Cyrus Clay Carpenter

CYRUS CLAY CARPENTER, Governor of Iowa from 1872 to 1875, inclusive, was born in Susquehanna County, Pa., Nov. 24, 1829. He was left an orphan at an early age, his mother dying when he was at the age of ten years, and his father two years later. He was left in destitute circumstances, and went first to learn the trade of a clothier, which, however, he abandoned after a few months, and engaged with a farmer, giving a term in the winter, however, to attendance upon the district school. When eighteen he began teaching school, and the following four years divided his time between teaching and attending the academy at Hartford. At the conclusion of this period he went to Ohio, where he engaged as a teacher for a year and a half, spending the summer at farm work.

In the year 1854 Mr. Carpenter came further westward, visiting many points in Illinois and Iowa, arriving at Des Moines, then a village of some 1,200 inhabitants. This place, however, not offering a favorable location, he proceeded on his journey arriving in Fort Dodge June 28, 1854. Owing to his being without funds he was compelled to travel on foot, in which way the journey to Fort Dodge was made, with his entire worldly possessions in a carpet-sack which he carried in his hand. He soon found employment at Fort Dodge, as assistant to a Government surveyor. This work being completed, young Carpenter assisted his landlord in cutting hay, but soon secured another position as a surveyor's assistant. In the early part of the following January he engaged in teaching school at Fort Dodge, but in the spring was employed to take charge of a set of surveyors in surveying the counties of Emmet and Kossuth.

On his return to Fort Dodge he found the land office, which had been established at that place, was about to open for the sale of land. Being familiar with the country and the location of the best land, he opened a private land office, and found constant and profitable employment for the following three years, in platting and surveying lands for those seeking homes. During this period he became extensively known, and, being an active Republican, he was chosen as a standard bearer for his section of the State. He was elected to the Legislature in the autumn of 1857. In 1861, on the breaking out of the Rebellion, he volunteered and was assigned to duty as Commissary of Subsistence, much of the time being Chief Commissary of the left wing of the 16th Army Corps. In 1864 he was promoted Lieutenant Colonel and assigned to duty on the staff of Gen. Logan, as Chief Commissary of the 15th Army Corps. He continued in the service until the close of the war, and in August, 1865, was mustered out.

Upon the close of his service to his country he returned to his home at Fort Dodge, but, owing to so many changes which had taken place, and such an influx of enterprising men into the city, he found his once prosperous business in the hands of others. He turned his attention to the improvement of a piece of land, where he remained until his election, in the autumn of 1860, as Register of the State Land Office. He was re-elected in 1868, and refused the nomination in 1870. This position took him to Des Moines, but in 1870 he returned to Fort Dodge. During the summer of the following year he was nominated by the Republican party for Governor. He was elected, and inaugurated as Chief Executive of Iowa Jan. 11, 1872. In 1873 he was renominated by his party, and October 14 of that year was re-elected, his inauguration taking place Jan. 27, 1874. Gov. Carpenter was an able, popular and faithful Executive, and was regarded as one of the most honest, prominent and unselfish officials the State ever had. Plain, unassuming, modest, he won his public position more through the enthusiasm of his friends than by any personal effort or desire of his own. Everywhere, at all times and upon all occasions, he demonstrated that the confidence of his friends was justified. He took an active part in the great question of monopolies and transportation evils, which during his administration were so prominent, doing much to secure wise legislation in these respects.

Gov. Carpenter has been regarded as a public speaker of more than ordinary ability, and has upon many occasions been the orator, and always appreciated by the people.

At the expiration of his second term as Governor Mr. Carpenter was appointed Second Comptroller of the United States Treasury, which position he resigned after a service of fifteen months. This step was an evidence of his unselfishness, as it was taken because another Bureau officer was to be dismissed, as it was held that Iowa had more heads of Bureaus than she was entitled to, and his resigning an office of the higher grade saved the position to another. In 1881 he was elected to Congress, and served with ability, and in the Twentieth General Assembly of Iowa he represented Webster County.

Gov. Carpenter was married, in March, 1864, to Miss Susan Burkholder, of Fort Dodge. No children have been born to them, but they have reared a niece of Mrs. Carpenter's.

During his entire life Mr. Carpenter has been devoted to the principles of Reform and the best interests of all classes of citizens who, by adoption or by birth right, are entitled to a home upon our soil and the protection of our laws, under the great charter of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." In an address in 1852 he took advanced views upon the leading subjects of public interest. He had already laid the foundation for that love of freedom which afterwards found an ample field of labor with the Republican party. There was nothing chimerical in his views. He looked at every strata of human society, and, from the wants of the masses, wisely devined duty and prophesied destiny. He would have the people of a free Republic educated in the Spirit of the civilization of the age. Instead of cultivating a taste for a species of literature tending directly to degrade the mind and deprave the heart, thereby leading back to a state of superstition and consequent barbarism, he would cultivate principles of temperance, industry and economy in every youthful mind, as the indispensable ingredients of good citizens, or subjects upon whose banner will be inscribed Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Thus early in life Mr. Carpenter saw the destined tendency of our American institutions, and the advancing civilization of the age. He saw it in the peace congress, whose deliberations have made the Rhine thrice immortal. He saw it in the prospective railway, which he believed would one day unite the shores of the Atlantic with those of the Pacific—a fact realized by the construction of the great continental railway.

It was thus early that he began to study the wants of the world, and with what clearness and directness may be seen by the correctness of his vision and the accomplishment of what he considered an inevitable necessity.

Thus, growing up into manhood, and passing onward in the rugged pathway of time, disciplined in political economy and civil ethics in the stern school of experience, he was prepared to meet every emergency with a steady hand; to bring order out of discord, and insure harmony and prosperity.

Gov. Carpenter is now engaged in the quiet pursuits of farm life, residing at Fort Dodge, where he is highly esteemed as one of her purest minded and most upright citizens.

(Source: Portrait And Biographical Album of Lee County, Iowa, 1887)
Submitted By: Cathy Danielson