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This webpage reproduces
part of an item in the
Iowa Journal of History & Politics
Vol. 14 No. 4 (Oct. 1916), pp479‑558

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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p479 The Opening of the Des Moines Valley
to Settlement

[For an article by Mr. Van der Zee, dealing with the earlier history of the Des Moines Valley, see The Iowa Journal of History and Politics for July, 1916. — Editor]

(Part 1 of 5)

The First Permanent Settlement in the Iowa Country

The wilderness tract just above the mouth of the Des Moines River was a region which was early frequented by fur traders. Near the Sac Indian village Louis Tesson (nicknamed Honoré) had received a land grant from the Spanish government, and there he had set up a little frontier establishment. How long he stayed and who lived upon his land afterwards can not be ascertained, but about the year 1806 Tesson transferred his land to Joseph Robidoux of St. Louis in satisfaction of a debt. In 1810 Robidoux's estate was sold and Thomas F. Riddick became the new owner. The United States government in 1816 confirmed Riddick's title to six hundred and forty acres, instead of to a league square which he claimed. Whether the land was actually occupied during this time and for some years later must be left to conjecture. There is no certain evidence in the fragmentary records now available, but inasmuch as an Indian village stood near by there is good reason to believe that some sort of a settlement was maintained on the site of the present town of Montrose.1 During the years of the War of 1812 Americans were driven from the neighborhood by the Indian allies of the British and not until after peace was restored in 1816 could American subjects feel safe in this region.

p480 John C. Sullivan was engaged in 1816 to locate the northern boundary of the Osage Indian land cession in the Territory of Missouri. He was the first surveyor in this part of the public domain, and he ran a line which thirty-four years later definitely became the Iowa-Missouri boundary. Running east and west the line stopped at the middle of the channel of the Des Moines River and if extended to what have long been called the Des Moines Rapids of the Mississippi would have deprived the State of Iowa of its tongue-shaped southeastern corner. This area, however, was then in possession of the Sac Indians and therefore was not within the power of the Osage Indians to cede.2 It was a tract, too, that was destined to attain unusual historical significance within the next two or three decades.

Besides the events which took place there in connection with the operations of the fur traders (of which comparatively little is known), practically nothing can be said concerning the human habitation of that part of the Des Moines Valley until tradition tells of the building of a log cabin upon the site of the present city of Keokuk in 1820. Dr. Samuel C. Muir, an Edinburgh University graduate then performing the duties of surgeon at Fort Edwards just across the Mississippi, is reported to have constructed the cabin for the accommodation of his Sac wife and five children. Tradition also tells how, when United States army officers and attachés were ordered to terminate relations with Indian women, Muir resigned his position, leased his property to Otis Reynolds and John Culver, and for several years practised medicine in northern Missouri and at Galena, Illinois.3

Isaac R. Campbell visited the locality in the month of June, 1821, and noted Muir's cabin. Six miles north, on p481the present site of Sandusky Station, stood the trading post of Monsieur Lemoliese. According to Campbell's reminiscences, recorded forty-six years later, "Lemoliese had a very amiable lady for a wife, who was fond of dress. She frequently, to please him, arrayed her person in gown, bonnet and shoes, but could not be prevailed upon to continue the costume, as her native garb, the blanket and petticoat, were more congenial to her feelings and taste." One mile above Lemoliese lived another trader, Maurice Blondeau, who was half Frenchman and half Fox Indian. On the spot where the town of Montrose now stands Campbell found the remains of a deserted trading house in the midst of an orchard of apple trees. This no doubt describes Tesson's old Spanish grant as it appeared in the year 1821. Just above was the Sac village of Chief Cut Nose. Such is the picture of life in that part of the Iowa country, the nearest white settlements upon the frontier being situated to the east in Illinois and to the south in the State of Missouri, then but recently admitted into the Union. During the next four years Campbell visited these wilderness scenes more than once. He recalls a journey by ox team and wagon from his farm in Missouri to the Sac village: he and his Indian guide were compelled to swim their oxen across the swollen Des Moines River and to transport the wagon upon a raft which they constructed.4

