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1914 County History
1914
Settlement and Organization

As stated in a previous chapter, the first white men to visit what is now Lee County were Marquette and Joliet, who landed near the present Town of Montrose in 1673, while on the voyage down the Mississippi. The first attempt to form a permanent settlement with- in the limits of the county was made by Louis Honore Tesson, who in 1796 obtained a grant of land from the Spanish authorities of Louisiana. This grant was located "on the west bank of the River Mississippi, at the head of the Des Moines Rapids." A history of Tesson's establishment is given elsewhere in connection with Mont- rose Township.

After Tesson settled upon his grant, nearly a quarter of a century passed before any further efforts were made by white men to found settlements in this part of Iowa. In the meantime there had been a heavy tide of emigration from the older states toward' the setting sun. Indiana was admitted as a state in 1816 and Illinois was admitted two years later. The margin of civilization had reached the Mississippi River and it was not long until adventurous white men crossed the great river and occupied the fertile lands beyond. In 1820 a French trader named Lemoliese established a trading post at what is now Sandusky, about four miles below Tesson's place. The same year another Frenchman, Maurice Blondeau, opened a trading house about a mile above that of Lemoliese. Blondeau became a great favorite with the Indians, who frequently called upon him to settle disputes. As a mediator he heard the evidence of both the disputants and then handed down his opinion "with the wisdom of a modern Solomon." In the negotiation of some of the early treaties between the Indians and the United States, Blondeau was a trusted adviser of the Sacs and Foxes.

Another settler of 1820 was Dr. Samuel C. Muir, who built his cabin near the foot of the rapids, within the limits of the present City of Keokuk. The next year Isaac R. Campbell first visited the county. From that time until his death at St. Francisville, Missouri, he was a resident of Lee County or one of the adjoining counties in Illinois or Missouri. He first located near the upper landing at Nauvoo, Illinois, but in the fall of 1830 sold his farm there and moved across the river, settling where the little Village of Galland now stands. Dr. Isaac Galland had settled here the preceding year, coming from Edgar County, Illinois. His daughter, Eleanor, born in 1830, was the first white child born in the county.

Moses Stillwell and the Van Ausdals settled at the foot of the rapids in 1828. In 1830 a man named Dedman brought his family to the west side of the Mississippi and settled near Galland, where he lived until the breaking out of the Black Hawk war, when he became alarmed and sought the protection of Fort Edwards, on the east side of the river.

The year 1831 witnessed a number of new arrivals in what is now Lee County. Samuel Brierly, whose son, James, was a member of the first Territorial Legislature of Iowa, brought his family and occupied the old cabin erected by the trader, Lemoliese, where he engaged in selling whisky until Colonel Kearney, commanding the post at Fort Des Moines, issued an order for the destruction of all intoxicating liquors found in the possession of the citizens of Nash- ville (now Galland), which order was duly executed by a detail of soldiers from the garrison. In the same year John Gaines, William Price, Alexander Hood, Thomas W. Taylor, William McBride, and probably a few others, joined the little settlement at the foot of the rapids.

Peter Williams settled on the site of Fort Madison in 1832. The same year, after the Indians vacated their village where Montrose is now situated, Capt. James White inclosed about seven or eight acres of ground there and built a double log house on the slope near the mouth of Jack Creek. Two years later he sold his claim and Fort Des Moines was built there in the early part of 1834.

Among those who came in 1833 were John Whitaker, who settled on the north side of the Skunk River, in what is now Des Moines County; James Bartlett, who landed at what is now Keokuk on the 4th of July, accompanied by his wife, three sons and a stepson. John Box came over from Illinois and located near Fort Madison. He was elected one of the seven representatives from Des Moines County, which then included the present County of Lee, to the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin in 1836.

On June 1, 1833, the title to the lands in the Black Hawk Purchase became fully vested in the United States. During the remainder of that year and the year 1834 a large number of emigrants from the states east of the Mississippi crossed over into the new purchase and several families were added to the population of the district now comprising Lee County. Among them were Alexander Cruickshank, William Skinner, Devore Palmer, George Wilson, Henry Judy, John and James Hellman, A. W. Harlan, Joseph White, Samuel Ross, Benjamin Box and Hiram C. Smith. Although the new purchase was open to settlement, the public surveys had not yet been made and each new arrival selected a tract of land to suit his taste and marked the boundaries by "blazing 1 ' the trees around the border of his claim. When the government survey was made it sometimes happened that one claim would overlap another and the houses of two settlers would be thrown upon the same quarter section.

To settle questions of dispute over titles, each settlement had a "Claim Association," to which all cases of this character were referred. Each association had certain rules and regulations for the mutual protection of the citizens. After the United States surveys were made, but before regular courts were established, these associations were frequently called on to adjust conflicting interests with regard to title or possession of certain parcels of land. A claim committee would be selected and the claimants and witnesses would appear and give their testimony, but without the formality of an oath or affirmation. After hearing all the evidence, the committee would decide the case and from that decision there was no appeal. And yet there was little complaint over the rinding of the committee in such cases. The pioneers had all joined in the organization of the claim associations and their sense of honor was such that they always kept faith and abided by the decisions. 

The first government sale of the lands in the Black Hawk Purchase was held at the land office in Burlington in November, 1838. The claim associations in the various localities had kept a record of every claim, and the settlers of each Congressional township selected a bidder to attend the sale and bid in each particular claim for the occupant. A copy of the record was furnished the bidder, who set out for Burlington to protect the rights of his neighbors against the rapacity of speculators and land sharks from afar. Many outsiders looked upon the settlers who had come into the territory in advance of the survey and sale as "squatters," without any rights worthy of the respect of the land speculators or the Government officials. Fortunately for the pioneers General Dodge and General Van Antwerp were on their side and the township bidders had every opportunity to secure the lands. Hawkins Taylor was one of the bidders from Lee County. In the "Annals of Iowa" for July, 1870, he published an article descriptive of the sale. One incident mentioned by him shows in what spirit the speculator was received and it is regarded as worthy of reproduction here. Says he: 

"There were thousands of settlers at the sale at Burlington in the fall of 1838. The officers could sell but one or two townships each day, and when the land in any one township was offered, the settlers of that township constituted the army on duty for that day. They surrounded the office for their own protection, with all the other settlers as a reserve force, if needed. The hotels were full of speculators of all kinds, from the money-lender, who would accommodate the settler at 50 per cent; that is, he would enter the settler's land in his own name, and file a bond for a deed at the end of two years, by the settler's paying him double the amount the land cost. At these rates Doctor Barrett, of Springfield, Illinois, and Louis Benedict, of Albany, New York, loaned out $100,000 each, and Lyne Sterling and others, at least an equal amount, at the same, or higher rates of interest. 

