A Short History of Keokuk County, Iowa from A. T. Andreas' Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa. 1875

The boundaries of this county were defined, and the name given, by an act of the Territorial Legislature, February 17, 1843, and until its organization it was attached to Washington County. A part of the territory included in Keokuk County became the property of the government by a treaty with the Sac and Fox Indians, ratified on the 21st day of February, 1838. Nearly all of the southeastern township, about half of the first, and a small part of the second township north of it, was included in this purchase, and on this strip the whites were entitled to settle October 21, 1838. By a treaty with the Indians, made at Agency, and signed October 11, 1842, the whites came into possession of all the territory lying east of Red Rock, in what is now Marion County, and under this treaty the balance of the territory embraced in Keokuk County was open to settlement on the first day of May, 1843. The principal chief who represented the Indians in making the last named treaty, was Keokuk, in whose honor the county was named.


The 21st of October, 1838, is usually regarded as the date of first settlement, although a few claims, upon which small improvements were commenced, ante-dated the removal of the Indians. They were made within the limits of the "Old Strip," in the present townships of Clear Creek and Richland. In the latter township the earliest pioneer was Aaron Miller, who came in the Spring of 1838, and, after him, William Searcy. In June John Wasson visited the country, and, liking its appearance, decided to settle. Cyrus Jordan, Jacob Weiner and Mr. Tays were next, and in the Spring of 1839 Mr. Wasson returned, accompanied by James Higginbotham, William Lewis, Mitchell Gill, William Bristow, Thomas Pringle and Samuel P. Bristow. A man by the name of Griffth turned the first sod in Clear Creek Township, in 1837, on the farm afterwards owned by Doctor Washington Nealey. Doctor Nealey came in 1838, and in 1839 came Harvey Stevens, Sr., afterwards sheriff, and William Grimsley. In 1840 the accessions were William Shockley, John Baker, William Goss, James Junkin, Sr., Thomas Henderson and L. B. Holmes, and the following year, Michael Hornish, Edward Cooley, John Crill, Sr., and Robert Alexander. Further up the river, in the neighborhood of Sigourney, at Stillman's Grove, Jacob Shavor located in 1843, built a cabin, and brought his family the following Spring; and in 1844 William Shaver, Robert Linder and John Shaver settled in the neighborhood. A saw mill was erected on the South Skunk, just above its confluence with the north branch, as early as 1843, by L. B. Hughes.


The organization of the county was effected in pursuance of an act of the Territorial Legislature, approved February 5, 1844. This act appointed Harvey Stevens sheriff, and provided that the clerk of the District Court should designate the place of voting, and appoint judges of an election, to be held on the first Monday of April following; to the office of clerk, Honorable Joseph Williams, Judge of the District Court, appointed S. A. James. The election was held as directed, and Jeremiah Hollingsworth, James M. Smith and Enos Darnall were chosen County Commissioners; John M. Waters, Judge of Probate; Edom Shugart, Clerk; William H. Brown, Treasurer; A. P. Tannehill, Recorder; George W. Hayes, Sheriff; S. E. McCracken, Surveyor; and Andrew Ogen, Assessor.


The act above referred to also appointed a commission, consisting of John A. Stewart, George H. Stone, M. D., and Samuel Shuffleton, Esq., to locate the seat of justice. They met May 5, 1844, were sworn, and proceeded on horseback to examine the situation, and after five days' travel selected the northeast quarter of section 2, township 76 north, of range 12 west, as the county seat, giving it the name of Sigourney. This location, although whithin one mile of the center of the county, caused some temporary dissatisfaction; for the principal settlements were in the extreme southeast part of the county. Within less than two miles of Washington County on the east, and Jefferson on the south, was the town of Richland; and near the Washington County line, about three miles north of Richland, a rival called Western City, or Newton, where the organizing officer, S. A. James, had fixed the place of business until the county seat was located. Newton then consisted of a log school house, a tenant cabin, and a few stakes defining the future town, which is now known as an excellent grain field. Both places aspired to become the county seat, and were disappointed by the choice of the commissioners. Richland was the stronger, and here the county commissioners hastened to convene on the 15th of May, and ordered that all proceedings in relation to providing conveniences for the public business at Sigourney be deferred, and ordered also that "suitable rooms be provided in the town of Richland for holding the first term of the District Court." Taking a different view, however, of official responsibility, the newly elected clerk gathered the office papers and statutes in one hand, and a change of raiment in the other, and quietly proceeded to the place designated by the State commissioners, were he found a stout pole planted in the ground, but nought else to disturb the solitude of nature. Here the clerk erected a cabin 12x16, floored with puncheons and sided with clapboards, and in this room Judge Williams held a term of court, on the 1st day of July, 1844, at which the business consisted in admitting four aliens to citizenship, and two law students, one of which was S. Harned, afterwards County Judge, to practice at the bar. The county commissioners met soon after, and finding that Judge Williams had not availed himself of their offer of rooms, prudently ordered their own removal to Sigourney. And so the incipient county seat struggle came to an end, and the question has never been re-opened.


At the meeting of the board last mentioned, they ordered a survey of a public square and lots surrounding it, and prepared specifications for a court house, to consist of a hewn log building 20x24 feet, with thirteen sleepers, and as many joists; rafters and shingle roof, and weather-boarded gable ends. To these specifications, a new board in September flollowing added a door, windows and floor, for better convenience, and let the building contract to W. B. Thompson, for $218. This court house was finished in January, 1845, and was occupied until the completion of the present edifice, in 1859. The present court house is a substantial building, and was erected at a cost of $17,200. The square on which it stands is 276 feet each way, and, in 1860, was decorated with a border of forest trees, by request of Mrs. Lydia H. Sigourney, of Hartford, Connecticut, at her expense.


