A Map of Stagecoach Routes At and Near Hinkletown Iowa

By 1855, a major southern branch of "The Diamond Trail" connected through the settlement that became Hinkletown, and linked trails and traffic from the Mississippi River communities of Burlington and Muscatine westward all the way to Des Moines.

In early 2001, one of the Hinkletown descendents sent in their memories of the Hickory Ridge School from the 1940's. In their note was the mention of wagon ruts going up the hill behind the school, and that the teacher had told them the ruts were from a wagon trail that went through Hinkletown. This was interesting enough to pursue: research and report on the possible trail that crossed at Hinkletown. We contacted the Office of the State Archeologist in Iowa City. Marlin Ingalls checked a few basic resources and reported back that it looked like Hinkletown may have been a southern part of the old Diamond Trail Stage Route. The University of Iowa map collection at the Main Library includes old Iowa maps for nearly every year between 1846 and 1900. Many of these maps indicate the trails of the time, and they often have several maps of any given year, so the opportunity to cross-reference information is high. Below is a simplified map of 1855 to show the trails that connected to Hinkletown. It is clear that by 1855 the stage trail began to go through the settlement 1/2 mile south of the English River that would soon be named Hinkletown and Foote Post Office.  Accounts from an early settler indicate the trail existed much earlier, in the 1840s, prior to being on a stage line.  The same accounts refer to the Gold Rush traffic across the trail beginning in 1848. 

NOTE: The map above is not to scale and represents the location of stage trails in relation to settlements and towns in 1855. The Diamond Trail appears to have the configuration above from 1855 through 1860. Before and after, according to the Iowa maps used in this research, the Diamond Trail shows variations in its location. This probably has less to do with possible mistakes of the cartographers and more to do with changes in the actual routes due to difficulties in travel, geographic conditions and/or changes in stage carrier companies that reacted to increases and decreases in stage patronage.

One of the early maps shows there were no counties west of Johnson County and all the land is still identified as "Sauks and Foxes". By 1846, the counties spread to Tama, Powesheik and Mahaska, with no towns identified within the westernmost two-county deep corridor. The county seat towns were only designated by "C.H." for "Court House." The trails are sparce at that time, usually going between established towns in the eastern counties, such Iowa City and Washington, Iowa. By 1850, a greatly increased transportation network of trails is apparent, which accelerates significantly each year in the 1850's. In the early 1850's stage trails branched from Iowa City to Homestead to Marengo, for example. A southern route of the Western Stage Line went from Iowa City to Sigourney (Angle Road at Frytown) and continued to points such as Oskaloosa and Fort Des Moines.

In general, the driving forces behind the creation of stage lines were: mail delivery, the function of federal, state and county governments, and passenger service. Stagecoaching began in Iowa about 1838, flourished in the 1850's, and lasted until about 1874 when railroads and roads were well established. For a period in the 1850's through 1870's the stagecoach lines conducted business in conjunction with the railroads. In 1854, the Western Stage Company became the largest line in the State of Iowa when it purchased the interests in another major competitor. The Western Stage Company operated nearly all the stage traffic on approximately 14 routes originating from Iowa City. By 1870, stagecoach lines found they simply could not compete with the railroads, and were quickly going out of business. Many of the routes they used would continue to carry local and regional travel by wagon and horseback, and would become the roads we use today. Others fell into disuse over time and are now indistinguishable from the rural and urban landscape.

Additional notes about the Western Stage and Diamond Trail through Johnson, Washington, Keokuk and Iowa Counties:

1846: From the 1846 State maps, only one trail goes from Iowa City into Iowa County, and goes straight west to "C.H.", or what was intended to become the county seat. One line goes south to the established town of Washington in Washington County, and from Washington a line goes straight west into Keokuk County and probably to the site that would become Sigourney.

1852: In addition to the trail from Iowa City to Washington is a longer trail from Iowa City nearly straight southwest to Sigourney. It intersects Iowa County at the southeast corner of Greene Township (Mills indicated on map), and a new branch trail is shown to go nearly straight northwest from the mills through Iowa County to Marengo. No towns or settlements are indicated on the map between Iowa City and Sigourney at this time, and while there must have been a couple, this long stretch was probably fairly desolate at that time. In 1852, the trail to Sigourney is clearly indicated as continuing westward to Rose Hill, Oskaloosa, Pella, "Site of Monroe the New Capitol", and into Polk County and Fort Des Moines. On the 1852 map, it appears there is no trail from Muscatine to Washington, however there is a trail from Burlington to Washington.

1854: This map shows a new railroad "Lyons & Missouri R.R." running due west into Iowa County from Iowa City. A trail is now established between Muscatine and Washington, Iowa. While the trails to Iowa County, Washington County, and Keokuk County are nearly the same as in 1852, the counties to the immediate west are appearing to substantially "fill in" with more trails showing between towns and additional towns identified. Sigourney and Oskaloosa are showing additional trails from those sites to other towns.

