LYON COUNTY GENEALOGY
ORGANIZATION OF THE COUNTY
The first legislative act providing for the erection of counties within the limits of the territory which eventually became the state of Iowa, was an act of the territorial Legislature of Michigan in 1834-"An act to lay off counties west of the Mississippi River." Lyon County is the northwestern subdivision of the state of Iowa. It is bounded at the north by South Dakota and Minnesota, on the east by Osceola County, Iowa, on the south by Sioux County and on the west by the Big Sioux River, which stream divides it from South Dakota. These limits embrace a beautiful region of country, extending thirty-seven miles in length, east and west, and about seventeen north and south, containing about 368,000 acres.
When first created by the Iowa Legislature, in 1851, it was named "Buncombe," in honor of a gallant Revolutionary soldier, from North Carolina, but serious objections were made to the name, owing to its double meaning, in its interpretation. Hence in the autumn of 1862-during the dark days of the Civil War-an act of the legislature changed the name to Lyon, in honor of Iowa's brave and gallant General Nathaniel Lyon, who fell at the battle of Wilson's Creek, while leading the First Iowa Infantry in a deadly charge. These facts have been gleaned from public records at the state capitol, and have also been inserted in Hon. B.F. Gues' late three-volume history of Iowa. However, the following concerning the origin of the county name, was given by an early pioneer and historian of this county, and not a few early settlers cling to the legend, for this reason it is given in this connection.
S. C. Hyde, from whom we quote, said in a forty-page description of Lyon County, in 1872:
"The legislature which convened in 1851 was composed of a large majority favoring stringent corporation laws, and the liability of individual stockholders for corporate debts. This sentiment in the legislature, on account of agitation of railroad enterprises, then beginning, brought a large number of prominent men to the capitol. To have an effect upon the legislature, they organized a Lobby General Assembly, in which these questions were ably discussed. They elected as their governor Verplank Van Anterwerp, who delivered to this self-constituted body a lengthy message, in which he sharply criticized the regular legislature. Some of the members of the latter body were in the habit of making long speeches, much to the hindrance of business. To these he especially referred, charging them with speaking for buncombe, and recommended that their lasting memorial should be a county to be named "Buncombe." This suggestion was readily seized upon by the General Assembly, and the county of Buncombe was created, with few dissenting votes."
But be that as it may, Lyon County was created under the above name, and together with several others was attached to Woodbury County for judicial and revenue purposes. Woodbury at that date, however, was called Wahkaw, from Indian dialect. Lyon County remained under the jurisdiction of Woodbury County, until the time of its final organization, January 1, 1872.
At the September session of the board of county supervisors of Woodbury County, by resolution adopted, Lyon County was divided into two civil townships as follows: "All of said county east of the line between ranges 45 and 46 shall compose one township, to be known as "Rock" and all of said county west of such line shall compose a township to be known as "Lyon." At the same time, the board ordered an election for the new townships, to be held at the next general election, with the view of immediately organizing the county according to law.
The next legal steps, in behalf of the county was ordering an election of county officers, the date being fixed as at the general election of 1871, when the following were duly elected: Charles E. Goetz, Auditor; James H. Wagner, treasurer; D.C. Whitehead, clerk of the circuit and district courts; T.W. Johnson, Sheriff; L.A. Ball, county superintendent of schools; Thomas Thorson, recorder; Eathan Allen, surveyor; J.S. Howell (chairman), Charles H. Johnson and H.T. Helgerson, board of supervisors. S.G. Martin was elected justice of the peace for Rock Township and a year later he was elected as the first and only drainage commissioner Lyon County ever had-the office was later abolished.
From minute book "A" of Lyon County, partly a transcript from Woodbury County books, it is found that in September 1871, the first tax levy was made for this county-state revenue, two mills on the dollar; ordinary county revenues, four mills on the dollar; poll tax, fifty cents; for support of schools, two mills on the dollar; making and repairing bridges, three mills on the dollar; insane fund, one mill on the dollar.
The first board of supervisors for Lyon County, after properly organized, met January 1, 1872, at Beloit, J.S. Howell acting as chairman. Among the first acts of this pioneer body was to purchase $9.56 worth of office furniture and fixtures and to fix the assessed valuation of live stock, to be taxed within the county. This list was as follows: Cows, $10.00; yoke of work oxen, $40.00; two year old steers, $5.00; three year old steers, $10.00; common work horses, $30.00; three year old colts, $18.00; two year old colts, $15.00; mules, $30.00; sheep, fifty cents each.
A special election was called February 12, 1872, to vote on the question of restraining stock from running at large. There were fifty-seven votes cast for the measure and eleven against it. The law became effective ninety days after the election.
At the same session of the board, D.C. Whitehead was awarded the contract by bid, for the construction of a flat boat twelve by thirty feet, to serve for ferry purposes on the Big Rock River, at Rock Rapids. The contract was let at $300. All of the actual Lyon County residents were given free passage, but the following toll was exacted from others: footmen, ten cents; team and wagon, twenty-five cents; cattle and horses, five cents; and sheep, free.
May 21, 1872, the supervisors adopted the following motion: "On motion it is now ordered that the sheriff, deputy sheriff and any constables of Lyon County, be and the same are hereby instructed to arrest and bring before a magistrate any party who shall be found cutting timber from the 'timberlands' belonging to Lyon County, Iowa."
At the same session the board selected Wm. M. Lee, of Doon township; E.W. Lewis, of Lyon Township, and Wm. B. May, of Rock Township, to assist D.C. Whitehead in his duties as the swamp land commissioner, in selecting such lands as were given the county by a state grant.
The February 1872, session of the board adjourned to meet in April, "at the forks of Rock River, in Badgerow's Hall," at which time and place the salaries of the county officials were fixed. The treasurer to receive $1,500 per year; the auditor, $1,200; the clerk of courts, $1,000; and sheriff, $200 and fees. At the same time a notice was ordered published in the Rock Rapids Journal, "until ordered out," warning lawless persons from cutting and hauling away any of the timber belonging to the county swamp land tract. At the June session of the same year, S.C. Hyde was appointed to compile and publish a forty-page pamphlet on the early history, advantages and resources found in Lyon County. A small outline map of the county accompanied the book, which in the absence of any printing office had to be printed at LeMars, in Plymouth County. The chief object was to publish to the world the glories of Lyon County soil and general advantages, in order to induce homeseekers, and it is said the desired end effected was more than pleasing to the county fathers, as well as to the crafty real-estate men.
During the same year the county gave five hundred dollars to pioneer D.C. Whitehead to induce immigration to the county; also a fee of two dollars additional for each actual settler he succeeded in getting to locate in the county. It hardly seems possible, that thirty-one years ago men had to be hunted up and induced by various means to become a free-holder of free land, in a county now so famous for its well tilled, fertile fields, and general prosperity. The days of cheap land here are gone, but the fine towns and rural homes will ever be maintained.
In the early autumn of 1872 the county board found the need of some better quarters for the county offices. The various officers kept their books at their homes, far distant, one from the other, and it was next to impossible to do business at so long a range. Consequently the board ordered the principal officials to remove to a building, or buildings, to be later designated, situated in the village of Rock Rapids, until a county seat could be legally located. The vote stood-J.S. Howell and Charles H. Johnson, "Yea;" and H.T. Helgerson, "No." Within the twenty days allowed them, the officials removed their effects and became residents or Rock Rapids.
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