Chapter 2 (translation): Iowa's Geographical Location and Topography
Iowa's Geographical Location and Topography
Iowa is located between the 40th and 43rd degree northern latitude and expands 306 miles from east to west and 204 miles from south to north. Iowa borders the state Missouri in the south, Minnesota in the north, the Mississippi- River in the east and in the west the Missouri River. According to a report by the Treasury of Washington of 1863, the area of the state encloses 50.041 square metres or 53.220.220 acres, and, therefore, is nearly as big as England, twice as large as Scotland, four times larger than Denmark and five times larger than Belgium – larger in extent than kingdoms with less than a tenth of its population. Besides, the earth's surface of our state offers an almost incomparable fertile ground, free from stony, infertile estates. There are, so to speak, no deserts, no marshes, no areas generating malaria. The state is located in the centre of the largest agricultural district of the world, and whereas two mighty, navigable rivers form its eastern and western borders, the state (Iowa) is crossed by the most important railways of the Union.
There are no mountains in Iowa, but the earth's surface offers several rises and there is no country enjoying a more desirable and more perfect natural irrigation system by natural watercourses. At its lowest water point in the south-eastern corner of the state the Mississippi River is 444 feet
above the water level of the Mexican gulf. The highest point of the state is located at the watershed near Spirit Lake in Dickinson County, namely 1,250 feet above the lowest water level in Keokuk and therefore 1,694 feet above sea level. The Big Sioux River in the northwestern corner is 1,344 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. The high point line, which forms the watershed between the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers, runs through the state in a nearly diagonal direction, generally from northwest to southeast. It starts in Minnesota, where it divides the waters of the Des Moines and the Sioux Rivers, continues in the southern corner of Appanoose County into the state of Missouri, where it divides the waters of the Chariton River and the Fabius Creek and in its course across the state of Iowa cuts through the counties of Dickinson, Clay, Buena Vista, Sac, Carroll, Audubon, Guthrie, Adair, Madison, Union, Clark, Lucas, Monroe and Appanoose. The highest points on this mountain ridge, next to the above mentioned Spirit Lake, are Chariton, Lucas County, 1,080 feet; 37 miles to the west of Murray, Clark County, 1,268 feet; near Adair in the northwestern part of Adair County, 1,368 feet; near Ruthven in Palo Alto County, 1,424 feet; near Arcadia in Carroll County, 1,437 feet; Alta in Buena Vista County, 1,521 feet, and in Sanborn in O`Brien County, 1,537 feet above sea level.
R i v e r s.
Only the old settlers can speak of what the rivers of our state were like in the 50s and also before the 60s, compared to what they are today. The proud Mississippi River, the “father of streams”, has become a rivulet in comparison to what it was like 50 years ago. For years, during high water in the summer, this writer went swimming merely 300 feet below the Courthouse and the Jefferson Hotel in Dubuque, where now the whole factory system of the town is situated and thousands of citizens have their homes in beautifully built streets. Now, the once mighty stream has been forced into a narrow bed and has bridges extend across it in all important towns. As a result of the reclamation of the country, but especially as a result of the unsystematic
clearing of the woodlands, the water mainly seeps into the ground and does no longer flow into the rivers as in primeval times. What is true for the Mississippi River can also be applied to all the other rivers. Thus, for example, some still living pioneers can remember steamboats coming up the Des Moines River and up to the Turkey River until Elkader in Clayton County.
