INDIANS; DAYS WHEN THE RED MEN REIGNED SUPREME. WINNEBAGOS IN THIS SECTION OF IOWA
THAT PORTION of Iowa in which Bremer county is situated was ceded to the Winnebago Indians by the United States government in 1833, in return for the land owned or claimed by the Indians in Illinois; the government giving in addition to this land $10,000 in specie and establishing a school for them, with a farm and garden, and providing other means for the education of their children, to an amount not to exceed $3000 yearly; the whole treaty to continue in force for twenty-seven years.
This brought the treaty down to the year 1850, at which date a new treaty was made, in which the Indians gave up this territory for other allotments of land further north and west, and in addition they were to have certain yearly allowances from the United States.
The Winnebagos and other tribes, including the Sioux, the Sac and the Fox Indians, continued to hunt in this territory and to fish in the Shell Rock, the Cedar and the Wapsie rivers. During these trips they camped in favorable places for from a couple of days to several weeks at a time. While the men were hunting and fishing, the women would look after affairs at the tents and go on begging trips. These trips would sometimes extend for some distance and the women would return with quite a quantity of provisions and sometimes castoff clothing, which had been given them. In these times, however, they were not so insistent in their asking as they were in later years, when they would not only ask for what they wanted, but would expect people to comply with their wishes, and they would sometimes get a little angry if they were refused.
Each year the Winnebago, and perhaps other tribes, would go to Cedar Rapids to receive their allowance from the government, usually down the Cedar River. It will thus be seen that Indians frequently passed thru Waverly or camped along the banks of the river near town.
In moving from place to place, their tents and other equipment were conveyed in 'various ways, much of the luggage being fastened on either side of their ponies. The bundles seemed larger than the ponies themselves, and on the top three or four children usually perched, making altogether a load that one could scarcely believe the ponies would be ably to carry. In addition to this mode of conveyance, they would sometimes have several carts or small wagons fully loaded, or perhaps they would have a couple of poles fastened like fills on either side of a pony, the rear ends dragging on the ground. These poles were well loaded with a part of the outfit, and the whole procession was quite as attractive as a circus parade.
The chief of the Winnebago tribe, which most frequently passed thru this section, was named Bradford. He had some education, having attended school in Illinois for several years. He dressed much the same as the whites, except that he usually had a blanket with him, and seldom, if ever wore boots or shoes, his footwear being moccasins; I never saw him wear anything else on his feet.
I recall an amusing incident that happened in the spring of 1858. The bridge over the Cedar river having washed away in January of that year, when Bradford and his tribe came to Waverly and wished to cross from the west to the east side of the river, they forded thru the cold water at the lower ford, the crossing at Ellsworth street. When most of the Indians were on the east side Bradford crossed over. He was fully dressed in a suit of black cloth and wore a high silk hat (stove-pipe), and drove a fine pony hitched to a sulky. When about half way across the river the pony refused to go further, and no amount of urging on the part of the chief could induce it to take another step. In vain the chief shouted and whipped, the pony would not go. All this greatly amused the on-lookers, including all the Indians. The pony reared and plunged and finally lay right down in the water and Bradford was forced to get down from the sulky and wade in the cold water to the head of the pony, and after much urging he finally led it across. During the whole of this time, the other Indians were enjoying the scene to the full, laughing and poking fun at the chief, all of which he seemed to take in perfect good nature.
I do not remember to have ever seen but one real old Indian. While some Sioux were encamped where the R. I. stock yards are now situated there was with them an extremely old Indian. He was quite feeble and nearly blind, and seemed to have much difficulty in breathing. His nostrils seemed to close, and instead of silver tubes thru which to breathe, he was provided with a couple of reeds of some kind. They said he was about 90 years old, and he certainly looked it. He was fed and cared for by his relatives.
On nearly all times while the Indians were encamped near Waverly, the young Indian lads would make a business of shooting arrows at pennies (the kind then in use being about the size of a silver quarter of a dollar). The pennies would be placed on edge and the lads would shoot from a distance of about 12 or 16 feet. When they hit the penny it was theirs. They were quite expert at the game and seldom missed. They often gathered in quite a sum of the "coin of the realm." This pleased them, and the crowd was quite interested in their prowess.
The school boys frequently visited the camps, desiring to view the Indians' mode of living. It amused them to see a pappoose fastened to a board and carried on the back of a squaw, or, when resting, stood up against the side of a tree, out of the wind, and, if possible, on the sunny side.
Also, the boys desired to talk to the Indians about their hunting and fishing trips, in which they seemed to take great interest. Their different styles of tents, the way they were put up, and the material of which they were made were also of considerable interest to them. At one time the Winnebagos, with Bradford as chief, were encamped about where the beet sugar factory is now located. It was in the summer time and one fine afternoon after school several boys, including Will and Clarence Tyrrell, Albert Taber, John Lawrence, and, I believe, Harry Hazlett, and led by the writer, paid the Indians a visit. On coming to the camp, they inquired in which of the tents Bradford could be found. When told, led by the writer, they marched single file to the tent and finding neither door bell nor any place on which to knock, they raised the curtain which answered the purpose of a door, and, without further ceremony, walked in, much to the surprise of a squaw, who was baking wheat pancakes on an iron griddle suspended above the fire by three chains from the center of a tripod made of sticks. The cakes looked as fine as any the writer ever saw, and she was turning them with a butcher knife. Either from being startled, or for the purpose of having some fun with the boys, she raised the knife and circled it about the head of the leader, who was so badly frightened that, as the saying goes, he "stood rooted to the spot". The other boys at one bound flew the tent, to the great enjoyment of Bradford and the rest of his household. When Bradford could control his laughter enough, he shouted to the boys to come in. It took some urging, however, to induce them to accept the invitation. It has always been an open question with the boys whether it was early piety or that scare that caused me to lose the hair from the top of my head.
Last updated 4/4/16
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