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HISTORY OF ALLAMAKEE County.
BY E. M. HANCOCK.
Prefatory; Origin of County Name; Topography; Geology; Arte
"The lapsing years joined those beyond the flood,
Each filled with loves, griefs, etrites and honest toil;
Children their fathers followed to the grave,
-The Annalist. A history of our county must necessarily consist largely of narratives of a personal or biographical character, as the history of a comparatively few individuals is the history of this entire region during the early days of which we are called upon to write. It is eminently fit and proper that the deeds of these pioneers should be placed on record in a convenient and permanent form for preservation, ere the hand of the relentless harvester has plucked the last of them from among us, and sealed their lips forever upon the facts they might relate regarding the early settlement and development of the country, which will be of increasing value and interest to their children, and children's children, as the years grow upon years. Already have so many of them gone to that bourne whence no traveler returns, that anything like a complete record of the settlement and organization of the county is beyond the bounds of possibility. It seems hardly credible that no record of the organizing election of Allamakee County can be found either among the state or county archives; but it would appear that the organizing Sheriff had failed to make report of such election; and not even the scratch of a peu remains of the transactions of county business under the old Commissioner system. In some instances not the slightest record is to be found regarding township organizations. And now:
“Beneath those whispering pines, that oak tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep." To collate the facts still accessible and record the history of the works by which they have left us so goodly a heritage as is our fair county to-day, would be a pleasing task were it not so
fraught with difficulties and disappointments, because of the failing memories and consequent conflicting recollections of those still left who were witnesses of and participants in the events of the early days. But if this work is ever to be done the time is opportune.
In the preparation of these pages great care has been taken to verify dates and statements by such records as are obtainable, and to corroborate by cumulative testimony. Errors will doubtless be found, but we believe that in the main the history is accurate and reliable. No similar work has heretofore been attempted, and we therefore have nothing to build from as a basis. The writer is indebted to the valuable and interesting sketches prepared for the Makee township Early Settlers' Association in 1886, by G. M. Dean, and to the sketches by John Bryson, and others, for quotations here and there; and by diligently poring over old newspaper files he has discovered numerous items of interest bearing upon our early history, and establishing dates that could not otherwise be obtained. To those who have in any manner aided in his researches, he would express his thanks. If he has, in the time and space, to which he was limited, succeeded in putting together in permanent shape and convenient for reference the more important facts relating to the county history, and in an acceptable manner, it is all he expected to accomplish.
NAME. There are two theories as to the origin of the name "Allamakee,” each of which has its supporters. One of these theories is that it is the name of an Indian chief. The other is about as follows, as we find it stated in the proceedings of a meeting of the Early Settlers' Association of Lansing, published in the Mirror of Nov. 28, 1879:
"Dr. J. I. Taylor spoke of the subject of the selection of the name of the county, as he had it from John Haney, Jr., deceased. It was his recollection that David Umstead, in the Legislature from this unorganized portion of the state, gave the county its present title. An old friend of Umstead was Allen Magee, an Indian trader, who was familiarly known to the Winnebago tribes, and, in their guttural dialect, called Al-ma-gee. Calling to mind this fact, Mr. Umstead caused the name 'Allamakee' to be inserted in the organizing act, and it was thus legalized."
Which of these theories is correct we will not attempt to decide, although we incline to prefer the first. According to the official records "David Umstead" did not represent this section in the Legislature which organized this county (the Second General Assembly). Samuel B. Olmstead was a member of the First General Assembly, which held two sessions: Nov. 30, 1846, to Feb. 25, 1847, and Jan. 3, 1848, to Jan. 25, 1848. During the first of these sessions an act was passed defining the boundaries of sev
thesembly). Samhich held tw Jan. 25
eral counties, among them the then unorganized county of Allamakee, and it is probable its name was officially given at that time. David Umstead was a member of the Second Constitutional Convention, in 1846. We have been to some pains to investigate this subject, but find nothing fully authoritative. Col. S. C. Trowbridge, a resident of Iowa City, who came to Jowa in 1837 and surveyed and organized Johnson County, states positively that “the name Allamakee is an Indian name purely, all speculative theories to the contrary notwithstanding.'
TOPOGRAPHY. Allamakee County occupies the extreme northeastern corner of Iowa, with the Mississippi river on its eastern border, Minnesota on the north, and Winneshiek and Clayton counties on the west and south respectively. It is about twenty-nine miles in length from north to south; twenty miles from east to west at the northern line, and twenty-eight in extreme width through the center tier of townships, averaging about twenty-three; giving an area of 664 square miles. At the southern line of the County the Mississippi river is about 625 feet above the sea level. Along the river front the County is bordered its entire length with a bold outline of bluffs from 300 to 400 feet high, from the tops of which the surface gradually slopes upward until at Waukon, eighteen miles back, it reaches an altitude of 655 feet above the river at low water mark.
