Why Keokuk Iowa?

doris curiosity






This post written and copyrighted by Doris McCraw


As I continued my research on early women doctors, I came across the Keokuk School of Physicians and Surgeons. Harriett Leonard, one of the earliest women doctors in the Pikes Peak Region, had graduated from this school. Others who came later were also graduates of this school.  I had grown up near Keokuk, which sits right on the edge of the river,  and spent many an hour there, along with swims and fishing in the Mississippi river.  I thought I would share with you some of the history of this town.

Mark Twain said of Keokuk in his book “Life on the Mississippi”, ‘I lived there in 1857…The town has a population of fifteen thousand now, and is progressing with a healthy growth. ..for Keokuk has a reputation of being a beautiful city. ‘  Twain’s brother Orion and mother lived there for a time.

The town is named for the Sauk leader Chief Keokuk. It is rumored he is buried in Rand Park. I remember visiting the park and being fascinated by the statue of him.



Chief Keokuk


In 1828 the American Fur Trading Company had a post there. In 1837 a young Robert E. Lee, an engineer for the government,  surveyed the rapids near Keokuk as a source of water power. In that same year Issac Galland platted out the town itself.

Thirteen years later in December of 1850 the Keokuk School of Physicians and Surgeons located there. The school was one of the early institutions to become co-ed after women had demanded the right to become physicians. Although Elizabeth Blackwell had graduated from the Geneva Medical School in upstate New York in 1849, the exact date Keokuk’s school became co-ed is lost to time.

At the time of the Civil War Keokuk took on a greater role. Due to its accessibility for travel and the above mentioned medical school, the town became a destination for the wounded in that conflict along with a shipping point for new soldiers.  At one time there were five hospitals in town.  A number of the wounded who died in Keokuk were buried there. As a result Keokuk has the only national cemetery in Iowa, and it is one of the original twelve so designated.  I had vague memories of visiting there. For more information on this cemetery: http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Iowa/Keokuk_National_Cemetery.html

Andrew Carnegie’s Bridge Company built a railroad bridge across the Mississippi in 1871 and Keokuk was a link in the railroad lines that were crossing the country.


lock and dam keokuk, iowa
Lock and Dam at Keokuk on the Mississippi River


I have memories of crossing the Mississippi from Hamilton, Illinois to Keokuk, Iowa. I was never fond of the bridge, for the river is quite wide at this point, but the lock and dam fascinated me. I am sure there have been changes to the area over the years since I lived there, but the history…oh that is a priceless gift I was given.

The whole region is full of stories and perhaps I will take you down memories lane with me as I continue my research. Until next time.

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Below is the link to my non-fiction piece on the first state film commissioner in the United States included in this book.

“Film & Photography on the Front Range” can be purchased online at: http://www.amazon.com








14 thoughts on “Why Keokuk Iowa?

  1. Thank you Doris for such an in-depth and interesting post about Keokuk, Iowa. I wait for each of your posts as I love history and you research and write about it so well. I had no idea of the rich past the city holds and the links you provided were very helpful in understanding how that history evolved. Thank you for this glimpse of the past!


    1. Abbie, to see it now you might not realize it had such a rich history. It is the extreme southeast part of the state, right where IL. MO. and IA meet. Doris


  2. Doris,well if this doesn’t beat all: you and I were raised in the same area! I was born and raised in Burlington, up the road from Keokuk, and later moved to Sperry/Mediapolis! Those camping and fishing trips I mentioned in my blog post are memories from those Iowa days. Okay, I just may have to “piggy-back” my next blog post and write a post on Burlington and it’s rich history… UMMM…. Thanks for taking me down memory lane and bringing me a big smile with your post!


    1. Gayle, I’m glad the post brought back good memories. I’m actually from Illinois, just across the river and spent many a day on the Mightly Miss. and in Keokuk. Worked in Ft Madison during summers while in college. Ever heard of Carthage Illinois? Grew up near there and spent time in Burlington also. Would love to hear Burlington’s great history. Doris


    1. Sherry,

      History does that doesn’t it? A lot of folks haven’t heard of this small town, but it has such a rich history I wanted to share. The whole tri-state area is full of such places and histories. I do believe that is why I spend so much time in the research books and papers. Doris


  3. I love the names of the places you talk about, Doris, and of the people you quote. Becoming co-ed was no mean feat in those days. Keep ’em coming!


    1. Thanks Nancy. The tri-state region I grew up in had some hum-dingers. I’m glad you all enjoy my historic forays. Thanks! And you are right, it was an effort to make changes. Doris


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