The History of Keokuk County, Iowa

Keokuk and Wapello

    Keokuk belonged to the Sac branch of the nation, and as mentioned in the first part of this work, was born on Rock river, Illinois, in 1810. Accordingly he was sixty-three years old at the time the county was thrown open to the white settler, and fifty-seven when the boundary line of 1837 was established. The best memory of the earliest settlers cannot take them back to a time when Keokuk was not an old man. When in 1833 the impatient feet of the white men first hastened across the Mississippi, eager for new conquests and fortunes, this illustrious chief was already nearing his three-score years, and when with longing eyes he took the last look at the fail lands bordering on the Great Father of Waters, and turned his weary feet toward the west, his sun of life had already crossed the meridian and was rapidly approaching its setting.

   Little is known concerning the early life of Keokuk, except that from his first battle, while yet young, he had carried home the scalp of a Sioux, whom he had slain in a hand-to-hand conflict, and between whose tribe and the tribe to which Keokuk belonged there ever existed the most deadly enmity. For this feat Keokuk was honored with a feast by his tribe. He first came into prominence among the whites at the breaking out of the second war with England, commonly known as the war of 1812. Most of the Indians at that time espoused the cause of the English, but Keokuk, at the head of a large number of the Sacs and Foxes, remained faithful to the Americans. In 1828 Keokuk, in accordance with the terms of a treaty, crossed the Mississippi river with his tribe and established himself on the Iowa river. Here he remained in peace, and his tribe flourished till the breaking out of the Black Hawk war in 1832. He seemed to have a much more intelligent insight into the great national questions which were raised during these early Indian difficulties, as well as a more thorough appreciation of the resources of the national government. He opposed the Black Hawk war, and seemed to fully forecast the great disasters which thereby befell his tribe. Although many of his warriors deserted him and followed Black Hawk in his reckless campaign across the Mississippi, Keokuk prevailed upon a majority of his tribe to remain at home. When the news reached Keokuk that Black Hawk's warriors had gained a victory over Stillman's forces in Ogle county, Illinois, the war-spirit broke out among his followers like fire in the dry prairie grass; a war dance was held, and the chief himself took part in it. He seemed for a while to move in sympathy with the rising storm, and at the conclusion of the war dance he called a council to prepare for war. In a work entitled "Annals of Iowa," published in 1865, there is reported the substance of a speech made by Keokuk on this occasion. We quote: "I am your chief, and it is my duty to lead you to battle, if, after fully considering the matter, you are fully determined to go." He then represented to them the great power of the United States, against whom they would have to contend, and that their prospect of success was utterly hopeless. Then continuing, said: "But if you are determined to go upon the warpath, I will lead you on one condition - that before we go we kill all our old men, and our wives, and our children, to save them from a lingering death by starvation, and that every one of you determine to leave his bones on the other side of the Mississippi." This was a strong and truthful picture of the prospect before them, and was presented in such a forcible light, that it caused them to abandon their rash undertaking.

