Adair County

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1865 History of Adair County

Adair County is situated in the south-western part of Iowa being the third county east of the Missouri River, and the third north of the State of Missouri. It is bounded on the north by Guthrie, on the east by Madison, on the south by Union and Adams, and on the west by Cass. The Grand Divide, or the high land dividing the waters of the Missouri from the waters of the Mississippi, passes through the eastern portion of the county. The land is undulating, and mostly rolling prairie. The proportion of prairie to timber is about as twenty-five to one.


The timber is well distributed throughout the county, covering most of the bottom lands. There are three large bodies, one on Middle River, in the northeast part of the county, one on Grand River, in the southeast, and one on the Nodaways, in the west and southwest. It is composed principally of black walnut, oak, linn, cottonwood and elm.


The soil is chiefly black loam, containing a sprinkling of sand, from two and a half to four feet in thickness, and vesting on a bed of clay. It produces in abundance corn, wheat and all kinds of vegetables that grow in this latitude. Plums, crab apples and grapes grow spontaneously, in great abundance, and of an excellent quality. Young orchards of the different fruits are looking finely, and this promises to be a good fruit-growing county.


No coal has as yet been discovered, but in several places coal slate is found on the surface near the streams. Limestone is found in abundance on the banks of Middle River. Good brick clay in small quantities is found in different localities.


Middle River, running in a southeasterly direction, enters the county near the centre of the northern boundary, and passes out near the centre of the eastern boundary. Grand River, rising in the northern part, runs in a southeasterly direction and passes out near the southeast corner of the county. The two branches of the Middle Nodaway River rise in the northwest part and running south, unite near the southwest corner of the county. These with many smaller streams and fine durable springs make this one of the best watered counties in the State.

There is some good water power on the streams, but at present there are only one water and two steam saw mills in the county.

As the farmers have to a considerable degree turned their attention to wool raising, and as the country is well adapted to this purpose, a woolen factory is much needed at present, and would in the future also be a very profitable investment.


The county is divided into eleven townships, viz: Grand River, Greenfield, Grove, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, Richland, Summerset, Walnut, Washington.


The Mississippi and Missouri River Railroad, and the Burlington and Missouri \ River Railroad upon their approach to the Missouri River, if they do not pass through this county will approach, the former very near to the north, and the latter very near to the south line, and in a few years it will have the advantages and benefits arising from a competition between the two roads.


The county was organized in April, 1855, by the election of Samuel Holiday, Judge, John Gibson, Clerk, and William Alcorn, Sheriff. The State Legislature having previously appointed commissioners to select and name the county seat, Summerset was chosen. The name was afterwards changed to Fontanelle.


The first settler was Thomas A. Johnson, who came in 1849. During the coming season John A. Gilman, James Campbell, William Alcorns, John Gibson, William McDonald and Alfred Jones, settled in different parts of the county, and commenced improvements. As they all located in the timber, and were in a manner isolated, the early settlements progressed slowly. The first white child, Margaret Johnson, was born in 1850, and the first death was that of a child of John Gibson, in the same year. During the years 1855 and 1856, the land was nearly all entered by capitalists, and has been held by them for speculation, thus retarding the improvement of the county, but heavy taxes have induced many of them to place their lands in market, and good locations can now be obtained at from three to five dollars per acre.

The county has an agricultural society which has been in operation for years.

[Iowa State Gazetteer, 1865; submitted by cddd]

1911 History of Adair County


Adair County was evidently a favorite hunting ground for the Indians at one time. The many Indian remains that have been found in the county would be sufficient testimony to establish the fact, but that testimony is strengthened by the stories that have come down from the first white settlers about the visits that the Indians were accustomed to make to this region after they had yielded up their claims to it and had gone farther north into Iowa. Sometimes they came with the evident intention of staying, and menaced the safety of the white settlers. This led to encounters between the Indians and whites, the most noted of which was the battle of "The Cabins/' or the "Big Neck War," which occurred in July, 1829, and which Avill be related at length in the next chapter. How long the Indians had lived here when the whites came is not known, but the probabilities are they had been here a very long time.

