THE FIRST ROADS IN IOWA pgs 9-14
The boys and girls who see automobiles every day do not know very much about the first roads. In these days people travel very swiftly over the country roads, over the railroads, and sometimes in flying machines. But long before Iowa was known to white men the Indians had roads of their own.
Suppose some day you should look out of your window and see a long line of ponies coming along the street or the country road one behind the other. As you watch the long line and the ponies carrying the big Indians and the squaws with the papooses on their backs, they always keep a single file. Perhaps some of the ponies have no riders but carry a big bundle of stuff for wigwams.
When such lines of ponies and Indians were first seen in our State there were no roads which white men traveled; but across the wide prairie and through the deep woods the red men made a path. This path was not wide enough for the white man�s ox team and wagon, for some men say it was not more than two feet across; and one can easily see that the track would not need to be very wide for the ponies to travel one behind the other.
After a long time these Indian trails, as they were called, became very hard. They were ready to guide the white man to certain places when he first came to this part of the country. By following these ready-made roads one could readily find the places to cross streams; for the Indians did not live long in one place during the summer time, and in going from stream to stream to hunt and fish, they wore many paths or trails in the prairie sod.
Long after the land had been settled and real roads had been laid out the Indians went back and forth over these routes of travel. They very often stopped at the houses along the way and begged for food. The Indian did not work even to get something to eat and, of course, he did not need to do anything to make the ways of travel any better. It was his custom to go the easiest way; and since he had no wagons, no bridges were needed to cross the streams. The ponies were able to cross the Iowa rivers at almost any time.
Perhaps many boys and girls have seen places to cross streams where there were no bridges, or where teams and wagons went through the water at a ford. It was to such places that the Indian led the white man by means of the trails or paths which the ponies had made; and there the white man soon fixed a ford for teams and wagons. But he waited a long time before bridges were built at all of these places.
Often in riding across the country one will find a road that does not run straight. It does not have corners to turn sharply in another direction and perhaps it will wind along a stream. Or it may follow along the high ground in different directions leaving the low ground at either side. Occasionally, the streets of a town run, as some say, at an angle. It would not be hard to find such streets in the old towns along the rivers; for example, in Burlington, in Davenport, in Dubuque, and in Muscatine.
Now all such roads or streets were begun by a few persons making a path and in many places these may be traced to Indian trials. When the white men came to the region they followed these beaten paths and after these were used for a long time it was not easy to change them. Fences were built to enclose farms; and houses were built along streets so that the people did not want any change. Perhaps these will always be left to remind us of the habits of the Indians and the customs of the early settlers.
One of the early settlers of Scott County and of Davenport has mentioned a road, or one main street, which ran through the town along the river bank in 1836. He also said that an Indian trail which later became a public road led out of the city nearly where Main Street is now. The trail crossed the old college grounds which, if there is no mistake, are now occupied by the Davenport public high school.
This trail ran along the high ridge as public roads came to do later. Another similar trail led in almost an opposite direction. These were the first roads, but by 1838 many public roads had been surveyed to various places in that county. Roads were wanted especially to timbered land and to the Wapsipinicon River where there were a good many settlers.
Not only boys and girls but men and women walk and ride over these interesting roads without thinking about their history. Few may know much about the time when the open prairie and the thick woods were in possession of the Indians. But the roads they made were often the beginning of those we travel now.
In 1838 another familiar trail took a course from the village of Chief Poweshiek on the Iowa River down the stream to the old Indian village at the mouth of the Cedar River. The site of the village of the Chief Wapello was on this trail; it passed through the old village of Chief Keokuk, and on to the Mississippi. Along this path the warriors journeyed to their favorite hunting grounds.
No one could find such trails now and be certain that he was right, for they have all been lost in the work of the white man. The growth of grass in the trail abandoned by the Indians, and the washing of the rains where it was worn deep soon caused it to be forgotten. Yet some men seem able to say that in many places there are roads that mark the old pony paths of the first owners of Iowa.