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Iowa's PR Man

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

From the moment he arrived in Burlington, Iowa, with the first wave of settlers, John B. Newhall became an Iowa booster. Iowa, then still Michigan Territory, had opened to settlement only the previous year following the Black Hawk War.

Newhall was upset that Iowa seemed to be overlooked by Easterners eager to go west and seek their fortunes. "The public mind is directed with more than ordinary interest to the unexplored regions beyond the Rocky Mountains," he wrote, and pays little attention to the great Mississippi Valley full of riches just waiting to be picked.

That, Newhall decided, had to change. He sold his small Burlington store. By 1841 he had published his first promotional pamphlet, Sketches of Iowa, or the Emigrant's Guide. Based on its wide success, Newhall toured the East coast promoting Iowa as a place to grow and get rich. Newspapers took notice of him. He crossed the Atlantic to deliver lectures at Birmingham and Liverpool, spreading the glories of Iowa to packed lecture halls. His success in England led him to publish The British Emigrant's Handbook and Guide.

Newhall's efforts to promote Iowa helped bring so many new settlers in that by 1846, Iowa was ready for statehood, and Newhall was ready for a sequel: A Glimpse of Iowa in 1846, which portrayed a thriving crowded land of rolling hills and prosperous towns and cities. Iowa, Newhall concluded, had everything that any mortal could possibly want.

That is, until 1849. That year, that land beyond the Rocky Mountains once again got all the publicity with the discovery of gold. On February 15th, Newhall penned a notice in the Burlington Hawkeye to the effect that he was throwing aside all his sketches and doings and heading for California. He even ended with a few lines of boosterism for his new adopted state: "I'm going to California, the Gold dust for to see; I'm going to Sacramento, with my wash-bowl on my knee."

That same March there appeared Newhall's Guide to the Gold Region, outlining all the information needed to strike it rich in California.

Just as well, I think. Had John B. Newhall and his promotional gifts remained in Burlington, the whole state of Iowa today might be as crowded as Chicago.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.