1852-1857, Webster County

Prepared by Martin E. Nass

Granville Burkley was successful in carrying his petition to the legislature in 1851 and they created the new county, Webster County, by taking all of Yell, all of Risley, and the lower half of Humboldt (then called Bancroft) Counties. The new county was assigned to Boone County for administration. Two commissioners, Elisha Anderson and Samuel McCall came to meet with Burkley to locate a county seat. Burkley persuaded them to select his site for the town and to name it Homer, for the epic Greek poet. They selected Secion 6-87-26. The new county obtained title to the land on October 14, 1854. Judge Pierce entered a warrant for $114.00 for the town plat.

Burkley built himself a cabin, then got himself appointed as postmaster. He kept the mail under his bed in a tin box. He constructed the first school in Homer, and then promptly padlocked it until the residents would pay him what he wanted. R. W. Alcon was first school teacher at this school. Burkley then arranged for the new state road, which came from Des Moines through Boonesboro (Montana) in Boone County, then through Mineral Ridge, entering our county and passing through Hook's Point. The road then went to Homer before turning west through Border Plains, Brushy, and on to Fort Dodge.

Homer grew and prospered until it reached a population of about 600. Fort Dodge had about 200 and Newcastle about 100. It seemed that Homer's future was secure.

Two men came upon the scene to change things. John F. Duncombe of Fort Dodge got together with Walter C. Willson of Newcastle and plans were made to "get" the county seat. They arranged for an election to be held to divide the huge county into two again, each to have a county seat. Since the population of Homer exceeded the combined population of Fort Dodge and Newcastle, Homer felt secure. Willson had arranged earlier to have the Western Stage Company run its line from Dubuque to Alden, Newcastle, and Fort Dodge. Fort Dodge had secured the federal land office in 1855. To ensure a legal election, Burkley stayed in Newcastle to supervise the balloting. He loved to argue politics and he loved to drink. The Newcastle people kept him busy with both, and he did not detect that stage passengers were alighting to vote and then get on the stage for a run to Fort Dodge and vote again. The results went against Homer. They complained and carried their case to the Iowa Supreme Court who ruled that there was evidence widespead cheating on both sides so the election results were upheld.

Duncombe helped Willson get elected to the state legislature to carry the petition for the split of the county. He rode a mule to Marengo and then took the stagecoach to Iowa City, the state's capital. He planned to arrange for the west half to retain the name Webster and designate Fort Dodge as the county seat. He also had planned for the east half to take the name Sharon and have as the county seat, Newcastle, which was to be renamed Webster City. When he arrived at the state house he quickly realized that he needed some help to get his bill passed. William W. Hamilton, of Cascade, Iowa, was president of the senate. Willson changed the act to give the name Hamilton County to the east half to honor and recognize Hamilton's help. This act was passed on December 22, 1856 to take effect on Jan 1, 1857.

Thus the name of Webster County was replaced by Hamilton County. Due to a mistake in the numbering of sections in the act, not all of Bancroft County was passed back to Humboldt County. The bottom tier of townships were left in Webster Couty, which accounts for the fact that the two county north lines do not align. Another act of the legislature required that any further adjusting of county lines would require a majority vote of citizens on both sides of the line. Hence, Webster County never gave back their townships, and never will.