"The men who come to Iowa now cannot realize what the early settlers had to encounter. The hotels were full of this and a worse class of money sharks. There was a numerous class who wanted to rob the settlers of their lands and improvements entirely, holding that the settler was a squatter and a trespasser and should be driven from the lands. You would hear much of this sort of talk about the hotels, but none about the settlers' camps. Amongst the loudest talkers of this kind was an F. F. V., a class that has now about 'give out.' This valiant gentleman was going to invest his money as he pleased, without reference to settlers' claims. When the Township of West Point was sold, it was a rainy, disagreeable day. I was bidder and the officers let me go inside the office. Squire John Judy, who lived on section 32 or 33, whispered to me that he had been disappointed in getting his money, at the last moment, and asked me to pass over his tract and not bid it off. I did so, but the Virginian bid it off. I was inside and could not communicate with anyone until the sale of the township was through. As I did not bid on the tract, the outsiders supposed it was not claimed by a settler and the minute the bid was made, the bidder left for his hotel. 

As soon as I could get out, which was in a short time, and make known that Judy's land had been bid off by a speculator, within five minutes' time not less than fifteen hundred of as desperate and determined men as ever wanted homes started for the bidder. Prominent in the lead was John G. Kennedy, of Fort Madison, who enjoyed such sport. Colonel Patterson, now of Keokuk, a Virginian by birth, but a noble, true-hearted friend of the settler, who had been intimate with the bidder, made a run across lots and reached the hotel before Kennedy and his army. Patterson informed the bidder of the condition of affairs and advised him at once to abandon his bid, which he did, or, rather, he authorized the colonel to do it for him. The colonel went out and announced to the crowd that the bid was withdrawn and that the bidder had also withdrawn himself. Both offers were accepted, but the latter was bitterly objected to and only acquiesced in when it was found that the party had escaped by the back way and could not be found. There was no other remedy. This was the last outside bid given during the sale and one heard no more talk about outside bidding around the hotel. The squatters' rights were respected at that sale." 

From all over the "Forty-mile Strip" the settlers congregated at Burlington during the sale. They brought tents, blankets, cooking utensils, everything, in fact, for a campaign that would result in \ every actual settler's claim being made secure. Bound together in a \ common cause, they went with the determination to stand by each vpther to the finish. Land grabbers and speculators were not long in learning that it would be a dangerous venture to oppose the hardy, Honest yeomanry who had come to Iowa to establish homes and develop the resources of the state. It may seem to some that such a course was rather high-handed, but had the land sharks been per- mitted to purchase the most desirable lands, without regard to the rights of the occupants, it might have been many years before Iowa would have been peopled with the industrious, intelligent and honest population that has placed her among the leading western states. 

Fort Des Moines

Mention has been made of Fort Des Moines, which was established before the Government surveys were completed and while the Indians still dwelt in the district ceded to the United States by the treaty of September, 1832. In 1833 Congress passed an act "for the better defense of the frontier by raising a regiment of dragoons to scout the country west of the Mississippi River." Pursuant to this act and by order of the War Department, dated May 19, 1834, Lieut.-Col. Stephen W. Kearney was instructed to take three companies of the dragoons — Sumner's, Boone's and Browne's — and "take up winter quarters on the right bank of the Mississippi, within the Indian country near the mouth of the Des Moines." 

Kearney sent a quartermaster's force, under Lieut. George H. Crosman of the Sixth United States Infantry, to select a site and begin the construction of the necessary buildings for the accommodation of the garrison. Crosman selected the site where the Town of Montrose now stands and began work, but the barracks were not ready for occupancy until late in the fall. Colonel Kearney's quarters consisted of a house built of willow logs taken from the island opposite the fort. Each company occupied one long building, with a stone chimney in the center, the rooms on either side being used as mess rooms and sleeping quarters. The captains of the three companies were Edwin V. Sumner, who afterward became a prominent general in the Union army during the Civil war; Nathaniel Boone, a son of Daniel Boone, the Kentucky pioneer; and Jesse B. Browne, who remained in Lee County after leaving the army and was one of the early attorneys. 

Before the arrival of the dragoons and the establishment of the fort, the honest, industrious settlers were frequently victimized by some of the horde of unprincipled adventurers that hangs upon the margin of civilization to prey upon unprotected communities. The Black Hawk Purchase offered these gentry a favorable field for the operations, owing to the fact that civil law was not established until after the territory was placed under the jurisdiction of the Michigan authorities. When Colonel Kearney arrived at Fort Des Moines, which name had been selected for the new post, one of his first acts was to proclaim martial law throughout the district. By this course he won the esteem of the well-disposed pioneers. Isaac R. Campbell, who lived near the fort, says: "The names of Browne, Boone and Sumner, captains of these companies, will ever be remembered by the surviving pioneers of the half-breed tract, for it was through their vigilance that civilization here received its first impetus. Their bayonets taught us to respect the rights of others, and from martial law we learned the necessity of a civil code." 

Kearney was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Mason as commandant at Fort Des Moines. Under date of September 18, 1836, Mason wrote: "A town has been laid off at this place, and lots have been sold, which takes in a part of our garrison. This town has been laid off on a tract of land which I am told was granted on a grant confirmed by Congress to the heirs of one Reddick. * * * You will at once perceive, under the circumstances, how certain it is that we must come in collision with the citizens of this town, who have already commenced to build." 

There had been some talk of establishing a military reservation two miles square for the use of the post. In his letter, Mason refers to this and informs the secretary of war that persons are building within the two-mile limit, "for the purpose of selling whisky to the Indians and soldiers." Fort Des Moines was never intended to be a permanent post, and upon receipt of Mason's letter, the secretary issued orders for its abandonment. The last official communication from Fort Des Moines was dated June i, 1837, in which Mason said : "The post is this day abandoned and the squadron takes up its march for Fort Leavenworth. It has been delayed until this date in order that the grass might be sufficiently high to afford grazing for the horses, as corn cannot be had on some parts of the route." 

