Mills County, Iowa

1881 Mills County History
Indian Affairs

The Indian! What crowds of memories, incidents and adventures come, trooping to the mind at the bare mention of that name, once fear-inspiring, now commonplace and powerless. A name once so dreaded, and often freighted with murder and rapine, is history’s, as a momento of which but a few outcast and hunted tribes alone remain.

      The savage of Nature and he whom Poets sing are different beings. The latter, kingly in mien and sullenly morose in habit, animated by the noblest of motives, engaging in chase or in war as fancy or necessity dictated, disdaining peril and knowing no fear—such as he existed only in the imagination cf Cooper, or is painted in the verse of authors equally gifted with him. The former, with passions unrestrained and by nature treacherous, slothful, repulsive and unclean—such is the savage of Nature, as unlike him celebrated in song as well he could be. Yet, there is something that calls for our sympathy in the history of this unfortunate race. The same harrowing lust for gold which impelled Pizarro to the conquest of the Incas, and Cortez to the destruction of the mighty empire of the Montezumas, in a newer, and perhaps less revolting form, has driven the red man from the homes in which his ancestors, for many generation past, have roamed at will, and left him—what? The inheritance of extinction, and that alone. He was, rather than is. “The only hope the perpetuity of his race seems now to center in the Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks and Chickasaws of the Indian Territory. These nation numbering in the aggregate about eight thousand souls, have attained a considerable degree of civilization; and with just and liberal dealing on the part of the government the outlook for the future is not discouraging. Most of the other Indian tribes seem to be rapidly approaching extinction. Right or wrong, such is the logic of events. Whether the red man has been justly deprived of the ownership of the New World will remain a subject of debate; that he has been deprived, cannot be denied. “The Saxon has come. His conquering foot has trodden the vast domain from shore to shore. The weaker race has withdrawn from his presence and his sword. By the majestic rivers and in the depths of the solitary woods the feeble sons of the bow and arrow will be seen no more. Only their names remain on hill, and stream, and mountain. The red man sinks and falls. His eyes are to the west. To the prairies and forests, the hunting-grounds of his ancestors, he says farewell. He is gone! The cypress and the hemlock sing his requiem.”

      But whence did he come? This opens up a field of inquiry which has engaged the attention of earnest students since the Indian was first known. It seems to be a still mooted point whether he came from Asia, that mythological “cradle of the race.” Long ages anterior to the red man’s occupation of the land there lived and thrived other races—men who, in that far off time built the mounds and made the implements that we now so commonly find. The evidence which exists shows that that ancient civilization belonged to a great people, a people which covered a large part of of this continent and with whom the Indians of today have little or nothing in common. Over the past of these strange people hangs a veil which it it yet remains for some Columbus or Pizarro to remove. In the valley of the Ohio, that of the Mississippi, the prairies of Kansas and of Texas, the mysterious and inexplicable animal representations of Wisconsin, are mounds, all of which contain relics which are the works of these primitive people, of whom the later Indians retain not even a tradition. Suppose that these latter were the lineal descendants of the mound builders—what then? we have removed the difficulty, but a step hack, and still man was. There is no knowledge, revealed or human, that throws any light upon the origin of the race of men, other than that which comes to us through their structural affinities —that afforded by comparative anatomy. Concerning the mound builders, there is nothing historical to enlighten us as to what kind of men they were. They have left their works, and implements, some of them in this county, but tell us more than a few social or domestic habits, and their distribution, they do not. They are a race shrouded in mystery, affording us not even the argument deduced so commonly from philology to determine their affinity to the present tribes of the far West.

      With reference to a more complete account of the Indians who formerly made this county their home, the reader is referred to a preceding page of this volume—where will be found all the various treaties made either by the territorial or general governments. It is sufficient to state here that the territory of which the county is now composed was once possessed by the Iowas,* a tribe of Indians at one time identified with the Sacs, of the Rock River, but from whom they separated and formed a band by themselves. At an early day in the history of the Indians the Sac and Fox races were distinct nations, the latter of whom lived almost solely within the territory embraced by the river St. Lawrence. They engaged in fierce wars with the famed Iroquois, by whom they were conquered and finally driven to the west. On reaching Illinois they formed an alliance with the Sacs. With them were finally joined the Pottawattamie Indians, all of whom were of the great family of the Algonquins. This family, at the beginning of the seventeenth century numbered nearly a quarter million souls, but their habits, their wars, and wasting diseases, have reduced their numbers to a mere handful, a disheartened and reckless remnant of a once proud race. The original owners of this soil, belonged, however to another family-the great race of the Dakotahs who were the possessors when first the known history of the territory begins. The Sac and Fox Indians did not come into the state to dwell until the close of the celebrated Black Hawk war, when they were unable longer to resist the advance of the white man. In 1842 was made a treaty in accordance with the provisions of which the Sac and Fox and Pottawattamies ceded to the general government the western portion of the State of Iowa, and “their right of title and interest therein.” The parties to the treaty were, as has been said on a preceding page, Governor Chambers, of Iowa Territory, on the part of the government, and Chiefs Keokuk, Appanoose and Panassa, among others, in behalf of the red men. In the spring of 1846 the Indians finally retired to Kansas, and here the history of their connection with Iowa soil finally ends.

      Attention has been previously called to Wahbonsie lake as having been named from Wahbonsie, a chief of the Pottawattamies, who formerly resided with a band of that tribe on the borders of the lake, and was considered its owner. With these Indians, and with Wahbonsie in particular, Major Cooper, one of the first white settlers or residents of the adjoining county of Fremont, carried on an extensive trading business, which, if not always of the most legitimate character, was most profitable. When the final treaty, in 1842, was made, ceding these lands to the government, Wahbonsie was one of the few who lingered after nearly all the others had departed for their Kansas homes. During his continued sojourn it appears he contracted certain debts, which he evinced no disposition to pay, and, after the manner of many white men, prepared to leave without settlement. Among some of the oldest records preserved was found the following document, showing how the fated Wahbonsie became entangled in the meshes of the law. The Hitchcock noticed was the successor to Major Cooper, and the man who first brought any slaves to Iowa soil. It will he observed that the document was issued by authority of the State of Missouri, to which that Portion of Fremont county in which Austin, its first capital was situated belonged.


Before me, James Cummings, a justice of the peace, of the county aforesaid, this day personally came Rufus Hitchcock, who being duly sworn sayeth that Waubonchey justly owes him twenty-two dollars, and that said Waubonchey is a leaving the county without paying him or leaving property for him, and that he wants a writ of attachment against the goods, chattles, monies of Wauhonchey and further sayeth not, this November 14, 1846.


Sworn to and subscribed to before me this 14th day of November, 1846.

Justice of the Peace

Transcribed by Roseanna Zehner and Jennifer Miller;
Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved

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