Chapter 15 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1990 (part one)

The spot where Ro stepped down from her school bus was near a picnic shelter next to a happily gurgling creek; of course, half the boys in her second-grade class immediately raced over to start poking sticks into its shallow, gravelly bed. What no one was even remotely aware of was the irony that they were only steps away from where “Kentucky” Coates had waded cross the very same creek a little over a hundred years ago.

It was Friday, May 18, just a few days past Ro’s eighth birthday, and they were on the last of the many field trips Miss Landin had arranged for them during the year. Just completing her third year as a teacher, she had already become every first-graders “hoped for” teacher in second grade. She was not pretty, cute or even pleasant looking, as her features were all in the wrong proportions – eyes too close together, face too sharp, mousy brown hair in a wash-it-and-go, easy to care for, though not very flattering shag cut − but what she may have lacked in looks she more than made-up for in her infectious personality. The kids loved her because she was pretty much a second-grader herself, just in an adult’s body.

She believed in hands-on learning, so she and her twenty-three second-graders had taken at least once-a-month field trips; of course, they’d “done” all the local historical museums and art galleries, but she had also arranged some really “fun” experiences, like a visit a working potter who’d let everyone play with the gooey clay, and spending an afternoon at a recording studio to see how much work it took for a local folk singer and her small band to make a CD.

The agenda for today was to learn about “Iowa’s Oldest Tree” in Five Falls State Park, then take a short hike to the park’s namesake falls and check the spectacular views of the Mississippi from the top of the palisades – this all to be conducted by Bill Cummins, the park ranger − and finally enjoy a box lunch picnic in the shelter.

Fortunately, Miss Landin had picked an ideal spring day for their adventure: upper-60s, clear skies, the wall of trees on the other side of the creek even sheltering them from some gusty westerly breezes. As was her wont, she had even tried to whip up some excitement about the trip by putting together a lecture, complete with overheads, explaining that there were three claimants to the title of the oldest tree in Iowa: Old Hawkeye, a giant maple located in a public park in Dubuque; The Froehlich Ash, located on private property in western Iowa; and Neshnala, a white oak in their very own Five Falls State Park.

What Miss Landin didn’t know, indeed, what no one really knew, even including the Iowa State Forester, was that the great white oak, at three-hundred-and-ten years old was, in fact, the senior of the three by more than half-a-century: Old Hawkeye was not quite two-hundred-and-fifty years old and the Froelich Ash was a relative youngster at a-hundred-and-ninety years old, although that was long-lived for an ash.

She had even copied and blown-up for her overheads photos of the three trees from a state brochure she’d found in the Lee’s Landing Library to try to give her kids some sense of their sheer size. But it hadn’t been nearly enough…

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 14 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1920s

With the goal of getting rid of the money-losing Falls operation, Iver Hubbard commissioned a detailed inventory of the potential commercial value of the timber in the Neshnala Grove – his question, of course, was: Could the land be sold for any kind of decent profit?

The report he got was that most of it could, indeed, be cut down for pulp, and that there were also some stands of hardwoods that could be logged for construction or fine furniture use, with a total value of around $2.5 million.

However, the other side of that coin was that it would cost at least $1.6 or $1.7 million to get access to the timber, to log it and to ship it to the pulp and saw mills hundreds of miles away in Wisconsin – in other words, from an economic standpoint logging the Neshnala Grove was not very cost effective, which meant, in turn, the land itself was pretty much commercially worthless.

So, Hubbard and his cousin, Darwin Lester, who also happened to be a member of the Iowa House of Representatives from Lee’s Landing, hatched a plot. Using only the part of the report that said the Neshnala Grove was worth “at least $2.5 million,” Hubbard and Lester in effect blackmailed the state with an ultimatum: The Hubbard’s were willing to wait two years to sell the “valuable” Neshnala Grove, with no assurances of protection for Iowa’s Oldest Tree, or would donate the land to the state if they would take it and make it into a park of some kind.