This was the end of Fort Des Moines as a military establishment. In its day it served a good purpose in protecting the rights of both the Indians and the white settlers. For many years after its abandonment, the furniture used by the officers was in possession of the Knight family of Keokuk. Among the subordinate officers were a number who afterward made a place in history. Besides Captains Sumner, Boone and Browne, above mentioned, Robert E. Lee, then a young lieutenant and afterward commander-in-chief of the Con- federate armies; Benjamin S. Roberts, who won distinction as an officer in both the Mexican and Civil wars; Jefferson Davis, presi- dent of the Confederate States of America during their short and unhappy existence; Winfield Scott, who was commander of the United States forces that captured the City of Mexico in the war with that country, and Gen. William Harney were all at some time or another temporarily stationed at Fort Des Moines. 

Pioneer Life and Customs

Looking back over a period of four score and two years, to the time when the United States commissioners met the chiefs of the Sacs and Foxes at Fort Armstrong and negotiated the treaty that re- sulted in the opening of the "Forty-mile Strip" to settlement, it occurs to the writer that the young people of the present generation might be interested in knowing how the first settlers in the Black Hawk Purchase lived. Imagine a vast, unbroken tract of country stretching away westward from the Mississippi River. Here and there were forests from which there was "not a stick of timber amiss," and between these woodlands broad prairies, never touched bv the plow nor trodden by the foot of civilized man. It was into this region that the Lee County pioneers came "Not with the roll of stirring drums And the trumpet that sings of fame," 

but with stout hearts, axes and rifles, they came to conquer and subdue the wilderness, build roads, schoolhouses and churches, found cities and build up a state that ranks second to none in the American Union. -One of the first things necessary to a pioneer in a new country is shelter for himself and family. Sometimes two or more families came at the same time. In such cases a log cabin would be built, in which all would live together until each settler could stake out his claim and erect a dwelling of his own. No saw-mills were convenient for the manufacture of lumber; there were no brick yards; hence, frame or brick houses were out of the question, and the log cabin was the universal type of dwelling. The first cabins were built of round logs, but a little later some of the more aristocratic of the settlers erected hewed log houses. And what an event was the "house-raising" in a new settlement! 

After the settler had cut his logs and dragged them — probably with a team of oxen — to the site of the proposed cabin, he invited his neighbors, some of whom lived several miles distant, to a "rais- ing." When all were assembled at the place four men were chosen to "carry up the corners." These men took their stations at the four corners of the cabin and as the logs were lifted up to them they cut a "saddle" upon the top of one log and a notch in the under side of the next to fit upon the saddle. The man having the "butt end" of the log must cut his notch a little deeper than the man having the top, in order that the walls might be carried up about on a level, the butt and top ends generally being alternated on each side and end of the structure. No openings were left for the doors and windows, but these were sawed out afterward. At one end was an opening for the fireplace, just outside of which was constructed a chimney of stone, or, if stone was not convenient, of logs and clay. The roof was invariably of clapboards, the floor, if there was one, of punch- eons — that is slabs of timber split as nearly as possible of the same thickness — and smoothed off on the upper surface with an adz after the floor was laid. The door was also made of thin puncheons and was hung on wooden hinges and provided with a wooden latch. Nails were a luxury and not infrequently the entire cabin would be finished without a single article of iron being used in its construction. The clapboards of the roof would be held in place by a pole running the full length of the cabin and fastened to the end logs with wooden pins. 

The furniture was usually "home-made" and of the simplest character. Holes bored in the logs of the walls were fitted with pins, upon which were laid boards to form the "china closet." The table was made of boards, battened together and supported upon two trestles. When not in use, the top of the table could be leaned against the wall, or set outside of the cabin, and the trestles could be set on top of the other to make more room. 

Stoves were unknown and the cooking was done at the great fireplace, an iron teakettle, a long handled skillet and a large iron pot being the principal utensils. Often "johnny cake" was made by spreading a stiff dough of corn meal upon one side of a smooth board and propping it up in front of the fire; when one side of the cake was sufficiently baked, the dough would be turned over, so that the other side might have its inning. A liberal supply of "johnny cake" and a mug of sweet milk often constituted the only supper of the pioneer. 

Somewhere in the cabin, two hooks, formed from the forks of small trees, would be pinned against the wall to form a "gun rack." Here rested the long, heavy rifle of the settler, and suspended from its muzzle, or from one of the hooks, hung the bullet-pouch and powder horn. 

After the "house-raising" came the "house-warming." A new cabin was hardly considered fit to live in until it had been properly dedicated. In nearly every frontier settlement there was at least one man who could play the violin. The "fiddler" was called into requisition and the new dwelling would become "the sound of revelry by night." No tango, maxixe or hesitation waltz was seen on these occasions, but the Virginia reel, the stately minuet or the old- fashioned cotillion, in which some one called the figures in a stentorian voice, were very much in evidence, and it is quite probable that the guests at a presidential inaugural ball never derived more genuine pleasure from the event than did these people of the frontier at a house-warming. If the settler who owned the cabin had scruples against dancing, the house was "warmed" by a frolic of a different character, but it had to be "warmed" in some way before the family took possession. 

At the present time, with plenty of money in circulation, when any one needs assistance he hires some one to come and help him. When the first white men came to Lee County, money was exceed- ingly scarce and the pioneers overcame the difficulty by helping each other. After the cabin was built, the next step was to clear and fence a piece of ground upon which to raise a crop. The trees were felled by the settler and cut into such lengths that they could be handled, when the other settlers in the vicinity were invited to a "log-rolling." By this means the logs were piled in great heaps, so that they could be burned. Enough valuable timber was destroyed in this way to pay for the land upon which it once grew, if it could be replaced at the present time. 

While the men were rolling the logs, the women folks would get together and prepare dinner, each bringing from her own store some little delicacy that she thought the other might not be able to supply. Bear meat and venison were common on such occasions, and, as each man had a good appetite by the time the meal was ready, when they arose from the table it "looked like a cyclone had struck it." But each man had his turn and by the time the work of the neighborhood was all done, no one had any advantage in the amount of provisions consumed. 

