Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Waubonsie Trail Across Iowa ------- From Dirt Trail to Asphalt and Concrete

The Daily Iowegian - 20 & 22 February 2006
James Fisk, one of the local area’s historians, has 
written a book about the fact that Highway 2 was once an Indian trail. Called “The Waubonsie Trail Across Iowa,” the book tells about Chief Waubonsie of the Pottowatomie tribe, how the trail became a highway and lists towns located on Highway 2 (even those that no longer exist).
  It is believed that Lewis and Clark were the first white men to set foot on Iowa soil. Before 1673, this land had long been the home of 17 different native Indian tribes. These included the Ioway, Sauk, Oto, Mesquaki, Sioux, Pottowatomie and Missouri tribes.
  The birth place of Chief Waubonsie, of the Pottowatomie tribe is unknown. Some think he was born in western Indiana, others believe it was near Cleveland, Ohio. The exact date is unknown.
  Waubonsie and other chiefs negotiated a treaty which ceded their land in
Indiana to the U.S. Government and they were moved to a locality that is now Chicago, Ill. The center of Waubonsie’s village, called Waubon, was believed to be about where a shopping center exists today.
  Waubonsie was well known for his peaceful ways and often helped early white settlers by detaining the blood-thirsty Saux and Fox tribes when he learned of their plans to attack. By the time he released them the settlers had packed up their belongings and moved to the safety of Ft. Dearborn, located near the place where Chicago was settled.
  Chief Waubonsie was known in Illinois during the early 1800s. His name means “Early Dawn” or “Break of Day.” He was a large proud man, his height was believed to be 6 foot, 4 inches. The center of his city was called Waubon, located near the present day city of Aurora, Ill. His tribe hunted and fished in the areas known as Fox Valley Villages where a series of swamps and streams existed before the lands were drained. The braves hunted deer, ducks, geese, quail and small birds. The women gathered berries and planted vegetables.
  Waubonsie and other Indian chiefs signed a treaty on July 22, 1814 to end the war with each other. He was the first one to take hold of the hatchet handle signifying that they were burying the hatchet with their old enemies. He was one of the chiefs who negotiated the Treaty of the Wabash in 1926.
  During the wild celebration that followed, Waubonsie was accidentally stabbed by a warrior who fled in fright. After his wounds healed he invited the warrior to return, saying “A man who runs off like a dog with his tail down, for fear of death, is not worth killing.”