It actually took nearly three years to work out all the kinks – including that the state demanded that Hubbard pay for demolishing the dilapidated hotel, which they didn’t want – but in 1928, at not quite nine-hundred acres, Five Falls became Iowa’s third state park.

It was the government’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1930s that cut the switchback hiking trail up the side of the bluff and built an access road from County Line Road leading into the north half of the park and to the Neshnala Grove. Once the great tree became more easily accessible, it didn’t take long for the state to have to add a fence around its base to prevent thoughtless morons from carving their initials in its flanks.

The first campground was added below the bluff in the early-50s; the second in the mid-70s; the boat landing on the Mississippi River came in the early-80s, after the state negotiated an access right-of-way across the Grand Island Railroad tracks.

Over the decades the state would acquire, either by purchase or donation, additional parcels of adjacent land, so that by the time Ro Delahanty was camping there with her family in the late-80s, Five Falls State Park encompassed over twelve-hundred acres.

It was in the late-60s that Fort Armstrong County established its Conservation Commission; one of its first projects was to buy nearly twelve hundred-acres of timberland next to the state park, calling it the Great River Forest Preserve. Like the state park, it had picnic areas and hiking and equestrian trails, but no campground.

The more than fifteen miles of trails through the woodlands of the side-by-side preserves would become one of Ro’s favorite places to run – the visits always included a stop to pay her respects to Neshnala

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 13 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1920s

But the war effort and fast changing social and cultural attitudes – the children of the band members who had once performed polkas and Sousa marches in the park’s bandshell now preferred playing jazz in the newly opened nightclubs − meant that by 1922 Falls Park was for all intents and purposes broke − the hotel had been shuttered, the gardens had gone shabby, the picnic shelters had fallen into disrepair…

When Iver Hubbard, the great-grandson of Elias Hubbard, assumed control of Hubbard Enterprises in 1918 he inherited a diverse and mostly successful collection of businesses – a chain of general stores in eastern Iowa, a new and even more luxurious edition of the Captain’s Hotel in downtown Lees’ Landing, and their freight hauling business, all doing well; only Falls Development was not. Within just a couple of years, though, he had come to recognize that things were happening that meant the company either had to adapt or die…

Trucks were quickly becoming a more efficient way of hauling freight than horse-drawn wagons, and what used to be mostly rutted gravel roads were being paved over into modern highways and interconnected; in 1926, for example, U.S. Rt. 32 – which started in Chicago, and passed through Lee’s Landing on its way to Council Bluffs − became one the country’s first interstate highways; which meant the Hubbard freight company had to make the switch from horse-drawn wagons to trucks to stay viable.

Similarly, starting in the late teens, large and well-stocked self-service food stores, the earliest iterations of modern-day supermarkets, had begun appearing in eastern U.S. cities; which meant the Hubbard general stores needed to reinvent themselves to stay relevant.

But those two large scale transitions would require lots of capital, so Iver Hubbard made a big bet on the future by selling their most valuable property, the Captain’s Hotel, and using the cash to…

Redesign and rebrand the general stores as the FoodHub food stores… Between the late-20s and early-50s the chain expanded to more than a hundred locations in the northern Midwest; it was eventually acquired in 1959 by a competitor, Major FoodMarts, in a deal worth tens of millions of dollars.

Retire the horses and their wagons and replace them with a fleet of gas-powered trucks. The freight-hauling business was renamed Hubbard National Trucking, and by the end of the 1930s was one of the larger U.S. interstate firms. In the late-1960s the sixth generation of Hubbards would move their headquarters from Lee’s Landing to the booming western suburbs of Chicago and its proximity to multiple modern interstate highways.

Then there was the problem of Falls Park that had to be dealt with…

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 12 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1887-1920

Meanwhile, Coates had continued to conduct his survey work across Iowa, regularly returning to Lee’s Landing by train to serve on the new development company’s board. When his contract with the state was up, Falls Development offered him a job as its manager, but the Weyerheusers outbid them with a more lucrative offer as a timber superintendent in the Northwest; Coates would never return to Lee’s Landing.

