Dr. John Cook was born in England. He went to school at Oxford University and was a graduate of the London College of Medicine and Surgery. Before moving to the United States, he served in some of London's most famous hospitals.
Cook decided to move to the United States. Many of his friends had already made the trip and wrote letters describing this new land. Arriving in Illinois, Cook decided to work as a surveyor for the government. Here he met a young woman who lived in a neighboring settlement and asked her to marry him. The woman had been married before and had a daughter named Henrietta.
Several years passed and all the surrounding lands in Illinois had been surveyed. More and more people were settling the land. Cook was asked by the United States Government to move to Iowa where the lands were to be surveyed. He moved his wife and daughter to a small town on the Missouri River named Kanesville. This town is now named Council Bluffs. There he met a man named James Jackson. Mr. Jackson and his partner, Milton Tootle owned several small stores located in towns south of Kanesville. Mr. Jackson fell in love with Henrietta, Cook's stepdaughter, and married her.
Mr. Jackson had met and dealt with Theophile Bruguier for several years. Bruguier had complained to Jackson that he had to come a long distance just to purchase needed goods. He asked Jackson to consider building a store near the area where he lived. Jackson was not enthusiastic about traveling so far north into a country with sparse population except for migrating bands of Indians. However, encouraged by his wife, Jackson made the trip in 1852 and was very impressed with the location between the mouths of the Floyd and Sioux Rivers. He came back to Kanesville and spoke with Doctor Cook, who was quite interested.
Doctor Cook, James Jackson, Iowa Representative Bernhart Henn, United States senators George W. Jones and Augustus C. Dodge, and Jesse Williams, Iowa territorial official, formed the Sioux City Land Company. Cook served as both president and representative for the group. Cook moved to the area and discovered that much of the land had already been settled by Joseph Leonais. Leonais's land encompassed the area from the Missouri River to Seventh Street and from what is now Water Street to Jones Street. Cook then claimed the only land left available, 160 acres west of Leonais' claim across Perry Creek.
He then began the job of plotting of his new city. Shortly after beginning this survey, Dr. Cook found many Yankton Indians camped at the mouth of the Floyd River. Led by their leader Smutty Bear, Cook was ordered to quit his survey and leave or there would be violence. Dr. Cook reportedly replied that if Smutty Bear were not peaceable, he would go at once for white men of sufficient number of exterminate (kill) the tribe. The Indians chose to leave and the survey was completed.
Dr. Cook realized that the members of the company would not be very happy with his location for the new city. For the city to be successful, it would need a levee built so steamships would be able to stop, load and unload needed goods. He visited William Thompson and offered to buy his land. But Thompson wanted to start his own town, so he refused to sell.
Dr. Cook had been staying at Leonais' cabin and began to try to convince him to sell his land. He first offered Leonais $100 for the land. That is what Leonais had paid Bruguier for the land. Leonais had plenty of customers at his store and had already raised three crops of corn on the property, so he wasn't interested in selling. Cook responded by increasing the offer to $500. Leonais looked to his sister, Mrs. Lapore, who was living with him for advice. She told him not to sell. Dr. Cook told them he wanted the land to build an orchard to sell fruit to the pioneers. They did not believe him. They had figured that he wanted the land to build a town, and said they were going to stay and sell lots themselves. Dr. Cook then asked Leonais how much he wanted for his claim, to which Leonais replied, "three thousand dollars". While this was quite a shook to Cook, he finally agreed to the price, knowing he had to have the land for the city to develop. This area was called the East Addition.
Senators Dodge and Jones were able to convince the President of the United States, Franklin Pierce, to establish a post office and a land office in Sioux City. These additions gave the city an advantage over all the other small rival cities.
Building of a levee began immediately and was completed in June of 1856. Now ships could dock. Cook convinced Jackson and his partner Tootle to build a store here as soon as possible.
Later that year the steamboat Omaha arrived with the new prefabricated store on board. The boat had been chartered for $24,000. The value of the cargo was placed at $70,000. On board the boat was the first frame store. There was also lumber, a sawmill, dry goods, hardware and other merchandise. The store had been built in St. Louis at a cost of $800. All that was needed was to put the pieces together. The store was called "Tootle and Jackson".
That same year Dr. Cook became the city postmaster and county judge. It is said that Dr. Cook carried the mail around in his hat and, when he saw someone he had mail for, he would then give it to them. The future for the city and Dr. Cook seemed bright. Soon, more than 90 building had been built. Lots were selling at a fast rate, and steamboats were docking at the new levee.
Then in 1857, a financial panic hit the United States. The value of real estate dropped and many people lost their fortunes. In order to make a living Dr. Cook was forced to return to the practice of medicine. From that time until he moved away in 1879, he continued his practice on a limited basis.
Until leaving town for St. Louis in 1879, the doctor was held in high esteem by the community. He served as mayor in 1861 and '62 and was active in the city's Masonic Lodge. He died in 1885 at the age of 86.