Transcribed by Lin Ziemann
December 21, 1837
December 21, 1837
(463 square miles) was named for Major General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) who
played a prominent part in the Black Hawk War and negotiated the first treaty
purchasing lands in
from the Indians (Black Hawk Purchase.) He
was commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army (1841-1861), and captured Vera Cruz and
Sauks (Sacs) had established the Indian
near the mouth of the
, while the Foxes located their village on the opposite side of the
, at what is now
. For many years this area was the
center of Indian opposition to white settlement.
Black Hawk was born at Saukenuk in 1767 and
Keokuk in 1780, burning the Indians’ wickiups and
destroying the crops. The hostile
Indians who laid siege to old
came from Saukenuk, which then had a population
estimated at “not fewer than 8,000 people.”
Also in this area, two battle of the War of 1812 were fought.
1816, four military posts were erected in the
, located on a “rocky cliff’ at the end of the picturesque
. The Indians gradually moved on
westward, across the
, but there was opposition leading to the tragic Black Hawk War, four in 1832.
A peace treaty was signed, under a large open tent, on
September 21, 1832
strip of land that General Scott exacted from the Sac and Fox became the nucleus
. Originally called Scott’s
Purchase, this first cession of Indian land in
came to be known as the Black Hawk Purchase.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Sac and Fox Indians were to move on
west by June 1, 1833, and never again “reside, plant, fish, or hunt” on any
portion of the land purchased.
original boundary lines of the county were defined by the Territorial
Legislature of Wisconsin. The Act
also provided that the location of the county seat should be decided by popular
vote. However, two years passed
before the county seat was permanently located.
in February 1838, elections to select a county seat were called to choose
, on the
, and Rockingham, located nearby.
had been another contender, but was eliminated earlier.
importance was attached to these county seat elections which often decided the
destiny of the competing towns. The
honor and prestige of becoming the seat of justice was sufficient to cause very
spirited contests. In later years,
such activities might come to be looked upon as some of the “freaks and
follies of frontier life,” but at the time it was a serious business, calling
for extreme measures if that was what it took to win.
has been reported that, at the first county seat election, 11 sleighloads
of laborers were recruited from
to be admitted to the polls and secure the necessary majority of votes for
. These men were described as
“the most wretched looking rowdies that had ever appeared on the streets of
. They were the dregs of the mining
districts of that early day, filled with impudence and profanity, soaked in
whiskey and done up in rags.’ Bonfires
and “illuminations” were used to express joy for this great triumph for
. The town was filled with
“roaring patriotically drunk” miners, to whom perjury meant nothing.
During that brief sojourn, it was recorded they drank 300 gallons of
whiskey and other liquors and cost those who brought them over $3,000.
election fraud was disclosed, however, and Governor Dodge declared the election
void, so nothing resulted from this contest.
second election was set for
August 8, 1838
, and a ruling was made requiring 60 days residence for voters to be qualified.
At this election, Rockingham “laid aside all conscientious scruples”
to win – ballot boxes were stuffed and illegal voting permitted.
Laborers were imported to work in the mills 60 days before the election
date, in order to be eligible. Inhabitants
were invited over to vote. When the
election was over, the commissioners “purged the polls,” taking plenty of
time and throwing out a good number of ballots.
This action gave the election to
by a majority of two votes.
appeal was made to the Supreme Court, but it was held that this Court had no
original jurisdiction in the matter.
were four contestants in the next election, called by the Territorial
Legislature of Iowa. These were
, Rockingham (opposite the mouth of the
), the “geographical center” or “Sloperville,”
and Winfield (more commonly referred to as the “Duck Creek Cornfield.”) The
“geographical center” dropped out. The
“Duck Creek” promoters of Winfield offered 90 acres of land and $100 in
labor and materials for a courthouse. Residents
of Rockingham (which was originally laid out by Colonel John Sullivan of
, and A.H.
) offered to build a courthouse and jail. But
all other offers were surpassed by
, whose residents pledged gifts of land, cash, and building materials valued at
$5,000. They also stressed the
central location, the high and dry site, and beautiful surroundings.
These inducements must have had the desired effect, for
won out, ending one of the most interesting and brisk county seat contests
history. The decision was
celebrated with bonfires, fireworks and speeches.
In time, the defeated town of
would become a part of the growing City of
was named for Colonel George Davenport (1783-1845) who, as agent for the
American Fur Company, established a trading post at this location in 1826.
The town was surveyed in the spring of 1836 by Major William Gordon, and
lots were offered for sale in May. The
original town site included 36 blocks and 6 half blocks.
At this time only a handful of pioneer families lived in the town.
Governor Robert Lucas signed the measure providing for the incorporation of
January 25, 1839
. By 1840, its population was
about 600, and county residents numbered 2,140.
The first court in
was held in St. Anthony’s Church in
LeClair donated the site for the county’s first
courthouse. A two-story brick
courthouse, with stately columns and round cupola, was erected, free of cost to
the county, in 1840. But, by 1888,
it had become so overcrowded and was in such a sad state of repair that the
building was razed.
second courthouse was built in 1888 of natural, rough-chipped
stone at a cost of $125,000. Considered
a masterpiece of workmanship, it was 100’ x 125’ in size, three stories
high, and had a basement. A large
dome rose to a height of 150 feet, and there were
turreted towers above each corner of the roof.
The outside of the building was adorned with decorations symbolizing
pioneer times and life in the
. Unfortunately, the building was
erected on sandy ground and slowly sank. The
large vault, originally built on the ground floor, dropped below ground level
and a stairway had to be built leading down into the vault.
The building heaved and cracked and, by 1932, the authorities, alarmed at
the degree to which the building had sunk, ordered the useless large dome,
weighing 11,025 tons, removed. However,
the building continued to sag, so a tower wall was torn down in 1933 and 450
tons of brick which had supported the dome were removed.
Chemicals and other methods of treatment failed to eradicate the
termites. In this losing battle, a
request for a federal grant of $6,480 for repairing and bolstering the
foundation of the courthouse was approved, and work was begun in 1940.
eventually, the 1888 courthouse had to be abandoned.
The present courthouse was built in 1955-1956, and the previous
courthouse was torn down.
taken from the pages of:
The Counties and Courthouse of
by LeRoy G. Pratt