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By Thomas Teakle
Published at Iowa City, Iowa in 1918
By The State Historical Society of Iowa
(contributed to Iowa History Project by Kris Meyer, Dickinson CC)
Chapter III
While failing to protect the Indians against the traders, the government also failed to protect the frontier in an adequate manner against the vengeance of the Indians who had a desire to even matters. Apparently the government failed to realize that as the frontier expanded to the west and northwest in Iowa there was also a growing need for protection. Many unfortunate incidents had occurred along the border before a government surveyor by the name of Marsh, from Dubuque, was attacked near the Des Moines River in 1849."Upon the filing of Marsh's complaint, soldiers, dispatched from Fort Snelling in Minnesota, established Fort Clarke (later renamed Fort Dodge) on August 23, 1850." The inadequate garrison of this post, numbering two officers and sixty-six men, was at this time practically the only defense on the northwestern Iowa frontier. Following the establishment of this fort the predatory Sioux bands generally retired westward ten or twenty miles.

By 1851 the last remaining Sioux lands within the limits of Iowa had been ceded and opened to settlement. Trouble for a time seemed at an end. Until that time the only protection against the Indians was the "Watchfulness, courage and trusty arms" of the settlers themselves, with the nearest troops probably one hundred fifty miles away at Fort Randall on the Missouri and Fort Snelling in Minnesota near the mouth of the Minnesota River.

Occasional rumors of Sioux activity still came from the outlying settlements. The most definite of these came from the valley of the Boyer more than fifty miles to the southwest of Fort Dodge. Here a family was attacked and some of its members carried away as prisoners. This was in October, 1852. A detachment was sent from Fort Dodge which took and held as hostages the Indian leaders, Inkpaduta and Umpashota. Upon the return of the prisoners, the Indians were liberated. Other Indian incursions reported from the north usually dissipated into mere rumors."

The apparent quietness of the Indians in this section induced General Clarke, commanding the Sixth Military Division, to direct the abandonment of Fort Dodge. This order, which was issued on March 30, 1853, directed the removal of the garrison to Fort Ridgely. With the abandonment of the post by Major Woods, there were left at Fort Dodge only Major Williams, his son James B. Williams, and two discharged soldiers. A more ill-advised order could scarcely have been issued; for following the actual abandonment of the post on June 2, 1853, the Indians "inaugurated a reign of terror among the settlers as far east as the Cedar river."

Manv settlers in alarm began the abandonment of their homes; but many others, having staked all in the development of their claims, decided to remain and appeal to both the State and National governments for protection. Appeal to the latter availed nothing. The Indian authorities at Washington were entirely out of touch with the situation: they were firm in the belief that the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota had definitely settled the question of Indian occupation in this section and that the Indians had withdrawn or had ceased being troublesome.

Parties of Indians frequently returned to their former hunting grounds, and nearly as frequently committed depredations more or less terrorizing to the widely scattered settlers along the Des Moines. Weary of making unheeded appeals to National authorities, while the Indian depredations became more alarming, the settlers appealed to the State officials. Major William Williams, who had accompanied the troops at the time of the founding of Fort Dodge and who had remained after its abandonment, was authorized by Governor Hempstead to organize a force, if necessary, to protect the frontier." Little, however, could be done in the way of organizing an adequate force on account of the widely scattered character of the settlements.

In a letter to Governor Grimes in 1855 Major Williams again expressed his great anxiety for the safety of the frontier as the Indians had become increasingly bolder. His former commission was renewed and he was granted full power to act upon any sign of hostility. Not only did Governor Grimes receive urgent letters from Major Williams, but from others as well: he was beset with petitions for protection.

The Governor appears to have been wholly at a loss as to what course to pursue, since he believed he had no power to act. He appealed, therefore, to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington‐although he believed that his only reward would be an acknowledgment of his letters with promise of action. Failing here, he appealed to the President, but received no response. Finally, in apparent despair, he wrote to Secretary of State George W. McCleary that he knew not "how much credit to give to any of "the letters he had received and in fact he had about made up his mind to disbelieve them all. As a last appeal for action, the Governor addressed a letter to the Iowa delegation in Congress on January 3, 1855, in which he expressed the hope that they would cooperate with him in pressing the matter upon the attention of the proper Federal officials and in urging badly needed relief."

Not only were the settlers near Fort Dodge alarmed, but those in Woodbury, Monona, and Harrison counties were even more disturbed, owing to the hostile attitude of large bands of Omahas and Otoes in that section. Near Sergeant Bluff large bands of Sioux had gathered and expressed their determination to remain, while nearly five hundred Sioux were encamped in the vicinity of Fort Dodge. These Indians amused themselves by stealing hogs, cattle, and other property of the settlers. Fears for the safety of the settlers were increased, in view of the fact that the National government was now preparing to chastise the Sioux near Fort Laramie for their manifold crimes committed along the California and Oregon trail in Nebraska and Wyoming.
It was thought this action would cause the Sioux to seek refuge east of the Missouri and, as a matter of revenge, carry death and destruction with them as they tied toward the Mississippi Valley frontier.

