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History of Adair
County, Iowa,
and its People.  1915.

Volume 1.

  
 

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CHAPTER III

THE COUNTY SEAT WAR

During the first three decades of Adair County's existence considerable strife occurred over the question of the location of the county seat.  Similar troubles have arisen in other counties of the state and in each there has been for years an element of hard feeling which refuses to be quenched.  Whether this feeling has been eradicated from Adair County or not, cannot be definitely stated.  Among the mass of the people the answer would be in the affirmative, but among certain individuals there would be a decided negative.  It is not the purpose of this chapter to take one side or the other, but to observe strict neutrality, to state the cold facts and permit the reader to form his own opinion.

When the county was organized in 1855 three commissioners were appointed by the General Assembly of the State of Iowa to locate the seat of county government.  The men upon this committee were George B. Hitchcock, Elias Stratford and John Buckingham.  In pursuance of their assigned duties they selected the southwest quarter of section 17, in township 75, range 32, as the point at which the future town was to be laid out and considered the county seat of Adair.  To this place they gave the name of Summerset, which was afterwards changed to the present title of Fontanelle.

The Town of Greenfield was laid out in 1856, located near the center of the county.  From this time Greenfield fought her hardest to get the county seat removed from Fontanelle to her site.  The first this was mentioned upon the records was upon March 1, 1858, when S. W. Armstrong, as attorney, appeared before the County Court and presented a petition bearing the signature of ninety-one of the legal voters of the county, asking the court to order that a vote be taken at the following April election on the question of the removal of the county seat to Greenfield.  Immediately J. H. Cooper presented a remonstrance to the above petition, signed by 137 of the legal voters of the county, asking that the question of relocation of county seat be not opened nor voted upon.  Thereupon Mr. Armstrong presented a paper signed by seventeen of the legal voters who had attached their names to both papers and asked that their said names be stricken off the remonstrance.  Issue now being joined, the court heard the counsel for both sides, and, being advised in the matter, decided, that inasmuch as there was no proof of notice, or that notice had been published twenty days prior to the presentation of the petition, that no vote should be taken upon this question at the April election.

With this decision the people of Greenfield were compelled to be content for a time.  Shortly the Civil war opened and the attention of the people was drawn to that conflict and the question of the county seat location was shelved.  However, in the fall of 1865 the matter was again brought into view and the board ordered the question to be submitted to a popular vote of the people. This election occurred on October 10th and resulted in a vote of 139 to 130 in favor of retaining the county seat at Fontanelle.

At the June term of the board of supervisors in the year 1869 T. M. Ewing, a member of that body, presented a petition praying that the county seat of Adair County should be removed from Fontanelle to Greenfield.  This action naturally created a great excitement and it is said that a heated argument occurred between Messrs. Shreves, Elliot and Vance, members of the board, with the result that the matter was referred to a committee of three who were appointed to investigate the affair.  This committee consisted of John Shreves, William Stevens and S. C. Vance and after deliberation they made the following report:

"We, the undersigned, a committee appointed to examine the petition, together with the remonstrance, for the removal of the county seat to Greenfield, after an examination, would report in favor of granting the prayer of the petitioners."

This petition which was granted by the board was as follows:

"We, the undersigned petitioners, resident citizens and legal voters of Adair County, State of Iowa, would respectfully represent, that the best interests and general welfare of a large majority of the present citizens of said county demand a relocation of the county seat of the said county.  That said county seat be removed from the Town of Fontanelle, Adair County, State of Iowa, where the same is now located, and that the same be relocated and established, permanently, at the Town of Greenfield, which is situated in the south half of section 7, in township 75 north, range 31 west of the fifth principal meridian, in Adair County, State of Iowa, as is shown by the original plat of said Town of Greenfield, now on record in the recorder's office of said county.  Your said petitioners, therefore, ask that your honorable board make an order that a vote be taken, at the next general election between the above-designated places, to wit:  Greenfield, and the present county seat, to wit:  Fontanelle; and that you cause the proper notice, therefore, to be given in pursuance and according to law; and that, if the said Town of Greenfield shall, at said election, receive a majority of all the votes cast, that you make a record thereof,  and declare the same to be the county seat of said Adair County, State of Iowa, and that you cause the records and other documents to be removed thereto, as early as practicable thereafter and for this we shall ever pray."

To this petition there were signed about 443 names.

The board ordered at this time that the question be submitted to a general vote of the people at the next election.  This election occurred on October 12, 1869: it resulted in a vote of 375 to 310 in favor of keeping the county seat at Fontanelle.

This defeat of the Greenfield clan was but a prophecy of the strife which was to come later.

At the June term of the board of supervisors, 1874, the following resolution was passed by that body:

"It appearing to the board that a proper notice of the presentation of a petition for the removal of the county seat from Fontanelle, where it now is, and to relocate the same at Greenfield, has been given, and a petition praying that said county seat be removed from Fontanelle and relocated in Greenfield having been presented, signed by more than one-half of the legal voters of the county, as shown by the last census,

"Therefore it is ordered, that, at the next general election, a vote be taken between Greenfield and the said existing county seat at Fontanelle."

