History of American Towns:Muscatine, Iowa, named for Mascouten American Indian Tribe, City known for pearl buttons
Muscatine, Iowa was most likely named for the Mascouten American Indian tribe of Algonquian speaking Indians. Like many frontier towns Muscatine was started when a trading post was established. In this case representatives of Colonel George Davenport, whom the City of Davenport is named, in the year 1833 and incorporated as Bloomington in 1839, started the post. However, Bloomington was a pretty common name for cities and there were a number of them already in the Midwest. It was thought that there would be less confusion in delivering mail if the name were changed. Wikipedia cites “Casey’s Woodpile” as another name by which Muscatine had been known.
Other natives and the French according to belief drove the Mascoutin tribe from Michigan about 1642. In the 18th Century they may have been absorbed into the Fox and Sac tribes. Another possibility is that the name might have derived from a term in the Siouan language meaning “island of fire,” according to Wikipedia. It referred to an area south of town covered by a slough. When the sun set the slough reflected colors that made it look like fire.
Muscatine is known for freshwater pearls, an experimental farm operated by Iowa State University, and for its vegetables and melons. So Muscatine is both the “Pearl Button Capital of the World” although China now dominates the market and the “Watermelon Capital of the world.”
The pearl button industry was a major industry in the early years. It was in the year 1884 that J. F. Boepple, who emigrated from Germany, founded the pearl button industry. The buttons were made from certain kinds of clam shells, from the Mississippi River.
When the pearl buttons were a significant factor in Muscatine's economy they adopted the slogan "Pearl of the Mississippi."
In 1915 Weber & Sons button Company, Inc. was the worlds largest producer of fancy freshwater pearl buttons. After that the city became known as "The Pearl Button Capital of the World."Weber is still manufacturing today but largely plastic buttons."The button industry started to decline in the mid-20th Century for a number of reasons, such as the popularity of other fasteners.
Muscatine is situated between Iowa City, Iowa and the Iowa-Illinois Quad Cities, which include Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River as well as Moline and Rock Island, Illinois on the other side of the river. Commuters living in Muscatine work in several other cities. It can be a fast commute on Interstate 80 or a pleasant leisurely drive on the river road. I lived in Moline and often went to Iowa City. Since I prefer the scenic roads to the Interstates I often went through Muscatine along the scenic river road on the Iowa side.
In 1855 Mark Twain lived in Muscatine for a short time and worked for the Muscatine Journal a paper his brother Orion owned a part of. There is now a “Mark Twain Scenic Overlook” in the town.
Muscatine is home to another writer, a mystery writer, by the name of Max Allan Collins. This interested me because he had a series of mystery novels set in the area of the Quad Cities and Iowa City. The river road that I often drove was the location where fictional gangsters buried fictional corpses. Does wonders for ones imagination.
A bridge connects Muscatine to the Illinois side of the river. It was a toll bridge for many years but some time ago they stopped collecting tolls. The city is on a series of bluffs and hills and according to Wikipedia it is at a major bend in the Mississippi River.Ten miles east along the river you will find Wildcat Den State Park.
It is interesting that Muscatine, between the 1840s and the Civil War, had the largest black community in Iowa. Fugitive slaves came from the south and there were free blacks from the East. Prominent community leader Alexander Clark Sr. was one of the founders of the locale AME Church, helped fugitive slaves and petitioned the state to overturn racist laws before the war,. He also helped organized a black regiment –the 60th United States Colored Infantry, according to Wikipedia
Sources are the City of Muscatine home page and Wikipedia articles on Muscatine and Freshwater Pearls.
© 2012 Don A. Hoglund
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