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Iowa Article: “The Opening of the Des Moines Valley to Settlement (Part 2 of 5)"

Van der Zee, “The Opening of the Des Moines Valley to Settlement (Part 2 of 5),” Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Oct 1916), 497-558.

Notes on Iowa will focus article summaries for this week on a five-part series by a Mr. Van der Zee in the July 1916 Iowa Journal of History and Politics. The series contains a wide-ranging assessment of the Des Moines River Valley, the land transfers taking place from French occupation through the 19th century, and the general series of population movements taking place during the time period.

Part 2 of the Van der Zee article focused specifically on the Sauk and Meskwaki between 1837 and 1845. During the brief eight year period, a significant amount of change took place for Indigenous peoples throughout Iowa. The article highlights specific challenges: reductions in wild game necessary as vital protein sources, consistent movement brought on by government resettlement leading to difficulty raising crops, several treaty negotiations, and increased population pressure due to continued expansion of American settlement.

As eager American settlers came to colonize the lower Des Moines and Skunk Rivers, the government pressured the Sauk and Meskwaki to move from the initial agency to one on the Raccoon River. Van der Zee also described the creation of Fort Sanford near the initial ‘Sauk and Fox Agency,’ as well as the Treaty of 1842. Readers should be alert to opportunities throughout the text to ‘read against the grain,’ or gain valuable insights into Sauk and Meskwaki lifeways when Van der Zee utilized reports of Agents describing agricultural practices and other methods of utilizing the environment for survival (notably the section on sap gathering).

The article also contains information about the change of agents from Joseph Street to John Beach. Both of these men left behind a wealth of information about early Iowa in their annual reports and personal correspondences.

“After their return from Washington in November, 1837, the Sacs and Foxes did little but live upon the government's presents of horses and merchandise, drink whiskey, and associate with the whites, many of whom had settled on Indian lands. Had the squaws not raised considerable quantities of corn, beans, and pumpkins in the summer of 1838 the Indians must have died from hunger, for the Foxes had killed very little game and the Sacs had not attempted to hunt because their vicinity was practically destitute of game. The poverty of the tribes resulted from withholding provisions and also from the sale of liquor by small dealers and border settlers, many of whom presented large claims when the government undertook to liquidate the indebtedness of the tribes. The Sac and Fox Indian agent reported that the whites had dispensed more whiskey among the natives in 1838 than at any other time since 1834.” (500)

“It was to get away from the border whiskey-sellers that Joseph M. Street selected a site for his Sac and Fox Agency some miles west of the new Indian boundary and only an hour's ride from the principal Indian village.” (500)

“Mr. and Mrs. Richard Kerr, having been appointed farmer and matron to the Indians, soon arrived. A suitable location was selected for the pattern or model farm and operations were begun at once. Agent Street wished to make a practical demonstration of his motto: "Teach him agriculture and his family domestic economy, give him by experience right notions of individual property, and the plan of civilizing the Indian commences with the A, B, C of civilization."44 Two saw and grist mills were also constructed: p502 one upon Sugar Creek, the other upon Soap Creek, and Jeremiah and Samuel Smith were placed in charge as millers. The mills were soon destroyed by freshets and even when rebuilt made no appeal to the Indians.” (502)

“Street's experience during the summer of 1838 indicated that little good could be done for the Indians unless white people and whiskey could be more effectively excluded from the Indian territory. When Street came to pay the Sacs and Foxes their annuities, not less than one hundred white men crowded into the new log council-house, and upon being requested to retire to permit the tribesmen to enter and receive their money, they went out and removed "all the chinking between the logs to look in and see what was going on." To quote further from the agent's report:

After the payment, the Indians paid to these small dealers, whiskey sellers, etc., something over $12,000 in specie, and the Foxes took $3,000 to pay the claimants, they said, not there. I mention these facts to show the Department the absolute necessity of the exclusion of the whites, except licensed traders, for the Sac and Fox country; and in relation to these I would add, that the only hope I can entertain of a benefit to the Indians is in the exclusion of all white men, but one trader, from the Indian country, whose goods and prices should be controlled by the United States agent, or that the United States take the trade into their own hands and exclude all traders, etc.” (502)