In the summer of 1824 ten Sac and Fox chiefs, accompanied by their trader, B. Vasquez, as interpreter, Maurice Blondeau, Louis Tesson, and John W. Johnson, formerly government factor at old Fort Madison, journeyed eastward to consult the President of the United States at Washington. On the fourth day of August they signed a treaty relinquishing all the claims of their tribes to lands within the limits of the new State of Missouri on condition "that p482the small tract of land lying between the rivers Desmoin and the Mississippi, and the section of the above line [the Sullivan or Old Indian Boundary projected eastward] between the Mississippi and the Desmoin, is intended for the use of the half-breeds belonging to the Sac and Fox nations." One may be sure that the Indians themselves were not so desirous of this grant as were the fathers of children by Indian mothers. In fact the men who witnessed the treaty were inhabitants or sometime residents of the country established for the Sac and Fox half-breeds.5

Records of life upon the Half-breed Tract are very meager and not altogether satisfactory, but since they constitute the history of the first permanent settlement in Iowa, a brief narrative of events in this region may properly be presented here. According to the reminiscences of a pioneer, Dr. Samuel C. Muir left "The Point" or "Puck‑e‑she‑tuck" (Foot of the Rapids) sometime after 1820. What the lessees of his log cabin, Reynolds and Culver, did at this place is not reported, but they were probably engaged in the Indian trade. In 1828 they stationed here their against and representative, Moses Stillwell, who came with his wife and four children and a brother-in‑law by the name of Valencourt Vanorsdoll. They cut and sold fire-wood to passing steamboats and carried on trade with the Indians. Stillwell died six years later; while Vanorsdoll came to be called "the oldest continuous white citizen in the State of Iowa", being still alive in 1879.6

On the morning of July 4, 1829, amid the booming of cannon, men and women bound for points north in Illinois and Wisconsin disembarked at what certain gentlemen on the steamboat at the suggestion of George Davenport had p483agreed to call "Keeokuk", the capital of the Half-breed Tract and a village containing about twenty Indian families, an American Fur Company store, and a tavern. A passenger upon the steamboat at this time reported the reservation as the common property of about forty-two half-breeds, only a few of whom had actually made clearings or settlements. Steamboats were at that time unloaded upon the Iowa shore and thus lightened were enabled to make their way up the shallow rapids of the Mississippi. Then after several days delay passengers and goods resumed the journey. Some miles north of "Keeokuk" lived Maurice Blondeau with his Indian wife and daughters, "well educated, well read, and accomplished young ladies", and just above his establishment stood a little Sac village of forty or fifty persons. Blondeau died in the month of August of this year, leaving his brother-in‑law, Andrew St. Amant, in charge of his plantation.7

The American Fur Company had erected as business headquarters at Keokuk a row of hewed log buildings which afterwards went by the undignified name of "Rat Row". In the year 1830 Russell Farnham was the Company's manager here; Joshua Palen, Mark Aldridge, and Edward Brishnell were clerks; Francis Labashure and a Menominee Indian named Baptiste or Battise served as interpreters; while John Connolly, John Forsyth, James Thorn, and John Tolman acted as itinerant peddlers and collectors of furs: "all having Indian women for wives, were very popular as drummers with the various bands of Indians." Andrew St. Amant, Baptiste Neddeau, Bruseau, and Paul Bessette, all indirectly connected with John Jacob Astor's enterprise in various capacities, were also among the first settlers. Dr. Samuel C. Muir returned to his log building at Keokuk p484in 1830 and early in the following year Isaac R. Campbell joined him in the mercantile business as Indian traders.8

The beginnings of the present town of Galland date from the year 1829 when Dr. Isaac Galland selected and settled upon a spot seven miles north of Keokuk or about one mile north of Maurice Blondeau's farm. Believing that this place was destined to become a great commercial city on account of its position near the rapids, he did everything in his power to promote its growth and prosperity. Here in 1830 was born to Mr. and Mrs. Galland a daughter, Eleanor, who bears the distinction of being the first white child born in the Iowa country. Hither Mr. and Mrs. Isaac R. Campbell removed from Illinois in the same year. Here also the first school teacher in the Iowa wilderness saw service — Berryman Jennings, later an Oregon millionaire.9

The number of settlers or squatters upon the Half-breed Tract about this time is unknown, but that the Sac and Fox Indians, and especially the half-breeds, viewed the trespassing whites with alarm is evident from the fact that they petitioned the President of the United States in 1829 and again in 1830 to survey and divide the reservation for the half-breeds living at the time of the treaty in 1824. They asked that their "Father" remove all whites "except a father, a husband, or wife of any of the half-breeds" or any agent or trader licensed by the government, and they wanted the sale of intoxicating liquors prohibited on the Tract. The citizens of the State of Missouri about the same time memorialized Congress to add the reservation to their Commonwealth on account of its future commercial importance.