The same system was followed in harvest time. Frequently ten or a dozen men would gather in a neighbor's wheat field, and while some would swing the cradle the others would bind the sheaves and shock them, after which the whole crowd would move on to the next ripest field until the wheat crop of the entire community was cared for, or at least made ready for threshing. No threshing machines had as yet made their appearance and the grain was separated from the straw by the flail or tramped out by horses or cattle upon a smooth piece of ground, or upon a barn floor, if the settler was fortunate to have a barn with such a floor. 

Just now it is an easy matter to telephone to the grocer to send up a sack or barrel of flour, but in the early days going to mill was no light affair. Mills were few and far apart and the settler would frequently have to go to such a distance that the greater part of a week would be required to make the trip. To obviate this difficulty various methods were introduced for making corn meal — which was the principal bread stuff of the first settlers at home. One of these was to build a fire upon the top of a large stump of some hard wood and keep it burning until a "mortar" had been formed. Then the charred wood was carefully cleaned off, the corn would be poured in small quantities into the mortar and beaten with a hard wood "pestle" until it was reduced to a coarse meal. In the fall of the year, before the corn was fully hardened, the "grater" was brought into requisition. This was an implement made by punching holes through a sheet of tin and then fastening the edges of the sheet to a board, with the rough surface outward, so that the tin would be slightly convex on the outer surface. Then the corn would be rubbed over the rough surface, the meal would pass through the holes and slide down the board into a vessel placed to receive it. A slow and tedious process was this, but a bowl of mush made from grated corn and accompanied by a generous supply of good milk, formed a repast that was not to be criticized in those days, and one which no pioneer blushed to place before a visitor. 

Matches were exceedingly rare and a little fire was always kept somewhere about the cabin "for seed." In the fall, winter and early spring, the fire was kept in the fireplace, but when the weather grew so warm that it would render the cabin uncomfortable, a fire was kept burning out of doors. If, by some mishap, the fire was allowed to become extinguished one of the family must go to the nearest neighbors for a fresh supply. 

How easy it is at the present time to enter a room, turn a switch and flood the whole place with electric light! It was not so eighty years ago in the Black Hawk Purchase. The housewife devised a lamp by using a shallow dish, in which was placed a quantity of lard or bear's grease. A loosely twisted rag was immersed in this grease, the end of the rag was allowed to project slightly over one side of the dish and this projecting end was lighted. The smoke and odor emitted by such a lamp could hardly be tolerated by fastidious persons now, but it answered the purpose then. Next came the tallow candle, made in moulds of tin. Sometimes only one set of candle moulds could be found in a new settlement and they passed freely from house to house until all had a supply of candles laid away in a cool dry place, sufficient to last for many weeks. Often, during the winter seasons, the family would spend the evening with no light but that which came from the roaring fire in the great fireplace. 

No one wore "store clothes" then. The housewife would card her wool by hand with a pair of broad-backed wire brushes, the teeth of which were slightly bent all in one direction, then spin the rolls into yarn upon an old-fashioned spinning wheel, weave it into cloth upon the old hand loom and make it into garments for the members of the family. A girl sixteen years of age who could not manage a spinning wheel or make her own dresses was a rarity in a new settlement. How many girls of that age now can make their own gowns? 

Too busy to visit during the day, one family would often go over to a neighbor's to "sit until bed time." On such occasions the women would either knit or sew while they gossiped and the men would discuss crops or politics, while the children cracked nuts or popped corn. And bed time did not mean a late hour on such occasions, for all must rise early the next morning for a fresh day's work. 

But if the pioneers had their hardships, they also had their amusements and entertainments. Old settlers can recall the shooting matches, when the men met to try their skill with the rifle, the prize being a turkey or a haunch of venison. Or the husking bee, where pleasure and profit were combined. On such occasions the corn to be husked would be divided into two piles, as nearly equal in size as possible; two of the guests would "choose up" and divide the crowd into two sides, the contest being to see which side would first finish its pile of corn. Men and women alike took part and the young man who found a red ear was permitted to kiss the lassie next to him. "Many a merry laugh went round" when some one found a red ear and the lassie objected to being kissed. After the orchards were old enough to bear, the "apple cuttings" became a popular form of amusement, when a number would assemble some evening to pare and slice enough apples to dry for the winter's supply. The husking bee and the apple cutting nearly always wound up with a dance, the orchestra consisting of the one lone fiddler in the neighborhood. He might not have been a classic musician, but he could make his old fiddle respond to such tunes as "The Bowery Gals," "Money Musk," "Turkey in the Straw" and "Devil's Dream," and he never grew tired in furnishing the melody while others tripped the light fantastic toe. 

On grinding days at the old grist mill a number of men would meet and pass the time in athletic contests, such as foot races, wrestling matches or pitching horse shoes. After the public school system was introduced the spelling school became a frequent place of meeting. At the close of the exercises the young men could "see the girls home," and if these acquaintances ripened into an intimacy that ended in a wedding, it was usually followed by a charivari, or, as it was pronounced on the frontier, a shivaree, which was a serenade in which noise took the place of harmony. The proceedings were generally kept up until the bride and groom came out where they could be seen, and the affair ended all the more pleasantly if the members of the shivareeing party were treated to a slice of wedding cake and a glass of cider. 

One feature of pioneer life should not be overlooked, and that is the marks by which the settler could distinguish his domestic animals. In early days all kinds of live stock were allowed to run at large. To protect himself, the frontier farmer cropped the ears of his cattle, hogs and sheep in a peculiar manner and these marks were recorded with the same care as titles to real estate. Among the marks were the plain crop, the under and upper bits, the swallow fork, the round hole,' the upper and under slopes, the slit, and a few others, by a combination of which each settler could mark his stock so that it could be easily identified. The "upper bit" was a small notch cut in the upper side of the ear; the "under bit" was just the reverse, being cut in the lower side; the "crop" was made by cutting off a small portion of the ear squarely across the end; the "swallow fork" was a fork cut in the end of the ear, similar in shape to that of a swallow's tail, from which it derived its name, and so on. If some one found a stray animal marked with "a crop off the left ear and a swallow fork in the right," he had only to inquire at the recorder's office to learn the name of the owner. These marks were seldom violated and protected the settler against loss as surely as the manufacturer is protected against infringement by his registered trademark. 

