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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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The Opening of the Des Moines Valley
to Settlement

(Part 4 of 5)

p528 Traders and Weekly Sellers
among the Sacs and Foxes from 1834 to 1845

Instead of merely a large portion of eastern Iowa lying along the Mississippi, twice or three times as much, or even all, of Sac and Fox territory in the Iowa country might have been added to the public domain by the treaty of 1832 had not Indian traders effectually blocked the government's commissioners. John Jacob Astor, represented by his agents, Russell Farnham and George Davenport, was astute enough to procure $40,000 in full payment of Sac and Fox debts, and in order to prevent the removal of the Indians too far away from their business headquarters on Rock Island the traders also advised and obtained the insertion of a provision for Keokuk's Reserve upon both banks of the Iowa River. Were the Sacs and Foxes to congregate on this tract, how much more convenient and profitable for the American Fur Company than a location south or west of the Missouri River four or five hundred miles away!98

p529 By the first of June, 1833, the Indians were supposed to be dwelling in their bark lodges upon Keokuk's Reserve or in their territory west of the Black Hawk Purchase. That their hunts were becoming very poor is clear from the report that they made about one hundred and fifty packs of fur in the winter of 1833, as compared with four hundred four years before. To what extent the tribesmen refused to hunt, now that the government paid their chiefs large annual sums of money for distribution, it is difficult to ascertain, but one thing seems clear: a difference of opinion arose among the braves and warriors in regard to the manner of paying the annuities. In August, 1834, Poweshiek and over two hundred hunters of the Fox village on the Cedar River, besides Chief Appanoose and nearly two hundred more Foxes on the Des Moines, petitioned against the payment of annuities to Keokuk, the head chief, because he had turned all the money over to the American Fur Company, so that most of the tribesmen received nothing.99 This matter remained a bone of contention for sixteen years.

Rev. Cutting Marsh in charge of a delegation of Stockbridge Indians visited the different Sac and Fox villages in the summer of 1834, but their attempt to establish a mission among these Indians failed entirely because of certain formidable and insurmountable obstacles. George Davenport, the trader, "expressed a belief in the doctrine of universal salvation and labored . . . . to show 'how happy the Indians were in their present state'." He afterwards declared that missionaries would only make them worse. Antoine Le Claire, the interpreter, besides being connected with the American Fur Company, was a Roman Catholic and hence was unwilling to assist the Protestant American p530Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Mr. Marsh found a welcome at the house of a professed infidel when he visited Appanoose's village: there William Phelps and his brother were trading in opposition to the American Fur Company.100

Sometime before the date of the sale of Keokuk's Reserve in September, 1836, all the Sacs and Foxes, Poweshiek and his Fox band upon the Red Cedar excepted, had removed to the Des Moines River, and so their traders found it necessary to carry goods some forty or fifty miles inland. The treaty of 1836 reveals again the influence of persons financially interested in the tribes: all "just creditors" whose claims the government satisfied are mentioned in the concluding section of the treaty, among them S. S. Phelps and Company, George Davenport, Antoine Le Claire, Francis Labachiere, and Pratte, Chouteau and Company, the latter alone receiving $20,362.42½. An observer of the time pointed out the policy of the Sac and Fox traders to prevent the extinguishment of title except to small portions of their country and urge the Indians to accept payment in nothing but specie.101 Inasmuch as game was becoming scarcer in the Iowa country, money became a welcome substitute for furs as the medium of exchange for the traders' goods and whiskey.

The narrow strip of country which the Sac and Fox deputation sold to the United States in 1837 proved to be another "nail in the coffin" of the tribes. Despite the fact that the government had the previous year appropriated $48,458.87½ for the payment of debts due Sac and Fox traders, these gentlemen were not overlooked in the treaty negotiations which took place at Washington, D. C. On the p531contrary they were generously remembered in the stipulation that bills against Indian customers aggregating not more than $100,000 would be paid by the government.102 Thus, the sale of comparatively small portions of the Indian country, instigated from time to time by the men who traded with the childlike natives, served to secure the payment of goodly sums from the nation's treasury and to bring American money into circulation upon the western frontier. And the persons who suffered the most severely from this ruinous policy were the Indians for whose benefit the treaties of sale were ostensibly concluded. Indeed, the oftener their debts were paid and the greater the quantity of cash distributed among them by the government, the more worthless, dissipated, and dependent they became in their villages on the Des Moines River. Hunting gradually ceased to be a pastime and until their departure from Iowa in 1845 the furs and skins of wild game animals were not important articles of commerce.