In October, 1831, John W. Johnson, whose daughters were among the tenants-in‑common of the Tract, urged a p485division and asked for a school for about one hundred Indian and half-breed children. John Connolly emphasized the need of laying out a town at "Keokuck" on account of its favorable situation for the commerce of the Mississippi: the survey and division of the half-breed lands would attract "many men of capital and high standing". Another man familiar with conditions upon the Tract recommended the employment of a Catholic priest to look after the education and religion of the half-breeds, because most of their fathers were French Catholics. During the spring and autumn of 1832 United States government employees surveyed the town-site of Keokuk, one mile square, and also laid out the town of Montrose on Tesson's old Spanish land grant. By March 12, 1833, the whole Half-breed Tract had been surveyed, but not until several months later was it divided among the half-breed claimants.10

The pioneer historian of the first permanent settlement in the Iowa country recorded the death of Dr. Samuel C. Muir, due to an epidemic of cholera which raged throughout the Mississippi Valley in 1832. The population increased slightly about this time, and as a result trade competition became more intense. The American Fur Company accordingly sold its buildings at Keokuk to Isaac Campbell who, besides furnishing entertainment to the traveling public and towing and lightening steamboats around the rapids, cleared and fenced over twenty acres of corn and potatoes and supplied Indians, half-breeds, and whites with all the necessaries of life. Frontier society at Keokuk was typically crude and rough, as may be gathered from the historical accounts of life in this region.11 In 1833, in accordance with the terms of the treaty which closed the Black Hawk War in September, 1832, the occupants p486of the Sac village removed, leaving the few whites upon the half-breed lands tenants by sufferance.

Fort Des Moines No. 1

Alive to the future danger from Indians west of the Mississippi and mindful of the expense of life and money incurred by the Black Hawk War of 1832, Congress in 1833 made provision for the better defense of the frontier by authorizing the establishment of a regiment of dragoons, with headquarters at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis. Congress thus appears to have given ear to the words of Secretary of War Lewis Cass when he said: "We owe protection to the emigrants, and it has been solemnly promised to them; and this duty can only be fulfilled by repressing and punishing every attempt to disturb the general tranquillity. Policy and humanity equally dictate this course; and there is reason to hope that the display of this force will itself render unnecessary its hostile employment."12

On the nineteenth day of May, 1834, scarcely a year after emigrants began to pour into the eastern Iowa wilderness, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen W. Kearny was ordered to take up winter quarters near the mouth of the Des Moines River with the dragoon companies of Captains Summer, Boone, and Browne. Quartermaster Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George H. Crosman was sent ahead with a number of men to build barracks and stables.13 Just north of the apple orchard on Louis Tesson's old Spanish land grant Crosman selected a site for the buildings. Materials for the stables were prepared at St. Louis, brought up by boat, and put together on the ground. William Skinner, a Keokuk settler, received a contract to make twenty thousand clapboards at twenty dollars per thousand, delivered. Having completed this work by sawing p487up the best timber on the river bluffs between Keokuk and the site of the fort, he was engaged at sixty dollars per month to superintend the erection of log barracks to be used as sleeping-quarters and mess-rooms. Kearny's quarters were constructed of willow logs lightly "scutched" or "scarified". Skinner also made hay and otherwise prepared for the coming of the dragoon companies, while Alexander Cruikshank by means of a crude kiln produced lime for the government and built stone chimneys for the barracks.14

Setting out from the vicinity of Fort Gibson on the Arkansas River on the third day of September, Lieutenant Colonel Kearny, three captains, and one hundred and seven non-commissioned officers, musicians, and privates completed the long overland journey to the Des Moines River in three weeks, with horses none the worse for wear. Having undergone severe privations on an expedition to the plains of the far West during the winter and summer just past, and expecting to find their new quarters in a state of readiness, comfortable and convenient, the dragoons were not a little disappointed when called upon to help complete the buildings before winter weather set in. Such was the beginning of "Camp Des Moines, Michigan Territory", later called Fort Des Moines.15

Intended not as a permanent post but rather as a base for operations in the wilderness country farther west, Fort Des Moines did not play an important part in American military history. In the spring of 1835 the arrival of recruits increased the garrison to one hundred and fifty-seven men, p488and about the same time came orders for work to be done. Lieutenant Colonel Kearny obeyed, and setting out from Fort Des Moines on June 7th the three companies proceeded up the Des Moines Valley through an uninhabited country. On their way to find the mouth of the Raccoon River they passed two Sac and Fox villages, and then directing their course northeastward, they came to the mouth of the Boone River, many miles north of the point which they expected to visit. The dragoons then marched northeastward to Wabasha's Sioux village on the Mississippi, encountering buffalos on their way through a picturesque wilderness of hills, valleys, and stretches of prairie.

