Ioway Life: Reservation and Reform, 1837-1860

Ioway Life: Reservation and Reform, 1837-1860

by Greg Olson

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In 1837 the Ioways, an Indigenous people who had called most of present-day Iowa and Missouri home, were suddenly bound by the Treaty of 1836 with the U.S. federal government to restrict themselves to a two-hundred-square-mile parcel of land west of the Missouri River. Forcibly removed to the newly created Great Nemaha Agency, the Ioway men, women, and children, numbering nearly a thousand, were promised that through hard work and discipline they could enter mainstream American society. All that was required was that they give up everything that made them Ioway. In Ioway Life, Greg Olson provides the first detailed account of how the tribe met this challenge during the first two decades of the agency’s existence.

Within the Great Nemaha Agency’s boundaries, the Ioways lived alongside the U.S. Indian agent, other government employees, and Presbyterian missionaries. These outside forces sought to manipulate every aspect of the Ioways’ daily life, from their manner of dress and housing to the way they planted crops and expressed themselves spiritually. In the face of the white reformers’ contradictory assumptions—that Indians could assimilate into the American mainstream, and that they lacked the mental and moral wherewithal to transform—the Ioways became adept at accepting necessary changes while refusing religious and cultural conversion. Nonetheless, as Olson’s work reveals, agents and missionaries managed to plant seeds of colonialism that would make the Ioways susceptible to greater government influence later on—in particular, by reducing their self-sufficiency and undermining their traditional structure of leadership.

Ioway Life offers a complex and nuanced picture of the Ioways’ efforts to retain their tribal identity within the constrictive boundaries of the Great Nemaha Agency. Drawing on diaries, newspapers, and correspondence from the agency’s files and Presbyterian archives, Olson offers a compelling case study in U.S. colonialism and Indigenous resistance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806155371
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 05/10/2016
Series: The Civilization of the American Indian Series , #275
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 184
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Greg Olson is Curator of Exhibits and Special Projects at the Missouri State Archives and author of Voodoo Priests, Noble Savages, and Ozark Gypsies: The Life of Folklorist Mary Alicia Owen and The Ioway in Missouri.

Read an Excerpt

Ioway Life

Reservation and Reform, 1837â"1860

By Greg Olson


Copyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5537-1


The Long Road to the Great Nemaha Agency

Oral tradition, historical accounts, and the archaeological record indicate that the Ioways lived many places over a wide geographical area in the centuries prior to their removal to the Great Nemaha Subagency. These sources seem to agree that between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, the Ioways — or Báxoje, as they call themselves — were part of a large culture we now call the Oneota. The word "Oneota" comes from a type of geological formation that is found along the Upper Iowa River, which was once called the Oneota River, in present-day northeast Iowa. In the nineteenth century, the word "Oneota" was also sometimes used as an alternate spelling for the name of the Oneida people of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Oneida, however, have no direct cultural connection to the ancient Oneota or to the Ioways. Ellison Orr and Charles R. Keyes first applied this name to an archaeological culture whose sites can be found throughout the upper Midwest.

The Oneota, which had emerged as a distinct group by the eleventh century, included the ancestors of the Ioways and their Siouan-speaking relatives the Winnebagos, Otoes, and Missourias. The Oneota culture seems to have originated in the region near present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin — a place Ioways call MayaShuje (Red Earth). Between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries, Oneota culture spread into parts of present day Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. Archaeologists believe this wide distribution was due in part to migration, as people spread out across a geographical area. Evidence also suggests groups of people living throughout the Midwest adopted Oneota cultural traits. Oneota people who migrated were likely forced to do so by a combination of climatic changes, disease, and the depletion of large animal populations. After 1500, the Oneota contracted diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza that were the tragic results of the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent. The death rate among Native people was significant enough to force survivors to realign themselves into smaller tribal alliances, which spread out in order to sustain themselves more easily. It is believed that during this time the Ioways separated from their Oneota relatives to live as a separate nation. In fact, linguist Jimm GoodTracks has posited that the name Ioway, which derives from the Dakota Ayúxba, was applied to them because they had "broken off" from the rest of the Oneota cultural group.

To the best of our knowledge, the first Europeans the Ioways encountered were French traders and missionaries during the 1670s. At the time the Ioways were living along rivers in what is now southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa. The first detailed European account of the Ioways comes from Father Louis André, a French missionary who met seven or eight families of Ioways at his mission at Green Bay on April 20, 1676. During their meeting the Ioways described the location of the large village in which they were living at the time. André reported two different sites for the Ioways' village. In one account he placed it two hundred leagues (about 690 miles) from Green Bay. In another, he guessed it to be a twelve-day journey west of the Mississippi River. Five years later, another French missionary, Father Zenobius Membre, indicated that Ioways were living in three large villages located along either the Upper Iowa River or the Root River in present-day southwest Minnesota.

