IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Dorothy G. Clark Papers
Genealogist, Historian, Author, Artist
Mahaska County – Our Rich Heritage
Published by Mahaska County Historical Society – Edited by Historian, Dorothy G. Clark
March, 1961, Oskaloosa, Iowa
Our Rich Indian Heritage: Volume I, No. 2
CHIEF MAHASKA of the IOWAYS 1 ~
Chief Mau-haw-gaw, the Wounding Arrow, who led the Ioways out of the land of the Great Lakes into the land of the Des Moines River Valley, did not long survive his entrance into Iowa country. Shortly after establishing his village on the Iowa River he was visited by a band of Sioux. A peace pipe was passed around and the Ioway Chief was invited to attend a dog-feast made in honor of the Great Spirit. Mau-haw-gaw accepted the invitation to friendship from the Sioux in good faith, but in the course of the ceremony he was set upon by his perfidious hosts and slain – not, however, before he had succeeded in killing one man and two women.
The indignation of the Ioways at this outrage was expressed in immediate action. A war party was raised. Mahaska, (I) or White Cloud, son of Mau-haw-gaw, by virtue of heredity became the Chief of this party. However, being young and never having distinguished himself in battle, he refused to command the expedition, choosing rather to take the part of a common warrior rather than as a leader. The council of the tribe yielded and so Mahaska went into the assault against the Sioux to show his bravery and his right to rule.
The Ioway’s surprised attack was a decisive victory, ten scalps were taken, and Mahaska himself brought home the scalp of the Chief in whose lodge his father was murdered. There was no question then about Mahaska and his ability as a warrior and he assumed complete and active command of his tribe. In eighteen battles he led his warriors and never was defeated. Most of the forays were against their inveterate foes - the Sioux and Osages, probably because they had something to do with his father’s death, but the time came when Mahaska was through with war – he prided himself that at no time had he made war against the white man.
Among the Ioways, a custom was followed that when a husband or a bother fell in battle, other braves upon their return from battle would adopt their wives or sisters. Upon his return from a campaign, Mahaska found four sisters who had lost their protection in this way, so he married all of them. The youngest of these, Rantchewaime or Female Flying Pigeon, became the mother of Mahaska, the Younger (II). Tradition says she was a woman of great beauty, of exemplary life, gentle, chaste and devoted to her husband, who used to say of her and her generosity, “Her hand was closed to those not in need, but like a strainer full of holes to the needy.” She had a remarkable influence over her tribe.
In 1824, when Chief Mahaska accompanied the select party of warriors and chiefs (from the Ioway, Sac, and Fox, tribes) to Washington, D.C. to have an interview with President Monroe, they traveled by the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Wheeling, West Virginia, and then by stage to Washington. There was a “talk” with President Monroe, and Mahaska was presented with a medal, and a Treaty was concluded between the United States and the Ioway tribe. The Treaty granted certain concessions of Ioway land to the United States for ‘satisfactory consideration.’ Provision was made for supplies of blankets, farming utensils, and cattle, and assistance in taking up agriculture. The conditions also stipulated that an annual payment of $500.00 should be made to the Iowa tribe for ten years.
Mahaska’s favorite wife, Rantchewaime had accompanied her husband to Washington where her beauty excited the admiration of all the palefaces. A great artist by the name of (Charles Bird) King painted her portrait and that of Mahaska, so we today know something of the form and features of these Ioways. Mahaska was six feet two inches in height, possessed uncommon strength and activity, and was a man of perfect symmetry and unusually handsome.
He returned to his home from the East as a man of peace; what he had seen made a deep impression upon his mind. He took the advice of the ‘Great White Father’, the president, and built himself a double log house, lived in greater comfort, and began in earnest to cultivate the land.
Rantchewaime returned to her people to instruct the younger women of her tribe with new views of life and tried to impress upon them the useful lessons from her observations of activities among civilized people. A few years later, the Ioway villages were plunged into sorrow; Rantchewaime had been thrown from her horse and killed, leaving Mahaska and her small son deep in grief.
When Mahaska was about 50 years old, members of his tribe were aroused to fury over the killing of one of their braves by a party of Omahas. They began to dance the war dance to pursue the Omahas and make war upon them. Mahaska refused to lead them, for he had promised the ‘White Father’ in Washington that he would keep peace among his tribes. He told the warriors, “If you will tell the ‘Great White Father,’ he will punish the Omahas for you.” But the braves would not listen to him and went to war, bringing back scalps of six Omahas. A great feast and scalp-dance was held in celebration, but Mahaska would not join them.
Word of the Ioway’s war on the Omahas reached General William Clark at St. Louis, and he sent General Hughes to arrest the Ioway braves. Chief Mahaska surrendered the young men to the military authority and they were taken by the officer and Mahaska to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and imprisoned there. One day, one of the prisoners called Mahaska to his window. Gripping the bars as though to pull them out by force, his eyes blazing with hatred, he vowed “Father, if I ever get out of this place alive, I will kill you.” They felt the disgrace of their arrest keenly and determined to bring revenge upon Mahaska for aiding the United States in apprehending them.
In 1834, two of the number, escaping from prison and learning that Mahaska was camping on the Nodaway river (in Cass County) some 60 miles from his home, stealthily approached his camp at midnight and killed him in his tepee. One of his murderers sought refuge among the Otes. But when they learned of his cowardly deed, then executed him. The other assassin was killed by his own tribe.
A delegation of Chief Mahaska’s loyal followers carried their murdered Chieftain to the old haunts of the tribe on the Des Moines River about one mile east of the mouth of the Raccoon River (now within the city limits of Des Moines) 2 and there he was laid to rest by the river which he loved, with honors becoming a brave warrior and a true friend of his tribe, the Ioways.
1 A primary source for this information was: History of Mahaska County, Iowa Des Moines: Union Historical Company, 1878 See: http://www.rootsweb.com/~iabiog/mahaska/hm1878/hm1878-m.htm
2 Manoah Hedge in his Past and Present of Mahaska County, Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1906, has this to say about the burial place of Mahaska: “In July, 1880, a gravel pit gang in the employ of the Chicago, Burlington &Quincy Railroad was digging in one of the gravel pits on the Des Moines River bottom and unearthed an occasional human skeleton from its bed. Among them was one which attracted special attention because of the number of trinkets found deposited with it. A profuse use of war paint had preserved a fragment of the scalp on the skull and also part of the skin on one hand.
Among the relics were found a medal bearing the name and inscription of President Monroe on one side and on the other was stamped the bust of the distinguished author of the Monroe Doctrine. T.J. Brunk had charge of the workmen, and those valued treasures of the Iowa Chieftain were placed in his hands. L.R. Rosebrook, of Oskaloosa, states that he examined the medal and found it as above described.”
(The whereabouts of this historic medal are not known at this time but an earnest effort should be made to secure it for the Mahaska County Historical Society).
UPDATE, 9/07: Curator Pam Howard reports that the Monroe Medal is now on display in a case containing local Ioway Indian artifacts. The circumstances surrounding its retrieval and donation to the Museum are currently under investigation.
(Esther Clark Olin, September, 2007)
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