HISTORY OF DES MOINES.

CHAPTER III

Source:
Historical reminiscences of the city of Des Moines, together with a full description of the city and county. H. B. Turrill, 1857 Transcribed by Ralph Leonard

First Land Sales—Value of Claims—Fears of Settlers that their Claims would be pre-empted or purchased contrary to their interests—Organization of the Claim Club—Proceedings of the Meeting— Signers of the Club-laws—Other meetings of Citizens—Appointment of an Agent to go to Iowa City, and bid off claims for the Settlers in Polk County—The Reeves Mob.

The first land-sales of the land embraced within the limits of the last Indian purchase, occurred at Iowa City, which was the nearest Land Office, in the fall of 1848. The sole tenure by which many of the settlers in this vicinity held their lands up to that time was by the precarious right of claim—precarious because mere occupancy of government land, without a compliance with certain legal formalities, gave no certain property in the land occupied, to the possessor of it. Pre-emption was different, and gave the settler the right to hold 100 acres, and when it was surveyed and brought into market, the privilege of buying it at the minimum rate of $1.25 per acre. But though 320 acres, or even more, might be claimed, it was liable to be sold to the highest bidder at the sales, according to the usual laws affecting the sale of government lands, and those who held claims felt very uneasy lest they might have to pay an unreasonable price, since it was very evident that a great portion of the Des Moines Valley lands was worth more than $1.25 per acre. This was particularly true of heavy tracts of timber, choice prairie and wood-land combined, or of lands in the vicinity of towns, or favorable locations for them, or extending over rich deposits of stone, coal, or other valuable minerals. Lands possessing these advantages and of this kind were most of the claims, were worth from two to twelve dollars an acre, even at that time, and the

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26                                                                  HISTORY

holders of them, could they obtain a good title at reasonable rates, were to be esteemed fortunate. But this desirable title was in the hands of the United States, and who would be the future possessor of it was somewhat uncertain.

Speculators had industriously scoured the country over, noted the most valuable portions, even though they were claims, and were ready to give high prices for them when they came into market; thus robbing the first settlers who had borne the privations and hardships of the wilderness for several years, of their lands, and whatever improvements they had made upon them. Their homesteads, which they had wrested from the primitive wilderness of prairie or forest and changed by enterprise and industry into cultivated fields, laden with yellow corn or waving grain, were liable to become the property of these prowling land-sharks, whose avaricious eyes saw the value of the lands and cared little for justice or right, provided they themselves might secure a handsome profit. With longer purses, they could afford to pay higher prices than the poor settlers; while the latter, sensible of their rights, and aware by what labor, exposure, and self-denial they had acquired these rights, felt, in view of the prospect in future, indignant and exasperated, and felt so justly. So highly incensed did the people become at the idea of speculators over-bidding them at the land-sales, that they viewed every stranger with distrust, lest his errand among them should be to note the numbers of some choice tracts, and make them his own by giving a price beyond the reach of the claimant. A unity of feeling on this subject filled the entire country. They were determined to save their claims, despite any effort or intervention to the contrary, and, if possible, their intention was to pay no more than the lowest government price. Strangers passing through the country had to be careful not to meddle with the lands claimed, otherwise than honestly buying them from the possessors. If their object was thought to be  different—if


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they were suspected of being engaged in any schemes for the unjust deprival of any settler of what were considered his unquestionable rights, they at once incurred the hostile feelings of every inhabitant, and were not safe until they had entirely left the country. Many incidents illustrating this feeling occurred; that of the Holland mob, which took place the ensuing spring, and will hereafter be related, was a case of this kind.

