graphicOskaloosa’s history dates to the time of the westward movement of the pioneers. In 1835, Daniel Boone’s nephew, captain Nathan Boone, led 160 U.S. Dragoons into the Iowa wilderness under the command of Lt. Col. Steven Kearney, to locate trails and select a new site for a permanent Fort Des Moines. The Dragoons established temporary forts a day’s journey apart, approximately 16 to 20 miles.

On June 11, 1835, a location on a high ridge between the Des Moines and Chiquaqua Rivers called the Narrows, was chosen for a small fort. When the territory was opened in 1843, the Narrows was a post between the Mississippi and points west on a much traveled path. Oskaloosa is located on the site originally called the Narrows. The mentioned rivers are now referred to as the North and South Skunk Rivers.

In the middle 1800s, a group of Quakers settled in an area southeast of Des Moines, midway between the Skunk and Des Moines rivers. The first settler in what was to become Mahaska County was William Canfield, who established a trading post on the Des Moines River. Canfield later moved his trading post to Oskaloosa. He built the first home here after the town was platted in 1844, and in that same year, Oskaloosa was established as the county seat of Mahaska County. Mahaska County was named after a chief of the Ioway tribe, Chief Mahaska (White Cloud) and was staked out in 1844.

In 1824, Chief Mahaska and a group of warriors journeyed to Washington, D.C. where they met with President Monroe. The Ioway tribe signed a treaty between their tribes and the United States in which they gave up claim to all of their Missouri territory for $500 a year for ten years and other provisions. The next year, in 1825, a great Council of Indian Chiefs and United States Representatives was held at Prairie due Chien, Wisconsin. Chief Mahaska, representing the Ioway tribe, proved himself a brave and wise chief by pleading for unity and peaceful coexistence. Oskaloosa was named for a Creek princess named Ouscaloosa, which means "last of the beautiful." Ouscaloosa was captured by the Seminoles and married Osceola, a Seminole Chief.

In 1844, Oskaloosa was a pioneer village containing only thirteen crude cabins and two stores. The town grew rapidly, and by 1853, when it was incorporated, Oskaloosa had a population of about 1,000. During the 1850s and 1860s, the Western Stage Company maintained barns where what is now the corner of High Avenue East and South Third. Passengers embarked on their travels from the Madison House, a hotel that was located on the east side of the downtown square which later became known as the Downing Hotel.

Mahaska County was rich in bituminous coal and in the 1870s coal mining became part of the local economy. In 1883, the area had 38 mines and an annual output of over a million tons. In the prime days of mining, Mahaska County surpassed all other Iowa counties in tonnage and number of mines. The advent of transcontinental railroads was also a boon to Mahaska County. The locomotives moved coal out of the area year round as demand for coal increased.

Today’s economy in Oskaloosa centers on a booming retail trade, agriculture, and a strong industrial park. These diversified areas of commerce have helped to give the city a stable and continuously growing economy.

graphicThe Nelson Pioneer Farm

Are you looking for entertainment for the entire family? The Nelson Pioneer Farm is the first museum in Iowa to honor the pioneer farmer. The heart of this 22 building complex is the Nelson Homestead immaculately restored to the 1850 to 1890 period.

The Pioneer Farm and Crafts Museum is open from the first Saturday in May through the second Saturday in October on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For additional information call (641) 672-2989 or write to Nelson Pioneer Farm 2294 Oxford Avenue, P.O. Box 578; Oskaloosa, Iowa 52577.

The land was acquired from the government by Daniel Nelson in 1844 and farmed by the Nelson family until 1958–114 years. The 310 acre farm was bequeathed to the society by Roy and Lillian Nelson in 1958 for preservation as a memorial to their parents and grand parents.

We welcome special groups and bus tours by arrangement. The buildings are accessible to senior citizens and the handicapped. Formal tours, combined or separate, are conducted by experienced guides–or explore on your own. There is a gift shop in the museum and a genealogical library also in the museum.

Plan to attend the Nelson Pioneer Farm Festival, sponsored by the Mahaska County Historical Society, which will be held on Saturday, September 16, 2000. People will get a chance to see blacksmiths at work, a miniature sawmill, a working steam engine in operation and grain threshing. Also, old farm equipment is displayed and demonstrated. They can watch demonstrations of butter churning, bread baking, taffy pulling, apple paring and drying, sample apple butter and cider, cornhusk doll making, knitting, needlepoint, weaving, spinning and carding wool, use of natural stains and dyes, candle making, washing and ironing, lye soap making, shingle splitting, chair caning and rope making. A spelling bee for children is held in the one room 1861 school. An old fashioned country dinner is served from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. A parade around the Pioneer Farm grounds is held at 1:30 p.m. with a Kiddy Parade at 1:15 p.m. There is entertainment on the grounds throughout the day.

Admission to the Festival is $4.00 for adults and $1.00 for students (ages 5 though 16). Children under five (with adult) are FREE.


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