In the early 1890s there were some preliminary meetings between the Falls people and the State of Iowa to see if they might be interested in acquiring the land as some sort of state preserve, similar to what Wisconsin had done some fifteen years earlier, setting aside thousands of acres of Northwoods country as a “state park.” But, while the Iowa folks were more than happy to acknowledge and help promote Neshnala as a “state treasure,” the idea of somehow making it state property couldn’t get any political traction.

In the meantime, the development company paid for an extension of County Line Road from the Makuakeeta Road north for about a mile to the base of the bluff – it wouldn’t be until nearly thirty years later that the county would tackle the daunting task of blasting and excavating an extension of County Line Road up the bluff itself – and a plan for developing the Neshnala Grove emerged. By 1895…

They had installed a small dam across Rock Creek below the bluff, turning what had been a shallow pond into a small fishing and boating lake…

Built more than a dozen covered picnic shelters around the lake, and placed several dozen additional picnic tables in shady spots around the grounds…

Constructed a single-story, gingerbread-decorated hotel with a long, wrap-around porch and an inside dance floor that overlooked the lake…

Installed a carousel surrounded by a half-acre formal garden…

Built a bandshell that featured live music on weekends…

Developed a network of trails on top of the bluff offering spectacular views of the Mississippi River…

And installed a cable-car to carry visitors up the side of the bluff, were young men with rickshaw-like, two-passenger bicycles would carry them the three-quarters-of-a-mile to see “Iowa’s Oldest Tree” – there was also a gravel walking path for those who wanted to stroll…

Finally, the Grand Island Railroad, whose mainline ran west from Lee’s Landing to Des Moines, built a new station a mile south of the falls to drop-off passengers, where horse-drawn buggies would then meet them to ferry them to the park.

While the train ride from Lee’s Landing to the Falls station was twenty-five cents per person, the pick-up was free, as was admission to the park; so were the band concerts on weekends and use of the open picnic tables out on the grounds; you could even bring your own picnic basket if you wanted − the idea was to put as many folks on the grounds as possible…

But the fee to ride the cable car up the bluff and visit the famous tree was twenty-five cents; picnic baskets could be bought on site for from fifty cents to a dollar; a pint of beer was a dime; admission to the dance floor on Friday or Saturday night was fifty-cents; boat rentals on the small lake were a dime; renting a covered picnic shelter for the afternoon was fifty cents; a carousel ride was a nickel.

Falls Park would prosper for nearly twenty-five years, from the mid-1890s until just after the end of World War I – over the years the park would play host to countless marriage proposals and many actual marriages, to say nothing of thousands of picnickers, dancers, concert-goers and tree visitors.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 11 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1882-1887

The next order of business, Coates knew, was to find out who the owner of the Neshnala Grove was, but to do it as inconspicuously as possible, lest he alert someone of his interest in the land. So, after a couple of inquiries he engaged John Bolger, a Lee’s Landing attorney that specialized in real estate, to visit the courthouse and do a title search – he reasoned a local who often initiated these kinds of inquiries would attract less attention.

But what Bolger ended-up telling his client was a complete surprise: There was no owner of record, in fact, there wasn’t even a plat of the Neshnala Grove and surrounding land on file in the Fort Armstrong County Courthouse. In other words, Bolger said, it appeared that the federal government was still the official owner of the land.

However, having dealt with ownership issues in Michigan and Wisconsin, Coates knew it wasn’t quite that simple: The Neshnala Grove had at one time certainly been included in someone’s original grant; what would be their claim to the land, if any, now, forty or fifty years later?

So, he and Bolger developed a strategy in which Coates, being a certified surveyor, would go ahead and do a preliminary plat of the boundaries of the Neshnala Grove and turn it in to the county, to the state and to the federal government, along with a petition to receive ownership, arguing that any earlier grant that may have been awarded after all this time had been abandoned and was thus null and void. If nothing else, they figured, it would establish Coates as a legitimate claimant on the land.

But to give themselves even more clout, they would also need to put together a group of local community and political leaders who would agree to help develop the land, but in such a way as to protect and preserve Neshnala − they had vague notions of some sort of for-profit resort or picnic park.