After a week's encampment in the Minnesota country the expedition proceeded in a westward direction and then southward to the East Fork of the Des Moines. Fording this stream they descended to the Raccoon River, where Kearny examined the country for a suitable site for a fort and reported no spot especially desirable, although the point of land at the junction of the rivers answered the purpose best of all. Kearny expressed the opinion that if a new military post were needed to protect the Missouri frontiers, a fort at the Raccoon Fork would be too far away; and if it were needed to preserve peace between the Sac and Fox tribes and the Sioux, a better site could be found in the Neutral Ground on the upper Des Moines. Moreover, Kearny reported that, whatever the War Department saw fit to do, another military establishment in the Sac and Fox country was decidedly opposed by the Indians because "the Whites would drive off the little game that is left in their country."16

Kearny despatched Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Albert M. Lea, one private, and one Indian to descend the Des Moines in a cottonwood "dug-out" for the purpose of ascertaining the p489practicability of navigation with keel-boats. Lea sounded all shoals, took courses with a pocket compass, estimated distances from bend to bend by the time and rate of motion, sketched every notable thing, and landed occasionally to examine the geology of the rocks. The little party reached Keokuk without accident and arrived at Fort Des Moines many days before the main body of dragoons, who returned on August 19th after a march of 1100 miles.17 Two members of the expeditionary force left records of the long journey: one kept a brief daily journal of events and another, Lieutenant Lea, availed himself of his experience on the expedition and of information gathered from surveyors, traders, explorers, and residents to compile and publish a booklet on the "Iowa District" of what in 1836 became by act of Congress the Territory of Wisconsin.a Lea's Notes on the new country were intended to appeal to emigrants, speculators, and legislators.18 A quotation from his general description of the Des Moines Valley may well be included here:

The Des Moines River and its Tributaries afford fine lands, well diversified with wood and prairie, as far up as I am acquainted with them, some fifty miles above the "Upper Forks." There is much that is inviting in the general character of the country bordering on the Des Moines; level meadows, rolling woodlands, and deep forests, present themselves by turns. The soil is usually rich and productive; and when there are no natural springs, there is no difficulty in obtaining water, by digging, at almost any point in the highland-prairies.

Lea declared the Des Moines River navigable without difficulty for one hundred and seventy miles in a tolerable stage of water after the removal of some snags and loose rocks. For ninety-six miles more, as far as to the Raccoon p490River, the channel was shallow, crooked, and filled with rocks, sand-bars, and snags, although keel-boats and perhaps even steamboats might even navigate that portion of the stream during the spring and fall. Bituminous coal of excellent quality was found abundantly along this portion of the river, and there were other mineral productions. Thus did Lieutenant Lea attempt "to place within reach of the public, correct information in regard to a very interesting portion of the Western country, especially that part of it known as the Iowa District".19

Nothing further of importance can be added to the history of Fort Des Moines No. 1. Besides the evils of an unhealthful situation the fort experienced more desertions, it is said, than any other military post in the United States.20 In the autumn of 1836 a town had been laid out on the mile square on which the fort then stood; lots had been sold; and buildings had begun to appear. All this was the work of the heirs of Thomas F. Riddick to whom the land belonged. Outside the new town-site other persons were setting up establishments with the object of selling liquor to the Indians and soldiers. Soon after the appearance of settlers, however, orders were issued that the post be broken up without delay, and accordingly the dragoons began to make preparations to march away. Although the town boom had ceased in March, 1837, the government did not abandon its plan. Waiting until "the grass might be sufficiently high to afford grazing for the horses, as corn cannot be had on some parts of the route", the dragoons evacuated Fort Des Moines on the first day of June, 1837, and proceeded to Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River. p491Having notified the Secretary of War that the United States had intruded upon private lands and asking that the fort buildings and property be turned over in consideration of such illegal occupation, Riddick's heirs, after many years of litigation to prove their title to the premises at last came into possession of their own.21

