Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dedicating the Mormon Trail markers

The drive to locate and mark the Mormon Trail's route through Iowa during the second decade of the 20th century resulted in two monuments in Lucas County --- bronze plaques attached to substanial boulders, one located at the southwest corner of the courthouse lawn and the other, a mile and a half southeast of town along the eastern flank of Chariton Point.

These sites were chosen not only to mark the trail but also to commemorate specific points along it that were important in Lucas County's history.

The "Chariton Point" monument was located near the site of Buck Townsend's cabin, where newly-elected county commissioners met during the late summer of 1849 to organize Lucas County. Townsend generally is recognized as the first permanent settler in the Chariton vicinity and, according to oral tradition, purchased the pre-emption claim where his cabin was located from Mormon pioneers during 1848.

Until Chariton was established and cabins were built on the new town site, the Towensend cabin functioned as a primitive inn and those unable to fit inside camped around it.

The final words on the marker here explain the significance of its location: "Chariton Point. Junction of Eddyville Trail. Here Lucas County was organized in 1848."

The date "1848" is a little misleading. Although the state Legislature ordered during 1848 that Lucas County be organized, the first election was not held until August of 1849 and the organization itself did not occur until four days later, Aug. 10, 1849, when the new county commissioners met at the Townsend cabin at Chariton Point.

The courthouse monument is not only on the trail, but also quite near the site of the survey stake --- at the southwest corner of the square --- which county seat locating commissioners declared to be the center point of the 160 acres they had selected as the location for Chariton on Sept. 11, 1849.

Again, words on the monument explain the significance of its location: "Here upon the trail September 11, 1849, was located the townsite of Chariton."

These monuments were put into place during 1917, at the height of World War I --- and that probably is why they were not formally dedicated at the time.

Dedication did not occur until six years later, on Dec. 13, 1923, when members of Chariton's Old Thirteen chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, organized a ceremony in the auditorium of the then brand new Chariton High School.

Afterwards, the monuments were officially "unveiled," resulting in the wonderful photo at the top here, taken from a fragile "Old Thirteen" scrapbook now in the Lucas County Historical Society collection. Standing to the left of the monument are (from left) Edgar R. Harlan, curator of the Iowa State Historical Department; Mrs. H.R. Horrell, chair of the D.A.R. "Iowa Trails" project; and Amy E Gilbert, state D.A.R. regent. The children flanking the stone are Betty Gutch (left) and Billie McCollough. To the right are (from left) Ila Steele, Old Thirteen regent; Anna Gbbon Copeland, past Old Thirteen regent; Mrs. Mildred Pa(remainder of name torn away) and Louise McCollough.

And here's the program for the dedication ceremony, somewhat stained because it was pasted firmly into the scrapbook.

I wrote earlier about the occasionally annoying Henry W. Gittinger, who almost single-handedly led the charge to have the Mormon Trail through Lucas County designated "Mormon Trace." Henry was still at, according to a newspaper announcement of the dedication program:

"One of the features of the dedication is a short debate between Curator Harlan, of Des Moines, and H.W. Gittinger, as to whether the designation should be 'Mormon Trace' or 'Mormon Trail,' the Curator holding to the latter."

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