Which is how the Hubbards got involved… Elias Hubbard had been one of the founders of Lee’s Landing fifty years earlier, securing a grant for what was the downtown area and the eastern part of the city. Needless to say, he grew wealthy selling off the lots, as well as developing some for himself. In 1883 his grandson, Axel Hubbard, was the head of the family empire, which included the general store his ancestor had started fifty years earlier, now grown into a chain of general stores throughout eastern Iowa; a new and luxurious iteration of the Captain’s Hotel, which had grown out of a combined tavern and bunkhouse that dated from 1838 and was originally called the Captain’s Rest; and a freight hauling company that went as far west as Des Moines and as far east as Chicago.

But the reason Hubbard was asked to take the lead on the project wasn’t just because he was rich and powerful, but because as both his grandfather and father had developed sections of eastern Lee’s Landing, they would always set aside several lots and deed them to the city for use as a neighborhood park. It turned out that Axel Hubbard was, indeed, not only interested in, but enthusiastic about helping protect Neshnala when he learned of its existence – being a true entrepreneur, like his ancestors, he knew a potential money-making opportunity when he saw one.

It took three years of legal work, numerous visits to government land offices in Chicago and Washington, several petitions and even a formal hearing before an administrative judge, but in 1887 the Falls Development Company received title to two sections of land above and below the bluff that included the Neshnala Grove, as well as the waterfalls that inspired its name.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 10 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1882

Like the Sauk Holy Man a century earlier, “Kentucky” Coates was also touched by Neshnala, although not in any way he was conscious of. What happened to him was a complete turnaround in attitude. Standing there, transfixed by the tree’s grandeur, he knew without any doubt that it simply could not ever be desecrated by a woodsman’s axe; indeed, as “Breed” Jack had said, in the sense that it had to be protected, it was sacred. A nascent plan for how to accomplish this goal quickly began to take shape in Coates mind…

Coates was supposed to visit all of Iowa’s nearly one-hundred counties over three years, which figured out that he needed to visit a county roughly every eight to ten days. His visits to the five counties along the Mississippi upstream of Fort Armstrong County had only taken about six days each, so, in effect, he had nearly a week’s elbow room in his schedule here in Fort Armstrong County.

The first order of business, then, was to get a much better lay of the land. Again, with Young as his guide, they spent the next three days exploring the still roadless back-country in the southwestern corner of the county. What they found was that the Neshnala Grove – which is how Coates thought of it − ran roughly for a mile north from the edge of the bluff and for roughly two miles east, along the edge of the bluff, encompassing something over a thousand acres.

The nearest working farms were on the river lowland below the bluff, but still several miles to the east, over near Lees’ Landing; the land directly below the Neshnala Grove bluff was still covered with trees and native prairie.

The area of the county to the north of the Neshnala Grove was crisscrossed by numerous hills and deep intervening valleys that formed the headwaters of several creeks that flowed east across the county; the nearest platted farm fields were adjacent to Old Post Road, still some six miles to the north and on the other side of the rough country.

It was the area on top of the bluff directly to the east that probably represented the most immediate potential threat to Neshnala; while actual working farms were still more than five miles away, the land between was relatively flat and could easily be surveyed into farmsteads and roads extended to access them.

Young had told Coates that as far as he knew, he and maybe a half-dozen or so trappers were the only people who knew anything about the Neshnala Grove, which Coates thought was very good news, as its anonymity gave him time to work out and execute his plan. When Coates asked Young if he knew who the owner of the land was, Young just shrugged.

Now, here’s where Coates “other side” began took control. While on one hand he was a rough and ready backwoodsman, comfortable in the outdoors, his interactions with officers during the Civil War and his dealings with lumber barons for the following decade-and-a-half had taught him how much politics plays a crucial role in any endeavor and the value of knowing who the power players were and how to move in those circles, including being able to dress the part. So, back in his room at the Captain’s Hotel in Lee’s Landing he had a freshly pressed suit and polished boots waiting in the closet.

