Woodbury County

Woodbury County, Iowa Genealogy

Woodbury County, Iowa, USA. Click here for the Home page.



From page 1,2, and 3, Woodbury County History Book, 1984

The following appeared in The Sioux City Journal, July 7, 1876.


As Prepared and Read on the Fourth of July, 1876 by Geo. W. Wakefield, Esq.


            Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:  The task assigned to me to say something of the history of Woodbury County I have found difficult, and the short time allowed me for examination and inquiry prevents me from even alluding to many things of interest that should be noticed in such a sketch.  I could not if I were able to justice to all these matters in the short time I can occupy here.

            Woodbury County is one of the largest in the State, and was established and boundaries defined by Chapter 9 of the laws of the Third General Assembly, approved January 15, 1851.  The name given it by that act of the Legislature was “Wahkaw”.  The name “Wahkaw” is from the Sioux Indian language and means ‘big medicine’.  Fifty counties were created in Iowa by that act.

            The first organized attempt on the part of the government to explore these vast domains, destined in the future to be the seat of learning, wealth, and greatness, was in 1804.  The expedition under the command of Captains Lewis and Clarke started from St, Louis in May, 1804, and proceeded up the great river forming the greater portion of the western boundary of this county to its source, thence across the Rocky Mountains and down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean.  The journal of the expedition shows that this county had previously been visited by the French interpreter, M. Durion, who claimed to have been to the sources of both the Little and Big Sioux Rivers.  The truth of the claim fully appears from the description he gives of those rivers.  The expedition reached the bluffs between Sioux City and Woodbury, now known as Floyd’s Bluffs, on the 20th day of August, 1804.

            Charles Floyd, a member of the expedition and sergeant in the United States Army, died on that day and was buried on this bluff.  The journal says:

                        “He died with a composure which justified the high opinion we had formed of his firmness and good conduct.  He was buried on the top of the bluff with the honors due to a brave soldier and the place of his internment marked by a cedar post on which his name and the day of his death were inscribed.  About a mile beyond this place, to which we gave his name, is a small river, about thirty yards wide, on the north, which we called Floyd’s River.  On the 21st they passed the mouth of the great Sioux River, three miles beyond Floyd’s.”

            Sergeant Floyd was without doubt the first white man buried in this county – buried in this county – buried with the honors due to a brave soldier in a country inhabited only by fierce savages and far distant from civilization; yet his name was not to be forgotten.  The bluff and river to which his comrades gave his name, and the entry thereof in the journal of the expedition, will keep his memory green through centuries to come.

            In the month of March, 1857, the restless and turbid waters of the Missouri had cut away this bluff until it was likely the mad waves would carry away the grave of Sergeant Floyd and its contents.  A committee consisting of N. Laenning, Hon. M.F. Moore, Dr. S.P. Yeoman, Geo. Geo. Weare and J.M. White were appointed by a meeting of citizens “to repair to the grave and secure all that remained earthly of Sergeant Floyd.”  The committee, repairing to the grave, found that the rushing waters had robbed the grave already of a part of its contents.  They secured what remained, and from a measurement of the bones secured it was estimated that Sergeant Floyd must have been six feet six inches tall.

            The remains of Sergeant Floyd were reinterred on the 28th day of May 1857, with befitting ceremonies on the same bluff, within two hundred yards of where they had rested for more than half a century.  Impressive funeral services were performed by Rev. Thos. Chestnut and an oration delivered by Hon. M.F. Moore.  The erection of a monument was then talked of, and I would suggest that a monument be erected in the Centennial year.

            The dealers in fur for the first half of the nineteenth century plied their lucrative but dangerous calling and of times without doubt visited what is now Woodbury County.  There was nothing in this that would be termed settlement, however long they may have sojourned here.

            It is conceded, I believe, that Wm. B. Thompson, of Morgan County, Illinois, was the first actual settler in this county.  He came in the spring of 1848 and settled at Floyd’s Bluff, where he still lives.  He was joined in the fall of that year by M. Townsley and his brother, Charles Thompson, ‘Old Bill’, as he is familiarly known, being a genuine pioneer and having an eye to speculation, laid out a town at Floyd’s Bluff which he called ‘Thompsontown”.  This is the first town laid out in the county.  However sanguine his expectations were, subsequent events have shown that Thompsontown was not to be the future city of Northwestern Iowa.

            Theophili Brughier, a Canadian Frenchman, came in the spring of 1849 and settled at the mouth of the Big Sioux River where he now lives.  He is said to have had two squaw wives, daughters of the celebrated Sioux Chief War Eagle, who died in 1857 and 1858, and were buried on the high bluff at the mouth of the Big Sioux, where also reposes the ashes of War Eagle.

