Iowa State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Iowa State History

The word "Iowa" comes from the American Indian tribe of the same name. Iowa was part of the Louisiana Purchase, a deal arranged between President Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte of France that brought a vast tract of the continent under the control of the United States. The area was closed to white settlement until the early 1830s.

Following the Black Hawk War - a conflict that ended in 1832 near present-day New Albin - the Sauk and Fox were forced to make their first land cessions west of the Mississippi. The United States government gave the Sauk and Fox a small amount of cash, 40 barrels of salt, 40 barrels of tobacco and some blacksmithing services in exchange for the fertile Mississippi Valley lands of modern-day eastern Iowa. The tribes were ordered out of the area a year later. Today, the Meskwaki Settlement is an area of land around Tama in central Iowa that's governed and owned communally by descendants of the two tribes. The area is not a reservation; the land was purchased back from the government in 1856.

Early explorers included the famed Lewis and Clark. Sergeant Charles Floyd's was the only death during that historic journey. A monument stands in Sioux City near the spot where Floyd was buried.

Steamboat paddle wheelers reigned supreme on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in the 19th century. The steamboat Bertrand sank in the Missouri near what is today the town of Missouri Valley. Excavated in 1969, the cargo is now on display in a fascinating exhibit at the De Soto National Wildlife Preserve Visitors Center.

After white settlement began with the Black Hawk Purchase, Iowa became part of Michigan Territory. When Michigan achieved statehood in 1836, Iowa then became a part of Wisconsin Territory. Finally, two years later, Iowa Territory was carved out of the area of Wisconsin Territory west of the Mississippi River. The first Iowa Territory legislature met in Burlington before a territorial capital city was finally selected in Johnson County. In Iowa City, the government seat was established in a grand structure known today as Old Capitol. Built in the early 1840s, Old Capitol served as the last capitol of Iowa Territory and the first capitol of the state. Under the 1857 Iowa constitution, the seat of state government was moved to Des Moines, a more central location.

Iowa Historic Figures

Buffalo Bill
1846-1917: Davenport native William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody was a famed frontier scout and the greatest showman of his day, bringing the thrill of America's Wild West to the world. Visit the Cody homestead in Princeton and the Buffalo Bill Museum in Le Claire for an insightful look back in time.

James Wilson
1836-1920: He served in the Iowa State Legislature (1867-73) and in the U.S. Congress (1873-77, 1883-85). In 1891-97, he was the director of the agricultural experiment station and professor of agriculture at Iowa State. From 1897-1913, he was Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.

Herbert C. Hoover
1874-1964: Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of the United States and the first president born west of the Mississippi River. Hoover's birthplace in West Branch is today a 186-acre site and national historic landmark, and the final resting place of President and Mrs. Hoover.

Charles A. Kettering
1876-1958: Charles Kettering was the inventor of the first electrical ignition system, the self-starter for automobiles and the first practical engine-driven generator (the "Delco").

Glenn Miller
1901-1944: Glenn Miller was the founder of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and popular hit-maker of the swing era. His birthplace in Clarinda has been restored with period furnishings and is open for visitors.