Finding it difficult to care for his charges so many miles away, John M. Street, Sac and Fox agent since March 4, 1835, removed his office from Rock Island to a place several miles west of the Indian boundary established in 1837. He reported that the border whites had dispensed more whiskey among the Sacs and Foxes in 1838 than at any other time since 1834. Despite his uncompromising hostility toward all whites who were exploiting the Indian's weakness for liquor and articles of every description, Street could make no headway against their traffic with the red men. Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and Company of St. Louis (the American Fur Company) were still doing a large business with the confederated tribes in their Des Moines villages, George p532Davenport and his son George L. continuing to serve there until the summer of 1838. At the same time the tribesmen seem to have journeyed to Rock Island to obtain supplies at Davenport's store.103 After twenty-two years Davenport withdrew from active participation in the Indian trade and turned the fur trust's local affairs over to S. S. Phelps. On the Des Moines River bluffs, three miles west of the new Sac and Fox Agency, Phelps set up a trading post in charge of his brother William.104 That the Chouteau people were not dealing honorably with the natives may be gathered from Keokuk's complaint to Governor Robert Lucas of Iowa Territory: Chouteau gave the Indians no account of goods sold and no statement of the amount of money due; therefore, said Keokuk, the Sacs and Foxes ought to have a book-keeper.105

Governor Lucas, acting also as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Territory, aired his animosity towards the Chouteaus at every opportunity. In the autumn of 1839, he wrote to Washington about the payment of the annuity to the head chiefs who in turn handed it to the agent of the American Fur Company. Great dissatisfaction reigned among the tribesmen; some of the chiefs had lost popularity among the braves and warriors and they were suspected of being controlled by the agents of the American Fur Company and other traders. Lucas felt certain that the government could do the Indians very little good so long as the power and influence of traders remained supreme in Indian councils. Since the interests of traffickers in merchandise and liquor were opposed to the government's policy, frequently embarrassing government officials by open violation p533of the law, Lucas strongly urged that goods instead of money be distributed to the red men to protect them against the impositions of traders.106

The year 1840 saw the arrival of more traders among the Sacs and Foxes to compete for a portion of the Indian furs and annuities. The Chouteau post had been monopolizing business in the villages of Keokuk, Wapello, and Appanoose, then situated where the city of Ottumwa now stands. Higher up the Des Moines River Hardfish and a band of malcontents, openly hostile to Chief Keokuk and his administration of tribal affairs, had pitched their lodges.107 There, in the heart of the present town of Eddyville, J. P. Eddy was licensed to trade in the summer of 1840, and not long afterward the Chouteaus had a post near the same place. The brothers George Washington and Washington George Ewing, experienced in Indian trade since at least the year 1826, were also licensed to deal with the Sacs and Foxes and accordingly set up a large establishment opposite the Indian villages under the supervision of "a Mr. Hunt, a gentleman of far more education, refinement and culture than is often found among the resident Indian traders."108

How were goods for the Indian trade conveyed to this wilderness just beyond the pale of civilization? The answer can be found in the reports of two United States army officers who surveyed the Des Moines River in the spring of 1841. A captain of the topographical engineers ascended the river to the American Fur Company's trading post near the Sac and Fox Agency and learned of the practicability p534of navigation from the fact that trade supplies had been repeatedly transported one hundred miles to this, "their principal depot in a steamboat of the size ordinarily used on the upper Mississippi in low water, and that a heavily laden keel boat has been taken up nearly to the mouth of Rackoon Fork."109 Late in June of this same year Lieutenant John C. Frémont also stopped at Phelps's post and wrote to the government as follows: "Having been furnished with a guide and other necessaries by the uniform kindness of the American Fur Company, we resumed our journey on the morning of the 1st of July, and late in the evening reached the house of Mr. Jameson — another of the company's posts, about twenty miles higher up." In pushing his survey of the river valley, Frémont gained much information from "Mr. Phelps, who has resided about twenty years on this river, and who has kept boats upon it constantly during that period." From his own observations and from the fact that Phelps "ran a Mississippi steamer to his post, a distance of 87 miles from the mouth and a company are now engaged in building one to navigate the river", Frémont declared the Des Moines to be "highly susceptible of improvement".110

The council for the payment of annuities in 1840 was held at the Sac and Fox Agency on September 28th. Besides the Indian agent, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Beach, there were in attendance Robert Lucas, Governor of Iowa Territory, and the traders. The American Fur Company was abundantly represented by Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and Messrs. Sanford and Mitchell from St. Louis, George Davenport and his son, George L., p535and Antoine Le Claire, the half-breed interpreter, had come from Rock Island. S. S. Phelps of Oquawka, Illinois, and his brother, William Phelps, were also present. All these men were there to look after their trade interests, and the spectacle may be taken as typical of such occasions in the West. Great must have been their disappointment when the payment of the annuity was deferred because the two factions of the Sacs and Foxes failed to agree on the mode of distribution. Governor Lucas, whose sympathies lay with the Hardfish band, accused Beach of "acting in conjunction with the American Fur Company" and later even urged Beach's removal from the agency.111

