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Iowa Indian History


Posted By: Cheryl Locher Moonen (email)
Date: 3/21/2017 at 20:29:39

The Clinton Mirror
W. D. Eaton, Editor
Clinton, Iowa, Saturday, May 9, 1896
Iowa Indian History

W. C. Ralston, an attorney of Pocahontas, believes that he has last solved the much mooted question of when and where the last battle was fought by the Indians in this State. The Winnebagos had been brought from Wisconsin in 1841 and given the “neutral ground” for a reservation. Their territory and that of the Sac and Fox and the Sioux on the north and west cornered near Fort Dodge, and it was on this account that the fort was located where it was. The Winnebagos often came along the west branch of the Des Moines to trap and hunt in the spring, and there they met the Sioux. The Winnebagos were friends with the whites and were the most peaceable of the Iowa Indians, but the Sioux were friendly with nobody and at war with the world. The story of their last meeting is the story of the last battle between the Indian tribes in Iowa.

It was in the spring of 1854 that some Winnebagos, numbering about 75, including the warriors, squaws and papooses, found the trapping, hunting and fishing along the river quite profitable, and consequently well laden with what all good Indians like to possess, when a roving band of Sioux, who numbered about 40, under the command of Big Tree, hearing that the Winnebagos were along the river, started from where they were trapping at the time, in the vicinity of the lakes in Palo Alto County, post haste, to intercept the Winnebagos before they reached Fort Dodge. With this end in view their movements were swift, and in a short time the whereabouts of the Winnebagos was learned, a place of battle located, and all arrangements made by the attacking party for a last and final contest with their enemies.

The details of this meeting were gathered originally by Mr. Ralston from an old trapper names Lott, who was an interested observer of the contest, and at that time he had his shanty located on the bank of the creek that now bears his name and runs through the southwestern part of Kossuth County, thence into the east fork of the Des Moines.

Not a great distance from the place where Pilot Creek empties into the Des Moines in a large valley about a mile and a half long and a half a mile wide; a grove covers the eastern half of the hills that surround the valley, the western end rising high and bare and forming two pinnacles together. These two pinnacles rise so abruptly, and standing almost alone, it is hard to believe them natural, but an examination reveals their make-up to consist of a stony and gravelly composition, which proves their age. It was from one of these mounds that the signal was given announcing the approach of the Winnebagos, and part of the conflict took place in the grove east of these mounds. The battle ground was in close proximity to where Pilot Creek empties into the Des Moines, and the land in this vicinity is closely covered with heavy timber and dense underbrush.

Just after darkness had set in the Sioux, seeing the odds were too much, gathered up their fallen warriors and, under cover of night, stole quietly away, following Pilot Creek with their dead. The Winnebagos in the meantime, expecting another attack, moved farther up the river and spent the rest of the night. Next morning they returned to the battlefield, and, taking most of the dead with them returned to Minnesota. It has been estimated that the Sioux, including their Chief Big Tree, buried ten of their warriors, and the Winnebagos twenty-five.

In 1870, at a place on the creek bank near the present site of Rolfe, was found the skeleton of old Big Tree. Those who were present when the skeleton was found estimate that he must have been a man over seven feet in height and just as large in proportion. Part of his dress, a number of trinkets, and his gun and powder horn were also found. It was perhaps the next fall when some trappers, who had established their shanty on the shores of Swan Lake, in Swan Lake Township, found in the branches of the trees other skeletons of Sioux, where they had been left, and they also found evidence that some of them had been slain in this contest.


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