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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 21

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

N. Howe Parker

Chicago and Philadelphia, 1856

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 23
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 p199  Chapter XXII

New Counties

By the last Congress, three new land districts were formed, which are marked on Henn, Williams & Co.'s Map of Iowa for 1855. The Land Offices for these new districts are located at Decorah, in Winnesheikº County, Sioux City (Sargent's Bluffs), in Woodbury County, and at Fort Dodge, in Webster County. The six Land Offices before located were at Dubuque, Iowa City, Fairfield, Chariton, Ft. Des Moines, and Council Bluffs.

In the north-western part of the State lies a district of territory unsurveyed, and not yet in the market. This district is 190 miles long from east to west along the Minnesota line, and 80 miles in width, divided from Nebraska Territory by the Big Sioux River; including the counties of Worth, Cerro Gordo, Franklin, Winnebago, Hancock, Kossuth, Emmett, Palo Alto, Pocahontas, Dickinson, Clay, Buena Vista, Osceola, O'Brien, Cherokee, Buncombe, Sioux, and Plymouth. Of the soil in this section, Owen says, in his Geological Report to Congress, made in 1852,  p200 p25, "North of latitude 42°, between the head waters of Three and Grand Rivers, there are distances of ten or fifteen miles without any timber; while between the waters of the Grand River, the Nodaway, and the Nishnabotna, the open prairie is often twenty miles wide, without a bush to be seen higher than the wild indigo or compass plant. The soil, too, in this region, is generally of inferior quality to that south of latitude, 41°30′."

These counties are very sparsely settled, and some of them, we are informed, do not contain a single dwelling. Hence it is impossible to procure information respecting this portion of the State, without travelling over it in person.

Several older and more central counties are not mentioned in our list, because we could not visit them in time for this edition, and those whom we addressed failed to return us information, as requested, of their towns and counties. The undescribed counties are, Lucas, Madison, Montgomery, Monona, Marshall, Page, Powesheik, Story, Shelby, Taylor, Union, and Woodbury.​a As will be seen by reference to the map,º these counties are comparatively thinly settled. The amount of unentered land in each county will be seen by reference to the proper Chapter.

"Public Lands, System of Surveys, Land Offices, &c.

"In all the new States and Territories, the lands which are owned by the General Government are surveyed and sold under one general system. The government price of land is $1.25 per acre. The system of surveys is one of great accuracy and beauty. Meridian lines are established and  p201 surveyed in a line due north from some given point — generally from some important water-course. These are intersected at right angles with a base line. On the meridians, the "townships" are numbered north and south from the base lines; and, on the base lines, "ranges" east or west of the meridian. Township lines are then run, at a distance of six miles, parallel to the meridian and base lines. Each township contains an area of 36 square miles; each square mile is termed a section, and contains 640 acres. The sections are numbered from 1 to 36, beginning at the north-east corner of the township, as the following diagram will illustrate:—

6 5 4 3 2 1
7 8 9 10 11 12
18 17 16​* 15 14 13
19 20 21 22 23 24
30 29 28 27 26 25
31 32 33 34 35 36

"When surveyed, the lands are offered for sale at public auction, but cannot be disposed of at a less price than one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre. That portion not sold at public auction is subject to private entry at any time, for the above price, payable in cash at the time of entry.

 p202  "Pre-emption rights give the improver or possessor the privilege of purchasing at the minimum price.

"I have thus endeavored briefly to elucidate, in the preceding diagram, the system of the surveys of public lands; which, to strangers unacquired with the sections and subdivisions, appears perplexing and intricate." — Newhall's Glimpse at Iowa.

The Author's Note:

* The 16th section in each township is appropriated for schools.

Thayer's Note:

a Actually, many other established counties are mentioned in the text but not provided with a description in Chapters 16‑20. A better list then is the following, those not listed above being given in italics: Adair, Audubon, Calhoun, Crawford, Greene, Grundy, Howard, Ida, Iowa, Johnson, Lime, Lucas, Madison, Mahona, Marshall, Mitchell, Monona, Montgomery, Page, Poweshiek, Sac, Shelby, Story, Taylor, Union, Warren, Washington, Webster, Woodbury, Yell.

Pottawattamie County, a new area of western Iowa, is covered in Chapter XXI.

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Page updated: 21 Oct 13