Sunday, August 28, 2016

Buck Townsend & the Eddyville Trail

Another post this morning about the Mormon Trail and Lucas County --- and the "Eddyville Trail," a route surveyed by Buck Townsend to join the 1846 Mormon Trail at his own front door southeast of Chariton during 1848. This was two years after LDS pioneers had blazed the Mormon Trail but a year before the city of Chariton was established.

Both the Mormon and Eddyville trails are commemorated on the second of two large Mormon Trail monuments erected early in the 20th century by Daughters of the American Revolution, represented by Chariton's Old Thirteen chapter, to commemorate the trail and the part it played in Lucas County's and Chariton's 1849 founding.

This marker is located less than a mile and a half southeast of Chariton, at the first curve of the Blue Grass Road. Like the monument on the courthouse lawn, it was placed during 1917, when World War I was in progress, and dedicated officially on Dec. 13, 1923 --- a joint project of the D.A.R. and the Iowa Department of History.

It is located on or very near the old Mormon Trail, a route the Blue Grass Road follows in general to Russell, and also is near the site of the cabin of Buck and Edna Townsend and their family, which also served as Chariton's first inn. Commissioners gathered at the Townsend home during the fall of 1849 before locating the new county seat just to the northwest, then the first county commissioners --- now called supervisors --- arrived to organize Lucas County a day or two later.

The last line on the plaque reads, "Chariton Point. Junction of (the Mormon Trail and)  Eddyville Trail. Here Lucas County was organized in 1846."

Unfortunately, although molded in bronze, that statement isn't exactly accurate. Lucas County was not organized until September of 1849, three years later. The organizing did, however, take place in or near the Townsend cabin.

The Eddyville Trail, or road, was the first "state road" to reach Lucas County. It was "state" in the sense that the route was surveyed and blazed by state-employed surveyors, but by no means improved. The earliest pioneers to travel it sometimes had difficulty figuring out exactly where it was.

The Eddyville Trail was intended to accommodate permanent settlers now moving into Lucas County and beyond. It brought traffic from a new direction and before long was flooded by the wagons of "Forty-niners" headed for California's gold fields and non-Mormons headed for the Pacific Northwest or elsewhere. Most Mormon pioneers continued to reach Chariton on the old trail from the southeast.

At that time, during the late 1840s, Eddyville was the principal Des Moines River crossing point in south central Iowa --- Ottumwa was still a straggling village just beginning to pull itself together and didn't have ferry service, which Eddyville did.

Location of the Eddyville Trail put Chariton on the map as a stopping point on what was called the "Southern Route" across Iowa by those headed to California or to the Pacific Northwest.

A description of "our" portion of that route, published in July of 1849, reads as follows: "Eddyville is the principal crossing place of the Southern road — emigrants would do well to lay in their supplies here as there are some five or six large stores, flouring mills, &tc.; to Clark's Point (just north of Albia), 13 miles; to Prathers (near the Monroe-Lucas county line), 12 miles; to Chariton Point, 13 miles, center Lucas county; to Watson's 20 miles; to Pisgah, 40 miles; to Ferrin's Ferry at the junction of the northern and southern roads, 60 miles. The distance from Iowa City to St. Francis can be traveled in 12 days with good teams. From Eddyville, in 14 days."

St. Francis, also known as Traders Point, was located on the east bank of the Missouri River just across from what now is Belleview, Nebraska, and south of Council Bluffs.

The commissioners appointed by the Iowa Legislature on Jan. 22, 1848, to locate the Eddyville Road were our own Buck Townsend, then living at Chariton Point; Luther M. Davis, of Wapello County; and John Webb, of Monroe County.

That legislative act authorized Townsend, Davis and Webb to continue the survey west to the Missouri River as soon as the counties west of Lucas were organized.

The route through Lucas County followed, in general, the current route of U.S. 34 until it reached the areas east of town where tributaries of the Little White Breast --- now filled by Lakes Ellis, Morris and Red Haw --- cut into the landscape. Here the Eddyville Trail route swung southwest to follow the high ridge and intersected the Mormon Trail near the Townsend front door.

I'm guessing that Buck had a major part in deciding where that intersection would be.

By 1849, however, Ottumwa had become well enough organized to exert influence in the Legislature --- and had established ferry service of its own --- and Townsend and others were employed to lay out a new state road due west from Ottumwa through Albia that then followed the route blazed the previous year from Eddyville to Chariton Point.

Once the city of Chariton was established in 1849, it no longer made sense for the state road and the Mormon Trail to intersect near the Townsend cabin, so a more direct approach to the town square was developed.

A Des Moines River bridge had been constructed at Ottumwa by 1860 and, after the Civil War, another bridge was built to convey the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad tracks across. These reached Chariton during the summer of 1867. 

By that time, the route usually was known just as "the state road," although a few pioneers still referred to it now and then as the Eddyville Road into the 1880s.

No comments: