Freeborn County has been under many governments

Published 9:07 am Friday, September 17, 2010

Ed Shannon, Between the Corn Rows

Local historical researcher Kevin Savick has a talent for finding and passing along some of the most amazing details of past life. What follows is a good example.

Kevin found a reprinted article by the late Dr. J.R. Nannestad in the May 30, 1954, issue of the Tribune which declared that what’s now Freeborn County has been a part of 17 different governments. But first, let’s stress three important facts.

Email newsletter signup

First, various parts of the nation have been a part of other governments. A prime example is Texas. The term “six flags” is based on this state being a part of Spain, France, Mexico, Texas Republic, Confederate States of America and the United States during its history. Other states in the nation were once under British rule.

Second, please don’t try to count the number of governments that once included the Freeborn County area. That 17 number is based on Nannestad’s article. And up to 1835 the white (or European) connection with this county was merely based on a then unknown blank space on the map. Also, my narrative may miss one or two of the historical aspects of land transfers between governments.

Third, when history is written about various parts of the nation, the original inhabitants seem to get overlooked. Those inhabitants are the Indians, or Native Americans, or red men and women. However, Nannestad emphasized in his article that the Sioux and other tribes wandered through the area to hunt and fish. Proof of their presence in the county is evident with the multitude of arrowheads found through the years. Nannestad also implied those Indians represented the area’s earliest version of government.

The first European connection with this part of North America came with the Spanish, followed by the British, and later the French. Then there was a rather tenuous Spanish connection again.

In 1800, the Spanish turned the 560 million plus acres of land in the Louisiana Territory between the Rocky Mountains and Mississippi River over to the French.

Just three years later, President Thomas Jefferson acquired what was then known as the Louisiana Purchase from the French. Thus, in 1803, the nation really expanded and this entire region finally became a part of the United States.

At this point a still blank space on the map became a part of several territories. Here’s how Nannestad indicated how this county’s area became a part of a rather wild lineup of governmental affiliations.

In 1804 the area became a part of Indiana Territory. This changed in 1812 with a change in jurisdiction to Missouri Territory. Six years later there was a change to the Territory of Michigan.

Thus, when Lt. Albert Miller Lea came through this prairie landscape with a unit of the U.S. Army Dragoons in 1835, the place was a part of Michigan Territory, according to Nannestad’s historical lineup.

Then, in 1836, the land and lakes of what’s now Freeborn County became a part of Wisconsin Territory.

Next in the lineup of jurisdictions was Iowa Territory in 1838. And it’s at this point that an interesting historical fact can be emphasized. Iowa became a territory and later a state before Minnesota even became a territory or state. The dates prove this point. Iowa became a territory in 1838 and was admitted to statehood in 1846. Minnesota became a territory in 1848 and a state in 1858.

Three of those four dates are part of Nannestad’s 1954 article. I also confirmed the statehood dates with my wife’s 50-state quarters collection and the newsroom’s encyclopedias.

We’re out of space, so this topic will be continued in the next column with information about how Freeborn County nearly became a part of Iowa, plus three years of no government at all and how the area became a part of three other counties.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.