IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
THE INDIAN SCHOOL ON YELLOW RIVER
At the close of the Black Hawk War in 1832 the Winnebago Indians agreed to give up their land in Illinois and in Wisconsin south of the Wisconsin River. In exchange for this the government promised to give them a certain amount of money and a new home in Iowa in the Neutral Ground.
The government also promised to build a school for the Winnebago boys and girls somewhere near Fort Crawford. This school was to be in charge of Joseph M. Street, the Indian agent at Prairie du Chien. Hoping to draw the Indians across the Mississippi, he chose a place for the school on Yellow River in Iowa, about ten miles from Fort Crawford. There workmen built a two-story stone schoolhouse, and some log buildings. The schoolhouse had a large chimney in the center and a great fireplace in every room.
Here school began in the spring of 1835. A minister named David Lowry was the teacher. This school was not much like our schools to-day. In the first place some of the Indian children stayed in the school all the time. They were given their meals there and slept there. The white people wanted to show these Indian children how to eat at a table and how to sleep in a bed instead of on the floor. Of course the United States government paid for everything.
If the children went home at night to the tepees of their fathers and mothers, they were given pork, salt, and meal to take home with them. So the whole family got some benefit when the children went to school. In addition the government provided clothes for all the children who came to school. If a boy needed a new shirt or a girl needed a dress, the teacher gave them these garments. But I imagine that their mothers never washed or mended their clothes.
Many of the Indians did not want their children to go to school. They liked the way they had always lived, and they wanted their children to live like Indians and not like white people. At first only six little Indians came to school. They found that the white teachers were kind and they had good things to eat, so more of them came. Sometimes there were thirty or forty at school. Once there were seventy-nine. Of course this meant that the government had to provide more teachers.
The first thing these Indian children had to do was to learn to speak English. Then they had to learn to read, write and spell. Some of them even studied geography and arithmetic. When they grew tired of studying their books, the boys were taught to work in the garden or on the farm and the girls learned to sew. They made dresses, aprons, shirts, and many other things. Most of the girls liked to sew, but the boys did not like to hoe in the garden or plow. The Indian women always did this work, and the boys did not like to do squaws' work.
All the children loved Mrs. Lowry, and would be good when she was with them, though they were sometimes very unruly with other teachers. They would go into her room and sit on the floor until she could hardly walk around. You see the Indians did not have chairs at home, so they sat on the floor in the schoolroom much of the time.
Sometimes these Winnebago Indians spent all the money the government gave them for whisky. Then their wives and children had nothing to eat. Mr. Street and Mr. Lowry tried to show the Indian boys how to farm. They wanted them to learn to raise corn and potatoes and hogs and cattle so they would not be hungry. The government sent a man to run a farm near the school so that the boys could see what a white farmer did.
But neither the school nor the farm made much change in the way the Indians lived. The fathers and mothers did not care whether the children went to school or not. They let them stay at home as much as they pleased. You know you can not learn much at school if you are absent most of the time. The children soon forgot all they had learned at school for there were no books at home.
When the school on Yellow River was only five years old, the United States government decided to move the Winnebago Indians farther west. Of course the school had to go too, so the buildings on Yellow River were sold to white men. In 1840 a new school and farm were opened on Turkey River near the present site of the town called Fort Atkinson.
The man who was in charge of the farm here planted corn, wheat, potatoes, beans, turnips, buckwheat, and oats. The Indian men refused to do any of the farm work. They left this to the white men and the squaws. But they were always willing to eat the corn and potatoes and other things from the farm. Indeed they wanted to eat the corn which had been saved for seed, and they wanted to kill the work oxen for meat.
Finally the white people wanted this land, too; so in 1848 the Winnebago Indians were moved to Minnesota. The school was closed and the buildings and farm were sold.
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