Iowa History Project






A picture of Wapello, (Fox Chief.) is included with this Chapter.

Ages ago, when Iowa was much different in aspect from that which it bore when the whites first saw the country, a race of human beings not unlike the Eskimos inhabited this territory.  The great glacier of the Mississippi Valley was at that time receding toward the north.  On its edge lived a race of short, stout, flat-featured men and women.  Of them we know little.  We know more of the Mound Builders, who succeeded this short people.

The Mound Builders were superior in intelligence and civilization to the glacier dwellers.  They are termed Mound Builders, because all through the Mississippi Valley, and in other portions of the United States, especially east of the Mississippi, are to-day visible mounds supposed to have originated with this ancient people.

In Jackson and Louisa and Clayton and Scott Counties, and in other counties in Iowa, groups of mounds are found.  The Mound Builders evidently preferred the banks of the rivers for their works.  Along the Iowa and the Des Moines rivers, and bordering other streams tributary to the Mississippi, the strange elevations of earth are to be seen.

The favorite location is the crest of a hill, or well up toward the top, on terraces.  An elevation was chosen, perhaps because of fear of floods, or perhaps because of security against attack.

The mounds contain skeletons, stone weapons, pottery and rude engravings on stone.  Stone images of the elephant and other animals now foreign to Iowa are unearthed.

It is conjectured that maybe the mounds originally were fortifications.  The question arises, from whom was assault expected?  Very likely from the Indians.

After the Mound Builders had been for some time in possession of the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys, savages from the east and the west pressed upon them.  For centuries the great Algonquin family of Indians had occupied the Atlantic Coast.  They were encountered by the Norsemen who touched at Cape Cod in the year 1000, and when nearly five hundred years later the English under the Cabots landed the Algonquins were still there.

Some time, no one knows when, tribes of the Algonquins pushed westward, and by way of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes overflowed the country to the south and into the Mississippi Valley.  At the Upper Mississippi they met the bold Sioux, or Dakotas (Dakotahs), from the Rocky Mountains.

The Dakotas had crossed the Rockies, and had followed the Missouri River and its branches eastward.  These western Indians were even more savage than the Red Men of the Atlantic Coast.  When the two families clashed the Mound Builders were crushed.

In vain they tried to oppose the fierce strangers invading the territory.  Perhaps but slight resistance was made.  Perhaps the fighting was valiant, and from their fortifications now called mounds, the older people made long defense.  Iowa was a battle ground, but the records are lost, save as the mounds would furnish mute testimony to the deeds that were.

It is possible that the Mound Builders fled southward, and that in Arizona and New Mexico and vicinity they built  new homes.

The Indians were left in possession of the Upper Mississippi Valley.  Iowa was now the field of a long struggle.  The families overlapped here.  The Sioux held the region in the north of Iowa and in Minnesota, and penetrated into Wisconsin.

The Algonquins surged below them to the Missouri, occupying the rest of Iowa and the north of Missouri.  The line between the rivals reached about from the mouth of the Upper Iowa River to the mouth of the Big Sioux.

The two families were bitter enemies.  Whether the hatred began then, or has an origin farther back, is an unanswered problem.  But always we find the Sioux, cruel and bold, and the Sacs and Foxes, crafty and brave, killing each other on every occasion possible; and this animosity prevails to-day between all representatives of the Dakotas on the one hand and the Algonquins on the other.

It is no wonder that the Indians refused to abandon, until forced to by a superior power, this beautiful region they had invaded.  Iowa was an ideal home for them.  On the hills and in the valleys were the deer; on the prairies the buffalo.  The noble wild turkey dwelt in the woods, and the prairie chicken and ruffed grouse were on every side, in meadow and in thicket.  The numerous lakes and streams furnished fish, and afforded passage for the bark canoes.  The plum and grape were to be had for the picking.  The hickory nut and the hazel nut were plentiful, and maize waved in the fields.

