Chief Poweshiek – The Roused Brown Bear. During a very volatile time in Iowa history (1830-1854), the Meskwaki Tribal Chief Poweshiek did a masterful job of maintaining peace yet never sacrificing his strong principles, believing that all men should live in freedom. Read the story behind this brave warrior who loved his people and cherished the Iowa River valley, the place we now call Johnson County, Iowa.
The Story of Napoleon, Iowa – 1832-1839. In 1832, Stephen “Sumner” Phelps, fur trader, canoed his way up the Iowa River until he found a nice valley where he could develop a trading relationship with the local natives. In 1835, John Gilbert, a New Yorker, took up where Phelps left off, and within a year or two, a new town sprung up. Read more about this short-lived, Johnson County community named after a French dictator and its sudden demise.
Stephen Sumner Phelps – The Original Iowa Hawkeye. Fur traders were the first European pioneers to travel up the uncharted inland waters of the Mississippi River. One entrepreneur from Illinois, who had a striking resemblance to another man from the Prairie State (can you guess who?) set foot in 1832 in what would soon become Johnson County, establishing trade with the Meskwaki tribes living on the Iowa River.
The Book That Gave Iowa Its Name. In 1835, a 27-year old Tennessee lieutenant traveled up and down the Des Moines River valley with a Regiment of U.S. Dragoons. Their assignment was to map out this uncharted prairie the Sauk and Fox tribes called kiowa (this is the place). The expedition was a success, but it wasn’t until Albert Lea, that soldier from Knoxville, published his notes in book form when Americans united around the name Iowa when describing this beautiful land west of the Mississippi River.
Albert Lea’s 1835 Map of Iowa. When Lieutenant Albert Lea published his descriptive book (1836) about his travels across the uncharted prairie lands of the Des Moines River valley, he also included a large hand-drawn map, neatly folded and stored in the back of the book. This map gave early settlers a clearer picture of the opportunity that awaited them in this land Lea called The Iowa District.
The Naming Of Iowa – Antoine Le Claire Or Albert Lea? While Albert Lea did a bang-up job in helping Americans become familiar with this new word – IOWA, could it be that Antoine Le Claire – the half-breed pioneer who spoke English, French, Spanish, and a dozen Native American dialects – was the first one to actually use this Sauk word in describing our beautiful land?
Will The Real John Gilbert – Please Stand Up? Over the years, John Gilbert has been heralded as the first white man to set foot in Johnson County and the first man to build a trading house here. Yet, there’s a dirty little secret we must tell you. Not only didn’t John Gilbert do these things, his real name was actually John W. Prentice! Come read the rest of the true Gilbert/Prentice story here.
1820’s/1830’s – Phelps vs. Gilbert Join us for an in-depth look at the burning question: Who came first to Johnson County – Sumner Phelps or John Gilbert? And when? For Iowa City historians, this just might be the ultimate who-done-it! And find out why it all matters!
Alexander Levi – Dubuque’s Man Of Firsts. In 1833, Iowa’s first Jewish settler found a new home in Dubuque. Over the next sixty years, Alexander and Minette Levi set many firsts – 1) their daughter was the first Jewish child born in Iowa (1848), 2) they became founding members of Iowa’s first synagogue (1856), 3) A Frenchmen, Alexander became the first foreigner naturalized (U.S. citizenship) in Iowa (1837); all while becoming one of Dubuque’s most highly-respected couples.
John Plumbe, Jr. – Engineering a Railroad to the Moon. In 1836, a visionary came to Dubuque, believing the best future for America would be achieved thru a coast-to-coast railway system. His first step was to convince Congress to finance a set of tracks from the shores of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. But in 1838, legislators just weren’t buying it, telling Plumbe that it would be easier to convince people to build a railroad to the moon! Too bad no one believed him…because his dream was fulfilled by 1869.
C.H. Booth – The Grand Old Man Of Dubuque. Arriving in The Key City just as Iowa was transitioning from Michigan to Wisconsin Territory (1836), Booth struck it rich with one of the largest lead-mining discoveries in Dubuque’s history. He used that money to invest in his city, becoming The Grand Old Man of Dubuque during his 62 years of service to his beloved community.
G.D. & Mary Dillon – Iowa’s Banking Pioneers. By 1837, Gilbert D. Dillon and his wife, Mary, had settled in Dubuque, and by that fall, G.D. had gathered a team of investors, becoming cashier of Iowa’s first banking institution – Miners Bank of Dubuque. After a falling out with the bank president over questionable business practices, Dillon moved on to Delaware County – becoming one of its first settlers and the county’s first Justice of the Peace.
Burlington – Iowa’s First Capital City 1837-1840. As Iowa Territory got its start, separating from the much larger Wisconsin Territory, Burlington was named the first territorial capital. Read more about this beautiful city on the banks of the Mississippi River in southeast Iowa.
Burlington & The Hawkeye State. Without a doubt, the nickname, Hawkeye, goes with Iowa like summer sweet corn goes with butter. So, how did the name come about? We’ve got the facts, (well, sort of) . . . and they date back to the late 1830’s in Burlington, Iowa.
J.B. Newhall – Iowa’s First Rock Star. In 1834, Massachusetts’ native John B. Newhall arrived in Burlington, opening up a general store with two relatives. Over the next fifteen years, Newhall – who was known to his Burlington Hawk-Eye readers as Che-Mo-Ko-Mon – became nothing short of a regional celebrity, authoring three guidebooks that proved to be invaluable to those who were relocating to this beautiful “This Is The Place” land called Iowa.
Charles T. Mason – Here Comes The Judge. In 1837, a lawyer from New York makes his way to Burlington, just in time for the explosive growth surrounding Iowa’s new territorial capital. Soon, he is appointed as Iowa’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, making some land-mark decisions that truly bolster the abolitionist movement in Iowa.
Oliver Cock – Burlington’s Pioneer Mason. In the late 1830’s, a New York City man relocated to Burlington, Iowa. A godly young man, Cock ended up being elected as the first Grand Marshall of the Masons in Iowa, serving as County Clerk for Des Moines County, and helping start a new church. It’s his connection with “the father of the public school system in Kentucky” that first peaked our interest.
A Burlington Hawkeye Keepsake. As long as we’re talking about Burlington, in April of 1850, the board of Christ Episcopal Church wrote to New York City asking for continue support of their pastor John Batchelder. One of the signers of the letter was Judge David Rorer, one of the founding fathers of Burlington and co-originator of the Hawkeye nickname.
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