His dealings with the lumber barons had also taught him how ruthless they could be when pursuing a profit opportunity, which the Neshnala Grove without doubt represented, so he knew the key to protecting Neshnala was to somehow get control of the land and to secure the backing of local power-brokers.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 9 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1882

The meadow was maybe a hundred acres in size, irregularly-shaped, and surrounded by dense woods that Coates quickly recognized as mainly oaks and hickory, with a smattering of maple, birch, ash and pine. They were old and tall and, yes, a certain corner of his brain immediately recognized them as clearly of some commercial value.

On the other side of the meadow was a small herd of buffalo, which surprised him, as he’d thought they’d pretty much been hunted into extinction in eastern Iowa, but which also accounted for the cropped, almost park-like grassy floor of the meadow.

But what had utterly taken his breath away was the most awesome tree he had ever seen. And he had seen lots of “awesome” trees in his travels; in fact, that had pretty much been his job, to literally hunt down great, old-growth behemoths that one man couldn’t stretch his arms around and that could be ripped into enough lumber to make a house – to him it was their commercial value that made them “awesome.”

But the immense oak he was looking at – even from nearly a hundred yards away he knew it was an oak − was easily half again taller than any tree he had ever seen; its vast shadow sheltered at least an acre all by itself; and it looked to Coates as if three men would have trouble stretching their arms around its massive trunk.

Coates literally stopped in his tracks, paralyzed by…by… He had trouble sorting out his feelings…

After a moment, Young, who had been standing next to Coates, watching him and grinning, said quietly, “My people called it Neshnala, which means something like ‘tree that knows.’ They believed it was sacred. Seven of my grand-fathers spoke of it.”

Coates blinked and turned to Young with a frown, at first not understanding what he meant, but then it dawned on him, the Native American side of Young’s family had known of the tree for seven generations back. After a quick mental calculation, he said to Young, “That’d make it at least two hundred years old?” It was a question because he was finding it hard to believe and was looking for confirmation.

Young nodded. “My people say it was already old when the Declaration was signed.” He was referencing the fact that there had been much to-do about that document’s centennial just a few years ago.

Coates shook his head. “That’d probably make you older than Old Hawkeye,” he said, as if he’d been addressing the tree itself. Then, turning back to Young, explained, “Up in Dubuque there’s a big maple the locals call Old Hawkeye and are real proud of because they think it’s at least a hundred-and-fifty-years old. Your Neshnala might well be the oldest tree in Iowa.”

Certainly, Neshnala was way beyond “awesome” in any commercial sense; it was the personification of Awesome in its mammoth size, in its grand dignity, and in its great age. This wasn’t “just another old tree,” it was The Old Tree, which is how Coates came to think of it, as if it was a title with capital letters that it had clearly earned.

What neither man had any inkling of at this point was that Coates would soon set in motion a course of action that would lead to Neshnala becoming the star attraction, along with the waterfalls they’d camped below, in one of Iowa’s earliest state parks: Five Falls State Park.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 8 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1882

By 1882 there were two and in a few places three tiers of farmsteads on each side of Old Post Road, which meant there were also stubs of dirt roads that would many decades in the future be extended into a network of connected county roads, that, many more decades later still, Deputy Sheriff Ro Delahanty would be patrolling. The same was true of a tier of farmsteads that bordered the Makuakeeta Road adjacent to the river west of Lee’s Landing. Altogether, close to a third of the county’s land that would someday fall under the plow was now being worked.

But the “special place” Young wanted to share with Coates at this point was nowhere near any road, so to get to it they had to take what was essentially the long way around, following Old Post Road from Montgomery almost all the way into Lee’s Landing, then heading back out along the Makuakeeta Road; it was a nearly twenty-five-mile, all-day trip on horseback. They camped for the night at the bottom of a set of beautiful waterfalls that tumbled over a spectacular rock bluff and ended in a small pond where Young caught some fresh fish for dinner.

The next morning Young led them a short distance west along the base of the bluff to a narrow path that followed a natural draw up the bluff, except the path was winding, overgrown and dotted with numerous rocky steps that neither man nor horse found easy going. Again, decades in the future, after a great deal of blasting and earth-moving, the path would be turned into the southern end of County Line Road that straddled the border between Fort Armstrong County and Makuakeeta County.

