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The Fort
Early history

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[The Republican is very much Indebted to the publishers of The Waterloo Daily Reporter for the privilege of using the half-tone views {coordinator note: the digitized reproductions of those half-tone images were of very bad quality and therefore not used for this transcription} illustrating the following sketch of Fort Atkinson. both the sketch and views appeared in the “improvement edition” of the daily reporter in its January 1st Inst, which we have heretofore complimented as being an issue of the highest merit as an exponent of Waterloo’s growth in 1900.— Eds Republican]

Under the sod and daisies sleeps the hero of the Blackhawk Indian war, General Atkinson. Awaiting the judgment day likewise slumbers the fierce red skin who waged atrocious wars against the white pioneers and the predatory tribes of Indians during the early days of the Northwest Territory. Neither Atkinson or Blackhawk, sleeping, is forgotten At Blackhawk Tower near Rock Island, Illinois, hundreds of summer visitors daily attest the wisdom of the great chieftain in choosing this sylvan shaded eminence for an outlook in times of strife with warring tribes. And General Atkinson living, would feel greatly honored to know that the townspeople of Ft. Atkinson, Iowa, are using strenuous efforts to induce the state to buy and preserve as a park what remains of the old fort named after him, that its glory may never fade and his memory be revered forever by the coming generations of Iowans. The original plot of eighty acres, with buildings, now owned by various families, has been offered the state at the very reasonable sum of $10,000, the owners only requiring that the state make the proposed improvements at a cost of about $40,000

Situated in the southwest corner of Winneshiek County, Iowa, the last tier of counties to the southern boundary of Minnesota, and a half hundred miles from the Mississippi river westward, is the village of Fort Atkinson, where 600 souls, enjoy the distinction of a residence at the foot of the majestic eminence upon which yet stands the complement of what in the primeval days was the strongest fort and most nourishing trading post In the Mississippi valley. The bane of Time and the vandalism of man in whom the love of money was the root of iconoclasm, have ravaged this historic place and razed a portion of the structures erected many years ago for the protection of the early settlers and the friendly Winnebago Indians. Yet Time nor man have combined efficaciously enough to destroy the splendid handiwork or efficaciously diminish the beauty of eminence and grandeur which nature with lavish grace fashioned high above the mimic hill and undulating valleys of the Turkey river. Proudly the ruins and remaining buildings of Ft. Atkinson stand aloft guarding the village with as proud a mien as ever were the frontiersmen and women protected in the palmy days of powder, ordnance and skill. Though savage Fox and Sac and his atrocious red men have been scattered by the winds of civilization; progress has handed him a knock-out blow, his pow-wows are no more the danger of the fort nor his war dances the signal for action. The friendly Winnebago has likewise emigrated to other hunting grounds and pastoral life is reigning on the hills. Men who fought Indians in the long ago are now lingering in easy arm chairs In quiet nooks, dozing the sunset of their lives away while their sturdy sons are now reaping golden harvests from the land where tracked the aborigines in quest of human blood

About the old fort, whose remaining barracks are now occupied by residents of the town and whose powder and cannon houses have been degraded into horse and cattle barns, there clings a halo of chivalry, while love of interest clusters in the minds of all who dwell along the valley one oft-repeated story is to the effect that Jefferson Davis, southern leader of the civil war, once came to the fort with a young woman whom he presented as his fiancée and others say he was married there, living for a short space of honeymoon at the hotel, enjoying the sight of Indian trading and himself bartering with the savages.

Fort Atkinson was the first abiding place of whites in Winneshiek county and was the only fort along the Military Road for a distance of many miles westward from Ft. Crawford, Wis. The fort was pinnacled along the main road from the Mississippi to a thickly settling country in the Interior There was but one house between the river and Fort Atkinson June 2, 1840, when fifty workmen from Ft. Crawford arrived under the protectorate of Company F, Fifth United states Infantry, commanded by Isaac Lyons, and began the erection of Fort Atkinson barracks. When four barracks buildings, two gun houses and a powder house covering an acre of ground bad been completed after months of labor, the government had expended $93,000 In the interest of the friendly Indians and the pioneers. This cost was largely increased by long hauls of material from Fort Crawford over the Military Road which had to be made from a rough track into a passable highway. The sinuous windings of this thoroughfare may yet be traced through the fenced farms of Iowa wherever the soil has been left unmolested for grazing purposes. The fort commanded a magnificent view of the country and the block houses were so arranged that the guns swept all sides of the valley.