1855: The main trail from Iowa City to Sigourney is now indicating more towns: Frank Pierce (Frytown), Wassonville, South English. It appears from the maps in 1855, that the trail from the mills at Greene Township in Iowa County to Marengo is no longer in use. Instead, the trail from Washington, Iowa now enters Fillmore Township just south of the English River (Site of Hinkletown) and continues to North English, Millersburg, Deep River and Montezuma. From Montezuma it continues to Newton, Parkersburg and to Des Moines. This new branch that begins couple miles east of the site of Hinkletown, and moves through the settlement, completes a major leg and more direct route from Burlington and Muscatine through Washington and all the way to Des Moines. Also in 1855, further south in Washington, Keokuk and Mahaska counties is shown the "Muscatine & Oskaloosa Railroad".

1856: This is the second year that maps of Iowa clearly show the route on the Diamond Trail that passes through the settlement that becomes Hinkletown and continues on to Des Moines. At this time, there is still the major intersection the trail from Iowa City south and from Washington west, with one taking a more northerly route (Montezuma) and the other taking a more southerly route (Oskaloosa) to Des Moines. At this time, no road is shown between North English and South English.

1860: In 1860, roads and trails begin to fill in between many towns in Iowa, Keokuk and surrounding counties. In 1860 maps, a trail is indicated between North English and South English.

1864: While many of the earlier trails were clearly east-west trails, now there are many more north-south roads and trails, for example, from the county seat of Iowa County, Marengo to North English in the south, then to South English, and Sigourney.

The history of stagecoach routes in Iowa County: From Stagecoach Trails in Iowa by Inez E. Kirkpatrick, 1975, J-B Publishing Company, Crete Nebraska. "Iowa County had two well-known stage coach routes run by Western Stagecoach Company from Des Moines. The northern route was from the old Indian Trail, later the dragoons at Fort Des Moines. At the Capitol in Iowa City, the legislature saw the necessity of establishing roads. This one was surveyed and accepted as a State Road, December 21, 1847. The Western Stage came in from the west and in 1854 made Marengo (County Seat) its terminal. The southern route began at Iowa City also and ended at Des Moines. It was, at the time of establishment, called the Iowa City-Montezuma Road, or the Diamond Trail. From Johnson County it came into the southern townships, Section 1, Township 78, Range 9 (Greene Township), on west into Fillmore Township, then west into English and Dayton Section 7, Township 78, Range 12. This road was established about as it is today, by the year 1857." (A portion of this is known as Highway F-52.) From Mrs. Franklin Lillie, Ladora, Iowa, a genealogical researcher who provided this information for Stagecoach Trails in Iowa.

From the History of Iowa County - 1881: Western Stage Company: "During pioneer times, public travel was exclusively by stage. The journey was often long and wearisome. The sloughs were not bridged and during the Spring it was not uncommon for a passenger on the stage to make his journeys on foot and carry a fence rail with which to help pry the stage out of the mire. This was 'high toned' traveling, and from this may be imagined what sort of a journey was that of a lone settler and an ox team. A history of the county would not be complete without mention of the transportation company which preceded railroads. It was called the Western Stage Company, and by examining the early court records it will be seen that this corporation figured extensively in the early litigation of Iowa County." The question of service, reliability and damages apparently were somewhat routine. A newspaper article in the 1858 Council Bluffs Eagle complains of the mail arriving in a "wet, pulp-like state, perfectly saturated with water and wholly unreadable." The article goes on to state, "we are sickened at the sight of every mail that arrives. When agents are asked why this repeated occurrence, the offer the same silly and stereotyped reply that the stage upset in the creek. The Western Stage have proved an intolerable nuisance....."

Stagecoach trails were a significant factor in the history of Iowa, although relatively short lived. The leg of the Diamond Trail that traveled through Hinkletown probably served for a period of about 15 years. The short leg through Hinkletown, North English and Millersburg helped close a major gap from the southeastern Iowa cities on the Mississippi River to the new state capitol at Des Moines. During that time, the number of railroads also greatly increased. The last of the Western Stage Company coaches went out of service on July 1, 1870.

The advent of the Western Stagecoach line to the settlement that became Hinkletown in 1861 probably greatly influenced the growth of the town and the establishment of the Foote Post Office in 1862. The amount of regional traffic of the stagecoach, passengers and others who used the trail probably helped the business of the stores, the town physician, and the general prosperity of the town. And later the discontinuation of the stage lines was most likely the first of several successive factors that resulted in the decline of Hinkletown.

Information compiled from the following sources: Early maps of the State of Iowa - 1846 - 1864, The University of Iowa Map Collection, Main Library. History of Iowa County: 1881, Stagecoach Trails in Iowa, Inez E. Kirkpatrick, 1975. Transportation in Iowa: A Historical Summary, William H. Thompson, 1989, Iowa Department of Transportation. Office of State Archeologist - Marlin Ingalls, 2002. Oral history of Hinkletown descendents: John O' Rourke, 2001, Pioneer Life, an account of early settler Jeremiah M. Suiter, Oskaloosa Saturday Globe, 1905.

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Hinkletown's "Old West Justice" Wassonville History and Photos
Old Area Maps - Hinkletown and Foote P.O. Return to Hinkletown "Central"