It soon became evident that some regular organization was needed among the settlers, the better to control any out-breaks of popular rage, and cause non-residents to pay due respect to the claims which had been made, as also to prevent difficulties among the settlers themselves, the dishonest of whom did not scruple to take advantage of a neighbor’s temporary absence, sickness, or remoteness from aid, and “jump his claim,” that is, take and hold possession of it “vi et armis," depriving him totally of his rights in the premises. The settlers, or citizens, as they may now more properly be called, of Polk county, held a meeting to consider the proper course to pursue, and as the document which reports their proceedings is particularly interesting, we give it entire. Through the kindness of Benj. Bryant, Esq., in whose possession it has been preserved, a copy of it has been procured for this work:

“At a public meeting of the citizens of Polk county, Iowa, held on the 8th day of April, 1848, at Fort Des Moines, W. H, Meacham was called to the Chair, and L. D. Winchester elected Secretary of the meeting.

"The object of the meeting was then stated by the chairman to be to adopt measures for the security and protection of the citizens of said county, in their claims, against speculators, and all persons who may be disposed wrongfully to deprive settlers of their claims, by pre-emption or otherwise.

Dr. Brooks being called upon made a speech appropriate to the occasion, as also did Mr. Myers.

On motion of the Secretary, the following gentlemen

 

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were appointed a committee to draft resolutions expressive of the sense of the meeting, to-wit: Winchester, Mitchell, Scott, Sypher, and Saylor.

The committee reported the following resolutions:

1st. Resolved, That we will protect all persons who do, or may hold claims, against the interference of any person or persons, who shall attempt to deprive such claim-holders of their claims, by pre-emption or otherwise.

2nd. Resolved, That we will in all cases discountenance the speculator, or other person, who shall thus attempt any innovation upon the homes of the rightful settlers; that we will not hold any fellowship with such person, and that he be regarded as a nuisance in the community.

3d. Resolved, That no person shall be allowed to preempt or purchase in any form from government, any land which shall be held as a claim, unless he shall first obtain the consent of the claimant.

4th. Resolved, That the filing of an intention to pre-empt, contrary to the rights of the settler, be regarded as an attempt  wrongfully to deprive the citizen of his home and his claim.

5th. Resolved, That a committee of five be appointed; and that it shall be their duty to inquire into and adjust all difficulties, and contentions, in cases where claims are in dispute.

6th. Resolved, That it shall be the duty of said committee to notify any person who shall pre-empt, or attempt to do so, by filing his intentions to pre-empt, the claim of any other person, to leave the vicinity and the country; and that they have authority to enforce a compliance with said notice.

7th. Resolved, That we will sustain and uphold such committee, in their decisions, and in the discharge of all their duties as defined in the foregoing resolutions.

8th. Resolved, That all persons be invited to sign the foregoing resolutions, and that the signers pledge themselves to be governed by, and to aid in sustaining the same.

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The above resolutions were unanimously adopted.

On motion, the following named gentlemen were appointed a committee to adjust claim difficulties: J. B. Scott, John Saylor, P. B. Fagan, Thomas Mitchell, and Thomas Henderson.

On motion, the meeting adjourned sine die.

W. H. MEACHAM, Chairman.

L. D. WINCHESTER, Secretary.

The following signatures were obtained to the resolutions:

W. H. Meacham, J. D. McGlothlin, George Dailey,
J. B. Scott, Wm. Lower, L. Garret,
P. B. Fagan, P. Newcomer, A. N. Hays,
T. Henderson, Dayton Harris, G. W. Lacy,
T. Crabtree, John Bennett, T. K. Brooks,
W. A. Scott, D. S. Cockerham, Joseph Myers,
W. Wear, Benj. Bennet, J. Tribe,
T. McCall, Jas. T. Thompson, J. G. Tuttle,
J. Thompson, George Knoop, B. Perkins,
Wm. Bradford, Asa Flemming, Jacob Winter,
N. Ball, Thos. Gilpin, D. Haworth,
J. Bundrum, John Miller, S. W. McCall,
Jos. Deford, David S. Bowman, Montgomery McCall,
J. M. Kirkbride, Charles Murrow, A. W. Hobson,
Jno. Saylor, Robert Hopkins, B. F. Frederick,
Jno. Hayes, Joseph Keeney, Wm. Busick, Sr.,
J. H. Finch, James Philips, E. Compton,
N. Reeves, L. D. Winchester, John Wildy,
Wm. Cooper, John Saylor, J. Harris,
Jno. McMahan, T. Mitchell, H. Huntington,
Wm. Hughes, Benj. Saylor, John Baird,
A. S. Dean, H. D. Hendricks, W. B. Binte,
P. Wear, T. Campbell, B. J. Saylor,
E. Keeler, G. Maginniss, George Krysher,
Jas. Anderson, J. C. Jones, C. Stutsman,
J. Church, J. Frederick, D. S. Mearts,
H. Everly, R. W. Sypher, C. S. Evans,
C. B. Myers, Sam’l Kellogg, Eli Keeler,
D. L. Jewett, Wm. Garrett, George Oglevie,
David Norris, W. F. Ayres, Wm. Kuren,
Wm. Busick, Jr., John S. Dean, David Miller,
Charles Kurey, Jacob Baycus, James McRoberts,
R. A. Harban, Solomon Bales, Franklin Nagle.

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Several other citizens’ meetings, for the accomplishment of the same purpose, were held throughout the summer of 1848. The minutes of all of them have been lost. The last one, held a few weeks before the land-sales commenced at Iowa City, convened at the corner of Second and Market streets. The principal object of the meeting was the selection of an agent, who should represent all the claim-holders of Polk county, and bid off the lands of those who wished to pay for them in money. Such as desired to apply land-warrants in payment, could not do so until the lands had been open for sale a specified time, and to these persons it was all-important that their claims should not be sold until they had an opportunity to purchase them with land-warrants.

R. L. Tidrick was appointed agent, and a corps of armed men selected to accompany him, to protect him and the rights of the settlers in this vicinity from any injury on the part of other bidders, and to prevent those claims from being sold which the holders wished to pay for in warrants. These men were particularly instructed to use any means, however forcible and violent, for the accomplishment of their purpose, and as the guard were all directly interested in the result, their duties were likely to be earnestly and thoroughly discharged.

The claim-holders then made their arrangements with Mr. Tidrick, and he and his cohort departed.

These vigorous measures totally prevented any interference with the rights of the settlers of this region. The claims were all ultimately secured at the minimum price of $1.25 per acre, and a period of general satisfaction, with regard to their homesteads, ensued.

The southern portion of Polk county was, in 1848, as now to some extent, infested with a few men whose reputation for honesty was of a doubtful character. It was supposed to be the head-quarters of a reckless and daring band of horse-thieves, whose depredations extended over


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many adjoining counties, and were very vexatious to the early settlers. The supremacy of the law was not then very highly reverenced. The State legislatures had passed many enactments, and in some thickly-settled and well organized counties they were duly executed. But too frequently the laws, just and important though they were, failed to assert their supremacy. The power of the law was either insufficient to administer the penalties provided for its violation, or was wielded by those who were frequently in league with the malefactors themselves. Crime, therefore, often went unwhipt (sic) of justice, and justice deserved the lash herself. From such causes arose that assumption of judicial power known as lynch law—a summary process of redress and exemplary punishment, for which the records of many other new settlements afford abundant precedents.

       A family by the name of Reeves, living at Linn Grove, near North River, were strongly suspected, and at length openly accused, of being connected with this gang of horse-thieves. Perhaps their guilt could not have been legally proven, but to the minds of the settlers there was very strong circumstantial evidence, amounting to almost positive certainty. What it was is not known; but, acting upon it, the settlers assembled, and proceeding to Reeves’ house, commanded the whole family to depart from the country in a certain time, unless they preferred to bear the consequences of remaining, which were declared to them in terms far from agreeable.