   After the Black Hawk war Keokuk was recognized as the head of the Sac and Fox nation, by the United States government, and in this capacity he was looked upon by his people from that time on. This honor, however, was sometimes disputed by some of the original followers of Black Hawk. A gentleman of some prominence, as a writer, and who is said to have witnessed the affray, says: "A bitter feud existed in the tribe during the time Keokuk resided on the Des Moines river, between what was denominated Keokuk's band and Black Hawk's band." Their distrust, and indeed hatred, were smothered in their common intercourse, when sober; but when their blood was fired with whisky, it sometimes assumed a tragic feature among the leaders of the respective bands. An instance of this character occurred on the lower part of the Des Moines river, on the return of a party making a visit to the 'half-breeds,' at the town of Keokuk, on the Mississippi. In a quarrel incited by whisky, Keokuk received a dangerous stab in the breast by a son of Black Hawk. The writer saw him conveyed by his friends homeward, lying in a canoe, unable to rise. The writer continues: "Hardfish (who was the pretended chief of the rival party), and his coadjutors, lost no occasion to find fault with Keokuk's administration. The payments were made in silver coins, put up in boxes, containing five hundred dollars each, and passed into Keokuk's hand's for distribution. The several traders received each his quota according to the several demands against the tribes admitted by Keokuk, which invariably consumed tile far greater portion of the amount received. The remainder was turned over to the chiefs and distributed among the respective bands. Great complaints were made of these allowances, to the traders, on the ground of exorbitant prices charged on the goods actually furnished, and it was alleged that some of these accounts were spurious. In confirmation of this charge, over and above the character of the items exhibited in these accounts, an affidavit was filed with Governor Lucas, by an individual, to which the governor gave credence, setting forth that Keokuk had proposed to the maker of the affidavit to profer [sic] a purely fictitious account against the tribe for the sum of $10,000, and he would admit its correctness, and when paid, the money should be divided among themselves, share and share alike. To swell the trader's bills, items were introduced -of a character that should brand upon their face, such as a large number of blankets, coats, articles which the Indians never used, and telescopes, of the use of which they had no knowledge. This showed the reckless manner in which these bills were swollen to the exorbitant amounts complained of, in which Keokuk was openly charged with being in league with the traders to defraud the Indians." At this time the nation numbered about two thousand and three hundred, and it is not possible that Keokuk could have carried on an organized system of theft, without the fact becoming apparent to all. As it was, however., Governor Lucas thought best to change the manner in which the annual payments were made. The matter was referred to the Indian bureau, and the mode was changed so that the payments were made to the heads of families, approximating a per capita distribution. This method of payment did not suit the traders, and after a short trial the old plan was again adopted. That the Indians, then as now, were the victims of sharp practice, cannot be doubted, but the fact can be attributed to the superior tact and the unscrupulous character of many of the trade's; this furnishes a more probable explanation, and is more in accord with the character of Keokuk, as known by his intimate friends, still living, than to attribute these swindling operations to a conspiracy in which the illustrious chief was the leading actor.

   In person, Keokuk was of commanding appearance. He was tall, straight as an arrow, and of very graceful mien. These personal characteristics, together with his native fervor, and ready command of language, gave him great power over his people as a speaker. If, as a man of energy and courage, he gained the respect and obedience of his tribe, it was more especially as an orator that he was able to wield his people in times of great excitement, and in a measure shape their policy in dealing with the white man. As an orator rather than as a warrior, has Keokuk's claim to greatness been founded.

"He was gifted by nature," says the author of the Annals, "with the elements of an orator in an eminent degree, and as such is entitled to rank with Logan, Red Jacket and Tecumseh; but unfortunately for his fame among the white people, and with posterity, he was never able to obtain an interpreter who could claim even a slight acquaintance with philosophy. With one exception, only, his interpreters were unacquainted with the elements of the mother tongue. Of this serious hindrance to his fame Keokuk was well aware, and retained Frank Labashure, who had received a rudimental education in the French and English languages, until the latter died broken down by exposure and dissipation; but during the meridian of his career among the white people, he was compelled to submit his speeches for translation, to uneducated men, whose range of thoughts fell below the flights of a gifted mind, and the fine imagery, drawn from nature, was beyond their power of reproduction. He had a sufficient knowledge of the English tongue to make him sensible of this bad rendering of ill thoughts, and often a feeling of mortification at the bungling efforts was depicted upon his countenance while he was speaking. The proper place to form a proper estimate of his ability as an orator, was in the Indian council, where he addressed himself exclusively to those who understood his language, and where the electric effects of his eloquence could be plainly noted upon his audience. It was credibly asserted that by the force of his logic he had changed the vote of a council against the strongly predetermined opinions of its members." A striking instance of the influence of his eloquence is that one already related in which he delivered a speech to his followers, who were bent on joining Black Hawk" after the Stillman reverse in Ogle county, Illinois. Mr. James, who has already been mentioned as being present at the council, at Agency City, when the treaty of 1842 was made, says of Keokuk: " We heard him make a speech on the occasion, which, by those who understood his tongue,. was said to be a sensible and eloquent effort. Judging from his voice and gestures, his former standing as an Indian orator and chieftain, we thought his reputation as a dignified yet gentlemanly Aboriginal h&d not been overrated. During the Black Hawk war his voice was for peace with the white man, and his voice added much to the shortening of the war. As an honor to the chief our county bears his name.

