Volume 2


Printed by the Clio Press Iowa City, Iowa 1918
Copyright 1918 by Clarence Ray Aurner

Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, June 21, 2013

pgs 68-76

Just as some of the early settlers were not quite certain where their farm boundaries were to be found (See Book One, p. 71), so Iowa and Missouri had trouble about the line between them. Before the matter was finally settled some very unfortunate things happened; a quarrel arose, almost a fight if not real war. Although it turned out to be not very dangerous, it was for a time very exciting.

About the time that Iowa became a separate Territory and began to make the laws for herself, this dispute had to be settled. The cause of it seems to have been in the faulty language that was used to describe the boundary line; or because some one purposely misunderstood it. All of the trouble had its beginning sometime before Iowa had been even thought about; and it would not be easy to find out who was to blame.

As early as 1816 a Mr. Sullivan was employed to survey the northern boundary of certain Indian lands which were afterward included in the State of Missouri. It was not known at that time (in 1816) that the same line would at some time form the boundary of a new state, but it seemed to be a convenient way to fix the northern line of Missouri when it was admitted into the Union. This was afterward known as the Sullivan line; and it should be remembered that when this name is used it means a surveyed Indian boundary which was run from near the northwestern corner of the present State of Missouri eastward to the Des Moines River. It was from the misunderstanding about these rapids that the trouble arose.

From 1816 to 1838 was long enough for the marks of the Sullivan survey to become quite indistinct. The mounds of earth were worn away and the blazed trees had grown over the marks cut into them. Then there were men in Missouri who said that the boundary was some miles farther north than the old line would show. No one could dispute the fact if there were no marks that could be traced, and the people along the supposed boundary did not know whether they lived in Iowa or Missouri. That was especially true in the counties of Van Buren and Davis. The county officers had trouble in collecting the taxes because people did not wish to pay them to the wrong person. Altogether the situation was very troublesome.

The quarrel grew hotter and hotter until men were sometimes arrested and thrown into jail by those who were opposed to them. By and by matters began to look very serious, for it was learned that a thousand Missourians were coming into Iowa to enforce their demands on this side of the Sullivan line. But our Governor Robert Lucas was not much frightened. He had been a soldier in the war of 1812; and besides, strange to say, a similar quarrel had grown up between the Territory of Michigan and Ohio when he was governor of that state. Even at that time there had been some signs of war and bodies of men had assembled on both sides of the line.

Governor Lucas, therefore, ordered the militia of the Territory of Iowa to get ready at once to march to Missouri to meet the thousand men. It was in the midst of winter weather; and no doubt the cold weather was a good thing, for the blood of the fighters soon cooled. The Iowa men had very little clothing or food and scarcely any good weapons. In fact, it has been said that they had a very strange collection of arms. But they set out on the journey as the Governor had commanded, for territorial or state soldiers must obey the Governor who is the commander-in-chief of all the militia. From all the signs a very bloody battle was about to take place, when a halt was called on both sides. Messengers were sent between the Governor of Missouri and Governor Lucas to see if some peaceable way could not be found to settle the dispute.

The good sense of men had shown how foolish it would be to go to war over a small part of either Iowa or Missouri. No one wanted men killed in such a battle. Besides, Governor Lucas said that there could be no disagreement between Missouri and Iowa, since the first was a state and the other a territory. Indeed, Missouri was trying to fight the United States which was in control of the Territory of Iowa. In that way he made the trouble seem more serious for Missouri, for the United States could put the boundary line where it wished, and no state would offer to attack the whole country over a boundary line.

Governor Lucas refused to allow any of the claims of the Governor of Missouri; he laid the entire matter before the President of the United States. The messengers who had come to the Governor of Iowa then went before the legislature of Iowa and asked for some arrangement to keep the peace until the question of who was right could be settled. The legislature was willing to do any reasonable thing to prevent war, or any further trouble along the boundary line. But the governor would not even approve its action. Congress finally passed a law by which three men, one from Missouri, one from Iowa, and one appointed by the President, should decide where the line was, and should then mark it very distinctly. In this plan Missouri, it is said, did not name anyone and the other two acted without help from that State.

Although this action stopped the quarrel and prevented any fight, it did not, after all, settle the question of the boundary. Both the Governors wrote many letters about it and much was said, until the matter was finally left to the highest court of the United States�the Supreme Court�where both sides could show the facts after which the court would say which was right. That decision would be final for there is no higher court in the land. It is interesting to know that the claims of the Iowa men were found to be right; and that the Sullivan line, surveyed in 1816, was the real boundary between Missouri and Iowa.

The real line having been named, the next step was to find it, and to mark it. By this time (1848) Iowa had become a State and layed by such a blunder. Fortunately there more than thirty years had passed since the enough for the purpose. For a time he was quite troubled, since the work must not be de- to Iowa, Governor Briggs had to borrow first or original survey had been made. Mr. Ansel Briggs was then the Governor, a man, as will be seen, who was ready to act alone when it was necessary. Because the State legislature had forgotten to set aside any money to pay the portion of the cost that fell was some money belonging to the school fund (described in Chapter XI) which the Governor was allowed to borrow. But not even the Governor of the State could get that money without giving his own note for its payment. Besides, it was not lawful for anyone to use the school money in that way. Such was the need, however, that the officer who had the money in charge thought it best to assist the Governor in his worthy object. It would not be wise, however, to break the law in very many instances. It is the duty of all men to see that it is obeyed. [this paragraph found on pg 74 was transcribed as written]

The surveyors who set out to find the old Sullivan line which had been described in the records of the State of Missouri as its northern boundary, were delayed by the faintness of its traces. They began, it seems, at the northwest corner of Missouri, which at that time was not on the Missouri River but some distance eastward, although the southern boundary of Iowa extended to the river just as it does now. For some days the surveyors sought for the tree which they knew had been marked�that is blazed�at that corner of our neighboring state. Finally, by chopping into a decayed tree trunk, the old mark was found. From that tree then, both eastward and westward the surveyors ran the old line of 1816. All summer long they were busy in finding the old marks and in putting up new ones that would not wash away or decay.. At the corner of Missouri and also at the corner of Iowa near the Missouri River, they set heavy iron pillars; and at intervals all along the way for over two hundred miles iron or wooden posts were put up between the two states. With such plain marks as these one will ever again be in doubt about which state he is in. Never will men along the border fall out or quarrel about the state in which they live, nor can there ever again be an Iowa-Missouri War.

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