Prospect Hill Monument

The Prospect Hill Monument at West First and Bluff streets in Sioux City is shown in this undated photo. It was built in 1913 to honor the place where three Presbyterian missionaries vowed in 1869 to “win the west for Christ.”

Sioux City Journal file

Last month, residents of Prospect Hill started seeing several hundred visitors a day who wanted a panoramic view of Missouri River flooding below their bluff.

That hilltop is one of the few safe places for people to look at the flooding, according to local authorities who want to keep gawkers off the levees and from stopping along Interstate 29.

Many had never driven to the top of West First and Bluff streets before, voicing surprise there is a towering granite monument standing nearby. Several people asked me what it commemorates. I knew, since I grew up hearing stories about that colorful Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson.

The inscription on the monument reads: "Erected by Iowa Presbyterians in memory of Rev. Sheldon Jackson, Rev. T. C. Cleland, Rev. J.C. Elliott, pioneer missionaries who on April 29, 1869, from this hill top viewed the great unchurched areas and after prayer went out to win the west for Christ."

Cleland was a pastor in Council Bluffs, while Elliot was a minister at Nebraska City, Neb. Jackson was a native of New York state.

The monument, which cost $2,000, was built in 1913. In 1968, it was in danger of falling off the cliff due to erosion. The monument was removed, the hill regraded and the monument replaced.

When Jackson climbed the hill to pray that day, he was a disappointed preacher. The board of missions had rejected his application to do missionary work due to his ill health. He had contracted malaria while working with the Choctaw Indians in Oklahoma. At a presbytery meeting in Sioux City he offered himself as an itinerant missionary. He headed west, without the backing of the church.

The Rev. Dr. John Paul Vincent, who was a longtime minister at First Presbyterian Church, wrote of Jackson, "He was a sort of missionary Napoleon."

His exploits were many, most notably in Alaska. In 1877, Jackson made his first trip to the Alaska territory. In 1885, Congress appointed him Alaska's first commissioner of education. In 1884, he persuaded Congress to enact legislation providing for a civil government. The new officials threw him in jail on trumped up charges, later releasing him. He raised $2,000 to buy reindeer in Siberia to start herds in Alaska to provide a stable food supply.

Author James Michener included a chapter on Jackson and his sometimes controversial efforts in his massive book, "Alaska." Jackson died in 1909.

When I visited Sitka in 1990, I stopped at Sheldon Jackson College, spending an afternoon at the fabulous Sheldon Jackson Museum on campus. It is the oldest museum in Alaska and is built in the shape of an octagon. The more than 32,000 collections feature many of the artifacts Jackson collected, as well as items from Tlingit, Aleut, Athabascan and other cultures.

What else is notable about Prospect Hill? Dr. John Cook platted it as Sioux City's first neighborhood.

Where did it get its name? In January 1871, it was rumored that gold had been discovered, leading a number of prospectors to start digging. A month later, the Journal announced that the report was a hoax.

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