Albert Lea’s 1835 Map of Iowa.

Adventurer Lt. Albert M. Lea, in 1836, wrote this about Iowa:

The general appearance of the country is one of great beauty…It may be represented as one great rolling prairie…The transparent waters of the creeks and rivers, skirted by woods…Taking this District all in all for convenience of navigation, water, fuel and timber; for richness of soil; for beauty of appearance; and for pleasantness of climate, it surpasses any portion of the United States with which I am acquainted.
Historian Benjamin F. Shambaugh tells it like it is…

In the back of his 1836 publication, Notes on the Wisconsin Territory Particularly with Reference to The Iowa District or Black Hawk Purchase, Lieutenant Albert M. Lea included a large fold-out map of the Iowa District, as he called it. This map is invaluable in giving us a look at Iowa as it was unfolding in 1835, two years after the Black Hawk Purchase opened up to settlers. For more info about Lea’s 1835 exploration, click here.

Our map comes from the 1935 reprint, The Book That Gave Iowa Its Name, edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh. As we discussed in an earlier post, Albert Lea’s original book (1836) was the promotional tool needed to prompt both Easterners and those living in the land itself to begin identifying this beautiful land as IOWA. Here’s Benjamin F. Shambaugh’s thoughts on the matter…

The Black Hawk Purchase (yellow on the above map) opened up 6 million acres of land from the southern tip (near Ft. Madison) of present-day Iowa to about 70 miles north of Dubuque. The treaty was made by General Winfield Scott and the Governor of Illinois, John Reynolds, at what is now Davenport, Iowa, on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The agreement was ratified February 13, 1833, and officially went into effect on June 1, 1833, when the territory became the first section of what is now Iowa to be opened for settlement by United States citizens or European/Americans. Click here to read more about Iowa and the early maps that helped settlers find their way across this beautiful land.

So, allow me here to post a few closeups on Albert Lea’s 1835 map, along with some quotes from his book…

First, here’s the section of land opened to white settlers (June 1, 1833) – The Black Hawk Purchase. As you can see on the map, the region was divided into two counties: Dubuque in the north, Des Moines in the south.

Here’s how Lea described the existing roads in Iowa District at the time (1835)…

Above is the northern region of Iowa District – Dubuque County. Note the city of Dubuque (1833) with Catfish Creek – where Julien Dubuque first settled – and the large mining area called Lead Mines – including Galena, Illinois. Click here to read more.

Above is the southern Iowa District – Des Moines County, with Burlington, Madison (Ft.), Keokuk, and Ft. Des Moines all located on the Mississippi River.

Settled in the same year as Dubuque (1833), Burlington was the major city in Des Moines County – the southern section of Iowa District. Read more here.

Here is the central portion of Iowa District. You can see Davenport/Rock Island on the Mississippi River. The Keokuk Reserve (along the Iowa River) was set aside as a reward for Chief Keokuk and his tribe for not choosing to align themselves with Black Hawk during the 1832 uprising.

On the left (above), you can see the area of land that would become Johnson County – the Iowa River – also called the Bison River – and Linn County – the Cedar River – also called the Red Cedar – in east central Iowa. On the right (above), Lea shows John Gilbert’s first trading post on the Iowa River in Napoleon and identifies Chief Powesheik’s villages in that same area. Lea’s is the first map of Iowa (1836) that clearly indicates the earliest settlements of what would become, in December 1837, Johnson County.

Here (above and below) is Albert Lea’s fascinating commentary on the Iowa River valley. Note how Lea believes that lighter steamboats could travel up the Iowa River to Poweshiek’s villages three or four months of the year.

The Iowa River Valley – home of Johnson County.

As we close this tribute to Lt. Albert Lea, it’s intriguing to note how, in 1836, three years before it actually happened, Lea’s writings, on page 38, envision how this beautiful Iowa River valley – the site of what would eventually become Johnson County – needed to be the “seat of Government of the future State of Iowa.”

In fact, on May 4, 1839, Lea’s prophetic vision will find fulfillment as Chauncey Swan and John Reynolds drive a surveyor’s stake into a piece of ground located on these “points of beauty and fertility.” In his book, The Old Stone Capitol Remembers, historian Benjamin Shambugh, says it well…

Click here to read more about the humble beginnings of Iowa City…

At the close of the Civil War, Albert Lea settled in Galveston, Texas, later moving to Corsicana, where he lived until his death, January 10, 1892. The city of Albert Lea, Minnesota is named for him.

A.M. Lea of Tenn – 2nd Lt Dragoons.

Here’s a tip of the old hat to Albert M. Lea. Thank you for your work of diligence. The Hawkeye State salutes you!

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

The Book That Gave Iowa Its Name, editor Benjamin F. Shambaugh, 1935 reprint of Albert Lea’s 1836 book “Notes on the Wisconsin Territory Particularly with Reference to The Iowa District or Black Hawk Purchase,” State Historical Society of Iowa

The Old Stone Capitol Remembers, Benjamin F. Shambaugh, 1939, State Historical Society of Iowa, p 53

Click here to read more about Iowa and the early maps that helped settlers find their way across this beautiful land.

Albert Miller Lea, Find-A-Grave.com


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