   Keokuk, in company with Black Hawk, Poweshiek, Kish-ke-kosh, and some fifteen other chiefs, under the escort of Gen. J. M. Street, visited Washington city and different parts of the East in 1837. The party descended the Mississippi to the mouth of the Ohio by steamer, and thence up the latter to Wheeling, where they took stage across the mountains. When the party arrived in Washington, at the request of some of the government officials, a council was held with some chiefs of the Sioux there present, as the Sacs and Foxes were waging a perpetual war with the Sioux nation. The council was held in the Hall of Representatives. To the great indignation of the Sioux, Kish-ke-kosh appeared dressed in a buffalo hide which he had taken in war from a Sioux chief, and took his position in one of the large windows, with the mane and horns of the buffalo as a sort of a head-dress, and the tail trailing on the floor. The Sioux complained to the officials, claiming that this was an insult to them, but they were informed that the Sacs and Foxes had a right to appear in any kind of costume they chose to wear. The first speech was made by a Sioux, who complained bitterly of the wrongs they had suffered, and how they had been driven from their homes by the Sacs and Foxes, their warriors killed and their villages burned. Then followed Keokuk, the great orator of his tribe, who replied at some length, an interpreter repeating the speech after him. There were those present who had heard Webster, Calhoun, Clay and Benton in the same hall, and they declared that for the manner of delivery, for native eloquence, impassioned expression of countenance, the chief surpassed them all, and this while they could not understand his words, save as they were repeated by the interpreter. From Washington they went to New York, where they were shown little attention, and Gen. Street attempting to show them the city on foot, the people in their anxiety to see Keokuk and Black Hawk, crowded them beyond the point of endurance, and in order to escape the throng they were compelled to make their escape through a store building, and reached their hotel through the back alleys and less frequented streets. At Boston they were met at the depot by a delegation of leading citizens and conveyed in carriages to the hotel. The next day they were taken in open carriages, and with a guard of honor on foot, they were shown the whole city. During their stay in Boston they were the guests of the great American orator, Edward Everett, who made a banquet for them. When the Indians returned and were asked about New York, they only expressed their disgust. Boston was the only place in the United States, in their estimation, and their opinion has been shared in by many white people, who since that time have made a pilgrimage from the West to the famous shrines of the East.

   While residing at Ottumwah-nac, Keokuk received a message from the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, in which the latter invited Keokuk, as king of the Sacs and Foxes, to a royal conference at his palace at Nauvoo, on matters of the highest importance to their respective people. The invitation was accepted, and at the appointed time the king of the Sacs and Foxes, accompanied by a stately escort on ponies, wended their way to the appointed interview with the great apostle of the Latter Day Saints. Keokuk, as before remarked, was a man of good judgment and keen insight into the human character. He was not easily misled by sophistry nor beguiled by flattery. The account of this interview with Smith, as given by the author of the "Annals", so well illustrates these traits of his character that we give it in full:

   "Notice had been circulated through the country of this diplomatic interview, and quite a number of spectators attended to witness the denouement. The audience was given publicly in the great Mormon temple, and the respective chiefs were attended by their suits, the prophet by the dignitaries of the Mormon church, and the Indian potentate by the high civil and military functionaries of his tribe, and the Gentiles were comfortably seated as auditors."

   "The prophet opened the conference in a set speech of some length, giving Keokuk a brief history of the Children of Israel, as detailed in the Bible, and dwelt forcibly upon the history of the lost tribes, and that he, the prophet of God, held a divine commission to gather them together and lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. After the prophet closed his harangue, Keokuk waited for the words of his pale-faced brother to sink deep into his mind, and in making his reply, assumed the gravest attitude and most dignified demeanor. He would not controvert anything his brother had said. about the lost and scattered condition of his race and people, and if his brother was commissioned by the Great Spirit to collect them together and lead them to a new country it was his duty to do so. But he wished to inquire about some particulars his brother had not named, that were of the highest importance to him and his people. The red man were not much used to milk, and he thought they would prefer streams of water and in the country they now were there was a good supply of honey. The points they wished to inquire into were, whether the new government would pay large annuities, and whether there was plenty of whisky. Joe Smith saw at once that he had met his match, and that Keokuk was not the proper material with which to increase his army of dupes, and closed the interview in as amiable and pleasant manner as possible."

