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Chapter 20

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Iowa As It Is in 1856

by
N. Howe Parker

Chicago and Philadelphia, 1856

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 22

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p186 Chapter XXI

Western Iowa and Nebraska

[We are indebted to the editor of the "Council Bluffs Eagle," for most of the matter under this head. The reader will therefore understand which portions of the articles refer to Pottawattamie County, in particular.]

Geography. — That portion of Western Iowa lying west of the Des Moines River, is the most rolling, uneven and picturesque, of the choice lands, in the United States. Although this region is almost entirely composed of hills, swells, ridges, valleys, and bottom lands, thrown together in the most grand and poetic manner, there is scarcely an acre of waste land in the whole region; even the highest points and peaks abound with luxurious grass and vegetation, or timber and copsewood, whilst the slopes, valleys, and bottom lands, together with the upland prairies, are the most rich and fertile ever inhabited.

The soil is a rich, black, light, sandy loam, extremely easy of cultivation, and of a depth of from one to ten feet. Although the soil is naturally extremely light and loose, it resists to a wonderful degree the evident effects of drought upon vegetation. The last season, when the countries east and south were parched, and crops destroyed for want of rain, p187ours were remarkably heavy, and seemed uninjured, although we had little or no more rain than our neighbours.

Timber. — There are heavy bodies of hard wood timber on the margin of, and adjacent to, the Des Moines River, and a reasonable quantity interspersed through the counties northwest; yet upon the route directly west to this place, timber is extremely scarce for an hundred miles, being found only in detached groves upon streams: but as one approaches the slope of the Missouri River, the groves and clusters of timber become more frequent, and in this immediate vicinity there is sufficient for all reasonable demands. In several of the counties north, timber is still more abundant, and in Shelby County there is one grove alone that contains nearly thirty square miles of good timber. Through this region generally, there are an abundance of young groves of timber, which, if the fires do not destroy it, will increase quite as fast as the older and more mature portions are used up. The most valuable varieties are oak (three or four varieties), black walnut, hickory, linn, elm, cottonwood, hackberry, black locust, and coffee bean.

Upon the bottom lands, the cottonwood, black walnut, and elm are found, and in the higher lands, the other varieties.

Minerals. — There is no doubt but that an abundance of coal exists in this region; few beds have, however, yet been opened, but those prove to be of an excellent quality. There are fine quarries of lime-rock, sand and slate-stone.

Climate. — Our climate is similar to that of Northern Ohio, but we have less snow and probably a little more p188wind. It produces about the same varieties of crops, fruits, and vegetables. The roads are extremely hard and smooth during all the year, except the season of Spring. The evening twilights are long, soft and pleasant, in the Summer season, usually continuing for nearly two hours after sunset. The evenings, even after the hottest days, are usually cool and pleasant. A refreshing breeze is almost constantly blowing from off the prairies.

Wild Fruits and Vegetation. — The wild prairies are covered with a rich, luxurious growth of grass, varying in height from twenty inches to five feet, which makes the finest of grazing, or hay, and which only requires cutting and stacking, not being as liable to injury as the tame grasses. For late feed, the pea-vines and rushes in the low lands, make feed that frequently will keep stock in good order all winter. There are various bulbous roots that grow wild, such as in years past the Indians have gathered for food. Among the best is the wild potatoe, the bean, and artichoke. Hogs eat these voraciously. Among the best of our wild fruits may be reckoned plums, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries. There are crab apples, and haws, which grow in abundance, and the finest we ever saw. Grapes are of spontaneous growth, and are also fine. The plums are almost as fine as the cultivated varieties — large, delicious and abundant. Strawberries grow around the edges of timber and brushwood, and in the bottoms, along the streams.

Productions. — Corn produces heavily and naturally, yielding from fifty to one hundred bushels to acre, with p189little trouble. Winter wheat is not a certain crop, on account of there being so little snow throughout the winter. Spring wheat produces heavily, and of an excellent quality. Oats yield from fifty to seventy-five bushels per acre. Rye, barley, buckwheat, potatoes, turnips, melons, and other vegetables and grains do well. There are few or no orchards in this region, but there is no doubt that most of the cultivated varieties of fruit will succeed and do well here.