Around 1685 the Ioways began to migrate west, eventually inhabiting the region between Spirit Lake, located on the border between Iowa and Minnesota, and Blood Run (now known as Good Earth State Park), which straddles the Iowa/South Dakota border near the present-day city of Sioux Falls. The Ioways made this move for both defensive and commercial reasons. At the same time the French were pushing Iroquois nations south from the Great Lakes and Canada, the Ioways faced competition from their Algonquin-speaking neighbors to the southeast, the Illinois and the Mascoutins. After their adversaries attacked one of their villages, the Ioways moved west to be closer to their relatives and allies, the Otoes and the Omahas. Their new home near the lakes and rivers of northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota proved to be commercially beneficial to the Ioways as well. The region's rich supply of beaver pelts helped them purchase many of the French trade goods upon which they had become reliant such as metal utensils, firearms, tools, and beads.

Meanwhile, the French too had been on the move, exploring and mapping the heart of the North American continent. In February 1682 the French explorer René-Robert Cavalier, sieur de La Salle, left Green Bay to travel down the Mississippi River. On April 9 he reached the river's mouth and planted a cross and engraved plate on the bank, claiming the entire Mississippi watershed for France. In honor of the French monarch Louis XIV, de La Salle named the region Louisiana. While the Ioways were unaware of it at the time, this proclamation set in motion a process by which they and other Native nations would lose control of land on which they had lived for centuries.

After 1700 the constant ebb and flow of tribal alliances and warfare kept the Ioways on the move. Conflicts between the Dakota Sioux and their relatives the Lakota Sioux, forced the Ioways away from southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. By about 1718 they had migrated down the Missouri River to the mouth of the Platte River, near the site of present-day Omaha, Nebraska. It was here that archaeologists believe the Ioways came into contact with other Plains nations who introduced them to the horse. While the acquisition of the horse greatly increased the Ioways' ability to travel for purposes of war and hunting, it also increased their need for grasses and other forage to sustain their horse population. This, in turn, made it necessary for the Ioways to defend larger areas of land.

For the next several decades the Ioways moved their villages to various locations up and down a 150-mile stretch of the Missouri River between the Big Sioux River and the Platte River. Increased competition for hunting and grazing land led to conflict between the Ioways and their former allies the Omahas, Otoes, and Dakota Sioux. Afraid to hunt on their own land, small groups of Ioways migrated east toward the Mississippi River in the mid-1750s. In 1765 they sent messengers to Pierre Laclede, a fur trader who had just founded the village of St. Louis near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The Ioways asked Laclede if traders would follow them should they decide to relocate their villages to what is now southeast Iowa. After receiving Laclede's assurance that they would still have access to trade, the bulk of the Ioways soon made the trip east. As historian Saul Schwartz has pointed out, the fact that the Ioways inquired about the availability of trade before repositioning their villages shows that they were heavily involved in the market economy, and they ranked access to trade alongside military defense when choosing a home.

After their move to the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers, the Ioways came into contact with the Algonquin-speaking Sacs and Foxes. At the time the closely allied Sacs and Foxes were living on the east side of the Mississippi River along the Rock River in what is now northern Illinois. The growing numbers of white settlers strained the natural resources east of the Illinois country and forced the Sacs and Foxes to venture across the Mississippi River to hunt in the Ioways' territory. In order to maintain peace the Ioways and the Sacs and Foxes formed an alliance. The Ioways agreed to share hunting rights to their land if the Sacs and Foxes would help them defend it from other tribes. With the help of their new Algonquin allies and a supply of British firearms, the Ioways managed to retain control of their land in southeast Iowa. They also began to move down the Chariton River into the lower Missouri River valley, until they met resistance from the Osages, Kaws, Missourias, and Otoes.

Although the Ioways moved often and sometimes traveled great distances to relocate their villages, they did maintain semi-permanent settlements or towns. One of the best known of these was located on the north bank of the Des Moines River in present-day Van Buren County, Iowa. From about 1784 to 1824, between 750 and 1,250 Ioways occupied this site, which is known to archaeologists and historians today as Iowaville. But even during the decades the Ioways occupied Iowaville, smaller Ioway settlements were recorded, among other places, on the east bank of the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Iowa River, near Prairie du Chien, on the Upper Iowa River, on the Rock River, at the mouth of the Des Moines River, on the Grand River in northern Missouri, and on the Missouri River as far west as the Platte River.

