The History of Keokuk County, Iowa

Indian Incidents and Reminiscences

    During the visit of Keokuk, Wapello and their party at Boston, which has already been referred to, there was a great struggle between the managers of the two theaters of that place to obtain the presence of the Indians in order to "draw houses." At the Tremont, the aristocratic one, the famous tragedian, Forrest, was filling an engagement. His great play, in which he acted the part of a gladiator, and always drew his largest audiences, had not yet come off, and the manager was disinclined to bring it out while the Indians were there, as their presence always insured a full house. General Street, who, as before remarked, was in charge of the party, being a strict Presbyterian, was not much in the theatrical line, hence Major Beach, to whom we are indebted for the facts of this incident, and who accompanied General Street at the time, took the matter in hand. He knew that this particular play would suit the Indians better than those simple declamatory tragedies, in which, as they could not understand a word, there was no action to keep them interested, so he prevailed upon the manager to bring it out, promising that the Indians would be present.

   In the exciting scene, where the gladiators engage in deadly combat, the Indians gazed with eager, and breathless anxiety, and as Forrest, finally pierced through the breast with his adversary's sword, fell dying, and as the other drew his bloody weapon from the body, heaving in the convulsions of its expiring throes, and while the curtain was descending, the whole Indian company burst out with their fiercest war whoop. 'It was a frightful yell to strike suddenly upon unaccustomed ears, and was immediately followed by screams of terror from the more nervous among the women and children. For an instant the audience seemed at a loss, but soon uttered a hearty round of applause as a tribute to both actor and Indians.

   During the same visit to Boston, Major Beach says that the Governor gave them a public reception at the State House. The ceremony took place in the spacious Hall of Representatives, every inch of which was jammed with humanity. After the Governor had ended his eloquent and appropriate address of welcome, it devolved upon one of the chiefs to reply, and Appanoose, in his turn, as, at the conclusion of his "talk," advanced to grasp the Governor's hand, said: "It is a great day that the sun shines upon when two such great chiefs take each other by the hand!" The Governor, with a nod of approbation, controlled his facial muscles in a most courtly gravity. But the way the house came down "was a caution," all of which Appanoose doubtless considered the Yankee way of applauding his speech.

   The Indians seldom occupied their permanent villages except during the time of planting or securing  their crop, after which they would start put on a short hunt, if the annuity-which was usually paid within six weeks from the 1st of September-had not been received. Immediately after payment, it was their custom to leave their village for the winter, hunting through this season by families and small parties, leading the regular nomad life, changing their location from time to time, as the supply of game and the needso essential to their comfortof seeking places near the timbered streams best protected from the rigors of winter, would require. It was, doubtless, one of these tours through the country that Kish-ke-Kosh once stopped over night at the house of a white man. He was accompanied by several companions, who slept together on a buffalo hide within view of the kitchen. In the morning when he awoke Kish-ke-Kosh had an eye on the culinary preparations there going on. The lady of the house-it is possible she did it intentionally, as she was not a willing entertainer of such guests- neglected to wash her hands before making up the bread. Kish thought he would rather do without his breakfast than eat after such cooking, and privately signified as much to his followers, whereupon they mounted their ponies and departed, much to the relief of the hostess. When they arrived at a house some distance from the one they had left, they got their breakfast and related the circumstance.

   This Kish-ke-Kosh previous to 1837 was simply a warrior chief in the village of Keokuk. The warrior chief was inferior to the village chief to which distinction he afterward attained. The village presided over by this chief is well remembered by many of the early settlers of Richland township. It was located, some say, just over the line in what is now White Oak township, Mahaska county. Major Beach thus describes it: "The place cannot be located exactly according to our State maps, although the writer has often visited it in Indian times; but somewhere out north from Kirkville, and probably not twelve miles distant, on the banks of Skunk river, not far above the Forks of Skunk, was a small village of not over fifteen or twenty lodges, presided over by a man of considerable importance, though not a chief, named Kish-ke-kosh. The village was on the direct trail-in fact it was the converging point of two trails, from the Hardfish village, and the three villages across the river below Ottumwa to the only other permanent settlement of the tribes, which was the village of Poweshiek, a Fox chief of equal rank with Wapello, situated upon the Iowa river."

