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Iowa History Daily: October 11 - 1845 Sauk & Meskwaki Removal


Iowa History Daily: On October 11, 1845, formal dispossession of the Sauk and Meskwaki in Iowa reached a climax as eager Americans prepared to dash across the Des Moines River to stake claims on the river’s western bank. American removal of the Sauk and Meskwaki attempted to push the tribes out of Iowa and onto a new Kansas reservation. Although many of Iowa’s Indigenous peoples remained despite formal dispossession, the removal marked a momentary change before the Meskwaki purchased lands to open a settlement in 1857.

An Algonquin-language people located throughout the upper-Midwest during the pre-American era, the Meskwaki fought the French for nearly forty years to start the 1700s. Allying with the Sauk to fend off extermination at the hands of the French, the Meskwaki eventually moved out of the Great Lakes region to settle in today’s Iowa and Illinois.The Sauk and Meskwaki also fought against American incursion, choosing to ally predominantly with the British during the War of 1812. In the aftermath, treaties in 1825 and 1830 at Prairie du Chien started the removal of the Sauk and Meskwaki from east of the Mississippi River. Although some leaders, like Wapello, advocated for accommodation of American driven changes, others including Black Hawk fought back. After the Black Hawk War of 1832, treaties during the 1830s and early 1840s ultimately sought to dispossess the tribe and push them into Kansas.

With a skeleton crew of Dragoons occupying the second Fort Des Moines (located near today’s Principal Park) and the Indigenous peoples of Iowa pushed out of the way, American migrants stood poised on the east bank of the river to push across and start the settlement of western Iowa. On October 11, 1845, the rush started. Hundreds of eager individuals and entire families pushed across the boundary to stake claims on the most desirable lands of the newly opened territory. Many capitalized on knowledge illegally gained prior to the official onset of settlement, and the Dragoons watched as settlement washed across the Des Moines River. The small garrison lingered at Fort Des Moines to protect the building from scavengers during the winter of 1845-1846, and surveyors started the careful work of platting the soon-to-be seat of Polk County.

However, many Meskwaki remained in Iowa. After a forced departure from Iowa during October of 1845, the American official overseeing the arrival in Kansas recorded only 20% of the tribe arriving by the end of the following year. Other military reports record finding groups numbering as many as 200 hidden throughout Iowa during the decade to follow. In 1856 the Iowa General Assembly passed a measure allowing the formal return of the Meskwaki to the State of Iowa, opening the door to the initial land purchase on July 13, 1857. A settlement owned by the sovereign Meskwaki people (not a reservation owned by the federal government), the Meskwaki return to Iowa marks an important moment in the state’s early history. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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