Beach declared in his annual report for 1840‑1841 that the domestic discord in the tribes was "principally attributable to a rivalry among the trading interest, and the different opinions entertained by those licensed in the trade, in regard to that mode promising the greatest certainty of payment to themselves for the credits they had always extended to the Indians to a large amount." The difficulty, however, was cleared up in the fall of 1841 and the annuities for two years were doled out to the satisfaction of all concerned, traders with big accounts included.112

Immediately after the payment of annuities the chiefs and braves of the confederated tribes met a United States commission to negotiate for the disposal of more Sac and Fox country. John Chambers, the Governor of the Territory of Iowa, first addressed them to ask for their own honest and candid opinions upon the subject and not the opinion of their traders and those who had claims against them. Then T. Hartley Crawford, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs from Washington, begged them as "a handsome p536and powerful people" to cease to follow the advice and practice of those who designed their destruction, and told them if they would remain honest they should not obey the counsel of those who endeavored only to corrupt them. Their best welfare called for removal beyond the reach of white men who wanted only their funds, and so, to get the Indians' free assent to the sale of more lands and not the opinion of persons coming from a distance who wanted their money and cared nothing about the condition or happiness of the Indians, all white men had been sent away and excluded from the council-house during the treaty negotiations.

Governor Chambers also explained why they were being kept clear of these "vultures" and declared:

You have now been two years without money. You are surrounded by blood-suckers, who are constantly endeavoring to obtain all the money paid to you. All the money you yesterday received has already gone into their hands. You have paid them enough to supply all your wants for a year. Those of them who sell you whiskey are men who desire only your money, and would kill all your women and children to obtain it. They have no souls — they are men of bad hearts, and you should not permit them to exercise any influence over you whatever. I believe it your interest to get out of their reach. Your great father proposes to give you such an opportunity — he proposes to you to go north [to the head waters of the Des Moines].

Now, I will tell you why your great father proposes to you to sell at this time. He knows, and I know, that white people have got near you; are selling you whiskey, and that we cannot prevent them from selling, or you from buying. Bad white people are thus encouraged to sell, and you are degraded by buying; and you will become more and more degraded until you become wholly extinct. Troops have been sent here, but on account of your proximity to the white settlements, improper intercourse with them cannot be prevented. I had learned, and reported to your great father, that you bought goods which you did not need, and immediately traded them away for whiskey. Your great father thought you wished to pay p537your debts. I have ascertained that $300,000 will not pay them. This is another reason why he thought you should sell. A few months ago you went to Montrose and bought fifteen thousand dollars of goods, none of which you wanted (save perhaps a few horses), and they are now all given to the winds. How will you pay the man of whom you procured them? The whole amount of your annuities for five years will not pay your debts to your traders. They will not trust you any more. They have sold to you, heretofore, expecting you would sell your lands, and that they then would be paid. You will get no more goods and credit. It was kindness, then, on the part of your great father which induced him to offer to buy your lands to furnish you with money, with which you could render yourself, your wives and children, comfortable and happy. It is my business to superintend your affairs, and watch over your interests as well as the interests of the Government; and I want you to reflect upon the fact that in a few days all your money will be gone; and you will be without credit; you may be unsuccessful in your hunts, and what will become of you? Even your whiskey-sellers will not sell to you that, without money or an exchange of your horses, guns, and blankets for it; many of you do not reflect upon this now, but you will before a year with sorrow.113

Such traders as George Davenport and Antoine Le Claire having been segregated in a trading house and placed under a guard of dragoons to prevent direct communication with the Indians,114 three days were spent in fruitless negotiations. Flush with money the tribesmen paid some of the vast debt which had been accumulating, but they exchanged most of their cash for liquor. Governor Chambers filed a strong complaint against the whole system which made p538such exploitation possible: he urged the effective suppression of the whiskey traffic and the abolition of the licensed Indian trade in favor of direct government management. The Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa passed resolutions calling upon the Delegate to Congress to exert his influence toward a reformation.115 It was not long before the Indian chiefs, realizing their vain struggle against poverty and debt, announced a willingness to journey to Washington for a treaty council. Chambers believed such a plan emanated from the traders who preferred to have their debts paid at the national capital rather than at the agency. Indeed, he knew they were stirring up feeling against him. In May, 1842, the debts due to the three licensed trading companies amounted to over $200,000. In the autumn of 1842 Governor Chambers and Agent Beach p539reported again the awful devastation being caused by the nefarious traffic in liquor and the inordinate fondness of the Indians for intoxication.116 Beach, especially, pictured conditions in a black light:

A set of the most abandoned and unprincipled wretches collected near the line upon the Des Moines river, and at one or two other points along the boundary, from whose dens the intoxicating liquid flows in uninterrupted streams upon the Indians. . . . On my first acquaintance with them in 1832, intoxication was rare among them, and I doubt if a confirmed or habitual drunkard belonged to their nation; while at this time, except when far distant upon their hunting grounds, the whole nation, without distinction of rank or age or sex, exhibits a continual scene of the most revolting intoxication. Laws, of a truth, exist, but of what avail without the means of enforcing them.117

