IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
ALBERT M. LEA AND THE NAMING OF IOWA
One morning in June, 1835, there was a great stir at old Fort Des Moines, which, you remember, had been built near the site of Tesson's apple orchard. Three companies of mounted soldiers, called dragoons, were starting out on a long march northward into Minnesota. Their leader was Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny.
The first part of their journey was up the valley of the Des Moines River. There were no roads and no houses anywhere. The horses of the dragoons walked over the green grass and flowers which covered the prairie at this season.
There were many wild strawberry plants, and the juice from the ripe berries reddened the hoofs of the horses. How the men enjoyed eating the strawberries for they had had no fresh fruit for a long time. Deer, turkeys, grouse, ducks, and prairie chickens were shot for meat.
Sometimes it stormed and the prairie sod became so soft that the horses could not go very fast. There were a great many mosquitoes to torment the men and horses. There were rattlesnakes, too; so picking strawberries was not altogether a pleasant task. Lieutenant Albert M. Lea, who commanded one of the companies, says that four rattlesnakes were killed in his tent in one night.
They were supposed to go up the Des Moines Valley until they reached the spot where the Racoon River joins the Des Moines, but they missed the place. Then they turned northeast and went toward the upper Mississippi. By the last week in June they had reached what is now the boundary line between Iowa and Minnesota.
It was about this time that they saw a herd of buffaloes. What a chase there was then! The buffaloes could run very fast and the dragoons had hard work getting near enough to shoot them. Finally they killed six or seven of the buffaloes. Then they stopped to roast some of the fresh meat. One day a dragoon cough a little buffalo calf and the men had great fun playing with it.
Finally they reached Wabasha's village of Sioux Indians, where Colonel Kearny made a treaty with the chief. This was near the present site of Winona, Minnesota. After a rest of about two weeks, Colonel Kearny led his men back to the Raccon Forks of the Des Moines River. From this point the main body of the dragoons continued their march down the valley of the Des Moines to Fort Des Moines, where they arrived late in August.
Colonel Kearny wanted to know something abut the Des Moines River, too. So he ordered Lieutenant Albert M. Lea to go down the river in a canoe and to report on the distance and th depth of the river in different places. His only companions were a private soldier and an Indian.
Soon after Lieutenant Lea got back to Fort Des Moines he resigned from the army. He had decided to write a book describing the country over which the dragoons had marched. This book was printed at Philadelphia in 1836. It was called Notes on the Wisconsin Territory; Particularly with Reference to the Iowa District, or Black Hawk Purchase.
This was a very long name for a book of only fifty-three pages. Lea also included a map in his little book. A thousand copies were printed. Five hundred of these seem to have been lost on a steamboat on the Ohio River. Where the others went we do not know, but less than twenty of these books can now be found.
Lea's book is interesting because in it the name Iowa was first used for the territory now included in the State of Iowa. Where did Lieutenant Lea get the name Iowa? He tells us in the book that he took it from the name of the Iowa River.
We do not know for certain how the Iowa River got its name, but it may have been named from the Iowa tribe of Indians. Years afterwards Lieutenant Lea decided that the name should have been spelled Ioway; but by that time Congress had created first the Territory of Iowa and then the State of Iowa, so no change in the spelling was made.
You may be interested to know something more about the man who named Iowa. Albert Miller Lea was born in 1807 at Lea Springs, near Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated from the Military Academy at West Point in 1831, and it was as a lieutenant in the First United States Dragoons that Lea crossed Iowa in the summer of 1835.
In 1838, two years after the printing of the book which gave Iowa its name, Lieutenant Lea came back to Iowa Territory as one of the men to fix the boundary between Missouri and the Territory of Iowa. Later he spent several years as an engineer. When the Civil War began he joined the Confederacy and served for four years in the Confederate army. When the war ended he moved to Corsicana, Texas, where he died in 1890. Although Albert M. Lea named Iowa, his own name appears in Minnesota rather than in Iowa. The city of Albert Lea, Minnesota, was named for him, and there is also a Lake Albert Lea in Minnesota.
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