Iowa Article: “The Opening of the Des Moines Valley to Settlement (Part 4 of 5)"

Article on Iowa: “The Opening of the Des Moines Valley to Settlement (Part 4 of 5),” Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Oct 1916), 497-558. https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Iowa/_Texts/journals/IaJHP/14/4/The_Opening_of_the_Des_Moines_Valley_to_Settlement/4*.html


Notes on Iowa will focus article summaries for this week on a five-part series by a Jacob 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.


In part four of Jacob Van der Zee’s assessment of the Des Moines River Valley, the focus shifted back to Indigenous peoples throughout the region. The article opened by discussing the final removal of the Sauk and Meskwaki to Kansas, as well as struggles those specific grounds had with the American Fur Company. The dwindling amount of game, specifically in southeastern and central Iowa, underwrite many of the struggles between the government, commercial interests, Indigenous peoples, and incoming settlers. The declining wildlife populations resulted from overhunting, but also from the onset of widespread environmental change as the oak savannahs and prairies of Iowa began the large-scale conversion to agriculture.


In the second-half of the article, Van der Zee shifted to discussing the Dakota and Ho-Chunk in Iowa (Sioux and Winnebago in article). Most notably, the author highlights how the Dakota bands living in Iowa had a significant presence and defined territory. Many attempts have been made throughout the historiography of the Dakota in Iowa to suggest that they sometimes ranged thorough or hunted in Iowa. The primary record, however, paints an incredibly different picture. Dakota assertions of sovereignty and autonomy often arise in accounts related to the time-period, and Van der Zee’s recounting of a Dakota attack on a wayward group of Delaware who wandered into their territory helps illustrate this reality.


“Instead of merely a large portion of eastern Iowa lying along the Mississippi, twice or three times as much, or even all, of Sac and Fox territory in the Iowa country might have been added to the public domain by the treaty of 1832 had not Indian traders effectively blocked the government’s commissioners. John Jacob Astor, represented by his agents, Russell Farnham and George Davenport, was astute enough to procure $40,000 in full payment of Sac and Fox debts, and in order to prevent the removal of the Indians too far away from their business headquarters on Rock Island the traders also advised and obtained the insertion of a provision for Keokuk's Reserve upon both banks of the Iowa River. Were the Sacs and Foxes to congregate on this tract, how much more convenient and profitable for the American Fur Company than a location south or west of the Missouri River four or five hundred miles away!” (528)


“By the first of June, 1833, the Indians were supposed to be dwelling in their bark lodges upon Keokuk's Reserve or in their territory west of the Black Hawk Purchase. That their hunts were becoming very poor is clear from the report that they made about one hundred and fifty packs of fur in the winter of 1833, as compared with four hundred four years before.” (529)


“To what extent the tribesmen refused to hunt, now that the government paid their chiefs large annual sums of money for distribution, it is difficult to ascertain, but one thing seems clear: a difference of opinion arose among the braves and warriors in regard to the manner of paying the annuities. In August, 1834, Poweshiek and over two hundred hunters of the Fox village on the Cedar River, besides Chief Appanoose and nearly two hundred more Foxes on the Des Moines, petitioned against the payment of annuities to Keokuk, the head chief, because he had turned all the money over to the American Fur Company, so that most of the tribesmen received nothing. This matter remained a bone of contention for sixteen years.” (529)


“Sometime before the date of the sale of Keokuk's Reserve in September, 1836, all the Sacs and Foxes, Poweshiek and his Fox band upon the Red Cedar excepted, had removed to the Des Moines River, and so their traders found it necessary to carry goods some forty or fifty miles inland. The treaty of 1836 reveals again the influence of persons financially interested in the tribes: all "just creditors" whose claims the government satisfied are mentioned in the concluding section of the treaty, among them S. S. Phelps and Company, George Davenport, Antoine Le Claire, Francis Labachiere, and Pratte, Chouteau and Company, the latter alone receiving $20,362.42½. An observer of the time pointed out the policy of the Sac and Fox traders to prevent the extinguishment of title except to small portions of their country and urge the Indians to accept payment in nothing but specie.Inasmuch as game was becoming scarcer in the Iowa country, money became a welcome substitute for furs as the medium of exchange for the traders' goods and whiskey.” (530)


“The narrow strip of country which the Sac and Fox deputation sold to the United States in 1837 proved to be another "nail in the coffin" of the tribes. Despite the fact that the government had the previous year appropriated $48,458.87½ for the payment of debts due Sac and Fox traders, these gentlemen were not overlooked in the treaty negotiations which took place at Washington, D. C. On the contrary they were generously remembered in the stipulation that bills against Indian customers aggregating not more than $100,000 would be paid by the government.” (531)


“Finding it difficult to care for his charges so many miles away, John M. Street, Sac and Fox agent since March 4, 1835, removed his office from Rock Island to a place several miles west of the Indian boundary established in 1837. He reported that the border whites had dispensed more whiskey among the Sacs and Foxes in 1838 than at any other time since 1834. Despite his uncompromising hostility toward all whites who were exploiting the Indian's weakness for liquor and articles of every description, Street could make no headway against their traffic with the red men.” (532)


