Tuesday, May 22, 2018

JUST EAST OF WEST, Part Two #SweetheartsoftheWest

In part one, which is posted on the Western Fictioneers blog, I discussed Nauvoo, Illinois and Hannibal, Missouri. These towns, which are near the area I grew up, have wonderful history, that were part and parcel of my early childhood. For part two I would to share some of the history of Quincy, Illinois and Keokuk, Iowa.

In his book "Reminiscence of Quincy Illinois: Containing Historical Events and Antidotes, Matters Concerning Old Settlers and Old Times etc", 1881Henry Asbury mentions burial mounds where the town was built. "The question of who were the mound builders, what people buried their dead upon our Mount Pisgah — the high mount through which Maine Street was opened to the river — and other high points along the River Bluffs, I leave to others to explain". Whether these were part of the Cahokia settlements is probably lost to history. Cahokia Mounds

It appears one of the first settlers, Willard keys, past the site in May 1819. An act of Congress approved May 6, 1812, and other acts concerning the military bounty lands, indicated all the country lying between the Mississippi and Illinois River were set apart for satisfying the bounties for hundred and 60 acres promised to the non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the United States. That land included Quincy in Adams County and was surveyed between the years 1815 and 1816.Not all of this land was patented to the soldiers, some was afterwards sold by the government to purchasers.

19th Century View of Quincy Courthouse By John Sanftleben
The town of Quincy itself , sitting on the East side of the Mississippi River, started when John Wood purchased 160 acres from war veteran Mark McGowan for $60. Wood initially named the area Bluffs, Illinois. In 1825 it was renamed Quincy, becoming the county seat for the newly created Adams County. Both names in honor of the newly elected Pres. John Quincy Adams. In 1840 the town was incorporated.

When the Mormons were expelled from Missouri in 1838, a number of them sheltered in Quincy prior to moving upstream to Nauvoo Illinois. In that same year Quincy also sheltered the Pottawatomie tribe when they were being relocated from Indiana to Kansas.

In the 1850s and 60s, Quincy grew as a result of steamboat traffic and railroads that ran through the town, linking it to places both East and West. With the founding of the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad in 1855 in the construction of the Quincy rail bridge, the population grew to 24,000 by 1870 and at that time was the second-largest city in the state of Illinois. Because of its proximity to Missouri, a slave state, Quincy had its fair share of controversy on the subject of slavery. For more on the history Quincy Illinois

Keokuk, Iowa is about 36 miles north of Quincy on the West side of the Mississippi River, 15 miles south of Nauvoo, Illinois and 60 miles north of Hannibal, Missouri.

Keokuk in 1865
Keokuk has a National Cemetery that was created during the Civil War to inter veterans who died while being treated in the five military hospitals in the area. By the end of the war the cemetery numbered 600 Union soldiers and 8 Confederate prisoners of war. 

Prior to the building of the dam, on the Mississippi, which began in 1910 and was completed in 1913, the area around Keokuk had some pretty hazardous rapids that effectively cut off steamboat traffic to the northern portion of the river. Known as the Des Moines Rapids, they stretched between Keokuk and Nauvoo. For more on the story of the rapids, and short read can be found here .

Keokuk, located in Lee County Iowa, was the home of one of the early co-ed medical schools. The Keokuk College of Physicians and Surgeons, which opened its doors for classes in November of 1850. The town was also the home of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) older brother Orion. It was here young Samuel helped his brother in Orion's print shop.

Two places for additional information about Keokuk can be found here: History 1 and History 2 from 1820 to present.

My writing is informed by these towns and others in the tri-state area of my childhood. Many a story has its genesis in what I heard and learned growing up here. My first novel, "Josie's Dream" had Josephine 'Josie' as a graduate of the medical school in Keokuk, Iowa.


Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here


  1. Angela,

    This was interesting. I hope you write more articles about this area. So many people began their westward-pioneering journeys from Missouri and Illinois and Ohio. These states were the 'west' before the west opened up for settlement.

    1. That they were. I feel like I've just begun to scratch the surface. In many ways I was blessed to be exposed to so much while growing up. Some of it even made it into my one-woman show. Doris

  2. I am amazed at how early settlers began to move into the western territories of Iowa and Illinois. Where did the name Keokuk originate? Is it a Native American name?
    It must be wonderful to live so lose to this western history.
    All the best to you...

    1. Sarah, Keokuk is an Indian name. The town was named for chief Keokuk who was killed by another chief in the Black Hawk wars that occurred in the area around the Mississippi river in 1832.

      I thank my lucky stars I had people who shared their stories and that I enjoyed listening. Of course, once I heard something that interested me, I had to dig deeper. LOL.

      You are right, people forget how early some parts of the Tri-state area was settled. To me is is just fascinating. Doris

  3. Great article. I visit relatives in the are, but had no idea of the history. Thanks

    1. You are welcome. Hope it helps you visualize what it might have been like. Doris

  4. Thank you for this. I had no idea, being a California gal. I'm working my way accross the western states. Missouri, Illinois are on the list.

    1. Both are full of wonderful history, Anne. There are areas in both states that hearken back to early 'western' settlement and the jumping off points for those headed west later. Enjoy the journey. Doris

  5. I love reading these articles of life in the pioneer west. These stories are an important reminder to us what those settlers, especially the women, endured. Thus, in comparison we should better appreciate our modern conveniences and stop whining when one of appliances fails or we lose power for a few hours due to a storm.Do keep sharing your interesting research, Angela.

    1. Thanks for the kind words about my fascination with history. I so enjoy sharing the stories I grew up with, and the ones I continue to find today. It is so much fun to research and share. Glad you enjoy it. Doris


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