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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






While Lincoln was a young man, the Black Hawk War with the Indians broke out.  Lincoln was one of many young men who joined the militia that was organized in Illinois.  He was chosen captain of his company but did not get into actual fighting with the Indians.  Later, for his services in the Black Hawk War, Captain Abraham Lincoln was given a grant or warrant for land within the present state of Iowa.  In this way Mr. Lincoln acquired title to land in both Tama and Crawford counties.

Lincoln never saw his Iowa land but years later when he had two small boys he told a friend:  "A great desire sprang up that I would give the boys the warrant, that they should always be reminded that their father was a soldier."


It was probably not until 1857 that Lincoln actually visited Iowa, and then only on business.  The Rock Island Railroad Company had built between Rock Island and Davenport the first railroad  bridge across the Mississippi.  On May 6, 1856, the steamer Effie Afton, worth about $50,000 and carrying 200 passengers, came up the river.  She was bound from Cincinnati and St. Louis to St. Paul.  As the boat passed the draw of the bridge at Davenport, it struck one of the seven piers and was thrown against another.  Stoves and lamps were upset on the boat and a great fire was started.  The boat, its cargo, and the draw of the bridge were burned.

Captain Hurd of the Effie Afton, and her owners, brought suit against the railroad company in the United States Circuit Court for Northern Illinois.  They asked for damages and, claiming that the bridge obstructed river traffic, said that no bridges should be built across the Mississippi.

St. Louis raised money to support the steamboat owners and Chicago aided the railroad.  It was one of the most famous and most important law cases of that time.  Its outcome would determine whether St. Louis or Chicago would become the grain center of the Middle West.

The trial began in Chicago September 8, 1857.  Abraham Lincoln was one of the lawyers for the railroad company.  Before the time of the trial Mr. Lincoln, in company with another lawyer and a bridge engineer, went to Rock Island for several days.  They visited both sides of the river, carefully studying the currents of the stream and the remains of the bridge.  Thus Lincoln got his first glimpse of Iowa.

The jury disagreed in the bridge case.  It never was settled.


Soon after the famous bridge case, Lincoln became prominent in politics.  he and Douglas staged their famous series of debates in Illinois.  Editor Dunham of the Burlington Hawkeye wrote in his paper of the debate at Galesburg, Illinois.  He said:  "Those we conversed with think Mr. Lincoln the ablest and most popular speaker they ever heard and say he had altogether the advantage of Douglas in the argument, even Douglas' friends acknowledging it."

Lincoln was scheduled to speak at Oquawka, Illinois, on the afternoon of October 9, 1858.  Mr. Charles B. Darwin, chairman of the Republican County Committee and a prominent lawyer in Burlington, Iowa, invited Lincoln to speak in that city.  Lincoln consented but the meeting was not announced until the morning of October 8.  One notice said:  "There will be a grand concert this evening immediately after Mr. Lincoln's speech."  Perhaps this additional attraction was thought necessary in order to assure a large attendance.

Editor Dunham said of Mr. Lincoln's speech in Burlington:  "Grimes Hall was filled to its full capacity . . . A very short notice brought together from twelve to fifteen hundred ladies and gentlemen.  His address of two hours fully came up to the standard that has been erected.  It was a logical discourse, replete with sound argument, clear, concise and vigorous, earnest, impassioned, and eloquent.    We regret exceedingly that it is not in our power to report his speech in full.  Mr. Lincoln appeared Saturday evening fresh and vigorous, there was nothing in his voice, manner, or appearance to show the arduous labors of the last two months."

That night Lincoln stayed at the Barrett House.  It is said that when he arrived he handed to the clerk a package wrapped in a newspaper.  He told the clerk to take good care of the package because it contained his "boiled shirt."  It was the only baggage that he had.


In the summer of 1859 Mr. Lincoln and a Mr. Hatch of Illinois campaigned in Kansas on issues that were to come up in the election of 1860.  On the way they arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri, "all fagged out," as Lincoln said.  A steamboat captain persuaded them to ride to Council Bluffs to see the "up-county" and to rest.

The men arrived in Council Bluffs about ten o'clock in the morning.  The boat was to go to Omaha to discharge its cargo and would start the return trip shortly after five o'clock in the afternoon.

The news that Mr. Lincoln was in town quickly spread through Council Bluffs.  Two men of the town, N. S. Bates, later its mayor, and W. H. M. Pusey, had been neighbors of Mr. Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois.  They took Mr. Lincoln for a ride over the bluffs in an open carriage.  On their return they saw through a telescope that the boat had become grounded on a sand bar.  The men laughed and told Lincoln that he was now their prisoner.  It would take several days to unload and lighten the steamer and get it towed off the sand bar.

Lincoln consented to speak that evening.  Handbills were quickly printed and distributed.  Palmers Hall was rented.  The floor was covered with sawdust which the sheriff had bought for the next term of court.  Council Bluffs had no courthouse then and court was held in the hall.  The room was lighted by numerous candles on the wall.

A crowd that overflowed the hall greeted Mr. Lincoln that night.  Since the speaker's baggage was on the boat, he was forced to appear in the clothes which he had worn that afternoon.  He wore leather boots and rough clothing, bespattered with mud from the ride in the open carriage.  Some people, when they saw this tall awkward man in such clothing, refused to believe that he was the famous Lincoln.  All doubt, however, was soon dispelled when he began speaking.  The audience was greatly pleased with the speech.  The next evening a public reception was held for Mr. Lincoln.

On the third day the steamer was ready and Lincoln steamed back to St. Joe.

On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot by a half-crazed actor at a theater in Washington.  An Iowan, James Harlan, Secretary of the Interior, whose daughter later married Lincoln's son, stood at the President's bedside in his dying hour.


Ulysses S. Grant,, as did Lincoln, first visited Iowa as an unknown citizen of Illinois.  Later, he visited it as a hero of the Civil War.

Before the war Grant was in the tannery and hide business at Galena, Illinois.  While there he traveled out of Galena as a salesman and made several trips into Iowa.  Little or no record was left of those trips.

On September 29, 1875, the annual reunion of the "Society of the Army of the Tennessee" was held at Des Moines.  General Grant was then serving his second term as President of the United States.  Together with General Wm. T. Sherman and Secretary of War W. W. Belknap, he was a guest of our capital city on that great occasion.  A huge demonstration was held.  President Grant was not scheduled to speak that evening but his "boys" loudly called for a speech.  Grant gave a short talk which some of his listeners said was the best and most important speech ever made by him.  Newspapers in the East, however, criticized it and said that it was a "third-term speech."  Some said that it was poor while others said it was so good that he must have had someone else write it for him


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