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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Ioway to Iowa

Irving Berdine Richman

published by
The State Historical Society of Iowa

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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please let me know!


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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p103  The United States in Ioway

The War of 'Twelve
Furs and Forts

 p105  The War of 'Twelve

Fort Madison — Prairie du Chien

Iowaland, acquired from France and Spain by the United States in 1803‑1804, was first made the scene of an act of possession by America in 1808‑1809. There, in the years named, the government was building a fort (and factory) on the Mississippi — Fort Madison.a Some miles above the Fort, on Rock River, lay the great Sauk village — home of Black Hawk. In 1809 this village was visited by a runner from Shawnee chief Tecumseh, or rather from Tecumseh's brother, the Shawnee Prophet. 'I remember well', observes Black Hawk, 'his saying: "If you do not join your friends on the Wabash, the Americans will take this very village from you!" '70

Fort Madison was a five-sided stockade, the pickets being of white oak, from twelve to eighteen inches in diameter and fourteen feet in length. Within, on the side farthest from the river, were the factory buildings and a block house. There were two other block houses, one at each corner on the side of the fort nearest the river. Outside the stockade was a sutler's store. The garrison comprised some fifty to sixty men under Lieutenant Alpha Kingsley and on April 19, 1809,  p106 the Lieutenant wrote to the Secretary of War that he was 'making the best preparations for the safety and defense of this establishment'. The letter is captioned 'Fort Madison, near river Le Moin' and is, we are told, 'the first official evidence of the naming of the work'.71

William Clark72

Like George Rogers Clark, William, his brother, was tall and his hair was red. 'The Red-haired Chief' the Indians called him. On the outbreak of the War of 'Twelve, William Clark was named Governor of the Territory of Missouri — a district embracing Iowaland. In 1812 on September 5th, some two hundred Winnebagoes and a party of Sauks under Black Hawk laid siege to Fort Madison, but they withdrew on the 8th.

Further Indian attacks on the Fort were brought off in 1813. One of these, on July 16th (not by Black Hawk for he was now absent with the British),73 forced the abandonment of the post. The garrison of a hundred men crept on their hands and knees along a trench and entered boats. An order was given to apply to the Fort the torch. Soon the structure was  p107 in flames and the boats far out on the Great River. So perished Fort Madison.

In the War of 'Twelve, however, the key to Iowaland was not Fort Madison but Prairie du Chien. Here by 1813 had quartered himself British fur trader and political agent, Robert Dickson. Like William Clark, Dickson had red hair. A jest with him was that the Red River country, if brought into contact with his hair, would 'flame up and burn'. Dickson was strong with the Sioux; his wife was the sister of a Dakota chief.

In January, 1814, Dickson wrote: 'According to the news which Sacs & Foxes who come from Ft. Madison bring . . . a Capt. of Gov. Howard was to come of Prairie du Chien with an army of 2700 men'. Later he writes: 'No News as yet from the Prairie. I am getting impatient. I always dread some Roguery in that Quarter'. The 'roguery' was shortly in evidence. In May, Governor William Clark ascended the river from St. Louis with a huge galley (the Governor Clark) and barges conveying one hundred and fifty volunteers and sixty regulars. Near Prairie du Chien he built a stockade, armed it with six cannon, and named it Fort Shelby. But on July 17th a force of British and Indians from Mackinac (650 men under Lieutenant Colonel William McKay) descended  p108 upon Fort Shelby. In four days the post capitulated, and the Governor Clark fled south.74

So far the Clark galleys had fared ill. But they were to be tried again. The Rock River-Mississippi junction was a center for Indians who were pro-British — Sauks, now, and Foxes, no less than Ioways. This center (nest of a thousand stings) General Howard at St. Louis resolved to break up. In August, 1814, he despatched up the Mississippi three hundred and thirty-four men in eight boats of the Governor Clark type under command of Major Zachary Taylor, and on September 4th, toward evening, the flotilla, long of line and white of sail, came opposite the mouth of Rock River.

