IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
THE TAMA INDIANS
If you go west along the Lincoln Highway from Tama you will find Indians still living in Iowa. Perhaps you will wonder how these Indians happen to be here when all the rest are gone. To tell you the story we will have to go back many, many years.
A hundred years ago the Indians hunted and fished over all of what is now Iowa. But the white people soon saw that the land here was good for farms. They told the Indians that they must sell their hunting grounds in Iowa. Of course the Indians did not like to see the white people come in and take their lands, but they had learned that if they went to war the white soldiers always won.
In 1832 the United States said that the Sauk and Fox Indians must sell their lands along the Mississippi River. Then the white settlers wanted more farms and the Indians had to move again. Finally, in 1845, the Sauk and Fox Indians had to leave Iowa and go to a new home in Kansas. Before they left, they met at Fort Des Moines to receive the money which the government was paying them for giving up their homes. This fort stood where the city of Des Moines now stands, just where the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers come together.
Unusually the Indians had a very good time when they received this money. There was always plenty of things to eat and there were white men there who sold whisky to the Indians. But this time the Indians were very sad. They knew that they must leave Iowa. They did not want to go. They loved the prairies of Iowa where there were deer and the streams where there were fish. But they knew that white soldiers with guns would come and drive them out if they did not go.
So early in the fall of 1845 these Indians started their march across the Missouri River. They did not have wagons or trucks. Most of them rode horseback. Perhaps some of the women walked. Everywhere were dogs, barking at each other or chasing the rabbits across the prairies.
But when the Sauk and Fox Indians reached Kansas, they were very homesick. The plains were not like the prairies. The water was bad and many of their children died. Before long little groups of Indians came back to Iowa to hunt. They brought their wives and children with them, and some of them stayed. You see there were still places along the rivers and creeks where the white men had not made farms, and here the Indians hunted and trapped.
The people of Iowa were sorry for these poor Indians for they never harmed anyone. Indeed, the General Assembly of Iowa passed a law in 1856 to allow a number of them in Tama County to stay there. The Indians also asked the United States government to pay the money it owed them. But the Indian office at Washington said the Indians had to go back to Kansas to get their money.
The little group of red men, who were mostly Foxes would not do this. They wanted to live in Iowa. But they were wise enough to know that all the land in Iowa would soon be bought by the farmers. They would then have no place to build their wichiups.
Just at this time some of their leasers came from Kansas with about $700 which the government had paid them for land. Then they decided to buy some land of their own. With the aid of Governor James W. Grimes they bought eighty acres of land in Tama County. This land was theirs just as a farm belongs to a white man. For a while these Indians were very poor. They did not have much to eat.
When the government at Washington saw that these Meskawki Indians, as they were called, wanted so much to stay in Iowa, they sent a man to take care of them. He was called the Indian agent. Then Congress said that these Indians might be paid their money in Iowa. How glad they were! They took some of this money and bought more land. Now they own nearly four thousand acres along the Iowa River in Tama County.
There are about three hundred and sixty of these Indians. Nearly every family has a frame house, with perhaps a stove, a table, or a few chairs. But many of them still have the wickiups like those their grandfathers used to live in. Part of the year the family lives in the wickiup, and the women cook in a kettle hung over a fire outside, just like a picnic.
The United States built a fine school building and tried to get the Indian children to go to to school. The Indians, however, did not want their children to go to school. They did not want them to be like the white people. So the government made the building into a hospital. Here they take care of sick Indians.
Now the government has two small schools on the land of the Indians and about thirty children are usually in school part of the year. Each noon the children are given a free lunch. In school the children speak English, but at home most of them speak the Indian language. Some of the children of this Indian community have attended government schools in other places.
These Indians still have a great number of ponies and dogs. Some time ago ten of them had automobiles. They call them fire wagons. They do a little work on their land, but usually rent it to white farmers. They like to hunt and fish or lie under the trees better than they like to plow corn or shock grain.
They usually have a chief of their own. For a long time this chief was a man with a very long name. He was called Pushetonikwa. For many years before his death the United States government paid Pushetonikwa $500 a year. They did this because the Meskwaki Indians had once given up all their land.
When Pushetonikwa died in 1919, he was buried on a hill near the Iowa River. His burial was much like that of Black Hawk. His body was placed as if he were sitting in a shallow grave. Then it was covered with boards and with dirt and sod.
This is the story of the Indians you may see living in Tama County. It will do no good to look among the trees for an Indian with his tomahawk. Nor will you hear the war whoop which Black Hawk and his warriors gave a hundred years ago.
The village is not at all warlike. The women talk around their fires, or hoe in the gardens. The children play among the wickiups or down by the river. The men race horses, lie and smoke under the trees, or perhaps fix the harness or saddles of their ponies. Some of them raise corn, just like the white farmers.
These few Indians can not remember the days when their people hunted all over Iowa, but their old men and women tell them the stories of long ago. No doubt the boys love to hear of the great war parties which went out to fight the Sioux. If one of their old men sits in front of his wickiup he may dream of the days when there were many Indians and no white people. But an automobile horn or the whistle of an engine on the Northwestern Railroad wakes him. He is still in Iowa, but it is the Iowa of the white man.
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