Source: REGISTER OF OLD SETTLERS , BOOK One, page 341 & 342
submitted by Jo Ann Carlson, October 21, 2007

A Paper Read Before the Muscatine Academy of Science on Jan. 5, 1892, by J.P. Walton.

In preparing this paper it has been my aim to collect and preserve historical facts pertaining to this locality that yet remain unpublished.

Previous to the maturity of the treaty of 1832 this locality was unsettled and unused except by the Indian, who, when he removed from the Rock River Valley, made it a prominent stopping place. Within the limits of our county were two quite distinguished Indian villages, Keokuk, the leading Sac, and Poweshiek, the ruling Fox, were the principal men of these tribes and villages.

KEOKUK’S village was situated in the bottom on the west side, near the foot of the lake, known by that name, some six or eight miles to the southwest of Muscatine. It is said that this lake got its name from the chief that occupied this village on its bank. Around this village, and in fact for six or eight miles along the bottom under the bluff, the Indian planted his corn. So far as I know an Indian corn-field has never been described.

I came here but two years after the Indian quit growing corn here, and have been in a great many old cornfields, but did not know it for years after. I used to wonder where the Indian or Ishknoppe grew his tomanock or corn, and how they did it. The process was very simple. They made their hills three or four feet apart without any regularity whatever, possibly using the same ground and the same hill that their predecessors had done for ages before. In the spring at planting time they removed the weeds, usually carrying them out of the field, and dug up the top of the hill and planted their corn. In tilling they would always scrape the earth up to the corn. This manner of tillage kept the hill identical for year after year. I have often thought that this system of growing corn, or these perpetual hills, gave rise to the term “hill of corn.” I think that the white man borrowed the term when he borrowed the corn. The corn they raised was a variety of 8-rowed corn; we knew it by the name of squaw corn and raised it for several years for green corn. It was blue in color; when ripe it was quite soft and when crushed was white and flowery. It produced fairly well; I think 39 or 40 bushels could have been gathered from an acre.

While wandering around in the bottom lands at an early day I have often noticed groups of small mounds or hills from eight to twelve inches high and quite thickly together. I sued to think they were gopher hills, but have since learned that they were Indian corn fields. Some years ago I was riding from Rock Island to Black Hawk’s Tower in company with Bailey Davenport. He remarked that we were then passing through an Indian corn field. The corn hills were quite distinct, although it was fully 60 years since corn was grown there. They occasionally fenced their growing corn to keep their ponies from eating it. The pony was usually educated to stay where they left him.

The Indians would frequently ride into Bloomington and leave their ponies in a “bunch” near the town and go to Rock Island to get their pay and not return for a week or two. The ponies would not stray a quarter of a mile away from there they were left.

In speaking of Keokuk’s village, John Holiday, who visited it but short time after Keokuk left it, says that nearly all the high ground in the bottom west of the lake was occupied, by their buildings-at least forty or fifty acres.

At the close of the Black Hawk war when Black Hawk became a prisoner, his authority as a chief was at an end and Keokuk was his successor. This made the latter’s village the principal one of the Sac and Fox Indians, whose territory extended from the Neutral Ground near Dubuque on the north of the Missouri river on the south and from the Mississippi river on the east, and for all Indian purposes to the setting sun on the west.

CATLIN, in his description of the treaty of 1832 at Davenport, says that “Keokuk was the principal speaker on the occasion being recognized as the head chief of the tribe. He was a very subtle and dignified man, and well fitted to wield the destinies of his nation. The poor, dethroned monarch old Black Hawk, was present and looked an object of pity. He stood the whole time outside the group and in dumb, dismal silence, with his son by his side. They were not allowed to speak, nor even sign the treaty.”

The other noted village was the home of Poweshiek, the Fox chief. He was one of the finest specimen of human nature we ever saw. His village was located on the west bank of the Cedar river, near the west end of the Saulsbury bridge, some 12 miles from our city. It was said that during the winter of 1834-35 the small pox broke out and proved very fatal, and was likely to depopulate the village. As a remedy, as fast as one was taken down, they were taken out to the sandy ground in the rear of the village and shot and buried. Years afterwards skulls with bullet holes in them were washed from the river bank.

