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

Grant of Lands for Improvement of the Des Moines River—Extent of Grant—Decision of Stuart—Effect of contract made with Bangs, Bro. & Co.—Price of River lands raised—Indignation of the Settlers—River Land Meeting at Fort Des Moines—Resolutions adopted—Failure of Bangs, Bro. & Co.—Incident at Land-sales.

In August, 1848, Congress granted to the State of Iowa, for the improvement of the Des Moines river, the alternate sections of land in a strip ten miles wide, extending along this river from its source to its mouth. By means of this grant it was contemplated to make the river navigable as far as Raccoon Fork, by a series of dams or locks, twenty-nine in number, thus rendering Fort Des Moines accessible for steamboats at all seasons of the year. The river in its natural state was, and is, navigable only during from three to eight months. This important work was commenced with energy; but, from a variety of causes, it has been repeatedly suspended and delayed, until the present time (1857) only three locks are built, and these are rather a detriment than an advantage to navigation. It is to be hoped that the project will yet be completed, replete as it is with benefits to the residents of the Des Moines Valley. The grant, although understood to embrace all the alternate sections along the Des Moines, throughout its whole extent, were, in 1851, decided by Alexander H. H. Stuart, Secretary of the Interior, to extend only so far as the improvements were to be made: that is, only to the mouth of Raccoon river. By the unremitting efforts of the Iowa delegation in Congress, this decision was reversed and the intent of the grant established.

In 1851, the State having sold about $150,000 worth of


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lands, in the lower part of the Valley, a contract was made with Messrs. Bangs & Brother for the completion of the entire work. According to the terms of this contract, the price of lands below Raccoon Fork was fixed at two dollars, instead of one dollar and twenty-five cents, while those located on the river above the Raccoon were to be sold at five dollars an acre. The injustice of this unexpected advance in the price of the land, a great part of which settlers had claimed and improved, expecting to purchase on the same terms as Congress land, was apparent, and roused the indignation of the claim-holders throughout the whole Valley, more especially those above the Raccoon Fork, who could derive no direct benefit from the improvement of the river, as it did not reach them, and were to be charged the exorbitant price of five dollars per acre. Citizens’ meetings were held at various points, and the indignant spirit of the settlers was made manifest by their proceedings, in the strongest terms. These meetings were not confined exclusively to the settlers upon these lands, but others who sympathized with them took an active part. The people generally, those upon the even sections, and those without the limits of the grant, feeling deeply sensible of the great injustice and wrong inflicted upon the settlers upon the odd sections, assisted these by all the legitimate means they could command, to enable them to secure their lands at a fair and reasonable price. To compel them to pay five dollars per acre, when their neighbors on the even sections only paid one dollar and a quarter, was anything but justice and equity. Nor was this the worst feature in the case. The legislatures, both Territorial and State, had invariably pursued the policy of encouraging the pioneer who should settle upon public lands, and enactments to this effect had frequently been passed. Even those in reference particularly to the river lands recognized the rights of the claim-holders, and made provision for them to secure their Lands at the minimum price. Now, by the

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terms of a mere contract, all these rights were to be denied, legislative policy changed, even-handed justice outrageously perverted, and the heaviest cost of erecting a work of general benefit to the people of the State, levied upon those to whom it would bring but slight advantages. These were the sentiments expressed by the various citizens of Warren, Polk, Boone, and other counties, along the line of the Des Moines. Much as they desired the improvement of the river, the public sentiment was unequivocally in favor of abandoning it if it could be constructed in no other way than by an act of gross injustice to so many industrious and worthy settlers. The voice of Polk county on the subject is expressed in the following account of a


Agreeable to notice given, the citizens of Polk county convened at the Court House, on Saturday, the 10th inst. When, on motion, P. M. Casady was called to the Chair, and J. D. McLain was appointed Secretary.

