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Iowa History Daily: August 8 - Kearny Looks at Des Moines

Iowa History Daily: On August 8, 1835, Stephen Watts Kearny undertook a survey of the junction of the Des Moines and Racoon rivers as a part of the 1st United States Dragoons expedition across Iowa. Finding the site ‘unsuitable,’ Kearny’s report didn’t dissuade the military from creating a fort at the site in 1843 which eventually grew into Iowa’s capital city.

As a part of an expedition stretching over 1,100 from First Fort Des Moines Montrose on the Mississippi, up the confluence of the Boone River with the Des Moines, over to the village of Dakota leader Wabasha, and back to the Des Moines near the headwaters in modern-day Minnesota, roughly 160 men made the summer 1835 journey into the relative unknown.

The Dragoons, or soldiers mounted on horseback who fought on foot, represent a forerunner to the more familiar cavalry soldiers of the late-1800s. Brought to Iowa to document lands, develop military forts, and enforce boundaries between overly eager settlers and Iowa’s Indigenous peoples, the Dragoons represent a key presence on the Iowa frontier.

Kearny’s men separated into three companies for the journey up the Des Moines. Additionally five four-horse wagons and a herd of cattle accompanied the Dragoons across a landscape of bison studded prairies, oak savannah, and slough hard to even imagine today. The commander of Company B, Lieutenant Albert Lea, recorded his observations of the journey in a little book called “Notes on the Wisconsin Territory, Particularly Pertaining to the Iowa District.”

You might notice a similarity between Lea’s book title and “Notes on Iowa,” and the cross-over is intentional. The “Notes on Iowa” project started with a 2021 walk across Iowa following the route of the 1835 Dragoons expedition. To learn more about the Dragoons, the walk across Iowa, as well as many other Iowa topics, visit www.notesoniowa.com (walk across Iowa). #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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