Our Earliest Years

The Sioux Indians are the first we know who had their hunting grounds where Crawford County is now located. They apparently didn't have any villages here or farm the land, and the only evidence they left was some mounds or lookouts several miles down the Boyer River from Denison. The Omaha and Otoe Indians later drove the Sioux to the plains north of Iowa, and the Otoes and Missouri Indians were inhabitants of western Iowa by the early 1800s. These tribes had a council with explorers Lewis and Clark August 2, 1804; the Indians presented watermelons to the white men, who recorded the meeting with the note that "mosquitoes are quite troublesome" in this region.

Lewis and Clark were exploring the west and northwest on behalf of the American colonies, which had bought the 875,025 square mile territory known as the Louisiana Purchase April 30, 1803. The land was purchased from France for $15 million; the French had earlier purchased the land from Spain. During the nearly 50 years of European ownership, only a handful of trappers and missionaries had entered this region and the future productivity of this land had not even been dreamed of.

Even the early Americans felt this area was "barren, inhospitable country" and it was the policy of the United States government to abandon Iowa to the Indians. In 1833, a new treaty with the Pottawattamies made southern Crawford County a part of a five million acre Indian reservation. The treaty was continued until 1846; although the Indians were then told to move westward, many would return occasionally to hunt or communicate with the Great Spirits of deceased kin left behind.

While negotiating treaties with the Indian residents of this area, the American government was also busy reorganizing and recharting the land for the white newcomers. The 1804 Louisiana Purchase included all of North and South Dakota, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and "the Indian Territory," and parts of Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Louisiana and Oklahoma. As more and more settlers entered the region, the land was subdivided and renamed. What is now Iowa was thus called the District of Louisiana (1804), Territory of Louisiana (1805), Territory of Missouri (1812), Territory of Arkansas (1819), Territory of Michigan (1834), Territory of Wisconsin (1836), and the Territory of Iowa, which included all of Iowa and everything north to the British possessions in Canada (1838).

The state of Iowa was admitted to the Union in 1846. At the time, what is now Crawford County was part of Benton County. As the population moved west, more counties were named; in 1848, Pottawattamie County was formed and included the southern part of our present Crawford County. In 1851, the state named 50 new counties, including Crawford. Although it received a name and its boundaries were fixed at much the same as they are today, Crawford County was still unorganized territory and was attached to Shelby County for all judicial and fiscal purposes.

Crawford County was first settled by three waves of immigration: 1) by the natural oncoming of pioneers, both from the east and from western settlements at Council Bluffs; 2) by "backwaters" of the Mormon emigration to the West; the Mormon Trail was farther south in Iowa but gradually members of the religious sect spread into adjacent territory by reports of game, honey and timber in Harrison, Shelby and Crawford Counties; and 3) by the land speculation company organized in Providence, Rhode Island, which bought up prairie land in our area and advertised and sold it to residents of New England.

County Government Begins in 1855
By 1855, there were enough settlers in Crawford County to hold an election of officers. The entire county had only one township, and the people lived in timbered areas along the Boyer River at Deloit and Dunlap, at the Coon Creek five miles south of Denison, and at the East Boyer River six miles east of Denison. There were 458 acres of improved land in the entire county, with 11,135 bushels of corn and 1,080 bushels of potatoes raised in 1856; the 152 cattle were sold for $4,052 and the 181 hogs sold for $1,037. The 1856 census showed 235 residents in the county, with 43 farmers, three carpenters, one blacksmith, one miller, and one physician.

The first people settled in and around groves, which were necessary for fuel and shelter. Nearly all travel was on foot or by ox team and wagon, as there were few horses, and the mail was sent to Council Bluffs, also the closest point to market grain and livestock. Gradually the people moved onto the prairie land, which could be homesteaded for $1.25 an acre.

In 1856, the county was divided into two townships, Milford at the north and Union at the south. The remaining townships were made and named when enough people arrived to hold elections and appoint officers. Our area became part of East Boyer Township, then Washington

Continued from page 2.