The Mississippi on the east and the Missouri on the west, with the smaller rivers traversing the interior between, were highways from district to district.  The climate, cold in winter, warm in summer, never was monotonous.  The blue of the sky and the cleanness of the air were not burdened as now with smoke from cities, but were just as nature has intended they should be.

It is easy to understand why the poor Indians, removed to other places, returned in little bands time and again, to look once more upon the scenes they loved so well.  Even the Indians of Michigan and Wisconsin, when brought to Iowa by the government, preferred their new surroundings to the old.

The first Indians seen in what is now Iowa by a white man were Illinois Indians.  In 1673 Marquette and Joliet, the French explorers, coming down the Mississippi, landed in southeastern Iowa, and encountered savages, who said they were Illini, or as we term them by the French rendering, Illinois.  Illini means "men," and when these Indians proudly said, "We are Illini," they meant they were very brave and superior to all other people.

There are references in records dating about this time to Mas-coutins.  The name Muscatine evidently is derived from this word.  The Mas-coutins at one time lived on Muscatine Island, and on other territory in that locality.  The name is said to signify "place having no woods," or prairie; some authorities state the true translation is "fire Prairie," and that great fires used to sweep over the country in Muscatine County.

Long before whites came to Iowa the Mas-coutins had disappeared, and either were extinct or had united with other tribes.  They are said to have been cruel and treacherous, and unfriendly to the Sacs and Foxes, whom they defeated in a great conflict near the mouth of the Iowa River.

Illini and Mas-coutins were Algonquins.  But in the midst of the Algonquins dwelt for many years a Dakota tribe, the Iowas.  The name is spelt in various ways, for example Ayouas, Ayouways, Ayoas and Aiouex, but the English style is Iowas.  Because the State has the same name, these Indians are of especial interest to us.

The Iowas were in Southern Iowa when the first explorers penetrated to that section.  Their principal village was in the extreme northwest corner of Van Buren County, where the town of Iowaville now stands.  Other villages were in Davis and Wapello Counties, and in Mahaska County, which bears the name of an Iowa chief.

The Iowas called themselves Dusty-noses, claiming that they once dwelt on a sandbar, where the wind blew dust into their faces.  They were brave and intelligent Indians, and were enemies of the other Dakotas because an Iowa chief had been treacherously slain on the Iowa River by a band of Sioux.

The Iowa Indians were divided into clans, designated Eagle, Wolf, Bear, Pigeon, Elk, Beaver, Buffalo and Snake, and distinguished one from another by the fashion in which the hair was cut.  Pestilence and war reduced this tribe, until, after a massacre by the Sacs and Foxes in 1823, it ceased to play an important part in the farther history of this region.

The Sacs and Foxes hold the most prominent place in the story of the Algonquin family in Iowa.  The Musquakies, on their reservation in Tama County, are Fox Indians and are the only Red Men in the State.

About 1712 the Sacs and the Foxes became close allies.  Formerly they lived with other Algonquins in Wisconsin and Michigan, but together moved to the Mississippi.  In 1805 the Sacs had four villages on the Mississippi.  One was at the head of the Des Moines Rapids; another about sixty miles above, across the river; another on Rock River back of Moline's site, and another on the Iowa River.

Fox villages are known to have been at the mouth of Turkey River; where Dubuque now stands; at Rock Rapids, and where Davenport is located.  The village on the site of Davenport was one of the oldest Indian towns on the upper Mississippi.

At the mouth of the Wapsipinicon River, in Clinton County, once was a Sac village, but the largest community of Indians in all this part of the country was at an angle of the Mississippi and Rock Rivers, in Illinois.  It was known as Black Hawk's Town, and was called by the Indians Saukenuk.  Foxes as well as Sacs dwelt there.  Its precise location was on the north bank of the Rock River, about a mile from the mouth.

As a rule the Foxes frequented the west side of the Mississippi, the Sacs the east.  Finally all were sent by the government into Iowa.

