top of page

Dr. Cook's Compass

Date: 1854


Description: As the paper label inside it states, this compass was used by Dr. John Cook when he made the original survey of the site that would become Sioux City in 1855. Cook was a member of the Sioux City Townsite Co. who bought the land owned by Joseph Leonais to turn into a town. Cook, originally an Englishman who studied at Oxford, was searching northwest Iowa on behalf of a syndicate of esteemed men. His original plat (or plan) was an area west of Perry Creek, which today covers a chunk of Westside, mostly along Hamilton Boulevard. This area was dubbed later as the “Sioux City Proper,” with Cook taking the name for the city from the nearby Big Sioux River. Cook coveted the land to the east along the Missouri and he purchased “Sioux City East Addition” from Leonais in the spring of 1855, which covers what is mostly Downtown today. An encampment of Native Americans on the Floyd River resented Cook and his crew, and they threatened violence until Cook threatened to call the army, after which they left. Soon Sioux City secured a post office and a land office, giving it quite the leg up on the surrounding towns. Cook served as the postmaster, president of the Sioux City Land and Ferry Co., county judge, and later mayor of the new town.


The steamboat and high real estate values allowed Sioux City to succeed as a boom town, until the Panic of 1857 slumped its finances. Cook was forced to abandon his political offices and practice medicine during this time, but he still remained highly influential in the town. In 1879, when the city was thriving, Cook left Sioux City for St. Louis and stayed there until his death in 1885. However, Cook’s legacy, the city he founded, and his compass are all lasting reminders of the work he did and the life he lived. Surveyors rely on their compasses for direction and guidance, just as we rely on our own history for the same.


Donor information not available


On display

Staff Pick

Matt Anderson, Curator of History
bottom of page