Thus the lack of food and clothing produced a change of p540heart in the Sacs and Foxes; in October, 1842, they were ready to meet the United States more than half way. On the other hand the government wished to promote the march of empire westward, and the land hunger of the whites also had to be appeased, so rapidly were people from the East and the South migrating to the empty trans-Mississippi region. Accordingly, Governor John Chambers journeyed to the Sac and Fox Agency before the close of September, accompanied by Alfred Hebard and Arthur Bridgman, the agents appointed to investigate the claims of the traders and other creditors of the Indians. In regard to the process of sifting Hebard afterwards declared:118 "Aside from the accounts of the licensed traders, scores of other smaller claims had been carefully nursed with the expectation that they would be allowed, en masse, whenever a sale of their lands was made to the Government. The rigid examination required by the Commissioner was unexpected, but the rule was inflexible — evidence and reasonable explanation were required in all cases."

After the receipt and examination of fifty-eight claims against the Indians, the expert accountants presented each to the tribesmen in council for further information. Altogether, the indebtedness on the books aggregated $312,366.24, but after many days of laborious overhauling this amount was reduced to $258,566.34.119 J. P. Eddy and Company obtained their claim in full — $52,332.78 — while the demands of Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and Company were very little reduced, surmounting to $112,109.47. The account of W. G. and G. W. Ewing was materially modified, a reduction of twenty-five percent placing their allowance at $66,371.83. One writer has well explained the reason for the action of the commission:

p541 They had sold the untutored native such useful objects as "Italian cravats", "satinette coats", and "looking glasses" charged at twenty-two and thirty dollars. A clerk informed the investigating commission that these last articles should have been styled "telescopes". They had found purchasers among the red men for "fine satin vests" at eight dollars and fine spotted ones for six and seven. They had charged forty-five dollars for "dress coats" and "super-fine cloth coats" and sixty dollars for "surtout coats" and "super over coats". Verily the white pioneer settler must have felt sadly tailored beside his Indian neighbor. The profits upon some articles were estimated at from one to nine hundred percent.120

Beside the three largest claims above mentioned, some fifty-five others were considered, only thirty-nine of them being finally adjusted. Edward Kilbourne was allowed $10,411.80; Francis Withington, $4,212.48; Jeremiah Smith, Jr., $4000; James Jordan, $1775; and Antoine Le Claire, $1375. All other creditors obtained less than a thousand dollars.121 It appears that Peter and William Avery were most severely censured; so that their bill for $6284.73, repudiated by the Indians, was entirely rejected. Hebard afterwards declared that claims "that had a prima facie appearance of fairness, and were supported by explanation, seldom met with opposition or a word of complaint — showing an element of honesty in the Indian character not always found among many of those with whom they had been dealing."122

Claims having been adjusted to the satisfaction of at least the most influential traders, negotiations for the purchase of the Sac and Fox country were begun soon after the first day of October and successfully concluded on the eleventh of the same month. The United States government p542agreed to pay the debts of the Indians as part of the purchase price for the remainder of their lands within the borders of the Territory of Iowa. That the stipulation for the removal of these natives to a place southwest of the Missouri is directly traceable to the active influence of the licensed traders there is no dearth of evidence to prove. Indeed, the testimony on this point seems to be unanimous. An eye-witness of events at the agency during the early days of October testified that "but for the activity and influence of Messrs. Sanford, Davenport and Le Clair and the Messrs. Phelps, who exerted every means in their power to harmonize the clashing among the bands, we doubt very much whether the purchase of the whole country could have been effected."123

Alfred Hebard is authority for the statement that the United States commissioners invited "persons known to, and knowing the Indians, and having their confidence, especially those who could speak their language," to aid in securing the object of the government. He continued as follows in his account of the treaty:124

Those having claims had a double motive, and citizens generally were interested in the same direction, thus creating a pressure of public opinion, that greatly assisted the Commissioner in his patient, persuasive reasonings with the Indians, in trying to convince them that their true interest would be promoted, by accepting a smaller home farther west, with increased means of support and free from border entanglements. . . . The Indian heart appreciates friendship, and had it not been this strong undertone of faith in known friends, I doubt if the mission had been fully successful. The aid of Major Sanford and others is entitled to just appreciation to this day.

p543 Governor Chambers also asserted that the Indian mind could not be reached except through the mediation of the licensed traders, whose influence could under no circumstances be brought into operation in support of the government except for a "consideration" obtained through a treaty stipulation for the payment of the claims against the tribe to be treated with. "The tremendous profits of Indian trade, resulting from the privileges granted the traders by the Government under the existing system of trade and intercourse with the Indians," he said, "does not seem to produce on the part of these people the least sense of obligation to forward or promote the views of the Government, or even to abstain from obstructing them when the promotion of their own interest is not presented as an inducement. . . . The traders have in their employment the best interpreters, frequently half breeds, and numerous clerks and adroit individuals, familiar with the vices and follies of the Indians, and always administering to them, not unfrequently raising children by their women, and thus making the impression upon the Indians that they are identified with them and their interests in all respects". Therefore, the traders had more influence among the red men than did the government from which they derived their power.125

