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May Day: Jasper County Founder’s Day?

May Day is a complicated holiday, to say the least. It originally started as a pagan holiday to celebrate the end of spring and beginning of summer. Then, as Christianity spread across Europe, it became a celebration of the Virgin Mary, in which people would place a floral crown on the heads of replicas.

When that fell out of favor with people, the tradition of a “Maypole” and Maypole dance became popular amongst some people while others preferred the delivering of “May Baskets.” However, as people began to migrate across the globe, May Day began to have no universal meaning.

In the United States, May Day celebrations vary by region. Jasper County is no exception, but most citizens of this county aren’t celebrating something that they should be exuberant about: the founding of the county.

Jasper County wasn’t officially organized until 1846 and was named after Revolutionary War hero Sergeant William Jasper, but according to the book “The History of Jasper County, Iowa: A History of the County, its Cities, Towns,” the first claims took place in 1843 on May 1: May Day.

“On the 23rd day of April, 1843, seven days before white men were allowed to mark out or drive stakes for claims in the ‘New Purchase’ (Jasper County),” read the passage. “ Adam M. Tool, William Highland, John Frost and John Vance, accompanied by three others, left their families in Jefferson County, in this State, in search of lands for future homes.”

From there, the seven men traveled on foot carrying with them ten days’ worth of supplies. The “three others” gave up on the quest partway through, leaving Tool, Highland, Frost and Vance to continue the journey.

The men traveled 80 miles along the south banks of the Skunk River. On April 28, they made camp in what is present-day Monroe. After more days of travel, they convened and Tool had become disenfranchised by the journey and thought of returning to Jefferson County to make a claim there.

The book speculates on what might have caused his disenfranchisement: “They had been told on the way, probably by Parker, that the New Purchase would not be settled for twenty years, and it is probable that he had the ‘blues.’”

The group eventually split into two, but something special happened according to the book:

“The next morning (Monday), was the anxiously expected first day of May, a day hailed with joy and long to be remembered by thousands, who were now enable, under Territorial laws, to secure desirable homes for themselves and families.”

The group that had split into two reunited and with additioanl help from Tool’s son, James, and son-in-law Washington Fleenor, they became a sextuplet and laid claim to more land in the New Purchase.

“The six men named above joined together in this work, and were able to erect about one cabin a day up the square, or rafter-plate. Highlands was the first one built…This was the first building erected by white men in Jasper County.”

If everything in this book is entirely accurate, then May Day should have a whole new meaning for local citizens, as Founder’s Day for Jasper County.

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