HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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THE INVESTIGATION OF NORTHWESTERN IOWA IN 1869
NO SOONER had the resolution to emigrate been passed than the prospective emigrants appointed a committee of three trustworthy, practical farmers to visit northwestern Iowa and decide whether a Dutch settlement would be practicable in that region. At the same time every member of the emigrant association was taxed three dollars to pay the expenses of the committee. Later they selected a fourth committeeman, who consented to act "if the association would get some one to take his place on the farm". The prospective emigrants also agreed to pay a certain member of the committee one dollar per day for the use of his span of mules for the journey.
Having fitted out a "prairie schooner" with necessary camping apparatus and supplies, the following men departed from Pella on Monday, April 6,1869: Sjoerd Aukes Sipma and Jelle Pelmulder, two Frieslanders by birth, aged fifty-six and fifty-two respectively, Hubert Muilenburg, Sr., aged forty-seven, and Henry John van der Waa, a young man who had come to Pella with his parents during the first years of the settlement. While on the trip Pelmulder despatched several interesting letters to the Dutch newspaper at Pella. From their camp in the timber south of Nevada in Story County he wrote "Coffee nearly ready, bacon frying in the pan - we are hale and hearty. Roads so bad we travel slowly. Greet our families and friends."
From Pella the committee proceeded by way of Newton, Iowa Center, Story City, and Webster City, and then joining a long train of emigrant wagons followed the line of the Illinois Central Railroad to Fort Dodge, encountering swollen rivers and creeks and muddy roads. At Fort Dodge they halted for a day or two, just long enough to discover that the country in the vicinity was unsuitable for their purposes. They had intended to go north into Emmet, Palo Alto, and Kossuth counties; but at the land ,office they learned that homesteads in that direction were scarce and devoid of timber. They therefore continued westward to Storm Lake through Calhoun and Pocahontas counties with their scattered settlers, following the stakes which marked the route of the Iowa Falls and Sioux City Railway. Nearly the whole distance from Fort Dodge to the north bank of Storm Lake was a roadless stretch of country to which people had but recently been attracted. country committee very carefully took note of where the best land lay.
At the lake the committeemen spent Sunday with a Methodist preacher who had been sent as a missionary to the two hundred or more pioneers of Buena Vista County. Finding the land to the north of Storm Lake very good, but taken by homesteaders, they followed an old government road to Cherokee a distance of about twenty miles, most of which was a treeless, houseless expanse of prairie land with a number of little streams. The whole population of Cherokee County at that time consisted of but four hundred and fifty-nine people, and what is now the city of Cherokee consisted of a group of small houses, a stockade where soldiers had been stationed, and a store, the keeper of which was very talkative and friendly in his reception of the Hollanders from Pella. "He too was already a land-agent as is nearly everybody else who can write and knows what a section of land is."
From Cherokee to Melbourne in Plymouth County the homeseekers traversed. forty miles of prairie country as beautiful as any they had ever seen; but not a single settler's homestead appeared in sight. About ten miles west of Cherokee they examined the soil, sub-soil, water and drainage, and found everything so satisfactory that they decided to recommend that region as the best site for a colony, provided one or two townships of land could be obtained.
On the road westward the committee met numerous persons with teams and wagons going to or returning from the Sioux City land office. The rumor of free and fertile lands had begun to attract crowds of people to northwestern Iowa. One night while sleeping in their wagon near the road, the men from Pella were awakened by the loud barking of their dog as two men noisily drove past: "they were rushing to Sioux City to forestall other persons who wanted the same 'homesteads." Everywhere the land was of good quality and well adapted to the purposes of a Dutch colony, except that the settlers would be dependent on railroads for their fuel and lumber.
The committee rested on Sunday, the 9th of May, near Melbourne, a prosperous farming community of about one hundred and eighty persons in the valley of the Floyd River. Upon the invitation of a German minister's wife, who furnished them with religious tracts, all attended services and listened to a sermon which we, being Hollanders, could not understand at all".
Two weeks from the time they had left Pella the four Hollanders reached Sioux City, a "booming" western town already the home of a government land office and destined soon to be a busy railroad center. They hastened at once to inquire about land, but so great was the throng of homeseekers who had collected before the office doors were opened at nine o'clock that they waited until noon before they could speak with the officer in charge. So eager were some men in their desire to outstrip others f or the same land that fights were frequent and foot-races were run for first choice.
By special arrangement, on that same day the Pella men gained admission to the land office after dark, entering by way of the back door. They declared their intention to report favorably on land from ten to fifteen miles west of Cherokee on both sides of the railway survey. "When our purpose became known," wrote a member of the committee, `the gentlemen showed much willingness to serve, and I believe we were very welcome: they would have rejoiced to see our colony in the neighborhood of Sioux City." The committee, however, could do no more than speak of intention, and the officials could only inform the Hollanders that they might buy land sufficient for large colonies in Cherokee, Sioux, O'Brien, and Lyon counties.
Immediately upon the return of the committee to Pella, after a wagon journey of nearly five hundred and fifty miles, all prospective emigrants were summoned to a meeting on the first of June, 1869. Two hundred Hollanders attended, and listened eagerly to the glowing report of their committee, who "could not find words enough to describe the beauty of northwestern Iowa, especially the neighborhood of Cherokee." At a subsequent meeting in June prospective homesteaders made their first declaration before the county clerk and signed applications for homesteads; authorized the distribution of homesteads by lot; subscribed for sixty ten-dollar shares in a town-site; decided to call the proposed town "New Holland", and to allow Henry Hospers one-third of the land on the town-site; and finally they resolved to despatch a second committee to the site of the proposed settlement and to pay Henry John van der Waa $2.50 per day for the use of his mule team. Eighty-six Pella farmers signified their desire to obtain homesteads, and thirteen others were prepared to buy from eighty to four hundred and eighty acres of land outright. They subscribed for several thousand acres in all.(117)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(117) For the facts of this chapter see historical accounts in the following newspapers: De Volksvriend, June 25, and July 16, 23, 1874, for articles by Pelmulder; and September 19, 1895, for an account by Hospers; and The Alton Democrat, September 3, 1910. For contemporary Pella events, see Pella's Weekblad, February 23, March 9, April 13, 27, May 4, 11, 18, and June 1, 8, 22, 1869. See also Fulton's Free Lands in Iowa, pp. 45-47.
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