Iowa History Project

Vol. XIII July, 1915 No. 3


     Early in the year 1830 government officials at Washington decided to interfere in the war that had dragged on intermittently for several years among the Indian tribes of the Mississippi and the Missouri. General William Clark, Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis, and Lieutenant-Colonel Zachary Taylor at Prairie du Chien received orders that all the tribes concerned should be asked to assemble at Prairie du Chien to hear President Jackson's message. Jonathan L. Bean and General Clark's son, William, were accordingly sent to summon deputations from the Missouri River Indians. The Otoes agreed to meet them at the mouth of the Floyd River on June the 14th; the Omahas selected fourteen representatives to make the proposed journey; but the Yankton Sioux upon the James River, starving and dying in their camps, refused to go because they feared further butchering by the Sacs and Foxes who had but recently scalped twelve of their women. The Otoes afterwards having changed their minds, the two agents and the Omaha delegation alone crossed the northern Iowa wilderness overland to Prairie du Chien.
     Meanwhile General Clark had arrived in a steamboat with deputations from the Otoe and the Ioway Indians, thirty- nine Sacs, and as many Foxes. The latter had for some time stubbornly declined the invitation to attend the peace negotiations, because a large number of their people had been massacred by the Sioux while they were on their way to Prairie du Chien to patch up peace with the Winnebagoes after runners had summoned their principal chiefs to Rock Island, General Clark met them, gave presents to the friends and relatives of the murdered Fox chiefs, and thus effectually "wiped away their tears". Shortly afterward came the Winnebagoes, the Mississippi Sioux, and the Menominees. Four days were consumed by the United States commissioners, William Clark and Colonel Willoughby Morgan (commandant of Fort Crawford), in obtaining on the 15th of July, 1830, the treaty which represents a milestone in American territorial expansion and an event of importance in the history of the Iowa country.


     The Sioux and the Sacs and Foxes ceded to the United States tracts of land twenty miles in width lying to the north and the south, respectively, of a line which extended from the Mississippi to the upper Des Moines and which had been established by the government in 1825 as the boundary between the tribes. This strip, forty miles wide and nearly two hundred miles long—the first government purchase of land in the Iowa country—came to be known as the Neutral Ground and it was expected to be an effective barrier against further intertribal war. All the tribes relinquished to the United States a tract of country extending from the western boundary of the State of Missouri to the Big Sioux, and from the Missouri River eastward to the highlands separating the waters which fall into the Missouri from those which fall into the Des Moines,—a strip about two hundred and fifty miles in length and averaging about seventy-five miles in breadth.
     The latter cession was to be assigned by the President of the United States to such tribes as were then or thereafter located upon it. The Ioways and a small band of Sacs and Foxes were at that time the only inhabitants of the western Iowa wilderness, and it was predicted that their hunting would be at an end in the course of two or three years, so fast were game animals disappearing from the country. As the price for these cessions the United States promised to pay each of the tribes from $2000 to $3000 annually for ten years; and in order that the Indians might be induced to turn their attention more and more to agriculture to keep from starving, the government agreed to forward them blacksmiths, iron, and farm implements. The government also promised to educate the children of each tribe. The lines of the cessions were to be run and marked as soon as the President deemed it expedient.
     During the month of October, 1830, Sac and Fox delegates were met in council at St. Louis by a deputation of the Yankton and Santie bands of Sioux: after the usual ceremonies and a great many speeches all smoked the peace pipe together and shook hands, "attesting the Great Spirit to the sincerity of their determination to remain friends". These Sioux tribes of the Dakota country also approved the terms of the treaty made in their absence a few months before and so the government's acquisition of much Indian territory became an accomplished fact so far as the tribes who hunted upon Iowa soil were concerned.


     On the second day of March, 1831, Congress appropriated $9000 to defray the expenses of surveying and marking the lines designated by the treaty of 1830. Andrew S. Hughes, Indian sub-agent for the Sacs and Foxes and the Ioways of the Missouri, informed the government officials that General Clark wanted him and Jonathan L. Bean, sub-agent for the Sioux Indians of the upper Missouri, to do the work for two reasons. First, if a stranger to the Indians and the country were employed, he would have to engage some person acquainted with the ground over which the lines were to be run. Secondly, in order to settle any difficulties that might arise in the course of the work, such a surveyor would have to be attended by the chiefs and agents and interpreters of the tribes concerned. Hughes and Bean claimed they had all the qualifications necessary for the undertaking and they would be willing to "run those lines and mark them well" for the congressional appropriation, as the Indians were anxious to have it done before the fall and winter hunts began. They wrote to Richard M. Johnson about their "activity and respectability", and that gentleman used his influence with President Andrew Jackson on their behalf, describing them as "competent, and highly meritorious, and worthy of distinguished confidence."
     In August, 1831, General William Clark received word from Washington to the effect that the sub-agents' proposal was altogether inadmissible, since the services rendered might not be worth half the appropriation or perhaps much more; the government wished to avoid wasteful expenditure on the one hand or inadequate compensation on the other. Clark then called upon Messrs. Hughes and Bean to make proposals by the mile and estimate the expense of labor, provisions, and Indians. When they demanded $6 per mile, General Clark recommended that a skilful surveyor be appointed for the job, with power to buy his outfit and engage his hands, and that the two Indian agents be instructed to accompany the surveyor, with a suitable number of Indians, at a liberal compensation per day as extra allowance for the arduous and laborious service.
     To this proposal the Secretary of War agreed. On the tenth day of February, 1832, Clark appointed Nathan Boone, son of the famous backwoodsman of Kentucky, Daniel Boone, to proceed with the least possible delay under the guidance of Messrs. Hughes and Bean. Boone, a citizen of Missouri and "a meritorious and deserving man", was instructed to run at random the line called for in the treaty of 1825: from the mouth of the Upper Iowa to the source of its first or left hand fork, and thence westward to the second or upper fork of the Des Moines River. Then twenty miles south and twenty miles north of this line and parallel to it two other lines were to be run between the Mississippi and the Des Moines.
