Another IAGenWeb Project





TAKING a retrospective view of the events of the last half century, we can see spread out before us with clean cut distinctness the many and varied changes incident to the transition of a country from the favorite rendezvous of a band of roving savages to the no less favorite resort of the cultured and refined devotee of fashionable society, and as we give scope to the imagination the changing pictures that come and go form a panorama, strange, unique, novel and interesting. The first scene in our moving picture is of a native population following the various occupations of savage life, and carrying out in their primitive way, their own peculiar ideas of the attainment of human happiness. We think of the lake region as having been, during the early half of the century just closed, the favorite resort of a roving, marauding band of Yankton Sioux, who, for untold generations, had held this fair domain as all their own, and from here as headquarters had conducted their predatory excursions far and wide in every direction.

As the lakes are now in their season the acknowledged center of the fashionable social life of our time, so but one generation ago were they the acknowledged center of the savage life which then dominated this region. The conditions were ideal. The vast herds of elk and buffalo which roamed undisturbed over the boundless prairies, the countless myriads of water fowl that in their annual migrations invariably made the lakes a temporary resting place each spring and fall, together with the immense schools of fish inhabiting the crystal waters, these things combined made it possible for roving savages to secure the simple necessities of their mode of life with little exertion on their part. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine conditions more peculiarly fitted to the support and enjoyment of the primitive life of these roving bands, than those existing here at the time of the advent of the first white adventurers. What wonder then that they clung to these, their favorite haunts, with such stubborn pertinacity and bloody determination?


The second scene is the coming of the white man. The restless, resistless spirit of adventure so characteristic of the American frontiersman, coupled with the marvelous accounts of the abundant game, the beautiful lakes and the charming groves by which they were surrounded, early impelled the hardy pioneer to strike out far beyond the confines of civilization to explore this land of romance and region of mystery. When it became apparent to the savage leaders that this fair domain they had so long considered all their own was in danger of being over-run and absorbed by the aggressive white settlers, the instinct of self preservation impelled them to take such measures as their ignorant savage nature suggested to prevent the impending disaster. Then came the long list of annoying circumstances and predatory excursions which produced the strained relations that have always existed between the Sioux and the Iowa frontier settlers. The savages were determined the whites should get no foothold on the Upper Des Moines or in the lake region. Crafty old Sidominadotah zealously watched and guarded every avenue of approach. It is not asserted, nor is it to be supposed, that he was more cruel and bloodthirsty than other savages of his time, but he was absolutely determined to defend his country against the encroachments of the whites at all hazards. 'Tis true treaties had been negotiated and signed some years previous whereby this region should be surrendered to the United States, but this band took no part in the council and refused to be bound by the treaty and claimed their ancient hunting grounds as still their own.


Quarrels and collisions, insignificant at first, continued to grow in frequency and magnitude, until they finally culminated in the murder of the old chief and his entire family of nine persons by the desperado, Henry Lott, on the tragic banks of "Bloody Run." Three years later this unprovoked and unpunished murder was terribly avenged by his brother, the famous Inkpadutah, in the massacre of the entire Spirit Lake settlement, whereby some forty persons fell victims to his avenging fury. The fact that Inkpadutah and his followers were allowed to escape the punishment they so richly merited and to mix with and become a part of the other tribes, is given as one important factor in the aggregation of causes that led to the terrible Minnesota outbreak in 1862.


The relations of cause and effect which can be plainly traced through this series of occurrences forms a curious and striking episode. First in the series was the trouble between Chief Sidominadotah and the adventurer Lott near the mouth of Boone River, when the old chief ordered Lott to leave their hunting grounds, and upon his refusal to do so, destroyed his property, abused his family and forced them to leave the place. Out of this circumstance grew the terrible tragedy of Bloody Run, which occurred a few years later, where Lott murdered his ancient enemy together with his entire family. This was in 1854. Three years later, or in 1857, came the Spirit Lake Massacre, which is directly traceable to the Bloody Run tragedy. The fact that the perpetrators of this massacre were not adequately punished, but that they were suffered eventually to join the agency Indians, is believed to have had much to do with precipitating the outbreak in 1862. But the analogy does not end here. The great bulk of the savages who participated in that bloody affair, after being kept a while as prisoners, were sent up the Missouri River and turned loose on a reservation.


It is the deliberate opinion of those who have made a careful study of the question that to this act should be attributed most of the subsequent troubles with the wild tribes of the upper Missouri which culminated in the Custer Massacre on the Little Big Horn in 1876.


This chain of events and their curious dependence upon each other naturally call to mind the old saw with which we were all familiar in our childhood days:


"For the want of a nail the shoe was lost; through the loss of the shoe the horse was lost; through the loss of the horse the rider was lost; through the loss of the rider the battle was lost, and through the loss of the battle the kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a horseshoe nail."


But the bloody picture of savage warfare passes and is followed by the quaint and ever enjoyable picture of pioneer life. The conditions that existed at the time of the first settlement of this county are impossible now in any part of the country. Now the railroads are the pioneers; the population comes later. But it wasn't so in the settlement of any part of Iowa. The prairie schooner, the plodding, slow moving train, the droves of straggling stock, the jolly campfire, around which nightly gathered the sturdy boys and buxom girls of the families of these early adventurers when on their journey to their new western homes were a familiar picture a half a century ago in every part of Iowa. The self-denials, struggles and labors incident to obtaining a foothold in any new country are something that must be experienced to be understood. No mere description can convey an adequate idea of the thousand and one make-shifts and ingenious devices resorted to by the thrifty settlers in lieu of the conveniences to which they had formerly been accustomed.


The vicissitudes of pioneer life, its toils, hardships and privations on the one side, and its pleasures, excitements and bright anticipations on the other, have been so often and so vividly portrayed that they need not be repeated. A whole volume, and an interesting one at that, might be written made up entirely of the experiences and reminiscences of the time when the old settlers in the log cabin or sod shanty days were discounting the future in their efforts to make them homes in this far away and isolated region.


The early settlers of northwestern Iowa had much more to contend with than usually falls to the lot of the first settlers in a new country. The grasshopper raid, by which the country was devastated and the growing crops destroyed for four years, was an infliction wholly out of the ordinary and one against which common foresight failed to provide any defense or remedy. Only four or five counties suffered the full force of this disaster. Other counties were ravaged in part, but the four or five northwestern counties in this state felt the full force of the visitation. It was the severest blow with which the settlers of this region ever had to contend, and taken in connection with the ordinary hardships of pioneer life, made the lot of the first settlers peculiarly trying and was the cause of much privation and suffering among them, and the only wonder is that they bore up under it as well as they did.


It transpired here as it has transpired in all new countries that those who suffered most in the toils, labors and privation, of the early days were not the ones to reap the reward of their early sacrifices. The ideal pioneer is not a money maker. Usually the money making instinct is wholly wanting in his makeup. The liberal and almost careless openhearted and openhanded hospitality which is ever his most prominent characteristic, precludes the possibility of accumulating wealth, and it is therefore in accordance with the common order of things that a more venal and mercenary class should reap where he had sown and grow rich on the unrequited toil and unrewarded labor incident to the subduing of a new country.


This trait of the pioneer character cannot be better illustrated than by the story of President Lincoln's land warrant, which was first given to the world in a late number of "Annals of Iowa" by a Council Bluffs correspondent. As a captain in the Black Hawk War he was awarded a land warrant for one hundred and sixty acres. Instead of locating it, as Le might have done, at the time on some of the valuable tracts adjacent to Chicago, he put it away with his discharge and kept it as a souvenir of his services in that campaign. In 1858, on the occasion of his visit to Council Bluffs, he had his land warrant with him, and on exhibiting it to a friend was asked why in the world he hadn't located it on some of the valuable land about Chicago, and referred to the fact that his friend, Judge Davis, disposed of his in that way and it was the foundation of the immense fortune he afterwards acquired. "Well," replied Lincoln, "David always made money but I never could. You see," he continued, "it was this way. I was afraid if I located it there might be times when I couldn't pay the taxes and then I might lose it." He located his warrant on this trip on a quarter-section in Crawford County in this state. President Lincoln was not the first man nor the last to stand back and hesitate where others went in and rounded up their thousands.


With the coming of the railroads was ushered in the closing scene of our moving panorama, and our next view is of the busy, bustling, active life of the world around us. "Old things have passed away and all things have become new." The vast expanse of treeless prairie stretching away indefinitely to the northwest, which was once considered but a northern extension of the "Great American Desert," has been converted into fertile fields and thriving farms, which are now the homes of thousands of industrious and prosperous families, while busy cities, thriving villages and prosperous communities are everywhere scattered through this region where so short a time since seemed one vast expanse of loneliness and desolation. Vast herds of sheep and cattle are now grazing on the fertile plains where then roamed the elk and buffalo. Modern improvements and modern appliances are seen on every hand. Schools and churches have been multiplied until they greet the traveler at every turn. The primitive methods of agriculture have been superseded by modern machinery and up-to-date appliances until "The man with the hoe" exists only in the memory of the old timer or the imagination of the modern poet.