Jefferson County - The Land
Jefferson County lies thirty-six miles west of the Mississippi River and twenty miles north of the State of Missouri. In the beginning it was bounded on the north by unorganized territory, on the east by Henry County, on the south by Van Buren County, and on the west by the Indian Country. In place of the unorganized territory on the north are now the counties of Keokuk and Washington; and in place of the Indian Country on the west is now Wapello County.
According to its recognized boundaries, the county is rectangular in shape, the shorter side extending eighteen miles from north to south, the longer side extending twenty-four miles from east to west. Its total area is 432 square miles, of which 216 square miles were part of the New Purchase. The whole is regularly divided into twelve government townships each six miles square. In the terms of the survey, these are all of townships number seventy-one, seventy-two, and seventy-three north, ranges eight, nine, ten and eleven west of the fifth principal meridian.
The legal boundaries of the county are thus set out: "Beginning at the southeast corner of township number seventy-one north, range eight west, thence north with said line to the line dividing townships seventy-three and seventy-four, thence west with said line to the Indian boundary line, thence south with said line to the line dividing townships seventy and seventy-one, thence east with said line to the place of beginning."
The original description has not been altered by any subsequent enactment. In precise terms it makes the Indian boundary the western boundary of the county. A later event shows these terms were not noted or were misunderstood.
When the County of Wapello was established in 1843, its boundaries were thus defined: "Beginning at the northwest corner of Jefferson County, range eleven and twelve west, thence west on township line seventy-three and seventy-four to range line dividing ranges fifteen and sixteen; thence south on said line, to the northwest corner of Davis County; thence east, to the southwest corner of Jefferson County; thence north, on range line dividing ranges eleven and twelve to the place of beginning."
It is plain that this definition of Wapello County assumes that range eleven west is the western boundary of Jefferson County. To make this a correct assumption, range eleven west and the Indian boundary must be identical. As a matter of fact they did not anywhere coincide. The Indian boundary ran, not due north and south, but somewhat east of north, meeting township number seventy about one-half mile east of the southwest corner of township number seventy-one, range eleven west, and meeting township number seventy-four about one mile west of the northwest corner of township number seventy-three, range ten west. This error left a strip almost triangular, its base at the north, between the two counties and legally belonging to neither. Since it was opened for settlement, however, it has been treated as an integral part of Jefferson County, whose authority over it as yet remains unquestioned.
The physical contour of the county shows a pleasing variety of surface without sharp or violent contrasts. It drains well. Checaque, to employ the Indian name, or Skunk River, to use the accepted translation, enters it near the northeast corner, flows southward some nine miles, crossing and recrossing the eastern boundary before it finally passes out not to return. The Des Moines River misses its southwest corner by barely a mile. Diagonally through its center from southeast to northwest stretches a divide. North of this the waters find their way eastward into the Skunk through Walnut Creek and its branches in the north, through Burr Oak Creek in the northeast, and through Turkey Creek and Brush Creek in the east. South of the divide meanders the Wapellonoc of the Indians, or Big Cedar Creek into which empty Wolf Creek and Rock Creek in the southeast, Crow Creek in the south, and Competine Creek with its two branches in the west. Lick Creek and Black Creek in the southwest seek the Des Moines.
The names these streams have acquired refer to noticeable characteristics or to local associations. Wolf Creek was named because of the numerous wolves which made their dens in its secluded ravines; Crow Creek on account of the crows which flocked along its course; Black Creek for an early settler; Competine Creek for an Indian whose wigwam stood upon its bank. Other appellations were applied to, some of them, but their use was limited and temporary.
At a late geologic period this county was a portion of a great plain with a gradual slope to the south and east. Slowly but effectively erosion deepened the rivers and creeks and cut tributaries into them; it deepened the tributaries and repeated the process. In time, along the larger streams, the land became broken and hilly, but mainly its slopes were gentle and rolling. Here and there the clays suitable for brick were disclosed, the sandstone and limestone bared, and the coal measures brought to view. It was the work of ages.
Beside the main water courses forests rooted and spread. Trees of oak, elm, hickory, hackberry, walnut, cherry, linn, ironwood, buckeye, maple, aspen, birch, cottonwood and willow grew and thrived. There were thickets of hazel, hawthornes, crabs and wild plums. The low bottom lands nourished rank and noxious weeds. On the uplands were the prairies where the wild grasses flourished in luxuriance. In the spring they were bright with flowers. In the summer the blue-stem waved its feathery plumes higher than a man's head and the rugged compass-plant stiffly exalted its yellow disks. The grasses and the flowers have vanished, or if any remain it is to linger only in some neglected and undisturbed corner or on a railroad right of way. Their beauty has passed and another beauty glows on billowy fields of ripening grain and the serried ranks of tasseling corn.
In 1835 this land lay open and untouched. Nature working through her agencies of heat, cold, fire, water, growth and decay, could claim it as her patricular product.
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