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Extent-Surface Rivers—Lakes-Spirit Lake Lake Okoboji-Clear Lake-Timber-Cli


Extent.-Iowa is about three hundred miles in length, east and west, and a little over two hundred miles in breadth, north and south; having nearly the figure of a rectangular parallelogram. Its northern boundary is the parallel of 43 degrees 30 minutes, separating it from the State of Minnesota. Its southern limit is nearly on the line of 40 degrees 31 minutes from the point where this parallel crosses the Des Moines river, westward. From this point to the southeast corner of the State, a distance of about thirty miles, the Des Moines river forms the boundary line between Iowa and Missouri. The two great rivers of the North American Continent form the east and west boundaries, except that portion of the western boundary adjoining the Territory of Dakota. The Big Sioux river from its mouth, two miles above Sioux City, forms the western boundary up to the point where it intersects the parallel of 43 degrees 30 minutes. These limits embrace an area of 55,045 square miles; or, 35,228,800 acres. When it is understood that all this vast extent of surface, except that which is occupied by the rivers, and the lakes and peat beds of the northern counties, is susceptible of the highest cultivation, some idea may be formed of the immense agricultural resources of the State. Iowa is nearly as large as England, and twice as large as Scotland; but when we consider the relative area of surface which may be made to yield to the wants of man, those countries of the Old World will bear no comparison with Iowa.

Surface. The surface of the State is remarkably uniform, rising to nearly the same general altitude. There are no mountains, and yet but little of the surface is level or flat. The whole State presents a succession of gentle elerations and depressions, with some bold and picturesque bluffs along the principal streams. The western portion of the State is generally more elevaied than the eastern, the northwestern part being the highest. Nature could not have provided a more perfect system of drainage, and at the same time leave the country so completely adapted to all the purposes of agricul- . ture. Looking at the map of Iowa, we see two systems of streams or rivers running nearly at right angles with each other. The streams which discharge their waters into the Mississippi flow from the northwest to the southeast, while those of the other system flow towards the southwest, and empty into the Missouri. The former drain about three-fourths of the State, and the latter the remaining one-fourth. The water-shed dividing the two systems of streams, represents the highest portions of the State, and gradually descends as you follow its course from northwest to southeast. Lowwater mark in the Missouri river at Council Bluffs is about 425 feet above low-water mark in the Mississippi at Davenport. At the crossing of the summit, or water-shed, 245 miles west of Davenport, the elevation is about 960 feet above the Mississippi. The Des Moines river, at the city of Des Moines, has an elevation of 227 feet above the Mississippi at Davenport, and is 198 feet lower than the Missouri at Council Bluffs. The elevation of the eastern border of the State at McGregor is about 624 feet above the level of the sea, while the highest elevation in the northwest portion of the State is 1,400 feet above the level of the sea. In addition to the grand water-shed mentioned above, as dividing the waters of the Mississippi and Missouri, there are between the principal streams, elevations commonly called “divides,” which are drained by numerous streams of a smaller size tributary to the rivers. The valleys along the streams have a deep, rich soil, but are scarcely more fertile than many portions of those undulating prairie “divides."

Rivers.-As stated above, the rivers of Iowa are divided into two systems, or classes--those flowing into the Mississippi, and those flowing into the Missouri. The Mississippi river, the largest on the continent, and one of the largest in the world, washes the entire eastern border of the State, and is most of the year navigable for a large class of steamers. The only serious obstruction to steamers of the largest size, are what are known as the Lower Rapids, just above the mouth of the Des Moines. The government of the United States has constructed a canal, or channel, around these rapids on the Iowa side of the river, a work which will prove of immense advantage to the commerce of Iowa for all time to come. The principal rivers which flow through the interior of the State, east of the water-shed, are the Des Moines, Skunk, Iowa, Wapsipinicon, Maquoketa, Turkey, and Upper Iowa. One of the largest rivers in the State is Red Cedar, which rises in Minnesota, and flowing in a southeasterly direction, joins its waters with Iowa river in Louisa county, only about thirty miles from its mouth, that portion below the junction retaining the name of Iowa river, although above the junction it is really the smaller stream.

The Des Moines is the largest interior river of the State, and rises in a group or chain of lakes in Minnesota, not far from the Iowa border. really has its source in two principal branches, called East and West Des Moines, which, after flowing about seventy miles through the northern portion of the State, converge to their junction in the southern part of Humboldt county.