     Every tree on or near the lines was to be blazed distinctly and marked every half mile with the distance in miles from the point of beginning. In the absence of timber, mounds of earth were to be raised every mile; all streams and rivers and their nature, timber, undergrowth, quality of soil, "whether level, rolling, or hilly, and fit or unfit for cultivation", and the location of minerals—all these were to be noted and reported. Boone was given $1871 with which to procure an outfit of men, horses, provisions, and other necessaries, and was promised five dollars a day for his services. Hughes and Bean were requested to get one or two representatives of the tribes interested in the Neutral Ground so that the tribes might afterward have no "plea to palliate their misconduct in violating each other's territory." As they were expected to make their journey from the Missouri across the Iowa country to the upper Mississippi, General Clark asked them "to make a connected sketch noting the prairies and timber, the general courses and situations of the different rivers, streams and lakes, stating likewise their names, if known—whether Indian, French or English".
     Nathan Boone began his work on April 19, 1832, and in two months surveyed the northern or Sioux portion of the Neutral Ground. He had gone just two miles west of the Mississippi upon the southern line when he "discontinued on account of hostilities of the Indians", by which he no doubt meant the Black Hawk War. Not until the following year was the work resumed and finished by another man. Indeed, on April 19, 1833, James Craig apprised Lewis Cass, Secretary of War, that he had an outfit ready to leave St. Louis at once; that he would complete the lines by the first of September; and that he expected to close the work near "the Black Hawk Purchase", a strip of eastern Iowa which the government had obtained from the Sacs and Foxes in September, 1832. Craig declared that if the Secretary should see fit to appoint him surveyor of this new purchase, he would "not only be gratified, but would. . proceed to run and mark the lines as soon as possible." Craig was marking the southern and southeastern lines of the Neutral Ground in September, 1833, when he was joined by Joseph M. Street, Winnebago Indian agent at Prairie du Chien. This officer personally examined the southeastern portion of the Neutral Ground, as it had recently been assigned for occupation to the Winnebagoes.


     In September, 1832, just a few days before the eastern Iowa country became known as the Black Hawk or Scott Purchase, the Winnebago Indians renounced forever their rights in territory south and east of the Wisconsin and Fox rivers and took in exchange certain annuities and the Neutral Ground as far west as the Red Cedar River—an exchange of territory which had been recommended by Mr. Street as early as 1830. The Indians, however, showed no disposition to cross the Mississippi to their new reservation and there was no military force to compel them. In January, 1833, Street prophesied little prospect of peace so long as they remained in Wisconsin. Mr. Street urged that an Indian school and a pattern farm should be set up on the west bank of the Mississippi opposite Prairie du Chien, a proposal which had been uniformly opposed by the fur traders because it meant the reduction of the amount of money that would otherwise be given to the Indians by the government and also because it would tend to make the Indians abandon the hunters' life. G. B. Porter, Superintendent of Indian Affairs at Detroit, protested that the Winnebagoes were not kept from removing westward by their traders. On the contrary, they were afraid to live on lands which lay between the Sioux and the Sacs and Foxes: as a buffer nation they would suffer much from enemies on both sides, and at all events no treaty provision required them to quit the country north of the Wisconsin. Porter also quarreled with the Indian Office because more annuity money was paid out to the Winnebagoes at Prairie du Chien than at Fort Winnebago farther to the east.
     The government took no steps to force the sulky and stubborn Winnebagoes westward, although removal to the Neutral Ground was declared to be the object of the treaty with them and force might have to be resorted to for the permanent welfare of the Indians. General Clark was nevertheless ordered to cause plain, comfortable, and economical school buildings to be constructed west of the Mississippi not far from Prairie du Chien, and to engage a man and a woman, "moral, faithful, and industrious," to take charge of the Indian school. The Winnebagoes were also promised the protection of a strong body of mounted rangers against all Indian foes. Colonel Henry Dodge warned the Secretary of War that unless the tribe were removed to the Iowa country, the white inhabitants of Wisconsin would always feel insecure. When the Winnebagoes, in June, 1833, chose to take up a permanent dwelling north of the Wisconsin rather than upon the Neutral Ground, many regrets were expressed and the building of the contemplated school buildings was postponed. On the other hand, the Indian agent at Fort Winnebago believed that the Winnebagoes were better off in Wisconsin than they would be in the Iowa country near Dubuque's mines, whither settlers were flocking in large numbers at that time.
     In June, 1833, Street informed William Clark that Joseph Rolette had strenuously opposed the migration of the Winnebagoes across the Mississippi because it would hurt his fur trade with the Sioux tribes which hunted on the Neutral Ground. Street was positive that Rolette had succeeded in dissuading the Winnebagoes from removing to the West: "the rapacious hands of the traders and the heartless speculator" had reduced them to slavery. Officers of the American Fur Company at Prairie du Chien in some way obtained copies of whole passages from Street's letters to his superiors on this subject. Nevertheless, Street could report in July that about two hundred Winnebagoes were exploring the Iowa country to find a suitable place of residence; while the American Fur Company's agents with their overwhelming financial power, together with the whisky vendors, vowed Street would be defeated in his project. In August the Secretary of War issued instructions for the building of plain, comfortable log school buildings west of the Mississippi out of reach of the fatal whisky traffic.


     During the month of September, 1833, Joseph M. Street took advantage of Surveyor Craig's presence in the eastern part of the Neutral Ground to accompany him, and later rendered the following description of the country:
     I passed out through the country, and joined the surveyors near the Red Cedar river. Went to the extreme western boundary of the cession at Red Cedar, and examined the country on that river, the Wa-pee-sa-pee-nee-can, and Turkey river, and its two principal branches, and Yellow and Gerrard [Giard] rivers. Taking a ride through the country south of Gerrard's river, between the Mississippi and Turkey rivers, I was out seventeen days, during which time I saw a part of the purchase from the Sioux, and passed through the [Black Hawk] purchase from the Sacs and Foxes in numerous directions. The distance on a direct line from Prairie du Chien to where the line crosses Red Cedar is about seventy miles. This is a beautiful stream, about eighty-five or ninety yards wide, clear, bold, and of sufficient depth for Mackinaw boats. The adjoining lands rolling and rich prairie, and large bodies of timber on the river and the streams putting into it. The Wa-pee-sa-pee-nee-can is about fifteen or twenty yards wide, of tolerable depth, muddy shores, and milky covered water—land and timber inferior to that on Red Cedar. Turkey river is from forty to forty five yards wide, and very much resembles Red Cedar, except in size and the character of its shores, those on Turkey river being three times the height of those on Red Cedar, and very much resemble the bluffs of the Mississippi.
