Search billions of records on

Discovery and Early Settlement

The territory now constituting the state of Iowa was in indisputable possession of the red man for many years after the establishment of the first European colonies along the Atlantic coast. Two French Jesuits from Canada, James Marquette and Louis Joliet, are credited with being the first white men that set foot on Iowa soil. .Having heard from Indian tribes of the great river in the interior of the continent, they decided to explore the unknown territory, and with some boatmen left the Mission of St. Marys, in what is now Michigan, the 13th of May, 1673. The party sailed down the Wisconsin river to its confluence with the great Mississippi, and thence continued down the latter until they reached another tributary, supposedly the Des Moines, at the mouth of which they landed in what is now Lee county, Iowa, the 25th day of June, 1673. After a peaceful council with the Indians of that neighborhood, the explorers continued their journey down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas, and later returned by the way of the Illinois and Chicago rivers.

Afterwards LaSalle took possession of the domain for the French, and named it Louisiana in honor of the French king, Louis XIV. The province of Louisiana, comprising all the territory west of the Mississippi river, remained a French possession until the end of the French war in 1763 when the title was transferred to Spain. Through the treaty of St. Idlefonso, in the year 1800, the province was returned to France, and three years later, April 30th, 1.803, the Louisiana Territory was sold to United States for $15,000,000.

The first white settler in Iowa territory was Julian Dubuque, a French-Canadian, who previously had his home in Prairie du Chien. The 22nd day of September, 1788, Dubuque bought from the Fox Indians the right of possession to a piece of land where the city of Dubuque now stands. When the United States acquired title to the Louisiana Territory, in 1803, practically all of the present state of Iowa was still in possession of Indian tribes such as the Sioux, Sac, Fox, Iowa, and others.

When Captains Lewis and Clark were sent out by the United States' government, in 1804, to explore the western territory, they held a council with the Indians at the western border of Iowa, near the northwestern corner of what is now Pottawattamie county. The steep, rocky hills of that place they called Council Bluffs, which name afterwards was transferred to the city.

The name "Iowa" is generally acknowledged to mean "the beautiful land." According to an Indian legend, some Indians, journeying westward, arrived at the great river constituting the eastern boundary of Iowa, and, looking over the broad expanse of its waters, and beholding for the first time the green hills and grassy plains on the opposite shore, they exclaimed, "Iowa!" - the beautiful land.

The first permanent settlers in Iowa made their homes in what is now Lee county. In 1920 Dr. Samuel C. Muir built his cabin on the present site of Keokuk. Isaac Galland and his family came nine years later to the same locality, a tract reserved for half-breeds. In 1832 about 50 white persons were living in Iowa. Mr. Galland established the, first school in Iowa in his kitchen, and Berryman Jennings from Kentucky became the first teacher with eight pupils.

Until the Black Hawk war the Indians were in indisputable possession of Iowa. After the war a treaty was entered into, September 21st, 11832, by which the Sac and Fox Indians ceded to United States ,a strip of land, 49 miles wide, along the eastern border of Iowa, for which they were to receive $20,000 a year for a period of 30 years. The two tribes were also to have possession of a reservation along the Iowa river, containing 400 square miles of land. This so-called Keokuk Reserve the Indians retained till 1836, when they relinquished the tract to United States.

A "Second Black Hawk Purchase" was made October 21, 1837, according to which the Indians ceded to United States another large territory west of the first one, and in 1838 white settlers in large numbers entered this section and took possession of it. The last treaty with the Sac and Fox tribes was made in October, 1842, and embraced all the rest of the land of Iowa. By its terms the United States was given possession, on May 1, 1843, of all the land east of Red Rock, and on October 10, 3845, of the balance of the Iowa territory, the Indians removing to their appointed reservations in Kansas.

In 1834 the whole region lying between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and extending from the state of Missouri on the south to the British possession on the north, was formed into Michigan Territory. In September of that year the Black Hawk Purchase was divided into two counties, called Dubuque and Des Moines. For Judicial. purposes the two counties were attached to Iowa county, Michigan Territory, and called the Iowa District, and thus the name of Iowa was first applied to any part of the territory. When Michigan was admitted as a state, in 1826, the Wisconsin Territory was created with Iowa included. Two years later, July 4, 1838, Iowa was segregated and became a separate territory according to a law, passed by Congress, and signed by President Van Buren, the 12th of June that year.

In 1836 Iowa had a population of 10,531; in 1840, 43,107; in 1850, 200,000, and in 1855, 500,000. The state of Iowa was admitted into the Union in 1846. Already in 1845, the Sacs and Foxes were escorted out of Iowa by troops to their reservations in Kansas, and in 1846, the Winnebagos by a treaty surrendered their reservation in Iowa for another in Minnesota. Likewise the Pottawattamies, and their associates, the Chippewas and Ottawas, agreed by treaty, in 1846, to give up their lands along the Missouri. Only the Sioux remained, and in 1851-52 the government made a treaty with them under the terms of which they agreed to vacate their lands in Iowa during the following year. In this treaty a number of smaller Indian bands also concurred.

 Return to Iowa Swedish Settlements Table of Contents