   Here the squaws, after grubbing out hazel brush on the banks of the creeks or the edge of the timber, unaided by either plow or brave, planted and tended their patches of corn, surrounding them by rude fences of willow, which were renewed each year. Here the men trained their ponies, hunted, fished and loafed, until the 1st of May, 1843, when they bade adieu to their bark covered huts. The following incident is located at this point:

   Some time about 1841 Major Beach, Indian agent, in company with W. B. Street and others, came up from Agency City on some business with Kish-ke-kosh. Arriving late in the evening they encamped near the village, and on the following morning Kish-ke-kosh with his assistants came over to the camp to receive them. The pipe of peace was lighted and passed around, and the business transacted. After the council the whites were invited to come over in the evening to the feast which the Indians proposed having in honor of their visit. The invitation was accepted, and presently the whites heard a great howling among the dogs, and looking in the direction of the village they could plainly see the preparations for the supper. A number of dogs were killed and stretched on stakes a few inches above the ground. They were then covered with dried grass, which was set on fire and the hair singed, after which, after the dogs had passed through the  scraping process, they were cut up and placed in pots along with a quantity of corn. The whites were promptly in attendance, but on account of their national prejudice they were provided with venison instead of dog meat. After the feast dancing was commenced: first, the Green Corn dance, then the Medicine dance, and closing just before morning with the Scalp dance. Kish-ke-kosh did not take part in this Terpsichorean performance, but sat with the whites, laughing, joking, and telling stories.

   On another occasion, Kish-ke-kosh and his suit, consisting of several prominent personages of the tribe, being then encamped on Skunk river,. went to the house of a Mr. Micksell on a friendly visit, and he treated them to a feast. Besides Kish-ke-kosh and his, wife, who was a very lady like person, this party consisted of his mother (Wyhoma), the son of Wapello,. and his two wives; Mashaweptine, his wife, and all their children. The old woman on being asked how old she was, replied: "Mach-ware-renaakwe-kauh" (may be a hundred); and indeed her bowed form and hideously shriveled features would justify the belief that she was that old. The whole party were dressed in more than ordinarily becoming style; probably out of respect for their hostess, who, knowing something of their voracious appetites, had made ample preparations for them. When the table was surrounded, Kish-ke-kosh, who had learned some good manners, as well as acquired cleanly taste, essayed to perform the etiquette of the occasion before eating anything himself. With an amusingly awkward imitation of what he had seen done among the whites, Kish-ke-kosh passed the various dishes to the others, showing the ladies special attention, and helped them to the best of everything on the table; with much apparent disinterestedness. But when he came to help himself his politeness assumed the Indian phase altogether. He ate like a person with a bottomless pit inside of him for a stomach, taking everything within his reach, without regard to what should come next in the course, so only that he liked the taste of it. At last, after having drank some five or six cups of coffee and eaten a proportionate amount of solid food, his gastronomic energy began to abate. Seeing this, his host approached him, and with apparent concern for his want of appetite, said: "Why, Kish, do you not eat your dinner? Have another cup of coffee and eat something." In reply to this hospitable urgency Kish-ke-kosh leaned back in his seat, lazily shook his head and drew his finger across his throat under his chin, to indicate how full he was. Of course, the others had eaten in like proportion, making the most of an event that did not happen every day.

   The Indians in this region had a novel way of dealing with drunken people. When one of them became unsafely drunk he was tied neck and heels, so that he could be rolled about like a hoop; which operation was kept up till the fumes of liquor had vanished, when he was released. The sufferer would beg for mercy, but to no avail. After he was sobered off he showed no marks of resentment, but seemed to recognize the wisdom of the proceeding.

   The Sacs and Foxes, like all other Indians, were a very religious people in their way, always maintaining the observance of a good many rites, ceremonies and feasts in their worship of the Kitche Mulito or Great Spirit. Feasts did not seem to be prescribed in any of their missals, however, because, perhaps, forced ones, under a scarcity of game or other eatables, were not of impossible occurrence among people whose creed plainly was to let tomorrow take care of itself. Some of the ceremonies bore such resemblance to some of those laid down in the books of Moses, as to have justified the impression among Biblical students, that all the lost tribes of Israel might have found their way to this continent, and that the North American Indians are the remnants of them.