These Indian villages were abandoned in 1836 or ’37, although the Indians had the privilege of hunting and fishing until November, 1837, and this privilege they used for a few years later.

The late Suel Foster told me that White Hawk, an Indian chief, had a village on the Illinois side of the river opposite our city. We presume it was only a temporary one.

There may have been other smaller villages that we have not mentioned within the limits of our county.

There was one, possibly the original Muscatine, on the high ground just south of T.b. Holcomb’s residence. Their burying ground was in a grove of jack oak trees, long since washed into the river, opposite Albert Barrows’ present dwelling, not more than a mile south of the city limits. When these graves were being washed out great numbers of beads, silver buckles, brooches, hair band and trinkets were picked up gold trinkets were found occasionally and frequently an old gun or pistol would be found.

*** continued on page 342 ***

The occupants of these graves, whoever they were undoubtedly possessed more wealth than usually fell to the lot of a common Indian. The identity of the inhabitants of this village is a little problematical. Mr. Irving B. Richman, who has been looking up Iandian history quite recently tells me that there was a band of Musquitine Indians belonging to or connected with the Sac and Fox Indians and also that as early as 1816 this Prairie Island was known as Musquitin Prairie. If such was the fact it is quite probable that these were the Musquitin Indians; hence the name was affixed to the Island. In those Indian days it took something more noticeable or memorable than a mere report of a government officer to afflict a name to a locality. Lieut. Z.M. Pike I 1805 named this Prairie Island, “Grant’s Prairie,” a name it never retained. This fact if nothing else would go far in helping one to conclude that the Indian did the naming, that proved most acceptable.

After the Black Hawk war, when the Indians were removed to the west bank of the river, the U.S. government used to issue large amounts of corn to them. This point was the place of distribution and of course it brought great numbers here. This place was known by the Indians as Tomanock or Corn Bluff; by the Whites or Chimockerman as the Grindstone Bluff. It was a quite important place. Col. Davenport erected a trading house that stood near the foot of our present Iowa Avenue. The day that Iowa become a territory it was destroyed for a 4th of July bonfire. With in the destruction of this house about the last Indian vestige disappeared.

In considering the Early Settler I will read from my notes made last summer:

    Muscatine, Iowa, July 23d, 1891.-I have just made a trip across the river and called on Hon. Err Thornton who lives some five miles southeast of here in Drury township. His P.O. address is Foster post office. I was in company with John Holliday an old acquaintance of Mr. Thornton. Both of them came from Tippecanoe county, Indiana, and were old acquaintances before coming here. Mr. Thornton was 84 years old on yesterday, the 22d. John Holliday is 85 years old. Mr. Thornton says that himself, his brother Lott and several others came West and stopped near New Boston, Ill., in the spring of 1834 or ’35, he is not certain which, (we find by other history that it was in 1834,) and on the fifth day of June he and his brother Lott and three others, five in all, crossed the Mississippi river at New Boston to look for land.

    They crossed over to Black Hawk, now Toolsborough, and started north. They were joined by a man by the name of Fisher who belonged to a religious sect called Seceeders, and had been over in Louisa county making claims. Acting as their pilot he took them up about where Grandview now stands and said that they were then up to the north line of their claims. (I think such a sect settled west of the Iowa river near Columbus City River.) He said they could have the land they wanted north of that place. Bidding them goodby he left them. While traveling north in the bottom in the rear of the present Port Louisa, they found a Mr. Kennedy and family, a brother of the present William Kennedy of Louisa county, who were camped for the day, and boiling coffee, treated our party very kindly. They then traveled north to where they afterwards took their claims near Whiskey Hollow. Here was a fine bottom with plenty of timber an indispensable article for a pioneer settler. They concluded to investigate the extent of the timber, so they started up Whiskey Hollow and came out to the prairie somewhere near where the railroad goes out. It was then night. They cut some brush to make beds of and lighted a fire on an old white oak log. In the night Thornton was awakened by distant thunder. He aroused the others and they had but time to draw on their boots and get each to his tree before the storm came. While hugging to the lee of their trees their fire blew to a great distance and they thought they had lost it all, (a very serious loss when it had to be lighted with flint and steel) but by good fortune some remained in a knot-hole from which they rebuilt another.