     On Turkey river, and the whole distance to within a mile of the Mississippi, is a fine agricultural country, and the prairies not very large. There are considerable bodies of valuable timber on Turkey, Yellow, and Gerrard rivers, and the shores of the Mississippi. I had never rode through a country so full of game. The hunter who accompanied me, though living most of his time in the woods, expressed his astonishment at the abundance of all kinds of game except buffalo; and the surveyors saw and killed many about thirty or forty miles west of Red Cedar, on the same purchase. Elk and deer are abundant in the prairies, and bear in the woodlands. The sign of fur animals, particularly rats and otters, is considerable on all the streams and ponds, and very abundant on Wa-pee-sa-pee-nee-can and Turkey river; and on the former I saw, for the first time, a beaver dam in progress, on which there had been two new logs put during the night previous to our visit, and every appearance that the ingenious animals had been at work until disturbed by our approach.
     It is a beautiful and fertile country, and, with a little attention to agriculture, is capable of sustaining the whole Winnebago nation; and if the proper measures are pursued, and inducements held out to the Indians, in a few years many hundreds will be settled in that country, producing 1,000 bushels of grain and potatoes, and the
cry of distress no longer assail the ears of the Government.
     The country abounds with fine mill streams, and situations for mills with abundance of rock are frequent. If a mill was built, and the Indians learnt to raise wheat, they would in a few years grow a sufficiency in this country for the sustenance of the whole nation, and live in great plenty.


     On the 14th of December, 1833, James Craig made his report of the surveys called for by the terms of the treaty of 1830. He and his party commenced work at the mouth of the Kansas River on the Missouri, ran a line north 100 miles to what was then the northwest corner of the State of Missouri, thence east about nine miles, where they established a corner, and thence north to the sources of the Boyer River. For one hundred and fifty miles the surveying party followed the watershed between the Missouri and the Mississippi "through a high prairie country with good soil and well-watered". From the source of the Boyer they ran a line to the upper forks of the Des Moines through a stretch of rice ponds and small lakes; went on to Prairie du Chien for provisions and a government escort; and then ran the southern boundary of the Neutral Ground from a point where Boone had left off westward to the Des Moines, a distance of 147 miles "through an excellent country, particularly so on the Ioway and Des Moines rivers below or south of the line."
     Craig suggested that a little below where this line struck the Des Moines, not far from its junction with the "cottonwood fork", was a good situation for a fort, "if one should be deemed necessary to hold in check the Sioux, Sacs and Foxes, Winnebagoes and Iowa Indians." From the southwest corner of the Neutral Ground Craig meandered the Des Moines to its upper forks, finding an abundance of bituminous coal and some specimens of anthracite and slate of good quality. Cold weather setting in about the eighteenth of October, Craig and his party abandoned the work just as the appropriation of $9000 was nearly exhausted. In his report Craig took occasion to complain that he had been underpaid, inasmuch as he had had "both the labor and the responsibility of the work to be done, and of the party," while Hughes and Bean "had little else than mere travelling."


     In the autumn of 1833 some Winnebago families numbering sixty-eight persons established themselves at an old Sac village on the Turkey River, near the southern line of the cession and about twenty-five miles from Prairie du Chien. A great many others set up their lodges farther north, but those who now began to make their homes in the northern Iowa country while the whites were unlawfully seizing upon the best sites for farms and towns to the south seem not to have tarried long on the Neutral Ground, for the reason that both the Sioux and the Sac and Fox Indians objected to the occupation of territory which they believed had been rendered forever neutral. The Sacs and Foxes also showed a trace of ill feeling because the Winnebagoes had aided the whites against them in the Black Hawk War. The newcomer Winnebagoes were, therefore, frightened away by the black looks of their neighbors and gradually returned to their old haunts east of the Mississippi. In September, 1835, a party of them headed by Chief White Ox went to establish a village on the Red Cedar River and three months later two hundred Winnebagoes were reported as hunting in the same region. Early in 1836 they had seemingly departed: they declared that the Sioux and the Sacs and Foxes would have to become reconciled to the proposed emigration before they would move westward again.
     Henry Gratiot, Indian agent on the Rock River, recommended that his charges should be saved from white men and disease by removal to the Neutral Ground. An agriculturist sent out to the Red Cedar River to set up a farm, he believed, would certainly attract them. At the same time the United States Senate was being urged to put the Winnebagoes not on the Neutral Ground but southwest of the Missouri River, far away from the evil white man's influence. Congress, however, appropriated $40,000 "to defray the expense of removing the Winnebago Indians, who reside south of the Wisconsin, to the 'Neutral ground,' or such other place as may be assigned by treaty." The efforts of Governor Henry Dodge of Wisconsin Territory to induce these Indians to leave his jurisdiction proved unavailing, so that not one of 4500 Winnebagoes dwelt west of the Mississippi in 1836. A year later they were committing depredations upon the settlers of Illinois and Wisconsin, stealing horses and killing cattle and hogs.
     On November 1,1837, a deputation of Winnebago chiefs and delegates journeyed to the national capital to make a treaty with the government. They surrendered their right to hunt upon a twenty-mile strip at the east end of the Neutral Ground, and agreed to remove thither within eight months after the United States Senate ratified the treaty. These terms and others were proclaimed to be law on the fifteenth of June, 1838, so that the Indians were under obligations to leave their Wisconsin and Illinois homes before the middle of February, 1839. Time passed. The spring of 1839 came and still the drunken Winnebagoes lingered in their Wisconsin villages and loitered about the little white settlements east of the Mississippi, annoying and disturbing the pioneers of western Illinois and southern Wisconsin by the theft of stock and other property. It was with great difficulty that the citizens were restrained from killing them. They did not move westward because they feared collisions with the Sioux and the Sac and Fox war parties then scouring the Neutral Ground in search of one another. The government's hopes of inducing them to take up a residence southwest of the Missouri were also doomed to disappointment because the voice of their traders and their good friends, the liquor dealers, was steadfastly opposed to any such calamity.
