Carroll did not relish living under the British monarchy. He had all but made up his mind to move from Oxford, Canada, to Illinois when a neighbor, John
Brooks, brought news that changed Carroll’s mind. It was 1839.
Brooks had been “out West.” He
gave Carroll a glowing account of a place called Linn County in the territory of Iowa. “It seemed to us all like a great
undertaking,” Carroll’s son, George, wrote 56 years later. The family of nine and Brooks set out in late
May. Their caravan consisted of two
spans of horses, two covered wagons, six cows and the family dog, Watch. They passed through Detroit, Michigan City and across the “boring
prairies” of Illinois. They crossed the Mississippi on a rickety scow at a
point then known as Jugtown, just north of Muscatine. One of the oarsmen was Dyer Usher, who later
moved to Linn County. Several weeks later the Carroll clan arrived
at a cluster of cabins at Linn Grove. “There
is a heap of hard work and dreadful poor living here,” a woman told them. Asking directions to Marion, she said: “Come right
straight ahead and go right straight through.”
The next day, July 4, they arrived in Marion. Eventually, the Carrolls
claimed 320 acres east of what later became known as Mound Farm, site today of Mount Mercy College. That pioneer story is typical. The bulk of Iowa’s first citizens came
from somewhere else in the United States or Canada. In 1850, only 22,000 of Iowa’s 192,214 residents were
foreign born. In 1860 foreign-born
accounted for 106,000 of the state’s 674,913 population. All heeded Horace Greeley’s admonition to go
west to the “land of the unhidden sky.”
Stories of Iowa’s prairie
flourished. There were tales of winds so
strong that frequently one would have to lie flat and clutch the tall grass to
keep from being blown away. The number of snakes encountered were far fewer than indicated
by tales that circulated back East.
Everyone was looking for cheap land.
There were other reasons too.
There was political turmoil in the scattered states that eventually
became Germany. There was famine in Ireland. Germans and Irish were among the largest
groups to first come to Iowa. The Dutch arrived in Baltimore in 1847. Some went to Michigan, another group left for
The first families from Norway settled in Lee County and several years later
in northeast Iowa. The first Danish settlement in Iowa was in Benton County in 1854. Spurred by absolute rule under Austrians and
a potato crop failure, Czechs from the Bohemia region began coming to Iowa in 1848. The big influx came in the 1860’s. Hungarian nobles, fleeing a revolution,
settled in Iowa in the 1840’s. They traveled to Decatur County and formed the
settlement of New Buda. But prairie life
was too hard for these wealthy folks. They
left and their town disappeared. The
names of many Iowa towns reflect where
pioneers came from: New Vienna, New Hampton, New Virginia, Pella (Dutch), Protovin (Czech), Emmetsburg (Ireland), Holstein and Hamburg (Germany) and Swedesburg.
Dale Kueter, Gazette staff writer)