Imagine a scene from the dawn of time: A warrior on a canoe, spear held loosely, glides up a river toward an unsuspecting mastodon. The spear flies, and the mastodon falls. Centuries later, its massive skeleton is in the State Historical Museum in Des Moines.
Professor Leland L. Sage takes us back to early days of what became Iowa. His book, A History of Iowa, begins with the impact of the glaciers through the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Sage excels at describing the growth of Iowa’s government and explaining political movements in Iowa, from territorial days through the farm mortgage-default crisis in the 1920s and 1930s. He also discusses agriculture.
Sage claims that when he wrote this book, “No scholarly general history of the state existed.”
He writes with authority and insight. The text is lucid, and he wastes no words. Sage writes with endearing skepticism. Two examples will suffice.
- According to Sage, it “requires an exercise of great faith” to accept that the name “Iowa” came from the favorite residence of the Ioway Indians. He then offers good reasoning for this skepticism.
- After discussing Lincoln’s death, Sage writes, “The Lincoln no one knew would soon take form.”
A small bone to pick
I found a small weakness in Sage’s book, namely, his brief mention of the arrest of Democratic editor Dennis A. Mahony in fall 1862. Sage writes:
“By remarkable coincidence, U.S. Marshal Hubert Hoxie of Des Moines appeared in Dubuque only six days before the Democratic District Convention, arrested Mahony, and hustled him off to Washington, without benefit of a trial but accused of interfering with the war effort” (pg. 163)
It’s possible that Sage was being ironic, referring to the “remarkable coincidence” of Mahony’s arrest. However, the author doesn’t examine why Mahony was arrested. Furthermore, Sage doesn’t discuss the propriety and the implications of violations of civil liberties in Iowa during wartime. Perhaps the author lacked information. After all, his book came out six years earlier than Hubert H. Wubben’s Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement.
In contrast to Sage’s treatment of Mahony’s arrest, he gives an ample discussion of violations of civil liberties of German-Americans in Iowa during World War I.
I recommend this book and its meaty end-notes.
# # #
Thanks for reading my blog. Please leave any questions and comments below.