Immigration to the Des Moines Valley

The Indian title to the Black Hawk Purchase became extinct on the first of June, 1833, and the fee simple then became vested in the government of the United States. Many persons at once crossed the Mississippi and others moved northward from the State of Missouri to squat upon the new public domain. The pioneer whites of the Half-breed Tract near the mouth of the Des Moines River thus received a slight accession to their population, and though all alike were trespassers in the eye of the law the government virtually made no attempt to remove them from the lands which they had selected. Immigration increased22 somewhat in the year 1834 and claims became more and more numerous. In this year also Congress relinquished the government's reversionary rights to the Half-breed Tract and the half-breed owners then began to sell their undivided shares to all who were speculative enough to invest. Consequently, owing to the unsettled condition of titles, few persons cared to settle and improve these lands, despite their excellent situation and fertility. The same was true of town lots at Keokuk.23

In the spring of 1835 home-seekers began to come in larger numbers — some by wagon, others by boat — from p492New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Steamboats upon the Ohio and the Mississippi brought passengers and household and farm utensils, while ferry boats plied ceaselessly between the Iowa and the Illinois shores transporting the horses and wagons and livestock of incoming settlers.24

An English tourist described Keokuk in the autumn of 1835 as "the lowest and most blackguard place" he had yet visited: "its population is composed chiefly of the watermen who assist in loading and unloading the keel-boats, and in towing them up when the rapids are too strong for the steam-engines." These men were described as "a coarse and ferocious caricature of the London bargemen," whose chief occupation consisted in drinking, fighting, and gambling.25 Unfortunately the traveler left no picture of the pioneers who had come to found homes and to clear and till farms in the wilderness. He might have found them dwelling in tents, wagons, log cabins, and other kinds of makeshifts.26 By that time, naturally enough, the best locations for farms and towns had been picked out upon or near the Mississippi, the Des Moines, and other rivers, because these avenues of nature afforded the only ready means of travel and transportation, matters of prime importance in the life of wilderness inhabitants. The progress of the western movement in the space of two brief years was noted by a dragoon who wrote that the land was rapidly being occupied "by emigrants from all the states & Europe."27 Lieutenant Lea in the following words made much the same observation when he descended the Des Moines River in August, 1835:

p493 It is about seventy-five miles from the mouth, by water, to the Indian boundary. The lands, on both sides of the river, throughout the greater part of the distance, are exceedingly fertile, and many of them are covered with forests of the finest walnut, oak, ash, elm, and cherry; and back of these wooded bottoms are extensive prairies, both flat and rolling. The settlements have long since . . . . extended along the river entirely up to the line [now about the western boundary of Van Buren County], and are beginning to spread out on either side, especially towards the head waters of Sugar creek [in Lee County]. There are already some extensive farms along this river, and others are in rapid progress.28

Thus did the pioneers occupy unsurveyed government land, individually respecting each other's rights to lands staked out as claims and collectively uniting to maintain their rights "against any unjust action of the Government, or against any attempt at improper speculation by capitalists at a distance."29 Immigration in 1836 increased very materially. Indeed, the rush is said to have been so great during the summer season "that the small ferry-boat at Fort Madison was kept busy almost day and night, crossing those who came by land", while others disembarked from steamboats at the landings at Keokuk and Fort Madison.30 So many persons had flocked to the Black Hawk Purchase or, as it now came to be called, the Iowa District of Wisconsin Territory, that two more notable additions to the public domain of the United States were soon made by outright purchases of Indian territory: the Sacs and Foxes p494gave up their claims to Keokuk's Reserve in the autumn of 1836 and to a million and a quarter acres of land situated west of the Black Hawk Purchase in 1837.

The Removal of Indian Villages
from Keokuk's Reserve to the Des Moines Valley

Sometime before surrendering all their rights in the territory which bordered on the Mississippi the Sacs and Foxes set up two villages in the Des Moines Valley, beyond the pale of the white settlements. On the present site of South Ottumwa, Chief Appanoose established himself and his band in the spring of 1834 and called the village Ah‑taum-way-e‑nauk (Perseverance Town). Ten or fifteen miles below, just west of the Indian boundary line, in the region that is now northeastern Davis County, Keokuk chose a spot for his tribesmen.31 Here the bands were dwelling in the summer of 1835, when the dragoons under Lieutenant Colonel Kearny visited them. Appanoose's town, according to an eye-witness, stood upon "a handsome Prairie & for an Indian town is very handsome & appears to be increasing in wealth and population." Keokuk's village made a good impression upon a dragoon by reason of its neatness and the apparent comfort of its population, who were "the most decent in their manner of living of any Indians I have seen."32

Thither in the autumn of 1835 went their government Indian agent, General Joseph M. Street, accompanied by the famous painter of Indian portraits, George Catlin, and a corporal's command of eight dragoons furnished by p495Lieutenant Colonel Kearny. Catlin wrote as follows of this unique experience:33

The whole country that we passed over was like a garden, wanting only cultivation, being mostly prairie, on the bank of the Des Moines River. They seemed to be well supplied with the necessaries of life, and with some of its luxuries. I found Ke‑o‑kuk to be a chief of fine and portly figure, with a good countenance, and great dignity and grace in his manners.

