In The Beginning

Most sources agree that the story of the northeast corner of Iowa begins in the 1600s (with apologies to the folk who lived there already but didn’t write anything down). The opening decade of that century saw Samuel de Champlain make a permanent settlement on the Great Lakes, through which the US-Canadian border falls to this day. De Champlain (and his people) gradually filled out their maps of the Great Lakes as they traveled their various waters, and had reached the upper Mississippi River, and northeast Iowa, by mid-century.

About 1665, Father Pierre Claude Allouez, a Catholic priest who had established camp on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Superior and explored the interior to the southwest wrote the first nominal reference to the Mississippi River.

In the summer of 1673, Father Jaques Marquette and Louis Joliet used a blank exploration check from the King of France to run an expedition toward the great river, and beyond. As they passed by, they described northeast Iowa as “on the right is a considerable chain of very high mountains.” Today we know the highest point in Allamakee County is less than 1,500 feet above sea level (and well under 1,000 feet above the Mississippi River).

Sketchy records indicated that settlements on the west side of the Mississippi were founded first below, then above, Allamakee County’s stretch of Mississippi River coastline, but none of those settlements flourished. In fact, it took fifty years for this stretch of the Mississippi to produce a “thriving” settlement: Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin – on the other side of the Great River from Allamakee County. By 1776 – the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, it is likely that those particularly hardy and grizzled fur traders who found the “civilization” of Prairie du Chien a bit too confining had taken to spending their summers on the Iowa side of the Mississippi.

As the 1700’s drew to a close, then, Allamakee County was still very lightly settled by Europeans, and those Europeans who were there felt allegiance to the King of France.