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The Iowa county that transformed American history

By Staff | Sep 22, 2017

No Iowa county has influenced American history more than Dallas County, yet much of this history has nearly vanished in today’s fast-paced world.

I first began encountering Dallas County’s remarkable history nearly 20 years ago when I moved to an acreage in Dallas County between Woodward and Granger, northwest of Des Moines. Since then, I’ve become passionate about preserving this history, especially as this region becomes more urbanized and the area’s ag heritage slowly fades away.

Dallas County was the place that propelled Harry Truman to an unlikely victory in the 1948 presidential campaign, following a fiery speech he delivered to 100,000 farmers on a sweltering September day at the National Plowing Match north of Dexter, not far from the old Dexfield Amusement Park. Just 15 years earlier, a shoot-out near this same area marked the beginning of the end for infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde and the notorious Barrow Gang. In fact, Dallas County was the end for Clyde Barrow’s older brother, Buck, who was mortally wounded in the shootout and died a few days later at King’s Daughters Hospital in Perry.

I included all these stories and more in my new illustrated, non-fiction book-the first in-depth Dallas County history book in nearly 80 years. (You can order the book on my website at www.darcymaulsby.com, or Amazon.com.)

Dallas County has produced several major-league baseball players, among them Bob Feller, a farm boy from Van Meter, and Hal Manders, Feller’s cousin who farmed in Dallas County following a stint in the big leagues. Don’t forget other star athletes like Nile Kinnick from Adel, the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner and University of Iowa football legend whose grandfather George Clarke, of Adel, served as Iowa’s governor from 1913 to 1917.

While much of Dallas County’s history isn’t quite as high profile as this, many fascinating stories reflect an often untold part of our history, namely ag history. Here’s just a sample:

– Adel has had a brick and tile factory for more than a century. The factory’s kilns produced thousands of tiles that helped drain excess water from farm fields.

– In the days before automobiles, it was difficult residents of rural Dallas County to travel to towns like Adel. The Panther Cooperative Association and Panther Store started in 1898 when local farmer bought shares in the business. While Panther is now a ghost town, a marker at the intersection of Highway 44 and county road P58 tells how Panther boasted a store, blacksmith shop, tin shop, post office and creamery.

– Dexter children brought corn to school in 1915 to send to Belgium during World War 1. Famine threatened 7 million people in beleaguered Belgium, which depended on imports for a majority of the nation’s food. Fellow Iowan and future U.S. President Herbert Hoover helped feed millions of people through the Commission for the Relief of Belgium, earning him praise as “The Great Humanitarian.”

– Dexter was also home to a vegetable canning plant a century ago. After a fire in 1918 destroyed Dexter’s first canning plant, which was built at a cost of $26,000, the Dexter-Farmer canning factory was built in 1919 for $60,000. During the 1919 canning season, a record of 92,000 cans of sweet corn were finished in one day’s work. In 1939, the factory was converted into a corn storage facility.

– Granger became the focal point of a successful New Deal program inspired by Monsignor Luigi Liguitti, who had served Assumption Church since 1926. Liguitti felt coal camps were an unsuitable environment for children. Liguitti looked to the land to address the miners’ economic and social challenges. The 225-acre Granger Homesteads, built in 1935, included 50 modern homes, along with approximately four acres for raising crops and livestock. In 1936, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Granger Homesteads and praised the success of the project, which cost approximately $200,000. Within 20 years, the homesteaders paid back most of that amount, and no one defaulted on their loan.

Since much of this history has vanished now that Dallas County has become one of the fastest-growing counties in Iowa and America, I’ve chosen to write a history book, newspaper column and blog posts to help preserve Dallas County’s heritage.

Even if you’re not a writer, I hope this inspires you to preserve your local history, including your family’s history, and share these stories that matter. If you have any local history you’d like to share, let me know!

Darcy Dougherty-Maulsby (a.k.a) Yetter-girl grew up on a Century Farm between Lake City and Yetter and is proud to call Calhoun County home.

Contact her at yettergirl@yahoo.com and visit her online at www.darcymaulsby.com.

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