Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

Chapter 4
Past & Present of Allamakee County, 1913



From the time the earliest French explorers entered the Mississippi valley, soon after the middle of the 17th century, the crown of France claimed control over all this region by right of discovery, and occupation. This claim remained undisputed for a hundred years, when all west of the Mississippi was transferred to Spain by the treaty of Paris, January 1, 1763, but not until 1770 was the actual possession turned over to a Spanish Governor.

October 1, 1800, Spain receded all of Louisiana to France, by a secret treaty; and formally surrendered possession at New Orleans November 30, 1803, several months after the treaty of resale to the United States, under which another ceremony of transfer took place twenty days later, December 20, 1803. In a similar manner a double transfer of Upper Louisiana took place at St. Louis the following spring, the Spanish flag giving place to that of France on the 9th of March, 1804, which itself was lowered on the following day and permanently replaced by the stars and stripes. Thus was consummated the famous “Louisiana Purchase,” under the treaty of April 30, 1803, ratified by the United States Senate in October following, by which Napoleon reluctantly relinquished to us of today the heritage of this vase empire west of the Mississippi river.

On the 1st of October, 1804, that part of the Louisiana Purchase lying north of the south line of Arkansas, or the 33rd parallel, was constituted the “District of Louisiana,” and placed under the authority of the Governor of Indiana Territory, at that time was William Henry Harrison. The southern portion became the “Territory of Orleans.”

July 4, 1805, the District of Louisiana was constituted the “Territory of Louisiana,” and so continued until December 7, 1812, it became the “Territory of Missouri,” including all north to the British possessions. From this was organized the state of the same name; and, on March 2, 1821, the State of Missouri was admitted to the Union, under the provisions of the famous “Missouri Compromise” bill, prohibiting slavery in the territory north and west thereof. The act carried with it the disappearance of the “Territory” of Missouri and all that part not included within the state boundaries “was left without law or government, except as to the prohibition of slavery and laws to regulate the Indian trade. Traders and army officers, however, as occasion served, still carried slaves into the territory. The soil of Iowa continued in the occupancy of a few tribes, who lived in villages on the banks of rivers, and often fell foul of one another as they roamed over the prairies in their hunting expeditions. There were about six thousand Sacs and Foxes, with a thousand Iowas in eastern and central Iowa, one or two thousand Otoes, Pawnees, and Omahas in western Iowa, and roving bands of Sioux in the northern part, numbering a thousand or more – in all about ten thousand souls. War was their native element, the ideal of savage life.” – (Slater: Iowa: the First Free State in the Louisiana Purchase.)

A bill was reported in Congress, January 6, 1830, to establish the Territory of Huron, with boundaries embracing what now constitutes the states of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, a part of Dakota, and the upper peninsula of Michigan, but it did not become a law. A somewhat similar bill passed the House of Representatives in 1831, but not the Senate. – History of Wisconsin, by Moses M. Strong.

October 1, 1834, all of what is now Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and most of Dakota, was attached to the Territory of Michigan, under which two counties were organized lying on the west side of the Mississippi: Demoine and Dubuque. The later constituted all of the recent Black Hawk purchase lying north of a line drawn due west from Rock Island, and therefore included a small portion of Allamakee county, in the southeast corner, adjoining the south line of the Neutral Ground. This was the first civil government that concerned people living in Iowa, as it was only the previous year that the Black Hawk purchase was opened for settlement. “Iowa county (Wis.) was at that time the nearest organized portion of Michigan Territory to the new counties. It was constituted in 1829, and named by Henry R. Schoolcraft. From the judicial relation of Iowa county to the new counties, those counties were called the Iowa District. This was the earliest application of the name ‘Iowa’ to a part of what became the State of Iowa.” (Salter.)

By an act approved April 30, 1836, Congress created the Territory of Wisconsin, covering the country between Lake Michigan and the Missouri river, north of the States of Illinois and Missouri, and Gen. Henry Dodge was appointed its first Governor. The first legislative session was held at Belmont, Iowa county, now in Lafayette county, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1836. A second session November, 1837, and also a special session, June, 1838, of the first legislative assembly, were held in Demoine county, at Burlington. At the second session, (December 21, 1837,) the county of Dubuque was divided, Clayton being one of the new counties, its northern boundary being identical with the south line of the Neutral Ground, and its western boundary on the line dividing ranges six and seven, where it has remained. Fayette county was also established at this time, being partly taken from Dubuque. It was probably the largest county ever constituted, comprising “the whole of the country lying west of the Mississippi river and north of the southern boundary of Clayton county, extending westward to the western boundary of Wisconsin Territory, and not included within the proper limits of the said county of Clayton.” It extended to the British possessions on the north, and included all of the present State of Minnesota west of the Mississippi, and nearly all of the Dakotas. It, however, had no county organization until some years after it had been reduced to its present boundaries, in 1847, when Allamakee was taken there from; and indeed not until after this county was organized.