            Robert Perry, a literary and eccentric gentleman from Washington, D.C., also came in the spring of 1849 and settled on the tract now known as Sioux City Proper through which runs a little stream that bears his name.  You all know Perry Creek.  Gen Jones calls it the ‘limpid Perry’.  Perry went back to the land of literary and eccentric gentleman, from whence he came, long years ago.

            Paul Pacquette came in1850 and settled on the Big Sioux near where the Dakota Southern Railroad bridge now is, where he still lives.  Joseph Leonais came in 1852 and purchased of Brughier a tract he had been using as a cornfield, the same being what is now the most valuable part of Sioux City, and where we see so many goodly brick buildings today.

            Orrin B. Smith, Edwin M. Smith and John Harley came to this county on a hunting excursion in the fall of 1852 from Council Bluffs.  They were following the Little Sioux River on the west side, and after striking this county, from the impossibility of the bottom lands, were compelled to make a detour through the hills.  When they got back to the river again, greatly to their surprise, they came upon a white man and a small improvement.  They found in this locality three Morman squatters, J. Sumner, Curtis Lamb, and William White.  The party proceeded up the river some distance and spent a week or more hunting.  Orrin B. Smith was specially impressed with the wondrous beauty of the Little Sioux Valley.  On their return, J. Sumner, who had two claims and improvements, wanted to sell out, and O.B. Smith bought both for $100 in gold and took possession and then became, as he view its, the first bona fide settler with a view of making a permanent home in Woodbury County.  On the return to Council Bluffs, he offered one of these claims to Eli Lee, who accepted and came to this county and took possession with his family in February, 1853.  Smith moved him up and Edwards brought proisions and moved up his own family, E.M. Smith coming with them.  Smith and Lee both continue to reside here, and the town of Smithland was afterwards laid out by Smith on the claim occupied by him, being the one where he first met J. Sumner.

            Jno. McCrady came and settled on the Little Sioux in August, 1853, and James McDonald, Jos. and Thos. Bowers, Seth Smith, Wm. and Jno. Turman followed in 1854.  As early as 1853 there were in this county Joseph F. Babbitt, Hiram Nelson, Joseph Menvail, Charles Rulo and others.  J.D.M. Crockwell and others settled near what is now the village of Woodbury about 1854.  The first home built there was by Crockwell in 1854, and in due time a town was laid out there called Sergeant Bluffs City.  Harry Lyon started the first general store there in the spring of 1855.  Len Bates planted and raised a crop of corn in 1854 on the farm now owned by A.R. Wright and opened a blacksmith shop in Sergeant Bluffs City in the fall of 1854.

            Dr. Jno. K. Cook in the spring of 1854 obtained a contract for surveying for the government in Northwestern Iowa, and came up with a party to prosecute the work.  They commenced running the section lines of the township in which Sioux City is situated May 24 and completed it June 2, 1854.  The natural beauty and advantages of the place where Sioux City now stands attracted the doctor’s attention, and believing it to be the point for a city, he and his party staked off claims and in the winter of 1854-5 laid out a town and called it Sioux City.

            The Sioux City Ferry Company was organized in 1855 for the purpose of maintaining a ferry and speculating in land and town lots.  The company was composed of Dr. Jno. Cook, Gen. A.C. Dodge, Gen. Geo. W. Jones, Bernardt Hum, Jessie Williams, Daniel Rider, S.P. Yeoman and Horace C. Bacon.  The efforts of this company and its members soon returned a strong tide of emigration toward Sioux City and northwestern Iowa.

            Eight or ten hewed log houses had gone up by January 1, 1856, among which was the Western Exchange, afterwards the Hagy House.  This building was torn down in 1868.  The Sioux City Ferry Company bought the claims of Jos. Leonais in the spring of 1855 for $3,000, and laid it out as Sioux City East Addition.  This addition, however, as finally platted and recorded, included the Chamberlain claim.

            The first stage and mail to Sioux City came the first week in September, 1855.  Dr. John K. Cook, postmaster at Sioux City, and Len Bates at Sergeant Bluffs City.  Two stores were opened in Sioux City in the fall and winter of 1855-6, one by Tootle & Jackson, in a small log house, and another by White & Copeland, in a tent.  White & Copeland built a one and a half story hewed log store in the spring of 1856, at which time the population of Sioux City was about 160.  In the meantime Sergeant Bluffs City was striving to take the lead.

            Thos. Robinson and Sam F. Watts brought to Sergeant Bluffs City in the summer of 1855 the first steam sawmill in Woodbury County.  The first lumber was sold to Wm. P. Holman for $55 per M, who claimed to have erected the first frame cottonwood lumber in the county.  Holman came to the county in 1855 and moved his family out in 1856.  Mrs. Holman died and was buried July 2, 1856, and is believed to be the first white woman buried in this county.

            The first newspaper in the county was the Independent, first published at Sergeant Bluffs City in 1857, by F.M. Ziebach and A. Cummings.  In about a year the paper was removed to Sioux City and became the Sioux City and became the Sioux City Register.

