IAGenWeb Project

 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project




Part 10



It is thought that unknown French trappers reached the Mississippi River before Marquette and Joliet.  Other Frenchmen said they had reached the head of the Mississippi before Pike did.  We know about the trip of Marquette and Joliet, and of Pike, because they left us a record of what they saw.

Nicolas Perrot, another Frenchman, as early as 1685, built training posts on the east side of the Mississippi.  He built one post at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, across the river from the  present site of Mc Gregor, Iowa, and another across the river from where Dubuque is now located.  Perrot never lived on Iowa land but made many trips into it and traded with the Indians who lived there.

In 1735, a Frenchman, Capt. Nicholas Joseph des Noyelles, marched into Iowa at the head of a small army.  A Sac warrior had killed a French official in the East.  The Indians then became frightened and fled westward into Iowa.  The French sent Capt. de Noyelles with 80 French soldiers and about 200 Indian warrior to punish the Sacs but most of the red men left the French.  The sacs and foxes fled to Des Moines River.  De Noyelles tried to get the Fox Indians to leave the sac tribe, after which he intended to punish the sacs.  He failed to do either.


When Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis from their trip to the Pacific Ocean, they told many interesting things about what they had seen.  A young Spaniard by the name of Manual Lisa heard some of the stories and decided that he would go up the Mississippi River to trade with the Indians.  He made his first trip in 1807.  It was so successful that he made twelve or thirteen more.  On one of his trips he had three hundred and fifty men and thirteen boats.


Soon after Dubuque built his settlement, other Frenchmen also came and started small settlements.  One of these, Basil Giard, moved in 1795 to a farm in what is now Clayton County.  He farmed and traded with the Indians.  His name is also spelled Gaillard and Gayard.  He received a grant for more than 5,800 acres of land from the Spanish Governor.  Giard made several trips to St. Louis as a trader.

One Frenchman received from the Spanish governor, in 1799, a grant for more than 6,000 acres of land.  This land was located in what is now Lee County and the town of Montrose is located in part of it.  The Frenchman is known by several names.  They are Louis Honori, Louis Honori Fresson, and Louis Honore Tresson.  He started an orchard on his land and brought the trees on pack mules from Missouri.  The land where the trees were planted for this first Iowa orchard is now, because of Keokuk Dam, under water.

Tesson was living on his farm when Pike came up the Mississippi.  He offered to go with Pike as an interpreter to the Indians.  Since Pike said he had no money to pay him Tesson did not go.

Another Frenchman , Maurice Blondeau, lived farther up the river from Tesson.  He is the man who later became an interpreter for lieut. Pike.  His chief business was to trade with the Indians.


Two of the most interesting men in early Iowa history are Antoine Le Claire and Colonel George Davenport.  A town and a city, both located in Scott County, are named in honor of these men.  Le Claire, who was part Indian, was one of the most important men on the upper Mississippi.  He was born in Michigan in 1797 and went to school in St. Louis.  In 1818 he became an interpreter at Fort Armstrong on Rock Island.  He could speak fourteen Indian languages besides French and English.  He acted as interpreter at nearly all the treaty making councils with the Indians after 1818.

A house that Le Claire built for himself in Davenport became Iowa's first railroad depot in 1854.  He had built the home in 1813.  When the work of grading for the first railroad in Iowa began at Davenport in 1853, Mr. Le Claire was given the honor of "removing the first ground."


Lieutenant Colonel Stephen W. Kearny made two important trips across Iowa land.  In the summer of 1820 he started from near the present site of Omaha, Nebraska, for Fort Snelling, which is near St. Paul, Minnesota.  This trip took him across the prairies of western Iowa.  Kearny was not very well impressed with that part of our state.  He thought it was too hilly and too dry for farming.  Besides, there were no trees for fuel or for building.  Kearny and his men saw a herd of about 4,000 buffaloes.

Kearny's second trip was made in 1835.  This time he started at the mouth of the Des Moines River and went up to near where the city of Des Moines is now located.  From there he went northeast until he reached a Sioux Indian village which was located near the present site of Winona, Minnesota.  After a rest of about two weeks, he and his party returned to the Racoon Forks, from which place they continued their trip back down the Des Moines River to its mouth.

One of the men with Kearny was Lieutenant Albert M. Lea.  He kept a journal of the trip.  After their return, Kearny sent Lea on another trip to study the Des Moines River.  He had one soldier and an Indian for companions.  Soon after Lea returned from this trip, he resigned from the army and wrote a small book about what he had seen.  In this book the name "Iowa" was used for this country for the first time.


George Catlin, a painter and student of Indians, visited Iowa in its early days.  He painted pictures of Black Hawk, Keokuk, and other important Indians.  His paintings of Dubuque's settlement, of Floyd's grave, and of other important early scenes, are the only pictures that we now have of those places as they were in those days.


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