A New American Frontier

Benjamin F. Gue, History of Iowa: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century, 4 vols. (New York: Century History Co., 1903), 1:58

Iowa lands became part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The federal government lost little time in exploring this vast new American Frontier. Most of us are familiar with the 1804 expedition of Captain Lewis Meriwether and Lt. William Clark. Their trek up the Missouri River provided early information about western Iowa. More expeditions followed.

Mindful of European influence, the federal government authorized military exploration for the purpose of establishing an American presence and securing rights to Indian trade. Lt. Zebulon Pike’s 1805 expedition probed the Mississippi River country of eastern Iowa and established early outposts near present-day Burlington.

Illustration by author.

Lt. Stephen Watts Kearny led a series of expeditions beginning with an 1820 trek that crossed Iowa lands diagonally from near Council Bluffs to present-day Winona, Minnesota. Kearny was accompanied by “regular army” soldiers of the 6th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Subsequent journeys in 1824, 1826, and and 1835 established routes along major rivers and older Indian trails. These would serve as pathways to the interior for the rush of pioneer settlement soon to come. Continue reading

Two Friends

Besides Louis Honoré Tesson, two other French-Canadians enjoyed the bounty of Spanish land grants in Iowa. Julien Dubuque settled in present-day Dubuque County about 1785. He operated the “Mines of Spain,” lead mines, worked largely by local natives, and established a trading empire. His land grant, procured in present-day Dubuque County from the Spanish government in 1796, was twenty-one miles long and nine miles wide. [1] Financial troubles later caused Dubuque to deed a large portion of his holdings to a St. Louis creditor; by the time of his death in 1810, Dubuque was bankrupt. The city and county named for him are a lasting legacy to this adventurer.

Julien Dubuque Spanish land grant tract map [1]

Julien Dubuque Spanish land grant tract map [1]

Dubuque’s friend, Basil Giard, received almost 7000 acres across the river from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. He settled his family near the site of present-day McGregor in Clayton County and brought some of the land under cultivation. [2] Dubuque and Giard maintained possession of their Iowa properties until their deaths, Dubuque in 1810, Giard in1817, but legal claim to their lands became problematic when the United States purchased Louisiana Territory in 1803. Continue reading

Fruit, Furs, and Faith

Commemorating Louis Honore Tesson.

Commemorating Louis Honore Tesson. Photographs by author,

Tucked into the southeast corner of the state where the Des Moines River meets the Mississippi, traces of the past still linger in Lee County. In 1799 one of Iowa’s earliest pre-territorial white inhabitants, French-Canadian Louis Honoré Tesson, settled his family here in Iowa country.

The Mississippi valley had long been a contested area, with British, French and Spanish vying for domination of the rich fur trade and control of the great river’s highway to the gulf. French defeat by the British brought the vast Louisiana Territory under Spanish control, but it would take more than a treaty to keep the pesky Americans from intruding and competing for trade. The Spanish sought to cement their rule through a series of land grants to private individuals who would promote Spanish interests on the frontier. Continue reading

Resources for Iowa’s Frontier Traders

Trappers & tradersMany resources exist to help you learn more about your frontier trader. Here are a few to get you started:

Campbell, Marjorie Wilkins. The North West Company. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1957. Available online, Internet Archive. http://www.archive.org

Chicago History Museum, Research Center. http://libguides.chicagohistory.org/research. American Fur Company records, 1816 – 1947. Textual and microfilm. Continue reading

Iowa’s First Europeans

the Des Moines River, Van Buren County, Iowa

Morning mist along the Des Moines River,
Van Buren County, Iowa. Photograph by author.

Long before Thomas Jefferson authorized the Louisiana Purchase, and long before Lewis and Clark’s famous journey up Iowa’s western border Missouri River, Europeans explored, trapped, and traded in the “land between two rivers.” Most of us are familiar with the journeys of La Salle, Marquette and Jolliet, but they were soon followed by other adventurers.

Between 1673 and 1803, the central part of the North American continent was controlled by France and Spain. They, along with the British, vied for supremacy in the lucrative Native American fur trade. Fur was king, and traders expanded spheres of national influence as they crisscrossed the vast western frontier. Continue reading

Native Peoples

Native American tribes associated with Iowa belonged to two major families:

  • Chief Black Hawk

    Chief Black Hawk

    Sioux (Dakotahs) family included related tribes Ioway, Omahas, Winnebagoes, Osages, Sisseons, Missouris and Otoes. These tribes migrated from the eastern Great Lakes region to present-day central and northern Iowa, southern Minnesota, and the Dakotas.

