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"A Pioneer of Territorial Times," by B.F. Gue

Gue, B. F. "A Pioneer of Territorial Times." The Annals of Iowa 1 (1893), 129-132. Available at:

Benjamin Gue, an early chronicler of Iowa, completed many biographical sketches of early American inhabitants of the state. Most can be found in his multi-volume history of Iowa, but many were published in the Annals of Iowa. The first part of the article presents one of these sketches.

The sketch focused on James Hilton, a downstairs neighbor of famed adventurer and painter George Catlin. In his association with Catlin, Hilton met many prominent Indigenous people including the Sauk chief Blackhawk. On Catlin's recommendation, Hilton acquired a post with the American Fur Company and headed west. However, Hilton missed the boat, literally, as it departed up the Missouri River for the Yellowstone. He found himself in St. Louis, and decided to make a claim in Iowa. He became one of the first American settlers in the area of Albia.

Some of William Williams, Fort Dodge sutler during the 1850s and 1860s, are also included in the file from Annals of Iowa. Williams papers eventually found republication from a Fort Dodge radio station, and are available to modern readers. The brief passage included here reflects on the strong presence of the Dakota people in the north and northwest Iowa area, as well as the abundance of wild game during the earliest time of American settlement north of the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers.

"James Hilton, one of the notable pioneers of southern Iowa, who is a fair type of our young men who came west fifty years ago, visited the Historical Rooms at the Capitol in April. H& was born in Columbia county. New York, in 1816. In 1824, when eight years of age, his father took him to Newburg to see the great French patriot and nobleman. General Lafayette, of Revolutionary fame, who was then making his last visit to the United States." (130)

"When a young man Hilton opened a drug store in New York City near Bond Street. The upper story of the building was occupied by George Catlin, the famous Indian writer, traveler and portrait painter. In Catlin's studio Mr. Hilton often met Black Hawk and other noted Indian chiefs, who frequently visited this friend and historian of their race. A warm friendship sprang up between the young druggist and the great artist, and Mr. Catlin secured for Mr. Hilton a position in the American Fur Company then fitting out an expedition at St. Louis to go to the Yellowstone River." (130)

"Mr. Hilton started west in 1840 to join the expedition at St. Louis to go to the Yellowstone River, but met with so many delays that he reached St. Louis too late, it having got off several weeks before his arrival." (130)

"He had formed a very favorable opinion of the new Territory of Iowa, but remained in Missouri until the treaty was concluded with Keokuk, by which the Indian claim to the west part of the Territory was relinquished at Agency City in 1842. Mr. Hilton went up into the new purchase and took a claim in May, 1843, about six miles south of where Albia now stands. On this claim he made his first home in Iowa, and opened a farm where he has lived for fifty years." (130)

The article includes two letters explaining how Hilton was made judge and created a county seal before moving on to a historical sketch of William Williams, sutler of Fort Dodge.

"In the year 1866, Major William Williams a pioneer settler of Fort Dodge, contributed to The Iowa North West, a weekly paper published at that place by Hon. B.F. Gue, a series of very interesting and valuable historical sketches which were continued through several months." (131)

"He saw the first settlements, when that portion of the frontier was still under military protection, and lived long enough to see the country quite thickly populated." (131)

Williams writing: "Fort Des Moines, situated at the junction of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, was established in May, 1843, and continued to be the outpost on the northern frontier of Iowa until the 11th of October, 1845, when it was abandoned. At that time the territory lying north, northeast and northwest of Fort Des Moines was comparatively an unexplored region of the country, the habitation of the wild Sioux Indians, and ranges for buffalo and elk. The only exploration of the country north of the Raccoon Forks (Fort Des Moines) that was previously attempted, was by Captain Boone of the U.S. Dragoons, marched with his company from Old Camp Des Moines, formerly a station of the U.S. Dragoons, situated on the Mississippi River and now called Montrose." (132)


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