"An Historic Indian Agency," by Richard C. Leggett

Leggett, Richard C. "An Historic Indian Agency." The Annals of Iowa 25 (1944), 257-274. Available at: https://doi.org/10.17077/0003-4827.6273


Richard C. Leggett's 1944 article focused on the final Sauk and Meskwaki Agency the American government located east of modern-day Ottumwa. The Agency also briefly also included a transitionary fort, Fort Sanford, that existed between the first and second iterations of Fort Des Moines.


The legacy of Joseph Street provided a notable portion of the article. The long-time agent of various tribes throughout the upper-Midwest culminated with his time among the Sauk and Meskwaki in Iowa. According the the account, the Indigenous peoples who worked with Street appreciated and respected the Agent. He is buried next to Chief Wapello near the town of Agency, Iowa, today. The article also included many details and excerpts from the final dealings of the American government necessary to dispossessing the Sauk and Meskwaki of their lands in Iowa.


"There is little to indicate to the traveler through Wapello county, Iowa, on Highway 34, that the village of Agency is one of Iowa's historic spots. This little town, long known as Agency City, is located about six miles east of Ottumwa, about six miles northeast of old Fort Sanford on the Des Moines river, and about eight miles northwest of the site of old Iowaville. It is a beautiful spot on the divide between the Des Moines river and Big Cedar creek, and here was located the last Sac and Fox permanent agency in Iowa." (257)


"Immediately after the ratification of the Second Purchase treaty on February 21, 1838, the Indian Department deemed it advisable to move the Sac and Fox agency from the Mississippi to some point west of the Indian boundary. Black Hawk spent the winter of 1837 in Lee county, but moved early in 1838 to his last home near Iowaville. Appanoose had established his village at the mouth of Sugar creek on the Des Moines river near the present city of Ottumwa. After leaving his Reservation on the Iowa river, Keokuk first had his home on the Des Moines river near Iowaville." (257)


"The Indian Department directed Gen. Joseph Monfort Street, the agent for the Sac and Fox nation, to move that agency to some point near the villages on the Des Moines river. Consequently, in the month of May, 1838, he organized an expedition to select the new location. Chief Poweshiek and about thirty of his warriors accompanied him as a bodyguard. On leaving their reservation on the Iowa river, they feared they might be surprised and cut off by their ancient enemies, the Sioux, but they were unmolested and safely returned to their homes after accomplishing their mission." (258)


"This location was about eight miles west of the Indian boundary as fixed by the 1837 treaty and a little farther from Iowaville. It lay on the route taken by the dragoons in 1836 when they marched to the Raccoon fork of the Des Moines ; the village of Appanoose lay some six miles west, and the various bands of the Sac and Fox nation were located within a radius of about twenty-five miles." (258)


"Gen. Joseph Montfort Street was the strongest personality affecting Iowa history during the period from the death of Julien Dubuque in 1810, to the coming of Governor Lucas in 1838. His life was one of continual adventure and of association with men who made history in the Mississippi valley. He was born in Lunenburg county, Virginia, on December 18, 1772, the son of Colonel Anthony Street of the Colonial army. Early in life he migrated to Kentucky, where he read law with the famous Henry Clay, and, for a brief period practiced law in the courts of Tennessee and Kentucky." (259)


"In 1827 he was appointed agent for the Winnebago Indians at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and then commenced the development of his true career. Previous to his advent, the Indian agents at Prairie du Chien had been the subservient tools of the Indian traders. But Street was an absolutely incorruptible, high principled man who had the interests of the Indians at heart. He safeguarded them and obtained their confidence. The American Fur Company, H. L. Dousman, and the rest of the traders conspired against him, involved him in many complications and in two vexatious law suits, but they could not break his spirit or lessen his influence with the Indians. When they brought political pressure to bear on President Jackson, who had known Street in Kentucky, he emphatically informed them that there would be no change while he was president." (260-261)


"For the first year there was little of moment. The Pattern Farm about a half mile northwest of the Council House was rapidly cleared, plowed and planted. Schools were established, the blacksmith shop put in operation and two mills, one on Sugar creek and one on Soap creek. south of the Des Moines river, were rapidly completed. The Sacs and Foxes did not take readily to education or to farming. General Street was sadly disappointed at their refusal to adapt themselves to the educational measures which he fostered." (261)


"In 1840 General Street was taken seriously ill and passed away on May 5, 1840, at the Agency. His death deprived the Sac and Fox nation of their strongest friend and protector." (261)


"A touching tribute paid their dead friend was the request they made that his body be buried inside the reservation. The widow consenting, the tribe gladly followed the suggestion of Keokuk that a section of land on the reservation be given Mrs. Street, the land to include a burial spot selected by her. Keokuk was emphatic in declaring that this promised donation was in the name of the whole tribe, and equally emphatic in the assurance that even if only one Indian was left when the land be sold, that one would see to it that this promise to the dead be faithfully kept by the living." (262)


"Another touching tribute was paid to this good man's memory. On the death of Wapello, two years later, his dying wish that his body be buried alongside that of his "father and friend" was faithfully executed. The Indians brought his remains many miles and deposited them a few feet from the tomb of General Street." (262)


"Even during General Street's administration as agent there was continual friction between the two factions of the Sacs and Foxes. One of these, headed by Keokuk, was the faction which had refused to participate in the Black Hawk war and usually had the ear of the government authorities, while the other or Black Hawk band, was usually in disfavor with the governor. The headquarters of the Black Hawk faction were at Eddyville. It must be remembered that Black Hawk had died at his home near Iowaville in October, 1838, and before General Street came to Agency." (263)


"The plight of the Indians was growing steadily worse. The wiles of the traders had plunged them deeper and deeper into debt, and the "water that burns" had undermined the health of both male and female. White men looked with covetous eyes upon the beautiful Iowa land and the scene was all set for another sale of their lands which would pay their debts and make more land available to the whites." (267)


"Among the Indian villages in the winter of 1841-42, debt and poverty were working a change of heart. One day in February, Keokuk, Appanoose, and Wapello came to the Agency house and told Captain Beach that they desired to cede a part of their land and so pay off their debts. They added that it would please them to be invited to Washington to see the Great Father and there have a treaty council. And the next day Hardfish came also to the agent and expressed his concurrence with the plan." (269)


"The Sac and Fox agency was maintained at Agency until the spring of 1843. Then the agent went with the Indians to the Raccoon forks of the Des Moines where the new agency was established for the last three-year period of the Indians stay in Iowa." (274)


"And so we see Agency was the stage on which an important part of lowa'a early life was enacted. Its importance waned with the passing of the Indians. Yet, it is a marked spot in Iowa history." (275)



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