The remains that have been found were picked up on the ground along the Chariton River or dug out of mounds in the same region. The mounds are mostly on the east side of the river, and are estimated at about three hundred in number. They were always built on high ground, either on hills or ridges, and were circular in shape. They are from ten to thirty feet in diameter, and are at present from two to five feet high in the center. It appears from those in the best state of preservation that they were originally banked up rather high at the circumference with a slight slope upwards to the center.

That some of these mounds were used for burial purposes is well established by the fact that human remains have been found in them. Very few bones have been found, however, in a good state of preservation. As soon as they were uncovered they generally crumbled into dust. The teeth were usually in a better state of preservation than the bones.

In the center and at the bottom of one these mounds situated in section 13, township 61, range 16, about two miles east of Yarrow on Sugar Creek, there was found a rock grave. Slabs of rock had been laid on the ground and on them a body had been placed; then other slabs had been set up on edge along the sides and at the head and feet; and then across these upright slabs others had been placed, so that the body was fairly well enclosed. On top of the grave the dirt had been piled up several feet. Considerable skill had been used in constructing it. This grave was opened by Mr. T. J. Dockery, of Kirksville, several years ago.

In other mounds that have been opened bodies have been found which had been laid between layers of loose rock, while in others the bodies were apparently covered over with dirt and without any such protection. In one or two mounds were found a great lot of burnt rocks, and it has been supposed that the remains of the persons buried in these mounds were first cremated and their ashes covered over.

Besides these human remains there have been found all kinds of stone implements and weapons. Axes, large and small, arrowheads, spear points, knives, and the like have been found. Pieces of pottery and pipes have also been taken out. One of the most interesting things found is a smooth black stone, oval in shape, about a quarter of an inch thick, about five inches long and" an inch and a half wide. Along the edge notches are cut. It is conjectured that this was a kind of record. Probably some Indian passed a string through the two holes that had been bored through it near the end and hung it about his neck, and as he shot down game he would keep a record of it by notching this stone. The stone was found by Mr. T. J. Dockery in the mound which contained the rock grave mentioned above.

At various times expeditions have been formed among the citizens of Kirksville to excavate some of these mounds. The earliest one of which anything is known was made in July, 1877. The party consisted of Sam'l Reed, R. M.Ringo, John Harlan, B. F. Heiny, H. W. Snyder, Robert Clark, Henry Eckert, A. Wolf, Dan Draper, Wm. Her-ron, W. C. B. Gillespie, W. T. Baird, and W. P. Nason. This party excavated two mounds on the farm of A. K. Collett, six miles west of Kirksville, and found remains of two Indians far below the surface between the layers of loose stone. The bones that were found were brought to Kirksville and placed on exhibition at Hope's Drug Store. That these bones are not those of white persons is supported by the fact that the first white settlement in the county was made in the immediate vicinity of these mounds, and no tradition has come down of any whites being buried at these places.

Other expeditions have been made since then, especially in the early eighties. Prof. W. J. Smith of the Kirksville Business College, and T. J. Dockery made frequent trips, and Prof. C. E. Ross, formerly of the State Normal School at Kirksville, organized several expeditions.

Many relics have been found lying on the ground and some have been turned up in plowing.

Several collections of relics picked, up in the county were made by different persons. The most noted collections were those of B. W. Sands, T. J. Dockery. W. J. Smith, C. E. Ross, and Geo. W. Cain. The Sands collection is probably the largest that was ever made of relics found in this county. In June, 1886, Prof. Smith arranged an Indian Exhibition in his Business College, and brought together all the Indian relics he could get, and to add greater interest he had brought up from the Indian Territory a number of Cherokee Indians who appeared in their native costumes and gave certain exhibitions. The event proved to be one of extraordinary interest

PUBLISHED BY: The Denslow History Company 1911
transcribed and submitted by Pam Rathbone

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