Not long after the treaty of 1842 was concluded, G. W. Ewing wrote to T. Hartley Crawford, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, describing some of the many infamous practices resorted to by unprincipled, unlicensed men in order to cheat and abuse the Indians. Crawford sent Ewing's complaint to Chambers and the latter replied in a letter full of indignation at the government's system of regulating p544the Indian trade.126 He flayed unmercifully the regular or licensed traders, accusing them of dealings characterized by the vilest extortion: their claims might be reduced at treaty times, but how could inspection of their accounts then reveal the nature of their cash dealings or exchanges for furs and skins? The Governor's words were unsparing. "If the vengeance of Heaven is ever inflicted upon man in this life," he declared, "it seems to me we must yet see some signal evidence of it among these 'regular traders'. . . . . When a treaty is to be made and their claims against the Indians are to be liquidated, some of them come prepared to show your commissioners the hazard they incur in disobliging them, by a curtailment of their iniquitous demands. Letters from distinguished senators and members of Congress are presented, introducing them as strangers, (though well known) and recommending them as gentlemen of integrity, high standing and great influence, and I suppose they might, in great truth add, what would be equivalent to all the rest, distinguished for their great wealth, acquired in the Indian trade."

Some time during the year 1842 the American Fur Company seems to have abandoned its log cabin headquarters a few miles west of the Sac and Fox Agency, permitted a company of dragoons under Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.James Allen to occupy them, and established a new post higher up the Des Moines p545River in the Red Rock region of Marion County.127 The Sac and Fox villagers removed their lodges to the neighborhood of the Raccoon River in accordance with the terms of the treaty of 1842, which allowed them to retain that part of their territory in Iowa for another two years. When the winter of 1843‑1844 set in, the licensed traders were comfortably ensconced in log cabins on the present site of East Des Moines. The Ewings occupied a half section of land; not far away was the residence and farm of the Phelps brothers; and just across the river stood Fort Des Moines.128

Little need be added about the activity of licensed traders in this region before the departure of the Sacs and Foxes in the autumn of 1845. The change of residence to the neighborhood of Fort Des Moines did not in the least abate the Indians' excessive fondness for liquor nor limit their means of procuring it: unprincipled whites supplied them with whiskey wherever they went. The Indians still wasted their money. Instead of buying necessaries, they quickly spent their income on the trash of traders and the whiskey and horses of others. Furthermore, a large part of the provisions and goods furnished by the government they "exchanged for whiskey as soon as they get possession of them, and always at such rates as the cupidity of the whiskey sellers chooseº to dictate." Most of them had abandoned the chase, were seldom sober, and were "averse, from habit and savage pride, to labor." Subject to the overruling and controlling influence of their traders, they made "no provision in advance for their wants, and the prospect of starvation seems to have no terrors for them until the last mouthful of food is exhausted." Even the waste of provisions subserved the interest of the traders because they were always prepared to supply the deficiencies of their native customers. And because the traders at the treaty of p5461842 had said that the Indians should have no more farms, since money would buy more for them than farms would yield, no provision was made near their temporary domicile for a pattern farm such as they had had near the old agency.129

During the year 1844 vast quantities of liquor were brought to the boundary line and much was imported into the Indian country, but the most unremitting vigilance could not check the evil, though some of the bootleggers were caught in the act and deprived of their cargoes. Agent John Beach put the case clearly when he wrote as follows:

Situated as they now are, no amount of annuity which we could pay them would add in the least to their comfort, so long as such wholesale robbery can be practised — robbery of the basest sort, which often ruthlessly takes from them all that may minister to their necessities, and even to their existence, under pretence of rendering an equivalent, and that equivalent as often death. In fact, sir, as I have heard you express yourself, their very annuity is a curse to them; and as it is increased, their evils are multiplied. At the payment of last year, the sum due them was double nearly what it had been at any former period; and this year, some $16,000 will be paid them more than the last; yet they do not appear better clothed or better provided, but certainly, if it be possible, more intemperate. The last winter, although mild beyond example, was one of much suffering to them, for want of subsistence. True, the small remnant of their country which they now occupy is entirely destitute of game — forming in this particular a striking contrast with their possessions of ten years previous, the amount of their income for furs and skins, ranging at that time from $50,000 to $80,000 per annum, being now reduced to nothing — yet the vastly increased amount of their annuities should compensate for this failure of other sources of supply. They are by nature thoughtless, wasteful, improvident; still, their necessities are compressed within a narrow range; and surely, if these 2,200 Indians could be guarded p547against avarice and iniquity, $81,000 per annum should load them with every comfort.130

