Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Robert Lucas, the first Territorial Governor of Iowa, was born in Virginia. In spite of his Quaker background, he was somewhat warlike, and had been a Colonel in the U.S. Army. He was a trained surveyor and was well schooled in government and politics. He was known as a man of action.

People in the new territory wondered how he would rule. Would his attitude be like a sergeant, or would he be sympathetic to the needs and the will of the people? As the Brazil came into port at Burlington on August 15, 1838 people lined the dock hoping that a glimpse of this man’s countenance might give them a clue about his demeanor.

The political career of Lucas had always been stormy, and his first three years in Iowa was no exception. He inherited a mess left by Conway (acting Governor) who continued to be at odds with him until he died in 1839. However, a serious dispute had arisen with the Legislature over expenditures and Lucas found himself embroiled in a southern boundary dispute with the State of Missouri.

Upon his arrival in 1838, he learned that agents from Missouri were trying to collect taxes from some of his citizens in Van Buren County, and planned a military invasion. He urged the Iowans to resist the tax collectors, and he vowed "Death to the invading pukes!" He planned to lead militia into battle, if necessary.

The population of Iowa lived mainly in clumps along the Mississippi River and lower Des Moines River. Only a few inland villages had emerged, and the frontier was less than fifty miles from the Mississippi. These people were a mixture of Easterners and Southerners. Half of the new governor’s Legislative Assembly was born south of the Mason/Dixon Line. Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky had helped fuel the first migration into the territory, thus Southern sentiment was strong regardless of the border dispute with Missouri.

When Lucas arrived in 1838, Burlington was the leading town but Dubuque was a strong rival and close second. Dubuque was a miner’s town; Burlington a lawyer’s town; and Iowa City (laid out in 1839) was yet a dream town of politicians. Davenport, Ft. Madison and Bloomington (Muscatine) were smaller, but growing rapidly. In addition, the villages of Salem, Mt. Pleasant, Keosauqua, Farmington, Denmark and Keokuk were established, thriving settlements.

In those days, trails were being developed into roads, ferries crossed the Mississippi on a regular basis, and small streams were forded. Settlers built churches, followed by schools, but unfortunately they first built taverns. Organized bands, such as the "Linn County Bogus Gang," added murder and counterfeiting to their list of crimes, and citizens were often terrorized by such ruffian outlaws. The country abounded with horse thieves and gamblers, intemperance was rampant and there was a need for central government combined with tougher law and order on a local level.

Lucas was President of the Iowa Territorial Temperance Society and vowed that he would never appoint to public office a man that used liquor. He was opposed to slavery and believed in careful spending of tax dollars. Although he was a militant man of action, his conservative ideas set the tone for Iowa’s future.

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