  • Algonquin family consisted of the Illinois, Sauk (Sac), Fox (Meskwaki), Chippewas, Attouays and Pottawattamies. These tribes occupied northern Missouri and southern Iowa.

The state of Iowa derives its name from the Ioway tribe, who migrated to southeastern Iowa in the late 1700s, settling in the vicinity of present-day Davis, Van Buren and Wapello counties. They were pushed out of these lands by other tribes in the 1820s and moved into central and southwestern Iowa. Between 1820 and 1840, the tribe ceded its lands in Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri and relocated to reservations in Kansas and Nebraska. Continue reading

An Iowa Reading List

As I write this, Iowa still has some winter days left. It’s the perfect time to pull the chair closer to the fire, put your feet up, and delve into a good book. Before the winds turn mild and you hit the highway for your Iowa heritage road trip, take the opportunity explore our state through the written word. A number of published histories provide an overview of Iowa’s past. These are great starting-point resources for understanding your Iowa ancestor.

  • historyofiowafro04guebBergman, Marvin, ed. Iowa History Reader. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996.
  • Gue, Benjamin F. History of Iowa: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century. 4 vols. New York: Century History Co., 1903. Available online, Internet Archive: http://www.archive.org.
  • Harlan, Edgar Rubey. A Narrative History of the People of Iowa. 5 vols. Chicago & New York:American Historical Society, 1931.
  • Sage, Leland L. A History of Iowa. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1974.
  • Schwieder, Dorothy. Iowa: The Middle Land. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1996.
  • Schwieder, Dorothy. Patterns and Perspectives in Iowa History. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1973.

annalsiowa00harlgoogState Historical Society of Iowa publications have preserved Iowa heritage since 1863. Many of these are indexed, and older issues have been digitized.

  • Annals of Iowa: A Quarterly Journal of History. 1863 – present.
  • Iowa Historical Record and Iowa Journal of History and Politics. 1885 – 1948. State Historical Society of Iowa, 1903 – 1961.
  • Palimpsest and Iowa Heritage Illustrated.1920 – present.

Grab a cup of cocoa and your fuzzy slippers– your Iowa adventure awaits!

A Year “Between Two Rivers”

Territorial Iowa has long held a fascination for me—I’ve researched the experiences of my own family and others who arrived early in Iowa lands and helped forge the twenty-ninth state.

Iowa District, Wisconsin Territory

Iowa District, Wisconsin Territory 1836 [1]

From the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 until Iowa attained statehood in 1846 and through the first pioneer years of statehood, the “land between two rivers” has played its part in the development of the great American frontier. Although legal settlement did not officially begin until 1833, the land was populated with Native Americans and trailblazing pioneers before that date and boomed in the years that followed. Documentary evidence for these early inhabitants can be challenging to locate, but rewarding in its discovery.

This year I’d like to take us back in time to those long-ago days—let’s explore the land “between two rivers” together.

  1. Henry J. Abel, “The Entire Territory of Wisconsin, As Established by Act of Congress, April 10, 1836,” Map of the Settled Part of Wisconsin Territory compiled from the Latest Authorities by Aug. Mitchell (Philadelphia: J.H. Young, 1838); digital image, Cartography Associates, David Rumsey Map Collection (http://www.davidrumsey.com : accessed 1 January 2016).

Christmas Wishes

Christmas 2015 - Copy

The earth has grown old with its burden of care, but at Christmas it always is young, the heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair, and its soul full of music breaks the air, when the song of angels is sung. –– Phillip Brooks

We wish our clients, colleagues and friends the blessings of peace, goodwill, faith and family this Christmas season and in year ahead.

Genealogical Proof Standard: Written Conclusions

by Alice Hoyt Veen, CG [note: this article appeared in the November 2015 issue of the Iowa Genealogical Society newsletter]

GPS graphicYou’ve asked a focused question, conducted a “reasonably exhaustive search,” analyzed, correlated and resolved all the evidence. Now share what you know! At its most basic, a written genealogical conclusion is simply a statement of fact connected to its source by way of a source citation. Continue reading