Organization of the County

Immediately after Iowa was attached to the Territory of Michigan, by the act of Congress, approved June 28, 1834, the territorial authorities began the preliminary work of establishing civil government in the region west of the Mississippi. On September 6, 1834, the Territorial Legislature passed an act creating two new counties in the newly attached country. All north of a line drawn due westward from the lower end of Rock Island was to be known as Dubuque County, and all south of that line as the County of Des Moines. John King was appointed chief justice of the former and Isaac Leffler of the latter. Later in the fall the first election ever held in Southeastern Iowa was for officers of Des Moines County. There were two voting places — Fort Madison and Burlington. William Morgan was elected presiding judge of the County Court; Young L. Hughes and Henry Walker, associate judges; John Whitaker, probate judge; W. W. Chapman, prosecuting attorney; Solomon Perkins, sheriff; W. R. Ross, clerk, recorder and assessor. John Barker and Richard Land were appointed and commissioned justices of the peace by the governor of Michigan Territory. 

When the Territory of Wisconsin was established under act of Congress, approved on April 20, 1836, Iowa was made a part of the new territory. On December 7, 1836, Henry Dodge, governor of Wisconsin, approved an act of the Territorial Legislature dividing Des Moines County into the counties of Lee, Van Buren, Henry, Louisa, Muscatine and Cook. The name of Cook County was afterward changed to Scott. 

There is some difference of opinion as to how Lee County received its name. At the time the county was erected by the Wisconsin Legislature, Robert E. Lee, then a lieutenant in the regular army, was engaged in making a survey of the Des Moines Rapids, with a view to the improvement of navigation on the Mississippi River. It seems that he was one of the most popular subordinate officers of the garrison at old Fort Des Moines and some authorities state that the county was named in his honor. Others claim that the county was named for Charles Lee, a land speculator from New York, who was then operating in the half-breed tract. Albert M. Lea surveyed and mapped the shores of the Mississippi River and explored the Des Moines in 1835. He was an officer in Colonel Kearney's command at Fort Des Moines and some writers are inclined to the opinion that the intention was to name the county for him, but that a mistake was made in spelling the name. It is quite probable that the county was named for Lieut. Robert E. Lee. 

In the session of the Wisconsin Legislature that established the county, Joseph B. Teas, Arthur B. Ingram and Jeremiah Smith, Jr., were members of the council from Des Moines County, and Thomas Blair, John Box, George W. Teas, Eli Reynolds, Isaac Leffler and Warren L. Jenkins were representatives. 

The first session of the District Court in Lee County began on March 27, 1837. It was presided over by Judge Irvin, who appointed John H. Lines clerk of the court. 

By the act of December 7, 1836, it was provided: "That each county within this territory now organized, or that may hereafter be organized, be, and the same is hereby declared one township for all the purposes of carrying into effect the above recited acts, and that there shall be elected at the annual town meeting in each county three supervisors, who shall perform, in addition to the duties here- tofore assigned them as a county board, the duties heretofore performed by the township board." 

The first election for county officers in Lee County was held on Monday, April 3, 1837, "for three supervisors, three commissioners of highwavs, three assessors, one county treasurer, one coroner, one collector, one register, one township clerk and thirteen constables." 

At the election William Skinner, William Anderson and James D. Shaw were chosen supervisors; E. D. Ayres, Samuel Hearn and Stephen Perkins, commissioners of highways; Calvin J. Price, Stephen H. Graves and William Newcomb, assessors; George W. Howe, treasurer; Lewis Ritman, coroner; C. M. Jennings, collector; John H. Lines, register and township clerk; Robert Harris, John Barnett, W. N. Shaw, Franklin Kinneda (or Kenneda), Joseph Mamson and C. M. Jennings, constables. The call for the election specified thirteen constables and the records do not show why only six were elected. 

The first meeting of the board of supervisors was held on April 17, 1837, at the Madison House, the hotel kept by Joseph S. Douglass in the Town of Fort Madison. Mr. Douglass seems to have had "a pull" with the board, as he was granted a license to keep a public house and sell liquors by small measure "for a period of one year," upon payment of $5, and immediately afterward the board voted to fix the license fee for public houses at $25 per year. This was the only business transacted at the session, the report of the assessors not being ready for the action of the board. 

At the second session, which was held on the first Monday in May, 1837, three public houses, or "groceries," were licensed in the Town of Fort Madison. The first license was granted to Samuel B. and William H. H. Kyle; the second to John S. Neely and Jesse Dickey, and the third to Lorenzo Bullard and Robert F. Harris. Each paid $25 for the privilege of selling by retail "spirituous liquors and wines for a period of one year." Calvin J. Price and James D. Shaw were each granted license "to keep store and retail goods, wares and merchandise in the Town of West Point for one year from the 1st day of May, 1837," and each paid into the public treasury of the county the sum of $8 as license fees. 

A special meeting of the board was held at the house of C. L. Cope in the Town of Fort Madison on July 10, 1837, to consider the report of the assessors. It was ordered : "That notices be set up in different places, as the law directs, that if any person or persons shall be aggrieved by the incorrectness of their list of taxes, they shall be given an opportunity of correcting the same." 

William Newcomb was allowed $2 anc * Stephen H. Graves $20 for their services as assessors for the year 1837. The minutes of the session also contain the following entry: "It appearing to this board of supervisors that the assessment list as returned to this board is not fit for the collector to use in collecting the taxes, it is hereby ordered: That the township clerk make out a fair copy, in alphabetical order, of all persons in the original list, with the amount of property opposite their names respectively, who are assessed and liable to pay a tax, and the same to be handed over to the assessor." 

At the special session Hawkins Taylor and John L. Cotton each received license to "keep store at West Point for one year from the fourth of July, 1837," an d L. G. Bell was granted a license to keep a store in the Town of Salem, the license fee in each case being $8. 

