Our Iowa Heritage: Albert Lea’s 1835 Map of Iowa.

Historian Benjamin F. Shambaugh tells it like it is…
Adventurer Albert Lea, in 1836, wrote this about Iowa:

The general appearance of the country is one of great beauty…It may be represented as one great rolling prairie…The transparent waters of the creeks and rivers, skirted by woods…Taking this District all in all for convenience of navigation, water, fuel and timber; for richness of soil; for beauty of appearance; and for pleasantness of climate, it surpasses any portion of the United States with which I am acquainted.
In the back of his 1836 publication, Notes on the Wisconsin Territory Particularly with Reference to The Iowa District or Black Hawk Purchase, Lieutenant Albert M. Lea included a large fold-out map of the Iowa District, as he called it. This map is invaluable in giving us a look at Iowa as it was unfolding in 1835, two years after the Black Hawk Purchase was opened up to settlers. For more info about Lea’s 1835 exploration, click here.

Our map comes from the 1935 reprint, The Book That Gave Iowa Its Name, edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh. As we discussed in an earlier post, Albert Lea’s original book (1836) was the promotional tool needed to prompt both Easterners and those living in the land itself to begin identifying this beautiful land as IOWA. Here’s Benjamin F. Shambaugh’s thoughts on the matter…

So, allow me here to post a few closeups on Albert Lea’s 1835 map, along with some quotes from his book…

First, here’s the section of land opened to white settlers (June 1, 1833) – The Black Hawk Purchase. As you can see on the map, the region was divided into two counties: Dubuque in the north, Des Moines in the south.
Here’s how Lea described the existing roads in Iowa District at the time (1835).

Above is the northern region of Iowa District (Dubuque County). Note the city of Dubuque (1833) with Catfish Creek (where Julien Dubuque first settled), and the large mining area called Lead Mines (including Galena, IL).

Here’s how Lea described Dubuque at the time (1835).

Above is the southern Iowa District county of Des Moines, with Burlington, Madison (Ft.), Keokuk, and Ft. Des Moines all located on the Mississippi River.

Here’s how Lea described Burlington (and other towns in Des Moines County) at the time (1835).
Here is the central portion of Iowa District. You can see Davenport/Rock Island on the Mississippi River. The Keokuk Reserve (along the Iowa River) was set aside as a reward for Chief Keokuk and his tribe for not choosing to align themselves with Black Hawk during the 1832 uprising.

On the left, you can see Johnson County (Iowa River – also called the Bison River) & Linn County (Cedar River – called the Red Cedar) in east central Iowa. On the right (Johnson County) shows John Gilbert’s first trading post on the Iowa River (Napoleon) and identifies Chief Powesheik’s villages in that same area.

Above is Albert Lea’s fascinating commentary on the Iowa River valley. In less than three years, Lea’s vision for this place will begin in earnest as Chauncey Swan and John Reynolds drive a stake into one of these “points of beauty and fertility.” Note how Lea believes that lighter steamboats could travel up the Iowa River to Poweshiek’s villages (Johnson County) three or four months of the year.

Click here to read more about Iowa and the early maps that helped settlers find their way across this beautiful land.

At the close of the War Between the States, Albert Lea settled in Galveston, Texas, later moving to Corsicana, where he lived until his death, January 10, 1892.
A.M. Lea of Tenn – 2nd Lt Dragoons. Thank you, Albert M. Lea, for your work of diligence. The Hawkeye State salutes you!

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

The Book That Gave Iowa Its Name, editor Benjamin F. Shambaugh, 1935 reprint of Albert Lea’s 1836 book “Notes on the Wisconsin Territory Particularly with Reference to The Iowa District or Black Hawk Purchase,” State Historical Society of Iowa

Albert Miller Lea, Find-A-Grave.com

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