In all her research, the one thing that Regena Schantz found most surprising about George Davenport is his honesty.
"The reputation of the Indian trader in general is not a nice one," she said. "In his 'Fist in the Wilderness,' (author) David Lavender describes Davenport as 'a rare example of an honest trader.' I didn't expect that. That has stuck with me."
And Lavender wasn't the only one. Schantz found numerous examples of Davenport's straight dealing in her 40-plus years of digging into his life. He also was known for his generosity, for helping people, Indian or white, by giving them credit or food.
"One old settler recalled, 'lots of old settlers would have gone up if it hadn't been for Davenport,'" Schantz writes.
The job that brought Davenport to the Quad-City area — supplying food and other provisions for the U.S. Army — lasted two years, from 1816 to 1818.
After that he established himself as an Indian trader, meaning he traded furs and pelts for items such as gunpowder, traps, knives and vermilion for body paint. In 1826, he became a contracted agent on salary with the American Fur Co.
As settlers began moving into the area, Davenport simultaneously built a business trading with them. He also established a ferry service; an inn with food, drink and lodging; and a woodlot to sell fuel to steamboats.
In 1842, he resigned from the Indian trade and concentrated on his other endeavors, including land development or simply buying and selling land.
One way he made money was to establish town sites; one could make more money selling individual lots than by selling the same amount of land as farm ground.
In the fall of 1835, he and seven other men, including Antoine LeClaire, met at his home to discuss the platting of Davenport. Lots would be sold and profits divided equally.
While the town could have been named after any one of the eight investors, "LeClaire" was eliminated because there already was a LeClaire, and "Davenport" was thought to be "brilliant marketing strategy," Schantz writes. The name was widely known and associated with honesty and trust.
The town remained a private enterprise until 1839 when the Iowa Territorial Legislature incorporated it and a city government was created.
By the early 1840s, George Davenport had invested in five major towns — Davenport, LeClaire, Stephenson/Rock Island, Moline and Port Byron.
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