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From Algeria to Iowa, with Love—And $150,000 in Flood Aid

By July 2, 2008

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Elkader Bridge over Turkey River

From the Middle East to the Middle West: The bridge over the Turkey River at Elkader, Iowa. (© 1997, Eric Baxter).

Algerians historically haven't been lucky. Ottoman Turks lorded over the country for three centuries (1516-1830), and when Turks were done, the French took over. But from 1832 to 1847, the Algerian population gave the French a Meghrebi taste of la résistance. It was led by the great Sufi scholar and military leader Amir Abd al-Qadir, who controlled most of the country until the French captured him in 1847. They'd pledged that he could retire to Alexandria in Egypt. They lied. They exiled him to various fortresses in France, where he was held prisoner until the advent of Napoleon III--who freed him, gave him a pension of 100,000, and let him move to Istanbul, then Damascus. He was more famous and celebrated by the French in his retirement than he'd been reviled by them as their principal enemy in Algeria. His fame circled the globe. He died in 1879

Algerian flag
Move the scene a few time zones west. It's 1836. Elisha Boardman and Horace Bronson settle on the banks of the Turkey River in what would become Iowa 10 years latter. The Turkey River is a tributary of the mighty Mississippi, which flowed south some 15 miles east of where Elisha and Horace set up their first farm and established the first schoolhouse. The village grew.

So what on earth has the story of an Algerian hero got to do with Midwestern homesteaders? This: when the homesteaders decided to name their village in 1846, they gave it the name of Elkader, in honor of the Algerian hero then busily fighting the French. (The Elkader town fathers and mothers must have been forerunners of that now-too common American disease: Francophobia.) Maybe the town's history helped make it more skeptical of George W. Bush's various wars in regions once dear to Abd al-Qadir: Clayton County, where Elkader is located, voted for John Kerrry over Bush in the 2004 election (52%-47%).

The point of this whole story isn't to highlight a bit of cross-cultural trivia that links the Middele East to the Middle West (although there is that, especially in a state that tends to favor Arabic tongues). Rather, it's to relate that when Elkader, a town of less than 1,500, was recently slammed by the floodwaters of the Mississippi, which ruined some 40 houses, it received a relief check worth $150,000--not from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency better known in the last few years for losing checks than delivering them to the right address, but from the government of Algeria.

The donation to the Clayton County Disaster Relief Committee "is to assist exclusively in the recovery of the citizens of Elkader as they put their community back together," the Telegraph Herald of Dubuque, Iowa, reported. (My thanks to the excellent Western Sahara Info. blog for pointing me to the story.)

Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an autocrat not quite in the mold of Abd al-Qadir, nevertheless had a touching message for the people of Elkader, apparently the first time that Elisha and Horace's descendants have ever received a message from a head of state: "We grieve with all the families of Elkader who have suddenly become homeless or have lost their livelihoods and express our deep sympathy as well as our admiration for the way that it is facing adversity with the pioneer spirit of dedicated volunteers and of community solidarity."


December 16, 2008 at 9:08 am
(1) Rachid Baghdad Brahim says:

Thank you for this article that hilighted our national and historical hero El Amir Abdelkader. I wanted to point out to the reason behind naming this Iowan town Elkader. I read somewhere on the internet that it was named after him in recognition of his action to save a large number of christian who were attacked by Druze in Syria. He was also recognized by then President Abraham Lincoln by giving him several guns that are displayed in Algiers Museum.

July 3, 2010 at 12:47 am
(2) Rakabe says:

Algeria is not in the middle east. it’s located in north Africa.

November 9, 2010 at 6:28 pm
(3) Tia says:

Algeria is in North Africa, never been Middle East, will never be. it is not geographically nor culturally so I am not sure how it end up in that section. cheers for rectifying. in any case, that was interesting.

September 26, 2011 at 12:39 am
(4) djamel says:

how about that abd el qadir was a free mason
that’s what i heard.

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