IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
MAHASKA AND RANTCHEWAIME
One evening in the spring of 1824, before there were any white settlers living in Iowa, an Indian made a camp for the night on the prairie near the mouth of the Des Moines River. This was Mahaska, whose name meant White Cloud in English. He was the chief of the Iowa tribe of Indians.
His father, old Mauhawgaw, the Wounding Arrow, had led the Iowas into the Iowa country only a few years before. Soon afterward a band of Sioux Indians visited his village and invited the Iowa chief to a feast. Mauhawgaw accepted, but the Sioux were really enemies, and when he came to their feast, they killed him.
The Iowa Indians were very angry, of course. They sent a war party against the Sioux, and Mahaska brought home the scalp of the Sioux chief. Thus it was that Mahaska had become the chief of the Iowas.
Mahaska looked like a chief. He was over six feet tall, strong, and good-looking. Whether in war against enemies, or hunting the buffalo on the prairie, or in the games the young Indian men enjoyed, Mahaska was a leader. He had already led his warriors in fully eighteen battles, and he had never been defeated.
This evening, however, Mahaska was not thinking of war. None of his warriors were with him. He was on his way to join a party of Indians and white men who were going to Washington to see the President, the great chief of the white men. He would see how the white men lived and wether there were as many of them as people told him.
He had killed a deer and sat roasting a piece of the venison before his little camp fire. How good the meat smelled as it cooked and how hungry he was. Around him on the prairie the grass was green and the flowers were blooming. Suddenly some one touched him on the shoulder. He turned around quickly, thinking it might be a Sioux warrior who had crept up to kill him. Instead he saw Rantchewaime, one of his wives, standing there. Of course he was surprised, for he had left his seven wives and his children in his village on the Des Moines River to plant and harvest the corn, beans, and pumpkins they would need next winter.
But Mahaska like Rantchewaime very much and perhaps he was lonely on the prairie all by himself. Perhaps he was afraid to send her home alone for fear she would be killed by the wolves or by the Sioux or other Indians. He told Rantchewaime that she might go with him to Washington to shake hands with the Great Father, as the Indians called the President. the next day they started off together. As they went on they met other Indians who had also been invited to visit the President, until there nineteen chiefs or warriors, four Indian women, six interpreters, and several white men to show them all the wonderful things in the white men's country. It was very different from what Mahaska and Rantchewaime had at home. They did not eat at a table nor did they have carpets, or stoves, or glass windows at home in the Iowa country.
One night while Mahaska and Rantchewaime were in Washington the agent heard a great noise in their room and went to see what was the matter. When he opened the door he found that Mahaska had been drinking and was beating Rantchewaime. When he saw the agent, Mahaska was ashamed. He opened the window, stepped out, and fell, breaking an arm. You see he had never been in a house two stories high before, and he did not know he would fall and get hurt.
The very next day, however, Mahaska rode horseback around Washington. Of course his arm hurt him but a warrior was not suppose to stop for pain. Soon after this accident an artist painted Mahaska's portrait. you can see the portrait that his broken arm was hurting him. The same painter also made a picture of Rantchewaime who was considered a very beautiful Indian woman.
We do not know whether Rantchewaime got to see the President or not, but Mahaska did, and he and another chief sold some of their land in Missouri to the white men. In return the tribe was to get five hundred dollars in cash and the same amount each year for ten years. They were also to receive farming tools, blankets, and cattle, for Mahaska promised the President to live in peace. Then Mahaska and Rantchewaime went back to Iowa. Rantchewaime told the other Indian women wonderful stories of the white people and their houses. Mahaska built a large log house and decided to plant cornfields instead of going on the warpath.
It was not long, however, before a terrible thing happened. One day Mahaska and Rantchewaime were riding across the prairie. Rantchewaime was carrying before her on her pony a little son about four years old. Mahaska rode ahead to see if there were enemies around. When he looked back he could not see Rantchewaime anywhere. He turned and rode back to look for her. First he saw the pony and then he saw his wife and little boy lying on the ground. The little boy said, "Mother is asleep," but Rantchewaime had been killed by a fall from her horse.
Mahaska was very sad. He took his little boy and the body of his beautiful wife to his home. Then he prepared for her funeral. He took all the presents Rantchewaime had been given by the white people and put them in a rude box with her body. Then the Indians put this on a high platform to bring her as near to the Great Spirit as possible.
Next Mahaska killed a dog and invited his warriors to a feast. After this he killed another dog and a horse and left their bodies near the platform. The horse was to carry Rantchewaime to the happy hunting ground and the dog was to hunt deer for her. Rantchewaime was a very good woman. She prayed to the Great Spirit, who was the only God she knew, and she would give her last blanket or piece of meat to anyone who needed it.
Mahaska missed Rantchewaime, but he was a chief and he had his work to do. In 1825 he attended a great council of the Indians at Prairie du Chien. Here he tried to get the Indians to live in peace, as he had promised the President he would do.
In 1833, only nine years after Mahaska had visited Washington, a chief of the Iowa Indians was killed by the Omaha Indians. The Iowas asked Mahaska to lead a war party against the men who had killed their chief, but Mahaska refused. He had promised the President not to go to war, and he kept his promise. Some of the Iowa warriors, however, killed six of the Omahas. When General William Clark, the "Red Head Chief," came to arrest the guilty Indians, Mahaska helped him, for he knew that the Indians had disobeyed both him and the Indian agent and deserved to be punished.
Of course the Indians who had been arrested were very angry at Mahaska, and the next year, when they got out of prison, they killed him. Mahaska was a very good chief and tried hard to live in peace with other Indians and with the white men, but it was not easy. The Indians were not used to the white men's laws, and some of the white men treated the Indians very badly.
After Mahaska's death, his son, also named Mahaska, became the chief of the Iowa Indians. He also was a good chief but not as good as his father had been. One day when this younger Mahaska was in Washington on some business for the tribe, he was shown several paintings of Indians. Among them were pictures of Mahaska, his father, and also one of Rantchewaime, his mother. He pointed out his father's picture at once, but he did not remember his mother very well, for he had been only a little boy when she was killed. At first he pointed to a picture of another Indian woman and thought it was his mother, but finally he found the right one. He said he remembered her fan. He was very much pleased to see how his mother looked, and he asked for a copy of her picture to take home to Iowa.
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