The West Des Moines area used to be home to the Sac and Fox tribes. Near the stroke of midnight on October 11, 1845 a gunshot was fired by a cattle farmer, James Cunningham Jordan (1813–1893) and the tribes left. His residence, the Jordan House, has been restored and is now home to the West Des Moines Historical Society. In West Des Moines' early years, the town was a trading and shipping junction. West Des Moines incorporated as the city of Valley Junction on October 9, 1893.
In its early days Valley Junction was home to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad's switching facilities and repair shops due to its location at the junction of several railroad lines. The Rock Island's facilities moved out of Valley Junction and back into Des Moines in 1936.
The speed limit of ten miles (16 km) an hour had existed in Valley Junction since 1911 for all automobiles. But in 1915 an Englishman named Jack Prince built a one-mile (1.6 km) oval race track, designed to let race cars break that speed limit ten times over. The wooden track was made of 980,000 feet (300,000 m) of 2x4's laid on edge. It was one of 24 such tracks nationwide; with seating for over 10,000 people. On 1915-08-07, the eyes of the auto world were on Valley Junction in anticipation of the fastest 300-mile (480 km) auto race in history. Ralph DePalma, winner of the Indianapolis 500 that year, was one of at least a dozen drivers vying for the $10,000 purse. Before a crowd of 7,000 people, a tire blew, lunging Joe Cooper's car over the rail. Later while rounding a curb, a wheel of Billy Chandler's Duesenberg failed, cartwheeling the car into the infield and fatally injuring his mechanic, Morris Kessler. Chandler was seriously injured. Smiling Ralph Mulford won the race with DePalma a close 2nd. This baptism by blood left a bad taste in the mouth of the locals, and the track was closed two years later. The wood was salvaged and then used to construct buildings in Valley Junction.
The serious dilemma of school overcrowding was partially addressed in 1916. The bond issue to build a new high school for $50,000 was approved by a 2 to 1 vote. The similar new grade school issue was defeated soundly. Building commenced and by September of the following year, the doors of the new Valley High School were opened at 8th and Hillside. As a part of schoolboard policy, only first class college-educated teachers were hired. By 1919, the rooms of the new high school were filled. A new junior high school was proposed, approved, and completed by the fall of 1923.
The new school was the only bright spot in the otherwise uncertain dreary years of 1922 and 1923. The very foundations of the city were shaken by a 22-month-machinist strike at the Rock Island shops. Starting 1922-07-01, 600 workers were idled. The railroad company reacted by bringing replacement workers into town to break the strike. The replacements were mostly Mexican and African-American laborers brought up from Oklahoma by R. C. Hyde, the master mechanic at the shops. For their own protection they lived in boxcars and tiny houses in an area located south of Railroad Avenue and west of the main rail yards. The area was dubbed "Hyde Park" by the strikers. The resulting hardships suffered by the idled workers eventually led the most desperate to choose between breaking the strike or letting their family starve. It was a time which pitted neighbor against neighbor, tearing at the very fabric of the community. Two men shot themselves in desperation before the strike finally ended.