Very little is known of the history of Clarke County before the coming of the white man. We do know, however, that it was a beautiful prairie country with plenty of timber along the streams and that for ages it had been used as hunting grounds for Indian Tribes. In 1803 when Louisiana was purchased by the United States the entire State of Iowa was in control of various Indian Tribes and all during the Territorial Period of Iowa's history Clarke County was in possession of the Sac, Fox, Sioux and Pottawatamie Indians.

Clarke County was originally part of Des Moines County. By an act of the Territorial Legislature on January 13, 1846, it was established as a county although it was still unsettled except by Indians. It was named in honor of James Clarke who at that time was Governor of Iowa Territory.

The first white people in Clarke County were the Mormons on their way from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. The Mormons camped on the west bank of the Mississippi during the winter of 1846-47 and started their trek west­ward early in the spring of 1847.

The route entered the county in Franklin Township and angled west and north to Pisgah. Traces are still visable of the deep ruts cut by these early travelers on the Harold Burnett farm. The trail ran directly through what was later to be the town of Murray. Markers positioned along the route today indicate the direction taken by these courageous people.

The hundreds of Mormon wagons and their herds of live stock soon cut deep trails in the soggy prairie sod, so this first road became known as the Mormon Trail and is still known as such.

The first settlers in the county were four families of Mormons who became seperated from the main body of Mormons and in the fall of 1848 they pitched their camp in Green Bay Township and called it Lost Camp. These four families stayed all winter at the camp and 


in the spring decided to stay and put in crops and collect provisions for their long trip to Salt Lake City. After three years all four of the families sold out to settlers coming in and went on to Salt Lake.

In May 1850 Robert Jamison located in Franklin Township and to him belongs the honor of being the first permanent settler in the county. He made his first money selling corn to the Mormon immigrants at one dollar per bushel. During the summer one family settled in Washington Township and five families came to Green Bay Township.

In 1851 quite a number of settlers came to Clarke County and made settlements in prac­tically every township, and the County was well on its way to becoming settled.

Thousands of early immigrants passed through on their way west, during the next decade. Long trains of settlers on their way to various states stirred up the dust or churned up the mud of the trails all summer long.

Often these travelers became discouraged on the way and turned back, broke and dis­illusioned, making their way back to the homes they had left in the East. Occasionally a fam­ily or so, tiring of the road and fearful of the thousands of miles ahead of them broke from the train and settled on the rich prairie land of Clarke County.

Not until nearly 20 years after the first permanent settlers arrived in the county was the mode of transportation changed. Thru those years big freighters, some drawn by horses, others by oxen, plied the roads east for supplies for food, raiment and machinery.

With the surveying of the various townships, the use of ridge roads was largely abandoned and the routes laid out roughly on section lines, regardless of terrain. Fences of the settlers enforced the use of these new roads later on, much to the disgust of old timers who had laid out the high roads and were loath to give them up.


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Last revised September 19, 2013