DAVENPORT PAST AND PRESENT
NOTE: A picture of Black - Hawk ( MA - KA - TAI - ME - SHE - KIA - KIAH) is included in this chapter. Please go the Scott County Main Page and click on Pictures/Documents.
Meeting at Col. Davenport's - Site of Davenport - Proprietors - Survey - Cost of Pioneer Enterprises - Anecdote of a
Politician - First Ball - Religious Services - Rockingham - Postmaster Appointed.
In the year 1833, there were one or two claims made upon the lands now occupied by the lower part of the city. The claim upon which the city was first laid out was contended for by a Dr. Spencer and Mr. McCloud. The matter was finally settled by Mr. Le Claire buying them both out; giving them for the quarter section one hundred and fifty dollars! A splendid illustration is this sale of the immense fortunes made in the West, by politic fore-thought, and judicious investment. This claim laid to the West of LeClaire's Reserve - the latter terminating at Harrison street. Below this street the city was first laid out.
Having fenced in this portion, Mr. LeClaire cultivated it until it was sold to a Company in 1835. In the Fall of this year a company was formed for the purpose of purchasing and laying out a town site. They met at the house of Col. Davenport on Rock Island to discuss the matter. The following gentlemen were present: Maj. Wm. Gordon, Antoine LeClaire, Col. Geo. Davenport, Maj. Thos. Smith, Alex. McGregor, Levi S. Colton, and Philip Hambaugh. These gentlemen, and Capt. James May, then in Pittsburg, composed the company which secured the site, and set in motion a train of circumstances, whose result is, a beautiful and flourishing city. The necessity of a town between the upper and lower rapids - the unexampled fertility of the adjacent country - the magnificent beauty of the location - its freedom from malaria breeding marshes, and facilities for drainage, the propinquity of immense opportunity for water power, were reasons adduced for the choice of the location. Well did they choose, as the events of the last twenty years have amply established. In the Spring of the next year, the site was surveyed and laid out by Maj. Gordon, United States Surveyor, and one of the stockholders. The spot selected included the area bounded on the East by Harrison street, on the North by Seventh, West by Warren, and South by the river. It included thirty-six blocks, and six half-blocks-the latter being the portions lying adjacent to Warren, on the West.
The cost of the entire site was two thousand dollars - or two hundred and fifty dollars per share - a price which now would purchase but a very indifferent building-lot in the least valued part of it. In May the lots were offered at auction. A steamboat came up from St. Louis laden with passengers to attend the sale, and remained at the levee during its continuance, in order to afford the conveniences of lodging, edibles, and the not less essential item of drinkables. The sale continued two days, but owing to the fact that the titles were simply such as were included in a squatter's claim - and purchasers fearful that such were not particularly good - only some fifty or sixty lots were sold, and these mostly to St. Louis speculators. The lots brought from $300 to $600 each - a smaller sum than the proprietors calculated upon. The remaining portion of the site was then divided among the proprietors.
The emigration this year was but small - only some half dozen families coming in. The first Hotel or "travern" was put up this year, and opened by Edward Powers; and is still standing on the corner of Front street and Ripley. It was put up by Messrs. Davenport and LeClaire, and was called "Davenport Hotel" - in honor of the "city" - the latter receiving its cognomen from Col. Geo. Davenport, who long previous had been a resident of the Island. In regard to its appearance, nothing need be said - all here have seen or can see it, while more distant readers are doubtlessly amply informed in regard to the appearance, character, extent, accomodations, &c., of pioneer "hotels."
The next most prominent evidence of improvement was erected the same year by an old sea captian, named John Litch.
It was that vade mecum of civilization - that contemporary, and often pioneer of church and school-house - a drinking saloon. It was a log-shanty, and stood on Front street, below Western Avenue. It was long a favorite resort of the politician and the thirsty; and not a few grand social schemes and political intrigues were concocted beneath the genial influence of the suspiciously genuine liquids, vended by the retired and affable "Captain."
There, listening to the numerous reminiscences of Captain Litch, and growing balmy under his genial "punches" until life and its projects were roseate as the cheek of Dawn, might be seen daily many who now stand deservedly among our first citizens. The "Maine Law" then lay unevolved in the convolutions of Neal Dow's brain. "Not to drink" would then be almost, or quite, sufficient to ostracise any man from a desirable social standing; and he who did not produce the bottle and glass upon the advent of a visitor, was deemed lacking in hospitality. "Take a drink," entered then as much into a portion of social economy as "take a chair" does in the refinements of modern intercourse. The merchant preceded his customer's application by the proffer of a "smile" - all trades were prologued and finished by a resort to an imbition - and in short, no enterprise, civil, social, religious, political, or otherwise, could well be inducted or concluded without the presence of a third party, in the shape of a dusky-visaged Bottle.
James Mackintosh opened the first store, in the latter part of October, of this year; his stock consisted of a general assortment of Dry Goods, Groceries, Hardware, Provisions, &c., to a value of about five thousand dollars; commenced business in a log house, built by A. LeClaire, near the U.S. House, corner of Ripley and third streets.
