top of page

Frontier Tensions at Fort Robinson: Iowa Time Machine June 11, 1850

Iowa Time Machine ⏰: On June 11, 1850, settlers near Marshalltown started construction on Fort Robinson after burning down a nearby village of the Meskwaki. A tense moment in Iowa’s settlement-era history, the little-discussed episode demonstrates the difficulties presented by difference and fear along the frontier.

The trouble started in the spring when settler Samuel Davison confronted several Meskwaki leaders to level accusations of livestock meddling and depredations. John Campbell alleged the Meskwaki killed several of his hogs and drove off several of his cattle. With the Meskwaki’s primary leader on a visit to Washington D.C., settlers found the Meskwaki response inadequate and bided their time as tensions built. Their chance came in early June when the Meskwaki headed out to hunt.

Sneaking into the village, several settlers set fire to the wigwams, stored corn, and clothing of the Meskwaki. Afraid of retribution, the innocent portions of Marshalltown feared swift and terrifying retribution from the Meskwaki upon a return to the burned-down village. Sending messengers to Major Wood and the American troops stationed at Fort Dodge, the settlers constructed a split-timber fort on June 11. Wood declined to intervene from Fort Dodge, citing an inability to spare troops while 24 settler families moved into the hastily constructed fort. Several Meskwaki returned to find their village incinerated while Fort Robinson neared completion.

The returned men sought answers from the settler community, who suggested the fort might provide protection from the Meskwaki’s traditional enemies, the Dakota. The Meskwaki offered both arms and assistance to the settlers who recently burned their village to the ground. Fearing treachery, the settler community declined the offer of assistance. Unfazed, the Meskwaki offered some advice on constructing loopholes and returned to the site of their village. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


bottom of page