     By the autumn of 1839 some progress had been made in relieving American citizens from the Winnebago nuisance. Winneshiek's band had located on the Upper Iowa River fifty miles from Fort Crawford; Two Shillings' band dwelt near the Winnebago school on the Yellow River; and Little Priest's and Whirling Thunder's united bands were domiciled on a new farm recently opened for them fifteen miles west of the school. All other Winnebago bands—those under Big Canoe, Waukon, Yellow Thunder, Caramanee, Dandy, Little Soldier, Decorah, and Big Head—clung to their old habitats. Their villages consisted of bark or flag huts crowded together. There the warriors and hunters spent the summer, letting the squaws hoe patches of corn. In winter they changed encampments as the prospect of game suggested. At best the game and corn supply was insufficient, and yet whatever provisions the government furnished in addition were generally exchanged for whisky.
     The patience of Congressmen familiar with the situation reached the breaking point when the United States Senate passed resolutions in March, 1840, calling upon the War Department to explain the causes which had interposed to prevent the removal of the Winnebagoes to their reservation in the Territory of Iowa. The Secretary of War replied that a man of influence in Winnebago councils had been sent to inspect and report on the country southwest of the Missouri; that further time had been given the Winnebagoes to deliberate on the expediency of at once removing to that region; and that, since the plan had not had the intended effect, General Henry Atkinson had in February, 1840, been ordered to convey the Winnebagoes to the Neutral Ground by force if necessary.


     The last day of the rightful stay of the Winnebago bands east of the "Father of Waters" was the fifteenth of February, 1839. They persistently resisted emigration and at the same time became more and more degraded. The work of removing them, begun by General Atkinson and two regiments of United States infantry in the spring of 1840, met with no special opposition, but the emigrants manifested great aversion to settlement upon their reservation in the Neutral Ground until fall: therefore they set up lodges and tents and stayed in the neighborhood of their school on the Yellow River, thus trespassing and living on sufferance upon government lands. An epidemic of dysentery brought much suffering and death to them there. This fact, together with their living in the midst of liquor shops where their annuities would be immediately consumed, led the government officials to inform them that the next payment would be made only on the Neutral Ground. To induce the Indians to remove thither the government promised to convey all their sick and all property at government expense. Sub-agent David Lowry in September, 1840, had a talk with the chiefs, Caramanee and Winneshiek, in which they positively refused to move westward under any circumstances. The Winnebagoes were being rendered untractable by persons who were opposed to their departure from the Mississippi. The dupes of mercenary traders and whisky sellers, they were becoming more and more demoralized. Moreover, some forty of their people had been murdered by the Sacs and Foxes during a period of six years and they had treacherously killed a couple of Sacs and Foxes in the summer of 1840, so that the Winnebagoes feared a collision in case they should settle upon the Neutral Ground. Both Governor Robert Lucas of the Territory of Iowa and Governor Henry Dodge of the Territory of Wisconsin were convinced that a strong mounted force would need to be stationed in the country to protect the Winnebagoes against attack and also to prevent both tribes from giving way to feelings of revenge.
     General Henry Atkinson chose upon the Turkey River a position for a garrison to protect the Winnebagoes against the incursions of other tribesmen and the whites and to prevent their trespassing beyond the Neutral Ground. On May 31, 1840, Company F of the Fifth United States Infantry under Captain Isaac Lynde went into camp not far from the mouth of Spring Creek in the present county of Winneshiek. "Camp Atkinson" soon consisted of barracks sufficient to accommodate the soldiers and in March of the following year received the more dignified name of Fort Atkinson. Meanwhile, rumors of preparations by the Sacs and Foxes for a warlike demonstration against the Winnebagoes caused Governor Dodge of Wisconsin Territory to warn the government that mounted troops were also necessary to prevent hostilities. He reported that in the month of January, 1841, about seven hundred Winnebagoes had settled down near the agency and school on the Turkey River, but unless life was made safe for them against war parties of Sioux and Sacs and Foxes they would most certainly return to the Mississippi. General Atkinson accordingly ordered troops from Fort Crawford to make excursions to the Turkey and the Red Cedar rivers until May, when horse troops might relieve them. He also urged that the Quartermaster's Department proceed at once to the erection of quarters, barracks, and stables before winter set in. In June Company B of the First United States Dragoons under Captain Edwin V. Sumner joined the garrison, making it about one hundred and sixty strong. Fort Atkinson consisted of barracks around an open square, two block-houses, and a powder house, and stood in a romantic and picturesque position overlooking the valley of a branch of the Turkey River. The erection of substantial buildings of stone and the construction of a military road to Fort Crawford cost the government $90,000.
     Rev. Lowry predicted a gloomy future for his charges when he submitted a report in the autumn of 1842. The Winnebagoes were still scattered: over eight hundred dwelt on lands north of the Neutral Ground, two hundred and fifty-four on the Upper Iowa near the Mississippi, and only seven hundred and fifty-six were at or near the Turkey River sub-agency, cultivating about one-fourth of the 1500 acres that had been broken up. Most of them still refused to leave their haunts upon the Mississippi: hundreds had again crossed over into Wisconsin. Several hundred had in the year past gone to "that bourne whence no traveller returns", as many as thirty-nine having been murdered in drunken broils within the space of fourteen months.
     Mr. Lowry suggested that those who urged a "let alone" policy for all Indians forgot that their own "ancestors, at one time, ate acorns and worshipped devils." White men were "making it a business all along the line of purchasing guns, horses, provisions, and goods, of these people, by giving whiskey in exchange, and then, when they get their money, sell the articles back for cash, at exorbitant prices." Lawless white men were responsible for all such acts of oppression. Furthermore, so long as the savages had no homes that they could call their own, they lived as vagrants and their youths, even those educated at the school, abandoned themselves to the old barbarian ways. Lowry's best and most untiring efforts to arrest the downward tendency of the Winnebago tribe seemed unavailing. Governor John Chambers of the Territory of Iowa had but one suggestion to make.
