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The Queen of Buffalo

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When Captain William Clark laid out the town of Buffalo, Iowa in 1834, he imagined it would become the great Queen City of the West. Straight west from the tip of Lake Michigan, Buffalo seemed like the most logical place to cross the Mississippi for settlers heading into Iowa and the Great Plains. Captain Clark opened a ferry service, built a hotel, and waited. But alas, if a town needs a population of, say, 400,000 to be a Queen City, Buffalo at its peak fell short by some 399,700.

It did, however, have a queen, at least until the snows began to fall each December.

Ellen Hubbard's father was a steamboat captain who lived in a log cabin in the woods near Buffalo. Here Ellen grew up alone, a princess in a kingdom of pastures, horses, the river, and a library full of books which fueled her imagination.

In 1870, she married into nobility in nearby Davenport. Her new husband, Ed Cook, a lawyer, was a member of one of Davenport's first families—a family full of bankers, lawyers, and doctors.

Two children arrived. The Cooks, as befit their prestige, moved higher and higher up the bluffs into more and more ornate surroundings. The number of turrets and trim multiplied.

Davenport society was not prepared for Ellen's next move. In 1882, Ellen Cook had the little log cabin in the woods moved to the banks of the Mississippi in Buffalo, amid a grove of walnut, oak and hickory. She had the cabin freshly chinked and then moved back home.

By now, of course, she was no longer a princess but a queen and, in the cabin, she held court almost every day, while her husband commuted by train to his law office in Davenport. To her court in front of the wide pioneer fireplace came Hungarian refugees from the Revolution of 1848, theosophists interested in conversations on Indian mysticism, artists interested in discussing news schools of art, or checking Plato and Ruskin out of her library.

Ellen lived a rich life in her log cabin, leaving Davenport society to wonder at why she would leave a town where her name was so prominent; Davenport, after all, had a Cook Library, a Cook Home for elderly women, and a Cook Memorial Church.

Dare I suggest that Queen Ellen had discovered that old truth: that too many Cooks spoil the broth?

I just did.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.