The History of Keokuk County, Iowa



When the old court-house was still in use and before the county-seat was removed to Lancaster there flourished what was called the "Fools Book."

This affair originated with the every day loafers' society; it was a quire or two of paper stitched together in which any one whose spirit moved him could indite whatever thoughts presented themselves. It had no special custodian, but laid around loose and contained many specimens of chirography. It was not intended for the ladies although it did sometimes emigrate into their presence. A few extracts from this book will save its memory from oblivion if they do not interest the reader.

The following are the rules of writing:

"1st. Every person writing in this book must write a plain legible hand.

"2d. No person shall write anything of a vulgar, obscene or immoral nature.

"3d. All fines collected under these rules are to be paid in foolscap paper, to be attached to this book for the benefit of the fool writers.

"4th. In commencing a writing on any subject, the writer must leave at least one inch of white paper between the commencement of his writing and the end of the preceding piece, on penalty of paying one whole sheet of fair, white foolscap paper, and shall number his piece in consecutive order.

"5th. If any fool should blot or tear this book, he shall be fined a like sheet of foolscap paper.

"6th, Every fool writing in this book must sign his real or fictitious name to his composition.

"7th. All persons writing in this book must be fools, and are requested not to write anything without saying something either witty, instructive, amusing, pleasing, funny, ridiculous—or somehow else."

No. 1.

"Well, I am going to dinner, certain—thank my stars! It is not every fool that can get his dinner just when he wants it. Lucky dog am I, if I do wear an old coat; and that is not all: I am a contributor to the fools' book, which is a great honor to a chap of my cloth; reckon the fools are about as numberless as any society of great men."

No. 18.

"Now, I suppose there are many persons who are not aware of any such publication as the fools' book; and it is well that this is the case, for there is at present such an insatiate rage for new books that the whole community run mad and remain so until they have perused the last new work, and the knowledge of the existence of the fools' book would excite such a tremendous sensation, such universal interest, find so many favorites and be read with such avidity by a large and respectable majority of the citizens of Keokuk county and vicinity, that it might have a deleterious effect upon the mental organization of the species of animal sometimes called homo."

No. 70.

"She has a pretty face, has she, eh? Well, what of it if she has? If that is all the good quality she has, if a quality it may be called, I would not give a snap for her. I have seen a number of such girls that even did not darn their own stockings; but while their mothers were making slaves of themselves their promising daughters were sighing, longing and looking sentimentally before a mirror. Away with such trash! I say; give me the real buxom, tom-boy romp of a farmer's daughter, who is out of her bed-room of a morning ere the lark begins to warble forth his morning hymn; the glow of health is on her rosy cheek; her eyes sparkle with wit and good humor; her step is dignified and majestic; her countenance displays an air of cheerfulness and maiden simplicity, when thus in the bright and rosy morn, ere the sun has yet gilded with rose-tint hues the Oriental horizon, she goes forth amid the song of birds to feed the old hen and chickens."

No. 76.

"SIGOURNEY, April 6, 1846.


"I am happy to inform you that I am yet alive an able to kick.

"This has been the most all-fired particular queer day I have ever seen. It has been both good and bad; and both good and evil have been completely mixed up with mud. I think it would be a good idea for the people here to commence brick-making, for two reasons: first, the mortar is already mixed up; second, we need the brick-bats to throw at birds and other varmints that infest this town. The folks had an election here today, and it beat Buncombe. The rains beat down all day something like Noah's deluge, and yet the folks were so dry that they drank something less than seven barrels of whisky; in fact, with some that was the all-absorbing question. The people were all hot as pepper about something, and could not keep cool no how you could fix it. The way they electioneered beat all nature and Davy Crockett into the bargain. Everybody was on one side or t'other—only some, and they were afraid to be on any side. I guess they want office, and go on what we used, in Buncombe, to call the non-committal question. I tell you what! the Hawkeyes are great folks for office, so I will say no more about the election—only that one side beat, and t'other didn't.

"The wind has just set in to blowing very hard, and I may be blowed off to dear-knows-where, and I am sick, anyhow; but if you should never see or hear of me again, remember that I am your sincere friend and brother, BUNCOMBE.