The tract of Iowa country occupied by the Sacs and Foxes after May, 1843, was so destitute of game that the Indians were compelled to visit the border settlements during the winter months. The whites offered no complaint because, forsooth, the worst of them took advantage of the red men, stripped them of all their property, and later, at the succeeding payment, a host of such border "harpies" beset them for the payment of promissory notes and other obligations. And just before Sac and Fox tribal life was to be shifted beyond the Missouri, the Indian agent could state that his charges had little regard for the white man's education because it appeared to consist in knowing how most effectually to cheat the benighted red man; they had little esteem for so‑called civilization because it pandered to the worst propensities of human nature and they beheld the criminal, inhuman results thereof with a cold indifference; while the Christian religion seemed to the Indians the worship of dollars and cents.131 With such a low opinion of their white neighbors, the Sacs and Foxes forsook the rich prairies of Iowa to take up their abode in the gameless region about the headwaters of the Osage River in Kansas. With them went the scenes of barter and exchange, but it was hoped that they would be placed beyond the baneful influences of unprincipled whites who drenched them with whiskey and robbed them of their money. Certain of an annuity sufficient to feed and clothe them bountifully there was no reason why they might not lead a life of complete independence and comfort.132

p548 Later History of Indian Rights
to the Upper Des Moines Valley

The departure of the Sacs and Foxes from the well-watered prairies of central Iowa to the dry lands and feverish climate of southeastern Kansas did not rid the valley of the upper Des Moines of Indian visitations. Indeed, two other tribes of red men retained for a few years longer the right to hunt in this portion of the Iowa wilderness.

As early as 1825 the United States government had taken steps to end the long, deadly feud between the Sioux and the allied Sacs and Foxes: a line was drawn from the mouth of the Upper Iowa River in northeastern Iowa to the second or upper fork of the Des Moines River and thence to the lower fork of the Calumet or Big Sioux River. Neither of the Indian nations was to cross this boundary to encroach upon the other's territory, but time demonstrated that the treaty line of 1825 availed nothing.

The next step to establish peace came in 1830. The same nations were prevailed upon by the United States to part with their titles to twenty-mile strips of land north and south of the boundary fixed five years before. This Neutral Ground, however, was to extend only from the Mississippi to the Des Moines. Events soon showed that long years of rivalry and enmity could not thus be forgotten all at once by an agreement to respect the neutrality of this uninhabited forty-mile strip: a scrap of paper proved to be no effective barrier against the war and hunting expeditions of savages thirsting for each other's blood. The Neutral Ground continued to be the scene of occasional frays between these enemies. Two years later the President of the United States exercised his power to allot the eastern portion of the barrier country to the Winnebago Indians in exchange for their cession of certain lands east of the Mississippi, and in 1837 the government agreed to let them p549hunt upon the western portion also.133 It was with considerable misgiving that the Winnebagoes took up their abode in this Iowa region as the buffer between two irreconcilable foes.

West of the Neutral Ground, upon the west bank of the Des Moines, the Sioux bands and the allied Sacs and Foxes still prosecuted their hunts, their hunting-grounds being separated by a wedge-shaped portion of Pottawattamie Indian country, the point of which reached the mouth of the East Fork of the Des Moines River. Setting out from here in the summer of 1835 Surveyor James Craig and his party ran the first line called for by the treaty of 1830: from the east or upper fork they proceeded over one hundred miles northwestward in the region bordering upon the West Fork of the Des Moines, passed "Lac D'Esprits (Spirit or Ghost Lake)" and the sources of the Little Sioux and the Floyd rivers, thence going southwestward along the Little Rock River, the Rock River, and down the Big Sioux or Calumet to the Missouri.

Thus did the lands of four tribes meet at one spot. That other tribes occasionally resorted to this region is evidenced by the report that sixteen Delaware Indians from the reservation near Fort Leavenworth in the autumn of 1841 made their way northward across the Pottawattamie reservation in western Iowa and somewhere in the northern part of Webster County encountered a large party of Sioux who surrounded and fired upon them. The Delawares put up a valiant fight but were killed to a man: only a Pottawattamie friend escaped and reached home badly wounded. The chiefs of the offended nation filed a heavy claim with the United States government for the loss of sixteen men, all the horses they had with them, riding saddles and pack saddles, guns, traps, blankets, clothing, and camp equipage. p550The spot where the murderous outrage was committed came to be known as "the Delaware battle-ground".134