Returning now in 1844, we find that in August a new board of commissioners were elected, consisting of Elias Whetstone, Andrew Taylor and Obadiah Tharp. They ordered a sale of Sigourney town lots to be held on the 1st of October. The day of sale brought but a single purchaser, who bought a single lot, for twelve dollars, payable half in three and half in six months. The adventurous speculator was Joel L. Landreth. In January, 1845, the board succeeded in borrowing $200 with which to enter the quarter section, and ordered the survey of the entire tract into lots, which was done by Mr. Stump, the County Surveyor of Wapello. Lots about the court house square now rose to fifty dollars each.


The north part of Keokuk County is traversed in a line running nearly due east and west by the watershed which very nearly coincides with the northeastern boundary of the carboniferous age of the geological system of Iowa. North of this line the south fork of English River drains about one-fourth of the county. The north and south forks of Skunk River, which unite in the eastern part of the county, and their numerous small tributaries, drain the remainder. The descent from the watershed to the valleys of these streams is abrupt, rendering the face of the country quite rolling, except along the margin of the rivers, which are skirted by broad, level valleys. Timber borders the principal streams in considerable quantities, but is limited to occasional groves on the uplands. The county has, therefore, considerable variety in its surface features. It has an excellent soil, derived from the very deep deposit of drift, and well adapted to the production of corn and nearly all the small grains, grass, fruits and vegetables. Stock raising has proved very remunerative, as the county possesses all the requisite advantages for success in this branch of business. Frequent and good water power is afforded by both branches of Skunk River, and in its banks are exposures of good limestone for ordinary uses. The county lies about equally in the sub-carboniferous section of Iowa and the region of the coal fields. Several good coal mines have been opened, but as the sub-carboniferous limestone frequently comes to the surface along Skunk River, and as coal exists only between this and the drift, its presence is chiefly limited to the south part of the county. The drift contains an abundance of excellent clay for the manufacture of brick.


Many interesting facts concerning the present condition of the county may be found in the statistical tables in another part of this work, a few more be added here. Its public schools number 134 and its school houses are valued at $95,000. For the payment of teachers and other expenses in maintaining schools nearly $40,000 are expended annually. The permanent school fundis $22,686. By the state census of 1873 it appears that there were then about 170,000 acres of land in cultivation, a little less than half the area of the county. There were harvested the season previous 2,995,255 bushels of corn, 570,823 of oats, 232,022 of wheat and 44,662 of barley. Reversing the order, these figures are in the ratio of 1, 5, 13, 68, nearly, barley being assumed as the unit of comparison. The wool clip for the year 1872 was 54,221 pounds. The present county officers are Aaron A. Davis, Auditor; John M. Brunt, Treasurer; Minor Wightman, Clerk; John M. Jones, Recorder; Andrew Stranahan, Sheriff; Henry D. Todd, Superintendent; Joseph Merryfield, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.


The county seat, is a thriving town of about 1500 inhabitants, located about three miles north of Skunk River, on high ground. It has good railroad communications. Sigourney has been for many years the western terminus of the Muscatine Branch of the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad, more recently known as the Sigourney Branch of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. This road is now being completed to Oskaloosa. The principal circumstances concerning the origin of the town have already been given. The first family that located here was that of W. B. Thompson, who erected a cabin during the Fall of 1844, and moved his family in about Christmas. The first lawyer who located in Sigourney, was A. W. Blair, who came about the first of January, 1845. The first mail was received on the 7th day of February, and contained a roll of official blanks and three newspapers. S. A. James was post master. Besides a large mercantile trade the town does an extensive shipping business, has a good lumber trade, woolen mills, flouring mills, and a national Bank with a capital of $50,000. Several of the leading churches have good houses of worship, and its public schools are efficiently organized. Sigourney has two newspapers, the News, ppublished by J. W. & T. M. Havens, and the Iowa Review by Kennedy & Hollingsworth. The News is Republican, published every Wednesday; it was established in 1859. The Review is Democratic, ppublished Wednesdays, and was established in 1871. The town is incorporated as a city of the second class.


This is the oldest town in the county, and was platted in 1840 by Pryor C. Woodward. Among the first residents of the town were Ezra Bales, Charles E. Woodward, John Noyes, John Raines, Ransom L. Mark, and James Williams. Williams was the first post master. The first house was built by John T. Hoover. The first store was opened by Beriah Haworth in 1844, although a few groceries and liquors had been sold the year previous by L. J. Smith. The first hotel was opened in 1845, by Dr. Tingle. In 1848, Williams and McCracken put in operation a steam saw mill in the place.


This is a thriving young railroad town in the eastern part of the ocunty, nearly midway between Washington and Sigourney. It is a shipping point for the produce of a considerable extent of country. The Keota Courier is a weekly newspaper established at this place in 1873; it is independent in politics, and published every Friday by Bruce and Hunter.

Harper is a lively railway station between Keota and Sigourney, and enjoys considerable trade and a large shipping business.

Talleyrand, in the east part of the county, is one of the earliest villages in the county. It was first settled by Doctor Maley, elsewhere mentioned.

South English is a town laid out on a projected line of railway along South English River. The Western Herald is published at this place.

Lancaster is a handsomely laid out village of some importance, between the North and South Skunk Rivers, in the township of the same name.

The other villages are, Martinsburg, Ioka, Petersburg, Coal Creek, Springfield, Webster, and Baden. --------------------------

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