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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




We do not ordinarily expect to pay for anything twice, but that is what the United States Government did to get Iowa.  The United States first paid France for it in 1803, as a part of Louisiana, and then later also paid the Indians for it.  The Red Men had lived on the land for so many years that they claimed it as theirs.  It was not until a number of years after the Government bought the Iowa land from France that white settlers wanted to live on it; and it was then that the Indians had to be paid.

The territory of which Iowa was a part was claimed at different times by Spain, France, and by England.


The Indians loved their homes and really did not want to sell their lands.  In the East, in the earlier history of our country, the white men often fought the Indians and took their lands away from them.  Or sometimes traders sold them goods and then, later, the Indians had to sell some of their lands to pay their debts.  So the Indians learned that when the white men wanted land they would manage in some way to get it.  They thought therefore that it was better to sell their lands to the write people at a good price than to fight against them.


We do not know just how much the Government paid to the Indians for the land that is now Iowa.  This is due to several reasons.  A part of what was paid was cash while the rest was merchandise and food.  Sometimes the Government paid several tribes for the same land because each claimed it.  The boundaries of the land that was bought were not always clearly marked and sometimes took in land that was not in Iowa.  We knew that the amount paid was over $2,887,500.


The first land that the Indians gave up was the "Half-Breed Tract."  The land of that tract is now the southern part of Lee County, or the southeastern tip of Iowa.  A half-breed was a person, usually, whose father was white and whose mother was an Indian.  The half-breeds ordinarily lived with the tribe of their mother.  The Indians were interested in them and in 1824 gave them this land for their homes.  White men soon traded or cheated them out of it.


The Sacs and Foxes, the Sioux, the Omahas, the Otoes, and the Missouris sold their rights to the land in the "Western Slope" to the Government in 1830.  This "slope" included more than the western one fourth of our present Iowa.  Each tribe was paid a small sum of money for its claim to the land,' The Government agreed not to let white settlers come to it until later.  The Indians were to keep it for hunting ground.


You have learned  in another story of the strip of land, forty miles wide, that was set aside to keep peace between the Sioux and the Sacs and Foxes.  In 1830 those tribes agreed to sell to the Government their rights to this land.  The Government paid about three cents an acre for it.

As with the "Western Slope," the Government agreed not to let white settlers come at that time.  The Indians, on the other hand, agreed that the land might be used for other Indian tribes.


A council was held at the present site of Davenport with the Sac and Fox tribes after BlackHawk's defeat in 1832.  General Winfield Scott with United States soldiers

and Governor John Reynolds of Illinois were there to represent the Government.  The Indian chiefs and all of their tribes were there.  Antoine Le Claire acted as interpreter.  The council lasted three days.

Le Claire explained to the Indians, for the Government, that one of their chiefs had started an unjust war against the white people and that the Indians had been defeated.  "Now,"  said Le Claire, "if the Government wanted to do so, it could take the Indians' land away from them and pay them nothing for it.  But the great white father at Washington,"  he continued, "is guided by his heavenly father.  He wants to be fair and just with indians.  Now, the tribes too must be fair and sell some of their lands."

The Government, Le Claire further said, would pay all the debts that the tribes owed the traders and twenty thousand dollars each year for thirty years.  It would also give food to the widows and the orphans of the warriors who were killed in the BlackHawk War.

The strip of land which the Indians gave up at the council in 1832 is usually called the Black Hawk Purchase.  It was about fifty miles wide and was located along the western side of the Mississippi River.  It ran from the neutral strip on the north to the State of Missouri on the south.  The Government paid about fourteen cents an acre for the land.


Chief Keokuk and his warriors did not join Black Hawk in his war.  Because of this, and also because Keokuk and his tribe did not care to move, the Government set aside for them four hundred square miles of land on  the Iowa River.  Four years later, in 1836, the Indians sold this strip to the Government for about eight cents an acre.  Keokuk and his tribe then moved to Des Moines Valley.


White settlers came into Iowa so fast that more land was needed.  To take care of them the Government, in 1837, bought another tract of land from the Sacs and Foxes.  This tract was just west of the Black Hawk Purchase.  Again, in 1842, another purchase was made.  By a treaty with the Sac and Fox tribes the Indians agreed to sell all their land they had left in Iowa.  The Government paid about ten cents per acre for it.  The Indians agreed then to move to a reservation in Kansas.


Two tribes that have left us some Indian names did not live long in Iowa.  The Pottawattamies, who had been brought to the Western Slope, and the Winnebagoes, of the Neutral Strip, agreed in 1846 to sell their rights to Iowa land.  In return for it the Government gave them other land for new homes.  The Pottawattamies went to Kansas and the Winnebagoes to Minnesota.


The Sioux were the last to sell their land.  They sold a large tract, a part of which was in Iowa, to the Government in 1851.  They got about eight cents an acre for their land.


Thus in just a little over twenty years Iowa changed from Indian lands to White men's lands.  No battles were fought on Iowa soil to bring about this change.  The Indians were paid for their land.  They were not paid the price they asked and perhaps not what they should have had.  Sometimes the Government did not pay all it had agreed to pay.  However, the Indians were not simply driven out by force and robbed of their land, as the Government had power to do.


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