The Des Moines receives a number of large tributaries, among which are Raccoon and Three Rivers (North, South and Middle) on the west, and Boone river on the east. Raccoon (or 'Coon) rises in the vi. cinity of Storm Lake in Buena Vista county, and after receiving several tributaries, discharges its waters into the Des Moines river, within the limits of the city of Des Moines. This stream affords many excellent mill privileges, some of which have been improved. The Des Moines flows from northwest to southeast, not less than three hundred miles through Iowa, and drains over ten thousand square miles of territory. At an early day, steamboats, at certain seasons of the year, navigated this river as far up as the “Raccoon Forks,” and a large grant of land was made by Congress to the State for the purpose of improving its navigation. The land was subsequently diverted to the construction of the Des Moines Valley Railroad.


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Before this diversion several dams were erected on the lower portion of the river, which afford a vast amount of hydraulic power to that portion of the State.

The next river above the Des Moines is Skunk, which has its source in Hamilton county, north of the center of the State. It traverses a southeast course, having two principal branches—their aggregate length being about four hundred and fifty miles. They drain about eight thousand square miles of territory, and afford many excellent mill sites.

The next is Iowa river, which rises in several branches among the lakes in Hancock and Winnebago counties, in the northern part of the State. Its great eastern branch is Red Cedar, having its source among the lakes in Minnesota. The two streams, as before.stated, unite and flow into the Mississippi in Louisa county. In size, Red Cedar is the second interior river of the State, and both are valuable as affording immense water power. Shell Rock river is a tributary of Red Cedar, and is important to Northern Iowa, on account of its fine water power. The aggregate length of Iowa and Red Cedar rivers is about five hundred miles, and they drain about twelve thousand square miles of territory.

The Wapsipinicon river rises in Minnesota, and flows in a southeasterly direction over two hundred miles through Iowa, draining, with its branches, a belt of territory only about twelve miles wide. This stream is usually called “ Wapsie” by the settlers, and is valuable as furnishing good water power for machinery.

Maquoketa river, the next considerable tributary of the Mississippi, is about one hundred and sixty miles long, and drains about three thousand square miles of territory.

Turkey river is about one hundred and thirty miles long, and drains some two thousand square miles. It rises in Howard county, runs southeast, and empties into the Mississippi near the south line of Clayton county.

Upper Iowa river also rises in IIoward county, flows nearly east, and empties into the Mississippi near the northeast corner of the State, passing through a narrow, but picturesqne and beautiful valley. This portion of the State is somewhat broken, and the streams have cut their channels deeply into the rocks, so that in many places they are bordered by bluffs from three to four hundred feet high. They flow rapidly, and furirish ample water power for machinery at numerous points.

Having mentioned the rivers which drain the eastern three-fourths of the State, we will now cross the great “water-shed” to the Missouri and its tributaries.

The Missouri river, forming a little over two-thirds of the length of the Western boundary line, is navigable for large sized steamboats for a distance of nineteen hundred and fifty miles above the point (Sioux City) where it first touches our western border. It is, therefore, a highway of no little importance to the commerce of Western Iowa. During the season of navigation some years, over fifty steamers ascend the river above Sioux City, most of which are laden with stores for the mining region above Fort Benton. We will now refer to the larger tributaries of the Missouri, which drain the western portion of Iowa.

The Big Sioux river forms about seventy miles of the western boundary of the State, its general course being nearly from north to south. It has several small tributaries draining the counties of Plymouth, Sioux, Lyon, Osceola, and O'Brien, in northwestern Iowa. One of the inost important of these is Rock river, a beautiful little stream running through the counties of Lyon and Sioux. It is supported by springs, and affords a volume of water sufficient for propelling machinery. Big Sioux river was once regarded as a navigable stream, and steamboats of a small size have on several occasions ascended it for some distance. It is not, however, now considered a safe stream for navigation. It empties into the Missouri about two miles above Sioux City, and some four miles below the northwest corner of Woodbury county. It drains about one thousand square miles of Iowa territory.

Just below Sioux City, Floyd river empties into the Missouri. It is a small stream, but flows through a rich and beautiful valley. Its length is about one hundred miles, and it drains some fifteen hundred square miles of territory. Two or three mills have been erected on this stream, and there are other mill sites which will doubtless be improved in due time.

Little Sioux river is one of the most important streams of northwestern Iowa. It rises in the vicinity of Spirit and Okoboji lakes, near the Minnesota line, and meanders through various counties a" distance of nearly three hundred miles to its confluence with the Missouri near the northwest corner of Harrison county. With its tributaries it drains not less than five thousand square miles. Several small mills have been erected on this stream, and others doubtless will be when needed.