Prof. White has divided Iowa's rivers into two systems. One system includes the rivers east of the watershed and the same pour forth into the Mississippi; the other refers to the west of the watershed where the rivers flow into the Missouri. The main streams of the eastern system are: the Upper Iowa, Turkey, Maquoketa, Wapsipinicon, Cedar, Iowa, Skunk and Des Moines and their tributaries. The most important tributaries of Des Moines are the South, Middle, North, the Raccoon with its branches and the Boone. The rivers Floyd, Rock River, Little Sioux, Maple, Boyer, Nishnabotna, Nodamay, Platte, Grand and Chariton belong to the western system. The majority of the bigger rivers just mentioned, especially the Des Moines, Cedar and Turkey, furnish excellent hydraulic power for mills. However, because of the immense grinding mills in Minneapolis and the big steam mills everywhere in the state and because of the fact that wheat production has decreased and has been substituted by other products, the mills by the rivers are not as profitable as they used to be and are more often used for other factory purposes, as for example in Ottumwa, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Cedar Falls and so on. The state's biggest “inland river” is the Des Moines River which springs from a group of mighty lakes in the state of Minnesota, not far from Iowa's border. Its upper part is formed by two rivers, the East Des Moines and the West Des Moines. They flow about seventy miles across the northern part of the state and unite at Dakota City in Humboldt County. From its mouth up to Fort Dodge the stream furnishes significant hydraulic power, which is being used, as already mentioned. 40 years ago, people investigated
the utopian idea to make the river constantly navigable, princely land donations were made to us by Congress for the canalization of the river, and millions were wasted. Finally, the Des Moines Valley Railroad Company received the whole and beautiful land - a small kingdom in extent. For more than 30 years, trials by Des Moines River settlers followed, who had bought their land from the Des Moines River Improvement Company and were to pay for it again to the railway company.
Some years ago, Congress gave a partial reimbursement to a part of the settlers but not the amount of money, which would have been in accordance with the law.
The next largest inland river in the state is the Cedar, which also springs from lakes in Minnesota. The most important towns on this well watered river are Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and Cedar Falls. The next biggest river is the Iowa River, whose tributary, Red Cedar, also comes from Minnesota. These two rivers unite and flow under the former’s name into the Mississippi in Louisa County. The total length of these two rivers is about 500 miles.
About the other rivers in Iowa, Mr. A.R. Fulton, secretary of the immigration authority, in a brochure published in 1870, presented the following abridged summary taken from reports of the state geologist, Prof. White:
The Wapsipinicon River starts in Minnesota and flows through the state in a southwest direction for more than 200 miles, and with his tributaries it absorbs the water of a surface only twelve miles wide. The river is called “Wapsi” by the settlers and furnishes good hydraulic power for machines.
The next large tributary of the Mississippi is the Maquekota; it is about 160 miles long and takes up the water of a surface of 3000 square miles.
The Turkey River is about 130 miles long and takes up the water of 2000 square miles. It starts in Howard County, runs in a southwest direction and flows into the Mississippi in Clayton County, not far from the southern borderline.
The Upper Iowa River starts in Howard County, runs eastwards through a narrow, but romantic and beautiful valley, and pours into the Mississippi not far from the northeastern corner of the state. This part of the state is slightly hilly and the rivers run between high shores and rocks, which at some places go up to three to four hundred feet. They flow fast and offer enough water for the building of machines.
Now we have named all rivers carrying the water of the eastern three quarters of the state and are now crossing the big “watershed” to the Missouri and his tributaries. The Missouri, forming two thirds of the western borderline of the state, is navigable for big steamboats up to 950 miles above the point (Sioux City), where the same touches our state first. That is the reason why it is a relatively important waterway for the trade of western Iowa. More than fifty steamboats, mostly carrying goods for mine workers upwards of Fort Benton, are navigating the river north of Sioux City. Now we will talk about the big tributaries of the Missouri River, which lead the water away from western Iowa.
The Big Sioux forms approximately seventy-five miles from Iowa’s western border, and flows south. It has several tributaries, which discharge the waters of the counties Plymouth, Sioux, Lyon, Osceola and O’Brien in western Iowa. Most important of those is Rock River, a beautiful small river, which runs through the counties Lyon and Sioux. Numerous springs provide it with water and strengthen it sufficiently to allow for mills and machines. The Big Sioux was once considered a navigable river, and small steamboats sailed it on several occasions. However, it is not recognized as a navigable river. It runs about two miles north of Sioux City and four miles south of the northwest corner of Woodbury County into the Missouri and collects the waters of a thousand square miles. A short way south of Sioux City the Floyd River runs into the Missouri. It is a small river, flows on its way through a fertile and beautiful valley, is
approximately one hundred miles long and collects the water of fifteen hundred square miles. Several mills have been built on the shores of this river and many other good points suitable for this purpose will soon be put into practice. The Little Sioux is one of Iowa’s mightiest streams. It originates around the Spirit and Okoboji lakes, close to the border to Minnesota and runs through several of Iowa’s counties with a length of three hundred miles. It takes up the waters of five thousand square miles and flows into the Missouri River in Harrison County. This stream powers various mills as well.