General Street had some documents from Washington, to read to him, which he and his chiefs listened to with great patience; after which he placed before us good brandy and good wine, and invited us to drink, and to lodge with him; he then called up five of his runners or criers, communicated to them in a low, but emphatic tone, the substance of the talk from the agent, and of the letters read to him, and they started at full gallop — one of them proclaiming it through his village, and the others sent express to the other villages, comprising the whole nation. Ke‑o‑kuck came in with us, with about twenty of his principal men — he brought in all his costly wardrobe, that I might select for his portrait such as suited me best; but at once named (of his own accord) the one that was purely Indian. In that he paraded for several days, and in it I painted him at full length. He is a man of a great deal of pride, and makes truly a splendid appearance on his black horse. He owns the finest horse in the country, and is excessively vain of his appearance when mounted, and arrayed, himself and horse, in all their gear and trappings. He expressed a wish to see himself represented on horseback, and I painted him in that plight. He rode and nettled his prancing steed in front of my door, until its sides were in a gore of blood. I succeeded to his satisfaction, and his vanity is increased, no doubt, by seeing himself immortalized in that way. After finishing him, I painted his favourite wife (the favoured one of seven), his favourite boy, and eight or ten of his principal men and women; after which, he and all his men shook hands with me, wishing me well, and leaving, as tokens of regard, the most valued article of his dress, and a beautiful string of wampum, which he took from his wife's neck.

p496 They then departed for their village in good spirits, to prepare for their fall hunt.


[image ALT: zzz. He is Chief Keokuk as painted by George Catlin.]

The standing portrait of Chief Keokuk
by George Catlin.

Chief Keokuk's Reserve upon the Iowa River practically divided the Iowa District into two parts. Owing to the rush of emigration to the West negotiations were soon opened for the purchase of this tract. By virtue of a treaty concluded on September 28, 1836, and ratified by the United States Senate in February, 1837, the Sacs and Foxes gave up their title to the land and agreed not to return for fishing, hunting, or planting after the first of November, 1836. It is reported that when Henry Dodge, Governor of Wisconsin Territory, requested the chiefs and braves to remove their families and property from the cession to make room for the whites, the Indians became excited and then burst into hearty laughter. This behavior one of them explained as follows:34

My father, we have to laugh — we require no time to move — we have all left the lands already, and sold our wigwams to Chemokemons (white men) — some for one hundred, and some for two hundred dollars, before we came to this Treaty. There are already four hundred Chemokemons on the land, and several hundred more on their way moving in; and three days before we came away, one Chemokemon sold his wigwam to another Chemokemon for two thousand dollars, to build a great town.

Thus, ahead of "people from the East, enlightened and intelligent — with industry and perseverance that will soon rear from the soil all the luxuries, and add to the surface, all the taste and comforts of Eastern refinement",35 the Sacs and Foxes had taken up their line of march to lands farther west. From their sale of the Iowa River lands they realized a cash payment of $30,000, the sum of $10,000 annually in specie for ten years, and $48,458.87½ with which p497to satisfy the claims of traders against them for goods sold and delivered. Sac and Fox debts had accumulated since 1832 and numerous "just creditors" presented their bills for settlement, among them Pratte, Chouteau & Co. of St. Louis, John Campbell, S. S. Phelps & Co., George Davenport, Antoine Le Claire, and Francis Labachiere. It was agreed that one half of the amount ascertained to be due should be paid at once, while the other half should be paid later out of the Sac and Fox annuities, for which purpose $5000 was set aside each year beginning in 1838. The United States, furthermore, undertook to supply the Indians with two hundred horses in June, 1837.36 In all of this there is manifested the government's desire to confer benefit upon the tribesmen and to present new opportunities to home-seekers, but most of all there is evidence of the successful dictation of treaties by Indian traders who had their own selfish interests at heart. They exploited the natives by a system of bartering goods for cash and furs and also by giving unlimited credit in the hope of a government payment later on. They also found it to their best interests to have the Indians removed from the temptations of civilized life to the open western country where the skins of game animals could still be secured for a most lucrative trade in the fur markets of the world. And so, the traders p498had nothing to lose and everything to gain when they urged and supported Indian treaties such as the one of 1836.