   During the few years previous to the treaty of 1842, when the boundary line between the white settlements and the reservation ran across the southeastern corner of the county, it was not of unfrequent [sic] occurrence for whites to come across the line and "squat" on the forbidden ground. Under these circumstances it became necessary for the Indian Agent to drive them back and burn their dwellings. Major Beach, to whose published notes we are indebted to many of the foregoing incidents, relates the following: "A proclamation had been issued by the Governor of the Territory to remove by military force all trespassers, who having received a reasonable notice had not retired by a certain day. Such military expeditions would of course abound with incidents sometimes amusing, sometimes exciting and sometimes disagreeable and embarrassing. We would frequently find the men gone and the premises in charge of the women and children, under the belief that they would in some way or other get over the trouble. Excuses would be various, mostly of wagons broken in the very act of starting, or of oxen strayed or horses lost or stolen just a day too soon; sometimes of sickness, although we failed of observing signs of it. On one occasion, a soldier over-heard a well grown girl tell a bright-eyed junior one not to cry, for 'Pap' was just gone down the branch, and would come back as soon as the soldiers were gone. And sure enough when the smoke of the burning cabin curled above his hiding place, convincing him that his plan had proved abortive, 'Pap' came rushing around a point of the grove, apparently out of breath, with a long story of his strayed horses that he had hunted till the last day, and then gone to some kindred, some six or eight miles across the line, who were then on the road with their wagons; and that he having heard the bugle, had left them, that in order, by short cuts across the timber and hollows, to get home in time to save his 'plunder'. Well, the Lieutenant told him, that it was all safe, the soldiers had set it out carefully, without giving his family any trouble to help them; and if only he had time, he would be glad to remain till his friends arrived and help him load up. The mansion being now burned beyond salvation, the bugle sounded to mount and the troop resumed its march.

   The next amusing incident was in our encounter, soon after the troop had resumed its march, with an old fellow whom we met coming up the somewhat dim road, just along the edge of the timber, on this side of the river. The troop was of between thirty and forty men with a lieutenant, the captain having stayed at the agency, with the rest of his company to take care of his supplies in camp. The lieutenant and writer were comfortably walking their nags along the said road, the troops at some distance in the rear, following the same easy gait with their two six-mule wagons behind when we espied a wagon coming around the point of the road not far ahead of us. The team soon showed itself to be a span of black sleek horses, and the entire outfit indicated that the old chap in charge of it was not as hard up as his personal look would have lead one to believe. He was for giving us the entire right-of-way, but as we turned off to face him as if we intended to collide, bowed to him, he reined up.

   According to his story he was out for just a pastime drive up the the ridge, without much object or motive of any kind; but he had a scythe to cut grass, a good lot of oats and shelled corn in sacks, an extra wagon sheet that would have improvised a tolerably comfortable tent in short order, a plentiful supply of 'grub' for himself and a boy he had with him, thirteen or fourteen years old, and a forty gallon empty barrel, all suggestive of a contemplated raid upon the bee trees. After some parley, the lieutenant turned him over to the sergeant, who had, in the meantime come up with his men, who in his turn placed him with a file of trooper as a guard of honor between the two baggage wagons. The old fellow soon got the hang of what was up, from the soldiers, and as misery loves company, he soon seemed to lose sight of his own disgust in contemplating that of the inmates of the two squatters' cabins we had yet to visit. We soon reached the nearest one and found it abandoned, though very recently, as all signs proved. Stopping long enough to burn the cabin, we then kept on our way to the only remaining trespasser who had put up his cabin on that side of the ridge we were descending. As we turned off to cross the ridge our former captive, whom we now released, seemed for awhile as if disposed to relieve himself from the engagement of our society as soon as possible. But in a short time he changed his mind, for long before he had traveled the half mile across the ridge we saw that he had turned off and was in pursuit of us. He reached the house almost as soon as we did, and in full time to say to the lieutenant and myself what could not have been less than an unpleasant feeling of personal sympathy for the family we were about to dislodge. As in several previous instances, the man had gone off, leaving the woman to give reasons and offer excuses for his absence. It was very near night and not less than five miles to the nearest house in the direction in which the woman desired to go. She had several children, of whom not the largest even was yet of an age to be other than an encumbrance at such a time; nor was there team, wagon, or other means of transportation to be seen. While she was bitterly complaining of her cruel fate in thus being turned out of her house to see it consumed, with herself children and chattels all night under the open heavens, our lately made acquaintance came to a halt among us, the expression of his features indicating a much more enjoyable expectation of witnessing the scene ahead than was ever felt by any among us whose duty it was to bring it into action.

   We accordingly concluded to press him into service, soothing by that proposal much of the distress of the materfamilias, who appeared to be a person rather superior to the ordinary glade of squatters. The soldiers set about the work of removing her property from the house, and loading such portions of it as she was least disposed to abandon for the night into the old fellow's wagon, and comfortably stowing herself and children on the load, we started him off as soon as she was ready to leave, after having placed the rest of her effects in as secure a condition as we could. To guard against any possible treachery on the part of the old bee hunter, as well as in view of any break down before he could strike a smoother road, the lieutenant took the precaution to detach a corporal with a half dozen men to act as an escort over the three miles; or so to the Indian boundary, beyond which our jurisdiction ceased.

