McCarty, Dwight D. History of Palo Alto County. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch Press, 1910


Chapter I

       The "Westward Movement" is one of the most important facts in American history. Starting with a little fringe of colonies along the Atlantic coast, the settlements began to spread gradually westward, ever westward, toward the setting sun. The dangers and hardships of pioneer life on the eastern coast were met and overcome in each successive stage of the march westward. The same kind of opportunities and difficulties, colored with local variations, recurred to make the strong and sturdy growth from frontier simplicity to permanent development. It is this fact that has given a distinctive quality to American life-the self-reliance, courage and independence which dominate American character. 1 A study of the frontier, therefore, will give us the key to our history.
     Moreover, the genesis of any settlement will show the basis and character of development. Many distinctive characteristics of any community have grown out of peculiar conditions or incidents in its early history. It is this frontier life, with its privations, its battles, its pleasures, its government, and its crude experiments and compromises, together with the effects of natural conditions and environment, that discloses the very beginning of social life. We must study these frontier beginnings as well as later developments if we would appreciate our local history.
     Indeed there is a romantic fascination surrounding the early days of every community. We listen with thrilling interest to the stories of the first settlers, as they recount the hardships and dangers of home making on the boundless prairie of a new country. The simple, rugged life of these early pioneers in itself has a charm that increases with the passing of the frontier line. We admire the dauntless pioneer with his ax and gun. We admire his persevering labors in spite of obstacles and discouragement, and we admire his courage in the face of every danger.
     On through forest and over plain, westward and ever westward pressed the adventurous and hardy pioneers. And still farther westward pressed the adventurous and hardy pioneers. And still farther westward, on over the trackless prairie, where the elk, deer and other wild animals roamed at will, and where occasional bands of roving Indians had camped and hunted, and departed unmolested. Undaunted by the most severe weather, undismayed by the perils and hardships of a long journey, they pressed forward through the wilderness, leaving their own trail in the tall grass of the prairie, crossing the turbid streams as best they could, exploring the woods and prairies, ever on the lookout for a good location for their new home. The frontier line was gradually moving toward the west, and these pioneer settlers were the advance guard of the westward movement. They were willing to undergo all the hardships and privations of frontier life in order that they might found a home for themselves and their families. 2
     Midway in this westward march was Iowa- the beautiful fertile land of Iowa. But at the Mississippi progress was delayed for a time, as Iowa soil was owned by Indians and title had to be acquired before the territory could be thrown open to settlement. Prior to this, the mining establishment at Dubuque had been established 3 and several abortive at settlement had been made but they were not permanent. During these early times trappers and Indian traders roamed over the vast prairies, camping, hunting, and trapping on the banks of streams and in wooded places; but always moving and always pushing farther westward ahead of the settlers. They were only skirmishers scouting ahead of the army of progress. The few squatters who tried to find homes were driven off by the United States soldiers until the Indian title was extinguished and the country could be opened up for settlement, June 1, 1833.
     Even then actual title was not given until years later when the land sales were held, but this fact did not deter actual settlers, who flocked into Iowa and began to take up most advantageous locations. The first settlers chose claims along the rivers. Burlington and Fort Madison were settled in the fall of 1833. Davenport was formally named in 1836, and Keokuk was laid out in 1837. As settlers increased and pushed westward, other towns were formed. Iowa City was laid out on the banks of the Iowa River in 1839, and became the capital of the territory. In the same year the government removed the Pottawattomie Indians to Southwestern Iowa and erected a fort at Council Bluffs. Two Catholic missionaries established a mission there, but it was a frontier outpost for some years before it was reached by actual settlements. In 1843 Fort Des Moines was built for the United States dragoons for the protection of the frontier from the Indian depredations.
     As settlers increased and the hostile Indians became more difficult to control, a fort farther north was established in 1849, called Fort Clarke. The name was changed a few years later to Fort Dodge. In 1853 the troops were moved to Fort Dodge north to Fort Ridgley, but the vacated site was purchased and in the beginning of the year 1854 the town of Fort Dodge was laid out and thereafter became the distributing center for Northwest Iowa.
     It was not until 1854-5 that the vanguard of settlement spread out into Northwestern Iowa. Prior to that time there were only two cabins north of Fort Dodge, that of the adventurous Henry Lott, near the mouth of Lott's Creek in Humboldt County and one built by William Miller six miles north of Fort Dodge, on the east side of the river. These were rival trading posts which did a flourishing business while the soldiers were at Fort Dodge. Lott was a desperate character and was continually stirring up trouble with the Indians. The Indians were inclined to resent the encroachments of the whites, and freely indulged their natural trickery in attempts at despoiling the settlers. This was of course resisted and trouble often followed. These frequent clashes, together with the unscrupulous conduct of such men as Lott, caused a deep-seated resentment among the redmen. The Indian depredations increased and kept the settlers, who were coming in, continually alarmed. It was this smoldering resentment that caused much of the trouble in the years that followed, and culminated in the Spirit Lake massacre of 1857, and the Indian border troubles of 1862 and 1863. These periods will be more fully considered in later chapters.
     In the face of such conditions as these the early settlement of Northwest Iowa began. Traders, locaters, surveyors and stray settlers all carried back to Fort Dodge tales of the marvelous beauty of the lands along the east and west forks of the Des Moines River. During the summer of 1854 Ambrose A. Call and Asa C. Call built a pioneer cabin in Kossuth County, on the east fork of the river, and that summer and fall a colony of energetic settlers took claims there. 4
At this time the soil of Palo Alto had not been trod by a permanent settler. History records one incident of the early march across the prairies. The United States troops, on their removal from Fort Dodge in 1854, marched north to Fort Ridgely and their course took them along the river. One evening after a hard day's march, they came to a beautiful little lake and made their camp in an oak grove upon the shore. A terrible storm raged that night and the detachment were compelled to stay there several days before they could continue their northern journey. 5 In spite of the inclement weather we cannot but believe that those gallant soldiers saw the beauties around them for they were in Palo Alto County, the first arrival upon its virgin soil. Its beauties and fertility could not long remain unknown and the time was soon to arrive for the first settlement of the county.


1 Frederick J. Turner, "Significance of the Frontier in American History," Annual Report American Historical Assn., 1893, 200-201. See also McCarty, "Early Social and Religious Experiments in Iowa," Iowa Historical Record, January, 1902. McCarty, Territorial Governors of the Old Northwest.

2 See the writer's "Early Social and Religious Experiments in Iowa," in the January, 1902 number of the Iowa Historical Record, for a more complete description of the westward movement in Iowa, and the experiences of early pioneers throughout the state.

3 Julian Dubuque in 1788 purchased a tract of land from the Sac and Fox Indians and began to work the lead mines. Annals of Iowa, April, 1896, 330. Salter, Iowa, the First Free State in the Louisiana Purchase; Gue, History of Iowa, vol i, chap. 10; McCarty, "Early Social and Religious Experiments in Iowa."

4 Sketches by Ambrose A. Call in Algona Upper Des Moines, "History of Kossuth County."

5 William D Powers, letter to Semi-Centennial Committee. Gue, History of Iowa.