    As soon as it was light enough (about 3 o’clock) they started on their way. They traveled along the timber until they struck an Indian trail that led them down the bluff some five miles west of our city. Here they found an Indian’s wickup. The Indian with his squaw and two or three papooses were planting corn. They had pulled up the weeds and carried them off the land and were planting on the tops of the old hills. The Indian soon commenced begging for bread for his children. They did not understand his language, and to convince him that they had none they had to show him what they had. It had the desired effect. The Indian taking pity on them set the squaw to washing out the pot to get them something to eat. They were not hungry enough to eat Indian cooking so they started. The old Indian followed them and made them take a dried buffalo fish, which they reluctantly did. They did not know how hard pressed they might be and concluded to carry it along. When they arrived a the old trading house (near where our passenger depot now stands) they found the house vacant but a great many Indians around. The Indians appeared very friendly and seemed willing to help them, but not being acquainted with their talk they could not understand one another.

    Mr. Thornton thinks if they could have understood the Indians they would have been a great help to them at this time. After leaving the trading house they took the trail that led up to Mad creek near 9th street bridge. The rain the previous night had raised Mad Creek way out of its banks, so there was no crossing at that place. They started up the creek and followed it up to the prairie. There they cut some willows and made a bridge and crossed. By this time they were getting very hungry. They tried the Indian’s fish. They cut some pieces and put it in their mouths; the more they chewed it the larger it grew. That pose and thre it away and started for their place of destination-the town of Stevenson, now Rock Island. Not knowing anything of the geography of this country they continued in a northwesterly course. Striking an extensive ravine they concluded to follow it down (it was most likely the head waters of Sweetland creek.) It was getting well along in the day; the other men had about given out and declared they would have to stop and rest, and they did. Mr. Thornton being the best walker of the party concluded he would climb the hill to the east. When he got to the top he could see the Muscatine Island on his right and could see Ben. Ney’s cabin on the left, with men at work around it. This cheered him up considerably. He returned to the others and reported the news. The refused to believe, but finding; he was going to continue his march, they joined him.

    When they arrived at Mr. Ney’s they stated the condition of their hunger. Aunt Zuby (Mrs. Nye) said he had some mush they could eat until she could cook them something. She then got a meal. Mr. Ney appeared to have plenty to live on, something not very common among new settlers.

    Just before night a steamboat came down the river and they all got on board and returned to New Bosotn. This ended his first trip to Black Hawk Purchase, now Iowa. He says that this second day’s work was the hardest one he ever did in his life.

    Something like a week afterwards they took two teams and four or five men and went up to their claims and built two cabins, one for his brother Lott and the other for himself. One of the first things they did was to burn a coal pit. They had some blacksmith tools with them. And had to have coal to do work on their prairie plows before they could do breaking. They needed a grindstone. So they took a couple of yoke of oxen and wagon and went up to our bluff and got a piece of sandstone and made one to grind their seythes, axes and other tools.

    This account of the first trip of Mr. Thornton to Black Hawk Purchase is of considerable interest to Muscatine county. It settles the long disputed question. “Who was the first settler in this county?” Mr. Thornton has heretofore claimed to have been here before Mr. Nye, and at my suggestion. It has been so published. But after hearing this story in the presence of an old acquaintance, one that knew him before he came here, and followed him but a year later and has known him ever since. I am satisfied that the honor of being the “First Settler” belongs to Mr. Benjamin Nye.

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