Dorothy G. Clark Papers 
Genealogist, Historian, Author, Artist



                                                    Mahaska County – Our Rich Heritage

                                                                       Historical Pamphlets

          Published by Mahaska County Historical Society – Edited by Historian, Dorothy G. Clark

                                                             March, 1961, Oskaloosa, Iowa



 Our Rich Indian Heritage:  Volume I, No. 1


The Ioways1


1676 – We first hear of the Ioways when the Frenchman, Father Louis Andre recorded the presence of seven or eight families of the “Aiaoua” Indians living among the Winnebago Indians in the vicinity of the Great Lakes.  Their village was large but poor, and their greatest wealth consisted of bison hides and red calumets.


1693 – However, by 1693, it appears that this group was on the move from the Great Lakes area and had started on a migration (to locations) that totaled some fifteen separate village sites, where they set up their tepees, and covered a circle of approximately 500 miles, (when) drawn from the mouth of the Iowa River where they finally settled.  Of this journey, William J. Peterson 2 says,


“Stalwart wanderers of the plain and woodland were the Ioways.  They fished in the waters of Lake Michigan, trapped game in the forest(s) along the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers, quarried red pipestone in the southwestern part of Minnesota, hunted buffalo beyond the Missouri, basked in the valley of the Platte, and tarried awhile on the Nishnabotna, the Nodaway, the Chariton, and the Grande.  They dwelt so long on the banks of the Iowa River that their name became forever associated with that stream.”


1700 -  The Ioways were settled in the Des Moines River Valley in the southern part of Iowa when the first explorers penetrated that section.  Their noted Chief Mau-haw-gaw, “the Wounding Arrow,” had led the migration westward as they crossed the Mississippi river and over the northern, western and southern Iowa country.  Now he located his village in the extreme northwest corner of Van Buren County, where the town of Iowaville once stood, and near the present town of Eldon.  Other villages were to be found in Davis and Wapello counties, but the name of their greatest Chief, Mahaska, has been given to our County in this Des Moines River Valley, which embraces a large portion of our state over which this once powerful tribe held dominion.


The Ioways were of Siouan stock (nomads and hunters), like that of the Winnebago, the Omaha, and the Ote.  Traditional and linguistic evidence however, proves that the Ioway sprang from the Winnebago stem, which appears to have been the mother-stock of other southwestern tribes.  They called themselves “Pa-hu-chas” or “Dusty-noses”, claiming that they once dwelt on a sandbar where the wind blew dust into their faces.  They were brave, intelligent, extremely courageous and good-hearted people.  They were worshipers of the Great Spirit, the creator and ruler of the universe.


The Ioways were originally divided into eight clans, or blood-kindred groups, each bearing a title or totem of the particular animal or bird from which they were supposed to have sprung.  The Black Bear, Eagle, Wolf and Elk formed one group, while the Buffalo, Beaver, Snake and Pigeon formed the other.  Each clan had a particular method of cutting and wearing their hair.  The social system was based strictly upon caste, and rank was dependent upon birth, quite secondarily upon achievement.


1757 – Through their contact with the French, they traveled into Canada visiting in Montreal where they “enchanted” the great French Governor and his ladies with their wild dances.  (Later, in 1845, the Ioways sent members of their tribe with George Catlin, the noted American artist, to eastern seaboard cities and even crossed the Atlantic with him to London and Paris).


1804 – In the journal left by Lewis & Clark of their expedition up the Missouri River in 1804, they refer to this tribe of Indians as the “Ayouways”.  In the years that followed, the orthography was changed to “Ioway”; later the “y” was dropped and we have the smooth-sounding and beautiful word, “Iowa” with the accent on the first syllable.


1821 – The soil of Iowa continued in the occupancy of a few tribes, who lived in villages along the banks of the rivers, and often fell afoul of one another as they roamed over the prairies in hunting expeditions.  There were about 6000 Sac & Fox, and about 1000 Ioways in the eastern and central Iowa (at this time).


In May, the hostility between the Sac & Fox and the Ioways culminated in a battle near Iowaville, the result of which was the transfer of power of that region from the Ioways to the Sac & Fox.  A skulking band of Sacs, under Pash-a-pa-ho and Black Hawk, for some real or imagined wrong, surprised and nearly exterminated this Ioway village when their braves, returning from a successful hunt, were two miles distant celebrating with a horse race.  They were caught without arms.  Many of the Ioway warriors were slain, their village was burned, and their families murdered.  Mahaska lived on the Des Moines River about 100 miles from its mouth at this time.


1824 – Although reduced in power, the rights of the Ioway Indians to part-ownership in the land that is now Iowa, was recognized by the United State Government.  At a Grand Council in 1825 at Prairie du Chien, definite boundaries were established between the Sak & Fox and the IowaysMahaska, then Chief of the Ioways, whose bands had spread their canoes from river to river over the whole region from the Great Lakes to the Missouri, pled for unity among the Indians stating:  “We are all one people. I claim no land in particular.”


Upon admission into the Union, (August 10, 1821), the State of Missouri desired the removal of the Sac and Fox and Ioway tribes from the land they claimed.  (So in August, 1824) a deputation of the Chiefs and head men of those tribes was taken to Washington, DC – among them was Chief Mahaska – and treaties were made with them for the sale of those lands to the United States.


After his return from Washington, Chief Mahaska encouraged the Ioways to settle down to a peaceful cultivation of the soil.  The Ioways were known to the pioneers as good Indians, for they preferred peace with the white settlers and invaders of their hunting grounds rather than war.  Chief Mahaska was always the friend of the Americans and always rejoiced in the reflection that he never had shed American blood.


1838 – On October 19, 1838, four years after the death of Chief Mahaska, his son, Mahaska II (Frank White Cloud), was the first to sign a treaty for the Ioways by which they gave up their possession of the territory in what is now Iowa.  They ceded their interest in Iowa to the United States for $157,000, which was to be kept in a Trust Fund: the interest of which, at 5%, was to be paid annually to the tribe as long as it existed.


The remnant of the Ioways accepted land west of the Missouri River with the Sac & Fox, their former conquerors.  They soon outnumbered the tribes that had subdued them, and became in some degree civilized.


1844 – On February 5, 1844, by an Act of the Legislature of the Territory of Iowa, provisions were made for the organization of the county of Mahaska, so named after the most noted Chief of the Indian nation called the Ioways.


1862-65 – During the Civil War, the Ioways were loyal to the Union and many of them enlisted in the National Army, making good soldiers.


1891- In October, 1891, the Ioways finally surrendered their tribal organization and accepted lands in severalty.





Materials compiled from books and files of Mahaska County Historical Society by:

Dorothy G. Clark (Mrs. Stillman T.), Historian (1961)


1 A current authoritative source for information on the Ioway is:

Blaine, Martha Royce. The Ioway Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 1995.

Additional information on the Ioway nation can be found on the website:


2 William J. Petersen, (1901-1989) Superintendent, Iowa State Historical Society, Iowa City, Iowa, wrote numerous articles on the Ioway in the SHSI-Iowa City journal publications, The Palimpsest/Iowa Heritage Illustrated  and The Annals of Iowa.

   ~ Some of the William J. Petersen titles can be found by searching “Infohawk”, the University of Iowa Libraries’ online public access catalogue:                                                                         

However, after some inquiry to the U. Iowa Library Services, it is clear all his titles are not there.


  ~ Some of the Petersen papers are currently housed at:  University of Dubuque Library, Special Collections and Subject Bibliographies:                                                                                        , but the Collection appears to be incomplete.



(Esther Clark Olin, September, 2007)



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