On December 20, 1837, the governor of Wisconsin Territory approved an act doing away with the board of supervisors and establishing in its place a board of county commissioners "in each county in the territory." In the election of these commissioners, the one receiving the highest number of votes was to serve for three years; the next highest for two years, and the next one year, and each commissioner was to receive $3 per day for each day actually employed in the transaction of county business. Under the provisions of this act an election was held in Lee County on Monday, March 5, 1838, when William Anderson, Stephen H. Graves and S. H. Burtis were elected commissioners; Peter Miller, treasurer; Henry D. Davis, coroner; Joshua Owen, assessor; Joseph Morrison, John P. Barnett, A. C. Brown, C. M. Jennings, Samuel Burtis, L. B. Parker, William Pints, M. C. Marfin, Thomas Small, P. N. Miller, Abraham Hinkle, H. E. Vrooman and John Patterson, constables. The first meeting of the new board of county commissioners was held in Fort Madison, beginning on Monday, March 26, 1838. John H. Lines was appointed clerk of the board and was given an appro- priation of $35.12^ for the purchase of the necessary blank books for keeping the records. Peter Miller filed his bond of $3,000 as county treasurer, with Isaac Johnson and L. B. Parker as his sureties, which was accepted by the board. 

At this term the county was divided into six election precincts and judges appointed in each to serve at all general elections. The voting places and judges in the six precincts were as follows: No. 1, Samuel Hearn's house; Samuel Hearn, John Billips and Johnson Meek, judges. No. 2, in the Town of Keokuk; John Gaines, Valencourt Vanosdol and John Wright, judges. No. 3, at Montrose, house of William Haines; T. H. Gregg, Robert Roberts and William Coleman, judges. No. 4, residence of C. L. Cope, Fort Madison; John A. Drake, William Wilson and Isaac Johnson, judges. No. 5, Wil- liam Patterson's house, West Point; Calvin J. Price, Horatio McCardell and William Patterson, judges. No. 6, Joseph Howard's house, in the Howard Settlement; William Howard, Joseph Howard and Harrison Foster, judges. On July 5, 1838, a license was granted by the board of commissioners to Joshua Owen to operate a ferry across the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, and fixed the following rates: "Each footman, \2 l / 2 cents; man and horse, 37^ cents; wagon and two horses, $1.00; each additional horse, 25 cents; loose cattle, 12^2 cents each; hogs and sheep, 6j4 cents each; wagon and one yoke of oxen, $1.00; each additional yoke, 25 cents." 

The Territory of Iowa was created by act of Congress, approved by President Van Buren on June 12, 1838, to take effect on July 3, 1838, and the session at which Owen's ferry license was granted was the first under the new regime. At the same term the following venire was ordered, from which a grand jury was to be selected: A.rthur Johnson, Jairus Fordyce, Jason Wilson, James Elwell, Isaac Briggs, Calvin Newton, William Patterson, Isaac Beeler, James McMurray, Harrison Foster, Mathew Kilgore, William Howard, William Holmes, Michael H. Walker, Solomon Fein, Hugh With- rough, Robert Roberts, Thomas W. Taylor, Thomas J. McGuire, Pleasant M. Armstrong, Joseph Webster, Nathan Smith and Isaac Vandyke. 

The grand jurors to be selected from the above list were for the August term of the District Court, and the following were designated as petit jurors for the same term of court: John Bonebright, Jeremiah Brown, Archibald Gilliland, William Allen, Valencourt Van- osdol, James Wright, Patrick Brien, Stewart M. Coleman, Johnson Chapman, Joshua Wright, George W. Claypole, Thomas Fitzpat- rick, Edward Kilbourne, David W. Kilbourne, Forest W. Herd, George W. Perkins, James Fyke, Eli Millard, E. D. Ayers, William G. Haywood, William D. Knapp, William Saucer, Thomas J. Ful- ton and John G. Toncray. 

Pursuant to the act of Congress establishing the Territory of Iowa, the first election for members of the Territorial Legislature and county officers was to be held on such a day as the governor of the territory might designate. Governor Lucas accordingly ordered an election for Monday, September 10, 1838, when Jesse B. Brown was elected councilman; William Patterson, Calvin J. Price, James Brierly and Hawkins Taylor, representatives; William Pitman, John Gaines and Peter Miller, commissioners; James C. Parrott, treasurer; John H. Lines, register of deeds; John P. Barnett. as-

sessor; Robert Stephenson, coroner; John G. Kennedy, Preston N. Miller, William Pints, Samuel W. Weaver, John Patterson, Henry E. Vrooman, Willis C. Stone, Charles Kellogg, William Burton, Thomas Small, Ransom B. Scott, Leonard B. Parker and Franklin Kenneda, constables. 

With the election of these officials and their induction into office, the county machinery of Lee County was permanently established. Since then the progress of the county has been steadily onward and upward, and as the routine business transacted by the county com- missioners has always been of much the same character, it is considered unnecessary to go into further details, or to make additional quotations from the early records. 

Locating the County Seat

On January 18, 1838, the governor of Wisconsin Territory approved an act providing that "the seat of justice of Lee County be, and the same is hereby, established at the Town of Fort Madison." Here the early sessions of the courts were held and the principal business of the county was transacted. But it was not long until the settlements farther back from the Mississippi River began to com- plain that the county seat, as thus established, was too far from the center of the county. Influence was brought to bear upon the session of the Legislature which met late in the year 1839, an d on January 14, 1840, the governor approved an act appointing Samuel C. Reed, of Van Buren County; James L. Scott, of Jefferson County, and another commissioner whose name has been lost, to visit Lee County, investigate the conditions there, and recommend a location for a permanent seat of justice. 

Messrs. Reed and Scott met at Fort Madison on the first Monday in March, 1840, the date designated in the act, and, after examining several proposed sites, recommended the "south half of the south- east quarter of section 23, and the north half of the northeast quarter of section 26, in township 68 north, range 6 west." 

As the locating commissioners were operating under a law of the Territorial Legislature, the county authorities had no recourse but to accept their decision. The location was therefore accepted by the board of county commissioners, and the name of "Franklin" was selected for the new seat of justice. John Brown, John C. Chapman and Thomas Douglass, the owners of the land, agreed to donate the site to the county, with the understanding that, when the town was laid off, the board of commissioners should make the first choice of a lot, the owners of the land to have second choice, and so on until the lots were equally divided between the original owners and the county. This proposition was accepted by the board and the county surveyor was instructed to survey and make a plat of the town. Mathew Kilgore and Samuel Brierly, two of the commissioners, were appointed to make the division of lots with the donors of the site. 

