Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
Although American settlement in Iowa did not legally begin until the land of Iowa became public domain on June 1, 1833, several cabins were built much earlier. While the land that became Iowa was under the Spanish flag, Spain actually encouraged settlement and issued land grants to Julien Dubuque, Basil Girard and Louis Honore Tesson.
Julien Dubuque was a French-Canadian who came to Iowa in 1788 to mine lead. He befriended the Indians, gave them presents, and eventually received as a gift from them the land that he mined. A Spanish land grant for this land was granted to him in 1796. He shipped lead as well as grain and milled products to St. Louis but became debt-ridden. When he died in 1810, his property was confiscated by St. Louis traders who eventually abandoned the land.
Girard cultivated his land near McGregor until 1808. His land also was abandoned after his death. Meanwhile, Tesson traded with the Indians and farmed near Montrose from 1799-1804 but in so doing, became so debt-ridden to Joseph Robideau that he had to sell his property. Robideau soon died after gaining control of the grant and the executor of his will sold the land in 1805 to a Thomas Reddick (also sometimes spelled Riddick or Reddeck.) Reddick also soon abandoned the land because he became clerk of a court in St. Louis in 1807. When this land was later parceled out by the U. S. government, both Robideau and Reddick descendants tied up the acquisitions in court and eventually received some settlement from the government.
Iowa remained Indian territory until 1833 but a few people were able to sneak across the river and locate within the area. The first permanent log cabins were built in the Half-breed Tract in what is now Lee County.
According to the November, 1960 edition of Palimpsest by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Dr. Samuel C. Muir erected the first of these early log cabins at Puckeshetuck (the Indian name for Keokuk) in 1820. Muir had an Indian wife, thus was able to live in the territory without being hassled by the military who attempted to patrol the border. It is not clear exactly what happened to Muir, but Isaac R. Campbell moved into the cabin eleven years later. Thus it continued to be occupied on a permanent basis.
Other early log cabins in Lee County were erected by steamboat agent Moses Stillwell in 1828, and Dr. Isaac Galland in 1829. The first permanent occupation of a log cabin in Van Buren County was at Farmington in 1833, although William and Caroline Phelps had a trading post at Iowaville from 1830 to 1838.
Julien Dubuque is considered to be the first white settler of the region of Iowa, while Dr. Samuel Muir’s log cabin appears to have been the first permanent structure built on Iowa soil.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick