Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

Chapter 6
Past & Present of Allamakee County, 1913
The Old Mission

The Old Mission - photo reprinted in the Allamakee Journal, 1988
Note: The Old Mission - photo reprinted in the Allamakee Journal, 1988, not in the book.

The Old Mission.

The Winnebago Indian mission established by the United States government in 1833, in the east part of section 9, township 96, range 3, in Fairview township, about a mile and a half east of the village of Ion, in the Yellow River valley, became the first permanent settlement within the boundaries of what is now Allamakee county.

This mission has possessed a greater historic interest than any other spot in northeastern Iowa, north of Dubuque, but the circumstances leading to its establishment have not been familiar to the general public. In the "Annals of Iowa" for January, 1899, appears a "Chapter of Indian History," by Ida M. Street, from which some of the facts are gleaned which are used in the following sketch.

Joseph M. Street of Kentucky, who had been made agent of the Winnebagoes at Prairie du Chien in 1828, had been for three years revolving in his mind some plans to improve the condition of the Indians at his agency. His efforts to carry out these plans brought him into more or less open conflict with the fur traders and those Indian agents and commissioners who were in sympathy with the American Fur Company and its methods. Their object was to keep the Indians savage hunters, who could be easily gulled. Their chief instruments in accomplishing this were "fire-water" and the credit system. They took care that each Indian should run up a bill at their stores almost equal to his annuity, so that then the yearly payments were made to the Indians by the government most of the money went directly into the hands of the traders, as well as the skins brought in by the Indians from their winter hunts.

Mr. Street began, in a quiet way to take steps for the carrying out of his ideas. He feared that owing to the presence of the traders, and the miners in the lead region, he could not settle and civilize the Winnebagoes on the east side of the Mississippi. Moreover, the Sioux and the Sacs and Foxes, were such bitter enemies that it was hard to keep peace between them on the west side of the river. So he suggested that the government buy a strip of land forty miles wide extending from the Mississippi westerly to the Des Moines, half from the Sioux and half from the Sacs and Foxes, to he held as a neutral ground. This was accomplished by the treaty of July 15, 1830. His plan was ultimately to settle a part of the Winnebagoes upon this strip. The Winnebagoes were not as warlike a tribe as either of the others, and were on friendly terms with both, which made them suitable to occupy the neutral ground.

General Street succeeded in getting his further plans incorporated in the treaty concluded at Fort Armstong (Rock Island, Illinois). September 15, 1832, between Major Gen. Winfield Scott and Hon. John Reynolds, governer of Illinois, and the Winnebago nation. In this treaty the Winnebagoes ceded all their land lying east of the Mississippi (south of the Wisconsin), and in part consideration therefor they were granted that portion of Iowa known as the Neutral Ground, which had been purchased of the Sacs and Foxes, and the Sioux, by the treaty of July 15, 1830. This exchange was to take place on or before the 1st day of June, 1833. In addition to the Neutral Ground the United States was to pay the Winnebagoes $10,000 annually for a period of twenty-seven years, partly at Prairie du Chien and partly at Fort Winnebago. The government further agreed to "erect suitable buildings, with a garden, and a field attached, somewhere near Fort Crawford, or Prairie du Chien, and establish and maintain therein for the term of twenty-seven years a school for the education, including clothing, board and lodging, of such Winnebago children as may be voluntarily sent to it; said children to be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, gardening, agriculture, carding, spinning, weaving, and sewing, and such other branches of useful knowledge as the president of the United States may prescribe." The annual cost of the school was not to exceed $3,000. Six agriculturists, twelve yoke of oxen, ploughs and other agricultural implements to be supplied by the government; and the services and attendance of a physician at Prairie du Chien. It was further agreed to remove and maintain in the Neutral Ground the black-smith shop heretofore allowed to the Winnebagoes on the Rock river.

The treaty of 1832 was not the first one in which a school was provided for, but it was the first from which the Winnebagoes derived any benefit. However, this forerunner of the present day "vocational education" proved a failure.

There seems to have been an attempt, in carrying out the provisions of the treaty, to establish the school on the east side of the river; but the protests of Indian Agent Street that is should be removed as far as practicable from the traders and their "fire-water" prevailed with the departments, and on April 12, 1833, he was authorized to select a location on the west side of the Mississippi, erect the buildings, and employ two teachers, a male and a female, at not to exceed $500 for the former and $300 for the latter, per annum. His proposition however to erect a substantial stone building was at first emphatically overruled by the war department at Washington, the instructions in August being that "plain, comfotable log buildings such as can be erected at a small expense, not exceeding one or two in number at present, are all that the department can sanction."