     There is no remedy for it, but by interposing a wilderness or wide waste between them and the abandoned and profligate wretches, who set the laws of morality and their country at defiance, and sacrifice the health and lives of these unfortunate children of the forest, to their thirst for gain; they conceal their nefarious traffic with them in the fastnesses of the forest, and avoid, by every practicable means, the presence of all whose testimony would be competent to their conviction.
     Twice the Winnebagoes had been removed from Wisconsin—once by General Atkinson and again by General Brooke—when orders were issued in 1843 for a third transplanting to the  western bank of the Mississippi. They had also been guilty of murdering three white men and wounding two children. Governor Chambers was, therefore, ordered to treat with the Winnebagoes, induce them to give up the Neutral Ground, buy land from the Sioux in the Minnesota country, and offer them a new reservation far away from the malign influence of evil white men. The Governor accordingly held a council with the Indians in July, 1843. A guard of infantrymen under Captain Abercrombie was present to preserve order; and to prevent the Indians in council from being supplied with drink, a guard of Captain Sumner's company of dragoons was kept near the boundary to overawe some notorious whisky dealers. The negotiations proved to be quite ineffectual for a reason directly traceable to the resolution passed by the United States Senate on March 3, 1843: future treaties were to contain no provisions for making reservations for halfbreeds or for the payment of Indian debts. Since this action cut off from Chambers the cooperation of certain white men, he found the latter either neutral or secretly opposed. To quote from his report:      These Indians, like all others that have been subjected to the influence of the licensed traders, can only be operated upon through that influence; and in no case can it be brought into action in support of the views of the Government, but for a "consideration", which has heretofore been, as you are well aware, obtained through a treaty stipulation for the payment of the claims against the tribe to be treated with.... The tremendous profits of Indian trade, resulting from the privileges granted the traders by the Government under the existing system of trade and intercourse with the Indians, does not seem to produce on the part of these people the least sense of obligation to forward or promote the views of the Government, or even to abstain from obstructing them when the promotion of their own interest is not presented as an inducement. Nor is it at all probable that their omnipotent influence would be yielded upon any other consideration, even to save a suffering frontier from outrages such as the Winnebagoes have recently committed, and may be expected to repeat.
     Scarcity of game and strong temptations to leave the Neutral Ground for whisky combined to make it difficult to prevent the Winnebagoes from starving, drinking, fighting, stealing, and even murdering. The continuance of acts of aggression upon the border settlements would, it was believed, ultimately lead to a feeling of general hostility, since the white citizens in the neighborhood were already exasperated beyond measure by this degraded and dissolute tribe. During the autumn of 1843 and the winter and spring months of 1844 those Winnebagoes who resided upon the Mississippi were brought within their boundary twenty miles westward "by the indefatigable and judicious exertions of Captain Sumner, of the first regiment of dragoons." After President John Tyler's removal of Rev. Lowry from office in 1844, James McGregor, Jr., became the agent at the station near Fort Atkinson in August. He found the Indians very generally under the influence of whisky and in a state of great insubordination: they had largely exchanged their annuity provisions for liquor and had shot two cows and an ox not belonging to them. Major Dearborn, commandant at the fort, at once arrested and punished the culprits. A second attempt in 1844 to buy Winnebago rights in the Neutral Ground failed. Then, in June, 1845, Governor Dodge of Wisconsin Territory tried his hand at treaty-making upon fair and liberal terms; but the fifteen hundred Winnebagoes who met him in council at Fort Atkinson soon appeared "to be acting under the controlling influence and advice of those who appeared to be governed exclusively by interested motives in retaining them in the neutral country, and who were the cause of their refusal to sell that country to the United States." The result was an indecisive parley. Governor Dodge recommended that the Winnebagoes be allowed to select a reservation in the Sioux country of Minnesota and that the chiefs of both nations should journey to Washington to deal directly with the government.
     The summer of 1845 proved to be a notable one for the dragoons at Fort Atkinson. According to Jonathan E. Fletcher, the new sub-agent, the vigilance of Captain Sumner and his company effectually checked the smuggling of whisky into the Indian country by the whites, although the Winnebagoes could not be prevented from going to the white settlements to procure it. Then the dragoons spent some three months in the saddle with Captain Allen's company from Fort Des Moines. In the Minnesota wilderness of the Territory of Iowa they held many impressive councils or talks with the Indians, both American and British, the latter sometimes crossing the Canadian boundary to hunt upon American soil.
     The story of the Winnebagoes for 1846 in general varies little from the dreary tale of their misery in the preceding years. They were a bit less troublesome to the frontier settlers, especially after two of their number were killed in Wisconsin and many of the rovers located upon the Red Cedar River. The breaking out of war between the United States and Mexico necessitated the removal of the entire garrison from Fort Atkinson in July, affording an excellent opportunity to dealers in liquor to reap a golden harvest from the Indians. To replace the troops thus withdrawn Governor James Clarke of Iowa received authority from the Secretary of War to muster into service a company of volunteer foot and also one of volunteer cavalry. These had served scarcely one month when the mounted troops were dispensed with, to the great dissatisfaction of the Iowa legislators. Most important of all, some twenty-four Winnebago delegates went to the national capital and there on October 13th concluded a treaty surrendering all their rights to the Neutral Ground and agreeing to remove to a new home north of the Minnesota River within one year after the ratification of the treaty by the United States Senate. On the fourth of February, 1847, these agreements were proclaimed law of the land.
