Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER
One of the things that historians have basically ignored, is the role of Clark County, Missouri in the settlement of Iowa's Van Buren and Lee Counties. The northeast border of triangular-shaped Clark County is the Des Moines River, shared with Lee County and a tiny extension of Van Buren County.
For the most part, Clark County was being settled at the same time as Lee and Van Buren Counties. Clark had a head start because Missouri was already a state, thus it was not within Indian Territory. Lack of population probably made it easier in 1830 for settlers to sneak across the border into Indian Territory (Iowa) than it now is for Mexicans to cross into the United States.
The earliest settler in Clark County was Jacob Weaver, who surveyed and platted a town called Lancaster on the Des Moines River on June 26, 1830. It was just a paper town, and never materialized.
Near (just below) the proposed site of Lancaster, the original town of St. Francisville was laid out April 9, 1834 with additions added in 1835 and 1836. A post office was established in the spring of 1835 with George Haywood as postmaster. Mail came from Lewis County once each month. The second post office in the county was established at Sweet Home, an Indian trading post on the Des Moines River a few miles upstream.
This is where early references have been made in Van Buren County history that puzzled me. There are at least two early references to Sweet Home, Missouri as being somewhere near Van Buren County, but recent maps only show a location by that name in Lewis County, which seems too far away to be pertinent. I have examined old maps in vain.
The first reference is in 1836, when John Fairman became postmaster of "Port Oro" and exchanged mail via horseback at Sweet Home and St. Francisville, Missouri. ( About ten years later the official name of the post office was changed to Keosauqua.) It always seemed unlikely that Fairman would travel all the way down to Lewis County for mail.
Another reference in 1836 concerns advertising new land in the west. The Des Moines River was described as a beautiful sparkling stream with pebbly bottom, angling lazily through luscious tree covered hills. Des Moines City in Wisconsin Territory was a rugged outpost within this luxurious river valley, and only a day’s journey from Sweet Home. Downstream on the river bank this little town was said to display white cottages with green shutters amidst roses and wild flower gardens!
The exact spot along the river is uncertain, although one of Clark County’s townships is Sweet Home Township that borders the river for four miles and contains the defunct village of Dumas. Sweet Home (Trading Post) was probably close to Dumas. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, two other villages listed as Christiansport and Nioag were settlements along the Des Moines in Sweet Home Township, but since latitude and longitude of them is also unknown, exactly where each village existed or was planned remains a mystery.
Many people back east heard about Sweet Home and asked about it when they arrived in the Port of Burlington, at Fort Edwards (near Warsaw, Illinois), at Keokuk, or at Churchville (the original name for Alexandria, MO.) Most of them were disappointed when they found little or no settlement at the location, but were relieved when they discovered a lot of choice land for sale on both sides of the river.
Many of these people moved upstream to Farmington and other points along the river, and some stayed at least for awhile in the villages of Clark County that were appearing along the river. Dumas was built across the river from Argyle, Iowa. It is now a ghost town (Rand McNally, 1974.) Gregory’s Landing, also called Des Moines City, was established in the 1830s about six miles south of Alexandria on the Mississippi, but never grew. In 1874 the population was 150, and in 1974 it was only 25 (Campbell’s New Atlas of Missouri, 1874; Rand McNally, 1974.)
Luray was laid off in 1837, first named Eldorado. It still exists as a tiny village. A store opened in 1838, and wages were 25 cents/day for butchering hogs.
Neva was a tiny village on the Scotland County line. Sherwood existed in the northeast corner of Folker Twp. (Rand McNally, 1894.) Waterloo was the first county seat, established in 1836 in Madison Twp. The county seat changed to Alexandria, changed back to Waterloo, and finally settled at Kahoka in 1872. Waterloo no longer exists.
Sweet Home Township of Clark County has a 2005 population of only 327, with 133 residents in Revere, 25 residents in Peaksville, and no residents in Dumas (although it appears from the plat map as though 2 houses exist within what was once considered to the the town limits.)
While I was discovering the location of Sweet Home, I made a few other discoveries. There was another Black Hawk in Van Buren County. Ralph Arnold found evidence of a place called Black Hawk (not to be confused with Black Hawk City in Village Twp.) in Section 34 of Vernon Twp. On the Rex Westercamp farm. According to the Geological Map of 1856 by Nathan H. Parker, another place called Black Hawk existed on the Iowa/Missouri border on the west side of the river below Farmington, placing it in the southwest corner of Section 12 of Farmington Township.
His map shows Lick Creek Post Office 2 miles north of the Des Moines River and 4 miles south of the county line, placing it in Section 19 or 20 of Lick Creek Twp. This is about 3 ½ miles southwest of the location that other information suggested. This is the first map I have seen that identifies the location. So far I haven't been able to magnify it enough to pinpoint the exact placing.
Dams on the river existed just below Portland, at Bentonsport, Bonaparte and Farmington in 1856. This would seem to hinder steamboats considerably, as the crude locks, if they worked, were not always dredged regularly. There is an interesting statement in the history of Alexandria, which seemed to be in a favorable location at the mouth of the Des Moines River. "The original proprietors of Alexandria anticipated a large future commercial city…..but the failure to make the Des Moines navigable (on a profitable basis)* handicapped the greater anticipation of those who thought to make of it a great city" (Clark County History.) Although the Des Moines could be navigated during certain short seasons when the water level was high, this part time basis helped discourage growth of river villages.
In addition, it appears that Mr. Parker used Stumpville for the name of Selma. I have heard it called Stumptown but not Stumpville. Nathan Parker notes that he used US Surveys and "personal reconnaissance" in designing his map (Geological Map, 1856.)
*my notation. Navigation existed, but was sporadic and infrequent.
(some of this information comes from "A Directory of Towns, Villages, and Hamlets Past and Present of Clark County, Missouri" by Arthur Paul Moser, courtesy of Rootsweb.com and parent company Ancestry.com for the MOGenWeb Project.)
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick