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Iowa History Daily: December 15 - Antoine LeClaire

Iowa History Daily: On December 15, 1797, interpreter, author and diplomat Antoine LeClair was born. A key figure in the negotiation of treaties with Indigenous peoples throughout the upper-Midwest, LeClair’s most enduring legacy rests with his recording and translation of Black Hawk’s (Mahkatêwe-meshi-kêhkêhkwa) autobiography.

Born to a French Canadian fur-trading father and a woman of Potawatomi ancestry, LeClair grew up in St. Joseph at the heart of the Great Lakes fur trade. An exceptional linguist, LeClair mastered French, Spanish, English, and several Indigenous languages. Set to work for the United States by William Clark at Fort Armstrong on Iowa’s eastern border in 1818, LeClair proved pivotal in negotiations with the Sauk, Meskwaki, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Potawatomi, Osage, Ojibwe, and Kansa.

A participant in the acquisition of eastern Iowa commonly known as the “Black Hawk Purchase,” and at the insistence of Sauk leader Keokuk LeClair gained a section of land a the head of the Rock Island Rapids where the town of Le Clair now stands. In 1833, the federal government named LeClair justice of the peace and postmaster of all lands encompassed in the “Black Hawk Purchase.”

Following Black Hawk’s imprisonment after the conflict commonly known as the “Black Hawk War,” Le Clair sat down with the important Sauk leader to record his life. Although Le Clair’s role in shaping the narrative comes under scrutiny, most scholars believe the text to reflect the important Indigenous Iowan’s thoughts on his life. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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