     Henry M. Rice, appointed by the Winnebagoes as their agent, explored and selected for them a section of Chippewa Indian country high up on the Mississippi River considerably beyond the frontier which the whites were then rapidly pushing westward. The Chippewas agreed to sell the lands desired and the United States government bought from them a country admirably suited to the Winnebagoes, "much of it being well adapted to agricultural purposes, and to a considerable extent interspersed with lakes and streams, abounding with fish and wild rice." The Winnebagoes, however, again broke their promise to emigrate within the time set: from June 8th until the middle of September, 1848, sub-agent Fletcher, aided by the volunteer company at Fort Atkinson and Captain Eastman's company from Fort Snelling, had succeeded in getting only about one-half of them to their new homes. All the others were scattered, some in Iowa, some in Wisconsin, and others as far south as the Missouri River. These stragglers could not be collected: the bait that was expected to bring them together consisted of large annuities and an excellent reservation. War between the Sioux and the Chippewas, besides the interference of certain interested persons, had created dissatisfaction and delay among the Winnebagoes and had caused them to scatter in different directions. In the autumn of 1849 about two-thirds had reached their northern home, while not less than three hundred of the tribe resided upon the Iowa River with a strong party of renegade Pottawattamies and Sacs and Foxes. When it became known that they were committing depredations upon frontier settlers, a military force was sent out to drive them to their northern reservation. But it was not until the next year that the Winnebagoes were all brought together in Minnesota. Meanwhile Fort Atkinson had been abandoned by the troops on February 24, 1849.


     One important provision of the treaty of 1832 very much concerned the future material and moral welfare of the Winnebagoes: the government agreed to appropriate to them not more than $2500 annually for the support of six agriculturists and the purchase of twelve yokes of oxen, ploughs, and other agricultural implements. Agent Street was preparing to carry out these stipulations in 1834 when he was called away to Rock Island. Early the next year, however, he ventured to employ laborers, set them to work near the Winnebago school, which had been erected just south of the Neutral Ground near the Mississippi River, and also bought four yokes of oxen and two horses for the farm. Again operations were halted by Street's removal, and not until the spring of 1837 were his ideas for improving the condition of the Indians carried into execution. Street had hopes of seeing the Winnebagoes regenerated by instruction in practical farming: provide them with a sure supply of food and simple apparel, thus making the hunt unnecessary, and civilization, he felt sure, would follow as a matter of course. David Lowry, superintendent of the school, also looked after the Winnebago farm and reported its progress: the crop of 1838, consisting of 500 bushels of corn, 1000 bushels of potatoes, and 1500 bushels of turnips, was issued to the Indians in small quantities, except so much as was used for the support of the school establishment.
     The year 1839 showed further development. Thirty-eight families of Winnebagoes planted about seventy-six acres chiefly in corn, potatoes, and beans. After the land was ploughed and parcelled out to each family, seed was distributed for planting, with the result that the Indians were with difficulty prevented from eating it. The farm hands also put about twenty-five acres in oats, ten acres in corn, and twelve in potatoes, besides cutting hay for the stock and teams in the winter. Improvements on the farm during this year consisted of six more log cabins for Indian families, materials prepared and hauled for four others, a hewed log store-house for the Indians, a horse stable, a blacksmith shop, a coal house, and a cabin for the smith's family. Fifteen miles west of the farm forty acres were enclosed, partly broken up, and sowed in oats. The Indians, however, refused to occupy this new farm unless Mr. Lowry accompanied them. Six families belonging to the establishment had definitely given up hunting as a means of support and lived upon the products of their labor and the provisions drawn by their children at the school. Altogether three hundred Winnebagoes dwelt at the mission farm, more than half of them minors. The prospect was that an abundant harvest would afford them ample support, provided they did not dispose of their crops for whisky. Instruction in agriculture, it was hoped, would prepare the Indians for improvement in every other way.
     In 1840 fifty families were reported as farming, some on the one hundred and thirty acres attached to the school, others on two ten-acre plots near by, and ten families on the farm fifteen miles west, cultivating potatoes, corn, and turnips. Log cabins were needed for them because portable shelter did not tend to induce them to abandon their roving habits. In the autumn, preparatory to the removal of the Winnebagoes to the Neutral Ground, general farming operations were suspended and the laborers set out for the Turkey River to break up and fence one thousand acres of prairie so that everything would be in readiness for the Indians to commence cultivation in the spring of 1841. A visitor at the farm in 1840 wrote to Lowry as follows:
     The comfortable appearance of the wigwams of their [school children's] parents, and the fertility of their fields, are pleasing; but it is peculiarly distressing to see them, thus early in the season, clandestinely exchanging their crops for whiskey, and, under its influence, hewing each other in pieces; and, on this account, I earnestly wish that removal you anticipate might be a hundred miles west of the Missouri, instead of forty west of the Mississippi.
     The land selected upon the Turkey River was of unsurpassed fertility and contained enough timber to answer all purposes. Several streams near the site of the new agency afforded at all seasons an ample supply of water for ordinary mill-power: a grist-mill erected on one of them greatly added to the comfort and convenience of the Indians. Two blacksmith shops were also set up there. However glowing the prospects, conditions during the first year nevertheless indicated a lack of interest on the part of the Winnebagoes. John Thomas, the miller and superintendent of the farm, reported that the mill race had broken away; and only 450 acres of the 1400 or 1500 acres broken up were under cultivation. Despite rust, smut, prairie squirrels, and a wet, cold spring, a middling crop was expected. Besides, the farm hands had made 25,000 rails for fences and had put up fifty tons of hay at the agency and thirty tons on the "Coden river", at a place some fifty miles west, intended for the Indians during their winter hunt. The next year Thomas gave an account of operations that was a credit to the Indians: wheat, oats, corn, and turnips were raised in abundance. Thomas also furnished an inventory of the live stock and farm implements. Twenty miles from the agency upon the Upper Iowa River fifty acres were cultivated and occupied by a band of wild and wandering Winnebagoes who subsisted chiefly by hunting and fishing.
