View From The Attic
1 September 2008
How did the Lakota Sioux Native Americans living in South Dakota
and Wyoming impact the development of Fremont County? The answer
illustrates that not all settlement of this country was an orderly
progression from the East to the West. It also highlights that
our part of Iowa has been a crossroads. In the book “With My Own
Eyes” (published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1988) the
life stories of two Lakota women were preserved. The two women
told stories of their childhood dating back to the mid- 1800’s.
They were the daughters of marriages between French Canadian
trappers and Lakota women. Their fathers came from Saint Louis
and had traveled the Missouri River through southwest Iowa.
One of the accounts
in the book is about one of the lady's family members moving from
the nearby French Village to start Hamburg, Iowa. Family members
from the Wyoming and South Dakota area moved to Hamburg so their
children could attend the school, the only Indian family in the
school. Other relatives traveled to visit and she still has
members living in this area today.
What is left out of
the account is why this place? The answer is probably the Platte
River. The river was a major transportation route for travelers
going into the Wyoming and Dakota territories. Why they came as
far south of the Platte as Fremont County probably was because
the French Village was thriving at that time.
We also have a Dakota
Territory connection in later years. A Lakota grandmother who
grew up in the Pine Ridge Reservation area relates how, as a young
child, she along with other tribe members, traveled east to
perform in the Indian Shows that were so popular early in the last
century. She talks about getting on trains, living in box cars
with everything needed to survive, and going for months on these
trips. When the trains stopped for a performance they would erect
teepees and cook their own food. They traveled many places
She enjoyed the great
adventure of traveling and performing for the audiences. Riding
their horses, doing their dances and showing off their skills was
a source of pride.
You wonder if the
early Rodeo audiences understood that the Native Americans they
were watching actually lived on the reservations. Did they see the
feats of these performers as an illustration of a free lifestyle?
Or did they think it was merely entertainment? We may never know
the answers to these questions but we do know that the excitement
of the early shows helped shape the events of today’s Rodeo
sport. In the new Rodeo Museum planned for Fremont County, there
will be an exhibit dedicated to how the Wild West Shows helped
create the Rodeo. Celebrating this connection to the Native
Americans in Fremont County will be fitting.