   Until 1836 Keokuk resided with his tribe on a reservation of 400 square miles, situated on the Iowa river. His headquarters were at a village bearing his name, located on the right bank of the stream. In this year, in accordance with the stipulations of a treaty held at Davenport, Keokuk with his followers removed to this territory, now comprised in the bounds of Keokuk, Mahaska and Wapello counties. The agency for the Indians, was located at a point where is now located Agency City. At this time an effort was made to civilize the red man. Farms were opened up, and two mills were erected, one on Soap creek, and one on Sugar creek. A salaried agent was employed to superintend these farming operations. Keokuk, Wapello and Appanoose, each had a large field improved and cultivated. Keokuk's farm was located upon what is yet known as Keokuk's Prairie, in what is now Wapello county. The Indians did not make much progress in these farming operations, and in the absence of their natural and wanted excitements, became idle and careless. Many of them plunged into dissipation. Keokuk himself became badly dissipated in the latter years of his life. Pathetic as was the condition of these savages at this time, it was but the legitimate result of the treatment which they had received. They were confined to a fixed location, and provided with annuities by the government, sufficient to meet their wants from year to year. They were in this manner prevented from making those extensive excursions, and embarking in those war-like pursuits, which for time immemorial had formed the chief avenues for the employment of those activities, which for centuries had claimed the attention of the savage mind; and the sure and regular means of subsistence furnished by the government, took away from them the incentives for the employment of these activities, even had the means still existed. In addition to this the Indian beheld his lands taken from him, and his tribe growing smaller year by year. Possessed of an ideal and imaginative intellect he could not help fore-casting the future, and thus being impressed with the, thought, that in a few years, all these land would be in the possession of the white man, while his tribe and his name would be swept into oblivion by the tide of emigration, which pressed in upon him from every side. Keokuk saw all this, and seeing it, had neither the power nor inclination to prevent it. Take the best representative of the Anglo-Saxon race, and place him in similar circumstances, and he would do no better. Shut in by restraint from all sides, relieved from all the anxieties comprehended in that practical question, what shall we eat and wherewithal shall we be clothed and deprived of all those incentives springing from, and inspired by a lofty ambition, and the best of us, with all our culture and habits of industry, would fall into idleness and dissipation and our fall would be as great if not as low as was the fall of that unhappy people who formerly inhabited this country, and whose disappearance and gradual extinction we shall now be called upon to contemplate.

   Wapello, the cotemporary of Keokuk and the inferior chief, after whom a neighboring county and county-seat were named, died before the Indians were removed the State, and thus escaped the hnmilatiol1 of the scene. He like his superior chief, was a fast friend of the whites and wielded an immense influence among the individuals of his tribe. As is mentioned in a former chapter, he presided over three tribes in the vicinity of Fort Armstrong, during the time that frontier post was being erected. In 1829 he removed his village to Muscatine Swamp, and then to a place near where is now located the town bearing his name. Many of the early settlers Of Keokuk county remember him well, as the southern part of this county was a favorite resort for him and many members of his tribe. It was in the limits of this county that this illustrious chief died. His favorite hunting ground, is that portion of the county which is now within the limits of Jackson township. Although he willingly united in the treaty ceding it to the whites, it was done with the clear conviction that the country would be shortly overrun and his hunting ground ruined by the advance of palefaces. He chose to sell rather than be robbed, and they quietly receded with his band.

   Mr. Searcy relates an incident in the life of this chief which we here quote: "Between the Sioux, and the Sacs and the Foxes, a bitter and deadly hatred existed. This enmity was carried to such a bitter extent that it caused the establishment, by the government, of the neutral ground, in the north part of the territory, which was a strip of country about thirty miles in width, over which the tribes were not allowed to pass in order to slay each other. The love of revenge was so strongly marked in the Indian character that it was not to be suppressed by imaginary geographical lines, and consequently it was not a rare occurrence fora Sac or Fox Indian, or a Sioux, to bite the dust, as an atonement for real or imaginary wrongs. In this manner one of the sons of Wapello was cruelly cut down, from an ambush, in the year 1836. When the chief heard of the sad calamity he was on Skunk river, opposite to the mouth of Crooked creek. He immediately plunged into and swam across the stream. Upon arriving at a trading post near by, he gave the best pony he had for a barrel of whisky, and setting it out, invited his people to partake, a very unwise practice, which he doubtless borrowed from the white people, who availed themselves of this medium in which to drown their sorrow.

   Wapello's death occurred in Keokuk county, in March, 1844. In accordance with the provisions of the treaty of 1843, he had retired with his tribe, west of Red Rock, and it was during a temporary visit to his old hunting ground on Rock creek, that he breathed his last. We quote from an address of Mr. Romig the following pathetic account of the death of the warrior:

