Iowa History Project






Soon after Julien Dubuque built his cabin near where today stands the city of Dubuque, and started in on his twenty-one years of residence in the village of the Fox Kettle Chief, two other Frenchmen obtained grants of land from the government of Louisiana Territory, and became settlers within the present State of Iowa.

They were Basil Gaillard and Louis Honori.  In 1795, seven years after Dubuque crossed the river from Prairie du Chien, the lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana transferred to Basil Gaillard a tract of 5,760 acres in what is today Clayton County.  Gaillard had been a close companion of Dubuque at Prairie du Chien, and the two men remained friends in Iowa.  They were neighbors, for their estates were a comparatively short distance apart.  Gaillard was not far north of Dubuque, and it is presumed the traders exchanged visits.

Gaillard's name is also referred to as Giard and Gayard.  Recent investigations tend to establish Gaillard as the correct spelling.  So we shall refer to him as Gaillard, although Giard Township in Clayton County, preserves one of the other styles.  Gaillard occupied his land for some years, living in the wild scenes of a practically unknown country, trading with the Indians, and frequently going to Prairie du Chien, just across the river, and several times a year to St. Louis.  He and Dubuque were barons and lords over a wonderful domain.  Could we but find a record of their doings during their career among their savage retainers, the incidents would make romantic reading.

Louisiana passed from Spain to France, and from France to the United States.  In July, 1844, the government issued papers declaring that the "Giard" family owned the original tract.  The heirs were foolish enough to sell this immense property for only $300.  The town of McGregor is now on the old Giard, or Gaillard, land.

Third of the early settlers in Iowa when it was a part of Louisiana Territory, before the United States acquired the region, was Louis Honori, also styled Louis Honori Fresson, and louis Honori Tesson, or Fresson Honori and Tesson Honori.  Louis Honori is the name generally accepted.  He lived in what is now Lee County.  In March, 1799, Zenon Trudeau, acting lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana, granted to Honori a tract a league square, embracing the present site of Montrose.  In 1839 the United States issued a title to a portion of  this land, and this is the oldest title to any soil in Iowa.  It is a strange coincidence that the oldest title should include the spot claimed by some authorities to be the one first touched by a white man.

The grant made by the Spanish official in 1799 read:  "It is permitted to Mr. Louis (Fresson) Honori, or Louis Honori Fresson, to establish himself at the head of the rapids of the River Des Moines, and his establishment once formed, notice of it shall be given to the governor general, in order to obtain for him a commission of a space sufficient to give value to such establishment, and at the same time to render it useful to the commerce of the peltries of this country, to watch the Indians and keep them in the fidelity which they owe to His Majesty."

Honori remained in possession of his tract until 1805.  He traded with the Indians, and probably lived the same kind of a life as did his nearest white neighbors in Iowa, Dubuque and Gaillard.  He was closer to St. Louis than they, and could get his goods to market quicker.  We can imagine that when Dubuque and Gaillard passed down the river they stopped off to chat with Honori, and to tell tales and discuss what little news came to them.

Honori improved his land considerabley.  "Building houses, planting orchards, and a small piece was under cultivation," was the statement made at the time he sold it to a creditor.  When the Black Hawk Purchase was made the settlers who located at Montrose found an apple orchard, the trees full grown.  This incident excited astonishment, for the Indians did not grow apple trees.

Honori claimed before he died that he had set out the apple trees.  But Red Bird, an old half-Indian of the Sacs, asserted that he himself planted the orchard.  He said that in 1790 he had his wigwam on the spot, and once when he paid a visit to St. Louis a good white man of St. Charles gave him a little bundle of young apple trees, and told him how to plant them.  He stuck them in the ground around his wigwam, attended to them, and in due time they bore fruit.

Black Hawk and other Indians supported Red Bird in his story.  So we must choose between the Frenchman and the half-Indian.  At any rate, in 1833, the orchard was a fine one, and the settlers who found it were glad enough to eat the apples.  After a time the trees were too old to produce fruit, but the remains of the orchard may still be seen.

