Port of Keokuk
Review and History

The Port of Keokuk lies at the mouth of the Des Moines River where it meets the Mississippi River in far southeast Iowa. The Port of Keokuk is about 36 nautical miles downriver (63 kilometers or 33 miles by air) from the Port of Burlington, Iowa. It is about 342 kilometers (212 miles) southwest of the Port of Chicago. Part of the Mississippi River System, the Port of Keokuk. In 2009, almost 10.4 thousand people lived in the Port of Keokuk.

The Port of Keokuk has a diverse economy based on agriculture, wholesale distribution and trade, and manufacturing. Lee County has two county seats: the Port of Keokuk and Fort Madison. Together, they form a micropolitan area that includes Iowa's Lee County and Missouri's Clark County. Just across the Mississippi River from the Port of Keokuk to the east are the towns of Warsaw and Hamilton, Illinois, and Alexandria, Missouri, is just four nautical miles downriver from the Port of Keokuk. Keokuk was named for Chief Keokuk, of the Sauk tribe, who was buried in Rand Park.

Port History

The area that would be the Port of Keokuk was a perfect location for trade and, eventually, for settlers. The United States Army forbade its soldiers from being married to Native American women in 1820. An Army surgeon, Dr. Samuel C. Muir, resigned his commission rather than leave his Native American wife. He then resettled to the west of the Mississippi and built a log cabin, becoming the first white settler in the future Port of Keokuk.

A trading post was created near the cabin after a few years. As more settlers arrived in the Port of Keokuk region, steamboat traffic increased on the Mississippi. In 1824, the United States Government designated part of the area as a "Half-Breed Tract" where land was allotted to mixed-race Sauk and Fox Nation descendants. Children of European men had been excluded from tribal communal lands because their fathers were not tribe members. The Half-Breed Tract was neutral ground. Until 1837, individual sales of tract lands were prohibited. When the US Congress ended the prohibition, a land rush ensued with social instability as a result.

John Jacob Astor launched a post of the American Fur Company in the future Port of Keokuk in about 1827. Known as "Rat Row," the complex contained five buildings for worker housing and business. By 1829, the Port of Keokuk was a small village with about 20 families. The American Fur Company operated a store, and there was a tavern in the town. Indigenous peoples fished on the river.

In 1837, the town plan was developed, and the city was named for Chief Keokuk of the Sauk Nation. The Chief had worked for peace between the settlers and the tribe. Riverboat trade encouraged continued growth in the Port of Keokuk, and it was incorporated in 1847.

During 1853, over two thousand Mormons traveled through the Port of Keokuk to get supplies for their journey to the west. Steamboats could not go up the Des Moines River due to the rapids that were about a mile upriver from the Mississippi.

The Port of Keokuk became an important transshipment point, particularly after the railroad arrived in 1856. In the late 1850s, author Mark Twain lived in the Port of Keokuk for a time. The public library holds a collection of Twain memorabilia today.

During the War Between the States, the Port of Keokuk was a point of embarkation for Union troops moving to the South. Soldiers came back for treatment to the Port of Keokuk when injured, leading to the establishment of several hospitals and the designation of a national cemetery for those who died.

After the American Civil War, the Port of Keokuk continued to grow. In 1875, a medical college was established, and the city got the Keokuk Westerns, a major-league baseball team. In 1877, a ship canal was built around the Des Moines River rapids. By 1913, the river had been dammed for navigation, flood control, and hydropower.

Lock and Dam No. 19 was finished on the Mississippi River near the Port of Keokuk in 1913. by 1930, the population peaked at over 15 thousand. In the latter half of the 20th Century, the Port of Keokuk's involvement in river trade decreased, as did the population. Jobs came from local factories rather than river trade. In 1997, the Port of Keokuk celebrated its 150th anniversary.

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