But then they had been forestalled. From Prairie du Chien the British had sent down the Mississippi a light battery under Lieutenant Duncan Graham; and this battery, catching Taylor's flotilla at McManus Island where it had been halted by a shift of wind, so harassed and riddled the boats that to escape destruction or capture they fled. Taylor's loss was eleven men badly wounded — three mortally. The flotilla dropped to the site of Fort Madison; and there, on September 6th, Major Taylor wrote to General Howard an official report of the fiasco.75

But in the War of 'Twelve, Iowaland lay open to  p109 British attack by way also the Missouri. Defenders it had in two men of seasoned will — Henry Dodge and the Spaniard, Manuel Lisa. In 1814 Dodge brought to terms in Missouri a band of warlike Miami. As for Lisa, he had been made sub-agent for all the Missouri River tribes above the river Kansas, and by August had ascended the Missouri as far as the present Omaha. In 1812 Spain was none too much the friend of the United States. The loss in 1803 of Iowaland rankled. How might recovery be effected? An envoy from the Spaniards, exclaims Robert Dickson on Christmas day, 1813, 'has been among them [the Sauks]. I tell them to strike on the Americans & Both the Spaniards & English will support them'.

Lisa was a Spaniard, but no less an American. 'When you [General Clark]', said the Omaha chief Big Elk, 'sent your word and presents by Captain Manuel Lisa . . . in the night one of the whites wanted my young men to rise [against you]. He told them that their blankets were dung and the strouds rotten. . . . I was willing to go to war against the Sacs on the Mississippi, but I had no guns and only blunt arrows. The British put guns into the hands of all the Sacs'. Lisa himself says: 'The Indians of the Missouri are to those of the upper Mississippi as four to one. Their weight would be great if thrown into the scale against us. They did not arm against the Republic;  p110 on the contrary they armed against Great Britain and struck the Iowas, the allies of that power'.76

Amid the struggle for Iowaland (the struggle for the upper Mississippi and for the upper Missouri) there dawned the year of the Treaty of Ghent. Outmaneuvered on the Missouri, the British had more than held their own on the Mississippi. They had won back border posts. Mackinac they had won, and Prairie du Chien. It was, they said, the time to realize in the West the old plan — the plan for a game park, a neutral belt, an Indian buffer realm into and beyond which the American land shark might not pass.77

Yet in 1815 at Ghent the Americans were left to reoccupy the Northwest — Mackinac, Prairie du Chien, and the upper Mississippi.

 p111  Furs and Forts

Manuel Lisa — John Jacob Astor — Colonel George Davenport
(The Mad Missouri River)

Prairie du Chien was valued for the fur trade. How much it was valued may be judged by words of British commander at Mackinac, who in 1814 sent Lieutenant Colonel McKay to retake the post from the Americans. 'I saw at once', he writes, 'the imperious necessity . . . of endeavouring by every means to dislodge the American Genl from his new conquest . . . which brought him into the very heart of that [region] occupied by our friendly Indians'. Otherwise nothing could 'prevent the enemy from gaining the source of the Mississippi, gradually extending themselves by the Red River to Lake Winnipic'. Thus would be destroyed 'the only barrier which protects the great trading establishments of the North West and the Hudson's Bay Companys'.78

It was 1816 and the Americans were again masters of the 'Dog Prairie'. They had gained from Britain no territory not originally theirs; but in this original territory (coupled with Iowaland) they now sought to promote trade in furs. The initial step was the  p112 erection of forts on or near the Mississippi. In 1816 forts Howard and Crawford were erected — the one not far from the mouth of the Fox River (Wisconsin) and other at Prairie du Chien. In 1817 Fort Armstrong was completed on the island of Rock Island, and in 1822 Fort Snelling at the mouth of the St. Peter's River. These establishments carried into effect ideas of long standing — ideas of the French, the British, and the Spanish for control of the northern route to the Western Sea, once followed for gold but now for beaver.