In 1803 Honori was forced to sell his property to Joseph Robedoux, to whom he owed much money.  Honori continued to occupy the place, however, until 1805, when Robedoux having died his agent sold it to Thomas F. Reddeck.  In 1839 the United States issued to the Reddeck heirs documents stating they were the sole owners of a mile square of the original tract.

In this section of the present stare lived also a French trader named Lemoiliese.  In 1820 he located where Sandusky now is.  A mile above him was Maurice Blondeau, also of French blood.  Blondeau was a fat, jolly man, and was a trader, like all the rest of the early French in Iowa.

In 1821 Isaac R. Campbell visited Lee County, and in the fall of 1825 he settled at Commerce where Nauvoo, Illinois, now is, across from Montrose, then an Indian village.  His father-in-law, Capt. James White, had preceded him to this spot.

Mr. Campbell, on his visit in 1821, saw at Puck-e-she-tuck (Foot of the Rapids), where Keokuk stands, a cabin built in 1820 by Dr. Samuel Muir.  We shall read more about Dr. Muir.

While speaking of these early times in Iowa, and the men who acted as advance agents of civilization, Antoine Le Claire must be considered.  Le Claire really was one of the most important white men of the Upper Mississippi Valley.  He was a famous interpreter for the Indians and the government, and did much to bring negotiations between the two races to successful ends.  Like many of the trappers, traders and scouts he was part Indian, his father being a French trader and his mother grand-daughter of a Pottawattamie chief.

Antoine was born where St. Joseph, Michigan, now is, 1797.  He was sent to school in St. Louis, the governor of Missouri having taken quite an interest in him.  In 1818 he became interpreter at Fort Armstrong, on Rock Island.  Being part Indian, and thrown with the Indians constantly, he was skillful in using their language.

From 1818 until all the Indians save the Musquakies disappeared from Iowa we find Le Claire employed in nearly every important treaty where an interpreter was needed.  He spoke fourteen Indian dialects, besides French and English.  His wife was grand-daughter of a Sac chief, Kettle.  Her father was a Frenchman, so she was not wholly Indian.

Le Claire lived in Davenport and at Fort Armstrong.  The old Le Claire homestead was erected in 1813 on the site of Davenport.  In 1854 it was turned over to the Missouri & Mississippi Railroad Company, now the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, and was used as a passenger depot.

It will be remembered that when the government and the Sacs and Foxes formulated a treaty, in 1832, at a council held under a tent on the Iowa shore opposite Rock Island, the Indians gave to Le Claire and Mrs. Le Claire ground for homes.  Le Claire's land was at the head of the Rapids, while Mrs. Le Claire's was at Davenport.  In making the gift the Sac chief struck the ground in the center of the tent with his heel, saying:

"We want Le Claire to build a house on this very spot."

In the spring of 1833 Le Claire did as requested, and where the Fox village, called Morgan, with Poweshiek as chief, was, he erected a small shanty.

Le Claire died in 1861, aged nearly sixty-four.  He was one of the founders of Davenport, and  a successful business man.  Black Hawk and he were great friends.  The great warrior put his biography in Le Claire's hands, for translation.

Another celebrated white man in these days was Colonel George Davenport, by birth an Englishman, who later after many adventures on the sea and in the army, became a trader and army contractor.  In 1816 he established himself on Rock Island.  He built a house here and became intimate with the Sacs and Foxes and Winnebagoes.  He owned a boat for use between the island and St. Louis, and in the winters made excursions into Iowa, penetrating the interior to trade with the tribes.  He was a leading employe of the American Fur Company.  He also traded on his own account, and had posts at Burlington, and on the Iowa, Wapsipinicon and Maquoketa Rivers.

The city of Davenport is name after him.  He was much beloved by the Indians, and was prosperous in his business career.

He moved out of the cabin built in 1816 into another larger house, and here, July 4, 1845, while his family was away attending a celebration he was murdered by a party of ruffians, bent on robbery.  Some of the bandits were hanged, but some escaped after arrest.

The Indians were accustomed to visit the Davenport grave on the island, and hold memorial services over it.


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