            J.D.M. Crockwell put in a fine steam ferry at Sergeant Bluffs City in the summer of 1857, and the same continued to ply regularly between that place and Dakota City fro two years.

            The hard times of 1857 drove nearly every one out of Sergeant Bluffs City, who were able to get away, and a general stagnation followed and continued till the building of the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad since which time there has been a marked improvement in both town and township.

            The first sermon preached in the county was by Rev. Mr. Black of the Methodist Church in 1855.  He preached both in Sioux City and Sergeant Bluffs City, in a hotel at the one place and a store at the other.  It is said the boys played seven-up during the discourse in the back end of the room in both instances.

            By an act of Congress approved March 3, 1855, a United States Land Office was established at Sioux City and was opened for business October 22, 1855, on which day several locations of land were made.  The first entries of lands lying within Woodbury County were made at Kanesville, now Council Bluffs, September 18, 1854.

            The first government survey in Woodbury County was of the second correction line, commenced at the east side of the county August 7, and completed to the Missouri River August 10, 1849, by James M. Marsh, Deputy Surveyor.  The survey of township line was continued in 1854, 1852, and 1853, and sub-dividing the townships into sections was commenced in the fall of 1852, and completed in the fall of 1856.

            Chapter 8 of the laws of the Fourth General Assembly approved January 12, 1858, provided for the organization of the County of Wahkaw.  Charles Walcott, Thomas I. Griffey and Ira Perjue were appointed commissioners to locate the seat of Justice of the county of Wahkaw.  A majority of the commissioners were authorized to meet on the 2d day of July, 1853, or within thirty days thereafter, and after being duly sworn to the faithful performance of their duties, proceeded to locate and establish the seat of Justice, as near the geographical center as a suitable site may be found, having due regard to the present as well as the future population of the county and make return to the organizing sheriff.

            Thos. L. Griffey was appointed organizing sheriff for the county of Wahkaw with authority to call and give notice of election, canvass the same, grant certification and qualify officers elected.  The same act further provides that for revenue, election and judicial purposes, the counties of Ida, Sac, Buena Vista, Cherokee, Plymouth, Sioux, O’Brien, Clay, Dickinson, Osceola and Buscombe are attached to Wahkaw and the first election of said county shall be held at Sergeant Bluffs and as many other places as the organizing sheriff shall designate, and that the county west of Wahkaw be called Sergeant Bluffs.  The name of the county of Wahkaw was changed to Woodbury, the present name, by chapter 12, passed at the same session and approved January1 2, 1853.

            The county of Woodbury was duly organized at an election held at the house of William H. Thompson, in the township of Sergeant Bluffs (which comprised the whole county) on the 1st day of August, A.D., 1853.  There were seventeen votes cast at said election and county officers were elected as follows, to-wit: Marshall Townsley, County Judge, 16 votes; Joseph P. Babbitt, Clerk District Court, 17 votes; Orrin H. Smith, Prosecuting Attorney, 17 votes; Eli Lee, Cornoner, 16 votes; Curtis Lamb, Justice of the Peace, 17 votes; Edwin M. Smith, Constable, 17 votes.  The judges of this election were Joseph Merivall, Chas. Rulo and Wm. B. Thompson, and the clerks were Edwin M. Smith and Orrin H. Smith.  There is a mutual admiration society for you.  Orrin B. Smith recently told me that only seven persons organized the county at this time and that they did not elect a sheriff because they did not have any one to fill the office after filling the others.  I think he must be mistaken, as the record discloses the vote as given.  These officers qualified on the day of election and the county was organized.

            The question of the adoption of the prohibitory liquor law was submitted spring election in 1855, for which 18 votes were cast and against it 18 votes.  The poll books of the August election, 1857, were rejected by the county canvassers on the ground that they did not show that the judges of the election were sworn.  The old officers held over and their right to do so was contested by those claiming under the August election.  The old officers were ousted by decree of District Court.

            The county seat of Woodbury County was located by Thomas L. Griffey and Ira Perjue, commissioners appointed for that purpose, on the southeast quarter of section one, township, eighty-eight, range forty-eight, west of the 5th P.M., and a stake driven to mark the spot between blocks No. 131 and No. 197 in Thompsontown, the 18th day of July, A.D. 1853.

            A petition signed by twenty-six persons was filed with Orrin B. Smith, acting County Judge, on the 19th day of February, 1854, asking the submission at the April election of that year the question of removal of the county seat from Thompsontown to Sergeant Bluffs City.  The county seat was removed to Sergeant Bluffs City at the April election by a vote of twenty-four for and none against.  A petition for the removal of the county seat to Sioux City, signed by S.P. Yeomans, Geo. Weare and forty-nine others, with proof of service of notice and also a remonstrance signed by T.E. Clark, J.D.M. Crockwell and others, was filed with County Judge March 3, 1856.  The question was submitted at the election held April 17, 1857, and carried by a vote of eighty for such removal and seventy-one against it, since which time the county seat has rested at Sioux City.

