Our Iowa Heritage: Cyrus Sanders – Setting The History Record Straight.

In truth, most people just don’t enjoy history. The retelling of facts and figures surrounding the people who lived a long time ago just doesn’t excite too many. Right?

But, on the other hand, people do love storytellers. So, when history is told by a person who understands the fine art of story-telling, including pieces like first-hand, real-life accounts and/or other juicy insider tidbits, people tend to tune in and listen.

Today, The History Channel is a prime example of how dry-n-crusty historical facts can be transformed, not only into entertainment, but actually into a profitable enterprise for those who do it well!

So it was in the 1870’s and ’80’s around the ever-expanding United States of America. After the Civil War, people across the Heartland had transitioned from living in the untamed West, where pioneers struggled just to survive, to a more modern, civilized, and much less-stressed society. And as that transition happened, city people and farmers alike, who were now accustomed to receiving a local newspaper, had both the time and the interest to hear about the old stories when Iowa was still young.

In Iowa City, there were two newspapers competing for readers during this time period – The Daily Press (a Democrat-leaning paper) and The Daily Republican. Both editors of these newspapers knew that Iowa Citians wanted to read about their recent past, so that now brings us to our intriguing story of:

Cyrus Sanders – “Early Iowa” Writer – The Iowa City Daily Republican – 1880’s.

Around 1880, at the suggestion of Iowa City Daily Republican editor Herbert S. Fairall, sixty-three-year-old Cyrus Sanders began writing down the early history of Johnson County. As Sanders wrote, combining his first-hand knowledge with his wit and wisdom, Fairall published the material, and Iowa Citians absolutely loved it. Knowing that the Sanders’ column was helping to sell newspapers, Fairall created a new department at The Republican, calling it Early Iowa, with Cyrus as the primary contributor for material.

Cyrus Sanders’ Journal – with only a compass, staff and “such portables as might be carried in ‘saddle bags,’ Cyrus traversed the Midwestern prairies, rain or shine, never knowing if he would run into Native Americans or a new settlement. Click here to read more.

As a long-time member of the Johnson County Old Settlers Association, Cyrus was a wonderful candidate for such a job. Not only had Sanders moved here in 1839, just as Iowa City was first forming, but he also kept a well-documented diary of his early Iowa adventures, giving him the reputation as one of Johnson County’s most knowledgeable historians. In the September 16, 1880 edition of The Daily Republican, the new Early Iowa writing department was introduced (see below).

On January 7, 1881, The Republican ran another story (below – left) promoting Cyrus’ new series, and by mid-January, the Early Iowa series was well underway (a portion of Sanders’ January 18th column is shown below – right).

Newspaper Articles on Historical Events – Iowa City’s ‘History Channel’ of the 1880’s.

Seeing the great popularity of Sanders column, Fairall commissioned Cyrus to complete his writings, entitling it, History of the Early Settlement of Johnson County – 1836-1846, with plans to publish and distribute the 200-page book, retailing it at a reasonable price to what was becoming a booming market for historical reference books.

As it turned out, Fairall was not the only newspaper man in Iowa City who saw this exploding new market for history books. By the spring of 1882, another long-time Iowa Citian, C.W. Hobart, decided to put his hat into the ring – teaming with a Des Moines publisher named John G. Blair to market a bigger-n-better version of the Johnson County history volume H.S. Fairall was planning.

Soon, with Blair’s financial backing, Hobart teamed with a local businessman, D.W. Wood, to corner the history market in Johnson County before Fairall ever knew what hit him. Interestingly enough, Hobart was once the editor himself of Fairall’s Republican (during the Civil War years) and it’s obvious that Hobart and Fairall were not very fond of each other. Take a peek at these juicy sniplets from two June 1882 issues of The Republican…

By the summer of 1882, it was an all-out war of words between H.S. Fairall and “Hobert’s History” as The Republican called it. Below are parts of just two articles The Republican published in June and July of 82, pointing to the wrongness of Hobert’s project…

Hobart is Fired – Now It’s J. G. Blair vs H.S. Fairall…

By mid-summer, the heat was picking up for Hobart’s money man in Des Moines – John G. Blair and his Blair History Company. On July 6, The Republican published an article that gave its readers the opportunity to read the contents of two June letters that traveled back and forth between Fairall of The Republican and Blair in Des Moines. As you can see below, the letters did nothing to cool down the heat between the two parties…

Apparently, Blair became frustrated enough to fire C.W. Hobart from his role in the project, replacing him with a Des Moines historian by the name of H.A. Reid. In late September, Fairall decided to, once again, play nice, offering an olive branch to Blair, publishing this reconciliation column in The Republican

As an interesting side note, C.W. Hobart, after being released from the Blair History Company, went on to form his own publishing house in Chicago – Hobart Publishing Company, which focused on developing similar “county history” books for other cities and counties in Iowa and around the Midwest.