Game, &c. — Elk and deer are abundant in the counties north, and even near here they may be seen every day; there are also abundance of fowls; swan, geese, pelicans, turkeys, ducks, prairie chickens, and quails, abound in their peculiar localities, and fish, of the choicest kinds, fill our lakes and streams. Wild bees are common.

Congress, or Unentered Land. — The most choice lands in this region are entered, but there are within a few miles of the city considerable un-entered lands, which, though without timber, have a good, rich soil. In the country east and north, the chances are better, and good claims may often be had for a small price.

Timber lands may also be purchased to suit those who enter prairie lands.

Mills. — We have within this county about twelve saw and grist-mills, but not half enough to supply the demand for lumber and flour. The county above has some four in operation, and the next below, six, and Cass County, one.

In Pottawattamie County we are in extreme need of a good flouring-mill — such as we have in the country will only make from twenty to thirty pounds of flour to the p190bushel. How strange! wheat $1.25 per bushel, and flour $5.50 to $6.00 per hundred pounds. Who couldn't make money out of a good mill?

Mechanics. — We are in great want of many and various mechanics, but more especially at this time we have no wagon-makers in the place, and it seems almost impossible to get a wagon or carriage mended. If, however, one is so unlucky as to succeed, he will be charged an enormous price, and that by bungling pretenders. Let the mechanics of the east, who are out of employment (and will soon be out of funds), come here, where they may be serviceable to the community, and get rich. Carpenters, millwrights, brickmakers, masons, engineers, architects, and day labourers, are in special demand.

There are large and small streams at intervals all over the county, the principal of which are the Nishnabotna, Keg Creek, Boyer River, and Musquito and Gopher Creeks. There are a number of lakes in the bottoms, in which, as well as the streams, are stores of excellent fish. Upon these streams are numerous mill sites, only a small proportion of which are occupied. Although there are about one dozen mills already in operation, there is yet a great demand for more, and fortunes might be made by investing money in their erection.

For grazing, stock-growing, or dairy business, there is no region of country better adapted. Stock requires little or sometimes no feed, and upon prairie grass will fatten in an incredibly short space of time. The poor mechanic and labourer soon become landholders, and the capitalist is not p191satisfied with less than forty per cent well secured, which he readily obtains.

How to get here. — Boats run regularly from St. Louis to this place, all through the season of navigation. Freight up usually averages about seventy-five cents per hundred, and passengers (cabin) $15, deck, $5. The railroad from the east is complete to 300 miles from this place. Teams can be purchased in and about Davenport at fair prices.

Prices of grain and produce. — Flour selling at $5.00 per hundred. Corn 30 cents, wheat $1.25, oats 30 cents, potatoes usually 25 cents, (now 75), pork $4.00 per hundred. Butter and eggs 25 (in the summer 10 cents), groceries and dry goods at the usual western prices. Laborers get from $1.00 to $2.50 per day (including mechanics).

Stock of all kinds bears a good price, from the fact of this place being the great outfitting emporium for immigrants westward.

Towns. — The largest and most important town west of the Des Moines Valley, is Council Bluffs City, which is located some 3 miles from the Missouri (directly opposite Omaha City, in Nebraska), is the county-seat of Pottawattamie County, and now contains about 2500 inhabitants. It is a sparsely built incorporated city, contains 2 churches, Methodist and Congregational; 3 schools, 10 stores, 6 doctors, 12 lawyers and mechanics, and artists to match. Lots in the city rate from $100 to $1000, each, and improved farms in the neighborhood from $5 to $10 per acre, including timber. An ever flowing stream, called Indian p192Creek, runs through the town, and upon the high points of the adjacent bluffs the country for miles around may be seen, including a broad scope of the beautiful and varied lands of Nebraska. A part of the city is laid out with little regularity, it having been settled before the survey of the county; consequently, the lots are of various shape, and the streets of such angles as will suit the position of the ground. Many excellent buildings already have been, and are now being reared, and good improvements are rapidly progressing. The Land Office for the "Missouri River District," embracing nearly thirty counties, is located here. Four distinct railroads have been surveyed to this place from the Mississippi River, from different points, some of which are now actually under course of construction; and it is thought that here will be the great Missouri crossing for the Pacific Railroad.

