Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


The village of Iowaville has been extinct for several generations, but the cemetery remains as a reminder of this once important early pioneer settlement. Located in the northeast corner of Van Buren County between Selma and Eldon, it is also near the intersection of four Iowa counties: Wapello, Jefferson, Davis, and Van Buren. Along the river near the point of the "four corners," Chief Black Hawk spent his last days in a primitive wigwam. (All four counties claim to be his final earthly home.)

Iowaville was first an Indian village, built by the Sac and Fox tribe around 1824. They had defeated the Iowa nation and wished to watch over them and keep them under control. Since it was required that the Indians vacate Saukenuk near Rock Island, Iowaville eventually became the major village of the Sac and Fox. By 1832, at least 600-800 Indians inhabited the village on the Des Moines River.

From 1830 to 1838, Bill and Caroline Phelps operated a trading post at Iowaville to barter with the Indians, and at times James Jordan and William Avery were also trading in the area. Jordan first traded at Iowaville in 1828, and spent part of the year of 1831 at the location. According to Ralph Arnold, Jordan didn't become a permanent resident until 1835.

After the Black Hawk War of 1832, Iowaville remained on the other side of the Black Hawk Purchase line within Indian Territory. When a new land purchase was made by the US government in 1837 extending the purchased land enough to include Iowaville, most of the Indians decided to vacate their village and relocate along the river near Ottumwa.

Late in the year 1837, James Jordan, William Phelps and John Tolman bought Iowaville from the tribe for $3,000 in Section 7, at T70N R11W, of Van Buren County, (Wisconsin) making them the first white settlers. During the first few weeks of 1838, the tribe vacated except for old Chief Black Hawk and a few dozen braves who remained behind.

There are several official references made to Iowa City in Van Buren County. It is believed by some that an attempt was made to distinguish the white village from the Indian village in 1837. According to plat descriptions, Iowa City appears to have been a small portion of land just west of Iowaville, near the Davis County line. It was only set up temporary, until the Indians retreated.

Joseph Street had been the Indian Agent at Iowaville. He moved on with the tribe, setting up a new headquarters at a new location now known as Agency. James Jordan became the new Indian Agent at Iowaville and moved into the old two-story headquarters building. In 1838, Iowaville was laid out as a town and platted. William Avery became the postmaster and mail was brought to Iowaville by horseback.

When Old Chief Black Hawk died, he was buried on October 3, 1838 behind the agency headquarters building, upon his request.

Iowaville became a center of commerce with a couple of factories, several stores, and a boat dock. The village had an estimated 200 residents in 1865. Iowaville could not compete with the rapidly growing railroad community of Eldon. Selma (under a variety of names) began to flourish within about a half mile, which also led to Iowaville's decline.

A couple of buildings remained as recently as the 1950s, but the population of Iowaville had long disappeared. The last remaining building in use was the old hotel, used as a residence until the disastrous floods of 1947 forced evacuation.

Left largely to imagination is the industrious nature of the village, and the ideas come mostly from diaries of those who once resided there. Among the people buried at Iowaville are several prominent Mormons. Of the thousands of Mormons passing through Van Buren County between 1846 and 1853 on their way to Utah, several families lived for awhile in and around Iowaville.

Albert Miner died on January 3, 1848 and is buried at Iowaville Cemetery. He was part of the exodus from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Miner was among many who stayed in Iowa for awhile to help finance his trek, and operated the ferry at Iowaville in 1847. Joseph Smith’s uncle Asahel Smith and his wife Elizabeth are also buried at Iowaville.

In 1993 a group of Mormon descendants dedicated a monument at Iowaville Cemetery to the Mormon pioneers whose remains were left behind, that includes a brief history of the settlement.

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