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Bill Thayer

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History of Iowa

Histories and Source Documents

The fertile country of Iowa, carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, and briefly part of Wisconsin before becoming its own State in 1846, was the springboard for three important westward drives in American history: the Oregon Trail, the Mormon emigration to Utah, and the Transcontinental Railroad.

If you're just looking for a relatively quick capsule history, a very good one is provided by Dorothy Schwieder, Professor of History at Iowa State University.


[image ALT: An engraving of a small rectangular building, two stories and a somewhat raised basement, in the Greek Revival style, seen in a three-quarters view. In the center of the long side the entrance consists of a four-column pedimented portico five steps up from ground level; directly behind this entrance, the building is crowned in the center by an elegant small cylindrical domed lantern a bit more than one additional story in height, faced on four sides by a miniature columned portico in the same style, set on a stepped square base. The building is in a park with a few small trees and a sward of grass. It is the first State Capitol of Iowa, at Iowa City; the image serves as the icon of my subsite transcribing Parker's 'Iowa As It Is in 1856'.]

Iowa As It Is in 1856, by Nathan Howe Parker, is a promotional book published in that year for the thousands of immigrants descending on the State. A snapshot of Iowa caught in midstream at a specific moment in her history, the book also became a part of the history it records, being a very successful piece of propaganda touting Iowa's every virtue and encouraging her amazing growth.

[ primary source: 262 printed pages
presented in 32 webpages; 8 engravings ]


[image ALT: Against a sunset sky, the silhouette of a man (on the left) plowing behind his two horses, which occupy the center and the bulk of the picture. It is the frontispiece of the 1931 print edition of the book 'Ioway to Iowa' by Irving Berdine RIchman, the icon used on this site for my transcription of it.]

Ioway to Iowa — The Genesis of a Corn and Bible Commonwealth, by Irving Berdine Richman, tells the history of the area from the first explorers thru the late 19c. Though the author's style is (wilfully) atrocious, he quotes many source documents and does a good job of conveying the realities and the atmosphere of pioneer life.

[ 454 printed pages
presented in 21 webpages; 4 illustrations ]


[image ALT: A low wooden fort and a few single-story houses fronting on a body of water; in the foreground, the opposite shore: a small cliff partly covered in deciduous trees. It is the frontispiece of the 1926 print edition of the book 'Old Fort Crawford and the Frontier' by Bruce E. Mahan, the icon used on this site for my transcription of it.]

Published by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Bruce Mahan's Old Fort Crawford and the Frontier tells the history of the fort at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; but inevitably much of the history of Iowa from the early French explorations thru to the great settlement of the area in the mid‑19c: the lead mines at Dubuque, navigation on the Mississippi, the native American tribes — Sac and Fox, Menominee, Chippewa, Sioux; the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Indian agencies, the European settlement and the consequent relocation of those tribes.

[ 282 pages of print,
5 photos, 4 maps, 7 other images
presented in 18 webpages ]


[image ALT: A handwritten signature, in an elegant flowing script of the 19c; it reads 'Albert Lea • 2d Lt.' It serves as the icon on my site for the Notes on the Wisconsin Territory (or at least the Iowa portion of it) by Albert Miller Lea, 1836.]

Albert Miller Lea's Notes on the Wisconsin Territory is immediately subtitled by him particularly with reference to the Iowa District. The result of his explorations of what is now the State of Iowa with the 1st Dragoons, U. S. Army, the little book describes the land, the rivers and the towns of the area. A classic of American pioneer literature.

[ primary source: 53 pages of print
presented in 6 webpages, with a map ]


[image ALT: An engraved drawing of the interior of a one-room log cabin, in which an assembly of about fifteen people, standing or sitting, are listening to a man standing by the fireplace on the left, who is preaching. From the mantle of the fireplace and from the ceiling above it, hang ten hams; from the ceiling also hang, elsewhere in the room, a rifle, a powder horn, and several bags and other objects. To the right, a sheet slung from a beam provides a makeshift partition; it is partly open: behind it a woman sits on a bed and nurses a child. It is a scene of pioneer preaching in Iowa in 1840; the image serves as the icon for transcription on my site of Rittenhouse's 'Boyhood in Iowa'.]

Like many of us, Rufus Rittenhouse was an ordinary man whose friends kept on telling him he should write up his life experiences in a book. Unlike most of us, he did, and had the sense to keep the book brief; it is interesting: Boyhood Life in Iowa Forty Years Ago.

[ primary source: 23 pages of print
presented in 1 webpage, with 2 engravings ]


[image ALT: The head of a native American warrior chief wearing a large and elaborate plumed headdress, and a necklace that appears to be made of about 20 large curved animal tusks. It is Wapello, a Sac chieftain; the image serves as the icon for the part of my site on the History of Wapello County, Iowa.]

Iowa, like the entire North American continent, once belonged to its first peoples, or at least insofar as possession of land was a concept among them; the Sacs and Foxes, having owned much of Iowa, ceded the land to the United States, and an Indian agency was set up in southeastern Iowa to enforce the treaty but also to bring the native peoples into the new technological world of the 19c. John Beach was one of the U. S. government's Indian agents, and tells his experiences, in History of Wapello County, Iowa (chapter 3).

[ primary source:
20 pages of print presented in 1 webpage ]


[image ALT: A photograph of a small wooden building with a sharply pitched roof, accompanied on the viewer's left by the graphic of a Latin cross. The image is further explained in the text of this webpage and serves as the icon on this site for the book 'Arms and the Monk!'.]

Somewhat tangentially, its subject really belonging rather to the American Catholic History section of my site, Arms and the Monk! — The Trappist Saga in Mid-America is a solid history of the Cistercian Abbey of New Melleray near Dubuque, Iowa, from its antecedents and its foundation in 1849 thru to the 1952 publication of the book.

[ 233 pages of print, 4 photographs, 3 other illustrations;
presented in 25 webpages ]


[image ALT: A close-up of a collection of papers spread out on a table. It is the icon used on this site to represent my American History Notes subsite.]

Squirreled away in the American History Notes section of the site, other Iowa material; consisting for now of the following journal articles, in more or less chronological order:

Michael Aco — Squaw-Man

Captivity of a Party of Frenchmen among Indians in the Iowa Country, 1728‑1729

Over the Rapids (the Des Moines Rapids)

Lieutenant Jefferson Davis (anecdotes of his early army career)

The American Occupation of Iowa, 1833 to 1860 (a good overview of how Iowa was settled)

The Trial and Execution of Patrick O'Conner at the Dubuque Mines in the Summer of 1834

Father Mazzuchelli

Old Fort Atkinson

The Removal of the Capital from Iowa City to Des Moines

The Opening of the Des Moines Valley to Settlement

An Indian Ceremony (at the grave of pioneer George Davenport)

Florida, Iowa, and the National "Balance of Power," 1845

Icaria and the Icarians

Diary of a Journey from The Netherlands to Pella Iowa in 1849

The Career of Samuel R. Thurston in Iowa and Oregon

The Iowa-Missouri Disputed Boundary

The Mormon Settlements in the Missouri Valley

New Melleray (the Trappist monastery near Dubuque)

The Polish Colony of Sioux City, Iowa

[ 8/6/13: 407 pages of print presented in 23 webpages ]



[image ALT: A stylized flying eagle, holding in its beak a ribbon with the legend 'OUR LIBERTIES WE PRIZE AND OUR RIGHTS WE WILL MAINTAIN'. It is the central device of the flag of the State of Iowa.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is the central device on the flag of the State of Iowa.


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Site updated: 6 Aug 13