Submitted by Gayle Harper

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No SOONER had the committee reported at Pella than the emigrants prepared to make a brief preliminary visit to their homesteads in Sioux County. Early in September, 1869, seventy-five men in eighteen wagons, with three surveyors and sufficient provisions, journeyed to the site of their future farms nearly three hundred miles away, labored for a week or two surveying and plowing in compliance with the law, and then returned home, thoroughly convinced that they had seen the finest land in the State of Iowa.

No words could better describe the appearance of northwestern Iowa than those of an eminent visitor from Holland:

Road is - to be honest - mere euphemism here, a figurative expression, a sort of poetic license; as for a highway, there was none or just a trail. The boundless prairie lay spread out before us, and driver and horses knew their course. 'Twas a ride not without its peculiar enjoyment. True: it was bitterly cold in the wind which swept unobstructed from the North. I could only imagine how very different things must be in summer when the thick, soft carpet of dark green grass appears dotted with flowers of all colors; but even so, despite the barrenness, wildness, and monotony of the scene, yea by reason of these, there is some thing grand and awe-inspiring in the landscape. Nothing impedes or interrupts the view, whithersoever one looks. No hill or rock, not even a house or tree, not a single sharp line. Nothing, absolutely nothing but the vast, broad prairie! And yet it is somewhat different from the single horizontal line which describes our low, level meadows in Holland: an endless succession of irregular, undulating slopes which seem to extend one's circle of vision indefnitely.

There is an inexpressible charm, something solemn, mysterious in the nature of the landscape which speaks to the imagination and even to the heart. It awakens a consciousness such as that aroused by a view of the ocean; yes, in a certain sense it is even stronger here. There, in boundless space is the unending monotony of restless water; here, over the vast but motionless waves, petrified as it were, reigns a deep, solemn stillness, emblematic of peace and immortality, but also of fresh, free, invincible power. Indeed, there is poetry in the view, and I realize now why the Arab waxes enthusiastic over the desert; I understand now why the poetical soul of such a person as Miss Currer Bell loves the monotonous heath of North-England more than the most picturesque landscape. I can almost explain what people here say of a settler of the prairies, who complained of being stifled when he caught sight in the distance of smoke rising from the chimney of a "neighbor" who had located twenty miles away !

Though its establishment as a county dated back to 1852, Sioux County lay too far away from every beaten path between the East and the West to attract any serious notice at this early date. Like its neighbors Plymouth, Osceola, and Lyon counties, it consisted simply of prairie, with hardly a tree to be seen. What could a pioneer accomplish without timber for logs, fence rails, fuel, and boards? Sioux County also lacked railroads. It is not strange, therefore, that homeseekers had found no great inducement to lay out farms on the bleak prairies. As a matter of fact, in 1869 it was only on the heavily wooded banks of the Big Sioux River, the western boundary of the State and county, that settlers were to be found. Here a small village called Calliope had sprung up.

Before settlers made their appearance in northwestern Iowa nothing certain is known of its history. That man had ever had a fixed abode on those beautiful prairies there was not the slightest trace; but bones, scattered here and there upon the earth's surface or half-buried in the soil, proved that herds of buffaloes, elks, and deer had grazed there from time immemorial, and suggested that tribes of Indians might have hunted and departed again to their wigwams in some other region.(119)

Census statistics gave Sioux County a population of 10 inhabitants in 1860, estimated the number at 25 and 20 in the years 1863 and 1865, at 18 in 1867, and at 110 in 1869, when Buncombe Township, which was established sometime before 1861, embraced almost the entire county. The same census for 1869 credited Lyon and Osceola counties with no inhabitants, O'Brien County with 51, and Plymouth County with 179, while the counties just to the east were only a little less sparsely settled.

But if Sioux County in 1869 lacked everything except fertility, its inhabitants and others interested in its future knew that within another year a railroad would reach Le Mars about eighteen miles away, and that they might soon expect a second railroad to place them in touch with St. Paul and Sioux City. Then exploitation of the soil would promise great rewards. It was, therefore, a matter of but a few years before Sioux County would have all the means of transportation and communication possessed by older communities.(120)


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(119) Sioux County Herald, July 6, 1876; and Pella's Weekblad, September 7, and October 5, 1869. Dr. M. Cohen Stuart's Zes Maanden in Amerika. (Six Months in America), Part II, pp. 23, 24, where be describes a journey from Le Mars to Orange City in the month of November, 1873. For a reprint of his impressions concerning Orange City, see De Volksvriend, September 1, 1875.

(120) See Iowa Historical and Comparative Census, 1836-1880, pp. 199, 581, 582; and The Sioux County Herald, July 6, 1876, where Jelle Pelmulder's historical sketch is printed.
     It is worthy of note that Congress passed a joint resolution in March, 1876, recommending that the people of all the States should "assemble in their several counties or towns on the approaching Centennial Anniversary of our National Independence" and "have delivered on such day a historical sketch of said county or town from its formation" to be filed in print or manuscript "in the office of the Librarian of Congress, to the intent that a complete record may thus be obtained of the progress of our institutions during the First Centennial of their existence." - Governor Kirkwood's proclamation to the people of Iowa, embodying the recommendation of Congress, in Shambaugh's Messages and Proclamations o f the Governors of Iowa, Vol. IV, pp. 310-313.

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