In 1846, the Mormon Pioneer Train, numbering many thousands, first opened a road across the State from Nauvoo, in Illinois, to Council Bluffs, in this county. As the season was too far advanced to admit of a further prosecution of their journey that fall, they halted here. Soon after, the largest number crossed the river and built a large village about ten miles above, and called it Winter Quarters (now called Florence). Early in the spring, a pioneer company of 100 men started westward, whilst those remaining, opened farms, and built houses on night sides of the river. The next spring, 1848, about two-thirds of the whole company started westward for the Salt Lake Valley, and those remaining removed to the Iowa side of the Missouri, p193and commenced a small town, called Miller's Hollow, on the present site of Council Bluffs. Messrs. Stutsman, Voorhis, and Henry Williams, each opened a little store here at that time, and were all that there were in the country, in 1849. The county was organized in 1851.

Pottawattamie County is situated on the Missouri River, and is about 42 miles in length on its north line, 36 on its south, and 24 miles wide north and south. It is bounded by Harrison and Shelby Counties on the north, Cass on the east, Mills and a portion of Montgomery on the south, and the Missouri on the west. It contains about 936 square miles, has a population of about 5000, being a trifle less than five and a half to the square mile.

Future Prospects. Council Bluffs is situated almost in the geographical centre of the United States, upon the longest stream on the globe, and directly in route west from the great metropolis of the east to the South Pass, and at the entrance to the Great and only natural highway to the Pacific, the valley of the Platte. The fact that hundreds of thousands of pioneer immigrants have taken this as the only practicable route to California, where oneº has taken any other, is evidence sufficient of its importance. There are now four railroads from the East pointing directly to this place, some of which are fast progressing to completion, and the chain is already perfect from the Atlantic to the capital (entering the State at Davenport), and still they hasten towards us. We shall without doubt, within three years, hear the shrill whistle of the iron horse, making our hills and valleys re-echo with its rattle.

p194 Glenwood, the county-seat of Mills County, is 24 miles south of Council Bluffs, has a population of about 800, is surrounded by an excellent agricultural district, and inhabited by a thrifty, energetic people.

Sidney, the seat of justice of Fremont, is 24 miles farther south, is beautifully located, has a population of some 500, and has a brisk trade with the country — rapidly increasing.

St. Mary's, opposite Bellevue, 2 miles below Council Bluffs, is a brisk young place, and promises to be a town of importance.

Iranistan, in Cass County, is 40 miles east of Council Bluffs, on the Ft. des Moines stage road. It is situated upon one of the Nishnabotnas, has one good water-mill, and several creditable buildings. There is excellent timber in the region, good water, stone mill-sites, and a fine farming district of land.

Cabinet manufactories are much needed in Western Iowa, as very many there fit out for the borders and Nebraska, and manufactories are scarce, and furniture extravagantly high.

Nebraska

What is said in the foregoing pages of Western Iowa is true, in a great measure, respecting Eastern Nebraska, particularly as to the soil, climate, fruit and vegetation. The western portion of Iowa, and the eastern and southern portions of Nebraska, are not very unlike in these particulars. The interior or western parts are more mountainous and p195barren, almost destitute of timber, and really of little or no value except for grazing. A member of important towns are springing up on the Missouri River, the most noted of which, Omaha City (the capitol), Bellevue, Plattsmouth, Mount Vernon, Nebraska City, Florence, Fort Calhoun, Desoto, Tekama, and Fontenelle, all occupy a country on the river, north and south, near a hundred miles in extent, and are surrounded with good, fertile, and choice lands. Lime, stone-coal, and other minerals have been found in many places, and this country, though now but little known, offers great inducements to settlers. The capitol being permanently located at Omaha City (opposite Council Bluffs), will make it, eventually, the most important city in the Territory or State. The place is beautifully situated on a high bluff, but the strip of low land intervening between the city and river is almost impassable at times, during high water. Bellevue, nine miles below, is the point at which the Indian Agency for the several tribes in Nebraska Territory is located. The Presbyterian Mission for the Omaha Indians is also located here. Farther than this, the place is at present of not much importance, and not improving as rapidly as some others. The first newspaper ever printed in the Territory, was the "Nebraska Palladium," at Bellevue, in the fall of 1854. Mt. Vernon, at the mouth of the Weeping Water, is one of the most beautiful sites for a town, in the Territory. With an abundance of good building-stone, timber, and stone-coal, surrounded by an excellent farming country, it must eventually become one of the most important towns. p196It is the nearest point on the Missouri to the great Salt Springs, in the interior of Nebraska. Nebraska City, eight miles below Mt. Vernon, is a place of some importance, affords a fine view from the river, is surrounded by a fine agricultural country, and from the character of its newspapers, we infer is a place of thrift, energy, and intelligence. This was the site of Old Fort Kearney.

