Return to the Pottawattamie Co. home page.   |   History Home  

History of Pottawattamie County

Pottawattamie County borders the Missouri River, in the third tier of counties from the south line of the state, occupying a position central in the most productive portion thereof. With the exception of Kossuth, it is the largest in the State, its superficial area being about 960 square miles, or 614,400 acres. Besides the Missouri River, it is drained by numerous small streams which traverse its surface from north to south with a slight westerly defection.

The western portion of the county is a broad, level strip of territory, from three to ten miles wide, and known as the Missouri River Bottom. Bordering this, on the east, the range of bluffs rises steep and grand, in many places almost perpendicular from two or three hundred feet in height. The range is parted by numerous narrow valleys and ravines, which descend from the adjacent uplands, but never loses its distinctive outlines This remarkable range, rising abruptly from the sweeping plain, without a rock or stone upon its face, presents a view at once varied, grand and beautiful The adjacent uplands are broken and in many places too uneven for tillage; but are well adapted to grazing and are frequently interspersed with thrifty groves of timber Further east the broken outlines give place to a beautiful, undulating or waved surface, peculiar to the Western Slope, alternating with level valleys, from a half mile to a mile in width, bordering the streams. ....The corn crop of 1884 in this county was greater than that of any county in the United States.

In the Summer of 1804, the celebrated explorers, Lewis and Clarke, on their way up the Missouri River, held a council with the Indians at the place where Fort Calhoun was subsequently established, on the Nebraska side of the river, about twenty miles above the present city of Council Bluffs. From this circumstance they gave to that place the name of "Council Bluffs." As early as 1824 a French trader named Hart had established a trading house on the bluffs just above the large spring now known as the "Mynster Spring," within the limits of the present city of Council Bluffs. At this time, the American Fur Company had established various trading posts in the great Northwest and this point was known to their employes who ascended the river as Lacote de Hart, or Hart's Bluff. At that time the Missouri River was navigated by a few traders and persons belonging to the Fur Company, having their headquarters at St. Louis, and only with small keel boats propelled by hand.

In 1827, FRANCIS GUITTAR, a Frenchman in the employ of the American Fur Company, encamped with others in the timber at the foot of the bluffs where now Broadway with its double row of magnificent business blocks is located. In the Summer of 1838, DAVIS HARDIN and family, including his wife and seven children, landed in the county at the point then known as Council Point, about four miles below the present City of Council Bluffs. Mr. Hardin had been appointed to act as government farmer among the Pottawattamie Indians, who were then about to be removed from the Platte Purchase in Missouri to Iowa. A few months after, the Indians were brought up, and Mr. Hardin then removed to where he opened a farm on a little stream known as Indian Creek, now in the business portion of the city. His sons were JOHN, ALLEN, RICHARD and MARTIN D. HARDIN, and became permanent settlers, remaining here throughout the time when the region was under Mormon control. When the Pottawattamie Indians were brought up, a number of white persons came also, including traders, agents, and other government employes.

In 1839 two companies of troops came up and built a b;ock house, or sort of fort, on the bluff in the east part of what is now the city, and shortly after, a Catholic Mission was established here, under the charge of FATHERS DeSMITH [DeSmet] and VERIGHT. They built a dwelling house and used the blockhouse for religious services. No white persons came as settlers, except those among the Indians as traders and agents in various capacities, or those connected with the military or missions, until the Mormons came in 1846. The Indians remained until 1846-7 when by the treaty of June 5, 1846, they relinquished this territory and removed to Kansas. Their departure made way for the advent of the followers of JOSEPH SMITH, who, after the death of the prophet at Nauvoo in 1844, turned their faces westward. BRIGHAM YOUNG, with the head men of the church, halted for the winter of 1846-7 at a place called Winter Quarters, now Florence, Nebraska. In the spring he departed on his journey with a portion of the colony, but the greater part returned to the Iowa side mainly within the limits of Pottawattamie County, where others had arrived in the Spring of 1846 in season to plant and secure a crop. The center of this community was established on Indian Creek in the vicinity of the old fort, at a place first called Miller's Hollow, and afterwards by them named Kanesville, but their settlement spread rapidly over the county and into some adjoining counties wherever groves of timber and water afforded an available location. Over this community ORSON HYDE, priest, writer, editor and lawyer was installed as the president of the quorum of twelve, and the country remained under their exclusive control for several years. In 1846 they raised a battalion 500 strong for the Mexican War under COLONEL CLARK, which afterward traversing Northern Mexico and taking part in battles there, closed its campaign in California.  It is claimed that the gold in Sacramento was first discovered by this battalion.