“In his annual report for 1839 Agent Street gave 4396 as the number of Sacs and Foxes dwelling in three villages a few miles from the agency and in Poweshiek's village on the Iowa River one hundred miles away. Although they now possessed mills and millers and broken fields for agriculture no benefits had yet accrued to the tribesmen because there was too much whiskey. In the summer liquor arrived at the Indian towns in barrels in open violation and defiance of the Territorial law passed in January prohibiting such commerce with the Indians. Some whites had actually crossed the boundary line, planted crops, fenced fields, built houses, and absolutely refused to leave: "in some of these houses the vilest practices take place to defraud the Indians.” (503)

“The Indians, strongly attached to Agent Street because he had their best interests at heart, were plunged into deep grief when they received word of his death at the agency in May, 1840. In the hope of succeeding to Street's position and also of preventing Mrs. Street and her children from being turned out of their new home, a son-in‑law, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Beach, made a rapid twelve-day journey from Dubuque to Washington and obtained the appointment as Indian agent.” (503)

“In his first report in the autumn of 1840 Beach notified the government that a Sac and Fox war party had attacked and killed several Sioux and Winnebago Indians, that the mills had been destroyed by freshets, and that the farms did not yield much. Indeed, at one time the Indians took down a fence and drove their ponies into a field of young wheat.49 Such was their inclination to farm. A year later one mill had been rebuilt, a bolt had been set up for the manufacture flour, and the farm contained •one hundred and seventy-seven acres of cultivated land, most of which with its crops of corn and oats had been fenced in with rails. Potatoes and turnips were expected for distribution. Agent Beach also made the following interesting statement:

But the cultivation which appears to render the greatest satisfaction of the Indians is that of •two acres in watermelons. About one half of those residing on the Des Moines are alternately invited once in each week, and several hundred melons issued to them. As this is, perhaps, the only article which they prefer to whiskey, they readily come several miles to procure them. Two beeves have been killed, and three others are fattening, for the Indians.” (504)

“As early as the year 1834 a difference of opinion had arisen among the Sacs and Foxes about the government method of paying annuities. At that time the chiefs of two Fox villages, Poweshiek and Appanoose, sent to the President a petition signed by over four hundred Fox hunters and warriors. They complained that the annuities paid to Keokuk had been given by him to the American Fur Company and they had received nothing. In time Hardfish, head of the upper village, became the leader of those who objected to having the money paid to irresponsible chiefs: they favored the direct payment of government annuities to the heads of families, and were supported in their contention by the Iowa legislators. At the council which was held in the agency house on September 28, 1840, in the presence of Governor Robert Lucas, the Indians could not conciliate their differences and so the payment was deferred. In the month of July, 1841, Governor John Chambers visited the Indians and probably discussed their dissensions with them, for not long afterward John Beach, the Indian agent, notified him that the two bands had at last solved their difficulty. Hardfish's band was to receive a part of the money due for distribution to the heads of families, while Keokuk's band was to receive the remainder for payment to the chiefs.” (505)

“Governor Chambers asked the chiefs and braves why the white people increased like leaves on the trees and why the Indians had decreased to only 2300 persons, and answered the question by telling them that white people lived in comfortable houses and had enough food to eat and sufficient clothing to wear. Besides, the red men used too much "liquor, impregnated with pepper and tobacco and other poisonous ingredients." The Sac chief Keokuk asked to have the proposal explained more fully the next day, and on Sunday, October 17th, the commissioners met the Indians in council to hear their answer. The Sac chief Hardfish declared that all were of one mind: they could not subsist in the poor prairie country offered them in exchange for their homes in the timber. Poweshiek, Pashepaho, Kishkekosh, Wishewahka, Keokuk, Wapello, and Appanoose all made short speeches and reiterated what Hardfish had said. Governor Chambers replied that they were mistaken about the region farther north, that there was timber, and that the government had only their best interests at heart and wished to remove them out of their present degraded condition. The Indians, however, were not to be won over, ended the negotiations, and went upon a spree such as they had never before known.” (506)

“Not long after the failure of these negotiations the Territorial legislature of Iowa passed a resolution in favor of further negotiations early in 1842. A purchase of Indian territory had become absolutely necessary in view of "the great and unprecedented influx of people" who wanted fertile lands and expected the government to buy and open to settlement more of the western country. Besides, it was understood that the Sacs and Foxes were willing to dispose of at least a part of their lands.” (508)