Cyrus Sanders – The Iowa City Historian Caught In The Middle.

Sadly, throughout this whole affair, the best history writer Johnson County had at the time, Cyrus Sanders, was being bounced around like a ping-pong ball. Staying quiet throughout these months of warfare, caused many of his long-time friends in the Old Settlers Association to misinterpret his quietness as a sign that he was secretly trying to gain financially from his writings, when in fact, he only wrote out of his desire to bless his fellow citizens. On September 20, The Republican published another column that included an open letter from Cyrus – an attempt at telling his side of the story (see below)…

So, during the fall months of 1882, as things quieted down a bit, publisher Blair, his new editor H.A. Reid, and his business manager, D.W. Wood quietly took Sanders material, for which they paid him $10, combining it with the other historical material gathered earlier by Hobart, and put together a huge 966-page volume that was released in 1883.

1883 – The History of Johnson County, Iowa 1836-1882.

This large reference book with the very long title, History of Johnson County, Iowa containing a History of the County and the Townships, Cities and Villages from 1836 to 1882 – Together with Biographical Sketches was released for sale in 1883. While certainly an impressive leather-covered volume, selling at a whopping $10 retail, it was strange that no where on the book’s cover or title page did the name of the publisher (Blair History Company of Des Moines) and/or the editors (C.W. Hobart or H.A. Reid) appear. But, that wasn’t the only thing missing! Take a look at the book’s preface…

Here’s the Preface to the 1883 book in question. Click here for a list of other Johnson County Historical Resources.

Where’s Cyrus?

Now, the fact that the publisher and editor’s name never appear throughout the book is problematic, but here’s the real rub. In the book’s preface, “The Editor and The Publisher” credit many well-known people for contributing to the book’s 966 pages of material. Names such as Henry Felkner, John P. Irish (son of F.M. Irish and publisher of The Republican‘s competitor – The Iowa City Press), S.C. Trowbridge, T.S. Parvin, Samuel Kirkwood, Samuel Calvin, and others appear, but here’s the really shocking news…

While this 1883 book is a treasure trove of information, nowhere in the book does it give any credit or identification to the author of so much of the material used – The Iowa City Daily Republican‘s own Cyrus Sanders! The book even ignores Sanders as a long-time resident of Johnson County – not including him among the hundreds of short biographies found at the back of the book! Yikes!

The Daily Republican – Setting the Record Straight in 1887.

The Daily Republican, and many of Cyrus’ friends within The Old Settlers Association, of course, were aghast at this action, and in 1887, in Cyrus Sander’s obituary, The Republican, once again, addresses this gross misrepresentation…

Sadly, because of this “most disgraceful and erroneous attempt at book making,” Cyrus Sanders has often been overlooked as one of Iowa City’s finest historians. So, here at Our Iowa Heritage, we’d like to take this opportunity and give a tip of the old hat to Cyrus Sanders – giving credit where credit is certainly due…

Cyrus Sanders – To You – One of Iowa City’s Great Historians – We Salute You!


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

September 16, 1880 Article, Iowa City Daily Republican, p 1, 4

January 7, 1881 Article, Iowa City Republican, p 3

January 18, 1881 Article, Iowa City Daily Republican

June 21, 1882 Article, Iowa City Daily Republican, p 4

June 27, 1882 Article, Iowa City Daily Republican, p 1

June 30, 1882 Article, Iowa City Daily Republican, p 4

July 6, 1882 Article, Iowa City Daily Republican, p 4

September 21, 1882 Article, Iowa City Daily Republican, p 3

September 26, 1882 Article, Iowa City Daily Republican, p 3

A Pioneer Gone – Cyrus Sanders’ obituary, The Iowa City Daily Republican, May 3, 1887, p 3

Cyrus Sanders, Find-A-Grave

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