A convention was also held during this session, by citizens west of the Mississippi, to ask the organization of a new territory, and the Legislative adopted a memorial to Congress to that effect. That names of Jefferson, Washington, and Iowa were discussed, with a decision in favor of Iowa. In Congress the prospect of another free state was displeasing to the South, and John C. Calhoun was determined in his opposition. The delegate from this (Wisconsin) territory, George W. Jones, told him the inhabitants were mainly from Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri, and the South had nothing to fear from them. Mr. Calhoun replied that this state of things would not last long; that immigrants from the New England and other abolition states would soon outnumber them. Both statements were true.

An act of Congress to constitute the Territory of Iowa from that part of Wisconsin west of the Mississippi was approved by President Van Buren June 12, and took effect July 4, 1838. Robert Lucas, of Ohio, former Governor of that state and a native of Virginia, was appointed by the President as the first Governor of the Territory of Iowa, which included Minnesota and was practically unlimited to the west. The first Legislature assembled at Burlington, November 12, 1838, and comprised thirty-nine members in both houses. Of these, nine were natives of Virginia, eight of Kentucky, two of North Carolina, one of Maryland, one of Tennessee, twenty-one in all from the South. Four were natives of New York, four of Pennsylvania, four of Ohio, two of New Hampshire, two of Vermont, one of Connecticut, one of Illinois, eighteen in all from the North. At the election, in September, of the members of this assembly, W,. W. Chapman, a native of Virginia, was elected first delegate to Congress. The seat of government was established by this assembly in Johnson county, at a town to be called Iowa City. At the October election in 1840 the people voted down a proposal for a state government, and again at the election in 1842.

In 1841, when William Henry Harrison became President, he appointed John Chambers, Governor of Iowa. He was a member of Congress from Kentucky, but a native of New Jersey. In 1845, James K. Polk appointed James Clarke, of Pennsylvania, as his successor.

At the April election in 1844 there was a large majority for a convention to form a state constitution; and such convention met at Iowa City, October 7, 1844, and continued in session until November 1. The boundaries settled upon were the Mississippi river on the east, the State of Missouri on the south, the Missouri river to the mouth of the Sioux on the west, and a direct line from that point to the mouth of the Blue Earth river in Minnesota, thence down the St. Peters (Minnesota) river to the Mississippi. But when the constitution and memorial asking admission were submitted to Congress that body objected to the boundaries prescribed as creating too large a state, and cut us off from the Missouri river by making the western boundary on the line of 17? 30’ west from Washington, a few miles west of Fort Dodge. The bill as passed, March 3, 1845, provided for the admission of Florida and Iowa together – one slave and one free state – and was approved by President John Tyler as one of his last official acts. The plan failed, for although Florida came in at once, Iowa rejected the boundary conditions at an election in April following, and remained a territory.

Another convention of the people of Iowa assembled in May, 1846, and formed a constitution with the present boundaries of the state, Congress meanwhile having reconsidered its former action and prescribed lines identical with those of the convention. Upon the submission of this constitution to the people on the 3rd of August, 1846, it was adopted; and by act of Congress approved by President James K. Polk December 28, 1846, Iowa was admitted as the twenty-ninth state of the Union, the fourth formed (the first free state) from the Louisiana purchase, and having a population entitling it to two members of Congress from the start. Meanwhile, at an election held October 26, 1846, Ansel Briggs, a native of Vermont, was chosen as the first Governor of the State of Iowa, and assumed the duties of the office.


Of the ninety-nine counties which constitute the State of Iowa, none was created under the present constitution of the state, although several were later organized which were located and named prior to its adoption in 1857, and acts have been passed looking to new counties or division of old ones, and found unconstitutional, or defeated by the voters. The organization of the older counties, prior to 1853, was provided for by special legislative enactments.

Two counties were created by the legislative council of Michigan; twenty-two (including three now extinct) by the legislative assembly of Wisconsin; fifty-five by the general assembly of the state. Most of these were given an existence by the third general assembly of the state, 1850-1851, of which Hon. P. M. Casady was a member in the Senate; and some forty years later he read a paper before the Pioneer Law Makers’ Association, telling of the origin of county names in the following interesting manner:

“When the Territory of Iowa was established the work of creating new counties was carried on as rapidly as the growth of population warranted. The session of 1843 showed itself imbued with the spirit of the latter-day ethnologist, for all the counties authorized at this session were given Indian names, most of the chiefs prominent in the pioneer history of the territory. The last territorial legislative, however, showed its disapproval of such relapse into barbarism by refusing to give a single Indian name to the new counties which it established and as an additional token of its convictions along these lines it changed the name of Kishkekosh given by its predecessors to Monroe. All the new counties of this year were named after American statesmen and soldiers, two heroes of the Revolution being honored in naming the counties of Wayne and Jasper, while Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Chief Justice Marshall and others were remembered in the assignment of names.

“The work was continued in a desultory way until fifty counties had been organized before the convening of the third general assembly of the state, which made a new record in that line, a record probably never equaled by any other legislative body. The bill was introduced by Senator Casady.