Even though it was only three miles as the crow flies, it took Young and Coates most of the morning to climb to the top of the bluff and work their way through the thick underbrush. Coates had seen lots of woods – and quickly recognized what they were passing through as “old growth,” in other words, woods that had never seen the woodsmen’s axe – and had traveled over many trails – so he knew what they were following had once been a more heavily travelled animal path – and, finally, was curious about an unexpected change in Young’s personality – where for the several days the old trapper had tended toward the dour and taciturn, Coates was amused that he now seemed almost child-like in his excitement.

It was when they stopped for lunch that Young couldn’t contain himself any longer. “These ain’t no ordinary woods you’re gonna see, Coates… My mother’s people believed they were sacred,” he said, grinning, but then left the anticipation hanging.

Coates had always been of two minds about “the woods;” while certainly not a religious man, he had a deep respect for their beauty, grandeur and simplicity; but, at the same time, he’d also tended to hold the white man’s attitude that they were there to be exploited for man’s needs, cut down for firewood or cabin logs, hunted for food and clothing, cleared for cornfields or pastures.

So, while he had no doubt Young was sincere in his belief, he’d kind of dismissed it as so much superstition. That is, until a little while later they crossed a shallow, rocky creek that Coates correctly assumed was the same one they’d camped next to at the bottom of the bluff, and emerged from the woods into a broad, sun-filled meadow…

…and his breath was literally sucked from his body.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 7 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1882

Asa “Kentucky” Coates should be in the Iowa and Fort Armstrong County history books, but isn’t. In fact, he is only briefly credited in a section of the Iowa State Department of Natural Resources’ website that talks about the major attractions in Five Falls State Park as “being the first to identify Neshnala as one of the oldest trees in the state.” While that’s perfectly true, it’s also roughly akin to saying something like “Leonardo da Vinci did some sculpting;” it’s only half the story.

Coates was a colorful character, to say the least. Born in Maysville, Kentucky, in 1839, he grew up hearing about the exploits of local celebrity Daniel Boone, whose family had lived there for a time. His early years somewhat paralleled Boone’s, as a kid doing a lot of hunting and trapping in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky; then, like Boone, he saw warfare, serving as a scout with Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee from 1862 to 1865; and, finally, after the war, apprenticing as a surveyor for two years.

But he chafed at the more settled life of a typical land surveyor in the relatively “tame” Ohio River Valley and through some chance encounters carved out a unique career as a timber surveyor, spending most of the second half of the 1860s and the 1870s roaming around the backwoods of northern Michigan and Wisconsin mapping out roads to desirable timber stands for lumber barons like Charles Mears and Frederick Weyerhauser. Which is how, in 1882, he ended up in eastern Iowa…

In 1879, a committee of the Iowa House of Representatives, recognizing that forests still made up something like a fifth of Iowa’s land area, commissioned what amounted to a preliminary inventory of the state’s woodland resources, specifically to include an assessment of its potential commercial value. It took another two years for the Iowa Senate to finally agree to fund the venture. It was Coates who was hired under a three-year contract to visit each of the state’s nearly one-hundred counties, starting with the eastern counties, and eventually report back to the legislature.

Coates − an imposing figure at six-three and two-hundred-plus pounds − was a cross between a surveyor – he carried his surveying equipment, along with camping gear, on a pack horse – and a latter-day mountain man – his familiar Winchester carried across his saddle, a Colt .44 holstered on his right hip. He was known as “Kentucky” Coates because he’d never lost his accent.

As he moved into a new county, his practice was to visit the local sheriff’s office for two reasons. The first was to show the law enforcement official his warrant from the state to justify why he would be seen wandering around the county’s backcountry armed – by the 1880s eastern Iowa no longer thought of itself as a wild frontier.

The second reason was to ask the sheriff where he could connect with the few locals that still tried to make their living as trappers; it was a lesson he’d learned as a kid, trappers always knew where there were any wild places left, which is why he would hire one as his guide for that county.