  In 1829, the federal government informed the Indian tribes in western Illinois that they must move across the Mississippi River into Iowa. The U.S. government claimed ownership of this Illinois land as a result of the Treaty of 1804. Chief Waubonsie at first refused to move but later led and encouraged his people on this difficult journey across Iowa until they reached their destination and settled near present day Nebraska City, Neb.
  In 1837 all Indians were rounded up and sent to Chicago. There they met with other branches of the Pottawatomie from Michigan and Indiana and began a difficult walk to Missouri and Kansas that later became known at the “Trail of Death.” Dozens died on the trip and those who couldn’t continue on were buried along the road.
  In June of 1843, Waubonsie was present at a great assemblage of tribes in the Indian territory. It was said at that time he was 87 and was treated with great respect by those off tribes present.
  In 1845, Waubonsie made his final trip to
Washington. This laid the groundwork for the treaty of 1846. On the return trip the stagecoach overturned near Cincinnati, Ohio. The old man by then was suffering from age and the many battle scars that had been inflicted over the years.
  Iowa roads were mostly dirt until the coming of the automobile in the early 1900s. This invention revolutionized life in Iowa and elsewhere. Now that people could travel faster and farther, changes needed to be made to in our road system. In 1883, a Good Roads Movement began and was seeking ways to provide more and better road work with greater efficiency at the township level and later at the county level.
  The Good Roads Convention, established in 1911, brought about a movement to improve Iowa roads. The 10 counties spent thousands of dollars improving roads by cutting down hills, filling up hollows, putting in concrete bridges and culverts, going around hills, grading and draining roads with man made ditches.
  During 1911, daily newspapers were flooded with articles and pictures showing the improvements and reporting on future changes to the Iowa road system. Much work was done to improve the Old Waubonsie Trail, and with improvements, was designated as Highway No. 3, now known as Highway 2.
  Bad roads meant economic loss to farmers due to frequent inability to get their products to market. But even with obvious hardships, there was much negative reaction to the Good Roads Movement. This was due to distrust caused by giving less power to the townships trustees. The county board of supervisors were given more responsibility for the upkeep of roads. Also the road taxes were too be paid in money instead of labor as in previous years, Heated state legislative arguments went for several years.
  In 1904 legislation was enacted to improve the road administration with the establishment of the State Highway Commission at Ames. Service stations and garages sprang up in every town. Maintenance of roads was being provided by those persons living along the road with a home made drag or harrow to smooth out the deep ruts. People dreamed of being able to travel across the state from river to river. Some graveling was done but was rather rare since it was hauled by horse and wagon and spread by hand with shovels.
  The following is a list of towns and villages in Iowa that one would pass through while traveling east or west along the Waubonsie Trails. Those that no longer exist are marked with asterisks.
  Acasto*, Allerton, Ashland*, Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Cantril, Centerville, Chalo*, Charleston, Clarinda, Conway, Corydon, Council Bluffs, Davis City, Donnelson, Farmington, Glenwood, Gravity, Harvard, Highpoint, Jerome, Kellerton, Keokuk, Knox*, Lamoni, Leon, Lewisberg, Milton, Moulton, Mount Ayr, Mount Clara*, Mount Sterling, New Boston, New
Market, Norwhich, Primrose, Promise City, Pulaski, Randolph, Shenandoah, Seymour, Sidney, Tabor, Tuskeego, Waverly and West Groove.
  The Waubonsie Trail Association was organized to promote the improvement of a continuous highway across Iowa, measuring 289 miles. The starting point was to be a Nebraska City and extend to Keokuk. The association was to be in Shenandoah. C.F. Mitchell was appointed as president and C.A. Wenstrand its secretary. The color for the signs and designs were to black and white. The president and secretary appeared before Alta L. Miller, Notary Public of Page County, Iowa on Feb. 2, 1915 to sign the necessary papers to make the association official. The papers were filed with the Department of Transportation on Feb. 4, 1915.
  There were no numbered roads in Iowa before 1927. Roads were marked in various ways, often by painting fence or telephone posts, where available. The Waubonsie Trail was marked at every crossroad or intersection by a road sigh, 18 inches and 4 feet long. The signs had the name of the trail with names of adjacent towns and the distance to each. In addition to the road markers, at every crossroad or intersecting road, five telephones poles or post put up for that purpose, were painted with white bands, 12 inches wide, and a black band 6 inches wide, above and below. These markings were to be made 8 feet from the ground.
  The Hart-Parr Tractor Company began advertising their tractors with claims that any road machinery operated by their tractor will do more work in one day than can be done in two days where horses were used. The tractors use cheap kerosene and can be operated by one man and costs nothing while setting idle. An old calendar has an advertisement and picture that describes the 1930 Hart-Parr tractor with a whole new design, including an upright rather than horizontal engine. This was the result of the Oliver and Hart-Parr merger of 1939. This model “A” was the 80th one built. Later these were called the 28/44, then it became the Oliver 90 in 1937 and the Hart-Parr was dropped. Standard tread models could be equipped with any one of nine choices of rear wheel lugs.
  At the height of interest in the Waubonsie Trail, a short description of towns were given. The following was the information given about Centerville.
  Centerville is a growing young city with a population of 8,000 people. It is the largest city between Omaha and Keokuk with up to date public improvements, visitors are always welcome. Centerville has a fine government building with all of the modern luxuries and conveniences, a free public library, four fine churches, eight miles of paved streets, complete sewage and water system. The city has industries and 100 coal mines. Appanoose County is the third largest coal producing county in the state and Iowa is the ninth coal producing state in the Union. Take the Waubonsie Trail and you will pass through the finest country in the state and Centerville, the best city in southern Iowa.
  Three railroads pass through the city along with an electric street railway and interurban system. It boast town newly equipped garages and one good auto supply company. It was two good first class hotels and the best diner of all the night stops on the trail. Centerville has a fine Elks Lodge with modern up to date equipment.
  An “Official Inspection Car” was used to drive across Iowa to examine the results of the work completed on Waubonsie Trail. The car was followed by 50 other automobiles in celebration of the event. The tour was completed in six days. Nearly 400 photos of the trail were taken by Mr. Babcock, the official photographer of the association and many were published in various newspapers. Mr. Thomas McDonald, the secretary of the Iowa Highway Commission made several suggestions regarding ways to improve the road. The map making car of the Iowa Publishing Company crossed the state several times via the Waubonsie Trail and has added much to the “Good Roads” enthusiasm all along the way. In many communities farmers argued about the best ways to improve certain stretches of the road.
  Researching the material for the history of the Waubonsie Trail has been rather frustrating since little information was available. A search on the internet did produce some interesting items. I did discover that there is a Waubonsie Trail in Cantril and a Lewis and Clark Trail at Hamburg. There is a Waubonsie High School in Kansas and Waubonsie Consulting Firm in Richmond Calif.  Some information was printed by the Iowa State Historical Society in 1959 in a booklet, “Annals of Iowa” but was out of print.

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