            The erection of county buildings has not been away that was all pleasantness and peace.  Dr. Jno. K. Cook, while County Judge, June 25, 1857, entered into a contract with Jno. Fitzgibbons to lay the foundation of a courthouse in the public square in Sioux City (proper) west of the Perry, for $848.08.  McDougall & Co. furnished the plans for $35.00.  The work was never prosecuted beyond laying the foundation walls.  Lots 4, 5, and 6 in block 63, East Addition, were offered as a courthouse site August 7, 1858, accepted and order of acceptance immediately thereafter revoked.  S.H. Casady on the 29th of April, 1859, entered into contract with Jno. L. Campbell, who claimed to be County Judge, for the sale of what is known as Casady’s Hall to the county for a court-house.  The troubles growing out of this transaction were many and grevious as the Supreme Court reports attest.

            The question of building our present county jail was submitted to vote June 7, 1858, and carried, and the contract for the building let to J.W. Bosley by John C. Campbell, County Judge.  This structure, with the lot on which it is situated, cost $18,577.52, and the record shows its acceptance by J.N. Field, acting County Judge, July 8, 1859.  J.C.C. Hoskins marked the specifications.  Hudson and Joy drew the contract.  P.W. Pritchard put up the lightning rod, and A. Grninger furnished the iron.  Pendleton & Northrup insured it for the first year, premium of $103.75.  But as to the building of this jail and troubles of Casady Hall, see annals of Iowa, 9, p.100.

            At the September session 1870, of the Board of Supervisors, O.C. Tredway, Esq., proposed to give the county a block in Tredway’s addition if the county would build a $10,000 courthouse thereon.  A committee consisting of Wm. P. Holman, Wm. R. Smith , and Thoas J. Stone was appointed to consider the proposition, reported favorably and the board virtually accepted but never after did anything in furtherance of the scheme.  The quarter block on the southeast corner of Pierce and Sixth streets was purchased as courthouse grounds in the spring of 1871 for the sum of $5,000.  The question of building a $50,000 courthouse and jail was submitted at the November election, 1872, and defeated: 532 votes for and 688 votes against.

            The question of building a $75,000 courthouse and jail was submitted at the October election, 1875, and carried by a large vote.  Plans and specifications therefore were drawn by Wm. Foster of Des Moines and accepted in January 1876, and the contract for building the same complete let to C.E. and D.T. Hedges of Sioux City, Iowa, in March, 1876.  The foundation walls are now laid and the cornerstone will be laid with befitting ceremonies in this Centennial year.  The whole structure is to be completed by January 1, 1878.

            The first tem of District Court of Woodbury County was begun September 3, 1855, and lasted two days.  There was present Hon. S.H. Ridde, Judge J.K. Meyers, clerk, and F. Chapel, sheriff.  The first business done by the court as appears from the record was the following order: ‘On motion of the judge to suspend from office Theophilus Brughier, clerk, for willful neglect of duty.’  The next order required the prosecuting attorney to file complaint against Brughier.  The only cause before the court was State of Iowa vs. Wm. B. Thompson, which was dismissed by the prosecuting attorney after empanelling a jury.

            A.C. Ford and H.C. Bacon were enrolled as attorneys at this term of the court and a committee was appointed to examine S.H. Cassady and J.K. Meyers.  In the April 1856 session I found no records of proceedings.  The next session of the District Court commenced November 24, 1856, and continued three days.  T.J. Stone was foreman of the Grand Jury which presented five indictments.  There were nine criminal and twelve civil causes in the docket and one James Houghey was admitted to citizenship.  As indicative of change, I would say that the last term of our District Court we had on the docket some 209 cases.

            The following table shows the population of the county at the several enumerations that have been made:

1854, 170                  1867, 1,970

1850, 1,100               1870, 6,172

1860, 1,119               1873, 6,988

1863, 1,106               1875, 8,568

1865. 1.295

The enumeration for 1875 is manifestly too small.  The number of votes are returned as 1,776, which the actual vote cast in 1875 was 1,828, and very many who are voters did not exercise that right

            The increase of property has been great.  The first lands were entered in 1854 and now there are 495,976 acres on the tax list and the taxable valuation of real property is $2,944,903, and personal property, $498,211.  The expenses of the county have grown in proportion with its wealth.  There were but eight warrants issued from the organization of the county August 2, 1853, to January 1, 1855, amounting to $154.30.  Of this sum $105.50 was paid.  Griffey and Perjue for services in locating county seat, and organizing the county, making the ordinary experiences of the county $48.80.



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