Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


I recently ran across some little known, interesting facts concerning Van Buren County’s borders and the shape of the county, which was once rather triangular.

On October 1, 1804 the St. Charles (MO) District was created as one of five districts of Louisiana (renamed Louisiana Territory in 1805.) The new St. Charles District included all of the present state of Iowa. St. Charles District became a Missouri Territory county when Louisiana Territory was renamed Missouri Territory on Dec. 7, 1812.

St. Charles was eliminated from the present state of Iowa on December 31, 1813 when it lost most of its territory to “non-county area” status. However, this was temporary. From March 9, 1815 until February 29, 1816 St. Charles County, Missouri included two tiers of Iowa Counties to the Des Moines River. The area of present Van Buren County west of the Des Moines River was included in St. Charles, while the area east of the river was “non-county” status.

Between March 1, 1816 and January 31, 1819 the boundaries of St. Charles were reduced considerably but the two areas of Van Buren County remained the same. On February 1, 1819 St. Charles, Missouri was eliminated from present Iowa.

Van Buren was part of Des Moines County, Michigan Territory from October 1, 1834 until December 6, 1836. On December 7, 1836 Van Buren County was created as one of the counties of Wisconsin Territory, but its shape was considerably different.

The southern border ran along the Old Sullivan Line (Missouri border) extending about two miles over into Davis County. From that point a line was drawn in a northeast direction to the present Jefferson County line, dissecting the present village of Douds. Hence from that point, the line angled southwest to the Lee County line at a point just above Little Cedar Creek. The line was drawn straight south to the Des Moines River and included a tiny triangular tail of land between the Des Moines River and Lee County south of Farmington.

From June 22, 1836 to Feb. 16, 1843 a “non-county” attachment extended the western boundary to the Missouri River (in theory.) From February 17, 1843 until Feb. 29, 1844 Van Buren County also included Appanoose, Davis, and part of Wayne County as “non-county area.”

On December 15, 1838 the Missouri Legislature extended Clark County into Iowa Territory to the Des Moines River, thus part of the county was overlapped by Clark County and became known as “disputed territory.” The western boundary of the disputed area extended from Keosauqua south to the present Missouri border. The greatest distance of the triangular-shaped area in contention was about ten miles. On Feb. 12, 1849 the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Iowa ending the overlap of disputed territory.

(Iowa--Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, Gordon DenBoer. Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York. 1998)

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