“Governor Lucas, acting also as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Territory, aired his animosity towards the Chouteaus at every opportunity. In the autumn of 1839, he wrote to Washington about the payment of the annuity to the head chiefs who in turn handed it to the agent of the American Fur Company. Great dissatisfaction reigned among the tribesmen; some of the chiefs had lost popularity among the braves and warriors and they were suspected of being controlled by the agents of the American Fur Company and other traders. Lucas felt certain that the government could do the Indians very little good so long as the power and influence of traders remained supreme in Indian councils. Since the interests of traffickers in merchandise and liquor were opposed to the government's policy, frequently embarrassing government officials by open violation of the law, Lucas strongly urged that goods instead of money be distributed to the red men to protect them against the impositions of traders.” (533)


“The year 1840 saw the arrival of more traders among the Sacs and Foxes to compete for a portion of the Indian furs and annuities. The Chouteau post had been monopolizing business in the villages of Keokuk, Wapello, and Appanoose, then situated where the city of Ottumwa now stands. Higher up the Des Moines River Hardfish and a band of malcontents, openly hostile to Chief Keokuk and his administration of tribal affairs, had pitched their lodges.There, in the heart of the present town of Eddyville, J. P. Eddy was licensed to trade in the summer of 1840, and not long afterward the Chouteaus had a post near the same place. The brothers George Washington and Washington George Ewing, experienced in Indian trade since at least the year 1826, were also licensed to deal with the Sacs and Foxes and accordingly set up a large establishment opposite the Indian villages under the supervision of "a Mr. Hunt, a gentleman of far more education, refinement and culture than is often found among the resident Indian traders." (533)


“Beach declared in his annual report for 1840‑1841 that the domestic discord in the tribes was "principally attributable to a rivalry among the trading interest, and the different opinions entertained by those licensed in the trade, in regard to that mode promising the greatest certainty of payment to themselves for the credits they had always extended to the Indians to a large amount." The difficulty, however, was cleared up in the fall of 1841 and the annuities for two years were doled out to the satisfaction of all concerned, traders with big accounts included.” (535)


“Some time during the year 1842 the American Fur Company seems to have abandoned its log cabin headquarters a few miles west of the Sac and Fox Agency, permitted a company of dragoons under Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.James Allen to occupy them, and established a new post higher up the Des Moines River in the Red Rock region of Marion County.The Sac and Fox villagers removed their lodges to the neighborhood of the Raccoon River in accordance with the terms of the treaty of 1842, which allowed them to retain that part of their territory in Iowa for another two years. When the winter of 1843‑1844 set in, the licensed traders were comfortably ensconced in log cabins on the present site of East Des Moines. The Ewings occupied a half section of land; not far away was the residence and farm of the Phelps brothers; and just across the river stood Fort Des Moines.” (545)


“Little need be added about the activity of licensed traders in this region before the departure of the Sacs and Foxes in the autumn of 1845. The change of residence to the neighborhood of Fort Des Moines did not in the least abate the Indians' excessive fondness for liquor nor limit their means of procuring it: unprincipled whites supplied them with whiskey wherever they went. The Indians still wasted their money. Instead of buying necessaries, they quickly spent their income on the trash of traders and the whiskey and horses of others. Furthermore, a large part of the provisions and goods furnished by the government they "exchanged for whiskey as soon as they get possession of them, and always at such rates as the cupidity of the whiskey sellers chooseº to dictate." Most of them had abandoned the chase, were seldom sober, and were "averse, from habit and savage pride, to labor." Subject to the overruling and controlling influence of their traders, they made "no provision in advance for their wants, and the prospect of starvation seems to have no terrors for them until the last mouthful of food is exhausted." (546)


“The tract of Iowa country occupied by the Sacs and Foxes after May, 1843, was so destitute of game that the Indians were compelled to visit the border settlements during the winter months. The whites offered no complaint because, forsooth, the worst of them took advantage of the red men, stripped them of all their property, and later, at the succeeding payment, a host of such border "harpies" beset them for the payment of promissory notes and other obligations. And just before Sac and Fox tribal life was to be shifted beyond the Missouri, the Indian agent could state that his charges had little regard for the white man's education because it appeared to consist in knowing how most effectually to cheat the benighted red man; they had little esteem for so‑called civilization because it pandered to the worst propensities of human nature and they beheld the criminal, inhuman results thereof with a cold indifference; while the Christian religion seemed to the Indians the worship of dollars and cents.With such a low opinion of their white neighbors, the Sacs and Foxes forsook the rich prairies of Iowa to take up their abode in the gameless region about the headwaters of the Osage River in Kansas.” (547)


