15 Things You Might Not Know About Iowa

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It may be widely thought of as a fly-over state, but there’s a lot more to Iowa than hogs and farmland (though there are plenty of those, too). Here are 15 things you probably didn’t know about the Hawkeye State.

1. Woolly mammoth bones have been found in Iowa. In 2010, a man and his two sons were hunting for blackberries when one of the boys spotted a ball near a creek. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t a ball at all—it was actually a 12,000-year-old woolly mammoth femur. An archaeological dig later revealed much of the entire skeleton. While it’s not uncommon to find woolly mammoth fossils in Iowa—the prehistoric pachyderms used to call the area home—it is unusual to find such a complete set.

2. A surveying mistake almost caused a war between Iowa and Missouri in the 1830s. The surveyor’s state boundary line slanted four miles further north on the east side than the west because he forgot to adjust his compass. Another official was sent to resurvey, but his line was a bit north of the original line, to the tune of 2,600 acres. When a Missouri official tried to collect taxes from the settlers who lived in the disputed acres, an Iowan sheriff arrested him. The governors of each state threatened each other with combat, with militias and volunteers called to gather at the border. Before any shots were fired, the federal government stepped in and drew the line (literally).

So why is it called “The Honey War”? Early on in the conflict, a copse of trees containing a large number of honeybees was destroyed.

3. The state is named after the Ioway people, a Native American tribe that once inhabited the area. But what “Iowa” actually means is a bit ambiguous. According to the writings of an early pioneer, the name comes from an incident where a tribe of Native Americans spied the land for the first time and proclaimed it “Iowa, Iowa, Iowa,” which meant “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.” However, another story says that it’s just a variation on the French word “Ayuhwa,” which means “sleepy ones”—something the Dakota Sioux tribe called the Ioway Nation.

4. Geaux Hawkeyes? As a nod to its roots—Iowa was part of the Louisiana Purchase—the state flag bears the same vertical blue, white, and red stripes that the French flag does.

5. Much of Iowa was mapped by Zebulon Pike, the Pikes Peak guy. Speaking of which, there’s a Pikes Peak in Iowa, too. It’s only 12,980 feet shorter than the one in Colorado.

6. Iowa’s population is actually more urban than rural—61.1 percent vs. 38.9 percent. [PDF]

7. Sliced bread was invented by an Iowan. Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the automatic bread slicer in 1912, but it was destroyed in a fire. He rebuilt the machine, and it was first used commercially in 1928.

8. The land-locked state is actually home to an island city. Sabula is just one mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, with a mere 576 residents. It wasn’t actually an island until 1939, when the construction of a lock and dam system flooded the lowlands west of the town.

9. About those hogs—yeah, there are a lot of them. There are more hogs than people in Iowa, actually. As of 2013, the state’s hog population was 21.2 million animals, whereas the human population was just north of three million.

10. The Red Delicious apple originated at an orchard in Peru, Iowa. But if you, like most people, find that Red Delicious apples are perhaps not as tasty as the name might imply, don’t blame Iowa. Today’s variety bears little resemblance to the 1872 original.

11. When the Civil War broke out, Iowa had only been a state for 15 years and had a population of just 600,000. Though the 76,534 Iowan men who served in the Union may seem like small potatoes compared to contributions from other states, no other state had a higher percentage of its male population serve. Iowa even had a regiment called the “Greybeards” because the men were all considered elderly, including one octogenarian.

12. Contrary to popular belief, not all of Iowa is flat, especially 640,000 acres on the western side. That’s where you’ll find the famous Loess Hills, dunes created by windblown soil during the Ice Age.

13. We have our own version of the famous Nazca Lines here in the United States—and some of them are in Iowa. Effigy Mounds, large scale Native American sculptures of animals, humans, and religious figures made out of piles of earth, date as far back as 350 CE. Sculptures of birds and bears are the most popular in Northeast Iowa, where Effigy Mounds National Park covers 2,526 acres—and there are no cars allowed.

14. Clear Lake, Iowa, is where “the music died.” Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson all died when their plane crashed into a field there in 1959.

15. When it comes to women’s rights, Iowa has always been way ahead of the curve. Married women received property rights in 1851, and in 1869, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that women should be allowed to practice law, making Iowan Arabella Mansfield the first female lawyer in the U.S.