(photo, right): One of Zebulon Pike's maps, from a UI Libraries Special Collections & University Archives exhibition opening Oct. 11 in the Old Capitol Museum titled Conflict on the Iowa Frontier: Perspectives on the War of 1812.
By Greg Prickman for Iowa Now
French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte will be hard to miss this fall, with a major University of Iowa Museum of Art exhibition and related programming and displays occupying spaces all over the campus. Meanwhile, across the country, the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 is being commemorated with events in the cities and ports that saw action during our last conflict with Great Britain. While connections between a French Emperor, a nearly-forgotten war, and the State of Iowa may seem remote, reminders of them are, in fact, all around us.
On June 5, 1838, when the trading post had grown large enough to be incorporated, the first white settler in the area, John Gilbert, signed a document naming the new town Napoleon. The paper is held in Special Collections & University Archives in the Main Library, in a collection we simply call “Iowa Documents.” There is no evidence to suggest why Napoleon was chosen as the name, and regardless of the reason, the town was short-lived. Frequent flooding in the area prompted a move to the north, and the founding of Iowa City, proving just how strongly our fate has always been tied to the Iowa River.
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