On the Missouri, too, the Americans set forts. Below the mouth of the Kansas in 1808 they set Fort Osage; and after 1819 near the present Omaha, Fort Atkinson; and after 1827, near the present Kansas City, Fort Leavenworth. Withal forts were contemplated for the Council Bluff, for the Mandan towns, and for the mouth of the Yellowstone.79

Between the various forts there was projected a system of military roads. A road was to connect Fort Snelling with a post at the head of the St. Peter's, and this with the Mandan towns. Thus would British traders be headed off. Then a road was to connect posts on the Arkansas with those on the Missouri River; and this road would give pause to the Spanish. Iowaland, in a word, was to be made an area not only picketed but contained.

 p113  But just how by the picketing forts and the containing roads was the fur trade to be developed? The answer is that each fort was to have a factory or trading house where the Indian, shielded from the private trader (British, Spanish, American), might receive supplies at cost from the United States government, and in exchange turn over to that government his peltries. The weakness of the factory system, which by 1822 had spent itself, lay with its beneficiary, the Indian. Three things the Indian could in no wise forego — credits, gratuities, whiskey; and these the factory system could in no wise allow him.80 In brief, it was not a governmental system that was to give to America trade in furs: it was the individual trader, or rather the private trading company.

Of private companies there arose between the year 1809 and 1823 three: the American Fur Company, the Missouri Fur Company, and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. At the head of the American Company was John Jacob Astor; and at the head of the Missouri Company was Manuel Lisa.

When last we took account of that prince of fur animals, the beaver, his fur was being supplied to Ioway traders by Indians (largely Ioways) who on their part obtained it from the districts of Yankton Sioux — the districts of the upper Des Moines, of the St. Peter's, and of the Rivière à Jacques. Now, in 1810‑1811, this  p114 fur was being sought under Manuel Lisa on the Missouri.

The Mississippi (urbane by temperament) cherished old European contacts — contacts with the Vicomte, the Marquis, and the Don. Not so that Missouri. Primitive like its own Ioways, the Missouri cherished elements that wept and yelled.

About 1807 on the Missouri, Lisa was joined by John Colter, discoverer-to‑be of 'Colter's Hell' (the Yellowstone wonderland) and hero of the most heart-breaking race for life in the annals of the West.

But about Lisa himself there runs the story of a race. How, early in 1811, Wilson Price Hunt, representative of John Jacob Astor, set forth in keel boats up Missouri for the Pacific. How, the same spring, Manuel Lisa set forth by the same stream to bring down for his company the season's pack. How, with Hunt, there shipped a fighting character, Robert McClellan, profoundly convinced of designs by Lisa upon Hunt. How Hunt had secured as interpreter to the Sioux a mercurial half-caste, Pierre Dorion, who held against Lisa a personal grudge. How on the river, Hunt had the start of Lisa by some nineteen days or two hundred and forty miles; yet how Lisa — now at the helm, now trimming the sail, now chiding the crew, now plying them with grog, now striking up a boat song, now  p115 rending the solitude with shouts — how Lisa, a tornado of will, overtook Hunt, won the race, vindicated himself, and did the Missouri honor.81

By the mad Missouri River, Iowa may be said to have been set apart: apart as a prairie land in contrast to a plains land; apart as a land of the wikiup, in contrast to one of the tipi; apart as a land not of the bison, nor yet of the antelope, and as but incidentally of the horse.

Events now bring us to the American Fur Company and John Jacob Astor.

Davenport — Farnham — Blondeau

In Iowaland, as elsewhere, the United States factory fell because of structural weakness; but its fall was hastened by the American Fur Company. Astor fought the factory; he fought, too, the British trader.

