Fremont County Iowa

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A View from the Attic

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News from the Fremont County Historical Society

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View From The Attic

1 September 2008

 

by Lona Lewis

 


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 including Iowa.  

 

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. 

 

Any questions? Contact www.evelynbirkby.com