     Benjamin Terrill superintended the farm after September, 1843, employing seven hands during the winter and from eleven to sixteen in the spring and summer. They ploughed and helped the Indians to fence their lands and opened new areas for bands that had come west of the Mississippi. Several bands residing upon the Iowa River had lost their crops in a freshet, the spring and summer having been very rainy. The dam had washed away and the mill had also been damaged again, besides being used by the insubordinate and drunken savages as a plaything. The Indians, moreover, were stealing the superintendent's "corn, potatoes, and turnips, beyond endurance." At from one to forty miles from the agency nine different bands possessed inclosures containing in all about four hundred and fifteen acres which were ploughed by the government's laborers and cultivated by the Indian women. Altogether this year and the next were bad years for farming and the Indians were in a distressed and wretched condition. On the fifteenth of August, 1846, the Winnebagoes numbered about twenty-four hundred: in twenty-two detached bands they then occupied that part of the Neutral Ground which lay between the east fork of the Red Cedar and a line twenty miles west of the Mississippi. There were also seventy-five half-breeds, most of them living near the agency. Two parties of about three hundred Winnebagoes followed the chase for a subsistence; and the remainder were more or less engaged in raising corn, oats, potatoes, beans, turnips, squashes, and other vegetables. Their interest in agricultural pursuits was encouraging as indicated by the fact that six chiefs and several headmen went to the fields and held ploughs from day to day, although among the Indians it was deemed degrading for a man to work. Most of the band had applied for and received harnesses, wagons, and ploughs. Three additional fields had been prepared and fenced for bands located on the Iowa River. The crops were excellent, and agent Fletcher declared his intention to organize "an agricultural society, awarding suitable premiums for the best crops, with a view to excite emulation and promote industry." Attached to the farm at the agency was a carpenter's shop in which coffins and tools were manufactured for the Indians. Furthermore, the blacksmiths made and repaired hoes, axes, hatchets, knives, traps, fishing spears, and farm implements, and shoed horses and oxen for the tribesmen.
     A murderous attack by the Sioux in the spring of 1847 interrupted farm operations on the Red Cedar River where some industrious and prosperous bands dwelt. Nevertheless, the Winnebagoes cultivated their lands better and raised better crops than usual. After the harvest an agricultural association, which had organized and offered suitable prizes, sent out a committee to examine the Indian farms and awarded such premiums as wagons, harnesses, ploughs, and other farm implements. The Winnebagoes generally were less drunken than formerly: eighty-two had actually signed a temperance pledge and the chiefs had promised to "use all their influence, and to make all proper exertions to prevent the introduction and sale of whiskey and other intoxicating liquors into their country." A plentiful crop and their annuities afforded them ample means of subsistence during the winter and spring of 1848. Early in May five men with a team and tools were sent to prepare fields in the new Winnebago reservation in Minnesota, while three laborers remained behind to cultivate and secure a crop from one hundred and fifty acres at the Turkey River agency.
     Thus ended the government farm on the Neutral Ground. While the Winnebagoes occupied the country, they were not encouraged to invest their means in permanent dwelling houses, orchards, or anything else, for the reason that these improvements would only serve to attach them more strongly to land which, on account of the advancing tide of pioneer emigrants, they must soon leave. The efforts made to encourage them to adopt civilization's ways were chiefly directed toward interesting them in the cultivation of the soil, the use of common farm implements, and the adoption of horse-power in place of the labor of women. Despite the government's philanthropic measures, however, the practices to which the Winnebagoes had been accustomed for centuries past naturally underwent but little change, and so it is no wonder that the Indians proved to be a poor match for their pioneer white neighbors.


     In the treaty of 1832 with the Winnebagoes the United States agreed to "erect a suitable building, or buildings, with a garden, and a field attached, somewhere near Fort Crawford, or Prairie du Chien, and establish and maintain therein, for the term of twenty-seven years, a school for the education, including clothing, board, and lodging, of such Winnebago children as may be voluntarily sent to it: the school to be conducted by two or more teachers, male and female, and the said children to be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, gardening, agriculture, carding, spinning, weaving, and sewing, according to their ages and sexes, and such other branches of useful knowledge as the President of the United States may prescribe". The annual cost was in no case to exceed $3000 and the school was to be subject to visitation and inspection by certain designated officers.
     The Indian Department soon ordered Joseph M. Street, the Winnebago Indian agent at Prairie du Chien, to select a site for the school near his agency west of the Mississippi. Street did so and was planning stone buildings for the school when the Secretary of War refused to sanction anything but plain, comfortable log structures at small expense. On the dividing ridge between the Yellow and Giard rivers Street selected a site for the Indian log schoolhouse about ten miles from Fort Crawford and four miles from a sawmill which United States troops at the fort had constructed on the Yellow River. Indeed, Colonel Zachary Taylor offered to transfer this mill to Street to facilitate the erection of the necessary buildings for the Winnebagoes. Of the schoolhouse site Street wrote as follows:
     At this point there is a small rich prairie, and a spring rising in the adjoining timber near the summit of the ridge. The surrounding country generally woodland, with spots of rich prairie, and abounding in fine streams of water.... To the west of this situation the ridge expands into a large open fertile prairie, forming the dividing ridge between the Turkey river and the Mississippi, beautifully spotted with small islands of timber.
     A different location was afterwards preferred just north of the Yellow River in what is to-day Fairview Township of Allamakee County. Indeed, the school came to stand just south of the boundary of the Neutral Ground upon the Black Hawk Purchase. In the spring of 1834 Street let a contract for the construction of the buildings, but before he could do more he was transferred from Prairie du Chien to Rock Island to be the agent of the Sacs and Foxes of the Iowa country. The school was completed in the fall of 1834 and opened early in 1835. Meanwhile, President Andrew Jackson had appointed his friend, David Lowry, D. D., a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, as teacher to the Winnebagoes. Arriving at Prairie du Chien in September, 1833, he is said to have conducted a school for the Indians at that place until his removal to the new location on the Yellow River in the autumn of 1834. His appointment and that of his wife, Mary Ann, to the school there dated from January 1, 1835, at a salary of $800. The attendance of Indian pupils in that year must have been discouraging: there were six, some of whom could read and two of whom could write. Many Winnebagoes visited this institution, inquired into everything, expressed satisfaction with the school, and promised to bring their children.
