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Sodom & Gomorrah, Two Evil Trading Posts


Posted By: S. Ferrall - IAGenWeb volunteer
Date: 5/18/2021 at 21:26:34

Clayton County Once Site of Two Evil Trading Posts
by Florence L. Clark, Gazette Correspondent

McGregor - Two historic spots in Iowa which doubtless never will be marked for future generations are the sites of the two fur trading posts so evil in their day they were known as Sodom and Gomorrah, after the wicked cities of biblical times.

Recently several historically minded northeast Iowans sought to find the exact location of Iowa's Sodom and Gomorrah, without success. It is known the posts were near Luana, but just where even the oldest residents seem to be unaware. They brush off the question with "that was before my time."

It was in Indian days in northeast Iowa, when Ft. Atkinson, now a state park, was Uncle Sam's outermost military post in Iowa and a military trail led to it across the Mississippi from Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien, Wis. The government had decreed a 40-mile wide strip across northern Iowa to be a neutral ground where warring was tabooed and all tribes, by the utopian plan, would be free to hunt and fish in brotherly love.

With Fort Atkinson built and garrisoned to enforce the order, the Winnebago Indians were moved from Wisconsin to the neutral ground. The plan was not only to make Wisconsin an all-white man's land, but also to get the fast-degrading Winnebagoes away from the debauching influence of the "fire water" of the fur traders at Prairie du Chien.

The whisky sellers were not at all daunted by the removal of their best customers and the prohibition of the sale of liquor to Indians on the neutral ground. Under the guise of fur traders they packed up and followed the Winnebagoes, setting up business just south of the southern border of the neutral ground, and near the military trail in the vicinity of the present town of Luana.

It was the tragic influence of two of these posts on the Indians that earned the posts the names Sodom and Gomorrah. The proprietors were Taffy Jones and Graham Thorne. They bought all the Indians offered for sale, but kept only poor whisky with which to pay.

Of the many stories that are told of the wicked goings-on at the Sodom and Gomorrah posts before the Winnebagoes were move out of Iowa into Minnesota and Fort Atkinson was abandoned in [either 1843 or 1848], the one most commonly known, as it is authenticated by Clayton county court records, is that of the murder of Patrick Riley.

The aged father of a Winnebago family went to the Sodom trading post one winter day. He bartered all he had for whisky and then took off all his clothing and sold it for more whisky. He was booted out at night, naked in the bitter cold. The next morning his son, Hanskowkow, a young brave of 17 years, went in search of his father and found his frozen body in the snow not far from the trading post.

Wild for revenge, he ran to the post and looked in the window. He saw a white man sitting by the fire, whom he took to be either Thorne or Jones, and shot through the window, killing him.

It happened to be neither of the keepers of the Sodom and Gomorrah who got the bullet in his heart, but a peaceable, harmless settler, Patrick Riley, who had fallen on evil ways.

Word of the killing of a white man by an Indian was stirring news at Fort Atkinson and soldiers were sent in pursuit of Hanskowkow, who fled to Wisconsin. Troops from Fort Crawford captured him and he was taken back to Clayton county for trial.

A court, which evidently considered the avenging youth less guilty than the keepers of Sodom and Gomorrah, found him guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to 10 days in the penitentiary and fined him $500.

~Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sunday, March 8, 1953; pg 46


Clayton Documents maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
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