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Iowa History Daily: December 15 - The Birth of Antoine LeClaire

Iowa History Daily: On December 15, 1797, interpreter, author and diplomat Antoine LeClaire was born. A key figure in the negotiation of treaties with Indigenous peoples throughout the upper-Midwest, LeClaire’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, LeClaire grew up in St. Joseph at the heart of the Great Lakes fur trade. An exceptional linguist, LeClaire 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, LeClaire proved pivotal in negotiations with the Sauk, Meskwaki, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Potawatomi, Osage, Ojibwe, and Kansas.

A participant in the acquisition of eastern Iowa commonly known as the “Black Hawk Purchase,” and at the insistence of Sauk leader Keokuk LeClaire gained a section of land at the head of the Rock Island Rapids where the town of Le Claire now stands. In 1833, the federal government named LeClaire 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,” LeClaire sat down with the important Sauk leader to record his life. Although LeClaire’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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