“When the bill came up for consideration in the Senate there was a group who favored more Indian names than were assigned by the committee, but their plans were anticipated by Senator Casady. He and his associated had prepared a slate of names and these were finally adopted.

“In those days there was no ‘hands across the sea’ sentiment toward the British government, and the pioneers of the west were warm sympathizers with the patriots who were leaders of Ireland’s revolt against English oppression. Consequently it was determined to name three counties for the martyrs of the Irish struggle, and Mitchell, O’Brien, and the younger Emmet were the ones chosen. It was recommended that three be named after the battles of the Mexican war, Cerro Gordo, Buena Vista, and Palo Alto. Three were named for colonels who fell in that war; Col. John J. Hardin of Illinois, Colonel Yell of Arkansas, and Lieut. Col. Henry Clay, Jr., of Kentucky, the gallant son of the famous statesmen, all three of whom were killed in the battle of Buena Vista. Some years later the name of Yell county was changed to Webster, at the same time that the adjoining county of Fox was changed to Calhoun. When this change was made there seems to have risen a tendency to associate the name of Clay with the other of the famous triumvirate who were so long the giants of the United State Senate, and the memory of the gallant Kentucky soldier who fell at Buena Vista has been neglected.

“It seems strange that John C. Calhoun, who stood for principles so unpopular in the North, should have been honored by Iowa, but the people of the county which had been named Fox to correspond with its neighbor Sac had conceived a violent dislike to the name and were ready to adopt anything as a substitute. One of the settlers who had come from Michigan, and who in earlier days had in some way been befriended by the South Carolina statesman, circulated a petition for the name Calhoun and this was granted.

“The correct form of the name of the famous tribe associated with the Foxes is ‘Sauk’, and in this form it is preserved in the name of a Wisconsin county and of a Minnesota city. But the earlier settlers of Iowa corrupted the name to its present form, and as such it had been retained.

“The name Pocahontas was the suggestion of Senator John Howell of Jefferson county. He was the patriarch of the two houses and in his earlier days had been a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was accorded the privilege of naming one of the counties and suggested this name. Of all the states carved out of the Northwest Territory ceded to the national government by Virginia not one had named a county for the heroine of the Old Dominion’s colonial traditions, and he asked that this tardy honor be paid to her memory. There were some of the legislators who demurred when this name was proposed, but upon being informed that Senator Howell was the sponsor, they withdrew all objections, saying that the old gentleman could have anything he asked for.

“In the original bill the name of Floyd was proposed for the county having the present boundaries of Woodbury. Sergeant Floyd of the Lewis and Clark expedition had died in camp and was buried on the east bank of the Missouri river south of Sioux City, and in early days the river flowing into the Missouri at Sioux City bore his name. Thos who favored Indian names, however, got the name changed in the house to Waukon, or Wahkaw, and this name was retained until 1853, when the present name of Woodbury was adopted. Sergeant Floyd is remembered by the town of Sergeant’s Bluffs, which was ordinarily the county seat of Wahkaw.

“The name Ida was suggested by Hon. Eliphalet Price, who was noted among the pioneers for his classical lore, and who wished the new state to be linked with the ancient civilization by adoption of the name of the famous mountain of Greece.

“Bremer county, named for Frederika Bremer, the famous Swedish author, was the second in the state to be named for a woman, Louisa being the other. The name was suggested by Hon. A. K. Eaton, then a member from Delaware county, and father of Hon. W. L. Eaton, recently Speaker of the House.

“In the original list of counties the extreme northwest county was given the name of Buncombe in honor of a North Carolina colonel of the Revolutionary war. The members of the lower house in the third general assembly were opposed to the name, but finally agreed to its adoption. On account of its slangy associations, however, the name was never popular. It acquired this significance from a North Carolina legislator’s retort. That state had a county named after its old hero and the representative from the county was at one time making a speech ‘to the galleries.’ One of his colleagues called him to task for the principles he was advocating, and he retorted, ‘I’m not talking for principle, I’m talking for Buncombe.’ The new use of the name spread until it was generally associated with insincerity; and after the battle of Wilson’s Creek, the first of the Civil war in which Iowa troops were engaged, the name of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, who fell in the battle, was chosen to be given a place in the roster of Iowa counties, and in looking over the list for one to strike out the members were moved by the old prejudice against the name Buncombe to sacrifice it.

“Audubon county was named for the famous naturalist, whose great ‘Bird Book’ is the choicest reassure of the state library. He died in January, 1852, probably before the news reached him of the honor paid him by the frontier state.

“The historian Bancroft was remembered and his name was given to the county north of Kossuth, the original division of the state being into one hundred counties instead of ninety-nine. Four years later this county was abolished and the territory incorporated into Kossuth, which was named after the famous Hungarian Patriot. In 1870 there was a proposition to re-establish the one hundredth county under the name of Crocker, in honor of the brigadier general who had commanded the thirteenth Iowa regiment when it started to the front in the Civil war. The people of Kossuth were successful, however, in resisting division of their county.”

~transcribed by Lisa Henry

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