  The number of pupils increased very slowly. Two years after the government opened the doors of the school, there were twenty-two boys and fourteen girls in attendance; while Bradford L. and Patsey Porter aided the principal and his wife as teachers. In the autumn of 1839 the children numbered forty-three boys and thirty-six girls—all that could be accommodated. By the provisions of the treaty of 1837 the Winnebagoes became entitled to $2800 for educational purposes and $500 for the support of a school interpreter. Accordingly the school was enlarged by the construction of an extra building. New teachers in 1839 were Miss Minerva Brownson and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Mills. Abner and Nancy McDowell probably succeeded two of these persons in September of the same year. Sylvanus Lowry became interpreter and Ann Lemon cook. The pupils, unaccustomed to the restraints of the schoolroom, made slow progress in learning the three R's. When weary of study the girls took up sewing, and in this wise they prepared two hundred garments during the summer of 1839; while relays of boys cheerfully worked at manual labor on the adjoining government farm and then returned to recitations. As an evidence that his institution flourished, Rev. Lowry furnished the government a letter signed by several "disinterested" visitors. Besides superintending the Indians at the "mission", as it came to be called, Mr. Lowry preached to the pupils: their religious teaching became wholly Presbyterian, but it is said that although most of them were good Presbyterians so long as they remained at the mission, they relapsed into their ancient heathenism as soon as they left Mr. Lowry's care.
     Having become sub-agent for the Winnebagoes in July, 1839, Rev. Lowry turned the supervision of the school over to John Thomas. Fifty-one pupils in four classes were in charge of Miss Minerva Brownson, assisted by her sister Lucy, successor to Mr. and Mrs. Mills. In 1840 they reported that regular progress was retarded whenever the Indians assembled at Prairie du Chien to receive their annuities; the children were then required to accompany their parents and remain with them till the usual spree was ended. Many children also went with their friends upon the winter hunts and fishing excursions. Moreover, until the emigration of the Winnebagoes to the Neutral Ground was complete, the school would never be placed beyond the influence of whisky. John H. Lockwood, B. W. Brisbois, and John L. Seymour visited the place and expressed their surprise at the improvement of the Indians in orderly conduct and education. The Winnebagoes were certainly not yet so "degraded, dissipated, reckless, hopeless" as not to be willing to let their children "enjoy the means of intellectual and moral cultivation." When Lowry received instructions to sell the agency and school buildings for what they would bring, the teachers obtained a vacation on the first of October preparatory to removal to the Turkey River. The new Winnebago agency and school buildings were accordingly stationed upon that river four or five miles southeast of Fort Atkinson. The earliest report thereafter came from J. W. Hancock in August, 1842: more than one hundred pupils received instruction under him. Besides the ordinary subjects of instruction vocal music was offered with very good success: many of the children had learned "a large number of tunes, which they sing with much accuracy and delight." The boys who were old enough labored upon the adjoining farm for one or two hours a day and then returned to their books with better relish. The girls in three months time made 65 shirts, 55 pantaloons, 60 gowns, 8 coats, 8 aprons, 2 red sacks, and 21 corn bags, or a total of 219 pieces. All seemed cheerful.
     John L. Seymour acted as principal from 1842 to 1843. He recommended that knitting and spinning be added to the subjects taught to the girls and that a press and printer be furnished to the school, as there was scarcely a book in use that did not need revising to adapt it to the wants of "minds just emerging from barbarism." He urged that "a small sheet, printed in the English and Indian, should now be put in circulation, in order to retain the influence of those who have left school. No people on earth thirst more largely after news relating to themselves than do the Indians." Seymour served a second year as principal over five other persons—one in the clothing department and four in teaching. One hundred and seventy children in every stage of advancement attended the school in constantly varying numbers, depending upon the season of the year. Some fifteen pupils walked ten miles daily to the agency. The school was taught two hundred and thirty-six days, exclusive of Sundays, when the children assembled for religious instruction. The girls furnished nearly seven hundred articles of clothing, such as boys' coats, trousers, shirts, dresses, short gowns, chemises, skirts, aprons, and towels, bags, bedticks, and pillow cases. Nevertheless, Seymour complained that the irregularity of attendance, the dread of restraint, and general ignorance of the English language "renders it scarcely possible to keep any two of them in the same degree of advancement, and requires of the teachers an amount of labor and patience that can be estimated by experience only."
     H. N. Thissell acted as principal in 1845. The following year, on the first of May, Rev. David Lowry resumed his duties as superintendent after an absence of about two years. His management was described as "judicious— patience and kindness are substituted for passion and severity." Manual labor both in the field and the shop became a definite part of the system of instruction. More room and repairs were needed to make the school comfortable, but the want of permanent homes retarded the progress of improvement most of all. Mr. Lowry emphasized the fact that changing the habits of a people was not the work of a day. To quote from his report: So long as the children of the Winnebagoes are leaving school, and are obliged to return to a homeless and houseless people, their education can be of but little service, and the customs of the
wigwam will be continued. But give them a home that they can call theirs forever, and their circumstances will soon create literary wants and dictate a change of habits.
     The school was already a celebrated institution, and its domestic science department was spoken of in terms of high praise, thanks to the efficiency of Mrs. A. Lockwood, once the "attentive hostess of the 'Burlington House,' Burlington, Iowa." A well-known promoter of emigration to the Territory of Iowa declared it "an interesting spectacle to behold, in the midst of the forest, far beyond the confines of civilization, an assemblage of one hundred children of Nature, eschewing the wild excitement of savage life, throwing aside the bow and quiver, and bowing to the shrine of learning.'' Lowry reported the largest total attendance at the school during the year 1846-1847: two hundred and forty-nine came for instruction, so that the superintendent no longer doubted the practicability of civilizing the Winnebagoes.
     Early in May, 1848, the Winnebago school on the Turkey River ended its existence with the removal of teachers and children to the Minnesota country, where plans were entertained of setting up several manual labor schools to give every child the benefit of an education. Mr. Lowry had completed nearly fifteen years of service in the Indian country, and from the fulness of experience could say that the success of teaching the American savage was hindered by the shortage of proper persons: "mere outward morality, detached from feelings of concern for the salvation of the Indians, is not sufficient.
The heart must be in the work."

Home to Iowa History Project