The Fort Armstrong County sheriff directed him to a tavern on the edge of the small settlement called Montgomery along Old Post Road about fifteen miles north and west of Lee’s Landing. Of course, as he had already spent several weeks in the five counties along the river north of Fort Armstrong County, the “trapper’s grapevine” had flagged the bar’s denizens he was coming.

Recognizing a kindred spirit, Coates hired a grizzled old man in his mid-sixties named Jack “Breed” Young, so nicknamed because his mother was from the Fox tribe, to show him any remaining timber stands in the county, most of which were long, narrow bands, roughly a half-mile to a mile wide, along the major rivers, like the Pincatauwee on the north and the Mississippi on the south, as well as a half-dozen creeks in between. What Coates found would be a recurring pattern for many counties he would visit: There were some desirable clusters of hardwoods in these groves sufficient for local use, but, unlike Michigan and Wisconsin, hardly enough for any large scale commercial development.

Except “Breed” Young had saved the best for last…

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 6 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1830-1870

While occasional trading on what was known as Trader’s Island, on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River downstream from Lee’s Landing, may have been going on since the mid- or even early-1700’s, the first official white presence in the area was Fort Armstrong – eventually the county’s namesake − established in 1813 on the river’s western shore overlooking the rocky narrows between it and Grand Island. It was supposed to defend the Upper-Mississippi Valley from British attack − or more specifically, from upper-Midwest Indian tribes allied with the British − during the War of 1812, but was abandoned in 1814 and soon fell into disrepair.

The first known “cabin” in the Lee’s Landing area was a trapper’s log lean-to built a few years later, with a smattering of others not far behind, even though the area was still considered Indian territory and whites officially weren’t supposed to be there, except nobody bothered to enforce the “ban.”

Late in the 1820s, Elias Hubbard and August Neufeld were among the first of the real “town-builders” to arrive in the area. Hubbard opened a trading post and general store and Neufeld began operating the first ferry to cross the river, and both prospered. Being true entrepreneurs, they quickly recognized the potential that the early-1830s treaty had unlocked and so through the rest of that decade made numerous contacts with U.S. officials in Detroit, where the regional land office was located, and in Washington, and drew up a variety of proposed city layouts for Lee’s Landing. Which is why, in 1838 they were the first to secure land grants in the Lee’s Landing / Fort Armstrong County area.

While Elias Hubbard himself would have virtually no role in the Neshnala Saga, his descendants some forty-plus years in the future would.

Another major, though inadvertent character in the Neshnala saga was Enoch Moody, who, late in the 1840’s was among the first grant recipients for a chunk of the open land out in the county. Moody was a land speculator from Ohio who had previously held and developed tracts in Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.

His grant was for nearly six-thousand acres adjacent to the Makuakeeta Road in what would eventually be the southwest corner of Fort Armstrong County. He coveted it because it included hundreds of acres of flat and easily developable rich river-valley bottom land that would fetch top dollar once broken-up into farmsteads; but it also encompassed some heavily wooded tracts above the river bluff that he thought might someday be worth logging.

Ironically, Moody never saw his land in Fort Armstrong County; instead he sent one of his employees to oversee its development and sale. Not being local, the representative had never heard of Neshnala; all he knew was that the thickly wooded land on top of the bluff was virtually inaccessible by wagon, and therefore was a very low priority in terms of development potential. Throughout the 1850’s he was kept quite busy platting and selling off farmsteads in the river valley area that was nearer the booming town of Lee’s Landing; when the Civil War broke out he was recalled to Ohio to handle some of Moody’s war-related business ventures there; after the war Moody’s attention shifted far to the west, away from Fort Armstrong County.

As a result, the part of the Moody grant on top of the bluff that included the Neshnala Grove was never surveyed, let alone platted, which meant that Moody’s “option” was not exercised, so that, more than forty years after the treaty with the Indians was signed, this particular chunk of land was still officially owned by the U.S. government.

This would turn out to be yet another serendipitous episode in the Neshnala Saga…

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

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