“The treaty of October, 1842, required the removal of the Indians to lands farther west and the abandonment of all the trading houses and the agency buildings. Only the pattern farm was to be operated for another year. George Wilson, the farmer, took charge in November, finished a p509 house for visiting Indians, and two corn cribs, and distributed the produce of the farm to the tribesmen, thus preventing much suffering during a winter of unusual length and severity. Owing to the malicious burning of the Indian mill on Soap Creek, Wilson was obliged to journey from forty to sixty miles to have wheat ground into flour. This with corn, potatoes, pork, beef and oats and fodder for horses comprised the supplies furnished to the Indians. In the spring of 1843 the chiefs asked that the whole farm be planted in corn, but interminable rains made it impossible to comply with their wishes. Then, owing to a summer drouth not more than one‑third of the usual crop was gathered, besides a small quantity of oats and hay. Such was the end of the history of the Sac and Fox Agency.” (509)

“John Beach, the Indian agent, had work to do when over-anxious, land-grabbing whites sought to gain a foothold in the Sac and Fox country. In his first annual report dated September 1, 1841, he made the following statement:61

Extensive infractions of the intercourse act, in that section prohibiting the surveying, marking of trees, and otherwise designating boundaries within the Indian territory, have been for several months past, and still are, constantly occurring. Information of the intended treaty [negotiations in fall of 1841] having become extensively circulated, has caused this portion of the country to be visited by large numbers of persons, some of whom occasion much annoyance to the Indians, beside committing acts in direct violation of the laws of the United States. Of the intruders who have settled upon Indian land, and have been frequently warned to remove therefrom, with most ample assurances of what would be the final result of pertinacity on their part, none have removed since my late special report upon the subject. I earnestly hope, as I then recommended, that no delay will be suffered in taking the necessary measures to convince these people of the potency of the law.” (509)

“During the first two years of his incumbency Beach found it necessary three times to call in dragoon detachments from Fort Atkinson to drive out the intruders. Early in the year 1842 Governor Chambers asked the federal government to aid in expelling the squatters and preserving order. During the month of June a squad of dragoons under Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Leonidas Jenkins removed many persons from the Indian lands south of the Des Moines and returned to Fort Atkinson.His opinion that a sufficient military force should be stationed near the agency received the endorsement of the Governor when he urged the United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs to prevent the lawless element from returning to the Indians. Beach in the autumn of 1842 reported that incendiaries had burned the agency mills out of revenge for being removed from the Indian country and that they had terrorized the agency families by their acts of violence. Whiskey-sellers produced the most disgusting scenes of drunkenness; Beach and the Governor were shot in effigy; and Jeremiah Smith secretly removed a band of Indians to tour the country for exhibition purposes. Concerning all these disorders and difficulties Beach wrote:

I know of no point upon our Indian frontier where the permanent presence of a military force is more essentially requisite than at this. . . . . No obstruction, no means of prevention here exist to the continual passage to and fro in the Indian country of the most lawless and desperate characters, who can at any time commit outrages against order, morality, and the laws, with perfect impunity; and many of whom, feeling themselves aggrieved by their recent expulsions from the Indian country, are the more ready to revenge themselves by acts of violence.” (510)

“On a journey to visit the agency early in September, 1842, Chambers found hundreds of landseekers infesting the border line, "ready to swoop across and take up the new land" as soon as they heard that a treaty of purchase had been made. Although some behaved themselves well, others drunkenly "threatened the Agent, the dragoons, and the Governor, and created so many kinds of disturbance that they must needs be placed under guard." According to Chambers obtained a full company of dragoons from Fort Atkinson. These troops under Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.James Allen arrived at the agency early in October in time to preserve order during the important treaty negotiations between Governor Chambers and the Indians.” (511)

“On the twelfth of November the dragoons left their camp near the agency and found quarters in abandoned log cabins four miles to the westward, thanks to the kindness of John F. A. Sanford, a son-in‑law of Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and a member of the American Fur Company. Captain Allen named the post Fort Sanford, built log huts for two officers and stables for the horses in preparation for the winter, and during the month of November made an expedition with a portion of his company to the mouth of the Raccoon River. Once a week mail was carried by express from Fairfield, the nearest postoffice, twenty-one miles away. In official military circles the station went by the name of "Sac and Fox Agency" (512)

“When this work had been completed in three weeks time by weighing the testimony of both the Indians and the traders, Chambers with the interpreters, Antoine Le Claire and Josiah Smart, and a few others met the chiefs in a large circular tent set up for the occasion — the Governor in the uniform of a Brigadier General and the Indians in their best blankets, fresh paint, and fine feathers. When, after many days of oratory and counselling and dancing almost every night, the terms of the treaty had been agreed upon and signatures affixed on October 11, 1842, the Sacs and Foxes had parted with their title to all lands within the Territory of Iowa.” (512)