The Boyer River is the most important after the Little Sioux. It originates in Sac County, flows southwest and into the Missouri in Pottawattamie County. It is 150 miles long, flows through a fertile, lovely valley and collects the water of two thousand square miles. The Chicago and Northwestern railroad runs parallel to the river for 60 miles.
If one follows the Missouri downwards, one passes several small bodies of water, which cannot be seen as rivers, and reaches the Nishnabotna, which flows into the Missouri about 20 miles south of the southwestern state border. Said river has three tributaries, which are 350 miles long each. Those streams transport the water of five thousand square miles and run through valleys, which cannot be surpassed in beauty and fertility. These rivers offer sound hydrodynamic power, but cannot compete with the rivers in northwestern Iowa in that respect. The waters of the state’s southern part flow in several rivers into the Missouri River in Missouri. The most important ones of those are the Chariton, Grand Platte, One Hundred and Two, and the three Nodaways – East; West, and Middle Nodaway. All of these offer sound hydrodynamic power and flow through rich and fertile land.
Professor White offers the following table in relation to the different rivers’ gradients in the first volume of his geological report, which is based on accurate, official measurements.
T h e L a k e s. Iowa has several rather interesting lakes, even though these are not of any special importance as navigable waters like the big lakes between Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. Iowa’s lakes are mostly situated in the state’s northwestern parts, on the highest parts to be more specific, all of them, except for Storm Lake, surrounded by pretty, small forests. In the past, these lakes were full of the best fish and are still today, in spite of the annual exploitation.
by urban fishermen; several of the lakes are still worthwhile to go to for fishing. Duck shooting, which up until ten years ago had still been profitable, has become negligible and is becoming less so from year to year due to poaching, though the hunting laws have become considerably stricter.
Iowa’s two biggest lakes are Okoboji and Spirit Lake. The former is fifteen miles long and varies in width from a quarter mile to two miles. The latter, which is north of Okoboji Lake, covers an area of ten square miles. Both are in Dickinson County, close to the state’s northern border and some of the most visited lakes in the state in summer, where thousands of members of our wealthier citizens and many citizens of the neighbouring states spend the hot summer. Storm Lake in Buena Vista County is three miles long from east to west and two miles wide from north to south. Why it was named Storm Lake no historian has been able to find out. The name was most likely given because in earlier years, no trees could be found around the small lake situated in a high, exposed location within a radius of fifty miles; the surface therefore was moved by every little wind and almost always formed into short waves; the name contributed to the founding of a pretty and thriving little town, Storm Lake, on the lake’s shore. In summer, many strangers come to enjoy the fresh air there. Clear Lake in Cerro Gordo County is the next biggest lake. It is five miles long and two miles wide. The next biggest lakes after that are Rice Lake, Silver Lake and Bright’s Lake in Worth County, of which each is one to two miles long. Rice Lake stretches across Winnebago County. Crystal Lake, Eagle Lake, Wood Lake, Edward’s Lake and Twin Lakes are in Hancock County, and the Twin Lakes are the biggest of those. Gertrude Lake, Elm Lake and Wall Lake stretch across Wright County and are each about three miles long and two miles wide. The Twin Lakes in Calhoun County are still being picked for their
abundance of fish; the lakes are approximately four miles long and are divided by a small headland through which a tight channel has been built. About 25 miles from Twin Lakes is Wall Lake in Sac County, a well-visited place in summer. The lake got the name Wall Lake because it is surrounded by a wall of pebbles or flint stones and looks like constructed by humans. Actually, the stones were transported there because of glaciers and stacked this way at the shores of this and other lakes due to frost and ice. Swan Lake in Emmet County also belongs to the great Iowa lakes. Said lake is situated in the northern part of above mentioned county and can be easily reached from Estherville, the county seat. Spirit Lake’s history, especially the mass murder of the settlers in the area by the Sioux, has been recorded in a brochure on immigration by American Indian historian A. R. Fulton in 1873 and was translated by Mr. M. J. Rholfs, a member of immigration office, as follows:
