Until the year 1837, the Indians held undisputed possession of the territory in Keokuk County. It was not until October 1837 that the red man first parted with his title to certain lands now comprised in the limits of Keokuk County, and the white man first obtained the right to gain a permanent foothold. By far, the larger part of the county, however, remained in the hands of the Indians. It was not until October 1842 that the original possessors of this soil parted with their right to occupy it and turned their unwilling steps to the far off and unknown regions west of the Missouri River. On May 1,1843, Keokuk County was entirely open to white settlement.
After the county was organized, Richland Township was the principal part of the county. The town of Richland was laid out in 1841, then known as “Frogtown”. Soon after, another town five miles northwest of Richland was laid out. The town had two names, Newton and Western City. It and Richland both desired to be recognized as the capital of the county when organized.
During the summer of 1844, S.A. James, who had recently been appointed County Clerk, came into the neighborhood looking for the county seat, which had just been located. He found a stout pole planted in the ground by the commissioners. The stake was in the center of what was to be the public square, which stood about 100 yards to the northwest of where Mr. James built his cabin, which later became the town of Sigourney.
The cabin, which Mr. James built in 1844, was a remarkable structure. It was 12 feet by 16 feet. Here, the government began with county offices and public records, the judge’s room and the jury room, the county’s cash and its criminals jailed. County officials also ate, lodged, and slept in this building.
Shortly after, a small number of families located in this same neighborhood of the present county seat. To the east, west, and north, the whole county for miles lay unclaimed for sometime.
One of the three commissioners appointed to select the county seat of Keokuk County was Dr. George H. Stone of Washington County. Dr. Stone had always been a great admirer of the writing of the poetess,Lydia Huntley Sigourney(featured photo). It was this lady in whose honor the capital of Keokuk County received its name. Lydia Huntley was born in Norwich, Connecticut, September 1, 1791. She married Charles Sigourney. In appreciation of having the county seat named in her honor, Lydia Sigourney provided for the planting of trees which adorned the courtyard for years and years. Mrs. Sigourney died June 1865.
In April 1844, it was ordered by the Board of Commissioners that “The eagle side of a ten-cent piece American coin be adopted as the temporary seal of the Board of said County until an official seal shall be provided by said Board.”
The county seat having been located and named, a plat was made of the town and the public square sectioned off. The Board ordered that a sale of lots in the town of Sigourney be held October 1, 1844. This resulted in the sale of a single lot, Lot 3 in Block 3, which sold for $12.00; $6.00 to be paid in three months and the remainder in six months. The purchaser was Joel Landreth.
It was now necessary to buy the land upon which the prospective town was located from the government. The commissioners accordingly authorized Mr. S.A. James to borrow the money for this purpose, which he procured from Godfrey Klett, and the land was entered in January 1845. In April of 1845, lots in Sigourney went again for sale. Those around the square began selling at $50.00, while other sold for $5.
In the spring and summer of 1845 there was quite an addition to the quiet and orderly population of Sigourney. Many dwellings were erected, mostly of hewn logs. Mr. G.B. Cook erected the first frame house in Sigourney and Reverand Mr. Hulbert erected the second.