Township. In 1872, the separate townships of Hayes, Iowa, and Nishnabotny (note the correct spelling is Nishnabotna) were created, although Nishnabotny and Iowa were still both attached to Washington Township for judicial and financial purposes. They finally became independent in 1873, and the first elections were held at the Hilsabeck Schoolhouse (Iowa Township) and John Theobald Schoolhouse (Nishnabotny Township).

Much of the land in this area was "swamp land," and transferred from the United States, to the State of Iowa, to Marshall County (which included much of west central Iowa at the time), and finally to landowners for $1.25 an acre or less. Iowa Township contained 5,722.28 acres of swamp land, according to the 1853 Act of Iowa. But even though the land was cheap, there were few takers, as our part of the county had little to offer in the lines of transportation, fuel or shelter. In 1862, Crawford County agreed to give all remaining unsold swamp lands in the county to the American Emigrant Company, who could sell the lands for $1.25 an acre or more, and who in return would have to make any public improvements ordered by the county not exceeding $200 in costs. The agreement was approved in a special election by a 17 to 9 vote, and the terms were to be in effect for four years.

As the railroad advanced west from the Mississippi River, railroad officials often sought certain favors to help them decide where the lines should be planned. Crawford County was asked to give up its remaining swamp lands, in return for a promise that the railroad reached the town of Denison or within five miles of Denison by 1869; the vote taken in 1866 was 41 in favor of the plan. The railroad apparently agreed to work with the American Emigrant Land Company, as the two firms still held title to more than 11,000 acres of land in Crawford County in 1869.

The railroad reached Denison in 1866, and the population of the county doubled within two years, from 574 in 1865 to 1,100 in 1867. Although the main reason for the population explosion was the easier, cheaper way of transporting people, merchandise, and farm products, the end of the Civil War in 1865 also played a big role. Nearly all able-bodied men had been involved in the war, and they were now returning home; newcomers who were ready to exchange the adversities of war for the adversities of the frontier also arrived.

Train loads of prospective land buyers poured into the county in the late 1860s and throughout the 1870s. The NorthWestern, which crossed Crawford County, competed with three other rail lines which crossed Iowa by offering free rides to anyone who bought 160 acres of more land along their route; the railroad ride was half-price to anyone who bought less than 160 acres.

Vividly worded advertising books, such as Turner's Guide to the Rocky Mountains, helped entice new land owners. Ads for Crawford County were placed by private land agents such as Morris and W.A. McHenry, who sold land for the American Emigrant Company, the Rock Island and Pacific Land Company, the Blair Town Lot and Land Company, the Iowa Railroad Company, and the Providence Western Land Company.

Land was also sold by development firms, such as the Providence, Rhode Island, investors who started their Western Land Company by obtaining 20,000 acres of land in Crawford and Harrison Counties from veterans of the wars of 1812 and with Mexico. These veterans could claim 160 acres of unoccupied land in the western states, to either keep or sell; the Providence Western Land Company encouraged a number of the soldiers to file on land in a group, and the company then purchased the land for around 60c an acre. The land agent in this area was J.W. Denison, who had created, named, and sold lots in the company's new town of Denison. The town was formed in 1856; by 1873, land around Denison was selling for $40 to $50 an acre, although "wild lands" a distance from town could still be purchased for around $5 an acre.

The railroads also had real estate subsidiaries like the Iowa Land Company and the Emigrant Land Company which sold land owned by the railroads. Some of this land had been given to the railroads by the United States government to encourage the expansion of rail lines across Iowa. By an 1856 Act of Congress, four railroads were to be given every other section of land for a distance of six miles north and six miles south of their new westbound lines across Iowa; this bait failed to bring the anticipated railroad growth, so Congress extended the grant to include every other section of land for 20 miles on both sides of the tracks. In addition, railroad land companies bought land along their proposed routes; some was timber land with lumber companies committed to hauling lumber on that rail line, and other land would be the site of new towns, with the land divided into lots and resold to incoming merchants and home builders.

