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STATE OF IOWA- Winneshiek County:
I hereby certify that at an election held in the County of Winneshiek, and State of Iowa, on the 7th day of April, A. D. 1851, Decorah was duly elected to be the county seat of said county.
In testimony whereof, I have set my hand the 14th of April, 1851.
J. L. CARSON, Organizing Sheriff. As we have said, the above does not tell the whole story. In point of numbers, Moneek had most undoubtedly and most decidedIy the advantage. But victories are sometimes won by strategy. While there was no doubt, a "full ballot" all around, Moneek's champions could hardly call it a "fair count" for their whole ballot was thrown out when it came before the county "returning board." In fact Moneek's returns were not in legal form, nor were they sworn to as the law directed. The story of how it happened to be so, we will briefly relate, leaving out the unwritten history of how a regular poll book, intended for Moneek, never happened to get there. Previous to election day, poll books were dispatched to the several voting points named. Somehow the one intended for Moneek was miscarried and what became of it, who can (or will) tell. The Canadians there had no form for a poll book, did not know how to make one, nor how to make returns correctly; nor were they sharp enough to find out. As a result, a lot of names were written down on a large piece or pieces of paper in such a way that had the document been found in the road no one could have told what it meant or was intended for. It had no regularity and did not conform to the legal "red tape" requirements. In fact there was no way of telling whether the names were those of legal voters or not. And so Decorah was declared the county seat of Winneshiek County.
But Decorah's fight was not yet over. Freeport had been settled by enterprising men who thought that broad valley the place to drop down the county seat, if they could get it away from Decorah, which they certainly had strong prospects of doing. The fight in this case had points in resemblance to that with Moneek, though the result did not so entirely wipe out Decorah's rival town.
By the old law, in order to get a vote on the question of the relocation of a county seat, it was necessary to obtain an act of the legislature authorizing such vote. In the election of a member of the legislature in 1854, the county seat question was made an issue. Decorah had for its candidate, we are informed, a Mr. Moore, and the candidate of Freeport was James D. McKay, who was elected by an overwhelming majority. The purpose of Freeport was to secure from the legislature an order for an election on the question of re-location of the county seat, and the friends of that locality were consequently jubilant. But Decorah did not give up the contest. It happened that Mr. Claibourne Day, then, as ever since, an active and public-spirited Decorah man, had oc
casion to visit Des Moines during the legislative session of 18545. He had good friends among some of the old legislators from other parts of the state, and before the session was over, was pretty well acquainted with every member. It cannot be doubted that he was alive to the interests of Decorah, whether in daily converse with members of the bench or bar; or in the social gatherings which those early legislators were wont to have. It has been hinted that a temperance gentleman from Freeport who attempted to do missionary work in the legislature, did not help the cause of that town-but that may be only rumor. At all events the election was not ordered. But to meet this and similar cases elsewhere, the present law was passed. And here let us digress and say that Mr. Day also did good work for Decorah in that leglature in another respect. He got the names of most of the members to a petition to congress, dividing the Dubuque land district and establishing a land office in Decorah. This was done by the succeeding congress and helped to more permanently establish Decorah as the commercial as well as political capitol of the county.
The above law, regulating county seat re-location, which still exists, and under which there have been frequent strifes ir various parts of the State, authorizes a vote for re-location on a petition of the majority of the electors, the votes polled at the preceding election being taken as a basis. In February, 1856, the Freeport people presented a petition to Judge Reed, asking for the election, and signed by the required number, as the votes at the previous election had been 420. But Decorah was not idle. The stumbling block of a remonstrance was resorted to. Wm. Painter was offered the honorable and flattering position of presenting such remonstrance to the judge and swearing to the same, the gettersup of the remonstrance telling him that they would get the names, and that he need not have any trouble about that. And in a very short time à petition with 800 signatures, remonstrating against the election, was placed in the hands of Mr. Painter, who, while his coadjutors stood back, or perhaps were not near the presence of the court, swore that the petitioners, so far as he knew, were residents of the county. No doubt they were-so far as he knew them. It is not very probable that he knew everybody, and indeed it is not probable that any one man knew the majority on that petition. On the other hand, it is claimed that the Freeport petition was not wholly bona fide. And now it behooved Judge Reed to decide whether he should grant the election in spite of the remonstrance. The case was argued by lawyers on both sides for a day and a half, (Levi Ballis being attorney for the petitioners, and E. E. Cooley for the remonstrants), and the county seat was saved for Decorah by the judge's decision to grant no election. It was, and is still, asserted that had Judge Reed not been a firm friend of Decorah, Freeport would
have been the victor. However this may be, all further attempts to secure a vote or to reverse decisions deuying such vote, were abortive, and the securing of the land office here, as previously referred to in this chapter, and the building of the court house-a loan of $6,000 for the purpose having been voted in 1856,permanently settled the county seat at Decorah. Further details of the contest are given in the sketch of Decorah, and in the following from an address of A. K. Bailey before the Old Settlers' Association in the Opera House, at Decorah, July 4th, 1876:
"Under the law authorizing a vote on petition of a majority of the electors polled at the last preceding election, in 1856, Freeport appeared as an applicant for a vote on re-location. In the fall before 420 votes were polled. Their petition was signed by 400 petitioners, but it was met by a remonstrance bearing nearly 800 signatures. The Court, our venerable friend Judge Reed, presiding, decided to grant no vote. The July following another petition of the same tenor was presented, it being signed by 451 names. Another remonstrance was forthcoming, signed by 715 persons. In both cases the petitions and remonstrances were certified to by affidavit as containing only names of actual residents. The last appeal met with a fate similar to the first. The case was removed to the District Court on a writ of certiorari, and was ended by a
decision of Judge Murdock, _affirming the decision of the County Court. In the Following year the erection of the court house at Decorah began, and Freeport gave up the struggle. Such is short history of the selection of the county capital. I may add that perhaps at no time in the history of the county has there been any more desperate struggle or any harder work done than in the caucuses and elections which preceded and culminated in these contests. From the best inforination I can gain, I am strongly of the opinion that notwithstanding the affidavits as to actual citizenship which accompanied the petitions and remonstrances, Freeport labored under the disadvantage of being off the main line of immigration which was pouring in, and through to the west, as well as Minnesota. There are stories still told how money was used and promised, but from the best knowledge I can acquire, I think this is not true. If sharp practice was played, and "Shenanigan" was used, we to-day, looking back upon those times, cannot say that evil has come of it. The result was to prevent the county seat from getting upon wheels, and when a settled conclusion was reached, the work of building up and improving began immediately, and has been pursued so steadily that every resident of Winneshiek feels it a matter of pride that his county town is excelled by no other of equal size in the entire State. He knows that it has a repute far and near as a bustling, enterprising, well
built manufacturing and commercial young city, situated in the centre of a dense population, draining a section unrivaled for its agricultural wealth.