   "As the swallow returns to the place where last she had built her nest, cruelly destroyed by the ruthless hands of some rude boy, or as a mother would return to the empty crib where once had reposed her innocent babe, in the sweet embrace of sleep, and weep for the treasure she had once possessed, so Wapello mourned for the hunting grounds he had been forced to leave behind, and longed to roam over the broad expanse again. It was, in the month of March; heavy winter had begun to shed her mantle of snow; the sun peeped forth through the fleeting clouds; the woodchuck emerged from his subterranean retreat to greet the morning breeze, and all nature seemed to rejoice at the prospect of returning spring. The old chief felt the exhilarating influence of reviving nature, and longed again for the sports of his youth. He accordingly assembled a party and started on a hunting excursion to the scenes of his former exploits. But alas, the poor old man was not long destined to mourn over his misfortunes. While traveling over the beautiful prairies, or encamped in the picturesque groves that he was once want to call his own, disease fastened upon his vitals and the chief lay prostrate in his lodge. How long the burning fever raged and racked in his brain, or who it was that applied the cooling draught to his parched lips tradition has failed to inform us; but this we may fairly presume: that his trusty followers were deeply distressed at the sufferings of their chief, whom they loved and administered all the comforts in their power to alleviate his sufferings, but all would not avail. Grim death had crossed his path, and touched her finger upon his brow, and marked him for her own. Human efforts to save could avail nothing. Time passed, and with it the life of Wapello. The last word was spoken, the last wish expressed, the last breath drawn, and his spirit took its flight. The passing breeze in æolean notes chanted a requiem in the elm tops. The placid creek in its meandering course murmured in chorus over the dead. The squirrel came forth in the bright sunshine to frisk and chirp in frolicsome glee, and the timid fawn approached the brook, and bathed her feet in the waters, but the old man heeded it not, for Manatah, his God, had called him home.

   Although it is a matter of regret that we are not in possession of his dying words, and other particulars connected with his death, let us endeavor to be content with knowing that Wapello died some time in the month of March, in the year 1844, in Keokuk county, on Rock creek, in Jackson township, on the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter, section 21, township 74, range 11 west, where a mound still marks the spot; and with knowing also that his remains were thence conveyed by Mr. Samuel Hardesty, now of Lancaster township, accompanied by twenty-two Indians and three squaws, to the Indian burial ground, at Agency City, where sleeps the Indian agent, Gen. Street, and numbers of the Sac and Fox tribe, and where our informant left the remains to await the arrival of Keokuk, and other distinguished chiefs to be present at the interment.

   Keokuk, Appanoose, and nearly all the leading men among Indians were present at the funeral, which took place toward evening of the same day upon which the body arrived at Agency. The usual Indian ceremonies preceded the interment, after which the body was buried by the body of Gen. Street, which was in accordance with his oft repeated request to be buried by the side of his honest pale faced friend.

   In 1845 in accordance with the stipulations of the treaty, and in obedience to the demand of the white man, whose friend he had ever been and whose home he had defended, both by word and act, in times of great excitement, Keokuk led his tribe west of the Missouri river, and located upon a reservation now comprised in the boundaries of what is now the State of Kansas. What must have been the emotions which swelled the heart of this renowned savage, and what must have been the peculiar thoughts which came thronging from his active brain when he turned his back for the last time upon the bark covered huts of his Iowa village, the graves of his friends, and that portion of country which, but the year before, had been honored by his name. It was leaving everything familiar in life and dear to the heart. To him it was not going West to grow up with the country, but to lose himself and his tribe in oblivion and national annihilation.

   Keokuk lived but three years after leaving the Territory of Iowa, and we have no fact at our command in reference to his career at the new home west of the Missouri. The Keokuk Register of June 15, 1848, contained the following notice of his death, together with some additional sketches of his life:

   The St. Louis New Era announces the death of this celebrated Indian chief. Poison was administered to him by one of his tribe, from the effects of which he died. The Indian was apprehended, confessed his guilt and was shot."

   "Keokuk leaves a son of some prominence, but there is little probability of his succeeding the same station, as he is not looked upon by the tribe as inheriting the disposition and principles of his father."

   We close this sketch by appending an extract from a letter recently written by Judge J. M. Casey, of Fort Madison, to Hon. S. A. James, of Sigourney.

   "While Keokuk was not a Lee county man, I have often seen him here. He was an individual of distinguished mark; once seen would always be remembered. It was not necessary to be told that he was a chief~ you would at once recognize him as such, and stop to admire his grand deportment. I was quite young when I last saw him, but I yet remember his appearance and every lineament of his face as well as if it had been yesterday, and this impression was left upon every person who saw him, whether old or young. It is hard for us to realize that an Indian could be so great a man. But it is a conceded fact, by all the early settlers who knew him, that Keokuk possessed, in a prominent degree, the elements of greatness."

S. A. James

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