On May 19, 1840, the board held a special meeting and ordered that a sale of lots in Franklin be advertised for three successive weeks in the Iowa Territorial Gazette, published at Burlington, the sale to take place on Monday, July 13, 1840. No record of that sale has been found and it is not certain that any lots were sold on that date, as the dissatisfaction over the location was so great that buyers were not encouraged to invest their money under the existing conditions. This dissatisfaction increased as time went on, and at the next session of the Legislature the question was again brought up, with the result that an act was passed on January 15, 1841, submitting the whole matter to a vote of the people of Lee County at an election to be held on the second Monday in March, 1841. 

The act also provided that if no location received a majority of all the votes cast, the two receiving the highest number should be voted for at a second special election, to be held on the third Monday in April. 

Immediately after the passage of the act, the people of Fort Madison became active in their efforts to secure the seat of justice. The town authorities, on February 23, 1841, passed the following ordi- nance: "Be it ordained by the president and trustees of the Town of Fort Madison, that the sum of $8,000 be appropriated out of the funds of the corporation for the purpose of erecting a courthouse in the Town of Fort Madison — provided that the county seat of Lee County be located in said town." 

John G. Toncray, then county treasurer, certified to the Legislature that the $8,000 thus pledged by the town authorities had been paid into the county treasury, and as a further guaranty that the town would carry out its agreement, Hawkins Taylor, Jacob Cutler, Joel C. Walker, John A. Drake, William Wilson, Henry Eno, George Bell, Stewart Brown, Thomas Hardesty, Jacob Huner, Alfred Rich, Edward Johnstone, Adam B. Sims, Henry E. Vrooman, James Hardin, William D. Knapp, S. A. Walker, Richard Pritchett, Thomas Fitzpatrick, E. A. Dickey, William Leslie, John G. Toncray,

Samuel B. Ayres, E. D. Ayres, Hugh T. Reid, John G. Walker, Amos Ladd, Peter Miller and the firm of James Wilson & Company executed and filed a bond for $16,000, twice the amount of the pro- posed donation, that the Town of Fort Madison would carry out its part of the agreement. 

In addition to this, Daniel McConn, an ex-treasurer of Fort Madison, certified that $5,000 was received from the sale of town lots belonging to the Government for the use of the town, which sum it was proposed to add to the public building fund. Hawkins Taylor, Amos Ladd and a few other public spirited citizens purchased the lots upon which the courthouse was erected for $560 and converted them to the county for a consideration of one dollar, bringing the total of the public building fund up to $13,559 before the election was held. This "pernicious activity," as some of the opponents of Fort Madison expressed it, had its effect on election day, Fort Madison receiving 465 votes; Franklin, 435, and West Point, 320. Although Fort Madison failed to receive a majority of the votes, it was in the lead and at the second election, held on April 19, 1841, according to the terms of the act, the vote stood 730 for Fort Madison and 477 for Franklin. 

Many people now thought the question was settled, but not so. While the Town of Fort Madison was carrying out its contract to erect a courthouse, the advocates of Franklin and West Point got together and presented a petition to the next Legislature to reopen the whole subject by again presenting the question to the people. A remonstrance was presented on behalf of Fort Madison, but it was ignored and on January 13, 1843, the governor approved an act "to relocate the seat of justice of Lee County." Thomas O. Wamsley, of Henry County; I. N. Selby, of Van Buren, and Stephen Gearhart, of Des Moines County, were named in the act as commissioners "to visit Lee County, make an examination of the situation and surroundings, and locate the county seat at such place as to them may seem best, taking into consideration the future as well as the present population." 

The commissioners met at the Town of Franklin on March 20, 1843, after having made their investigations, and submitted the following report: 

"The undersigned commissioners, appointed by an act of the Legislative Assembly of Iowa Territory, entitled 'An act to relocate the county seat of Lee County,' approved 13th January, A. D. 1843, make the following report: We met, as directed in said act, at the Town of Franklin on the second Monday of March, instant, and, after having been sworn, as provided for in said act, by John Brown, Esq., a notary public in and for said county, we proceeded to examine the several points in said county proposed as eligible sites for the county seat of said county, and also to examine the face of the country generally, as to its population and the capability of the several portions of the county to sustain a dense population, etc., and we have concluded to and do hereby select the east half of the southeast quarter of section 5, town 68 north, of range 5 west, being the tract on which West Point is located, as the county seat of said county; and we further place in the office of the clerk of the board of commissioners of said county the annexed papers, marked 'A,' as a writing executed by the obligors therein named for the use of the county seat at the said point above named. 

"Witness our hands and seals this 20th day of March, A. D. 1843. 

"Thomas O. Walmsley. [Seal.]

"I. N. Selby. [Seal.] 

"Stephen Gearhart. [Seal.]" 

The "Exhibit A" referred to by the commissioners was a document signed by A. H. Walker, William Steele, Freeman Knowles, Calvin J. Price, Aaron Conkey, P. H. Babcock, R. P. Creel, John M. Fulton, William Stotts, William Patterson and some others, in which they agreed to build at West Point a courthouse forty-five by fifty feet, with stone foundation and brick superstructure two stories high, and to have the same completed by September 1, 1844, "in consideration of the commissioners locating the county seat of Lee at West Point." 

On March 28, 1843, the report of the locating commissioners and its accompanying papers were filed with the board of county commissioners, who issued an order on the same day "that the district courts for Lee County, from and after the first day of April next shall be held at the Town of West Point." It was mutually agreed by the people of West Point and the people of Fort Madison that the county seat should remain at the latter place for one year after a location should be selected by the commissioner appointed by the Legislature, and that the courthouse erected by the people of Fort Madison — or who had borne at least two-thirds the cost of its erection — should be sold at public auction and two-thirds of the proceeds refunded to the town. John A. Drake was appointed to take care of the building until the auction sale, which never "happened." 

The people of West Point carried out their agreement to build a courthouse, though in after years some of the donors to the undertaking probably regretted that they permitted their enthusiasm to get the better of their judgment, for West Point's honors as a county seat soon faded and the men who built the courthouse were the financial losers. 