In December D.C. Eldridge also opened a large stock of Goods. Many may wonder where consumers were to be found for a "large stock of goods" in a place or less than a dozen families. It will much astonish such, as well as many others, to learn, that in the Spring of the next year (1837) the sum total of daily sales averaged ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS, of which thirty-three per cent. was cash.
This apparent discrepancy of sales and buyers is explained, when it is known that from the town opposite, and a long distance up and down the river, people came here to trade.
Lumber was, at that time, brought from Cincinnati, and almost everything else from a distance. Flour and sixteen dollars per barrel, Pork at sixteen cents per pound, were brought from Cincinnati. Corn was imported from the Wabash River, and brought two dollars per bushel. The farm now occupied by Mr. McManus was bought by Dr. Hall, and paid for in this latter comodity, - the cost of the farm was five hundred bushels of corn. The Ferry also dates its existence from this year - it being a flat-bottomed craft, technically termed a "mud-boat." This in 1841 was superseded by an immense improvement in the shape of a horse-boat - which in time gave way to steam - the whole being crowned by the two magnificent and commodious steamboats constantly employed in transferring a wide deep stream of freight and passengers from shore to shore.
Our lady-readers may, perhaps, be interested in knowing that the pioneer in conjugal love, cutting teeth, chicken pox, and baby talk, in Davenport, was a son of Mr. L.S. Colton, who first looked upon the light in the Fall of this year. The feeble wail of the first baby in Davenport has been echoed not a few times since, and daily grows wider and deeper in its volume, like the tiny spring-streamlet, widening eventually into a broad river.
It will naturally be supposed that the character of social life was in some sort like the country - rather destitute of refinement. A gentleman relates a circumstance connected with a prominent politician of this State, and who has had the honor frequently of saying "Mr. Speaker" in the halls of National Legislation, that perhaps was the counterpart of a thousand others of the time. In the fall of '35 this gentleman, while passing up the Mississippi on a prospecting tour, made the acquaintance of the political gentleman at Burlington - where the latter came aboard the boat. He was at that time candidate for territorial delegate from Wisconsin. He had scarcely gotten aboard before he ostentatiously displayed a pair of pistols, and which he occupied himself in handling, loading and fixing in various shapes, at intervals, during the passage to Galena. Arriving there, he solicited our informant to land, and proceed with him to the hotel. With his wife leaning upon his arm, the latter, followed closely in the wake of the candidate for Congressional honors. As they reached the door of the stopping place, the opposition candidate happened to step out to the threshold. Our political hero confronted him in an instant, and as he drew both his pistols, he remarked, without preface-
"You are a G--d---- bully, sir! take your choice!"
The other, however, declined a choice of the extended pistol-butts, and "made himself scarce" Both however, relieved their irate tendencies, soon after, by a street fight, at Mineral Point, in which neither suffered according to the extent of the wishes of his antagonist. The effect upon our informant, and especially upon his wife, may easily by imagined. It may however, be well to state, that the political gentleman alluded to is everywhere known for his courtesy and gentlemanly urbanity in every phase of his social life.
The first law office in town was opened by A. McGregor, Esquire, in April.
The first Religious discourse was delivered by Rev. Mr. Gavitt, a methodist, in the Spring, in the house of D. C. Eldridge. Preaching from an Episcopalian the same Spring.
Religious services were held semi-occasionally at the house of Mr. LeClaire, in which a priest from Galena officiated. For there amusements, our settlers had at this period, besides preachers, steamboat arrivals, which every body went down to see, horse racing at the upper end of the present site of the city, which all, from the carpenter on the roof, to the merchant behind the counter, left to witness; sleigh-rides to the neighboring places, followed by a dance, to which all went; balls at home, and wolf hunts. There was then quite as much, or more, positive enjoyment than now, for the reason that social caste was not there recognized, and all went in simply for enjoyment.
The pioneer ball was held in Mr. LeClaire's house, Jan. 8, 1836. Some forty couples were present, consisting of frontiersmen, officers from the Island, and others. The music was furnished by fiddles, from which no contemptible strains were occasionally drawn by Mr. LeClair himself. Prominent among the merry dancers were G. C. R. Mitchell, A. McGregor, G. L. Davenport, Joe Conway, and last but not least, and by far the lightest dancer in the room, the now portly figure of a. LeClaire. Most of the frontiersmen wore the coarsest species of "stogy boots," "making" as our informant says, "a most infernal clatter." The dresses of the ladies were generally rather more calculated to promote comfort that ostentation. The party danced till sunrise, and then broke up - the gentlemen being, as a general thing, as genial as all the"punches" they could possibly contain, would make them. Joe Conway, eccentric in his cups as well as his actions, upon reaching the ice to cross the river, found himself unable to either stand still or walk - he very ingeniously, therefore, compromised the matter by striking a sinuous and uncertain "dog-trot" and heading for all points of the Island miscellaneously. It is mistily believed by his companions that he succeeded in reaching it - although somewhat out of his original bearings.