"P. S.—As the hurricane is now kinder over, and I aint much scared nohow, I will just say that there is not many of our society here, the people being mostly very smart folks; but what few fellows are fools are of the real grit. A more noble set of fellows never lived, and have ever treated me with the most foolish kindness, which shall always be reciprocated in the same tender spirit by                                                                   BUNCOMBE."

"Probably the most appropriate article which could be selected from this fool's book is the Declaration of Independence. It is rather lengthy, but its adaptability to the phraseology of our National Declaration, and its exceeding fitness for the occasion when written, has induced us to copy it. To its better understanding let it be premised that Sanford Harned was the Whig candidate for delegate to the convention for the formation of a State Constitution; resided at Richland, and had always been favorably disposed toward Sigourney. J. B. Whisler was his Democratic opponent; Was the owner of, and merchant at, Lafayette, now Lancaster, and was considered the embodyment of the opposition to Sigourney.

This Declaration was greatly applauded by several individuals, and, on request, was probably read to more than a hundred persons before election. There is little doubt but that the Fools' Book thus elected our Judge Harned as delegate. The first paragraph we omit, being an exact copy of that of seventy-six. The rest of the Declaration is as follows:

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights in some measure political parties are instituted among men, deriving their influence from nominations and leading men; that whenever a party becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to lay it aside for a time, and to take such steps as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

"Prudence would indeed dictate that the Democratic nomination long adhered to should not be bolted for light and transient causes, and accordingly all experience has shown that the rank and file are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abandoning the nomination, for once, to which they politically belong.

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to take away our county-seat and reduce the value of our property, it is their right, it is their duty to abandon such nominations and provide other guards and candidates for their safety and future security. Such has been the political suffering of the northern side of Skunk river, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to abandon the Democratic convention.

"The history of the present king of Lafayette, and his coadjutors, is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of the county-seat in the forks of Skunk river, and consequently taking it away from its present judicious and charming location.

"To prove this let facts be submitted to a candid mind.

"They have refused to acknowledge the county-seat as the place of doing county business.

"They have called together the county commissioners at places unusual and distant from the depository of the public records for the sole purpose of fatiguing us into compliance with their measures.

"They have forbidden their county commissioners to pass orders of immediate and pressing importance, such as laying out a town at the county-seat.

"They have endeavored to prevent the population of the north side of this county, for that purpose misrepresenting the face of the country, the abundance of timber, fertility of soil, etc.

"They have made John Borough, assessor, and other officers dependent on their will, alone, for the tenure of their offices.

"They have selected a multitude of new hobbies and sent hither swarms of electioneerers to harrass our people and take from them the value of county-seat property.

"They have kept among us, in times of peace, spies and item catchers without our knowledge and consent.

"They have affected to render a faction independent of and superior to the laws of the land.

"They have plundered the reputation of our locality, ravaged our court, retarded our town and impeded the settlement of our people.

"They have repeatedly professed friendship to us for the sole purpose of tightening their grasp upon us while we should be napping in fancied security.

"In every stage of these apprehensions we have petitioned for redress and remonstrated in the most humble terms. Our repeated remonstrances have been answered only by repeated injury.

"A 'set' whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a speculator and a miser is unfit to have their nominee elected.

"Nor have we been wanting in our attention to our southern brethern. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their leading men to set the county-seat on wheels. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here in good faith. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations which would inevitably interrupt our political harmony and the success of Democratic principles.

"They too, with a few noble exceptions, have been deaf to the voice of justice and equal rights. We must therefore acquiesce in the necessity, this once, which announces our separation, and hold them as the Whigs, enemies in war; in peace, friends.

"We, therefore, the advocates of Sigourney and equal rights, wherever we may be in Keokuk county on the first Monday of April, 1846, appealing to the good sense of the people of this and adjoining counties for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in and by the love we have for justice, equal rights and the preservation of our property, solemnly publish and declare that this county ought not to support, either directly or indirectly, the nominees and advocates of the removal party of the county, as we would, thereby place ourselves entirely within their power.

"And that the Democracy favorable to the removal of the county-seat, are, and of right ought to be, free and independent of the pretended nominee for delegate. That they are absolved from all obligations to vote for the said nominee, and that all political connection between us and the removal party is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the support of the voters of Keokuk county, we roll up our sleeves and pitch in.

Transcribed by Pat Wahl. Thank you, Pat!

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