Friday, July 02, 2021

Three 175th anniversaries this year for Lucas County

 The year 2021 is kind of a triple hit for Lucas County when it comes to 175th anniversaries. The county itself was created on Jan. 13, 1846, as an act of our last territorial legislature and named for Robert Lucas (1781-1853), Iowa's first territorial governor.

During early spring 1846, Brigham Young led the first party of pioneer refugee Mormons west across the state on what became known as the Mormon Trail. By midsummer, the main branch of that trail was crossing the newly formed Lucas County, following the north bank of the Chariton River to Chariton Point and then turning southwest to exit into Clarke west of what would become the pioneer settlement of Last Chance. The heavy red line on this map is the route of the Mormon Trail, sometimes called the "Mormon Trace."

And then on Dec. 28, 1846, President James K. Polk signed the Congressional admission bill and Iowa became the 29th state in the Union.


The bill that created Lucas County named it and described its boundaries, then attached it for administrative purposes to Monroe County to the east, an arrangement that would last until September of 1849 when the county was organized and the new county seat, Chariton, located and named.

The land had opened for settlement just three months earlier --- on Oct. 11, 1845, when the confederated Sauk and Fox (Mesqwaki) title to territory west of the Red Rock Line expired --- but there's no indication that Euro-American settlers arrived that fall.

John and Hannah Ballard, who had been living near Iconium in Appanoose County, moved their family to a pre-emption claim in English Township during September of 1846, then later on that fall, a party of Mormons led by Elder Freeman Nickerson encamped for the winter along the trail at Chariton Point. 

William McDermott brought his family down from the Pella area of Marion County during 1847 to settle east of Chariton at a place sometimes called Ireland, just west of Bethel Cemetery.

But the territory was very sparsely settled indeed during late 1847 when an unidentified gentleman from southeast Iowa passed through Lucas County en route to Garden Grove, in Decatur County, and shared the following report, published on Dec. 3, 1847, in Faifield's Iowa Sentinel:


To a gentleman who has recently returned from an excursion into south-western Iowa, we are indebted for the following information concerning a part of that valuable section of the state. Lucas county lies immediately west of Monroe, and is about 16 miles south-west of the Des Moines river.

The Chariton river, a tributary of the Missouri, flows in an eastward direction along the southern boundary of the county. Whitebreast, a fine stream, maintains a generally north-east course, passing diagonally through the country, and empties into the Des Moines in Marion county.

On both of these streams, but especially on the latter, there are dense bodies of good timber. The prairie lying between Chariton and Whitebreast is not much more than a mile in width. The northern part of Lucas county is chiefly prairie. The geographical center is in the timber on Whitebreast. The general surface of the country is gently rolling, and  on Whitebreast, broken and uneven. The soil is excellent.

Upon the whole, Lucas county may be set down as a good agricultural district. Some few settlers have migrated thither this fall.

At a place called "Garden Grove," on the waters of Grand river, in Decatur county, 57 miles south of Fort Des Moines, about thirty Mormon families have been living since the spring of 1846. They have 800 acres of prairie broken, and Garden Grove embraces several sections of timbered land. Dr. Roberts, late of Quincy, Illinois, now living at the Grove, has purchased the Mormon claim to the improvements and the timber land attached.

It is the intention of the Mormons there, and at some other camps further north-west, to go to Council Bluffs early in the spring, for the purpose of accompanying their brethren there, to California.

A Salt Spring, and a section of land adjoining the Garden Grove, improvement on the south, have been selected by the agent of the State for the use and benefit of the Commonwealth of Iowa. This spring is said to be the best yet found. It is generally known that the state is authorized to select 12 salt springs, and 6 sections of land contiguous to each, and that an agent is now making the selections.


While not especially informative, the article is interesting because it is among the earliest reports filed by someone who had actually visited the new county.

The salt spring reference involves a largely forgotten footnote to the settlement of Iowa (and several other states). At the time, salt was a precious commodity in large part because of its usefulness as a preservative. Brine springs were among the major sources in various parts of the country.

The federal government, convinced of the value of these springs, authorized its agents to locate 12 on federally owned land in Iowa by Congressional act of March 3, 1845, and set them aside with adjoining acres to benefit the public. As it turned out brine springs were not especially rare and other more efficient ways of obtaining salt were developed, so these "saline" lands actually had no particular value.

The land set aside in Iowa was relinquished to the state during 1852 and eventually sold.

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