Having received authority to go on with the school, General Street had selected a place on Yellow river (in what is now Allamakee county), and let the contract for a stone building to be completed the following fall, 1833; but through the influence of the traders with General Cass (secretary of war appointed by President Jackson in 1831), the work was stopped. When the contract was let General Street obtained Rev. David Lowrey's consent to come on and take charge of the school; and then taking a surveyor, and a guard of soldiers from Col. Zachary Taylor (then in command at Fort Crawford, and later General Taylor and President of the United States), he proceeded to run the south line of the "Neutral Ground." It was while he was gone on this trip that the work on the school was stopped. When he returned, Mr. Lowrey had made his arrangements to come, but because of the delay had to remain in Prairie du Chien until the spring of 1834. By that time General Street had obtained permission to go on with the stone building and Mr. Lowrey occupied temporary quarters at Yellow River until it was completed the following fall. In the spring of 1835 he bought oxen, cows and horses, in Sangamon county, Illinois, and they were driven up by the men who were to open the farm in connection with the school and were in charge of Rev. John Berry.

While the provisions of the treaty were to have been carried out by June 1, 1833, it will be seen that the removal of the Winnebagoes to the west of the Mississippi was long delayed, and obstructed largely by the traders, aided by the natural indisposition of the Indians to make the change. The Fur Company had a double motive in preventing the removal to the Neutral Ground: First, they did not wish to let the Winnebagoes out of their sight and influence; and they did not wish the Sioux driven from their hunting groungs. And in fact it seems there were comparatively few of the Winnebagoes ever located in this portion of the Neutral Ground, and the attendance at the school was small. We can only guess how far it fell short of General Street's ideal. His object in insisting on a stone building was perhaps to assure the Indians of the permanency of the school and of the reservation, but very few years elapsed before the school was removed further west.

In a report written in January, 1838, General Steet says: "In the spring of 1834 I let out the erection of the buildings, and before I could do more was ordered to the Sac and Fox Indians, and gave up the business of the Winnebagoes to the commanding officer of Fort Crawford. When the buildings were ready the school was commenced, but nothing more was done with the farm. Late in 1834 I was ordered back to Prairie du Chien too late for active operations on a new farm, and some hesitation was expressed by the commissioner of Indian affairs as to the place where he could suffer the farming operations to commence. However, at the beginning of 1835 I ventured to employ hands and set them to work near the school, under the superintendence of the Rev. David Lowrey, but -- had scarcely time to place the oxen and horses upon the farm before I was again ordered to the Sacs and Foxes, and -- the commanding officer at Fort Crawford who unwillingly took charge (Col. Zachary Taylor) did not feel at liberty to enlarge the operations which I had only commenced."

He adds that Colonel Taylor felt averse to the measure, believing it would not succeed; but that during a temporary command of Captain Jowitt, in the winter of 1836-7, Colonel Taylor having gonve to Jefferson BArracks, he determined to carry out the provisions of the treaty of 1832 as to the school and farm. Requisions were made, but the hands and oxen did not arrive until late in the spring. So the Indians lost the use and benefit of oxen and hands from the spring of 1833 to that of 1837. As to the school he says: "Through opposition from the traders, and natural habits of idleness with Indians, and a distaste for any restraint on the subject of literary improvement, the advances have been slow. In the early commencement of the school the Indians did not send children enough to require the whold expenditure of the school fund. Last spring (1837) on coming again to this agency, I changed the plan of reception and exerted myself in conjunction with the principal teacher, Mr. Lowrey, to put the school into full operation, and now Mr. Lowrey assures me that he can get pupils to any amount he may inform the grown up Indians can be taken."

In 1837 Mr. Street was permanently transferred to the Sac and Fox agency, so his connection with our Old Mission ceased. He had been opposed by General Cass, secretary of war, who would have removed him but for the friendship of President Jackson, who is reported to have said, "I know General Steet is a Whig, but he is an honest man, and I shall keep him in office while I am president." He died near Ottumwa, Iowa, May 5, 1840.