In August of the same year a remonstrance was presented against the ordering of the vote, based upon the legality of the notice given of the presentation of petition.  This remonstrance was signed by about twenty of the citizens of Fontanelle.  The board considered the remonstrance and decided that the petition was legal, hence defeating the remonstrance.

Then there came a period of bitter strife which lasted until October 13, 1874, the date of the momentous election.  This election resulted 852 to 500 in favor of removing the county seat to Greenfield.  The board of supervisors immediately passed the following resolution:  "It is hereby ordered by the board of supervisors of Adair County, Iowa, that the public records and documents of the different public offices, including those of the county treasurer, county auditor, county clerk, county recorder, county sheriff, county surveyor, county superintendent and coroner, together with all official furniture, fixtures, and things of every description pertaining to, or belonging to said offices, be removed from Fontanelle to Greenfield, the county seat of Adair County, immediately after the decision of Judge Cole is received, refusing to grant an injunction restraining the removal of the said records, etc."

However, Judge Cole granted the injunction asked for, but an appeal was taken from his decision to the Supreme Court.  The appeal was argued before the court in December, 1874, and the decision rendered on March 18, 1875.  At the time the argument on the injunction was heard, it was the opinion of some that an action of injunction was not the proper proceeding to test the merits of the case, but that the proceeding should have been certiorari.  Accordingly a writ of that nature, accompanied by an injunction, was applied for before Judge Mitchell and granted by him.

As stated above a decision was rendered on the 18th of March by the Supreme Court, reversing the decision of Judge Cole.  The decision closed as follows:  "But what we decide is, that since the petition shows that an election ordered by the board of supervisors, made upon a petition and notice therefore and a vote thereupon adverse to plaintiff, they have no cause for equitable relief, justifying an injunction, and the order for the vote being conclusive until set aside by certiorari."

As an injunction of certiorari had already been started it would not be legal, of course, to remove the records, etc., as ordered by the board of supervisors, until the matter was entirely settled and out of the courts.  A special messenger was sent to Council Bluffs to obtain the decision and it was received in Greenfield March 20th.  The people understood that this authorized them to move the county seat and accordingly, on the morning of March 22d, about two hundred men in seventy-five wagons made the overland trip to Fontanelle with the intention of hauling the county records and furniture back to Greenfield.  When the organization reached the courthouse there the sheriff ordered them to cease their efforts to remove the material, but they paid no attention to him, and in a short time the records of the courtroom, the clerk's office and also the sheriff's, including the furniture, were loaded onto wagons.  The Greenfield delegation then went to the jail, where were the offices of the recorder, treasurer and auditor, and here repeated their loading up process.  The Fontanelle people were bitter at the invasion of the Greenfield men, but they were so completely taken by surprise that resistance was impossible.  They claimed that damage was done by the Greenfield people in their excitement to remove the offices.  The following paragraph is from a local paper at the time:  Where it was necessary to remove doors, in no case were the hinges unscrewed, but the door was forced off, tearing the door facings off also which is but an illustration of the needless destruction done to counters, platforms and other fixtures."  Whether much damage was done or not is a matter of two viewpoints.

There is no doubt that this action by the Greenfield people was a little hasty.  Proper confirmation had not yet been received.  A party of the citizens went to Judge Mitchell and told him to come to Greenfield to hold Circuit Court, but he informed them that the county seat was yet at Fontanelle and consequently proceeded to that place.  Arriving about three o'clock, he at once opened court and gave the sheriff an order, directing the Greenfield people to bring back the county records, etc.  Several persons accompanied the sheriff to Greenfield.  On presenting his order to the chairman of the board of supervisors the sheriff was told that he, the chairman, had not ordered their removal, hence could not direct them to be taken back.  During the discussion that arose some person of Greenfield snatched the order from Judge Mitchell and tore it up, denouncing him at the same time.

On Tuesday morning the sheriff and posse were instructed to go after the records and were given a warrant for that purpose.  On his arrival in Greenfield, however, he found he could do nothing so returned to the court and reported that he had been resisted by a mob.  A messenger was sent to Des Moines on Tuesday evening and returned the following day with General N. B. Baker, the state adjutant general, who came with the authority to put down any hostile demonstrations.  He went to Greenfield and explained the situation to the people and advised them to return the records, and finally, after much discussion, succeeded in getting their consent to do so, although they would not consent to return the records themselves.  The records were accordingly taken back to Fontanelle.

On June 24, 1875, the war came to an end, when a decision of the Supreme Court was had, announcing that the election had been sufficient and that Greenfield was the legal county seat.  On June 22d, 1875, the board of supervisors ordered that the records, furniture and all supplies pertaining to the county seat should be removed to Greenfield, the new seat of justice.  This terminated the county seat war.
 

 

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