The Treaty of 1837

In the autumn of the year 1837 about thirty Sac and Fox chiefs and delegates left their villages upon the Des Moines River and journeyed by water to the East, conducted by their Indian agent, Joseph M. Street, and the portly half-breed interpreter, Antoine Le Claire. Besides visiting New York and Boston, where they are said to have given a war dance on the Common,37 they met the government's commissioner at Washington and concluded a treaty on October 21st. This time they sold 1,250,000 acres of land lying west of the previous cessions upon the Mississippi River — a narrow strip of territory along the whole western border of the Black Hawk cession of 1832. The reasons for the sale are not clear, unless it be that the Indians and their traders again wanted relief: certain it is that the whites had not filled all the best vacant lands of the "Iowa District".

In return for the fertile lands the United States agreed to survey the new tract and pay all Sac and Fox debts up to $100,000: if these debts amounted to a larger sum, the creditors were to be paid pro rata, and if the debts aggregated less, the Indians were to receive the surplus. The government gave further evidence of its generosity by promising to give the Indians $28,500 worth of goods suited to their wants; to build two grist mills and furnish two millers for five years at a cost of $10,000; to break and fence certain Sac and Fox lands and provide "for other beneficial objects" at a cost of $24,000; to pay $2000 a year for five years for the services of laborers and other objects to aid p499the Indians in agriculture; and also deliver $4500 worth of horses and presents to the chiefs and delegates on their arrival at St. Louis. The government further agreed to invest $200,000 in safe State stocks and pay the Indians a five percent income each year in money or goods as the tribes might direct, although the President of the United States might order some of the income to be spent on education or other improvements, if the Indians so desired. The treaty also stipulated that two blacksmith establishments and one gunsmith shop should be removed from the lands sold to the new location of the tribe; while the Indians themselves should depart westward within eight months after the Senate's ratification of the treaty — the only important exception being that Chief Keokuk might retain possession of his village for two years.38

After the Indian deputation returned to the West, James Jordan,39 William Phelps, and John Tolman are said to have paid $3000 for the rights of Keokuk and his tribesmen to remain upon the lands which they had sold. The Indians accordingly vacated their village in 1838 and crossed the new Indian boundary to establish themselves on lands a few miles farther up the Des Moines River near the present site of Ottumwa. In the spring of 1838 Keokuk's old village site was laid off by its speculating owners and called Iowaville.40 Just across the Des Moines the aged Black p500Hawk maintained his residence until the time of his death a few months later. Here, too, William and Peter Avery are reported to have served the American Fur Company until 1842, building a blockhouse for their protection. The first steamboat reaching the new frontier town was the American Fur Company's boat "Pavilion".41


The Author's Notes:

1 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIII, pp239, 240.

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2 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIII, pp28, 29.

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3 Annals of Iowa (First Series), Vol. V, pp889, 890.

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4 Annals of Iowa (First Series), Vol. V, pp883, 884, 885.

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5 See The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIII, pp151, 152.

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6 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIII, pp153‑155; The History of Lee County, Iowa (1879), pp333, 334.

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7 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIII, pp155, 156; The History of Lee County, Iowa (1879), pp333, 334.

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8 Annals of Iowa (First Series), Vol. V, pp889, 890.

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9 Annals of Iowa (First Series), Vol. V, pp887, 888; see The History of Lee County, Iowa (1879), p167.

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10 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIII, pp161‑163.

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11 Annals of Iowa, Vol. V, pp890, 892, 893.

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12 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. III, p351.

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13 Iowa Historical Record, Vol. VI, p524.

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14 The History of Lee County (1879), pp380, 381, 382.

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15 Iowa Historical Record, Vol. VII, p114; Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. III, p353; The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XII, pp180‑182. This fort is usually referred to as Fort Des Moines No. 1 for the purpose of distinguishing it from the later post by the same name where city of Des Moines now stands.

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16 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. III, pp356, 357.

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17 Iowa Historical Record, Vol. VI, pp546‑553; The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. VII, pp333, 364‑378.

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18 Lea's Notes on Wisconsin Territory, pp. iii, iv.