While the name of Father Lowrey has long been familiar as the principal teacher at this mission school, that of the female assistant provided for in the instructions of General Street has been left in obscurity. In the Wisconsin Historical Collections of 1892, however, is an account of an interview (in 1887) with Moses Paquette, a half-breed, in which he says: "I was born March 4, 1828, at the Portage, in Wisconsin. -- Two years after my father's death, when I was ten years old, my sister and I were sent by our guardian, H.L. Dousman, for education in English, to the Presbyterian Indian Mission on the Yellow river, in Iowa. Rev. David Lowrey was the superintendent. His assistants were two young ladies, Minerva and Lucy Brunson, sisters, who did the teaching, while Mr. Lowrey preached to us and superintended the agency. Minerva, in after years, married one Thomas Linton, who had in early days been employed at the old agency house at the Portage. There were about forty children at the mission, all of us more or less tinctured with Winnebago blood. The English language was alone used, the grade of instruction being about the same as the average rural district school. Of course the religious teaching was wholly of the Presbyterian cast, and the children were very good Presbyterians so long as they remained at the mission; but most of them relapsed into their ancient heathenism as soon as removed from Mr. Lowrey's care."

Some of Paquette's recollections relate to noted Winnebagoes, for instance: "It is related by the descendants of the Winnebago Black Hawk of that day the One-Eyed Decorah (Big Canoe) had a village at the mouth of Black river. Out hunting one day he came across a Sac fugitive and notified his companions; they had instructions if found to bring him to Prairie du Chien. Winnebago Black Hawk declined to do so, so One-Eyed Decorah went and found the Sac leader and took him to Prairie du Chien. I knew One-Eyed Decorah well when I was a boy at school on the Turkey river. He was an old man then, quite stout, hale, with heavy features, and hair somewhat gray."

The Old Mission was located on the north side of the Yellow river. The building stood facing the south, built almost into the south slope of a high bluff in the rear. There was also a bluff on the east ans west sides, the location being an amphitheater in the shape of a horse shoe, almost completely sheltered from winter winds and storms. In size it was about 40 by 60 feet with dressed stone walls, excellent building stone being quarried from the bluff side, near the spring, a few rods northeast of the house. It was two stories and a roomy, high attic. It included six rooms in the lower story, the school room being on the second floor. In the center of the building there extended from the cellar up a strongly built chimney about ten feet square with a large, open fireplace for each of the lower four rooms and all others connecting with it, each fireplace being provided with immense iron andirons for holding the large "blacklog." This chimney was made a "witness tree" when the government survey was made in 1848; and our county surveyor, H.B. Miner, has several times climbed to its top when surveying in that locality.

The water from a large spring close by in the bluff in the rear, and of sufficient height, was taken directly into an upper story by wooden pipes, and furnished all the water needed. Connected with the mission were about two hundred acres of magnificent farm land cultivated by and for the mission.

Judge Murdock wrote in 1878: "The contract to build the Old Mission and the other buildings was let to Samuel Gilbert, father of General Gilbert who distinguished himself in the late was; and he employed John Linton to superintend the word."

John LInton, born in Kentucky, was employed by Rev. Lowrey in 1837 as general manager for nearly five years. The government having discontinued the mission, sold this land in 1842 to John Linton and his brother, Thomas C. Linton, one of the county commissioners of Clayton county which included that location. John Linton sold his interest to Thomas C. Linton and afterward graduated from a St. Louis medical college, and for many years practices his profession at Garnavillo, Clayton county, where he died in 1878. Thomas C. Linton became the organizing sheriff of Allamakee county, as narrated in another chapter, and afterwards went to Oregon, where he died.

Colonel Thomas was placed in charge of the Mission farm, when it was opened in 1837, and was in 1842 transferred to the Fort Atkinson farm.

Dr. F. Andros, the pioneer physician of this corner of the state was located at the mission for a time, about the year 1835.

In 1840 the Old Mission was made an appointment by the Methodists, and was filled at stated times by the Rev. Sidney Wood, whose circuit was Clayton county; and in 1841 quartery meeting was held here, Rev. Alfred Brunson coming over from Prairie du Chien to preside. These were the first Methodist appointments ever made in Allamakee county.

The first Baptist church in Allamakee county was organized by Elder Miles, in January, 1841, at the Old Mission on Yellow River, consisting of eleven members. It is safe to presume that Elder Miles, who came to the Mission from Indiana, was the first Baptist minister to preach in the northeastern part of Iowa. He and some of the members soon after removed to Wisconsin, and this pioneer church lost its vitality. Two of its constituent members were John and Hiram Francis, the former removing to Clayton county. Hiram Francis and family came to the Misson in the employ of the government, in 1839, from Prairie du Chien, where he had lived since 1836, and his duties were to issue the daily rations to the Indians, which he did until the Mission was abandoned in 1842. He remained a consistent member of the Baptist church, transferring to the Rossville church, and died at the residence of his son-in-law, Samuel Denning, near Rossville, in 1890, aged eighty-three years. He was buried at Council Hill, on the edge of Clayton county.

