IAGenWeb Project

Shelby County


1889 History Index

Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties
History of Shelby County, Iowa


Counties, like State and national commonwealths, are only successful and prosperous to the exact degree in which they have prudent, progressive government. The early history of every county in the "wild West" shows a lack of means with which to do business, as well as none too good educational qualifications for transacting business in an official capacity. Much experience had to be gained at the expense of the illy prepared tax payers, who in those early days did not find money cropping out upon the side of every budding tree and bush! Prior to 1860 the State itself had imperfect laws. The present code is as good as can be found in any State of the Union, but it is the crystallized methods of all the earlier settled States, with an occasional amendment and improvement over any and all of them; but necessarily this state of perfection could not well be obtained at first. The one-man power of the old county judge system prevailed in all of its imperfection until 1860, when it was changed to the present (or similar) system of county supervisorship. Prior to that date Shelby County had issued warrants for many thousand dollars, which found a market in the money changers' hand of New York, and were bought up, many of them, for one-fourth their face value. Ten thousand dollars' worth of these bonds were purchased by a party in Keokuk, Iowa, who finally, during the Rebellion, brought suit and obtained judgment against the county for that amount. This worked a great hardship to the citizens, who more than had their hands full in taking care of their unruly neighbors at the South and trying to keep the wolf of starvation from their own doors.

The first board of county supervisors met in a regular session January 7, 1861. The first board was constituted as follows: F. G. Clark, of Jackson Township (elected for one year); C. F. H. Forbes, of Harlan Township (elected for two years); John B. Swain, of Grove Township (elected for one year), and Abraham Rubendall, of Fairview Township (elected for two years). C. F. H. Forbes acted as chairman of the first board. It is useless to trace the different citizens who have served in the capacity of supervisor, but suffice to say that the people have always chosen good men from out their numbers ot represent them in county matters.

In 1862, during the great Indian scare, when the border counties were endangered, Mansel Wicks and A. Roundy, membrs of the county board, were appointed as a committee to go to Crawford and other border counties for the purpose of finding out the real state of the Indian troubles. They were to investigate the matter and report the same to the board, and also to the Governor of Iowa. Nothing came of a serious nature, however.

Among the questions the supervisors had to deal with, in time of the Rebellion, was that of raising funds with which to aid in filling up the war quota for soldiers. A petition was presented to them, calling for a levy to be raised sufficient to pay the amount of $300 to any who might be drafted into the service, $500 to all old veterans, $800 to any who should volunteer to make up the quota of 1865, $1,000 to those who should enlist for two years, and $1,200 to those enlisting for three years. This petition was signed quite extensively, but the "county dads" rejected the demand, believing it poor policy to pay men to defend their country. Hence the county stood two drafts. It may be said to their credit, however, that they did appropriate $220 to be distributed among dependent soldiers' families.

As has already been stated, the first records of Shelby County were illy kept, both clerically and also as regards the stationery used. The old style of blue paper, with invisible rulings, together with poor quality of ink, made very poor county records. This was especially noticeable in the record of deeds, consequently the supervisors ordered, in 1871, that the recorder transcribe the original records of his office into a new styled book, which was done, thus preserving intact records of conveyance which otherwise, within a few years, would have been almost illegible.

As an index that the supervisors (the voice of the people) have been progressing and seeking to keep pace with advanced civilization, it may be stated that in 1871 they offered a reward of $300 to the person who should discover a three-foot strata of coal within Shelby County.

As a measure of protective prudence a reward of $250 was offered for the capture and final conviction of any horse-thief committing depredations within the county.

As one views the present county government with its good system, and knows that the county is out of debt, he is made to believe that the early settlers were prudent in the foundation they laid for the future of Shelby County. The county is now sub-divided into sixteen townships, each six miles square, and is provided with one hundred and thirty-six public school buildings, excellent wagon bridges, with the best of roads. The assessed valuation of taxable property in 1854 was $20,600, as against $4,163,266 in 1887. The first assessor assessed the whole county in four days, and received $1.50 per day for the same. The tax levied in 1885 was one mill and a quarter county tax, six mills for school purposes, one-half mill for roads.

The first bill of stationery audited called for $760. The county judge, clerk, recorder and treasurer each received %40 per year as their salary, with their respective fees.

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Transcribed by Cheryl Siebrass August, 2015 from "Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties", Chicago: W. S. Dunbar & Co., 1889, pg. 235-236.

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