Iowa History Project
Iowa: Its History and Its
A purpose long under consideration has at last taken form in a history of Iowa written from the viewpoint of personality,--a history the aim of which is to show the extent to which great minds—minds possessed of vision, ambition, initiative,--developed a sparsely inhabited wilderness, with undreamt of resources and possibilities, into a great commonwealth set apart on the map as “Iowa.”
Here is an area of 56,000 square miles, lying between the upper Mississippi and the Missouri, over which for centuries there roamed the savage descendants, or conquerors, of an ancient civilization,--mere nomads with only a traditional past and without thought of the future beyond provision for their immediate necessities and the treasuring of tribal hatred and revenges.
The Indian preemptors of this region hunted and fished and fought and died and left behind them a scarcely more authentic memorial of their existence than we have of their contemporaries, the elk and buffalo.
But for the oncoming of the white man, Iowa would today be little if any further advanced toward the dreams and ideals of a world-civilization than it was in that far-off summer of 1673, when the pioneer priest and the intrepid explorer, floating down the Wisconsin and out into the Mississippi, feasted their vision on “the beautiful land.”
The superficial Chesterfield saw in history “only a confused heap of facts”; but the thoughtful student of history cannot fail to find that the social and political movements of his own time have sprung from roots deeply buried in the past.
The greatest fat in history is the Great Man—the man in whom are happily combined broad vision, well-directed purpose, forceful yet tactful initiative, and unabating industry.
Regarded from this viewpoint, Iowa has been fortunate in her history.
The first white man known to have set foot upon her soil was a missionary imbued with a great purpose; and piloting him was a voyageur with an absorbing passion for discovery.
Adventurers floated past her eastern boundary but saw no promise in mere land, however fertile it might prove to be. Fur traders penetrated her inland streams but remained no longer than was necessary to possess the treasures of the chase.
Then came the soldier-explorers, investigators and defenders of savage weakness against savage strength,--Kearny, Albert Lea, Fremont, Street, and Allen, who separately invaded the interior, not to destroy and lay waste, but to conserve, to build up.
In due time an aggregation of isolated farmers and small communities, along her borders and the rivers in the interior, united in a formidable demand for admission to the Union, and after repeated summons the door was thrown open and the region—once part of the vast empire known as the Louisiana Territory, and later, respectively, a part of Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa Territory—was accorded a place among the sisterhood of states and was named the State of Iowa.
From the first, large men—men who saw their opportunities, comprehended their duties and dared to maintain their rights—were accorded seats in the councils of the state, and there saw to it that “the states’ collected will” was embodied in statutes which later were crystallized into a code, contributing largely to the working out of their dream. Emerson in a strangely pessimistic mood once wrote:
“Things are in the saddle
And ride mankind.”
The history of Iowa tells a different story. Long before the birth of the commonwealth and ever since, men have been in the saddle directing the movement of things. In this respect, the Kipling of our day was wiser than the Sage of concord, when he wrote the familiar lines:
“Thing never yet created things—
Once on a time there was a man.”
At all times in Iowa history there have been men,--creative souls that, though they sometimes relaxed their efforts, rose to emergencies and mastered material things,--men divinely commissioned for leadership who, nevertheless, humbly recognized the collective wisdom of “the plain people.”
The development of the History of Iowa, and the presentation of biographies of Iowans who are conspicuously a part of that history, is the purpose of the author of this work.
If the reader shall be the better able to visualize Iowa in the making, to see with the mind’s eye the evolution of the commonwealth and the men who, through circumstance and their own inherent and trained ability, best represent this remarkable evolution because of their part in it, then will the author feel that his labor has not been vainly spent.. Leaving to the special student and to the research-worker the development of specific lines of Iowa history, the author of this work has been content to people Iowa’s past and present with the individual forces that have grasped the enormous possibilities within their reach, and by their individual and combined will have made them certainties.
In the entire world of recorded history there is no story of development more marvelous than that which is her outlined. There are still living in Iowa many men and women who have witnessed and been part of this development. It was the author’s pleasure in 1915, at an old settler’s reunion in Warren County, to witness the meeting between a representative of the past, a pioneer of pioneers who crossed the Mississippi early in 1836,--ten years before Iowa became a state,--and the then chief Executive of Iowa, himself born six years after the relatively young State of Iowa was born!
To present to a younger generation a moving-picture of the principal actors in this drama of a commonwealth, and at the same time to present between the scenes such biographical and historical data as is necessary to a right understanding of the movement of the drama, and to blend these two trends into a composite whole, has been no light task. It has thrown the author back upon the invaluable files of old newspapers an other collected material in Iowa’s Historical Department. It has compelled a study of legislative journals in the State Library and has led him to draw out many old memories which, happily, are active today, but may be unresponsive tomorrow.
It is inevitable that some minor errors will be found to have crept into the work; but it is the author’s hope that these are few at most, and that no seriously misleading error will be found to detract from its value.
The author is indebted to many who have given him valuable information and suggestions in the preparation of his work. He is under especial obligations to Dr. John C. Parish, author of numerous works on subjects related to Iowa history, for a critical reading of the parts relating to Indian and territorial history; also to the late Capt. V. P. Twombly for a painstaking revision of sketches of Iowa generals in the War of the Rebellion; to the late Col. H. H. Rood for valuable information relative to Generals Crocker and Belknap; to Mr. Richard Herrmann for a revision of the biographical sketch of Julien Dubuque; to Hon. W. C. McArthur for new and interesting matter throwing light upon the personal side of Senator Dolliver’s career; to Mr. Henry S. Nollen for information relative to the “Bit of Holland in America;” to Mr. Barthinius L. Wick for light upon the Mennonites in Iowa; to Mr. A. F. Allen for new material relative to his predecessor, Editor Perkins, of the Sioux City Journal; to Dr. A. G. Leonard for a revision of the sketch of Samuel Calvin; to Mr. J. C. Kelly, of the Sioux City Tribune, for information concerning General Hill; to Mr. James C. Davis for reminiscences of early Keokuk lawyers; to a number of surviving relatives of notable Iowans sketched; and to Hon. William H. Fleming—who has the unique distinction of having served as private secretary under seven Iowa governors—for a critical reading of the story of the several state administrations. Nor would the author omit to mention his great obligation to Miss Alice French (the “Octave Thanet” of Iowa letters) for her interesting and illuminating chapter on Iowa authors; to Dr. David S. Fairchild for his important contribution to the history of the medical profession in Iowa, and to the late Chief Justice Horace E. Deemer, for a valuable chapter on the bench and bar of Iowa. The author would also acknowledge his indebtedness to Curator Harlan and his assistants, of the State Historical Department, for aid in making available for his use much invaluable source material bearing upon Iowa history. Nor do the author’s obligations end with those above-named. They also include Adjutant-General Logan, Assistant Adjutant-General Lucas, Document Editor Williams, the Alumni Association of both Ames and Iowa City, Editor Ingham, of the Register and Tribune, Des Moines, Mr. A. E. Kepford, Iowa State Director of the Red Cross, and scores of others whose valuable aid has facilitated the writing and publication of this work, some of whom have modestly expressed a desire that no mention should be made of the service they were pleased to render.
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