In 1802‑1803 British traders were to be found among the Sioux on the St. Peter's River and among the Sauks, the Foxes, and the 'Ayoa' at the mouths of the Iowa and the Des Moines. Skins sold by the Sioux (largely to the British) amounted annually to two thousand five hundred bundles, and by the Sauks, Foxes, and 'Ayoa' to several hundreds of packs. In 1804‑1806 'Ayouwais' at the mouth of the Des Moines supplied British merchants from Mackinac with skins of the deer, black bear, beaver, otter, grey fox, raccoon,  p116 muskrat, and mink to the value of $6000. Similar skins supplied by the Sauks and the Foxes reached the value of $10,000. Adding to the above the value of the 'merchandise and furs' handled in 1809 by the factory at Fort Madison ($30,000 to $40,000), we have an annual trade for what is now Iowa, of perhaps $60,000. This trade the private trading company was resolved to make its own.82

Of all the forts by which Ioway was picketed for the fur trade, the most interesting was Fort Armstrong. The island of Rock Island, where the fort stood, was an arresting spot. Here the Mississippi swirled and eddied into rapids and here the youth of the Sauks made merry in the summer. 'It was', says Black Hawk, 'our garden. . . . [It] supplied us with strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, plums, apples and nuts'. Its waters 'supplied us with the finest fish'.

' "Manuel gets so much rich fur!" ' ' "Manuel must cheat the government, and Manuel must cheat the Indians" . . . Bon! I will explain. . . . I put into my operations great activity. . . . I impose upon myself great privations'. Thus in 1817 spoke Manuel Lisa by letter to Governor William Clark.

But the year 1817 brought to the fore a second Manuel Lisa, a Fort Armstrong Lisa — Colonel George Davenport. Founder of Davenport, Iowa, the  p117 'Colonel' was tall, stalwart, a good pal, and of infinite jest. By birth a son of Lincolnshire, he came to America at the age of twenty-one and entered the United States Army. He saw service on the lower Mississippi, and in 1814 handled a musket at Lundy's Lane. With Rock Island, Davenport's connection (begun in 1816) was that of sutler to Fort Armstrong. In 1818 he built for himself near the fort, on a beautiful site, a store and dwelling. He had entered the fur trade.

On Rock River was the village of the Sauks, home not of Black Hawk only, but of Black Hawk's young rival, Keokuk — Keokuk-the‑alert. East of Fort Armstrong there was a large Fox village; Poweshiek (a Fox) headed a village on the Ioway shore; and up Rock River were the Winnebagoes. Davenport dealt with all these groups. In Ioway he maintained stores on the sites of Muscatine, Burlington, and Des Moines, and at the mouths of the rivers Iowa, Wapsipinicon, and Maquoketa. He selected all the best furs, had them all 'nicely packed and prepared — feathers all sacked, bees-wax and deers tallow all barreled — then would load his boat, and go to St. Louis and sell his cargo, which always commanded the highest market price, owing to the good condition in which everything was put up'.83

The boat which Davenport used was, he tells us, 'a  p118 keel boat' — a 'small' one called the Flying Betsey. As early as 1806 Lieutenant Pike, bound down the Mississippi, met boats 'under full sail', by one of which he received a letter from 'my lady' — his wife. In the summer of 1819, up by keel from St. Louis came Thomas Forsyth.

To Forsyth the great stream was not a solitude; rather it was a highway of life, a big parade. 'Set out early', he writes on June 17th. 'Met Madame Boilvin [wife of the Indian agent at Prairie du Chien] near upper end of Rapids; she is going down to St. Louis for her health'. 'Sunday, 20th. Weather still very warm; had the sail up and down several times. Met Mr. Davenport's men returning home to St. Louis. Met Black Thunder and some followers, all Foxes, going down to St. Louis in three canoes'. 'Tuesday, 22d. The men have been complaining of the length of the days. I told them that this was the longest day of the year, and of course every day afterwards would be shorter. They said they were glad . . . and wished to know how I knew this'. Then, on June 23rd, Fort Armstrong! 'An enchanted castle in an uninhabited desert!'