“Besides retaining the right to occupy their villages until May 1, 1843, and to occupy all their country to the west of a line drawn north and south through "painted or red rocks on the White Breast fork of the Des Moines river [in Marion County]," from then until October 11, 1845, the Indians were to receive each year an income of five percent on a fund of $800,000; their debts were to be paid; and a tract of land on the Missouri River was to be assigned to them. Each of the principal chiefs became entitled to spend five hundred dollars annually as he saw fit. Moreover, a sum of $30,000 was to be kept out of the annual payment for tribal and charitable purposes such as the support of the poor, the burial of the dead, the employment of physicians, and for provisions in case of necessity. The Indians were also to be free to ask for the payment of annuities in goods or provisions or for agricultural purposes. Among the minor stipulations were two of a sentimental nature: the Indians left one hundred dollars in the hands of John Beach for a tombstone in memory of their chief, Wapello, who lay buried beside their former agent, Joseph M. Street; and feeling under obligations to Mr. Street for many acts of kindness and wishing to give "his widow Mrs. Eliza M. Street one section of land to include the said graves, and the agency-house and enclosures around and near it", the United States agreed to give Mrs. Street "six hundred and forty acres of land in such legal subdivisions, as will include the said burial ground, the agency house, and improvements around, and near it, in good and convenient form, to be selected by the said E. M. Street or her duly authorized agent."” (513)

Description of Rev. Benjamin A. Spaulding, pioneer minister, who visited Wapello County Agencv 1844:

Their huge bark buildings present a fine appearance in the distance at twilight, but on a nearer approach by day they seem rather the haunts of beasts than the abodes of men. Not a tree or shrub, a garden or well, nor the slightest mark of beauty or comfort, was any where to be seen; even the wild grass had been beaten by continual trampling, till not a blade or root was left, and as the savages were away on a hunting expedition the stillness of death reigned over their desolate homes. There are several other villages on this and the neighboring rivers, containing in all about 2,200 persons all that is left of the Sacs and Foxes, those warlike tribes who filled the whole frontier with terror during the Black Hawk War.” (516)

“Agent Beach continued his report on the habits and customs of his charges as follows:

As soon as the sap commences to run, the Indians move to their 'sugar camps,' and employ themselves in the manufacture of sugar and molasses as long as they can. After which, they repair to their permanent villages; and, having once more placed their bark lodges p517 in habitable order, the time has arrived for the commencement of their agricultural operations. These are somewhat limited, and mostly performed by the females, being confined to the planting of a little corn, beans, and melons, in the small patches broken up with hoes in the soft timbered ground, though of late the men have shown an increasing disposition to assist, and have applied to me for the purchase of horses, harness, and ploughs, from their agricultural fund.

From the time of planting until their payment, except the month of June, (usually consumed in a buffalo hunt,) the Indians hang about their villages, addicted to the most constant and revolting intoxication, the facilities for which are so deplorably numerous, and will continue to increase until greater certainty of detection and the penitentiary shall be made to await all those who are guilty of the crime of producing it.” (517)

“The site of the Raccoon River Agency proved to be an unfortunate choice. Nearly all the residents, civil and military, suffered severely from malarial disorders. Mrs. Beach died in the summer of 1845 and was buried near her father at the old Sac and Fox Agency. Beach himself also became very ill, and during the year seventy-nine Indians died, including Chief Pashepaho.” (517)

“Before their rights of occupation by the treaty of 1842 expired on October 11, 1845, Keokuk and the Sacs were on their way southwestward. The Foxes, however, made a show of refusing to accompany their confederates: the illness of Agent Beach "enabled evil-disposed and interested persons to act upon the credulity of a portion of the tribe, and by keeping them drunk, and mis­representing the character and situation of the land designated for their future residence, to prejudice them against it, and render them unwilling to remove."78 Nevertheless, with the exception of about one hundred, including many of the sick and infirm, the Sacs and Foxes passed out of "a country endeared by the tenderest recollections: their cradle, the home of their youth, the sepulchre of their ancestors, and of many dearest friends". They emigrated within the time prescribed by the treaty, the Sacs before the last day of September and the Foxes a few days before the eleventh of October and, owing to their abundant supply of horses and a plentiful crop, they needed no assistance from the government in removing to the region which they selected about the headwaters of the Osage River. Agent John Beach once more set up headquarters, this time on the Kansas reservation.” (518)


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