Buena Vista County, IA
USGenWeb Project



BUENA VISTA COUNTY is located in the third tier from the western boundary of the State and in the third south of the Minnesota line; it contains sixteen congressional townships, making an area of five hundred seventy-six square miles. This territory was originally a part of the counties of Dubuque and Buchanan but in 1851 was formed into a county and named to commemorate the Battle of Buena Vista. It was first attached to the county of Wahkaw (now Woodbury) in 1853.

In May, 1856, Abner Bell of New Jersey and his brother-in-law, W. K. Weaver and family, and John W. Tucker settled in the northern part of the county near the Little Sioux River at a point called Sioux Rapids. Soon after Arthur T. Reeves, Moses Van Kirk, James H. Gleason and Moses Lewis took claims in the vicinity. In the spring of 1857 the settlers were plundered by a band of Sioux Indians under Inkpadutah while on their way to massacre the colony at Okoboji and Spirit lakes. The men were overpowered by the savages while the women were most brutally treated but no one was killed.

In 1859 the county government was organized by the election of the following officers: A. T. Reeves, judge; W. K. Weaver, treasurer; J. W. Tucker, clerk; and Abner Bell, sheriff. In 1860 the county-seat was located by commissioners in the northwest quarter of section eighteen, township ninety-three, range thirty-six on land belonging to W. S. Lee and the town named Prairieville but no buildings were erected and it never advanced beyond a paper town.

While the county was sparsely settled some of the officials entered into a conspiracy to enrich themselves by levying and collecting taxes in large amounts for building bridges, school-houses and the making of other public improvements. Contracts were let to friends of these officials at enormous prices and the profits divided. Schoolhouses were built on unsettled prairies, non-resident taxes appropriated and when finished the houses were occupied by favored settlers for residences. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of county warrants were issued of which no record was kept, then sold and traded for property. County and school bonds were beautifully engraved and sold through brokers at a discount which tempted eastern buyers to invest in securities which bore ten per cent, interest. When other settlers came and saw how business had been managed, the perpetrators of the frauds fled, leaving enormous debts standing against the county and school districts. For many years suits were pending in the courts for the collection of these fraudulent bonds and warrants and great odium was brought upon the county. None of the perpetrators of these crimes were brought to justice. But after the year 1865 the county government passed under the control of honest settlers and the frauds ceased.

In 1858 a Mr. Barnes laid out the town of Sioux Rapids near the Little Sioux River and, being a man of property, hoped to be able to build up an important place. In 1859 the Sioux Indians were again threatening the frontier settlements and Mr. Barnes sent his son-in-law to Fort Dodge to procure arms for the defense of the settlers. While traveling over the unsettled prairies he was overtaken by a blizzard and so badly frozen that both feet had to be amputated. Mr. Barnes was so disheartened by this calamity that he abandoned his town enterprise and left the country. "Barnes" township and "Barnes Grove" perpetuate his memory. For many years Sioux Rapids was the county-seat. In 1870 the town of Storm Lake was laid out on the north shore of the beautiful lake of that name. The original proprietor was John I. Blair, the builder of the Iowa Falls and Sioux City Railroad, which was the first in the county. The lake is about two miles wide by five miles long, having its outlet in the Boyer River. In October, 1870, Vestal and Young established the Storm Lake Pilot, a weekly newspaper, in the new town. The Little Sioux River runs through the north part of the county and in early days its bluffs were covered with timber.

1Gue, Benjamin F. History of Iowa: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century. Vol. 3. New York: The Century History Company, 1903. 316-18. Web. 17 Jan 2012.

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