In 1841 there lived at the Mission Mr. and Mrs. Rynerson, and there was born unto them a son, and this was thought to be the first white child born in the county.

David Lowrey, D.D., was born in Logan county, Kentucky, January 20, 1796. His parents were worthy members of the presbyterian church, but, like many other good people, were entrusted with little of this world's treasury. The widowed mother died when he was only a little over two years old, leaving him a penniless and friendless orphan. He was bound out to a family that, in course of time became very reckless and intemperate; but at t Cumberland Presbyterian camp meeting, held near his residence, he solemnly consecreated his heart and his life to God. This event happened when he was eighteen years of age. Shortly after his conversion he bacame a candidtate for the ministry, under the care of Logan Presbytery, and his proficiency and usefullness were so great that he was soon licensed and ordained to the work of the ministry. On the 16th of December, 1830, he bagan the publication in Princeton, Kentucky, of the "Religious and Literay Intelligencer." It was a weekly journal, ably edited, and was the first paper published under the auspices of that church. To him, therefore, belongs the honor of being the father of Cumberland Presbyterian journalism. Some years afterward he was editor of the "Cumberland Presbyterian," then published in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to his editorial duties he had the pastorate of the Cumberland Presbyterian church in Nashville, which was then in its infancy; and for his year's labor he received, as compensation, the astonishing sum of one wagon load of corn in the shuck!

In the year 1833, under the administration of his friend, President Jackson, he received the appointment of teacher to the Winnebago Indians. He arrived at Prairie du Chien with his family in the month of November, of the above year. Shortly after his arrival he organized a "Military church," and here was spread the first communion table in the northwest. He was an able and original preacher, and in many respects a remarkable man, loved and admired by all. A traveler visiting Prairie du Chien in 1837, Wm. R. Smith, says in his letters from Wisconsin, published at Philadelphia in 1838: "I was much pleased and instructed in attending divine service on the Sabbath day, in the courthouse, listening to an excellent discourse by the Rev. D. Lowrey, who is stationed in this neighborhood, teacher of a Winnebago school. He is a gentleman of stong mind and original conception, eloquent and persuasive. The numerous congregaton, their perfect decorum, and the presence of so many well dressed ladies and gentlemen, formed a striking contrast with the rude and half-naked Indians within a stone's throw."

When the Yellow River Mission was discontinued Rev. Lowrey was transferred to the Fort Atkinson charge (as was also Farmer Thomas), and remained with the Winnebagoes the greater part of the time, until about 1863, when the tribe was moved west of the Missouri river. At the lcose of the late Civil war he removed from St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he was then living, to Clayton county, Iowa, near the scene of his early labors with the Indians. Some years prior to his death he removed to Pierce City, Missouri, where he died in January, 1877, leaving an aged wife. He had two sons, both of whom he outlived.

The creation of the Yellow river election precinct by the Clayton county commissioners in April, 1844, with the voting place at the house of Thomas C. Linton, establishes the fact that the Old Mission was not located within the neutral grounds, but a short distance south of the line, in Clayton county (or prior to 1837; Dubuque co), a part of the Black Hawk purchase of 1832. It is presumed that the first election ever held in what is now Allamakee county was at this voting place in April, 1845, on the question of the adoption or rejection of the first submitted state constitution; although, as narrated in a previous chapter, the Old Mission was included in an election precinct established in October, 1838, with voting place at the house of Jesse Dandly, no election is known to have occurred during the year that the precinct continued.

The first, or organizing election, in this county, was held at the Mission in April, 1849; and this place was virtually, although not nominally, the county seat most of the officersliving there or near there, until Columbus became the first actual county seat in 1851. As a landmark in the history of Allamakee county the Old Mission house itself shoud have been sacredly preserved, but it was nobody's business to do so; and a portion of the walls having fallen a good many years ago, it has since disappeared, havin furnished excellent material for the construction of other buildings. The proterty change dhands many times, and in 1912 passed into the possession of the present owners, Stephen and Michael Walsh.

~transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall

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