In 1838, John Gilbert – Johnson County’s first white settler – was a bit sneaky when it came to convincing the Iowa Territorial Legislature that there was more growth and activity in Johnson County than there actually was.
In January of 1838, Gilbert and his friend, Pleasant Harris, decided to walk through the snow to Burlington to petition the Territorial Legislature for roads, bridges, and most importantly, a post office. When they arrived to present their case, Governor Dodge, of Wisconsin Territory, asked Gilbert for the population of Johnson County, and Gilbert responded, “Fifteen hundred.” The governor was surprised at the large number and, when Gilbert was later asked, “how he dared tell the governor such a lie,” his response was, “the Governor didn’t ask what color they were.”
In truth, there were less than 50 white settlers in Johnson County at the time, while the Meskwaki tribes had over 1,500 souls living in two large villages along the Iowa River. But, based on Gilbert’s inflated numbers, the Territorial Legislature proceeded to see Johnson County as a prime location for future development. Johnson County got its post office – and, as the saying goes, the rest…is history.
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