Our History

19th Century Council Bluffs History



In 1824 St. Louis businessman Francois Guittar established the first white settlement on the western boundary of Iowa Territory naming it Traders Point. Guittar was engaged in fur trading and other mercantile pursuits with various local Indian tribes throughout the area exchanging hides of deer, elk, buffalo and other furs for ammunition and dry goods.

Billy Caldwell was the son of a Potawatomi Indian mother and a Scots-Irish immigrant father.  Caldwell served as a commissioned Captain in the Canadian Indian Department during the War of 1812 and after that war he moved to the United States ultimately settling near Traders Point.  Caldwell became known as Chief Sauganash of the Potawatomi Indian band, and in 1829 and 1833 he negotiated treaties with the United States on behalf of the Indian Nations of Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa.  Famed Jesuit missionary priest Father Pierre-Jean De Smet passed through the area in 1838 and he was responsible for setting up the first church and school in the settlement.  Because of the coexistence of an active trading outpost and an established friendly relationship with local Indian tribes, Traders Point became a desired destination to cross the Missouri River for a multitude of pioneers working their way to the western United States on the Oregon, the California, the Mormon, or the Lewis and Clark trails.
History 1
On December 28th, 1846 Iowa became the 29th state in the Union and the growing southwest Iowa town once known as Traders Point had been renamed as Kanesville, after Thomas L. Kane, who helped to negotiate federal permission for the Mormons to use Indian land along the Missouri River for their winter encampment of 1846-47.  It was here that Mormon leader Brigham Young was sustained as the second prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Kanesville Tabernacle, built by 200 Mormon pioneers in just two and a half weeks.  Two years later in 1848 Brigham Young succeeded in getting the first Post Office opened in Kanesville.

By 1852 many Mormon settlers had decided to move on west to Utah and the town was renamed Council Bluffs after a site approximately 20 miles to its north where members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition had sat in council with the Otoe Tribe on bluffs near the Missouri River.  One year later Cornelius Voorhis was elected as the first Mayor of Council Bluffs.
History 2
In 1853, Grenville M. Dodge took charge of a crew surveying central Iowa to find a terminus for the Rock Island Railroad on the Missouri River.  Dodge chose Council Bluffs, and later he settled his growing young family there in 1855. Dodge and his brother created a banking house which merged into the Pacific National Bank and ultimately became the longest continuously chartered bank in Iowa's history.  In 1858 Dodge made the acquaintance of an Illinois railroad lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, who had been hired by railroad financier Thomas Durant to do work in Iowa where Dodge was engaged in surveying. Upon meeting, Lincoln and Dodge, shared their mutual interest in establishing a transcontinental rail route through the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean.  They met again in 1859 when Lincoln visited Council Bluffs to deliver a campaign speech.

By January of 1861, Lincoln had assumed Presidential office but Congressional support for him was sharply divided between our northern states ("Free") and southern states ("Slave").  Two early legislative attempts to establish a transcontinental railroad in the middle of the country failed due to opposition from those southern states who instead had proposed an alternative southern route.  After the southern states seceded from the Union, both houses of Congress quickly approved the "Pacific Railroad Act of 1862" that Lincoln signed into law on July 1 of that year.

The "Pacific Railroad Act of 1862" set forth a plan to build a 1,907-mile contiguous railroad line that ultimately was constructed between 1863 and 1869 across the western United States in an effort to connect the San Francisco Bay area with Omaha, Nebraska.  Capital investment of over $100,000 in 1860 dollars, or about $2.638 billion today was needed to accomplish this task.  The Central Pacific Railroad would start immediately in San Francisco building their rail line from the west toward the east until ultimately connecting with the Union Pacific Railroad which was working from Omaha Westward.

The Union Pacific Railroad did not start its construction until July 1865 due to difficulties in obtaining necessary financial backing and the unavailability of workers and materials due to the ongoing civil War.  One of the few early Union Pacific subscribers was Mormon leader and former Kanesville resident, Brigham Young, who also supplied crews for building much of the railroad through Utah.

After his retirement from the Army, Grenville Dodge was hired by Thomas Durant to be the Union Pacific's chief construction engineer.  Dodge provided proven leadership strength to the project because of his military background; having achieved the rank of general in the Union Army during the Civil War. After construction completion, the new Union Pacific line began heading west from Omaha, Nebraska but didn't directly connect to the previously existing rail network in the Eastern United States which ended at Council Bluffs.  Initial plans called for train passengers to disembark and make their connections between the two rail lines by ferry boat.  For a while the Union Pacific attempted to run its freight trains across the frozen river during the winter.  The first railroad bridge connecting the Transcontinental Railroad to the eastern United States opened on March 25, 1873.  That bridge has since been rebuilt twice, with the current bridge opening in 1916.
History 3
Council Bluffs opened the Squirrel Cage jail in 1867 and completed the construction of a two story Courthouse the following year.  Chosen as the site of the state's deaf school because it was a readily accessible location by rail, Iowa School for the Deaf opened its doors in council bluffs in 1870. The City's first fire department formed January 5, 1883 and that same year Joseph Lemen founded The Christian Home (KNA Children's Square USA.)  In 1886 Council Bluffs became the second city in the United States to have electric trolleys and the Sisters of Mercy founded St. Bernard's Hospital in 1887.

Other famous 19th Century Council Bluffs citizens include American women's rights and temperance advocate Amelia Jenks Bloomer and Lee de Forest with his famous quote, "I discovered an Invisible Empire of the Air, intangible, yet solid as granite" has been named as the Father of Radio.
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