Volume 1


Fourth Edition Printed by the Clio Press Iowa City, Iowa 1920
Copyright 1917 by Clarence Ray Aurner

Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, submitted April, 2013


The first white men who came to Iowa to live made homes along the Mississippi River. In such places they could go by boats up and down the stream; and when they moved farther back from the large river they usually found a smaller stream near which they could make their home. The Indians kept canoes all along the streams and the white man could soon do as well.

It was not long, however, until some wished to go across from one settlement to another; or even from one home to another at some distance, but not on the same stream. Sometimes, of course, teams of oxen or horses must cross the prairie, and very early men began to think of roads quite different from those which followed the Indian paths.

First, from farm to farm in the direction that men wanted most to go these roads were laid out. For that reason they took the shortest, or the most direct course. And it is for that reason, too, that the first roads ran along the ridges of high land. In the low ground there were sloughs of soft earth where loads could not be drawn without much trouble, because the wagon wheels would settle down so deep. Very often these sloughs had to be crossed and they were often worse than the rivers to get over.

Those who live in the eastern part of Iowa may readily find these early roads, but they are not so common in the newer part of the State. The reason may be given better at some other place, but any owner of land can tell why and the map on page 17 may be of some help in understanding it. Because land was laid out, that is surveyed, in the western part of Iowa before roads were needed, these later roads are like a checker board and have corners everywhere. They are not so interesting as the crooked roads of eastern Iowa.

pg 17

From Fort Madison, where many immigrants crossed the river in 1836, an old trail led up the divide, or open ridge, between the timber on the Skunk River and Sugar Creek in Lee County. On the way it touched at Pilot Grove, a small timbered spot of a few acres; and the farther one got from the starting place the more branches there were from the main line. But always there was the main traveled road, or trail, which led finally to the Indian trading house or to the Indian agency.

Trading houses were usually on the Indian lands; and roads and Indian trails led in the same directions. Probably they were the same in many places. But trading houses were moved from time to time and trails would be changed along with their removal to some other place. Just so with the Indian agency. It would not remain after the Indian had sold his land to the government of the United States.

But before the Indian moved away some settlement may have been made about the place where he went to trade or to be paid his share of money or goods at the agency. Such a name on our State map as Agency City in Wapello County will remind one of those early days. It ought to be quite easy to show that roads and Indian trails were the same in such places. The Wapello County map will show that the city of Ottumwa is the center of a fan-shaped system of roads. And it is known that the site of this city was once the site of an Indian village.

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