In 1826 George Davenport with Russell Farnham, his partner, and Maurice Blondeau, an aid, was taken over by Astor. Says Thomas Forsyth: 'Farnham & Davenport have all the country of the Sauk and Fox  p119 Indians, as high up the Mississippi river as Dubuque's mines (without including the Fox Indians who reside at that place) as also all the Winnebago and other Indians who reside on the lower parts of Rock river; also the Iowa Indians who live at or near Snake Hills [St. Joseph] on the Missouri'. From Dubuque's mines to the Falls of St. Anthony, and along the St. Peter's River, Astor was represented by Joseph Rolette — King Rolette of the beautiful daughters. And on the Missouri the Astor representative, as far as the Sioux country, was John P. Cabanné.

Concerning Blondeau we know that in 1829 he dwelt near Keokuk, amid his own tasseled corn with an Indian spouse and two daughters. Tutored in a convent the daughters were accomplished in music and with the needle. Under Astor, Blondeau's trading post was the celebrated 'Dirt Lodge' on the Des Moines. He may, perhaps, be regarded as Des Moines's first commercial man.

Meanwhile, as for the keel boats, faster flew they than before. The record (Davenport's own) attests: '1826. Oct. 21. Thos Forsyth, Indian Agent, and Dr. Craig, left here on Capt. Culver's keel boat for St. Louis. Oct. 30. Mr. Rollett's keel boat passed down. . . . Oct. 31. Lieut. Clarke arrived with keel boat loaded with corn for St. Peters. . . . Nov. 1. Russel Farnam arrived in keel boat Oregon. . . .  p120 Nov. 5. Mr. Man's keel boat passed down from lead mines. . . . Nov. 6. Keel boat "Oliver Perry" came in sight; put to, on account of the wind; arrived on the 7th. . . . Nov. 9. Keel boat Missouri arrived at ten o'clock'.84 From St. Louis to Fort Armstrong by keel was, with a fair wind, eleven or fifteen days; with the wind adverse, it might be forty days.

Davenport and Farnham — successors to Radisson, Perrot, Le Sueur, Julien Dubuque, Faribault, Anderson — dealt in Ioway furs, but they did not deprecate Ioway lead. In 1819‑1820 the output of lead in Ioway was four or five hundred pounds; and laden therewith many a 'keel' made its way down the Mississippi to St. Louis.

George Davenport (Admiral of the Keel) died in 1845, shot by bandits on July 4th in his Mississippi island home.b Once in 1819 Thomas Forsyth was ordered by the United States to ship on board — a keel boat? No, a Mississippi steamboat. But, he writes, 'the owners of the steamboats, finding it was impracticable to navigate such craft on the upper parts of the Mississippi river, changed their plans' and 'I hired a [keel] boat'. In 1823 a steamboat (the Virginia) did navigate on the upper Mississippi to the Falls of St. Anthony. And this boat George Davenport piloted up the rapids past Rock Island — a labor of three or four days.

 p121  On both the Mississippi and the Missouri the year 1823 was yet of the pre-steamboat era — the era of the canoe, the barge, the web-footed and white-winged 'keel'.85

The Author's Notes:

70 Black Hawk's Autobiography, 1882, pp24‑26.

[decorative delimiter]

71 Article prepared at the United States War Department, printed in the Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. III, pp101 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

72 Harlow Lindley's William Clark — The Indian Agent in the Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Vol. II pp63 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

73 P. A. Armstrong's The Sauks and the Black Hawk War, p74; F. E. Stevens's The Black Hawk War, p42; Benjamin Drake's Life of Black Hawk, pp236 et seq.

Black Hawk in 1813 fought at Frenchtown, Fort Meigs, and Fort Stephenson. Whether he was present at the Battle of the Thames is open to much question.