   The house with its combustible appendages having been set on fire, we continued our march to a point a mile or two within the civilized part of Iowa Territory, where a well fixed, thrifty settler supplied our commissariat, as well as our forage department, with sundry items that a three days expedition through the brush had made acceptable, if not actually needful. Night had fairly set in. The corporal had rejoined the command, and reported the bee-hunter and his cargo to be making satisfactory and apparently friendly progress at the point he was ordered to leave them. Our camp fires were soon blazing and the tents pitched, and in a short time a good supper increased the contentment which the lieutenant and agent could not fail to enjoy over the final conclusion of a most unpleasant duty. An early reveille, and the next day at noon found us at the agency."

   Some years ago Mr. A. C. Romig delivered an address before the Sigourney Literary and Historical Society, in which he gave an account, by Mr. William Scearcy of a drunken revel he once witnessed among the Indians who resided in his neighborhood:

"The village consisted of about forty wigwams or lodges, built of poles and bark, and contained about seven hundred inhabitants-Indian squaws, papooses, dogs and all, under the chieftainship of the memorable Wapello. This band of Indians lived, as Indians usually do, by hunting, fishing, and cultivating a few acres of corn, or Indian, maize, rudely enclosed by a miserable excuse of a fence, consisting of stakes driven into the ground and light poles secured by bark. Their flimsy enclosures were a poor protection, and offered but little resistance to the cattle and stock of the neighboring white settlers, that continually broke into their fields and destroyed their crops. The natural result of all this was to embitter the feelings and excite the hatred of the savages, whose natural thirst to revenge their wrongs, either real or imaginary, was not ameliorated in the least; but on the contrary it was vastly increased and irritated by the use of ardent spirits, which they obtained a short distance down the river at a mill, and which they used to great excess.

"I have been a frequent witness," continues Mr. Scearcy, "of their drunken carousals, and saw at one time not less than five hundred drunken Indians and squaws upon the ground at once, presenting a scene of squalid wretchedness, and human degradation painful to behold. There, a squad of stalwart Indians, drinking, carousing, quarreling and fighting, while close at hand were a squad of fifty, perhaps a hundred, squaws in alike unenviable condition, chattering, drinking, quarreling and pulling each other's hair, scratching, biting, gouging, crying, laughing, yelling, and making all sorts of hideous noises-the scene relieved occasionally by a member of the sterner sex: pitching in to display his superior qualities, while to add comicality to the affray the dusky mother might be seen with papooses strapped upon their backs, and safely screened by some friendly tree, or other shelter, quietly contemplating the scene, but, like Falstaff, taking good care to keep out of harm's way. We stood and gazed in mute amazement upon this living, revolving, squirming mass of human flesh and hair, utterly unconscious of any danger to ourself [sic] until approached by the chief, Wapello, and admonished by the friendly word, puck-a-chee, which signifies you had better leave, and then deeming discretion the better part of valor we gave them 'French leave' and turned our faces homeward.

   During sickness there was usually great attention given to the comfort of the Indians, and diligent efforts to cure the patient, but when it became apparent that recovery was impossible, the patient, while still alive, was dressed in his best attire and painted according to the fancy of the relatives present, ornamented with all the trinkets, jewels and badges, dressed in his best attire, and then placed upon a mat or a platform to die. The guns, bows, arrows, axes, knives and other weapons, were all carried away from the house or lodge and concealed. They alleged that these preparations were necessary to evince their respect to the Great Spirit who, at the moment of death, visits the body of the dying, receives the spirit, and carries it with Him to Paradise, while the concealment of all warlike implements shows their humble submission to, and non-resistance of, the Divine will.

   Dead bodies were sometimes deposited in graves; others placed in a sitting posture, reclining against a rock or tree; others, again, were deposited in boxes, baskets, or cases of skins, and suspended in the branches of trees, or upon scaffolds erected for the purpose. Elevated parcels of dry ground were usually selected as burial places, and not so much regard was had for the cardinal points of the compass as to the relative position of some neighboring object. The graves were arranged usually with reference to some river, lake or mountain. Where it was convenient, the grave when enclosed was covered with stones and under other circumstances it was enclosed with wooden slabs, upon which were painted with red paint certain signs or symbols commemorative of the deceased's virtues. The death of a near relative was lamented with violent demonstrations of grief. Widows visited the graves of their deceased husbands with hair disheveled, carrying a bundle composed of one or more of the deceased's garments, and to this representative of her departed husband she addressed her expressions of grief and assurances of undying affection, and extreme anxiety for the comfort and well being of the departed.

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