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