Iowa History Project






After the strip of land called the Black Hawk Purchase was acquired by the government for use by the settlers not many years passed ere the Indians had lost every inch of the woodlands, hills and prairies they once had owned.

The transfers of ground were made through treaties.  Delegates representing the United States and delegates representing the Indians met and agreed on terms.  The government paid for the territory, and the amount and all other details were put in writing.  The chiefs made their mark as signature.

In a matter of business involving the sale of such extensive areas of valuable soil the Indians were unable to cope with the white man's shrewdness.  Payment was made in money, merchandise, domestic animals, and gifts to half breeds.  Sometimes the government also promised to lay out farms, establish shops, and bear expenses of removal to new reservations.

While it was not the intention of the government to defraud the Indians, it is true that a mere pittance, compared with the actual value, was paid for the lands, and that after the exchange had been effected and the whites had obtained possession, the provisions of the contracts entered into by the government were not altogether carried out as agreed.  The promises did not prove so satisfactory as the Indians had been led to expect they would.

The Indians themselves were partly to blame for this, because they were easily influenced by unscrupulous whites.  Whisky and gambling proved too fascinating.

What appears to be the most unjust of the treaties made with Indians we know was that of 1804, when the government acquired from the Sacs and Foxes their lands east of the Mississippi from the mouth of the Wisconsin to opposite the mouth of the Missouri, all for the ridiculous sum of $2,234.50 down in goods, and annually goods to the value of $1,000.

This treaty was so one-sided and the government violated its promises so openly that the result was the Black Hawk War and the downfall of the Sacs and Foxes.

The first step towards dispossessing the Indians of their territory in what is now Iowa was made in 1830, when the United States bought from the Sacs and Foxes, Sioux, Omahas, Otoes and Missouris a portion of present Western Iowa, paying a small sum to each tribe.  It was provided in the treaty that the Indians should not be disturbed, and certain advantages were given the tribes signing the paper.  However, the government now owned the land.

Then followed the Black Hawk Purchase, which went into effect June 1, 1833.  In 1836 the four hundred square miles reserved for the Sacs and Foxes, and comprising Louisa County, was secured by the whites, and by a treaty made in October, 1837, the two tribes were induced to part with a tract adjoining the Black Hawk Purchase on the west.  The western line of the Black Hawk Purchase was crooked, following the general course of the Mississippi.  This Second Purchase, as it was termed, made the boundary between settler's country and Indian country almost straight.  Therefore, the addition was about twenty-five miles wide in the middle, but tapered off at either end.

In gaining the Second Purchase the whites advanced a little west of Johnson County.  Still they wanted more land.  They looked with covetous eyes on the country to the westward held by the Indians, and they thought it was even more beautiful than that already under their feet.  Only a short time and the Indians surrendered this, the last of their territory in Iowa.

In the fall of 1842 occurred the treaty that stripped the Indians of the land which remained to them after the Black Hawk Purchase and the Second Purchase.  The Sacs and Foxes ceded to the United States all their territory west of the Mississippi, and agreed to leave the locality and go to a reservation in Kansas.  The eastern portion of the territory stipulated was to be thrown open to the settlers May 1, 1843; that portion west of a line running north and south, about the longitude of Redrock, Marion County, was to be used by the Indians until October 11, 1845.

The winter of 1842-43 was an unusually severe one.  The prophet, or chief medicine man of the Sacs, had strongly opposed signing the treaty relinquishing the land, and now said to the Indians:

"This cold weather and these hardships have come upon you because the Great Spirit is angry at you.  You have parted with the last of your possessions.  You have sold the homes of your fathers.  Manitou is displeased."

The Indians believed their prophet, and, when April was drawing to a close, with heavy hearts they prepared to leave for hunting grounds farther west.  They went through a number of solemn ceremonies, to appease the Great Spirit and to bid farewell to the graves of their relatives.  Some of the Indians could not keep back their tears as they mounted their half-fed ponies and turned their heads for a last look at their former dwelling place.  All were sad and downcast.

This treaty of 1842, by which the Sacs and Foxes surrendered their territory, termed the New Purchase, was transacted in a council held at Agency City, six miles east of the present city of Ottumwa.  The deliberations took place in a large tent.  Captain Allen, with a troop of dragoons from Fort Des Moines, was present to maintain order.

John Chambers, governor of Iowa Territory, conducted the matter for the government.  The governor was attired in the showy uniform of a brigadier general of the United States army, so that the Indians, who loved display, might be impressed.  He and his aides were on a platform, elevated slightly, at one end of the tent.  In front of the platform was a row of seats for the chiefs.  Between the governor's party and the chiefs stood the interpreter.

The Indians wore their best.  Each had a new blanket, purchased at the agency store, and paint, feathers and beads added to the array of colors.  Leggings were of white deerskin.  Bracelets on wrists and rings in ears jingled when the savages moved.  As a mark of dignity the chiefs bore elaborately decorated war clubs.

The Indians talked, and the governor talked.  The words of each speaker were translated that all might understand.  The Indian orators spoke of the beautiful meadows, the running streams, the sycamore and walnut trees, and all other dear things they called on to deliver over to the white man.  They told of moon and stars, wind and rain and sun, better than any other country afforded.  They asserted no land was as attractive as Iowa.

Governor Chambers gave the Red Men good advice.  He requested that they live peaceably on their new reservation, and indulge in industrial pursuits so that they might become self-supporting and a credit to the nation.  Thus they would be able to buy for their squaws and papooses useful articles, such as blankets and calico and coffee.  He told them to leave liquor alone.

Then, after more talking, for the Indian delights to make speeches and to listen to them, the treaty was signed.

While the treaties made with the Sacs and Foxes were the most important of those dealing with Iowa land, because these tribes possessed more territory here than did the other Indians, the Iowas and the Sioux also signed treaties.  In 1838 the Iowas transferred to the government all land which they claimed to won in Iowa, and in 1851 the Sioux did likewise.  When the country in Western Iowa was wanted by settlers, no one disputed their right to take it under the provisions of the treaty of 1830.

Probably it was best for the Indian that he left Iowa instead of staying here in a vain endeavor to combat civilization.  Even had he retained his territory, soon he would have been surrounded by the white settlers, whose ways were not his ways.  He would have been out of place, and would have been a tool in the hands of scamps and liquor peddlers.  The weakness of the whites became vices in the Indians.

With the advent of the settlers the wild animals on which the Indians depended for food and trading decreased greatly in numbers.  Deer, wild turkey and buffalo soon disappeared entirely.

A reservation of government land, watched over by government officials, was the only place proper for the Indian after his haunts had been over-run by the whites.  Civilization demanded his removal.  But this picture of the Sac and the Fox, with bowed head half enveloped in a blanket, leaving behind them familiar valley and stream, and filing sadly over the Iowa prairie, bound eventually beyond the borders and into a strange country, is one that we must not forget when we say:

"Lo, the poor Indian."


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