Tuesday, July 06, 2021

A visit to Chariton Point in the fall of 1848

I mentioned last week in a post entitled "Three 175th anniversaries this year for Lucas County" that the Iowa Territorial Legislature created and named this place as a legal entity on Jan. 13, 1846; that early in the spring of 1846, Mormon refugees blazed the Mormon Trail west through it; and that Iowa became the 29th state in the Union on Dec. 28, 1846.

The county would not be organized and the county seat, Chariton, founded until September of 1849. But by the late autumn of 1848, when the following was published in Dubuque's "Weekly Miners' Express" of Oct. 17, a few permanent Euro-American settlers had arrived.

Among them was William S. "Buck" Townsend, his wife, Edna, and their children who had acquired at least one of the pre-emption claims of Mormon pioneers in the Freeman Nickerson party along the east flank of Chariton Point. Buck would have been the "enterprising proprietor" mentioned in the brief article and the "town" nothing more than the Townsend cabin which also functioned as a somewhat primitive inn for travelers. Here's the article:


A correspondent of the Jackson county Democrat gives an interesting description of the country travelled over in his journey from Dubuque to Lucas county. We extract the following description of the latter county.

Chariton Point, the geographical center of Lucas county, is situated on the great Mormon road from Churchville to Council Bluffs. The town was located by its enterprising proprietor a short time since, and bids fair to make the most important inland town on the south side of the Des Moines in the state. It is situated in the heart of one of the most fertile regions in Iowa, with abundance of good timber, building rock, and stone coal in the immediate vicinity.

Being on the dividing ridge between the waters of the Des Moines and the Missouri, it is one of the most healthy regions in the state, entirely exempt from those billious diseases which have been and are a scourge to the new settlers on the rivers and low prairies in other portions of the west. There is excellent water power within a convenient distance, some of which is already improved in part. 

No location in the state offers more or better opportunities for industrious men to secure to themselves and families pleasant and agreeable homes, where they can realize a competence in a short time by their exertions. Should i conclude to locate in this state, I am confident no other region of the country would please me so well.

I cannot spin out this already long letter, as I have a deer chase in view. I shot three fine turkeys on Saturday. Respectfully yours, Traveller.


A commemorative stone and plaque (top) along the Blue Grass Road mark the approximate site of the Townsend cabin and of the area its enterprising owner hoped would become the new Lucas County seat. It was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution during 1917 in the front yard of the old house, owned and occupied by William B. and Nancy Campbell at the time, that stood about where the earlier cabin had been located.

Despite Buck Townsend's lobbying, the commissioners appointed to locate the new Lucas County seat during September of 1849 had other ideas and planted the new town called Chariton a mile and a half or so to the northwest, astraddle the ridge north of the point. The Townsends moved on soon after that.

A year after the commemorative stone was placed, the old house burned --- as reported in The Chariton Patriot of Jan. 31, 1918:

About 6 o'clock Sunday morning the residence of W.B. Campbell, a few miles south of Chariton, was completely destroyed by fire. Only a part of the contents were saved. The fire caught in some manner from the flue, and had gained such headway before being discovered that it was beyond control. Mr. Campbell carried $300 insurance on his household goods, and the house, which was owned by his son, Lawrence Campbell, was insured for $800. This structure, which was located at what is known as Chariton Point, was one of the old landmarks of Lucas county, and was erected in 1857, nearly 62 years ago. It was constructed principally of old native walnut.

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