subject.

In his Laws of Illinois, Relative to Township Organizations,” he says the county system “Originated with Virginia, whose early settlers Soon became large-landed proprietors, aristocratic in feeling, living apart in almost baronial magnificence on their own estates and owning the laboring part of the population. Thus the materials for a town were not at hand, the voters being thinly distributed over a great area.

"The county organization, where a few influential men man aged the whole business of the community, retaining their places almost at their pleasure, Scarcely responsible at all, except in name, and permitted to conduct the county concerns as their ideas or wishes might direct, was moreover consonant with their recollections or traditions of the judicial and social dignities of the landed aristocracy of England, in descent from whom the Virginia gentlemen felt so much pride. In 1723 eight counties were organized in Virginia, and the system extending throughout the state, spread into all the southern states, and some of the northern states; unless we except the nearly similar division into ‘ districts' in South Carolina, and that into ‘ parishes ‘in Louisiana, from the French laws.

“Illinois, which with its vast additional territory, became a county of Virginia, on its conquest by Gen. George Rogers Clark, retained the county organization, which was formally extended over the state by the constitution of 1848. Under this system, as in other states adopting it, most local business was transacted by those commissioners in each county, who constituted a county court, with quarterly sessions.

"During the period ending with the constitution of 1847, a large portion of the slate had become filled with a population of New England birth or character, daily growing more and more compact and dissatisfied with the comparatively arbitrary and inefficient county system. It was maintained by the people that the heavily populated districts would always control the election of time commissioners to the disadvantage of the more thinly populated sections—in short that under that system, ‘equal and exact justice’ to all parts of the county could not be secured. The township system had its origin in Massachusetts, and dates back to 1635. The first legal enactment concerning this system provided that, 'whereas, particular towns have many things which concern only themselves, and the ordering of their own affairs, and disposing of business in their own town,’ therefore, the freemen of every town, or the majority part of them, shall only have power to dispose of their own lands and woods, with all the appurtenances of said town, to grant lots, and to make such orders as may concern the well-ordering of their own towns, not repugnant to the laws and orders established by the general court.”

“They might also (says Mr. Haines) impose fines of not more than twenty shillings, and choose their own particular officers, as constables, surveyors for the highways, and the like.’ Evidently this enactment relieved the general court of a mass of municipal details, without any danger to the power of that body in controlling general measures of public policy. Probably also a demand from the freemen of the towns was felt for the control of their own home concerns.

“The New England colonies were first governed by a general court,’ or 1egislature, composed of a governor and a small council, which court consisted of the most influential inhabitants, and possessed and exercised both legislative and judicial powers, which were limited only by the wisdom of the holders. They made laws, ordered their execution by officers, tried and decided civil and criminal cases, enacted all manner of municipal regulations, and, in fact, did all the public business of the colony. Similar provisions for the incorporation of towns were made in the first constitution of Connecticut, adopted in 1839; and the plan of township organization, as experience proved its remarkable economy, efficiency, and adaptations to the requirements of a free and intelligent people, became universal throughout New England, and went westward with the emigrants from New England into New York, Ohio, and other western stales.”

The separate organization of the county was affected by an election held on the first Monday in August, 1851. The organizing sheriff appointed by the General Assembly at its session immediately preceding was W. W. Noyes. The election resulted in the choice of William Smith, county judge; W. W. Noyes, county clerk; James Hardy, sheriff and assessor; C. W. Tolles, recorder and treasurer; L. T. Coons, prosecuting attorney; Dan Clark, school-fund commissioner; W. E. Dean, coroner, and William Spencer, surveyor. In view of the importance of this first election and the fact that little has hitherto been known concerning the county’s earlier history it has been deemed best to transcribe the certificates of election for each of the officials most prominent in its early his tory. These records had long been lost, but care in overhauling a mass of “rubbish” brought to light these valuable facts.


At an election holden in the said county, on the first Monday in August, 1851, William Smith was elected to the office of Judge of the above county for the term of four years from that day and until his successor is elected and qualified, and he has been qualified by taking the oath of office as required by law. [SEAL.] W. W. Noyes, Clerk.

Know all men by these presents:
That I, William Smith, do solemnly swear that I will truly perform the office of judge in and for the county of Mills; that I will support the constitution of the United States and that of the State of Iowa, and that without fear, favor, affection or hope of reward, I will to the best of my knowledge and ability administer justice according to the law equally to the rich and poor.

Aug. 18, 1851

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 18th day of August, 1851.
W. W. NOYES, J. P.

At an election holden in the said county on the first Monday of August, 1851, W. W Noyes* was elected to the office of clerk of the above county for the term of two years from that day, and until his successor is elected and qualified, and he was qualified by giving and taking the oath required by law.

