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Excerpts from An Illustrated History of Monroe County, Iowa - 1896


Iowa was admitted [to the Union on] December 28, 1846. Several years prior to the admission of Iowa as a State, the Territorial Council had passed an act to organize new counties and define their boundaries, in the last cession for the Sac and Fox Indians. One new county was named Kishkekosh, subsequently re-named Monroe County [after the fifth President of the United States, James Monroe].

Kishkekosh, whose name meant "a savage biter," was a member of Black Hawk's band. Kishkekosh accompanied Black Hawk on his tour throughout the East and rapidly learned the manners and customs of the white race. Kishkekosh County was attached to Wapello County for election and judicial purposes until February 13, 1844. The first courthouse jurisdiction including Kishkekosh County was held in Ottumwa during September of 1844, but the character of the litigation was mainly disputes over claims to land.

[At that time] every person entitled to the homestead privilege was allowed a half-section of land - 160 acres in prairie and 160 acres in timber. The earliest settlers took their claims before the land was placed upon the market for homesteading, and for several years had held them by virtue of "squatter soverengnty." intending to enter the land when placed upon the market. When the land was finally opened for filing, many of the settlers did not have the funds for making the homestead entry, but continued to hold their claims. There was always someone in the county who had a little spare money with which to contest claims occupied by the "squatter." While he had this lawful right, he seldom had the effrontery to excercise it.

Necessity, the mother of invention, devised a means of protecting the "squatter's" interests. Judicial proceedings were expensive, and, even if resorted to, would have afforded no relief to the "squatter." The "Club law" was accordingly instituted by the settlers to protect themselves and their neighbors from the "claim-jumper." While it was not in strict accord with the laws of the land or the equity of indiscriminating justice, the great body of the people, in whose interests all written laws should be framed as against the opposing few, construed it as "Vox populi, vox Dei " — "The voice of the people is the voice of God."

Some brave pioneer settler would select a claim, but, being unable to make a homestead filing on it at once, would erect a "claim-pen" — i.e., a log pen sixteen feet square and four rounds high; this would hold his claim for six months, at the end of which time it was presumed he would have completed a cabin. Frequently, however, owing to sickness or other unavoidable cause of delay, he failed to erect a domicile or make the necessary improvements on his claim. Then would the "claim-jumper" attempt to take possession by moving on to the land or into the vacant domicile, in case the "squatter" had temporarily abandoned it. The captain of the "Club" was at once notified, and the entire population—for everybody belonged to the "Club" — turned out, and, marching to the usurper's stronghold, would force him to depart. Sometimes the "jumper" became defiant, and was roughly handled by the "Club," but usually he quietly acquiesced in their verdict, and vacated without protest.

While at this day the "Club-law" may seem somewhat revolutionary, yet no rule for the regulation of society has ever been placed in the statutes by a higher tribunal than that of the sturdy pioneers of Monroe and other counties in their struggles in the wilderness to support and provide a home for themselves, their wives and their little ones.

The first election held in Kishkekosh County took place at the house of W. G. Clark in the autumn of 1844; and in the spring of 1845 the precinct was duly organized into an independent county by an act of the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa. The act also provided for the location of a county seat.

[The Commissioners who were selected to locate a county seat were James A. Galliher of Jefferson County, E. S. Rand of Van Buren County, and Israel Kister of Davis County.] On the fifth day of August, 1845, the committee named to select the location for a county seat chose the spot where Albia now stands, and named the place Princeton.

At the same time an election was held throughout the county to elect the various county officers, as provided in the bill. Wareham G. Clark was elected Probate Judge; James Hilton, Clerk of the District Court; Jeremiah Miller, Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners; T. Templeton, Treasurer; John Clark, Sheriff; and Joseph McMullen, Moses H. Clark, and J. S. Bradley for County Commissioners.

John Massey, who still resides on his farm a couple miles south of Albia, surveyed the county seat in the summer of 1845. When the survey was made, it was found that one John Stephenson owned a part of the site selected by the committee, but, after some wrangling over the matter, the dispute was finally settled by arbitration.

Scarcely had Princeton been selected as the county seat when she found herself confronted by a rival. A postoffice had been established at Clarksville in January, 1846, with Levi Dungan as postmaster. While Princeton was but a hamlet, Clarksville, was no larger.

An election was held in April, 1846, and it was decided, by a bare majority of 4, to allow the county seat to remain at Princeton. Accordingly, on January 19, 1846, the Legislature passed a bill permanently locating the county seat at Princeton, or Albia, as it was named in the bill — an act having been passed the same day changing the name.

The county-seat question now being settled for all time, the Board of Commissioner, consisting of Smith Judson, Wm. McBride, and Andrew Elswick, met on the 17th of August, 1846, for the purpose of arranging plans to erect a court-house. According to specifications, the structure was to be 20 feet square and 14 feet high, and constructed of hewn logs 7 inches in thickness and hewn on two sides, and the cracks between the logs were to be not more than 3 inches wide at the corners. The roof was to be composed of clapboards 3 feet in length and nailed to rafters hewn on one side. The gable ends of the building were to be weatherboarded in the prevailing architecture of the period. The architect undertaking the erection of this edifice was placed under a bond of $160 to secure its completion by the 25th of September.

Another session of the Board of Commissioners convened in extra session on the 18th of August, to consider plans and proposals for the chinking and daubing of the court-house, and the transaction of other matters of importance.

In 1847 the subject of liquor traf[f]ic came up, and at the April election a vote was taken on the proposition to issue a license for the sale of intoxicants; 82 votes were cast in favor of license and 42 against the measure.

When the court-house was finally completed, and the contractor paid for the job, which amounted to $75, the Board of County Commissioners next began to canvass the question of erecting a county jail. In April, 1848, arrangements were made to build a jail 16 feet square. The walls, loft, and floor were to be composed of hewn logs 1 foot square, and there was to be one window 14x16 inches, secured by suitable fastenings. Alpheus Miller and Doster Norland were awarded the contract for building the jail. The cost of the structure was $174.



image of scroll workSource: Hickenlooper, Frank. An Illustrated History of Monroe County, Iowa: A Complete Civil, Political, and Military History of the County, From Its Earliest Period of Organization Down to 1896. Chapt. 3. Pp. 18-32. Albia, Iowa. 1896.

Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, September of 2010