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

                                                           Spring, 1964, Oskaloosa, Iowa


Our Rich Indian Heritage:  Volume IV, No. 1



A TRUE PORTRAIT OF CHIEF MAHASKA I – Chief of the Iowa Indian Nation (1784-1834)


With the completion of the Dwight Kirsch Mural in the lobby of the Mahaska State Bank 1 in Oskaloosa, Iowa many persons in Mahaska County have become aware of the fact that we now have, for the first time in our county history, a real life-size replica of the true Chief Mahaska after whom our county was named.


The bronze Indian statue, in our city park, which was presented to our city and county in 1909 by James Depew Edmundson (son of the first sheriff, William Edmundson), is so closely associated with the name of Chief Mahaska that many have come to think of it as the true portrait of him.  This is not true.


Sherry Edmundson Fry, a young American sculptor from Creston, Iowa, studying in Paris won international honors in Paris and Rome for this (1906) design of an American Indian.  Mr. James D. Edmundson, traveling in France, saw his work and ordered a bronze copy made of it which he had sent to the city of Oskaloosa.  In the dedication ceremonies this rare bronze statue was called “Chief Mahaska,” memorializing this most noted chief of the Ioway nation.2


On the other hand, it should be noted that Dwight Kirsch has taken a lithograph print of an original oil painting of Chief Mahaska I by (Charles Bird) King, and has used this true portrait in his mural.  The original oil painting of Chief Mahaska was made in 1824 when he was visiting in Washington, D.C.  The prints were made in 1838 on stone lithographs, similar to the Currier & Ives prints, and are all hand colored. 


William O. McMains of Oskaloosa, Iowa owns prints of:  ~ Chief Mahaska I, Chief Mahaska II, and Chief Kish-ke-kosh, who was Chief of the only Indian village in our county.3  Mr. Kirsch expressed his appreciation for the use of this very well-preserved print; the vivid colorings in Chief Mahaska’s portrait are, he said, outstanding.


At the Open Showing of the Mural, Sunday, May 3, 1964, Mr. Kirsch pointed out that he had included many Indian symbols in his mural to blend in the Indian heritage of our county story.  Of special interest were the wampum belt depicting the friendship of William Penn with the Indians, and of the buffalo, which Col. Stephen Watts Kearny and Lieut. Albert Lea of the U.S. Dragoons recorded seeing in the “Narrows” (the present site of Oskaloosa) in the year 1835.


Perhaps the most interesting symbols to be discovered in the mural however, are the floating white clouds and a flying pigeon hovering over the silo in the East section of the painting.  Since the time of Chief Mahaska I, the family name of all Ioway Indian Chiefs has been WHITE CLOUD – Mr. Kirsch has used the symbol of floating white clouds.  Also, the name Rantchewaime, Chief Mahaska’s favorite wife, means “female flying pigeon.” And he has included a graceful, flying pigeon under the white clouds bringing a richer interpretation to us in his fine mural.


Mr. Dwight Kirsch is one of the outstanding artists in the Midwest today.  His work has been widely exhibited in shows throughout the country.  His canvases are hung in over 30 permanent collections.  He was Director of the Des Moines Art Center from 1950-1958.  At present, he is artist-in-residence at Iowa State University in Ames. Since the choice of the content of the mural was made by Mr. Kirsch, citizens of Mahaska county are indebted to him for depicting Chief Mahaska as a man.




1  ~ For mural reference in the Dwight Kirsch biography, See:  Chapter 23, pp. 439-445.

   ~ Mahaska State Bank is now MidWestOne Bank, located in the same building, 124 South First     

Street, Oskaloosa.


2     See: “A Century of Marked and Dedicated Memorials in Mahaska County”   End-notes Numbers 8 – 12, for additional information on James DePew Edmundson , Sherry Edmundson Fry and the Chief Mahaska statue.     


3    The town of Oskaloosa is located on a ridge on the “Narrows” between the Des Moines River

and the South branch of the Skunk River.


~ Chief Kish-ke-Kosh, a Fox Warrior Chieftain under Chief Keokuk, left his village on the

banks of the South Skunk River in accordance with the ‘New Purchase’ agreement of 1842

whereby he was to vacate his land by May 1, 1843, and cross the Missouri River into Kansas by     



~  Chief Mahaska I, the Ioway Chief murdered by two braves from his own tribe, left his son,

Mahaska II (Frank White Cloud), to sign a treaty on October 19, 1838, four years after his death,    

by which the Ioway gave up possession of their territory in what is now Iowa. 


~ The last encampment of remnants of the Ioway was on the banks of the Des Moines River near Eddyville, on the Reisman farm.  An oil painting of that family farm painted by Ila Reisman, ca. 1960s, is located at the Nelson Pioneer Farm Museum in the Ioway Indian/Chief Mahaska Exhibit.


 (Esther Clark Olin, September, 2007)


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