County Judge.
Similar returns were made for C. W. Tolles, recorder and treasurer; Dan Clark, school fund commissioner and James Hardy, sheriff and assessor.

It appears from the records that Judge William Smith resigned at the expiration of his first year of service, and was succeeded by Judge Hiram P. Bennett, who was elected “on the first Monday in August, A. D. 1852, for the term of three years,” presumably to fill out the unexpired term of Judge Smith. There seems also to have been a second change in the clerk of the district court, for the election of Mr. Bennett was certified by William A.. Scott, but the certificate bears no date beyond the one mentioned as the date on which the election had been holden. Still another change occurred before the election of the following year, and Judge Bennett appointed William Snuffin to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Mr. Scott.

The various officers elected did not take possession of their respective offices—which they were supposed to have done, though each individual cared for his papers at his own residence-on the same day, nor did they qualify and present their bonds at the same date. W. W. Noyes qualified August 18, 1851, and gave bonds in the sum of five thousand dollars, with James hardy, John Sivers and Joseph W. Coolidge as bondsmen. L. T. Coon, qualified on the same day, filing a bond for five thousand dollars, with W. W. Noyes, and William Dailey, as sureties. William E. Dean qualified on that date, also, giving his bond, without security, for five thousand dollars. The next person to qualify was Dan Clark, August 23, 1851, giving a bond of ten thousand dollars, with the name of John B. Wilson, as bondsman. On the 30th of the same month James Hardy qualified, and gave his individual bond for a like amount. On the following day, the 31st, C. W. Tolles qualified and gave a bond for seven thousand five hundred dollars, with the names of Abraham Burger and Joseph W. Coolidge as securities. One other bond was filed, that of William W. Spencer, as surveyor, in the penal sum of one thousand dollars, with ‘Squire Eggleston and W. C. Matthews as bondsmen. This bond bears no date whatever. It is endorsed on the back:

This bond excepted,
County Judge.

As indeed were all of the bonds mentioned. The officers having duly taken the oath of office and filed their bond in a sufficiently large sum “as required by law,” the county was duly organized and became an independent political entity. From that day on the population and wealth of the county grew together. As the range and importance of its business increased the need of a proper depository for important papers and documents became more urgent. As has elsewhere been said, even the courts of justice had no abiding place, and it was not until 1857 that the present court-house building was erected and the county officials could be said to have a home.

The earliest records of the county court go back only to June, 1852. All prior to that seem to have been lost. The following is a literally correct copy of the very first proceeding which exists. The officers of the court were: William Smith, Judge; Achilles Rogers, Clerk; J. S. Sharp, Prosecuting Attorney, and James Hardy, Sheriff

County Court, Mills county, Iowa, June Term, A. D. l85l.
June 7—Present, William Smith, county judge, and the following proceedings were had and done as follows, to-wit:

Upon the application of James O’Neil and others for the location of a road from Plattesville, via Coonville and Lewistown, in the direction of Indiantown, it is ordered that Samuel Martin be and is hereby appointed commissioner to view and report on the propriety of said location, his services to commence on the tenth day of June, 1852, and to report within thirty days.

June 8—Ordered that Achilles Rogers be and is hereby appointed clerk of the district court for Mills county, to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of J. B. McCabe. The said Rogers having given official bond, with approved security, and taken the oath of office, entered upon the duties of his office

June 18—In the absence of the county judge the prosecuting attorney J L. Sharp, acting as county judge, it is ordered that the following named persons be summoned to act as grand jurors at the July term of the district court, to he holden at the town of Coonville on the 19th day of July, 1852, as follows, to-wit:

From West Liberty township-Benjamin Lambert, John Windom, George Liston and 0. N. Tyson.
Silver Creek township—Daniel Lewis and James McCoy.
Council Bluffs township—Daniel Hemford.
Rawles township—Wm. Kesterson, Ezekiel Lambert and Lawrence Rains,
Platteville township—Christian Clapper, ----Cobble, John Williamson and Dan Clark.

And it is further ordered that the following named persons be summoned to serve as petit grand jurors at the July term of the district court, to he holden at the town of Glenwood, on the 19th day of July, A. D. 1852, as follows, to-wit:

West Liberty township—John Chandler, Elijah Ballou, George Micklewait and Solomon Cox.
Platteville township--—Jefferson Martin, James O’Neil, David Moody and David Diffibaugh.
Rawles Township—P. A. Hooper, Jonathan Kerns, Luke Rawson and L. Anthony.
Council Bluffs township—James Blair.
Silver Creek township—L. J. Hull and A. B. Bickmore.

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