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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




The first fort on Iowa land at Fort Madison was built to help traders.  After it was destroyed no other forts were built until the Government bought land west of the Mississippi from the Indians.  There was one new fort, however, that was very near to Iowa land.  That was Fort Armstrong, which was built in 1816 on Rock Island.  This island is located in the Mississippi River between the present cities of Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa.  Because of its fine position on the island and its nearness to Iowa, this fort played an important part in our early history.


After eastern Iowa had been bought from the Indians in 1833, through what is known as the Black Hawk Purchase, white settlers came into Iowa and soldiers were needed to protect them from possible Indian attacks.  They were needed, too, because a new country usually has some bad or lawless people who take advantage of the fact that there is no real government.  When a company of soldiers was sent to a new region it would build a fort for protection.


The second fort to be built on Iowa land was named Fort Des Moines.  It was built on the present site of the town of Montrose and not at the present city of Des Moines.  Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Kearny, with three companies of cavalry, built the fort during the fall and winter of 1834-35, but did not stay long with his soldiers.  By the summer of 1837 they were all gone and the colonel's house had become a hotel.

In 1842 the Government bought from the Sac and Fox tribes all the land which those Indians then had in Iowa.  The Red Men were allowed to stay in Iowa for three more years.  A fort was built to keep white people off the Indians' land and to keep peace among the Indians.  This new fort was at the place where the Raccoon River flows into the Des Moines River.  Captain Allen was sent from Fort Sanford, with a few soldiers, to build it.  He arrived at the place in May, 1841, and named it Fort Raccoon.  General Scott changed the name to Fort Des Moines.

Settlers usually located near the forts because of the protection they could have from attacks.  During the first summer, while the fort was being built, a trader, a tailor, a blacksmith, a farmer, and a doctor located at the second Fort Des Moines.  That was the beginning of our present capital city.  The soldiers were taken from the fort in 1846.


The Winnebago Indians, were moved onto the Neutral Strip in northeast Iowa in 1840.  A fort was needed to protect them from tribes that were unfriendly.  Soldiers were also needed to keep the Indians on their own land or reservation.

In the spring of 1840 Captain Lynde, with 82 men, came from Fort Crawford, at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.  He went into camp on the Turkey River and began building a fort.  The present town of Fort Atkinson is located on the site.  The next year more soldiers were sent because it was feared that the Sac and Fox tribes would make an attack.  The soldiers were taken from Fort Atkinson in February, 1849.


Citizens of Boone County asked Congress to send them soldiers and to build a fort.  They feared an Indian attack but also thought that other settlers would come if they had protection.  Captain Woods was sent from Fort Snelling, near St. Paul, Minnesota, with 68 men.  In August, 1850, he started Fort Clarke.  The name was later changed to Fort Dodge.  The present city of Fort Dodge is located on the site.  Soldiers were withdrawn from the fort in June, 1853.


Soldiers were stationed for a few months at the Indian agency, now Agency, Iowa.  They did not build a fort because they were permitted by Mr. Sanford, agent for the American Fur Company, to use the company's buildings.  The station was named Fort Sanford.

Council Bluffs was the site for military posts in southwestern Iowa.  Forts Fenwick and Croghan were occupied by soldiers in 1842 and 1843.


Several men who later became prominent in military or political life came to Iowa.  Jefferson Davis, later President of the Confederacy, was stationed at one time on Rock Island and made trips into Iowa land.  Robert E. Lee, later the leader o the Southern troops in the Civil War, made a surveying trip in southeastern Iowa.  Winfield Scott, leader of the American forces in the Mexican War, was in command of Fort Armstrong and made a treaty with the Indians on the present site of Davenport.  Zachary Taylor, later President, was stationed at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and visited Iowa land.


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