       Intimidated by these threats, the Reeves family, the male portion of which consisted of two old men and several sons, removed to Fort Des Moines, not at all to the joy of the citizens here. Soon after their removal one of the sons became engaged in a fight, and shot a man by the name of James Phipps, dangerously wounding him. Reeves was arrested, examined, and sent to Oskaloosa to jail, there
being none in Polk county.

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Subsequently the settlers on North River collected, to the number of sixty or more, and advanced, on horseback, to Fort Des Moines, determined to make another effort to rid the country of these marauders and insure safety to their property.

A report of their preparations was carried to Fort Des Moines, but before it arrived there it was exaggerated into the alarming intelligence that the town itself was to be destroyed, and all the citizens carried into captivity. It was said that some residents of the Fort, being in the vicinity of North River, were taken prisoners and killed, and that the settlers along that stream, still thirsting for blood, had marshalled (sic) all their forces to wage a war of utter extermination upon the people of Fort Des Moines. These reports wrought a great excitement among the more credulous inhabitants of Fort Des Moines, similar to the recent Indian stories. Col. Baker, with a small band of the most patriotic, marched through the streets, accompanied by the music of a drum and fife, beating up for volunteers, and imploring the people, by every noble sentiment, to rush to arms and defend their homes and property from the army of invading ruffians, who would soon be upon them with all the ferocity of hungry lions, and utterly blot out their lovely town from the face of the earth.

The more sensible of the people looked upon it as a farce, but Col. Baker and his command were determined that Fort Des Moines must and should be preserved, and that they would save the lives of the people in spite of them. They were content to bear the raillery of to-day—to-morrow would show who was right. So they sent out their scouts to see how near the enemy had advanced, instructing them to be careful that they were not captured, and hung to the nearest tree. These scouts not returning immediately, others were dispatched to learn, if possible, their untimely fate. Finally, after several days spent in enlisting men, procuring arms and ammunition, dispatching spies and

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waiting for the enemy to appear, the whole affair turned out a hoax, just as did the late siege of Fort Dodge. Fort DesMoines was not to be assailed, its houses dismantled, its stores pillaged, men shot, women and children carried into hopeless and humiliating captivity. Nothing of the kind. It was only the Reeves, and who cared for the Reeves, after such an escape!

In about a week the North River men came, with the intention before spoken of. The Raccoon river was in such a low stage that it could be forded near its mouth, and on arriving there two of the men crossed over and proceeded into the village to ascertain where the Reeves lived—the remainder sheltered themselves within the heavy timber, which concealed them from view. They evidently expected some opposition to their summary proceedings from the citizens of Fort Des Moines, and therefore wished to take them by surprise. In this expectation they were mistaken. The residents of the Fort were not disposed to interfere with the removal from their midst of people of such character. The two scouts soon returned, having readily acquired the necessary information, and the whole force immediately crossed the river and galloped furiously into the town, raising a cloud of dust and a great excitement. They rode single file, each man swinging a rifle in his right hand, while with his left he urged his horse to the utmost speed. The parties they sought lived in a cabin in the outskirts of the town; thither the horsemen rode. Before reaching the house the road forked, one branch leading to the right, the other to the left. By preconcerted arrangement the foremost horseman took to the right, the second to the left, and so on alternately, in order that they might surround the house. Presley Reeves, seeing the horsemen, and thinking his time had come, took to his heels and endeavored to escape across the fields. His efforts were in vain, and the North River Rangers speedily secured him. They then told the family that they must leave immediately, not only the

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town, but the country; that they had the force to oblige them to leave, and meant to do it. Their team was soon harnessed to the wagon, driven to the door, the members of the family and their effects packed in, nolens volens, and when all was ready the cavalcade marched back as they came, no one of all the bystanders offering the least opposition. These Reeves were escorted by this guard some twenty miles to the southward; they were then told not to stop till they reached Missouri, and the horsemen quietly dispersed to their homes. It would be well if all such out-breaks of popular indignation terminated so quietly, with so little violence, and at the same time were so successful in accomplishing the desired object.



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