The History of Keokuk County, Iowa

Indians and Indian Affairs

   Until the year 1837 the Indians held undisputed possession of the territory now included in Keokuk county. The Indians who dwelt in this particular locality were the Sac and Fox tribe. They held unquestioned sway across the western boundary of the Black Hawk purchase, westward to the Missouri river, and northward to the neutral territory which divided them from the Sioux. The eastern boundary was fifty miles this side of the Mississippi river and neutral ground, stretched east and west near where the Illinois Central railroad now extends. These Indians had no right to invade the territory ceded to the government at the time of the Black Hawk purchase, and it was certain death to be caught in the territory of the Sioux, and extremely hazardous to venture upon the neutral ground. Few if any white people in those days ventured as far west as this, and the country was comparatively unknown except as reports were brought to the frontier by roving bands of Indians intent on barter. In the main the Indians subsisted upon the wild animals then inhabiting this country. Occasional patches of Indian corn were cultivated, which furnished them scanty food during a portion of the year; but wild turkeys, pheasants, deer, fish and muskrats formed the chief articles of diet. This was prior to the year 1837. In this year a new treaty was made whereby the Indians ceded additional territory westward. This new territory ceded included a small portion of this county. Nearly all of what is now Richland township and small portions of Clear Creek, Jackson and Lafayette were included in it. As soon as this treaty went into effect the whites rushed in and the Indians were compelled to retire further west. It was in October, 1837, that the red man first parted with his title to certain lands now comprised in the limits of Keokuk county, and the white man first obtained the right to gain a permanent foothold. By far the larger part of the county, however, remained in the hands of the Indians. It was not till October, 1842, that the original possessors of this soil parted with their right to occupy it, and turned their unwilling steps to the far oft and unknown regions west of the Missouri. This last treaty was made at the government agency, now Agency City, in Wapello county. S. A. James, Esq., of Sigourney, was present at this treaty, and gives a very graphic description of the affair. The deliberations, he says, lasted about a week. A number of chiefs were present, the principal of whom were Keokuk, Appanoose, Poweshiek and Panassa. The commissioner on behalf of the United States was the Hon. John Chambers, of Iowa Territory. The question of reservations was the most perplexing one to dispose of: The commissioner had been instructed not to grant any reservation, and the Indians had come to the council, fully determined to exact a reservation in the interests of certain heirs of Gen. J. M. Street, for whom they always manifested the greatest reverence, and in whom they had the utmost confidence, growing out of his honorable and liberal dealings with them while acting as government agent. It appears that on the death of Gen. Street, in 1840, his family procured an air-tight coffin, intending to remove the body to Prairie du Chien, where some of his relatives had been previously buried. The chiefs thereupon held a council and remonstrated, offering any part of their country which might be chosen for a burying ground, and adding that if their wishes were complied with, they would give to the widow of Gen. Street a section of land, and a half section to each of her children. Accordingly Gen. Street's remains were interred near the Agency, and no reference was made to the land promise until the time of the treaty. On the evening, of the second day of the treaty, council one of the government officials came to Gen. Street's son, Wm. B. Street, now of Oskaloosa, at that time employed at the Agency, and said: "I do not think we will succeed in making a treaty because the chiefs demand the reservation of one section for Gen. Street's widow, and a half section for each of her ten children. and also a half section for each of Smart's children, who were half breeds." Mr. Street held a conversation with several of the chiefs, telling them he did not care for any reservation, and as his brothers and sisters were in another territory he thought they would not be particular in having the Indians carry out their contract. Keokuk and some others reluctantly consented, but old Poweshiek remonstrated and insisted upon the reservations first demanded. Mr. Street portrayed the results which would follow a failure of the treaty, and again remarked that he did not care for the land. " What, do you decline the gift?" said the indignant old chief—for refusing a gift was regarded as a great insult among the Indians. Mr. Street says that Poweshiek refused to speak to him for six months thereafter, when one day Poweshiek, being very merry under the influence of whisky, Street presented him with a pony, and thereafter they were again good friends.

   At last the Indians agreed to take a reservation of one section to be given Mrs. Street. The commissioner would not consent. Then old Keokuk arose and made a speech. Mr. James heard this speech and the impression which Keokuk made upon his auditors is graphically portrayed in an article from the pen of Mr. James, which appeared some time ago in the local papers, an extract of which will be found in the life of Keokuk, farther on. Among other things, the speaker said, pointing to the place where Gen. Street was buried: "There lies the body of our father, the best white man that ever lived, and the best friend we ever had, and without this reservation, this land shall never be sold while a single one of our tribe remains."

   On the next day Governor Chambers agreed to the reservation of one section and directed the Indians to make a choice. They selected that upon which the Agency buildings were situated and including General Street's grave. The government had spent some $4,000 in improving this section and the commissioner was loath to part with the land and its improvements. The Indians then proposed to pay for the improvements, which they finally did, paying them for the sum of $2,500. Thus was effected a treaty by the provisions of which the white man acquired a right to settle a tract of land comprising the greater portion of Iowa, and in which is included the greater portion of Keokuk county. In consideration of the land thus ceded the Indians were to receive $800,000 on good State stocks upon which the government guaranteed the payment of five per cent interest per annum. In the words of the treaty, they "ceded to the United States all their lands west of the Mississippi river to which they had any claim or title." It was stipulated that they were to be removed from the country at the expiration of three years, and all who remained after that were to remove at their own expense. Part of them were removed to Kansas in the fall of 1845, and the remainder in the spring of 1846.