The word Sac is asserted to be a corruption of Sau-kie, or Sau-kee.  The Sacs pronounced it with a strong guttural accent on the last syllable.  One meaning given to the name is "man with the red badge," it being maintained that the Sac covered his head with red clay when he mourned.  Accordingly the word Mus-qua-kie is held to mean "man with a yellow badge," because this tribe covered the head with yellow clay.  On account of their thieving habits the Mus-qua-kies were styled by the French, Renards, or Foxes.

The Sacs and Foxes, after they had established themselves along the Mississippi, proved to be the strongest of the Algonquins in and around Iowa.  In other chapters we shall read more about them.

The Sioux Indians were the sole possessors of Iowa north of the Upper Iowa River, and in the northwest portion above the latitude of the mouth of the Big Sioux.  They were the Arabs of the Iowa prairies, and their hand seems to have been against everyone not a Sioux.  The trouble constantly occurring between the Sioux and the Indians south of them compelled the government to interfere.  In 1825 a council of all the Indians in Iowa was called at Prairie du Chien.  The chiefs gathered, decked in paint and feathers, each tribe striving to outdo the others.  The Sioux came on horseback; the Sacs and Foxes dashed up the river in their war canoes, singing their songs and boasting.

At the council the ancient foes glared at one another, but order was kept, and no encounters resulted.  A boundary line was fixed, to which the tribes agreed.  The Sioux were to hunt north of a line passing from the mouth of the Upper Iowa River through the upper fork of the Des Moines River to the fork of the Big Sioux, and down the Big Sioux to the Missouri.  The Sacs and Foxes were to keep south of this line.  They gave permission to the Iowas and the Otoes, both of the Dakota family, to live in this territory, with them.

However, it was soon seen that the Indians were fond of sending war parties across the line, back and forth, hunting scalps instead of deer.  Therefore, in 1830, the United States secured on either side of the line around twenty miles wide, extending from the Mississippi to the Des Moines.  This strip, forty miles wide, was termed the Neutral Ground.  Indians of any tribe were to hunt and fish here, and no charge of trespassing was to be set against them.

This answered the purpose of decreasing the encounters between Algonquins, Iowas and Otoes on one side and the Sioux on the other.  Then, in 1841, the government removed onto the Neutral Ground the Winnebagoes, who had been living in Wisconsin.  In Algonquin the name Winnebago means "turbid water."  The Winnebagoes were Dakotas, and claimed to be the people from whom sprang the Iowas, Otoes and others.  They disliked to go onto the Neutral Ground, because on the south were the Sacs and Foxes, and on the north were the Sioux, and thus they were between two fires.

However, they grew to love the Iowa reservation.  After they were taken to Minnesota in 1846 they persisted in coming back, until civilization shut them out forever.  In Iowa the Winnebago hunting grounds were along the Upper Iowa River, the Turkey, the Cedar and the Wapsipinicon.

In 1833 the Pottawattamies, with some Chippewas and Ottawas, all Algonquins, were removed from Michigan to the southwestern part of Iowa.  The name Pottawattamie signifies "makers of fire," denoting a free and independent people who had their own council fires.  The agency for the Pottawattamies was in Mills County, at Trader's Point.  A village stood on the bank of the Nishnabotany River.  It was called Miau-mise, and was not far from Lewis, Cass County.  Here also was a burying ground.

In 1846 the Pottawattamies and the other tribes mingling with them were sent farther west, but like the Winnebagoes they returned to Iowa time after time.

Long ago the Sioux had a large summer camp near where Dubuque is.  They called themselves Dakotas, meaning a "united band."  Their favorite haunts in Iowa were the headwaters of the Des Moines and Iowa Rivers, and around the northern lakes.  They placed their dead in trees or on scaffolds.  The Algonquins buried theirs.

To-day along the rivers we find Indian graves, marking the resting place of some Indian of the Algonquin family.

Back to Table of Contents

Home to Iowa History Project