The following is the conclusion of a good-natured letter from one of a company who immigrated to Nebraska, and, finding it wanting, returned to Iowa. Of Nebraska, he says:

"Most of this territory has a very fine soil, and water sufficient in places to make it equal to Iowa, but the almost total absence of timber may keep it back for a great while. On the whole, we are all perfectly convinced that Iowa is the place for us, and hence return well satisfied to stay here. We think that the whole territory put together cannot have one-half the timber that Iowa has — We also think that there are thousands of acres of unoccupied lands in Iowa, better situated and worth double what many persons are claiming and asking, which, by many, are considered exorbitant prices, and in many cases effect sales. We conclude upon the whole, that Nebraska is much better suited for the elk and buffalo, than either Indian or white man. But the Indians have driven all the former away, and wisely sold it to Uncle Sam, being of no further use to them. We have our fears lest Uncle Sam is bit, but if you believe all the newspaper p197stories of region it is certainly a paradise, but Iowa for me forever.

Wm. Curless."

Extract from a letter giving a description of the country between Council Bluffs and Sargents' Bluffs.

"From Council Bluffs I started north, up the bottoms of the Missouri River; about ten miles on my route I came to Pigeon Creek, a good mill stream, and improved by two saw-mills, and one grist-mill, near the road. From that, twenty miles, I came to Williams' Creek, a fine stream for mills, and improved by two saw-mills. The soil and timber is good on these creeks, and the same may be said of the borders of the Soldier, Boyer, Little Sioux, and many other streams I crossed. In passing from Council Bluffs, the first fifty miles, after passing the Little Sioux, I came to a fine dividing ridge bottom, fifty miles long, bordered on the east by the Little Sioux, on the west by the Missouri, and these streams are bordered by almost a continual forest from one end to the other of this prairie. This bottom is dotted over by small and handsome groves. — The soil is of the finest quality, and of a great variety. You find the highlands producing the blue-joint grass, almost equal to timothy for hay, and alongside you see the lowland producing the broad-leaf saver grass, elegant for early pasturage and good for cattle-hay, and yielding an abundance of it to the acre. — Next you will find large tracts of good land, having all the appearance of old fallow fields, and next, but in small portions, you will see near the lakes tracts of land producing a kind of grass, resembling kam, of the blades of which p198the cattle are very fond; the lowlands are covered over as thick as blue grass with large beds of rushes, on which cattle will keep as fat as seals all winter; and to increase the beauty of this bottom, the Great Creator has interspersed it with several handsome lakes, filled with fine fish, of almost every variety of fresh water kind.

"Sargent's Bluff City is a handsomely located place on high lands, on the bank of the river at the foot of the bluff. The bottom is one mile wide at the north of the town, and on the south it widens out to several miles.

"The bluffs near the town are filled with good building-stone. The city is laid off into wards or districts, thirteen hundred feet square, by streets running at right angles, one hundred feet wide. In the centre of these large districts are parks, two hundred and eighty feet wide, by four hundred long, and the districts are divided (by streets eighty feet wide, running at right angles) into blocks of twelve lots each, 66 feet wide by 132 long. On the site containing 340 acres, there are eight of those parks, and twelve market squares, with a number of other lots selected and set apart for churches, lodges, and school-houses, as marks of liberality manifested by the proprietor of this handsome place. Let no one think that all the chances are taken in these parts. There is plenty of timber and prairie to be taken up, of the best quality. Improved lands can be had at a fair price, and the proprietors of those rival cities offer large inducements to purchasers, and the demand for all kinds of mechanics and labor is very great. Wages p199high, and other inducements flattering. Every thing that is necessary for improving lots can be purchased here at a fair price.

"Yours, &c.,

S. E. Peck."


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