FORT MADISON-IOWA'S FIRST FORT
FORT BELLE VUE
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
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.
REMAINS OF THE
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.