The Beginning History of Osceola County, Iowa

Osceola County, located in the northwest corner of the state, is Iowa's youngest and smallest county, consisting of only 397 square miles. Osceola was originally part of Woodbury County, then called Wahkaw County. Besides being the smallest and youngest county in Iowa, Osceola is also the highest. The highest point in Iowa is on a farm yard just north of Sibley.

Osceola is named after a famous Seminole Indian Chief who fought brilliantly against the United States to preserve the land and the rights of his people. He was finally captured and died a prisoner at Ft. Moultrie, Fla. in 1838. The settlers liked to talk about his exploits and his romance with the Creek Indian Princess, Ouscaloosa.

According to Wikipedia:
Osceola (1804 – January 30, 1838, Asi-yahola in Creek), named Billy Powell at birth in Alabama, became an influential leader of the Seminole people in Florida. His mother was Muscogee, and his great-grandfather was a Scotsman, James McQueen. He was reared by his mother in the Creek (Muscogee) tradition. When he was a child, they migrated to Florida with other Red Stick refugees, led by a relative, Peter McQueen, after their group's defeat in 1814 in the Creek Wars. There they became part of what was known as the Seminole people.

In 1836, Osceola led a small group of warriors in the Seminole resistance during the Second Seminole War, when the United States tried to remove the tribe from their lands in Florida to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. He became an adviser to Micanopy, the principal chief of the Seminole from 1825 to 1849. Osceola led the Seminole resistance to removal until he was captured on October 21, 1837, by deception, under a flag of truce, when he went to a site near Fort Peyton for peace talks. The United States first imprisoned him at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, then transported him to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina. He died there a few months later of causes reported as an internal infection or malaria. Because of his renown, Osceola attracted visitors in prison, including renowned artist George Catlin, who painted perhaps the most well-known portrait of the Seminole leader.

Osceola County was organized in 1871. The first permanent settlement took place that same year by Captain Eldred Huff when he took up residence on a claim he had filed the previous November. Since the county was void of any timber (early settlers called it the "American Desert"), Captain Huff hauled a load of lumber from Sioux City for his house. This lack of timber also caused a fuel problem in the winter. Settlers were urged to plant giant sunflowers, as an acre of sunflowers would yield a good burning material equal to six cords of good dry wood.

The first session of the Osceola County Board of Supervisors was held on January 1, 1872. The following Thursday they passed their first resolution. It read "Resolved - that Sibley, Osceola County, Iowa, shall be the county seat of said Osceola County and that the County Auditor be authorized to petition the Legislature through our representation to have the action of the Board of Supervisors legalized." The fact that the railroad went through Sibley and that the land for the courthouse was donated by the railroad promoters probably did not hurt this decision by the board.

The first courthouse was built in November of 1872 by Henry Pfingsten (or Phringston) at a cost of $4,500. The wooden frame structure also served as a school and a church. It contained a 6-foot x 10-foot privy, coal shed, front and rear steps, vane and ball on the flagstaff, and a room under the stairway inside the courthouse.

In 1901 it was decided that Osceola needed a new courthouse. A special election was held in November, and a $50,000 bond issue was passed. The contract was awarded to C.E. Atkinson, and construction was completed by 1902. It was formally dedicated in September of 1903. In October of 1915 the building was wired for Electricity.

The original courthouse contained a dome which held a statue of Justice. In 1925 the dome was removed and replaced by a square-shaped cupola and the statue of Justice was replaced. This construction was done to modernize the building. On August of 1961 the square cupola was removed, leaving the upper portion of the courthouse as it is at the present time.

Constant upkeep and repairs have kept the building's beauty there for all to enjoy and admire. A major entrance change was made in 1974 to make the building more handicapped accessible. Even with the addition of an elevator, the continuity of the original design is still there.

The Seminole chief Osceola's grave site is located on the grounds of Ft. Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, part of the Fort Sumter National Monument of the National Park Service.

Taken from History of County Governments in Iowa, published in 1992 by the Iowa State Association of Counties, Des Moines, Iowa

This article was found on the Wayback Machine for Originally prepared by Patti Streicher and updated in 1999.

Osceola County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project