The majority of the newcomers settled near the railroad lines; the area around what was to become Aspinwall was at least 10 miles from a rail line and grew at a much smaller pace. Thomas Hayes, who broke the first prairie in what was later named Hayes Township, settled there in 1869; Marcus Kuhl, who was among the first three settlers of Iowa Township, arrived in 1872. Among the early settlers of the eastern part of Crawford County was William Jahn, who came directly from Germany as a representative of a syndicate which purchased land near the Five Mile House in Hayes Township for incoming settlers. This was the forerunner of the large German population of Hayes and Iowa Townships.

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South Bend Indiana 1868
LAND FOR SALE 400,000 acres of choice prairie and timber land, from $1.75 to $15.00 an acre. Morris McHenry & Company, General Land Agents, Denison, Crawford County, Iowa.
FOR SALE 3,000 acres of choice prairie and timber lands in Crawford County, Iowa, situated along the line of the Chicago and NorthWestern Railway. Upon the north and west sides they extend back in different localities from one to 16 miles from Denison to Charter Oak, on the west bank of the East Soldier. They are rolling, well watered and healthy. The soil is a dark loam, with a due mixture of sand and clay, being adapted to the raising of stock or grain, and favored with a choice of markets, with flouring and saw mills near at hand, and woolen manufacturies within 20 miles.

Terms -- Prairie from $3 to $10 per acre, and timber from $15 to $20, and on time to suit purchasers. In some cases longer time is given and no advance payment, but with annual interest.
J.W. Denison, agent for the Providence Western Land Company and agent of the American Emigrant Company, Denison, Crawford County, Iowa.

From Carroll up-up, the rolling prairie, covered with luxuriant and waving verdure, six miles to East Side Station (Maple River), thence onward to Tip Top (Arcadia), the summit level between the two great rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri. The view is grand -- magnificent; rolling, swelling in gentle undulations, the face of the country looks as though it had just been crystallized from the surges of "Old Ocean." Now down the Missouri slope! The change is magical. The streams have changed their direction, and each ripple seems to be an echo of "Westward, ho!" Descending we pass West Side, get a glimpse of the East Boyer, leave Vail behind and reach Denison, the beautiful seat of justice of Crawford County, sitting queenlike on an eminence between the East and Main Boyer, near their junction, 423 miles from Chicago. Denison overlooks a delightful valley, through whose leafy groves the Boyer meanders for miles and miles away.

Denison is chiefly settled by immigrants from glorious New England, which has sent out her millions of social and industrial missionaries, flanked on the one side by the pulpit, and on the other by the school house. That temple of the chivalry, the saloon with its poisoned shrine, is not here. The population of Denison is not large. It is a new town and numbers not much over 300 people.

Here the railroad makes an elbow and runs southwesterly to the Missouri Valley and to Council Bluffs, 67 miles away. The fecund prairie awaits the plow, from whose furrows shall spring plenty. The pleasant groves invite settlers to joyous homes, and altogether give promise of the coveted advantages of a highly civilized condition. Several railroad connections are anticipated here.

Crawford County is threaded with rivers and branches with their rich valleys. The Boyer runs southwesterly through the county, diagonally; East Boyer flows into the main stream a short distance from Denison. The eastern sections are washed by the Otter, the Paradise and the Nishnabotny, while the Middle and East Soldier meander in the western part of the country. Along all of these streams are found fine farming lands, interspersed with timber, aggregating about 8,000 acres. Some of the uplands are rough, but much of the largest portion of the county is susceptible of easy cultivation, and is very healthy.

The population of the county is not far from 2,000, a circumstance, perhaps, favorable to those who are in pursuit of cheap lands that are sure immediately to raise in value. Immigration is flowing in quite rapidly. There are some 15 organized school districts and as many school houses, with a disposition to build more as they are needed. Besides Denison, there are three railroad stations, namely: West Side, Vail and Crawford (Dow City), all of which promise to become towns of some importance. at no very distant day. There are also several young towns in the county of more or less pretension. They are Deloit, seven miles above Denison, Swedeboy, four miles above Deloit, Bakertown, six miles from the county seat and Charter Oak, 16 miles west of Denison, where the American Emigrant Company have commenced a very promising settlement, and have some 15,000 acres of first class farming lands for building up the town. These lands are selling for from $3 to $5 an acre, on long time to actual settlers, thus giving persons of very moderate means opportunities to secure homes.