Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Dillon's Furrow

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Society

Ed Hessler

The year/ the first land office in the territory opened, when there were still no roads/ other than wagon tracks, one Lyman Dillon,/ starting at Dubuque,/ drove a plow southwestward/ a hundred miles--the longest furrow/ ever, straight into the belly of the future, -- Amy Clampitt, excerpt from "The Quarry" in "The Kingfisher" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985)

In her first book of poetry, Amy Clampitt includes references, not at all common in books of poems. I recently read the poem The Quarry and upon reading these lines turned to the references where there was an entry for the poem. I'd never heard of this famous furrow.

Iowa's Tri-County Historical Society has an entry about it. The road was a result of legislation in 1839 for the construction of a federal military road. One requirement was that "the road (was) to travel through as many county seats as possible."

The route was surveyed and Dillon of Cascade, Iowa was hired "to plow a furrow along the surveyed routed between Dubuque and Iowa City which would guide the pioneer settlers until the road could be completed and eventually guide the contractors in the road construction."

Dillon began plowing in 1839. This required "a team of 10 oxen" to pull the sod-breaking plow. He was "paid $3 a mile to plow the 86 mile furrow" with provisions being hauled "in a covered wagon drawn by two horses."

I found the essay fascinating, having never thought about the need for roads and how this was fulfilled. The essay includes a map, more about Dillon's life and a photograph of his burial marker and its location in Cascade's cemetery.

Another entry on Dillon's Furrow includes an article about Douglas Monk who did a walkabout along the trail which provides more details. Monk eventually wrote a book about Dillon and the trail.

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