Because the Indians were becoming more threatening, appearing in larger numbers than heretofore, and extending their depredations over an increasingly wider territory, in the early winter of 1855 Governor Grimes was asked to call out the militia; but he declined since he believed he was "authorized to call out a military force only in case of an actual insurrection or hostile invasion." Nearly everyone now anticipated bloodshed. White men, illy disposed, were reaping large profits from the sale of whiskey; while the Indians were "becoming devils".

Hence, Governor Grimes on December 3, 1855, addressed a letter to President Pierce urging that the Indians be removed to their treaty reserves. The Governor pointedly stated that the government owed protection to these settlers in the homes it had encouraged them to occupy. He further stated that a post in this section would curb the Indians and give quiet to north- western Iowa. "To be sure these troubles had not reached any great magnitude," yet there was a continuous succession of annoying and suspicious occurrences which kept the frontier settlements in a state of perpetual dread and apprehension, and made life a burden". Even in the presence of this distressing condition of affairs the military authorities of the National government did nothing to relieve matters. No troops were sent to protect the settlers, nor were the letters of Governor Grimes even granted consideration. Thus there developed slowly but surely a situation where the Indians grew sufficiently emboldened to make a general attack.

Such a policy, characterized by a disregard not only for Indian welfare but also for the well‐being of the white frontiersmen, could only bring unhappy consequences. It became more and more apparent that the Indians were bent upon concerted action of some sort. Annoyances now occurred along the whole frontier, no part of which was free from alarm. War parties were in evidence in nearly every section, and the attitude of the Indians became one of defiance. Not only in Woodbury, Monona, and Harrison counties, but in Buena Vista and what are now Humboldt, Webster, Kossuth, Palo Alto, and Sac counties the settlers were feeling the effects of Indian enmity.

The resentment of the Indians at this time arose partly from a feeling of jealousy toward the whites, partly from the fact that they were retrograding, and partly from the undue influence of the American Fur Company. From the start the Indians, particularly the Sioux, had been jealous and suspicions of the whites. As time passed and the Indian observed indications of a general and permanent occupation by the whites of the territory which he had known as home, his jealous fears increased. The land of his fathers, the home of his traditions, was about to pass into the hands of another people, to the intense sorrow of the Indian. It "was a trying ordeal" and "naturally awakened in his breast feelings of bitter regret and jealousy."His"distrust grew into open protest as claims were staked off, cabins built, and the ground prepared for cultivation." It seemed that the Indians had resolved not to submit "until they had entered an armed protest against the justice of the claim which civilization makes to all the earth."

In addition to this feeling of jealousy and distrust of the whites, the Indians were gradually retrograding by taking unto themselves many of the vices of the white race. This was the inevitable result of a loose administration of the frontier which permitted it to be invaded in many places by refugees from civilization. Although this statement may seem to be somewhat sweeping, it is a well-known fact that among the first to appear on the frontier there were always some men of the reckless, rough‐and‐ready type whose contempt for the finer things of civilized life made a longer residence amid such surroundings undesirable and frequently impossible.

Foremost among the causes of the red man's retrogression may be cited whiskey," But there were other causes, such as the treaty of 1855 with the Chippewas, which rendered the agent powerless to control the Indian or his seducers if he had so desired. Then there were the errors committed by people who were brought to the frontier by the government as helpers in advancing the Indian's welfare, but who had, through mistaken methods, produced opposite results. Again, the Indian had been mistakenly led downward by many years of luxurious idleness and riotous living .... In this state of demoralization they were gathered up and thrown together on their little Reserve, where all the worst characters could act in concert, and where they found bloody work for their idle hands to do.

The government had liberally supplied them with tobacco, and they had never lacked money with which to buy whiskey. Their wants had been looked after so paternally that they had little else to do but spend their time in idleness. Craving entertainment they soon learned to find it in a wrong way. They no longer cared to hunt for food, since they did not need to do so. Soon their expeditions became mere raids upon their protectors, accompanied by unrestrained destruction committed to gratify their craving for some form of entertainment. Thus, while the forces of retrogression were at work the Indian was daily becoming more of a menace to the well-disposed border settlers who viewed his changing attitude in helpless terror.

But most insidious of all in keeping the Indian mimical to his white neighbors was the influence of the fur traders—especially those of the American Fur Company. The admitted purpose of this organization was to keep the Indian a savage hunter and at the same time to frighten the white settlers away from the frontier in order that the annual crop of cheaply obtained but valuable furs might not suffer diminution. To keep the Indian in such a condition it was necessary to prevent him from assuming too friendly an attitude toward the whites ‐in order that he might the better beat back or discourage their westward advance. There were strong suspicions that more than one attack upon border settlers by Indians occurred because the presence of these settlers threatened the fur‐gathering preserves of the American Fur Company.
It would be wrong, however, to create the impression that the fur traders operated in secret. Practically everyone knew their purpose and methods : their purposes they openly admitted, and their methods consisted largely in dispensing "fire water" and in selling to the Indian on credit. The latter practice was useful, for it obligated the Indian to serve the Company in realizing its ends. Perhaps the most notable example of the Company's interference with plans of Indian amelioration is to be found in the case of the Winnebagoes. Their agent, Joseph M. Street, one of the most enlightened Indian agents the Iowa country ever knew, had for some years been striving to improve the condition of the Winnebagoes, but without success. He had failed, not because his plan was impracticable, but because he came into direct conflict with the purposes and methods of the American Fur Company.

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