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19 Lea's Notes on Wisconsin Territory, pp. 24, 25.

Thayer's Note: The footnote actually reads "pp. 24, 25", but as can be seen from my link, the passage is in the Preface, on p. iii.
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20 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. III, pp358, 359; The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XII, pp180, 181.

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21 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. III, pp359, 360‑362; The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIII, p243.

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22 The History of Lee County (1879), pp379, 380.

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23 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. X, pp451, 452, 460; Lea's Notes on Wisconsin Territory, pp18, 19, 26, 2735.

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24 The History of Lee County (1879), p385.

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25 Murray's Travels in North America, Vol. II, p96.

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26 The History of Lee County (1879), p387.

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27 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. VII, p378.

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28 Lea's Notes on Wisconsin Territory, p25.

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29 Lea's Notes on Wisconsin Territory, p20.

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30 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. VI, p5; The History of Lee County (1879), p388.

In his Sketches of Iowa (1841), p109, J. B. Newhall declared:

"At the commencement of the settlements upon the Des Moines, so strikingly beautiful did the verdant banks appear, that every delighted settler fancied his farm possessed the peculiar attributes of a town site; hence, literally, the farms were, at the commencement, staked off into towns. Accordingly in Van Buren County too many towns were laid out and trade was diverted from any particular place."

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31 Fulton's The Red Men of Iowa, pp239, 257. See also a map of the Black Hawk Purchase surveyed by Charles De Ward acting for William Gordon in October, 1835. For Rev. Cutting Marsh's visit to the Sac and Fox towns upon the Red Cedar, Iowa, and Des Moines rivers in 1834, see his report in Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. VI, pp201‑203.

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32 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. VII, pp366, 367, 377.

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33 Smithsonian Report, 1885, Part II, pp500, 501, 525; Iowa Historical Record, Vol. VIII, p311; Catlin's North American Indians (Chatto and Windus), Vol. II, pp149, 150.

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34 Catlin's North American Indians (Chatto and Windus), Vol. II, p216.

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35 Catlin's North American Indians (Chatto and Windus), Vol. II, pp216, 217.

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36 The treaty also provided $1000 to the widow of Felix St. Vrain, the Sac and Fox Indian agent who had been murdered at the outbreak of the Black Hawk War. One thousand dollars each was given to seven half-breeds, the children of Wharton R. McPherson, James Thorn, Joseph Smart, Nathan Smith, Wayman, Mitchell, and Amos Farrar, $2000 being paid to Joseph M. Street for the use and benefit of the children of the last two. At the special request of the tribes two hundred dollars was paid to Street for the children of the late John Connolly, James and Thompson Connolly.

Other persons to whom the United States paid various sums of money were Jeremiah Smith, Stephen Dubois, Nathaniel Knapp, Wharton R. McPherson, Jesse W. Shull, James Jordan, the owners of the Steamboat "Warrior", Nathaniel Patterson, Mesdames St. Amant, Gunville, Le Claire, and Miss Blondeau. — Kappler's Indian Affairs, Vol. II, pp353‑355.

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37 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. II, pp100, 101; The History of Lee County (1879), pp360, 361.

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38 Kappler's Indian Affairs, Vol. II, pp367, 368.

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39 The date of Jordan's coming to the Iowa country is very uncertain. In Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. VIII, p58, it is 1819, and in an article in the Des Moines Leader, July 26, 1886, the date is given as 1822. This and other evidence conflicts.

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40 The site of this town in the northeastern part of Davis County was the scene, it is said, of a battle between the Ioways and the allied Sacs and Foxes in the early twenties — the date is variously given as 1821, 1823, and 1824. The story of the battle as told by A. W. Harlan who claims that he heard it from the lips of an Indian chief sounds somewhat improbable when it is known that these Indian tribes had for a long time been friendly tenants-in‑common of the Iowa wilderness. The fact seems to be that the Ioways left their village on the Des Moines about this time and later dwelt in what is now northwestern Missouri, but that the removal followed "a big battle and massacre" by the Sacs and Foxes cannot be authenticated. The story of "this decisive and bloody conflict" is detailed in the Iowa Historical Record, Vol. VII, pp190, 191. Other accounts based upon it are to be found in Annals of Iowa (First Series), Vol. III, pp483‑487, Vol. X, p296; Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. II, p182.

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41 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. VIII, pp57‑59.


Thayer's Note:

a The 53‑page booklet — shorter than the paper you are reading — is onsite, in full.


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