The removal of the Sacs and Foxes from the Des Moines Valley in the autumn of 1845 and the early months of 1846 was followed by the government purchase of all the Pottawattamie lands in the summer of the same year. The Sioux bands, besides the Winnebagoes, were, therefore, the only tribes that could follow the chase in the region of the upper waters of the Des Moines. That they came into contact with lawless border whites as early as the summer months of 1846 may be gathered from a statement of grievances by the Yankton Sioux, whose village life was confined to the eastern Dakota country but whose hunts took them to the headwaters of the Des Moines River. They complained against American citizens residing upon the river because they furnished youthful Yankton braves with fire-water and then cheated them out of guns, horses, and buffalo robes.135 The Winnebagoes sold their rights in the Neutral Ground in October, 1846, but retained possession until the first months of the year 1848.136

While government surveyors were engaged in staking off the territory thus acquired from the Indian tribes in northern Iowa, certain bands of Sioux interfered with their operations and also subjected the pioneers in that region to repeated robberies and depredations. Orders were accordingly issued to a company of United States infantry in 1850 to erect Fort Clarke on the east bank of the Des Moines a p551short distance below the mouth of Lizard River. Stores, munitions, and supplies for the fort were unloaded from steamers at Keokuk and then hauled overland for a distance of nearly three hundred miles. The garrison stationed at Fort Dodge, as it came to be called in 1851, busied itself with the usual duties of a frontier post, but as the country settled up and the Sioux Indians became less troublesome, after selling their interests in the lands of the valley in 1851, the need of the establishment of Fort Ridgelyº on the Minnesota River farther north caused the evacuation and sale of the Fort Dodge buildings in June, 1853.137 Soon a flourishing city sprang up. The land of Iowa was at last clear, so far as the Indian title was concerned, and men could once more blaze the way for settlement and civilization into the northern and western portion of the State.


The Author's Notes:

98 House Executive Documents, 2nd Session, 24th Congress, No. 82, p2. For a scholarly account of the Sacs and Foxes in the year 1834 see the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XV, pp104‑155.

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99 House Executive Documents, 2nd Session, 23d Congress, Nos. 63, 64. Keokuk seems to have been altogether under the influence of the traders of the American Fur Company. See the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XV, pp126, 149.

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100 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XV, pp104, 111, 112, 113, 154.

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101 Kappler's Indian Affairs, Vol. II, p355; Senate Documents, 2nd Session, 25th Congress, No. 1, p536.

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102 Antoine Le Claire and George Davenport had accompanied the Sac and Fox deputation to the East. White men intimately acquainted with the Indians could be depended upon to be present whenever treaty negotiations were begun. See Wilkie's Davenport Past and Present, p162.

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103 Annals of Iowa, Vol. I, p97; Wilkie's Davenport Past and Present, p162.

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104 The History of Lee County (1879), pp365, 366, 367.

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105 Iowa Historical Record, Vol. II, p209.

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106 Senate Documents, 1st Session, 26th Congress, No. 1, pp491, 492.

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107 Annals of Iowa, Vol. III, pp531, 532; Fulton's The Red Men of Iowa, p264.

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108 The History of Lee County (1879), p369. W. G. and G. W. Ewing were trading on English Lake, on the Kankakee River in 1826‑1827. — Senate Documents, 2nd Session, 19th Congress, No. 58, p1.

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109 House Executive Documents, 3d Session, 27th Congress, No. 38, pp13, 15. A writer in the Annals of Iowa (First Series), Vol. XI, p482, is authority for the statement that the steamboat "Science" ascended the Des Moines to the Sac and Fox Agency in 1837.

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110 House Executive Documents, 3d Session, 27th Congress, No. 38, pp16, 18. Frémont also mentioned "Vessor's trading house".

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111 Parish's John Chambers, pp169, 170, 171.

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112 Senate Documents, 2nd Session, 27th Congress, No. 1, p349; Parish's John Chambers, pp172‑175.

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113 Senate Documents, 2nd Session, 27th Congress, No. 1, pp270, 271, 272, 274, 275.

In anticipation of the treaty Beach had reported the increased sale of whiskey among the Indians. Though advised and urged to pay no bills incurred in this way, the Sacs and Foxes were unwilling to offend their white whiskey-selling neighbors, and fearing also that their liquor supply might otherwise be cut off, they liquidated all debts "with a most scrupulous integrity." — Senate Documents, 2nd Session, 27th Congress, No. 1, p349.

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114 Wilkie's Davenport Past and Present, p163.

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115 Parish's John Chambers, pp176, 177. In House Executive Documents, 2nd Session, 27th Congress, No. 107, there is a resolution of the Territorial legislature, approved on January 18, 1842, which may well be set forth because it seems never to have found its way into the officially published Laws of Iowa.

"Preamble and joint resolution, requesting our Delegate to use his influence in procuring a change in the existing system of licensing traders to deal with the Indians, &c.