[decorative delimiter]

74 Douglas Brymner's Capture of Fort M'Kay, Prairie du Chien, in 1814 in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XI, pp254 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

75 Official correspondence of Lieutenant Duncan Graham in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. IX, pp219‑228; Niles's The Weekly Register, Vol. III, p142; Stevens's The Black Hawk War, Ch. VIII; Downer's History of Davenport and Scott County, Iowa, Vol. I, pp79‑81.

[decorative delimiter]

76 Chittenden's The American Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. I, pp125 et seq., Vol. II, pp555‑558; letter of Manuel Lisa to General Clark, St. Louis, July 1, 1817, in Chittenden's The American Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. III, pp899 et seq.; George F. (p421)Robeson's Manuel Lisa in The Palimpsest (The State Historical Society of Iowa), Vol. VI, pp1‑13.

'During the war of 1812', wrote Joseph Renville, British guide and interpreter to the Sioux, 'the Americans from St. Louis stirred up much trouble between the Tetons and the Santees, and it seemed as if there was to be civil war in the Dakota Confederacy. Manuel Lisa was the American Agent and he set the Tetons against the Santees because the latter supported the English. That is the reason the Santees could not help the English more. Every time they started out to go to the lakes and Canada, runners would come and tell them that the Tetons were coming to destroy their families and they were compelled to return to their homes to protect their women and children. Lisa probably had his post on American Island, where Chamberlain now is, and the Tetons were not nearly so poor as were the Santees, for they had plenty of buffalo meat and Lisa bought all their furs. Lisa was a very smart man, and he managed things so that all of the money and work of Dickson (the British agent) to get the Santees to fight was lost. He got one of our men (Tamaha, the one-eyed Sioux) to spy on his own people and let him know all that was being done. Lisa was met several times after the war and he boasted about the way he managed the Tetons'. — MS. in the Spanish Archives in the Bancroft Collection at the University of California.

[decorative delimiter]

77 Orpha F. Leavitt's British Policy on the Canadian Frontier, 1782‑92: Mediation and an Indian Barrier State in the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1915, pp151‑185; A. C. McLaughlin's The Western Posts and the British Debts in the Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1894, p433, note 1; Channing's History of the United States, Vol. IV, p565, bibliographical note on the Treaty of Ghent.

[decorative delimiter]

78 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XI, p260.

[decorative delimiter]

79 Cardinal Goodwin's A Larger View of the Yellowstone Expedition, 1819‑1820 in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. IV, pp299 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

80 Royal B. Way's The United States Factory System for Trading (p422)with the Indians 1796‑1822 in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. IV, pp220 et seq.; Chittenden's The American Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. I, p13.

[decorative delimiter]

81 Brackenridge's Journal in Thwaites's Early Western Travels, Vol. VI, Chs. I‑V; Bradbury's Travels in the Interior of America 1809‑1811 in Thwaites's Early Western Travels, Vol. V.

[decorative delimiter]

82 Du Lac's Travels Through the Two Louisianas, pp56, 57; Van der Zee's Fur Trade Operations in the Eastern Iowa Country from 1800 to 1833 in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XII, pp488‑502, 520 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

83 Van der Zee's Fur Trade Operations in the Eastern Iowa Country from 1800 to 1833 in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XII, p554 with citation to Senate Documents.

[decorative delimiter]

84 Franc B. Wilkie's Davenport Past and Present, pp158, 159.

[decorative delimiter]

85 William J. Petersen's The 'Virginia', the 'Clermont' of the Upper Mississippi in Minnesota History, Vol. IX, pp347‑362.

Thayer's Notes:

a Much fuller information on Fort Madison is given in Ch. 4 of Bruce Mahan's Old Fort Crawford, "Old Fort Madison".

[decorative delimiter]

b A fuller account of Davenport's death is given on pp309‑310; another one, partly conflicting, in N. H. Parker, Iowa As It Is in 1856, p169. A historical sketch of the house and a photo are found in John Drury, Old Illinois Houses, pp126‑127; a contemporary report of Fox Indian ceremonies at his grave is given in The Palimpsest, 2:379‑381.

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