STORY OF A DEFUNCT TOWN. The following history of Moneek is from sketches of early history of Winneshiek county, and was published in the Decorah Republican, March 26, 1875:
Those who are familiar with the early history of the county will remember that when its organization was perfected, the most flourishing settlement was neither Decorah or Fort Atkinson. And those who have read Rev. E. Adams' 'First things of Decorah,' will remember that there is good evidence that the residents of both these places were evidently afraid of that third town. The latter, in examination of the records and witnesses did not venture to enquire deeply into the first county seat vote, and he intimates pretty plainly that sharp practice was resorted to in order to shut out the overwhelming vote which this third town might secure for the coveted honors and the profits arising from its pre-eminence as the county town. The name of this town was Moneek, it evidently was, in 1850, '51 and '52 the foremost town in the county, and a veritable history, if one is ever written, cannot be complete without the story of its rise, growth and decay. The records show it the oldest town in the county, and there is every reason to believe that at one time its opportunities were most favorable, and it bade fair to lead any that might be started as its rival. The recorded plat shows that it was surveyed in January, 1852, although the plat was not recorded until the November following. Decorah was not platted and recorded until the year following, viz: August, 1853. Frankville came into existence similarly in October, and was followed by Freeport in May, and Calmar in November, 1854; and Ossian in April, 1855. That year saw a number of other towns begun, some of which have a lively existence still; while others never got beyond the record in progress towards village existence. The seniority is enough of itself to give Moneek prominence in these sketches.
It was situated on the north fork of the Yellow river, on the southwest quarter of section 1, in Bloomfield township. Tremendous hills, well wooded, surrounded it, and it nestled cosily in the valley on the river, on a site that originally must have been charmingly beautiful.
The pioneer settlers were Moses S. McSwain and Abner DeCow. To these may be added John DeCow, who joined them a year later. All of them were Canadians, but McSwain had resided for a while previous in Illinois, and probably obtained there some ideas of the western methods of doing things. They had a town site in their eyes from the commencement. The two arrived
at Moneek with their families in July, 1849, and lived in their tent wagons until a log house 12x16 was built. They commenced the same season to build a saw mill, which was afterwards noted all over the adjacent country as the mill.
Their nearest neighbors were Joel Post, at Postville, and two families who had "squatted" on the Military Road. These were David Reed, the first county Judge, yet a resident of the county, and a man named Campbell. The widow of the latter still occupies the land on which her husband made his claim. Besides these, there were the Hawks, and Isaac Callender, over in Frankville. R. Tillotson joined them the same year. He was a millwright, and helped them build the mill. This was completed in July, 1850. In the spring of the latter year Russell Dean and Geo. Blake, with their families—also from Canada–joined the new settlement June 29th 1850. John DeCow, ex-County Judge and now member of the State Legislature-also moved in; he, too coming from Canada. He found all of the four families occupying the one log house, above mentioned, yet it was large enough to receive the fifth family, until another house—the second in the embryo city-could be built.
The hospitality of the early settlers was unbounded. Like the modern omnibus, their old log habitations had always room for more, and the new comer surely received a warm welcome. How this small building accommodated the five families during the six weeks in which he was putting up his own house, the Judge can now scarcely tell. He does tell us that he brought a little provisions with him, and when these were exhausted he was compelled to go to Elkader and McGregor for more. After making his purchases, and buying a cow, price $20, he had left, as a working capital, the magnificent sum of $1.30. Returning home, he hired out to McSwain and Abner DeCow, who were partners, to work in a mill at $18 per month. This engagement lasted only one month and twenty-two days, when he struck out to paddle his own canoe. How well this has been done is attested by the 400 choice acres he now owns, near Ossian, well fenced, cultivated and stocked, to say nothing of a little surplus funds laid by for a rainy day. His first act was to make a claim adjoining Moneek for 160 acres.
The same year Blake went south and Dean west about a mile and a half, and put up log houses on 'claims' of their own.
In the spring of 1851 the first frame building was built by A. and J. DeCow. This was rented to a man named Johnson, from Illinois, who brought on a stock of goods and became the first merchant. His capital was small, the amount of trade limited, and he soon 'busted.' McSwain bought out his remnants, and sold out the stock. Having neither money or credit with which to purchase more goods, the mercantile business came to an end for the time being.