Our Iowa Heritage: Henry County’s Newspaperman, Statesman & Civil War Hero.

(C-0036) Postmarked in Iowa City on August 3, 1857 This postal cover from The Clark House in Iowa City is addressed to Samuel McFarland, Esq. in Mt. Pleasant (Henry County), Iowa.
This cover has special significance in several ways. First, the letterhead shows us that it’s coming from the Clark House in Iowa City. The Proprietor (owner/manager) of this boarding house at the time was John Hursh.
Not to be confused with The Clark House (1874), which is associated with Governor Kirkwood’s Plum Grove mansion, this Clark House was most likely a boarding home located on Clark Street in the Longfellow Historic District of Iowa City. In the 1800’s, this neighborhood had several beautiful large homes, one of which is the Oakes-Wood House (1858), which was later owned by artist Grant Wood, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Samuel McFarland of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (Henry County)Lawyer and Newspaper Man.

The next point of interest with our cover is the person the Clark House letter is addressed to.

Samuel McFarland was born on August 18, 1824 in Washington County, Pennsylvania. He went to grade school in a neighborhood school, attended an academy (high school) in his hometown, and became a lawyer before moving to Mt. Pleasant in 1854 (age 30). He married Mary Augusta Woolson (1838-1929), the daughter of his fellow law partner, on April 27, 1858, and had one son (1859-1908), Silas C., who became part owner/editor of the Marshalltown Times-Republican, and one daughter (1861-1957), Marion I. Walker, who went on to become the dean of women at Iowa State Teachers College (University of Northern Iowa).

In Mt.Pleasant, McFarland practiced law, and worked with The Mt. Pleasant Observer (1856) writing editorials and earning a good reputation as a newspaper journalist. (more on that point later). He also became a trustee for the City of Mt. Pleasant, and served as Secretary of the Board for the Iowa State Mental Hospital located in Henry County.

State Representative and Speaker of the House.

…from Iowa As It Is, N. Howe Parker, 1855, p78.

In 1854, McFarland was elected to represent Henry County as a state representative to the General Assembly (meeting at the state capitol in Iowa City), a post he held through two sessions, from December 4, 1854 through January 10, 1858.

State Representative to the General Assembly from Henry County, 1854-1858, becoming Speaker of the House during the second session.

In a volume entitled, Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa by Edward Stiles (1916), it records this about McFarland…

Samuel McFarland was one of the early and able lawyers of Henry County, and represented it in the Fifth and Sixth General Assemblies. In the Sixth General Assembly, which was the last one that met in Iowa City, and which convened there on the first day of December, 1856, McFarland was chosen Speaker of the House. “He did not make much noise as a rhetorician, but was much respected for his ability. He was a lawyer of standing and attainments. His name will be found in connection with the early reports and the list attached to the Nineteenth Iowa Report.”

As this written account shows, the Sixth General Assembly was the last group to meet in the Old Stone Capitol in Iowa City. As Speaker of the House, McFarland was charged with overseeing the rather contentious sessions as state representatives continued to argue over the relocation of the state capitol to Des Moines and the 1847 agreement of approving Iowa City as the lone site for the State University of Iowa.

In the Iowa Journal of History & Politics, Vol. 14 No. 1 (Jan. 1916), pp 56‑95, we find this interesting account of all McFarland had to oversee as Speaker of the House during the 1856-57 session…

During the summer of 1856 work upon the three-story structure known as the Old Brick Capitol, located on lots eleven and twelve in block six of Scott’s Addition where the Soldiers’ Monument now stands, was pushed with energy, the masonry work being finished by October. It was impossible, however, to have the building ready for the use of the Sixth General Assembly during the winter of 1856‑1857. Following the location of the capital, trade and speculation had been rampant in Des Moines, but in the fall there came hard times; and the capitol and other large buildings were only partially completed. An Iowa City newspaper, still clinging to the idea that the removal of the capital was premature, thought it would be “the part of wisdom to keep the Capital where it is, until permanent buildings are erected; in view of the accessibility of Iowa City and the unquestioned fact that it is the centre of the more populous part of the State.”

There was indeed some agitation in the Sixth General Assembly (1856‑1857) for the repeal of the act of 1855 locating the capital at Des Moines. A petition to that effect was presented in the House of Representatives, while a public meeting at Washington, Iowa, sent to the State Senate the following resolution:

Whereas, a proposition is now submitted, or is about to be submitted to the present General Assembly of the State of Iowa, to repeal the law passed by the 5th General Assembly, entitled ‘an act to relocate the seat of Government,’ therefore, Resolved That our Senator and Representatives in the present General Assembly be instructed to vote for, and favor in every legitimate way, a law having that object in view.”

Such an act was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 12, 1857, but it was tabled on the following day. The whole agitation for repeal seems to have arisen from a mis­understanding of conditions in regard to the land and buildings at Des Moines, many people becoming greatly excited when they learned that the temporary capitol building was being erected by private funds on private ground and was not to be owned by the State. For a time it was thought that the repeal would carry, but the building committee explained that a lease had been executed whereby the State would have free use of the building for any number of years. This explanation seemed to satisfy the critics.