In the summer of 1843 a movement was started to have the county divided. A petition was presented to the next session of the Legislature and on February 15, 1844, the governor approved "An act for the formation of the County of Madison." By the provisions of the act, the question was to be submitted to the voters of Lee County at the April election in 1844, when those in favor of the new county should write upon their ballots "For Division," and those opposed, "No Division." The proposition was defeated by a vote of 952 to 713 and the county seat fight was renewed. 

Those who favored Fort Madison as a seat of justice started the circulation of a petition to the Legislature, asking that body to submit the question once more to the voters of the county. In response to this petition "An act to relocate the seat of justice of Lee County" was approved on June 10, 1845, by which the question was to be voted on at a special election, to be held for that purpose, on the first Mon- day in August. It was further provided by the act that if no point received a majority of all the votes cast at that election, the three places that received the highest number of votes should be voted for at another election on the first Monday in September. Six places entered the lists at the August election and the result was as follows: Fort Madison, 664 votes; West Point, 308; Franklin, 326; Keokuk, 208; Montrose, 287; Charleston, 41. 

As no place received a majority, and Fort Madison, Franklin and West Point were the three that received the greatest number of votes, the second election was ordered for the first Monday in September. For one month Lee County was the center of great political activity. When two neighbors met, the county seat question was the topic of discussion. Many bitter arguments and a "few fist fights" occurred during the short but all-absorbing campaign. At the election in September the vote was 969 for Fort Madison, 535 for West Point, and 378 for Franklin. Fort Madison having received a majority of 56, out of a total vote of 1,882, was declared the county seat, and in October the county officers were all back in their old quarters in the courthouse in Fort Madison. 

By this time the people were generally ready to acquiesce in the decision of the election, though a few still insisted that the seat of justice should be located nearer to the geographical center of the county. On March 3, 1856, a petition signed by 2,238 qualified voters of Lee County was presented to Judge Samuel Boyles, of the county court, asking for an election to vote upon the question of removing the county seat from Fort Madison to Charleston. Judge Boyles granted the petition and ordered an election for the first Thursday in April, 1856. No returns of that election can be found in the records, but it is known that Fort Madison was victorious and the county seat was not removed. 

The growth of Keokuk and the increase in the population of the southern part of the county, led to the passage of a special act by the Legislature of 1847 establishing a court of concurrent jurisdiction at Keokuk. All the lands in the old half-breed tract, except that portion in Madison and the eastern half of Jefferson Township, are recorded at Keokuk, and branches of all the county offices are main- tained in that city. The old medical college building was bought by the county for a courthouse at Keokuk, so that the city is to all intents and purposes a seat of justice. 

Public Buildings
 
The first courthouse at Fort Madison— the one erected by the town to secure the county seat — was begun in 1841 and completed in the summer of 1842. The original intention and first order of the board of county commissioners was to locate the building in the "upper public square, 1 ' now known as Old Settlers' Park, but the two lots on the northwest corner of Third and Pine streets, having been bought by some of the citizens and donated for a site, the commissioners in July, 1 84 1 , issued the following order:

"That the courthouse and jail for Lee County, commonly called public which are now to be erected by Thomas Morrison and Isaac R. Atlee, undertakers or contractors, shall be erected on Lots No. 534 and 535, situated in the Town of Fort Madison, as will appear by reference to the plat of said town; and it is further ordered by the board that the order made by this board at their special session on the first day of June last past, selecting the upper public square for the location of the courthouse and jail be, and the same is hereby, rescinded." 

The first building was 50 by 48 feet, two stories high, with a basement which was used for a jail. The foundation is of stone and the walls of the first and second stories of brick, and the cost of the original courthouse was about twelve thousand dollars. In 1876 it was thoroughly overhauled and an addition 24 by 50 feet was made to the north end. A new jail having been built, the basement was converted into a place for storing old records, etc. Although not as imposing in appearance as some courthouses, the building is still in service. It is the oldest courthouse in the state, in point of continuous use as such, and when the interior of the building was destroyed by fire on March 29, 191 1, the sentiment of the older residents of Fort Madison was in favor of repairing the old house instead of building a new one, as some of the younger generation advocated. The old settlers won and the structure was repaired, the money received from insurance companies covering practically the entire cost of rebuilding, so that Lee County can still boast of having the oldest courthouse in Iowa. 

The first mention of a jail in the county records was on October 3, 1837, when the board of supervisors ordered that "H. D. Davis be allowed $4.00 per month for a certain house used as a county jaii, until the first day of April, 1838." The "certain house" referred to in the order was a small log building on Elm Street, not far from the upper square. It was used by Davis as a shoe shop while at the same time he rented it to the county for a prison. 

At the March term of the county commissioners in 1838 it was ordered: "That there shall be built in the Town of Fort Madison, on the north side of the upper public square, a county jail of the follow- ing dimensions, to wit: Twenty feet square, with a double wall of hewn oak timber one foot square, sound and clear of rot or decay; fifteen feet high and two stories in height, the lower story to be built with a double wall, seven feet between the upper and lower floors, which are to be laid of hewed oak timber, one foot thick, with square joints. To be let out on the third day of the next term to the lowest bidder, etc." 

No further mention of the jail can be found in the records until October 13, 1838, when it was ordered : "That the jail be received of the undertaker, or contractor, Isaac Miller, and that the clerk grant him an order on the treasurer for $486.58, in full for the same." 

This jail was destroyed by fire about eighteen months after it was completed and the county was without a prison until the cells in the courthouse basement were completed. In 1865 the commissioners made an appropriation of $2,000 for the erection of a new jail, immediately west of the courthouse. The stone walls were erected, when it was found that to complete the jail according to the original design would require considerably more money than the' board had anticipated. At the October election in 1866 the question of appropriating $7,000 for the completion of the jail was submitted to the people and was carried by a vote of 3,555 to 941. The jail was then finished and with some slight alterations and improvements still forms the bastile of Lee County.

A history of the county asylum, or home for the poor, as well as more detailed accounts of the early settlements, will be found in other chapters of this work.


Source:  History of Lee County, Iowa, by Dr. S. W. Moorhead and Nelson C. Roberts, 1914

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