Polk County / Des Moines History

Time Line

10,000 year ago during the Ice Age - woolly mammoths and mastadons roamed central Iowa and the area that is now downtown Des Moines. Many well preserved bones, buried at 50 to 55 feet and immersed in water, were found during construction in 2001 at 12th and Locust. The bones are thought to be from one juvenile calf and up to three feet long.

The Sac and Fox tribes lived on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River Valley at the head of the Des Moines River in a village called Quashquema long before the French claimed the land and paved the way for the fur traders and trappers.

1673 - Fr. Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet become the first white men in Iowa.

1803 - The territory now know as Iowa is part of the Louisiana Purchase.

1812 - Westward expansion begins after the end of the War of 1812.

1832 - The 14 year Black Hawk War due to Indian resentment, led by Chief Black Hawk ends. The war forces westward expansion and the movement of tribes further west.

1834 - In December, John Dougherty, an Indian Agent at Ft. Leavenworth, KS recommends a chain of military posts, including one where the DM and Raccoon Rivers merge to protect the Indians.

1835 - This territory was explored by Col. Stephen Kearny who studied the advantages of this site as a possible garrison.

1836 - The white settler population is greater than 10,000 in Iowa.

1840 - the Sac and Fox Indians are beginning to be cleared from the area.

1841 - John C. Fremont acting for the War Dept. surveyed the Des Moines River in July, from the Raccoon Forks to it's mouth.

1842 - August 31, Territorial Gov. Chambers signed the Sac and Fox Treaty, paying them at about the rate of ten cents per acre.

1842 - Central Iowa was open to white settlers.

1843 - In May, Capt. James Allen with his company of First Dragoons arrived by the steamer "Ione" from Ft. Sanford (currently Ottumwa), and builds Ft. Des Moines No. 2 at the Raccoon Forks to keep the peace between the settlers and Indians. General Winfield Scott of the War Dept. directs the name Ft. DM be used, although Capt. Allen suggested the name Ft. Raccoon. The fort is active until 1846.

Robert A. Kinzie was made a post trader and opened a General Store. Among the fur traders and early explorers and settlers who preceded the soldiers' occupation was Wilson Alexander Scott who was probably the first white settler to make Ft. DM his home. He arrived several months before the military post was established, later obtaining a permit to settle nearby, and purchased 500 acres of land on the east side of the DM River, a portion of which he donated to the State of Iowa for the Capitol grounds. He also donated $6,000 in cash to apply to the cost of the old capitol building then erected, and later died in poverty. His grave is in the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds.

1845 - At midnight, October 11, 1845 after the Sac and Fox Indians relinquished their rights in the territory, the land was thrown open to white settlers. Among the first to establish homes were: J.M. Thrift, a tailor; James Drake and John Sturdevant, gunsmiths; Charles Weatherford, blacksmith; Dr. Thomas K. Brooks, the first doctor; and William Lamb and Alexander Turner, farmers. 13 pupils studied in a log cabin at 9th and Locust Streets during the winter of 1845.

1846 - Iowa becomes a state and Polk County is established. The Rev. Abner and Ezra Rathburn organized the Fifth Street Methodist Church.

1847 - DM streets are platted. W. A. Scott operates the first ferry and builds the first pontoon bridge across the DM River.

1849 - The first newspaper, the Iowa Star is dated July 26, 1849 and is edited by Barlow Granger. It is soon followed by the Des Moines Gazette, edited by Lampson P. Sherman.

1851 - Fort Des Moines is incorporated and lands sales at $1.25 per acre. A double log cabin could be erected for $70 and butter is ten cents per pound. The Rev. Thompson Bird is elected the first mayor at the first town election held October 28, 1851.

1855 - Choosing Polk County over a Jasper County selection, Gov. Grimes signs a bill from the Fifth General Assembly, placing the Capitol within two miles of the Raccoon Forks. A group of DM citizens build a temporary Capitol (later bought by the state) near where the Soldiers and Sailors monument now stands. That temporary capitol was used for 30 years, until destroyed by fires.

1857 - the city name is shortened to Des Moines and is designated as the state capital. The city adopts the mayor-council form of government. The city officially becomes the State Capital by proclamation of Gov. James W. Grimes when the new capitol is occupied October 19, 1857. Ten yoke of oxen hauled the archives from Iowa's first state capitol in Iowa City in two bobsleds.

1861 - In December, the first telegraph wire is strung from Des Moines to Newton.

1866 - The first railroad, called "The Des Moines Valley Railroad" reaches the city, from Keokuk, in August.

1867 - The first insurance company is organized; leading to the making DM an internationally important insurance center.

1870 - the first DM city hall is built.

1871 - The cornerstone is laid November 23, 1871, and construction begins on the present capitol, which is not finished until 1886.

1873 - Due to deterioration of the original stone foundation, the cornerstone was relaid September 29, 1873.

1878 - 2 years after A. G. Bell invented the telephone, Mr. F. M. Hubbell installed two telephones between his office at 5th and Mulberry and his home at 5th and Grand. Also in this year, the Western Union Telephone Co. established a switchboard in the Clapp Bldg. at 5th and Walnut which served about 150 customers.

1881 - 90 students enroll when Drake University is founded by a group of men from the "Disciples of Christ" denomination. It is named for Gen. Francis Marion Drake, an early benefactor.

1884 - The General Assembly session is held in the new capitol, and it is dedicated in January. The Governor Office was completed in 1885, and the Supreme Court completed in 1886. The total cost was $2,873,294.59.

1903 - The U.S. Cavalry post, Fort DM, is dedicated November 13, 1903 on the south side of the city. The post was used during WWI as a Negro officers training camp and during WWII the original home of the Women's Army Corps (WACs).

1904 - During renovations, a disastrous fire in the north wing of the Capitol ruins the House chamber.

1908 - most of the Fort Des Moines 2 buildings are gone, a flagpole and commemorative plaque on a boulder are placed near the site.

1964 - a memorial cabin is moved to the site of Fort DM 2.

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