A hundred years ago the area that now constitutes the state of Iowa was a prairie wilderness. Indeed, the name Iowa had not yet been applied to this territory or any part of it. Only the Indians and fur traders knew the country between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The inhabitants of the scattered settlements along the Mississippi may have been looking west, but their vision extended only a few miles. No accurate information about the geography of the interior was available. To be sure the eastern and western borders had been explored years before and the general course of the principal rivers was known; but the land had not been carefully mapped. Sometimes even Indian guides lost their way.
During the summer of 1835 Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Watts Kearney was ordered to conduct a military expedition through this region for the purpose of learning more about it….he was instructed to proceed up the Des Moines valley with three companies of dragoons from his newly established quarters called Fort Des Moines on the site of the present town of Montrose. The dragoons departed on June 7, 1835, and returned to Fort Des Moines on August 19th, after an arduous but successful tour of eleven hundred miles over the unexplored prairies of the interior.
Accompanying Kearny on this expedition was Albert Miller Lea, a young dragoon lieutenant. Lea kept complete notes on the journey, upon the basis of which he drafted a map of the country traversed by the expedition of 1835….
From: "Iowa in 1835," by William J. Petersen, The Palimpsest, March 1935, pp. 87-102.
Use by permission of the State Historical Society of Iowa.
Following his 1835 journey through Iowa, he also wrote a memoir of his journey and later published his Notes on the Wisconsin Territory; Particularly with Reference to the Iowa District, or the Black Hawk Purchase. These documents provide an abundance of information about Iowa in 1835 in the actual words of Albert M. Lea.