The question of the permanent location of the capital came before the constitutional convention of 1857 in connection with the location of the State University. During the second week of the convention a resolution was offered to inquire into the expediency of permanently locating the seat of government, the State University, and the asylums for the blind and the deaf and dumb. The location of the University caused the greatest amount of discussion and it was largely in that connection that the capital was mentioned. The inclusion in the new Constitution of the compromise of 1847, whereby the State University was to be located at Iowa City whenever the capital should be removed was persistently insisted upon, in spite of proposals to establish the University at the former site of Monroe City, to leave the matter to a vote of the people, or to rest the decision with the legislature. It was objected that such clauses would overload the Constitution with affairs of local interest. But the judgment of those who wished permanently to settle the question finally prevailed, and the convention incorporated in the Constitution of 1857 the following section: “The seat of Government is hereby permanently established, as now fixed by law, at the Des Moines, in the County of Polk; and the State University at Iowa City, in the County of Johnson.” In order to validify the acts of State officers and to fulfill his duty prescribed by the act of 1855 re-locating the seat of government, Governor James W. Grimes on October 19, 1857, officially declared “the Capital of the State of Iowa to be established under the constitution and laws of the State at Des Moines in Polk County.” Although the new capitol building at Des Moines was still unfinished, the State officers had begun packing and moving the contents of their several offices by the first of October. Snow flew before the task was completed.

And so, the move of the state capitol to Des Moines began in earnest, prompting one Iowa City newspaper reporter to quip, “Let Des Moines have the politicians, we’ll take the professors!”

Records show that the Sixth Assembly had yet another short second session that year (1857) from July 2nd through the 16th. This might explain the contents of our missing letter from the Clark House, dated August 3, 1857. Very likely, Samuel McFarland stayed at the Clark House during his 4-year stint in Iowa City, and this communication in August, 1857, may have had to do with his latest stay there in July.

Lieutenant Colonel and Civil War Hero.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, McFarland quickly volunteered (October 15, 1861) for the Union army, serving as a Captain, gathering men from Henry County to help form the 11th Iowa Infantry. On August 2, 1862, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 19th Iowa Infantry. Here, from Wikipedia, is his Civil War account:

The 19th Iowa Infantry was organized at Keokuk, Iowa and mustered in for three years of Federal service on August 25, 1862. It was the second Iowa regiment to fully muster for active service. The 19th Iowa was assigned to Orme’s Brigade, Herron’s Division, Army of the Frontier (Arkansas). After completing a rigorous 35 mile march on December 6th, 1862, the regiment prepared for battle. By this time, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel McFarland had taken command of the regiment. The next day, December 7, 1862, was the Battle of Prairie Grove. Herron’s Division deployed on the left side of the Union line, on a slight ridge facing south. In front of them was positioned a Confederate battery. General Herron ordered the 20th Wisconsin infantry Regiment and the 19th Iowa Infantry forward to capture the guns.

The 19th Iowa fought alongside the 20th Wisconsin at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Ark., on December 7, 1862.

The two regiments gallantly charged, and captured the confederate battery. However, General Herron had vastly underestimated the amount of Confederates in the area. The two regiments, numbering some 500 men each, fought back numerous counter-charges from half a dozen Confederate regiments. Eventually, overpowered and running low on supplies, the two regiments withdrew back to Union lines. The rebels then rallied and mounted their own assault, however they were beaten back savagely by the skilled gunnery of the 1st Missouri Battery E and the 1st Missouri Battery L. The regiment lost a total of 45 killed, 143 wounded, and 2 captured, for a total of 200 casualties, nearly a 40% casualty rate. Among the dead was Lt. Colonel Samuel McFarland, killed leading the assault on the confederate battery.

Samuel McFarland – Date of Death & Burial.

December 7,1862, age 38 – Forest Home Cemetery, Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa

Two pieces of personal interest with this Samuel McFarland story.

First, the newspaper connection… My dad, George Boller, was a newspaper man, as well, from Mt. Pleasant. Dad worked for The Mt. Pleasant News (1957-1965), which grew out of the merger of The Mt. Pleasant Observer and The Home Journal in 1857. Read more here.
Second, the Mt. Pleasant to Iowa City connection… My dad, being from Wayland, Iowa, made the 50-mile trip from Henry County to Iowa City on numerous occasions throughout his lifetime. His first recollections were of his dad, Waldo, talking about the wild adventures associated with venturing through snow, rain and mud to Iowa City for a football game at the turn of the century. Next up, my Dad told me about the blessing of the paved cement that was put in during the 1920’s, making the time it took to get to Iowa City for a game to be cut in half. In the late 1930’s, my Dad traveled to and from Iowa City to go to college, meeting football stars like Nile Kinnick and others from the famed 1939 Ironman team. In the mid-1950’s Dad drove from Wayland to Iowa City to be trained as a printer/linotype operator so he could get a good-paying newspaper job in Mt. Pleasant in 1957. And then in 1965/1966, Dad took yet a better job at The Daily Iowan in Iowa City, driving that 50-mile trip on a daily basis from November to June, when we moved our whole family to Iowa City. And finally, the old Hawkeye took his final road trip on Highway 218 as we brought him back to Wayland from Iowa City to be buried at North Hill Cemetery. Yes, like Samuel McFarland, that stretch of road between Mt. Pleasant and Iowa City had a lot of history.

Click here to read about Highway 218 – The Red Ball Route, as it was once called.

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

The Beginnings of Printing in Iowa, Douglas C. McMurtrie, The Annals of Iowa – Volume 19 – Number 1 – Summer 1933, p. 21

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