The first commandant of the fort was Captain of Artillery E V Sumner, later the Illustrious General Sumner of the war of the rebellion. In 1845 Sumner was called to participate in the war with Mexico and the fort was left to the joint command of Capt. James Morgan of Burlington, Iowa, and Captain John Parker, of Dubuque, Iowa, the latter remaining until the Indians were forced from the country Into Minnesota in 1848. The government did not abandon the fort after the removal of the red man, but supplied an overseer until July of 1855, when the property was sold at auction to a widowed English lady, whose agents, John Flowers & Brother, of Canada, shrewdly bought off the four other prospective buyers and bid In the magnificent property for the in the infinitesimal sum of $3,521. Flowers & Brother continued to handle the purchase and forthwith began a career of wild catting and conniving. They fitted rooms In costly fashion and were about to plat the land and sell it for town lots when to their chagrin they discovered that the sale had not Included the eighty acres of land surrounding the fort buildings. These secure the acreage. They represented Mrs. Newington to be the widow of a brave officer deceased who had expended her all in the purchase of the property believing In good faith that the land was Included in the purchase. In reality Mrs. Newington was well to-do. Through H. M. Rice, Senator from Minnesota, and Secretary of State Armstrong, also of Minnesota, a petition was presented and passed deeding the land to Miss. Newington,

The lot plan was then pushed vigorously. A surveyor from the coast was secured and the land surveyed into blocks. The surveyor having completed his work was forced to take lots in payment and in despair sold his compass to secure funds with which to return home. The fort at this time was in its palmiest trading period and was the busiest post for a large radius. Assisted by these circumstances Flowers & Brother were enabled to do a shark business. They lived in the grandest of style. Inviting great numbers of friends to enjoy their really royal hospitality, and, in most cases, disposing of town lots as a parting tie of good fellowship. Soon they sold one-half of the barracks to a Canadian for $7,000 upon promise that he would open and conduct a hotel in this Mecca of real estate transactions. The new landlord began business with ostentatious muttering and soon his hostelry was filled with "gentlemen of the old school” who added much to the social life of the fort. Upon presenting his bills, however, Mine Host discovered to his alarm that, not one of his boarders was other than a star boarder, having been present at every meal and now being unable to pay a cent. These gentlemen protested that while they had no money they were rich in town lots which they bad been gradually acquiring at the oily solicitation of the sly rascals from Canada. The landlord in despair accepted a number of lots to find them mortgaged for their worth Being unable to comply longer with the terms of Flowers & Brother the gentleman was forced to leave the country a sadder and wiser hotel investor. Meanwhile the enterprising agents were pacing the crude streets of their Eldorado armed cap-a-pie with blank deeds, pen and Ink and notary seal baiting for the erstwhile visitor and the easy mark. They built a saw mill and induced a man by the name of Wheeler from the east to associate his name with theirs in a banking scheme. When, some months later, Wheeler left Fort Atkinson he pawned his safe to secure funds sufficient to make the journey, having nothing to show for several thousand dollars. During the building of the bank structure, the builders being delayed, the firm advised by Flowers Brother Invested the money temporarily in wild lands. At the completion of the building Wheeler discovered that the wild lands had been plastered with loans by his worthy partners and being unable to pay for the structure he was forced to leave.

Their next victim was a man by the name of Wood who engaged in the mercantile business on a large scale. Having lost everything to Flowers & Brother he departed homeward. He is to-day one of the richest men of Pittsburg, having been eminently successful after freeing himself from Flowers & Brother,

In 1857 the social life at the fort was at its height, the elite of the countryside participating in the society led by the Flowers families. July 4 of that year was a long remembered festival, the celebration closing with a grand full dress ball which is still the talk of old settlers’ reunions.

The panic of 1857 cut short the lucrative career of the enterprising Canadian real estate dealers and having met the reverse tide coming in, they left Fort Atkinson for greener pastures. In 1869 began the real life of the Fort. A railway was secured and honest business men settled permanently. Although the growth has been small yet the future has promise. In 1857 there were 500 people at the fort. Later the number lessened greatly. Now there is an increase of 100 over that of 1857.

The oldest living settler of the vicinity is Aaron Young, now nearing the eightieth milestone of his career. Young came to the fort in 1848 from Mexico as a soldier. His farm now joins what was formerly the Winnebago reservation where Mrs. Fletcher, wife of General Fletcher, taught the first Indian school in the country. Mr. Young relates incidents of early days which led to the belief that coal deposits are to be found in the county although the geological topography of the land is against the supposition. Mr. Young says a soldier made trips into the country and returned with coal He refused to divulge the whereabouts of the mine, intending when his time had been served to return to the vicinity and profit by his knowledge. He was called to Florida, where he was killed in battle, his secret perishing with him. An Indian chief by the name of Four Eyes often brought coal to the fort in his blanket, and at one time agreed to locate the mine for the men who would give him two ponies. No one being superfluously supplied with equines the bargain was not struck.

It is sincerely to be hoped that the residents of Fort Atkinson may prevail upon the State of Iowa to preserve this important historical eminence and that it may be metamorphosed Into a park, than which there would be none prettier In the Hawkeye state.

Source: Decorah Republican Jan. 24, 1901 P 4 C 1 - 7

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this page was last updated on Monday, 05 April 2021