The area in immediate proximity to the lakes is very heavily forested and of such a special beauty and fertility that settlers came there already in 1855 and 1856 and founded a colony, when the surrounding area was still uninhabited for a hundred miles. They were American farmers for the most part, who had relocated from the eastern United States, namely from Ohio and Pennsylvania. They were aware of the deprivations linked to settling hundreds of miles from civilization. They were used to getting by with little and knew how to create a home, worked spryly and already had a rather good harvest and a number of cattle in the second year of their settlement already. Predatory Indians, who were a part of the horde of Sioux, (which were feared for their hostile disposition towards white people) still lived in some parts of northern and northwestern Iowa. Years ago, around 1846, a white man, named Henry Lott,
traded with the Indians and sold mostly whiskey (spirits) to them. One of their chiefs, Si-dom-i-na-do-tah, prohibited Lott to trade and threatened to destroy his property if he were to refuse. When Lott continued selling spirits to the Indians the chief turned up at Lott’s property on December 18, 1846, and destroyed it. Lott luckily escaped with his family, except for a son, who perished in the snowstorm raging at that time. Lott settled in Humboldt County, which is a little more to the south, and renewed his trade, mostly with spirits, with different Indian tribes. In the winter of 1853 and ’54, Chief Sidominadotah set up camp close to Lott and lived in said place with his family. Lott sought revenge, and he and his stepson, disguised as Indians, murdered almost the chief’s whole family, plus an old Indian woman and two children, all in all 7 people. Only two members of the family, a boy, 12 years, and a girl, 10 years old, escaped; they fled north. The remains of the murdered were found later, suspicion arose and Lott, hunted by his neighbors, fled with his stepson to California. The two Indian children, who escaped, delivered the news of the atrocity to the Indian hordes living in the North. Back to that day dates their hatred of the white settlers and their persecution.
“The murdered chief was a close relative of Ink-pa-du-tah, who took revenge upon him. The winter of 1856 to 1857 was very hard, and high snow complicated the settlers’ intercourse with each other at Spirit Lake. On March 8,, the Indians began to worry the settlers at Sioux River, but they were driven off and turned to the settlement at Spirit Lake and the surrounding area. At this place, they committed their revenge fully. Within two days, they killed 55 people, men, women and children, destroyed the houses and killed the cattle. Only very few settlers escaped. A young Indian had lived in the House of Mr. Carter for an extended period. He, filled with friendship for the white family, revealed, unfortunately too
late, his tribe’s vicious plan. The escaped settlers set out southwards and eventually reached Fort Dodge, where US military was stationed. Major Williams pursued the Indians with 110 men in three columns. It was bitter cold and the snow was high and they had to cross an undeveloped area. Eventually they reached Springfield, a town close by the Lake, where the escaped had turned to. There they found three wounded men and twenty-three women and children, who had hidden behind hills of snow. They were fed and clothed. The Indians had fled, they escaped because they were more familiar with the area and were hardened against the cold. After burying the dead, they returned to Fort Dodge with those who had been saved. On the way back, Major Williams lost two of his soldiers who were killed by the cold. Eighteen more had frozen extremities. For years, Spirit Lake and its surroundings were deserted and quiet. The spirits of the killed seemed to frighten away potential settlers. Only after the Indians had been removed from Iowa completely the area around the lake began to be resettled.”
In 1898, a memorial was erected on the lake’s shore at the state’s expense.