The Upper Iowa River and its tributaries water the northern portion of the county; Village Creek and Paint Creek take their rise near its centre and flow eastward into the Mississippi. The former north and the latter south of east-while the Yellow River takes its course through the southern tier of townships. These streams have all cut their channel deeply into the rocks, especially the Upper Iowa, which flows through a narrow, winding valley, with bluffs on either side which have an elevation near its mouth but little less than those along the Mississippi. In many places the fall of these streams is quite rapid, furnishing the very best of water powers. Along the courses of the Iowa and lower part of Yellow Rivers, and a strip four to six miles wide on the river front, the surface of the country is of course, rough and badly broken, but much of this bluffy country is well wooded, as are also many of the valleys of the streams, as well as the uplands in some portions of the county. Back from the river the county rpresents a more attractive appearance to the agriculturist. The oak and hickory openings, the rich hazel-brush lands, the prairie with their deep, black loam, the warm and sometime sandy valleys, together with the rich alluvial deposits of the river bottoms, afford a diversity of soil well adapted for all his purposes.
The prairies occupy the central and western portions ofthe county, as well as parts of the extreme northern and southern tiers of townships, and are unsurpassed for natural fertility and beauty. They are well watered with innumerable gushing springs of clear, cold and pure water, are dotted here and there with groves, and are just sufficiently rolling to afford excellent drainage, as also relief from the monotonous level of some prairie countries.
In the valley of the Mississippi where the channel does not approach the base of the bluffs, are some extremely fertile bottom lands, and a net work of sloughs, lakes and islands; some of the sloughs being of sufficient size to at times allow the passage of large steamers, as is the case with Harper's channel along the front of Taylor Township. At some points the main channel is three or four miles from the bluffs, and again it skirts their very base.
The principal tributaries of the Iowa are: on the north, Bear, Waterloo, and Clear Creeks; and on the south, Coon, Patterson, Mineral, Silver, and French Creeks. Those of the Yellow River are: from the north, the north fork, and Bear Creek; from the south, Hickory and Suttle Creeks. No less than seven of these creeks—including Village and Paint-have their sources in springs near the highest part of the county, surrounding Waukon, and flow thence in all directions except to the southwest. Some of these springs bubble up through the earth at the foot of a hill-slope, frequently covering a surface many feet square and forming a good-sized brook at once; others have a less pretentious origin; while there are numerous instances in the County where the water issues in a torrent from near the base of the cavernous face of a limestone cliff from twenty to fifty feet high, on a side-hill.
GEOLOGY. It is to be regretted that no complete geological survey of this County has ever been made. Enough is now known, however, from the experience of practical observers, to show that, while our system of rocks is on the whole a simple one, as demonstrated by the early explorers, in its details it is far more complicated than they supposed, owing to interruption of the regular stratification; and as it is more studied and examined the more it exhibits surprising evidences of disturbance during its formation.
As classified by geologists all the rocks of our county come under the head of Lower Silurian, and many of them are rich in fossils of mollusks peculiar to that age. These rocks are oldest in order and lowest in the earth's superstructure, the Potsdam Sandstone which is exposed in the valley of the Upper Iowa river, lying next above the rocks of the Azoic Age—the foundation of all. Above the Potsdam Sandstone in the following order are the Lower Magnesian Limestone, the St. Peter's Sandstone, the Trenton and Galena Limestones. The dip, or inclination of all these strata
in this region is to the south, so that theoretically in entering the county from that direction one finds the last mentioned rock occupying the surface, and in passing northward he crosses in succession the surfaces occupied by the Trenton, St. Peter's, and the Lower Magnesian, meanwhile passing downward or backward in the order of their formation. And this is nearly correct practically, also. Prof. C. A. White, in his report on the Geological Survey of Iowa (unfortunately never completed) published in 1870, says: "The Upper Iowa rises in the region occupied by Devonian rocks and flows across the outcrops respectively of the Niagara, Galena, and Trenton Limestones, the St. Peter's Sandstone, the Lower Magnesian Limestone, and Potsdam Sandstone; into, and through all of which, except the last, it has successively cut its valley, the deepest valley in Iowa, reaching a depth in its lower part of more than four hundred feet from the highest ground in the vicinity. That portion of it which traverses Allamakee County has the Potsdam Sandstone composing the base of its valley sides, the Lower Magnesian Limestone forming the remainder of them. * * * They are everywhere high and steep, the Limestone cliffs giving them a wild and rugged aspect. The farming lands of the higher surface, however, extend almost to the very verge of the valley.
* This stream has the greatest slope per mile of any in the State; consequently it furnishes immense water power.
* This river and its tributaries are the only trout streams in the State.”
Potsdam Sandstone. In his report on the Geology of Iowa, published in 1858, State Geologist James Hall says of this rock: "It attains its greatest exposure in Minnesota and Wisconsin, north of the limits of lowa, and about the region of Lake Pepin. From this point the rock dips both to the northeast and southwest. The excavation of the Upper Iowa River has removed the Calciferous Sandstone (Lower Magnesian Limestone) so that in following up that river the Potsdam Sandstone forms its banks for more than twenty miles along its meandering course. * * * * Below the mouth of the Upper Iowa, this rock forms the bluffs along the Mississippi, extending for a greater or less distance up the ravines and valleys of the larger streams. The tops of the high bluffs near the river, however, soon become capped by the lower Magnesian, and * * * the sandstone gradually declines from cliffs several hundred feet in height to the level of the river, beneath which it finally disappears at the foot of Pike's Hill, opposite the mouth of the Wisconsin River, and a short distance below McGregor's landing. It is usually a light drab color, sometimes nearly white, and not unfrequently stained brown by the oxide of iron which at some places appears in great abundance."