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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp





Lieutenant Kingsley did not choose the site which Pike had said would be good for a fort.  He chose a place just above the Des Moines River Rapids and called it "Belle Vue, near Le Moine."  The site was not a good one.  It had a bluff just back of it and deep ravines near it.  When the Indians wanted to attack the place they could hide in the ravines.  They could also shoot burning arrows from the bluff and set fire to the buildings of the fort.

The first fort had three blockhouses, a factory, and a storehouse.  The word "factory" then meant a trading place.  All the buildings had a high fence of pickets, called a palisade, around them.

To build the fort called for hard work.  The building had to be made out of logs.  The soldiers worked all winter to cut the logs.  Since they had no horses the soldiers themselves had to haul the logs on small sleds.


The Indians said that the land west of the Mississippi River belonged to them and that they did not want a fort built on it.  They said they were willing to have a trading post built.  Kingsley told them that he was going to build a post but the Indians did not believe him.  The Red Men said soldiers would not be sent for that purpose.  One of the Indians who objected was Chief Black Hawk.  He was encouraged to do so by British traders along the Mississippi, who did much to stir up the Indians against the Americans.  The Indians said they preferred to trade with the British because their goods were better than the Americans' goods.

Some of the soldiers at the fort did not know much about Indians because they had never lived near them.  The Red Men knew this and enjoyed playing tricks on the soldiers.  Once, while the soldiers were working and had put down their guns, the Indians came along and stole the firearms.  Then they gave a war-whoop.  The soldiers were frightened and ran for their guns.  The Indians laughed and then gave the guns back to the soldiers.

At another time the Indians intended to play a trick on the soldiers and then kill them all.  They had their weapons hidden under their blankets and asked to come inside the fort to dance for the soldiers.  After they were all inside, they thought, they could surprise the soldiers.  A friendly Indian, however, spoiled their plans by telling a soldier about the scheme.  When the gate to the fort was swung open the Indians saw a cannon aimed at them.  Their trick had failed.


The soldiers finished the blockhouses and stockade by spring and moved into the fort on April 14, 1809.  The name was changed from Fort Belle Vue to Fort Madison, in honor of the new President, James Madison.  The present city of Fort Madison is located on the site of this first fort.  The State Penitentiary stands but a few blocks from where the fort was located.

Lieutenant Kingsley, who built the fort, was succeeded as commander in August, 1809, by Captain Horatio Stark.  During the two years after the arrival of Captain Stark, the Indians made no more trouble for the soldiers.  Captain Stark was later called away and Lieutenant Thomas Hamilton was put in command.


In November, 1811, a great battle, known as the Battle of Timmecanoe, was fought in Indiana in which the Indians were defeated.  Some Winnebago, Sac, and Fox Indians had taken part in the battle.  When they returned to the Mississippi they wanted revenge.  In September, 1812, while the United States was at war with England, two hundred or more of the Red Men surrounded the fort.  They burned some outlying buildings, killed live stock, and shot burning arrows onto the roofs of the fort buildings.  After five days the Indians gave up the attack and left.

In the fall of 1813, warriors from the same tribes attacked again.  The situation became so bad that Lieutenant Hamilton and his men had to do an unusual thing to escape.  They dug a trench to the river and succeeded in getting away to their boats at night without the Indians knowing about it.  The soldiers took with them most of the few supplies which they had left and the last man out set fire to the fort.  When the Indians saw what had happened the soldiers were safe on the river.


A tall chimney remained for some years to show where the first fort on Iowa land had stood.  The Indians called the place "Potowonock," meaning, the place of fires.  Travelers on the Mississippi spoke of it as "Lone Chimney."  If you go to the city of Fort Madison today you will find a marker on the site of old Fort Madison.


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