"Whereas the Sac and Fox tribes of Indians, living within the prescribed limits of the Territory of Iowa, are subject to many frauds and peculations under the existing system of licensing traders:

"And whereas, from the improvident habits of the Indians, they derive, it is believed, no benefit from their annuities, under the present rules and regulations of the Indian bureau, from the fact that their liabilities to the traders are always found to exceed, by large sums, the amount of their annuities from the General Government:

"And whereas the policy of the Government is often thwarted, in attempting to negotiate with the Indians for the extinguishment of their title to any portion of their country, by the extraordinary and transcendent influence which the traders are known to exercise over them:

"And whereas such a state of things is deeply to be deplored, and should be regarded as a great evil, especially when it is considered that the traders are enabled to dictate, in matters of such vital importance, to the American Government:

"And whereas we believe the most effectual remedy for this evil would be to abolish the present system entirely, and to establish in lieu thereof a sort of factor system — the factors to be Government officers, whose duties should be defined by law, and whose salaries should be sufficient to insure fidelity and competency in the discharge of their duties. By the adoption of this or a similar plan, the Indians would be liable to fewer impositions, and would be better and more readily supplied with subsistence stores, and the various articles of Indian goods which their necessities require. By a provision of this kind, nearly the whole of their annuities, before they are due, will have been paid in articles proper for their use and consumption, the factors' commercial intercourse with the Indians to be similar to that of a sutler at a military post, never, under any circumstances, allowing the Indians to incur a greater indebtedness than the amount of their annuities:

"And whereas, by the adoption of this plan, the overwhelming influence of the traders over the Indians would be destroyed, and the General Government left free to pursue its enlightened policy towards them: Therefore,

"Be it resolved by the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa, That the Hon. A. C. Dodge, our Delegate in Congress, be requested to use his influence to procure a change in the laws and regulations respecting the system of licensing traders with the Indians, in conformity to the views contained in the foregoing preamble.

"Resolved, That his excellency Governor Chambers be requested to forward one copy of the foregoing preamble and resolution to the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to our Delegate in Congress, and to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs."

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116 Parish's John Chambers, p178; Senate Documents, 3d Session, 27th Congress, No. 1, p422.

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117 Senate Documents, 3d Session, 27th Congress, No. 1, p426.

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118 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. I, pp399, 400.

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119 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. I, pp402, 403; Parish's John Chambers, p182.

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120 Parish's John Chambers, p182; Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. V, p463.

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121 Kappler's Indian Affairs, Vol. II, p407.

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122 Parish's John Chambers, p259; Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. I, p403.

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123 The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. X, p265; Wilkie's Davenport Past and Present, pp163, 164. George Davenport is said to have quit the Indian trade at this time to devote his time to improving property in Davenport and Rock Island. He lived comfortably in his island home until he was murdered by bandits on July 4, 1845.

Thayer's Note: Fuller accounts of Davenport's death, partly conflicting, are given in N. H. Parker, Iowa As It Is in 1856, p169 and I. B. Richman, Ioway to Iowa, pp309‑310. A historical sketch of his 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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124 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. I, pp403, 404.

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125 Senate Documents, 1st Session, 28th Congress, No. 1, pp287, 288. Substantially the same picture of conditions can be found in the report of two Friends or Quakers who visited the Sac and Fox Agency at the time of the treaty. — The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIII, pp258‑260.

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126 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. V, pp461‑464.

Governor Chambers recommended the following change in the system of licensed traders: "I have thought that if the system could even be so modified as to compel the licensed trader to furnish sworn copies of their invoices, and submit their goods to a comparison with them and to inspection, and their books and accounts to thorough examination, and compel them to render quarterly or semi-annual abstracts of their sales on the oaths of themselves and their clerks, and a statement of all money, skins, furs, etc., received from the Indians, it might by a rigid scrutiny be made to some extent a means of restraining their extortions and frauds; but to make such a scrutiny effectual, it would be necessary to employ agents who neither resided in the Indian country or were in habits of intercourse with the traders or the Indians."

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127 The History of Lee County (1879), p369.

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128 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. IV, pp171, 172.

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129 Senate Documents, 1st Session, 28th Congress, No. 1, pp374, 376, 385, and 2nd Session, 28th Congress, No. 1, p417.

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130 Senate Documents, 2nd Session, 28th Congress, No. 1, p421.

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131 Senate Documents, 1st Session, 29th Congress, No. 1, pp483, 484, 485.

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132 House Executive Documents, 2nd Session, 29th Congress, No. 4, pp297, 300; The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. X, p264.

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133 Kappler's Indian Affairs, Vol. II, pp251, 370.

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134 House Executive Documents, 3d Session, 27th Congress, No. 2, p429; The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XI, pp86, 87. For Craig's map see the Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. XI, p358.

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135 House Executive Documents, 2nd Session, 29th Congress, No. 4, p295. Henry Lott made a settlement just above the mouth of the Boone River in the spring of 1846 and was robbed by the Sioux before the end of the same year. — See Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. IX, p96.

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136 Kappler's Indian Affairs, Vol. II, pp419, 420.

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137 Senate Documents, 2nd Session, 31st Congress, No. 15, and 1st Session, 32d Congress, No. 14; The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XII, pp197‑199.


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