In the Fall of this year, Rockingham - a now deserted locality some few miles down the river - was laid out by a company, among whom were Gen. Sargent, Ebenezer Cook, Dr. Barrows, and others, of our now prominent citizens. It was thought a good locality, for the reason that it was opposite the embouchure of Rock River, which was supposed to be navigable. Gen. Sargent states that he once ascended it in a steamboat to the distance of two hundred and ten miles; and hence it was very reasonabley supposed that an important junction might be formed with interior towns, and a heavy trade thereby supported.
At the time of the purchase of the Black Hawk district, it was placed under the jurisdiction of Michigan.
In 1836, Wisconsin was organized, and by an act of the Legislature (which met for the first time at Belmont,) the "Black Hawk Purchase" was divided into two counties. A line beginning at Rock Island, and extending west to the Missouri River, divided them - the north one was called Julien Township, and Dubuque county, the south one Flint Hill Township, and Des Moines county. The county seat of the former was located at Dubuque. Davenport was in the latter jurisdiction. Soon after the District was divided into conunties, at which time commenced a notable spirited contest between Davenport and Rockingham for possession of the county seat. Of this we shall speak in its proper place.
In the Summer of this year, Mr. A. LeClaire was appointed P. M. Mails came once each week from the East, via Chicago; and once in two weeks from Dubuque via Davenport to Fort De Moine, (now Montrose). Postage at that time was twenty-five cents. The P. M. used to carry the mail across the river in his pocket; and his percentage for the first three months was seventy-five cnets! The present P. M., with his two thousand boxes, and half dozen assistants, will easily recognize the difference. The mortality this year amounted ot seven - the first of whom was Mrs. Tanneyhill.
In September, a treaty was held at East Davenport between Gov. Dodge, U. S. Commissioner, and the Sacs and Foxes. The object of the treaty was to secure possession of the land bordering on Iowa River, and known as "Keokuk's Reserve." About a thousand chiefs and warriors were present, and were encamped during the time just above Renwick's mill.
The land in question amounted to 256,000 acres, and was purchased for seventy-five cents per acre, or $192,000 - a very liberal price compared to what Government had heretofore paid, but "dog cheap" when we consider that in less than a year every foot of it was disposed of at ten shillings per acre.
CATLIN, in his "North American Indians" thus notices this affair:
"The treaty itself, in all its forms was a scene of interest, and Keokuk was the principal speaker on the occasion, being recognized as the head chief of the tribe. He is a very subble and dignified man, and well fitted to wield the destinis of his nation. The poor dethroned monarch, old Black Hawk, was present, and looked an object of pity. With an old frock coat and brown hat on, and a cane in his hand, he stood the whole time outside of the group, and in dumb and dismal silence, with his sons by his side, and also his quondam, aid-de-camp Nahpope, and the Prophet. They were no tallowed to speak, nor even sign the Treaty. Nahpope rose, however, and commenced a very earnest speech on the subject of Temperance! but Gov. Dodge ordered him to sit down, (as being out of order,) which probably saved him from a much more peremptory command from Keokuk, who was rising at that moment with looks on his face that the Devil might shrink from."
The two tribes staid here nearly a fortnight, amusing themselves and others with characteristic games and dances. One amusement was "smoking horses." A party of Ioways came at the time, and wanted some horses of the Sacs and Foxes. Such of the latter as had horses to give away, mounted them, and commenced riding at full speed around the Ioways - then suddenly wheeling would endeavor to ride straight through them, which was prevented by using small switches against the faces of the horses. After riding a half hour or so, a Sac rider would call to an Ioway to stand out, and then passing him at full speed, he would bring upon the naked back of the other, with the full force of his arm, a heavy whip of plaited rawhide, raising a "welt" as thick as one's finger. Then immediately dismounting, he would place the bridle in the hands of the yelling victim, who was thereafter the owner of the horse. This ludicrous operation excited much sport among the spectators. It was common custom among the Sacs and Foxes, and some other nations - the compliment being from time to time interchanged.
This treaty was the last ever held in this vicinity.
There were seven houses in the old town limits at the close of the year. Log house of Capt. Litch, ditto of L. S. Cotton, ferryman; frame dwelling partly finished, and owned by a Mr. Shoals. It has been since known as the "Dillon House," (of which a gentleman since Governor of the State was once hostler). Log House of James O'Kelly - (a tailor from Detroit, Mich.) - used by James McIntosh as storehouse; log house of Wm. Allen, used for P. O.; frame building, known as Davenport Hotel, and after as United States Hotel; log house used by D. C. Eldredge as store. All these stand yet, except Dillon's and Litch's.
The events narrated above are the prominent ones of 1836. The year closed with a population of less than one hundred. Stephenson, (now Rock Island,) which had been laid out in 1834, possessed at this time a population of nearly five hundred.