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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





Before anyone buys land he usually wants to see it or wants to be told about it by someone who has seen it.  When President Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory, of which Iowa was a part, he had not seen the land nor had he learned much about it.  Before the deal was completed, however, he had asked Congress for $2,500 to send a party of men on an exploring trip from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

The President began to get the party ready soon after the territory had been bought.  He selected two young men to lead the party and each of them had the same power.  Never has such an important piece of work been given to two young men, each with equal power.  Some people in the East said President Jefferson was sending the men to their death.  They said the president was crazy and wanted to know what good could come from it.

All the men that were chosen for the party except one, a negro servant, either were or became soldiers in the regular army.  Some of them, before the trip, had been frontiersman.  The negro servant proved to be great curiosity to the Indians because they had never seen a black man before.


Captain Meriwether  Lewis, a Virginian and twenty-nine years of age, was the first man to be chosen.  He had been President Jefferson's private secretary for two years.  William Clark, also a Virginian and thirty-three years old, was the other leader of the party.  He was a younger brother of George Rogers Clark, the conquerer of the North west Territory east of the Mississippi.  Both Lewis and Clark had been in the regular army and both had fought in Indian Wars.

Many men wanted to go with Lewis and Clark, but only twenty-six were taken for the entire trip.  Sixteen more were to travel along as far as the lands of the Mandan Indians in what is now North Dakota.

There were great dangers ahead for the party.  Strange and powerful Indians would be met.  The land was not known.  Food had  to be obtained along the way.  The men might starve to death, they might  drown in the swift rivers, or they might even freeze to death in the mountains.

Much preparation had to made.  Three boats were loaded with supplies, such as clothes, tools, guns, powder, and food.  Fourteen bales of presents were taken to the Indians.

The party started up the Missouri River from St. Louis on May 21, 1804.  Travel was slow.  The boats had to be pulled by long ropes from the shore or rowed against the current.  Sometimes sails were used on the boats.


On July 18, the Lewis and Clark party reached what is now the southwest corner of Iowa.  Already strange Indian tribes had been met. The President had told Lewis and Clark to hold councils with the Indians and to make friends with them.

An important council was held on the west bank of the Missouri River, on August third.  Lewis and Clark told the Indians about their new "White Father,"  as the president was called by the Indians.  They told  them that the president wanted the Indians for friends.  Presents were given to six chiefs of the Otoe and Missouri tribes.

Lewis and Clark liked the place where the council was held.  They called it Council Bluffs, and said it would be a good place upon which to build a fort.  Council Bluffs, Iowa, is located across the river from where this meeting place.

The party had plenty of food while traveling along what is now Iowa.  Game was plentiful and much wild fruit was to be found.  Hunting parties were sent out nearly every day.  A whole buffalo lasted only one day and it took several deer to supply meat for a day.


On August 19, Sergeant Charles Floyd, a young man form Kentucky, became very sick.  There were no doctors who might be called.  The men did what they could for Sergeant Floyd but he died the next day.  He was buried on a high bluff now called "Sergeants Bluff."

Lewis and Clark thought Floyd was one of their best men.  He had been one of seven that were selected to keep a journal of the trip.  They named the Floyd River, in Northwestern Iowa, in his honor.  The town, Sergeants Bluff, is also named for him.  He was the only man in the party who died on the trip.  Lewis and Clark asked the government to pay a pension to his parents, but it was never done.

Floyd's grave was marked with a cedar post and it became a landmark for early settlers.  In 1857 the remains were moved back two hundred yards from the river because the bluff had been washed away until the grave was partly destroyed.  A large stone was then put over the grave to mark it.

People said that a monument should be put up in honor of Sergeant Floyd.  Money was got from the United States Congress and from the Iowa Legislature for that purpose.  Many people who lived in and near Sioux City also gave money.  The monument was dedicated on May 10, 1901.  It is one hundred feet high and the cost was about $20,000.


During the winter of 1804-5, the Lewis and Clark party lived near the Mandan Indians, in what is now North Dakota.  In the spring, the large boat, with sixteen men aboard, was sent back to St. Louis.  The rest of the party went on west.  The second winter was spent at the mouth of the Columbia River.

The Lewis and Clark party returned to St. Louis on September 23,1806.  It had taken them two years and four months to make the trip, but it had been worth all that it cost in time, in money, and in hardships. 


Long reports of the trip were written by Lewis and Clark.  They told of animals and plants that white men had never seen.  They brought back alive some small animals and the skeletons and hides of larger animals.  They told, too, of making friends with strange Indian tribes.

President Jefferson was proud of Lewis and Clark.  No one said, after they returned, that the trip had been foolish, as some had said before they started.  The people now could learn many things about the new land that had been bought.  White people, too, could go into this land because Lewis and Clark had made friends of the Indians.


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