The good old days

Al Nelson, who wrote ‘Fort Dodge: America’s Frontier Town,’ will talk about the town’s pioneer past

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Al Nelson recently completed his book, F"ort Dodge: America’s Frontier Town," a look at Fort Dodge’s history.

Al Nelson spent about 10 years digging up the facts about the past of Fort Dodge.

The Fort Dodge historian’s work took him out of the city to about 200 different places around the country.

The result of his labor is a book titled “Fort Dodge: America’s Frontier Town.” It debuted last fall.

It will be the subject of a presentation by Nelson at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the auditorium of the Bioscience and Health Sciences Building at Iowa Central Community College.

The arrival of the first railroad in Fort Dodge on May 18, 1869, will be highlighted. That happened eight days after the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869.

-Submitted photo
Major Williams Williams, who is considered the founder of Fort Dodge.

“We got both east-west and north-south railroads in the same year,” Nelson said, “That was probably the most historic event to happen in early Fort Dodge.”

After the railroads arrived, the coal, gypsum and other products of the Fort Dodge area could be shipped anywhere, he said.

“We became a very big railroad town and became very prosperous,” he said.

Nelson will display images of maps dating to 1688 that show what is now Fort Dodge.

“This is the first real book about frontier Fort Dodge,” Nelson told The Messenger previously. “There have been vignettes written before about different things, of course, but this is a lot more comprehensive.”

-Submitted photo
Some of Fort Dodge’s earliest pioneers gather for a group photo at a Chautauqua in Fort Dodge in August 1908.

Nelson’s book is thoroughly documented. He lists 794 sources that he consulted.

The book begins with pre-historic topics like geology, gypsum, and the remnants of the glaciers which shaped the landscape.

It also includes information on the Ioway tribe.

“The Ioway have been kind of, not totally lost to history, but darn close,” Nelson said. “That’s because they were almost annihilated by other tribes.”

Interesting local figures covered in the book include William Williams, who founded the town on the site of a former Army base called Fort Dodge; and Bill Tilgham, a legendary Wild West lawman who was born in Fort Dodge.

-Submitted photo
An old image of downtown Fort Dodge.

In addition to the book, Nelson has written more than 50 articles for seven different periodicals.

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