Can’t Get Enough of Kossuth

On November 30, 2014 · 0 Comments

The formation and expansion of Kossuth County in the 1850’s discussed in The Odd Case of Iowa’s Largest County pointed to a simple question. Who was Kossuth? That string led me to Lajos Kossuth. I was wholly unfamiliar with the name and I wondered why a county deep within the American heartland would honor a former Governor-President of Hungary. This area wasn’t settled by Hungarians.


Kossuth Lajos Prinzhofer
Lajos Kossuth via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

Iowa wasn’t the only Kossuth reference in the United States either. A quick check of the Geographic Names Information System uncovered additional populated places named for him in Indiana, Mississippi, Maine, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, plus a Kossuthville in Florida. The geographic placement implied a couple of different thoughts since the Kossuth tribute phenomenon seemed to be confined primarily the eastern half of the U.S. First, the designations began in close proximity to Kossuth’s zenith at the midpoint of the 19th Century (before the western states became highly organized and started naming everything) and second, his place in the American memory must have been brief (because he was overlooked when the western states started naming things in earnest).



Budapest Street Directory #14: Lajos Kossuth/Kossuth Lajos utca
Budapest Street Directory #14: Lajos Kossuth/Kossuth Lajos utca by Istvan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lajos Kossuth de Udvard et Kossuthfalva was and continues to be a revered figure in Hungary. He sought an independent Hungary and for a brief period he actually achieved it. Hungary was under the control of Austria’s Habsburg Empire. Civil dissatisfaction and unrest had been ongoing for a number of years and finally sparked a revolution in 1848. Hungary declared its independence in 1849 with Kossuth serving as the Governor-President. It wouldn’t last long. The Austrian army teamed with Russia and invaded later that year. Kossuth was forced into exile where he continued to advocate tirelessly for Hungarian independence until he passed away in 1894.

There are tributes to Lajos Kossuth all over Hungary today, including his likeness within in the statue complex at Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), a major plaza in Budapest. Street View gives Hősök tere decent coverage if you want a more expansive understanding of its geographic context. Certainly, one would expect numerous memorials and commemorations in Hungary. That didn’t explain his prevalence in the United States.



P20021116_105453_0028
Statue of Lojas Kossuth by warsze, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There were distinct elements of Kossuth’s struggle that resonated with audiences far beyond Hungary, including those throughout Europe hoping to establish democracies as well as within the U.S. where a representative government had already been achieved. Kossuth drew inspiration from the American Revolution and in turn many citizens of the United States viewed Kossuth as carrying that same banner, an instrument for spreading American ideals to other parts of the world. It helped that Kossuth proved very adept at publicizing his cause through his skills as a prolific orator, writer and media sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Statues of Kossuth were raised in the United States too, such as the one in New York City, above (map).



Portrait with Kossuth
Portrait with Kossuth by Roman Boed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Lajos Kossuth traveled widely after his exile to promote Hungarian independence, including a wildly-successful tour through the United States. As described by The Hill after the dedication of a bust of Kossuth placed in the U.S. Capitol building in 1990,

This Hungarian statesman’s presence in the U.S. Capitol might seem arbitrary, but in fact Kossuth’s life was intertwined with the life — and values — of American democracy… The U.S. assisted him in traveling to America, where he ultimately spent one year. Kossuth became one of the first foreign statesmen to address a joint session of Congress, speaking to the body in 1852 about democracy… Moreover, throughout his year in the U.S., Kossuth made more than 300 speeches to thousands of American citizens. It is estimated that more than half of the nation’s population at the time heard him speak

Sorry about the random person appearing in the photo, however, there weren’t any other decent photos available and one has to use what one can find. This much later tribute to Kossuth served a means to regenerate awareness of his deeds that have largely faded from collective consciousness in the United States. It was commissioned by The American Hungarian Federation and sponsored for placement by Rep. Tom Lantos, a native of Hungary and the only member of the U.S. Congress who was also a Holocaust Survivor.

Kossuth may have been largely forgotten in the United States, however his name would have been well-known in the 1850’s. Creating and naming Kossuth County in Iowa in 1851 would have been viewed as a popular and logical choice associated with notions of freedom and independence.

The Odd Case of Iowa’s Largest County

On November 26, 2014 · 1 Comments

I had a fascinating Twitter conversation with Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest recently. He has a much more interesting Twitter feed @CTMQ than my mundane @TheReal12MC. Seriously, I don’t have much to say on Twitter other than using it to announce each new article and maybe posting a few beer pictures occasionally. A few people seem to follow it and sometimes I get article ideas so its useful to keep it going. You should subscribe and maybe I’ll start being more diligent. Anyway Steve wanted to know about the oddly over-sized Kossuth County on the northern edge of the state. It appeared as if it got a double scoop of territory when the authorities doled-out portions.

That’s exactly what happened although the story was a little more complicated.

Few people lived in Iowa in the earliest part of the 19th Century although settlers began to arrive in greater numbers as the decades passed. Iowa gained sufficient critical mass to become a state in 1846. It didn’t have a lot of counties yet and that was starting to create a problem. The county structure looked like this when Iowa joined the Union:


Iowa Counties in 1846
Iowa Counties in 1846
Generated From Newberry Library Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

There were plenty of counties in the southeastern quadrant where pioneers had settled although the rest of Iowa remained largely unorganized at the local level. The Iowa Legislature addressed the governance gap by establishing forty eight new counties in 1851 all at once. The configuration then matched essentially the same structure that exists today. It wasn’t completely identical, however. A few tweaks happened over the next few years, including some involving Kossuth County and its neighbors.

I’ve color-coded Kossuth and its surrounding counties to help explain the situation that was described in detail in the History of Kossuth County, Iowa (1913). My summary derived largely from that source unless otherwise noted.