The Mormon population (in the county) was probably most numerous in 1848, but in 1849, after many had fled to Utah it numbered 6,552 and in 1850 7,828, but they were not all within the present limits of the county. Many followed Brigham Young previous to 1852, when finally the word went round that all true believers should gather together at Salt Lake. The Gentiles now swarmed into Kanesville and all the surrounding country. Farms were sold to them, lots, cabins, stores were bartered off, all at a ruinous sacrifice, and the emigration went forward and continued with diminishing volume during the several succeeding years, until all who were willing to acknowledge Brigham as their leader and the true successor of the prophet had left the country. A remnant, however, remained, some of them abjuring the Mormon faith, and others rallying around the standard of JOSEPH SMITH JR. who abjured the practice of Polygamy.

In 1849, the unexampled run of emigration to the California gold mines commenced. Kanesville lay directly in its route, and soon became a general rendezvous and starting point for all who crossed the State of Iowa as the last settlement here they set out on the plains. The county was organized September 21, 1848. The first county commissioners were A.H. PERKINS, DAVID D. YEARSLEY, and GEORGE D. COULTON, and they held their first session at the house of HIRAM CLARK in Kanesville. T. BURDICK was their clerk; he was also first county judge, elected in 1851. JAMES SLOAN was elected district judge and held his first term in the county May 5, 1851. EVAN M. GREEN was Clerk and ALEXANDER McREA, Sheriff. At this term, ORSON HYDE was admitted to the bar. SLOAN was appointed by the Governor; he was a native of Ireland and many anecdotes are related to his wit and eccentricity on the bench. He resigned in the course of a year and was succeeded by JUDGE BRADFORD. These officials were all Mormons.

In June 1848, a store was established on the present site of Council Bluffs, a point then known as Miller's Hollow before it was named Kanesville. The business was opened in the name of STUTSMAN & McDONALD, and was carried on by Mr. STUTSMAN. Mr. JONATHAN B. STUTSMAN was the first Gentile who settled among the Mormons. He soon after married and remained a prominent resident of the place. His business was carried on for some time in a log building. He subsequently built the first frame store, and also first frame dwelling house in Council Bluffs. The next Gentile settler was Mr. CORNELIUS VOORHIS, who arrived on the 17th of August 1848. The third was WM. B. FERGUSON of St. Louis.

The various settlements scattered about the county included one a short distance east of Kanesville, on Mosquito Creek, near the seat of Wick's old Indian Mill, where WILLIAM GARNER, EZRA SCOFIELD, SIMON GRAYBILL, ALEXANDER FOLLETT and ALEXANDER MARSHALL remained after the exodus; another on Pigeon Creek, in the northern part of the county; another on the Nishnabotna at a place afterwards called Macedonia, where PETER HAAS and WEYMEYER built a mill, and another in the northwestern part of the county in and about Lewin's Grove, where the first settlers were CAPTAIN JOSHUA HEADLIE, WM. HENDERSON, and JOHN KRITZINGER, the latter of whom built a mill. In the summer of 1850 JOSEPH TOOTLE came up from St Joseph Missouri and established the celebrated outfitting house for California emigrants, known as the Elephant Store, and J.A. JACKSON became connected with the house in 1851. The trade of the place was also increased in 1850 by the accession of W.D TURNER, S.H. RIDDLE, and J.I. FOREMAN. DR. B.Y. SHELLY commenced the practice of medicine here the same year, and DR. S.E. WILLIAM, then a medical student, arrived in the fall. DR P.J. McMAHON came in 1851, so also did B.R. PEGRAM, A.S. BRYANT and the ROBINSON BROTHERS. The immigration that came in 1852 to take the place of the Mormons was numerous. Early that Spring, Mr. SAMUEL BAYLISS purchased of HENRY MILLER his tract in the valley of Indian Creek. The deed was signed by ORSON HYDE and commenced, "Jesus Christ and the Church of Latter-day Saints sell to Mr. Samuel Bayliss," etc. The title has never been disputed. The public lands of Pottawattamie County were surveyed during the years 1851-2 and the United States land office was located at Council Bluffs early in the Spring of 1853, with JOSEPH H.D. STREET, Register, and DR. S.M. BALLARD, Receiver. The first entry was made by JOSEPH D. LANE.

Source: Atlas of Pottawattamie County, Iowa, Illustrated, C. R. Allen Pub., 1885

Read Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers

History Home