Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Donít Rely On Everything You See in Print

In obtaining a Master of Arts Degree in Historical Geography, I heavily concentrated on demographics (study of population statistics.) A graduate thesis, Factors Restricting Urbanization in Van Buren County, Iowa became the focus of my study. Since returning to the area of my roots, I have been urged and encouraged to share some of my discoveries with readers of the two county newspapers.

During my research, a constant, valuable source of information was my old friend, the late Ralph Arnold. Another great source has been my cousin, navy doctor and commander, Francis W. McIntosh, particularly when I was attempting genealogy research (family history) forty years ago. His insight and advice included, "Donít rely on everything you find in print!" as he explained that clerical errors and misinterpreted data are often unintentionally spread by writers. "Find the most reliable sources, two or more if possible, particularly for names and dates," he said.

His good advice allowed me to discover a glaring error in an old county history entitled History of Van Buren County that was published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago in 1878. The source lists Bonaparte as having a population of 1,339 in 1875 and "about 1,200" in 1878. A casual observer might accept these figures as conclusive evidence of fact, but I began digging through old records to find a reason why the population apparently dropped in just three short yearís time.

According to the Iowa Historical Commemorative Census, Census of Iowa, Bonaparte Township (a 24-square mile tract of land) had a population of 1,349 in 1875 and 1,252 in 1880. The Census Bureau in 1880 also lists Bonaparte village separately, with a population of 689. Obviously, this figure is more reliable and is reasonable. It disproves inflated figures quoted by writers over the years.

It is easy to see how such a mistake was made, since Bonaparte Township was not one of the original townships but was carved out of Farmington Township in 1863. Furthermore, in some areas along the eastern seaboard, a town and a township are synonymous. Thus, with lack of an original township named Bonaparte, a researcher could become confused particularly if he came from a region where townships were defined differently.

My research also suggests that it is very unlikely that any village (in Van Buren County) exceeded one thousand population until the railroads unified communities. Between the 1830s and 1880s, 68 to 70 proposed villages competed against one another for residents, workers, and business. When Van Buren County reached its zenith in population around 1870, the large number of commercial centers dotting the landscape had all remained small. Railroad stations provided a commercial nucleus that allowed towns with the best business advantages to grow a little larger.

Official peak figures of population for the largest Van Buren County villages are as follows:

Farmington 1,342 1905

Keosauqua 1,263 1895

Milton 1,107 1905

Bonaparte 968 1905

Birmingham 643 1950

Bentonsport 515 1867

- -
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick