Friday, September 09, 2016

The embarrassing absence of Robert Lucas

"So do you have a portrait of Robert Lucas?" Scott Siepker and Sam Lozada asked during a brief stop at the museum Wednesday, scouting for sites to use as backdrops while filming their WHO-TV report on Lucas County history. That's the Lucas home, Plum Grove, in Iowa City at left, by the way. And an engraving of the governor himself, looking a little cranky, above.

Oops. Truth of the matter is, no --- we don't have a portrait of Iowa's first territorial governor, after whom the county was named. So far as I know, no one else around here does either. A few small images embedded in printed material, of course --- but nothing worthy of a county's namesake.

We're going to have to figure out how to do something about that. The absence is a little embarrassing. There are only two Lucas counties in the country, after all, both named after old Robert. The other is in Ohio (county seat Toledo), established during 1835 when Lucas was governor of that state, in territory also claimed by Michigan. The result was the so-called Toledo War (largely bloodless).

I'll bet they have a portrait of Gov. Lucas in Toledo.

Lucas, who was a native of what now is West Virginia, ended his second term as Ohio governor in 1836 and began lobbying for an appointment as governor of the new territory of Iowa, formed from Wisconsin Territory on July 4, 1838. President Martin Van Buren was agreeable and named Lucas superintendent of Indian affairs, too. He served until 1841.

By most accounts, Lucas was an effective governor. He is remembered, among other reasons, for having presided during the opening rounds of what became known as the Honey War, a near-bloodless conflict with Missouri over Iowa's southern border. Iowa's (and Lucas's) position finally was vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1850. And Lucas did call out the state militia --- just in case.

Lucas also wanted the seat of government moved out of Burlington and closer to the center of the territory, so the site of Iowa City was selected during 1839 and officially became the territorial capital in 1841, his last year in office. (The capital was moved to Des Moines in 1857.)

Although no longer in office but still deeply involved in politics, Lucas moved his family to a farm in the vicinity of the new capital and built a home known as Plum Grove --- still standing, now inside Iowa City limits, and maintained by the state in his memory.

Lucas County was formed in 1846 --- Iowa's year of statehood --- and named in honor of the venerable first territorial governor. Lucas died on Feb. 7, 1853, at Plum Grove and is buried with his wife and several of his children in Iowa City's Oakland Cemetery. 

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