Boyer river is the next stream of considerable size below the Little Sioux. It rises in Sac county and flows southwest to the Missouri in Pottawattamie county. Its entire length is about one hundred and fifty miles, and drains not less than two thousand square miles of territory. It is a small stream, meandering through a rich and lovely valley: The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad passes down this valley some sixty miles.

Going down the Missouri, and passing several small streams, which have not been dignified with the name of rivers, we come to the Nishnabotna, which empties into the Missouri some twenty miles below the southwest corner of the State. It has three principal branches, with an aggregate length of three hundred and fifty miles. These streams drain about five thousand square miles of southwestern Iowa. They flow through valleys of unsurpassed beauty and fertility, and furnish good water power at various points, though in this respect they are not equal to the streams in the northeastern portion of the State.

The southern portion of the State is drained by several streams that flow into the Missouri river, in the State of Missouri. The most important of these are Chariton, Grand, Platte, One Hundred and Two, and the three Nodaways—East, West and Middle. All of these afford water power for machinery, and present splendid valleys of rich farming lands.

We have above only mentioned the streams that have been designated as rivers, but there are many other streams of great importance and value to different portions of the State, draining the country, furnishing mill-sites, and adding to the variety and beauty of the scenery. So admirable is the natural drainage of almost the entire State, that the farmer who has not a stream of living water on his premises is an exception to the general rule.


In some of the northern counties of Iowa there are many small, but beau. tiful lakes, some of which we shall notice. They are a part of the system of

lakes extending far northward into Minnesota, and some of them present many interesting features which the limits of this work will not permit us to give in detail. The following are among the most noted of the lakes of northern Iowa: Clear Lake, in Cerro Gordo county; Rice Lake, Silver Lake and Bright's Lake, in Worth county; Crystal Lake, Eagle Lake, Lake Edward and Twin Lakes, in Hancock county; Owl Lake, in Humboldt county; Lake Gertrude, Elm Lake and Wall Lake, in Wright county; Lake Caro, in Hamilton connty; Twin Lakes, in Calhoun county; Wall Lake, in Sac county; Swan Lake, in Emmet county; Storm Lake, in Buena Vista county; and Okoboji and Spirit Lakes, in Dickinson county. Nearly all of these are deep and clear, abounding in many excellent varieties of fish, which are canght abundantly by the settlers at all proper seasons of the year. The name · Wall Lake,' applied to several of these bodies of water, is derived from the fact that a line or ridge of boulders, extends around them, giving them somewhat the appearance of having been walled. Most of them exhibit the 5310e appearance in this respect to a greater or less extent. Lake Okoboji, Spirit Lake, Storm Lake and Clear Lake are the largest of the Northern lowa lakes. All of them, except Storm Lake, have fine bodies of timber on their borders. Lake Okoboji is about tifteen miles long, and from a quarter of a mile to two miles wide. Spirit Lake, just north of it, embraces about ten square miles, the northern border extending to the Minnesota line. Storm Lake is in size about three miles east and west by two north and south. Clear Lake is about seven miles long by two miles wide. The dry rolling land usually extends up to the borders of the lakes, making them delightful resorts for excursion or fishing parties, and they are now attracting attention is places of resort, on account of the beauty of their natural scenery, as well as the inducements which they afford to hunting and fishing parties.

As descriptive of some of the lakes of Northern Iowa, the author would here introduce some former correspondence of his own on the occasion of a visit to Spirit and Okoboji Lakes, in Dickinson county. At that time he wrote in regard to Spirit Lake:

With a party of delighted friends—seven of us in all—we made the cirele of Spirit Lake, or Minne-Waukon as the Indians called it. Starting from the village of Spirit Lake early in the morning, we crossed the upper portion of East Okoboji on a substantial wooden bridge about three hundred feet in length, a half mile east of the village. Going around a farm or two, the proceeded up along the east shore of Spirit Lake to what is known as "Siony Point.” Here a point of land has been gradnally forming, for, we do not know how many years, or even centuries, but large trees have grown from the rocks, gravel and sand thrown together by various forces far back in the past. From the inner edge of the growth of timber, a ridge of rocks extends some forty rods into the lake, gradually lessening until, at the further extremity, it only affords a dry foot-way by stepping from rock to rock. This point is said to be constantly extending and it is not improbable that in tine, two lakes may be formed instead of one. “Stony Point” is almost #bolly composed of boulders of various sizes and shapes, brought together by the action of water, on either side. It is the resort of innumerable birds and water fowl of varions kinds, including pelicans, black loons and gulls. When we approached they were holding high carnival over the remains of such unfortunate tislı as happened to be thrown upon the rocks by the dashing of the

Our presence, however, soon cleared the coast of its promiscuous

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