The object of the meeting being stated by H. S. Buzick, a committee of five were appointed to draft resolutions expressive of the sense of the meeting: Dr. A. Y. Hull, W. H. McHenry, Jos. Hopkins, Wm. Murrow, and H. S. Buzick were appointed said committee. Said committee, after deliberating upon the subject, submitted the following preamble and resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:


Whereas, in the course of events it has become necessary for the people residing in this vicinity to speak out upon a subject that is now agitating the public mind in this section of the State, and Whereas, it is highly important that we should always identify ourselves with the right, rather than the popular; and Whereas, by the action of two accredited agents of the State, the rights of many of our fellow citi-

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zens have been sacrificed; and Whereas, we recognize as sacred and defensible, the right to freely canvass the course of all our public functionaries; and Whereas, all public officers should feel willing, at all times, to submit to the ordeal of investigating scrutiny; and Whereas, the General Government has made a munificent grant of land to the State for the purpose of improving the navigation of the Des Moines river to this place; and Whereas, a great majority of the lands so granted, which lies below the Raccoon Fork, has been sold at the minimum Congress price of $1.25 per acre, and the proceeds applied to pay for work done at and near the mouth of the river; and Whereas, a large sum of money—say $150,000—has been expended upon a portion of the improvement, and after all this, that part of the work is now "suspended,” which, when interpreted, means abandoned; and Whereas, the Commissioner and Register have entered into a contract with Bangs & Bro. for the completion of the work to Fort Des Moines, and have consented that the price of lands lying above the Raccoon Fork should be raised, for the time being, to $5.00 per acre; and Whereas, a portion of those lands were, at the time of said contract, claimed and improved by persons who had gone upon the lands with the assurance that the right to enter their farms at Congress price would not be interrupted, or that they would at least stand upon an equality with settlers on River lands below Fort Des Moines; Therefore

Resolved, That we feel thoroughly convinced, from what we have learned in regard to the contract with the Messrs. Bangs & Bro., that the Commissioner and Register, though they may have acted in good faith, have been sadly over-reached in the matter, have  exceeded the limit contemplated by the Legislature—have exhibited a sectional feeling—have run counter to the rights of those hardy pioneers who have braved the inconveniences incident to frontier settlements, and whose just immunities cannot be wheedled away with impunity.

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Resolved, That we tender our most lively sympathies to those claimants who have been thus robbed of their hard earnings—deprived of the enjoyment of the fruits of their industry—and placed at the mercy of strangers.

Resolved, That we can see no good reason why the citizens residing above Fort Des Moines should not enjoy equal privileges with those who reside below this place.

Resolved, That we would recommend to all persons who may feel aggrieved by the state of things as it now exists, to remain in peaceable and quiet possession of their homes, and we hereby pledge ourselves to assist them in every legal way in maintaining their just rights.

Resolved, That although we are extremely anxious to see our river put in a navigable condition, still we do not desire that the improvement be finished at so great a price as the sacrifice of rights of a respectable portion of our fellow-citizens.

Resolved, That we hereby recommend to persons residing in the Des Moines Valley to organize in each election precinct, and adopt such measures as they may deem expedient for the purpose of securing to each the right of entering his land at $1.25 per acre, so far at least as those claims were made before the first of January, 1852.

On motion, the following named gentlemen were selected as Delegates to attend the meeting at the Rapids, in Boone county, on the 17th inst., viz: H. S. Buzick, Josiah Hopkins, and W. H. McHenry.

On motion, the meeting adjourned.

P. M. Casady, Chairman.     

J. D. McClain, Secretary.

Happily all the fears of the settlers, in respect to their lands, were summarily brought to an end by the announcement that Bangs & Bro. had become insolvent, and consequently their inability to proceed further in the execution of the contract.

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A disturbance occurred at the land-sales, on March 27th, 1852, which came very near proving serious to the lives of one or two persons. It seems that two men, named Murrow and Hall, both claimed a tract of forty acres, and each wished to bid it off. Hall commenced to bid, when Murrow attacked him with a heavy cane, striking him on the head, and causing a slight injury. At this treatment Hall became enraged, and drawing a revolver, shot several times at Murrow, wounding him in two places—in the thigh and side. Several of the bystanders narrowly escaped receiving the bullets intended for Murrow. Hall was arrested, examined before L. D. Winchester, Esq., and bound over for his appearance at court, in the sum of three hundred dollars. The Grand Jury, as in the case of Flemming, never found a bill against him, and he therefore escaped all punishment.

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