Kossuth County in Iowa
Kossuth and Surrounding Counties in Iowa

Kossuth County Judge Asa C. Call became a driving force during this formative period. Practically nobody lived in Kossuth when the Call brothers, Asa and Ambrose, arrived in 1854. Judge Call recalled,

I made my first settlement in the county in July 1854. At that time there was no settlement north of Fort Dodge which was forty miles from us and no one on the east nearer than Clear Lake. I brought my wife to the new settlement on the 4th of November.


Algona, Iowa, High School
Algona, Iowa, High School by photolibrarian, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The two brothers founded the town of Algona and it became the county seat. They named it for a Henry Schoolcraft (remember him?) corruption of an indigenous word meaning "Algonquin Waters," I suppose it was done in recognition of the Native American tribes that were forced from the area only a couple of years earlier. The local tribes were Sioux, not Algonquin, although that didn’t seem to matter. An Indian was an Indian to those early pioneers. It was better than the original proposal though, Call’s Grove.

In the beginning, with the creation of those new counties in 1851, Kossuth was the same size as its neighbors to the west and east, Palo Alto and Hancock. However, Judge Cass was an ambitious man, a beloved figure and well-connected politically. He noticed Bancroft County immediately to his north and figured it would make a mighty fine addition to Kossuth, seeing how practically nobody lived there so it couldn’t defend its own interests. He also pondered Humboldt County to his immediate south. It would be helpful for Algona to sit near the center of the county if it were to be an effective seat of government so Kossuth had to pick up some southern territory too.

Webster County, south of Humboldt, also wielded power. Fort Dodge was its county seat. Webster was well organized politically and structurally due to the earlier establishment of Fort Dodge as a military outpost. Kossuth managed to grab all of Bancroft in the 1855 Legislative session. However, it had to split Humboldt with Webster. Bancroft and Humboldt counties, caught in a squeeze, disappeared. This was called "The 1855 Freak Legislation." I’m not making this stuff up.

Right now the 12MC audience is saying, "but wait, I see Humboldt County on the map!" That’s right. Judge Call learned about schemers in Webster plotting to expand farther, and they hoped to grab a large chunk of Kossuth in a subsequent session that would leave it vulnerable to being obliterated entirely. He foiled the plot by colluding with former Humboldt officials. He managed to reestablish Humboldt so it could act as a buffer between Kossuth and Webster. It was better to give up some of the larger Kossuth than to jeopardize its future existence. However, Webster was able to hold onto the bottom tier of Humboldt’s former townships and that left the restored Humboldt appreciably smaller than the original.

That explained why Kossuth became the largest county in Iowa, Humboldt was so small, and the neat latitudinal lines across Iowa created in 1851 fell out of alignment in the the north-central part of the state.

Republic of Indian Stream

On November 19, 2014 · 3 Comments

The short-lived Republic of Indian Stream owed its existence to frustrations rooted in divergent interpretations of the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War between the United States and Great Britain. The treaty included a number of provisions including those designed to establish firm boundaries between Canada and the United States. Ironically, a document intended to create a bright demarcation actually created additional confusion.

The treaty devoted an entire section, Article 2, to preventing "all disputes which might arise in future" along the border. That purpose seemed both noble and fair. The problem centered on its reliance on geographic landmarks to create a line, specifically its use of watersheds. The confusing portion of the clause read:

…that angle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of St. Croix River to the highlands; along the said highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut River; thence down along the middle of that river to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude…

It sounded fine in theory. However the United States and the Great Britain couldn’t agree on the placement of the "northwesternmost head of Connecticut River."



Was the northwesternmost head at Halls Stream, Indian Stream, Perry Stream or the Connecticut River itself? The United States favored Halls Stream while Great Britain favored the Connecticut River. One would have thought those little details might have been discussed and resolved before ink dried on paper. They were not. Negotiators failed to clarify their intent and created a small disputed area between Halls Stream on the west and the Connecticut River on the east.

The former belligerents negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and the United States ratified it the following year. Yet dueling interpretation remained fully intact for nearly a half-century afterwards. Finally local residents reached their breaking point. They tired of double taxation, military recruitment and rule of law. People in this disputed territory declared themselves to live in an independent state, the Republic of Indian Stream, in 1832. The couple of hundred residents formed their own legislature, minted their own coinage, established their own law enforcement, and set about creating the infrastructure of a tiny nation. The United States and Great Britain were not impressed. They continued to squabble and bicker while ignoring the notion of a sovereign Indian Stream.


Pittsburg, NH
Pittsburg, NH by Axel Drainville, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Republic, if it truly ever existed, ended in 1836. A force from Indian Stream "invaded" Canada to free one of its local citizens who had been arrested for an outstanding debt and imprisoned there. This created an international incident. The Republic quickly authorize its annexation to the United States and the New Hampshire Militia occupied the territory to protect it. Great Britain decided the dispute wasn’t worth the trouble and acquiesced to an American interpretation using Halls Stream as the border.


River Road Covered Bridge
River Road Covered Bridge by James Walsh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

After finally resolving the boundary dispute, the former Republic of Indian Stream became New Hampshire’s Town of Pittsburg. It’s attractions included the beautiful Connecticut Lakes, a string of lakes along the Connecticut River named without regard to imagination, First Connecticut Lake, Second Connecticut Lake, Third Connecticut Lake and Fourth Connecticut Lake. It also included the Happy Corner Covered Bridge over Perry Stream. Other than an historical marker, there isn’t much evidence of the old Republic any longer.

Events in northern New Hampshire have been considerably more sedate ever since.

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12 Mile Circle:
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