“The departure of the Sacs and Foxes from the well-watered prairies of central Iowa to the dry lands and feverish climate of southeastern Kansas did not rid the valley of the upper Des Moines of Indian visitations. Indeed, two other tribes of red men retained for a few years longer the right to hunt in this portion of the Iowa wilderness.” (548)


“As early as 1825 the United States government had taken steps to end the long, deadly feud between the Sioux and the allied Sacs and Foxes: a line was drawn from the mouth of the Upper Iowa River in northeastern Iowa to the second or upper fork of the Des Moines River and thence to the lower fork of the Calumet or Big Sioux River. Neither of the Indian nations was to cross this boundary to encroach upon the other's territory, but time demonstrated that the treaty line of 1825 availed nothing.” (548)


“The next step to establish peace came in 1830. The same nations were prevailed upon by the United States to part with their titles to twenty-mile strips of land north and south of the boundary fixed five years before. This Neutral Ground, however, was to extend only from the Mississippi to the Des Moines. Events soon showed that long years of rivalry and enmity could not thus be forgotten all at once by an agreement to respect the neutrality of this uninhabited forty-mile strip: a scrap of paper proved to be no effective barrier against the war and hunting expeditions of savages thirsting for each other's blood. The Neutral Ground continued to be the scene of occasional frays between these enemies. Two years later the President of the United States exercised his power to allot the eastern portion of the barrier country to the Winnebago Indians in exchange for their cession of certain lands east of the Mississippi, and in 1837 the government agreed to let them hunt upon the western portion also. It was with considerable misgiving that the Winnebagoes took up their abode in this Iowa region as the buffer between two irreconcilable foes.” (548)


“West of the Neutral Ground, upon the west bank of the Des Moines, the Sioux bands and the allied Sacs and Foxes still prosecuted their hunts, their hunting-grounds being separated by a wedge-shaped portion of Pottawattamie Indian country, the point of which reached the mouth of the East Fork of the Des Moines River. Setting out from here in the summer of 1835 Surveyor James Craig and his party ran the first line called for by the treaty of 1830: from the east or upper fork they proceeded over one hundred miles northwestward in the region bordering upon the West Fork of the Des Moines, passed "Lac D'Esprits (Spirit or Ghost Lake)" and the sources of the Little Sioux and the Floyd rivers, thence going southwestward along the Little Rock River, the Rock River, and down the Big Sioux or Calumet to the Missouri.” (549)


“Thus did the lands of four tribes meet at one spot. That other tribes occasionally resorted to this region is evidenced by the report that sixteen Delaware Indians from the reservation near Fort Leavenworth in the autumn of 1841 made their way northward across the Pottawattamie reservation in western Iowa and somewhere in the northern part of Webster County encountered a large party of Sioux who surrounded and fired upon them. The Delawares put up a valiant fight but were killed to a man: only a Pottawattamie friend escaped and reached home badly wounded. The chiefs of the offended nation filed a heavy claim with the United States government for the loss of sixteen men, all the horses they had with them, riding saddles and pack saddles, guns, traps, blankets, clothing, and camp equipage. The spot where the murderous outrage was committed came to be known as "the Delaware battle-ground".” (550)


“The removal of the Sacs and Foxes from the Des Moines Valley in the autumn of 1845 and the early months of 1846 was followed by the government purchase of all the Pottawattamie lands in the summer of the same year. The Sioux bands, besides the Winnebagoes, were, therefore, the only tribes that could follow the chase in the region of the upper waters of the Des Moines. That they came into contact with lawless border whites as early as the summer months of 1846 may be gathered from a statement of grievances by the Yankton Sioux, whose village life was confined to the eastern Dakota country but whose hunts took them to the headwaters of the Des Moines River. They complained against American citizens residing upon the river because they furnished youthful Yankton braves with fire-water and then cheated them out of guns, horses, and buffalo robes. The Winnebagoes sold their rights in the Neutral Ground in October, 1846, but retained possession until the first months of the year 1848.” (550)


“While government surveyors were engaged in staking off the territory thus acquired from the Indian tribes in northern Iowa, certain bands of Sioux interfered with their operations and also subjected the pioneers in that region to repeated robberies and depredations. Orders were accordingly issued to a company of United States infantry in 1850 to erect Fort Clarke on the east bank of the Des Moines a short distance below the mouth of Lizard River. Stores, munitions, and supplies for the fort were unloaded from steamers at Keokuk and then hauled overland for a distance of nearly three hundred miles. The garrison stationed at Fort Dodge, as it came to be called in 1851, busied itself with the usual duties of a frontier post, but as the country settled up and the Sioux Indians became less troublesome, after selling their interests in the lands of the valley in 1851, the need of the establishment of Fort Ridgely on the Minnesota River farther north caused the evacuation and sale of the Fort Dodge buildings in June, 1853.Soon a flourishing city sprang up. The land of Iowa was at last clear, so far as the Indian title was concerned, and men could once more blaze the way for settlement and civilization into the northern and western portion of the State.” (551)




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