   The treaty was signed on the 11th day of October 1842, but before it was binding it had to be ratified by the United States Senate. After signing the treaty Keokuk remarked to the commissioner that if the Senate changed it by even so much as a scratch of the pen it would not be observed by the Indians. It was laid before the Senate for approval or rejection. A motion was made to strike out the reservation clause. The Senate was reminded of Keokuk's remark. After some discussion the treaty was approved and its ratification was officially proclaimed by the President on the 23d of March, 1843. This is said to have been the only Indian treaty ever made by the United States which did not subsequently undergo some alteration. The treaty had now been signed by the commissioner and the Indian chiefs, had been approved by the senate and the proclamation made by the President, and yet the white people had no right to settle on the lands as the Indians according to a provision of the treaty had three years in which to give possession. It was subsequently arranged that the Indians were to give possession of all that part lying east of Red Rock, now in Marion County, on the 1st of May, 1843. This last date is, therefore, the period when the whole of Keokuk county was thrown open to white settlement. The excitement which prevailed along the borders during the last days of the preceding April, and the great rush of people across the boundary line, which occurred at midnight, furnish a chapter of amusing and thrilling incidents. They will be treated of at another place.

   As a result of this peacable [sic] arrangement and the earnest efforts of the government to carry out, to the letter, the provisions of the treaty, the early settlers of Keokuk county experienced none of the hardships which fell to the lot of the early settlers in other parts of the country, where misunderstanding about the ownership of the soil gave rise to frightful massacres and bloody wars. The Indians gave no serious difficulty, and seldom, if ever, disturbed the early settlers of this county after they had rightfully came into possession of it.

   By the various treaties made with the Sac and Fox Indians, the government paid these $80,000 per year by families. Mr. William B. Street, of Oskaloosa. was disbursing clerk for John Beach, Indian agent during the year 1841, and still retains in his possession the receipts for the part payment of the annuity, in his own hand-writing, and the marks of the chiefs in signing. We give an extract, including the names of part of the Indians who were at that time living at Kish-he-kosh's village, in what is now the eastern part of the county, west of Keokuk county:

"We, the chiefs, warriors, heads of families and individuals without families, of the Sac and Fox tribe of Indians, within the same agency, acknowledge the receipt of forty thousand dollars of John each, United States Indian Agent, in the sums appended to our names, being our proportion of of the annuity due said tribe, for the year 1841:



MEN     WOMEN     CHILD'N     TOTAL      AMOUNT     
Kishkekosh                                X 1 1 3 4 $71.30
Kokoach X 1 2 3 6 $106.95
Passasasheshiek X 1 1 2 2 $55.65
Mokaqua X 1 1 $17.82
Pakoka X 1 1 2 4 $71.30
Kakewawatesit X 2 1 3 $53.47
Mucheminne X 1 1 2 4 $71.30
Wapesequa X 1 1 2 4 $71.30
Wapekakah X 2 1 3 6 $106.95
Musquake X 3 2 2 7 $124.78
And fifty-nine others.

"We certify that we were present at the payment of the above mentioned amounts, and saw the amounts paid to the several Indians, in specie, and that their marks were affixed in our presence this 19th day of October, 1841.


JNO. BEACH,                               
U. S. Indian Agent        
THOMAS McCRATE,                 
Lieut. 1st Dragoons     
JOSIAH SMART,                         

"We, the undersigned chiefs of the Sac and Fox tribe of Indians, acknowledge the correctness of the foregoing receipts."

KEOKUK, his X mark.                
POWESHIEK, his X mark.         

Kish-ke-kosh means "The man with one leg off."
    Much-e-min-ne means "Big-man."
    Mus-qua-ke means "The fox."
    Wa-pes-e-qua means "White eyes."
    Wa-pe-ka-kah means "White crow."
    Keokuk means "The watchful fox."
    Poweshiek means "The roused bear."

   Among the old settlers of the southeastern part of the county who, prior to May 1, 1843, had the Indians for near neighbors, the names of Keokuk and Wapello are the most noted and familiar. These two illustrious chiefs live not only in the recollections of these early settlers, but in the permanent history of our common country. Short biographical sketches of these two noted characters, therefore, will be of great interest to the people of this county, and peculiarly appropriate for a work of this kind. To the school-boy who has frequently read of these Indians, the fact that they roved around on this very ground where their feet tread, and that in their hunting excursions these Indians crossed the same prairies where now they gather the yellow eared corn, will give to these sketches intense interest. While the early settler who talked with Wapello and Keokuk, ate with them, hunted with them and fished with them, cannot fail to find in these brief and necessarily imperfect biographies something fascinating - as they are thus lead back more than a quarter of a century, to live over again the days of other years, and witness again the scenes of early days when the tall prairie grass waved in the autumn breeze, and the country, like themselves, was younger and fresher than now.

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