VAN BUREN, a county in the S. E. part of Iowa, bordering on Missouri, has an area of 408 square miles. The Des Moines river flows diagonally through the county in a south-east direction, dividing it into nearly equal parts. It is also drained by Fox river, and by Indian, Chequest, and Lick creeks. The surface is diversified by prairies and forests. The soil is exceedingly rich and well watered. Indian corn, oats, wool, and butter are the staples. In 1850, Van Buren county produced a greater quantity of oats and wool than any other of the state. There were 595,082 bushels of corn; 166,608 of oats; 40,858 pounds of wool; 173,097 of butter, and 4168 tons of hay. It contained 7 churches, 1 newspaper office, and 2000 pupils attending public schools. Valuable mines of stone coal have been opened in the county. The streams afford water-power. Public works are in progress for improving the navigation of the Des Moines. The county is traversed by a plank-road leading to Keokuk. In respect to population; Van Buren is the third county in the state. Capital, Keosauque. Population, 12,270. (Baldwin's New and Complete Gazetteer of the United States..., 1854)
VAN BUREN COUNTY Is situated in the southeastern part of the State, bordering upon the State of Missouri. The county was organized December 7th, 1836, under the Territory of Wisconsin. Its boundaries are, Jefferson County on the north, the Counties of Henry and Lee on the east, the State of Missouri on the south, and Davis County on the west. It is divided into fourteen civil townships, viz.: Bonaparte, Cedar, Chequest, DesMoines, Farmington, Fremont, Harrisburgh, Jackson, Lick Creek, Union, Vernon, Van Buren, Village and Washington, and contains 450 square miles.
The surface of the country is rolling, but cannot be called hilly in any part of the county, and there is very little swampy or overflowed land.
Streamss.—The DesMoines River enters the county at the northwest corner, and passes out at the southeast; from thence to its mouth, forming the boundary between Iowa and Missouri. The course of the river through the county is about forty-four miles, with an average width of about eight hundred feet, and a uniform depth. The current is rapid, and the bottom composed of rock throughout its whole course in this county. As the river winds through the low wooded hills and wide bottoms of the county, it forms a most beautiful appearance. The other streams of the county are, Indian, Bear, Chequest, Lick, Copperas, Honey and Reed's Creek, emptying into the DesMoines; Big and Little Fox Rivers, in the southern part, running into Missouri, and emptying into the Mississippi; and on the northern border of the county, Cedar Creek, emptying into Skunk River. All these streams and their branches are bordered with timber, thus affording an abundance for the use of the county, which is about equally divided into timber and prairie. This timber is composed of oak, black and white walnut, hard and soft maple, hickory, linn, ash, elm, etc., with some cottonwood on the margin of the streams, and is of medium quality.
Stone.—There is an abundance of stone on all the streams, except Fox River, mostly limestone, affording plenty of stone for building purposes. There is some sandstone in the county, but it has not been much used as yet for building. There is an extensive quarry of very fine stone on Chequest Creek in Van Buren Township, which takes a high polish and works easily, being much used in the county for monuments, tomb-stones and work of like character, in place of marble. The Iowa black marble, contributed to the Washington Monument, was obtained at this quarry.
Coal.—There is an abundance of bituminous coal throughout the county, some of the veins being extensively worked for exportation.
The soil in this county is composed for the most part of vegetable loam, mixed with clay, and resting upon a clay sub-soil. It is deep and friable, and produces abundantly and in perfection, all the grains, grasses, fruits, etc., which will grow in this latitude. All kinds of farm stock are remarkably healthy and thrive well, and this branch of farming industry is very profitable in the county. The climate, soil and dry rolling surface of the country are peculiarly adapted to sheep, and farmers are turning their attention to this very profitable branch of farming; while some of the finest cattle in the State are the production of this county.
As to manufacturing facilities, the DesMoines River being quite shallow, with an even rock bottom, uniformly rapid current and good banks, affords a vast amount of water-power, when properly improved, which it has been to some extent. There is a dam across the river at Bonaparte, where the Messrs. Meek have an extensive woolen factory, flouring mill and other machinery. At Bentonsport is another dam, built by Messrs. Brown & Allender, where there are in operation three woolen factories, two flouring mills, a paper mill, oil mill and other machinery. At Keosauqua, is also a dam, at which is a large flouring mill. At all these dams, a large portion of the water-power is yet unoccupied, and there are five or six other equally eligible points for dams on the river in this county, affording an equal amount of water-power. The coal and timber of the county will afford an inexhaustible supply of fuel for steam machinery, and there are a large number of steam flouring and saw mills throughout the county.
The DesMoines Valley Railroad, connecting the State capital with Keokuk on the Mississippi River, runs diagonally through the county, from the northwest to the southeast corner, located most of the way on the river bottom.
History.—The first court organized in the county was held at Farmington, on the 10th day of April, 1837. Hon. David Irvin, Judge of the Second Judicial District of the Territory of Wisconsin, presiding, W. W. Chapman, U.S. District Attorney and H. G. Stuart, Clerk. James M. Woods was the only practising attorney of record at this court. A Grand Jury was empannelled, composed of the following persons, to-wit: Isham Keith, Alexander Keith, Samuel Clayton, Elijah Pusdom, sen., John Whittaker, James Hill, Charles H. Price, James Smart, Abington Johnson, Jonas F. Denny, William Jordan, Obadiah Cooke, William Judd, Thomas Summerlin, John Moffett, A. W. Syhawk, J. G. McCutcheon, William Brattain, sen., Abel Galland, Jacob Crow, Lewis Crow, Joseph A. Swazey and John Patchett. Isham Keith was appointed foreman. No petit jury was empanelled at this court; indeed at that time there were not more than enough inhabitants in the county, whese boundaries extended westward to the Missouri River, to form Grand and Petit juries. Court continued in session but two days, and no cause was tried. Several persons were indicted by the grand jury, among whom was N. Doose, for exercising the office of constable in the county, by authority of the State of Missouri.
The next court held in the county was begun and held on the 16th day of April, 1838, at the same place, the same judge presiding, and the same officers present. At this term, Charles Mason, afterwards Judge of the District of the Territory of Iowa, was appointed Prosecuting Attorney pro tem. for the county. The first petit jury empannelled in the county was empannelled this term, for the trial of William Jordan, indicted for housebreaking, and was composed of the following persons: Thomas L. Pickett, William Mynear, Thomas Keith, B. F. Anderson, James Sanders, Leonard Whitcombe, William Williams, John Newport, Henry IIampton, Charles Graves, H. D. Swazey and Robert Ewing. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, whereupon the court rendered judgment for a fine of fifteen dollars. The Indians were more numerous in the county at this time than the whites, but the latter soon took possession of and improved the beautiful and productive valley of the DesMoines, and the red man was obliged to retire westward. (Hair's Iowa State Gazetteer..., 1865)