In the early nineteenth century, the Ioways claimed to control much of the land that makes up the present-day state of Iowa and the northern part of present-day Missouri. The region of Ioway influence stretched from the border between Iowa and Minnesota on the north to the Little Sioux River and the Missouri River on the west. To the south, the Ioways claimed territory along the Missouri River between the Grand River and the Chariton River. The eastern border of Ioway influence was defined by the Mississippi River and extended as far south as the Salt River, in what are now Ralls and Monroe Counties in Missouri.

The Ioways believed their hold on this vast region had been so strong that years later the headman Waich^eMáñi (the Orator) boasted, "No Indians of any other Tribe [dared] build his fire or make a moccasin track, between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers ... without first having obtained the consent of the Ioway Nation of Indians." Zachary Gussow points out that claims such as the Orator's "cannot be accepted at face value." It was not uncommon for Native nations to claim to control more land than they actually did. As the Orator's statement was made during a treaty negotiation, he may have exaggerated the Ioways' range in hopes of winning a larger compensation for the land from the government. Certainly, many other nations, including the Otoes, Missourias, Kaws, Osages, Omahas, Dakota Sioux, Sacs, and Foxes all contested the Ioways' claim. Soon, it would also be challenged by the expanding presence of the United States, which in 1803 acquired all of the land claimed by the Ioways, and more, when they paid France fifteen million dollars for 828,000 square miles of land in a deal that became known as the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1805 the United States called a number of the Indigenous nations living on their newly acquired land to meet with them in a series of treaty councils. In March the United States had named the purchased land the Territory of Louisiana and appointed General James Wilkinson, commander of the U.S. military's Department of the West, as governor. In October 1805 in St. Louis, Wilkinson and General William Henry Harrison met with the Otoes, Missourias, Arikaras, Sacs, Foxes, Osages, Sioux, Ioways, and other nations. On October 18, 1805, twelve headmen, including an Ioway leader whose name was recorded as Voi Ri Gran, signed a treaty of peace and friendship with the United States. The treaty contained articles that called for all nations to cease their hostilities toward one another and toward the United States. Should any disagreements between the parties emerge, the treaty directed the disputing parties to bring the conflict before the U.S. government for resolution.

At around that same time the Ioways began to suffer a number of setbacks that greatly lessened their influence in the region. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, a smallpox epidemic killed as much as half the tribe, leaving a surviving population of only about eight hundred. In the years that followed, they were also engaged in a costly series of battles with the Osages, who lived along the southern bank of the Missouri River.

Meanwhile, political loyalties began to fray the unity of the Ioway people. As the United States struggled to gain a foothold in the new territory west of the Mississippi, the British, who had long-standing trade relationships with the Ioways and other tribes along the river, fought to retain their own influence in the region. In April 1806 Nicolas Boilvin became the first U.S. Indian agent assigned to interact with the Ioways in an official capacity. From his newly established agency at the mouth of the Des Moines River, Boilvin worked to cultivate peace and friendship with the Ioways, Sacs, and Foxes.

The agent's efforts notwithstanding, tensions between the United States, the British, and Native allies for both sides escalated over the next few years, culminating with the War of 1812. Many Native people in the Mississippi River valley viewed the war — and an alliance with the British — as an opportunity to resist the Americans. During that conflict the Ioways split their allegiances. In 1813 a pro-American faction of Ioways, led by their head man Wyingwaha (Hard Heart), separated from others in the tribe who had sided with the British. The pro-British Ioways remained near the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers and joined the Sacs and Foxes in fighting the Americans. Ioways participated in notable attacks on U.S. military posts on the Mississippi River, on the Missouri River settlement of Cote Sans Dessein, and on a small fortification near the mouth of the Chariton River known as Cooper's Fort.

Meanwhile, at the urging of famed explorer and U.S. general William Clark, Hard Heart's band moved west, away from the fighting, to settle along the Grand River in north central Missouri. This move left the pro-American Ioways open to attacks from Poncas and Omahas, who lived nearby. Even though the group expressed their allegiance to the Americans, Manuel Lisa, a trader who was acting as a U.S. Indian agent, incited a group of Yanktoni Dakotas to attack Hard Heart's Ioways. As a result, many Ioways died and their crops were burned and destroyed.

At the conclusion of the War of 1812, the United States once again summoned the Ioways and eighteen other Native nations to a treaty council at Portage de Sioux, near St. Louis. Understandably, the Ioways were wary of meeting with the U.S. officials, let alone becoming their allies. Both the nation's pro-British and pro-American factions had suffered at the hands of the United States. Defeated, the Ioways, led by Hard Heart, signed a treaty of peace and friendship with the United States on September 16, 1815. During the council, the Ioways surprised government agents by offering to cede some of their land. It is difficult to know what to make of this seemingly spontaneous offer. Did the Ioways make the offer as a goodwill gesture to prove their allegiance with the United States, or did they do so in hope of receiving annuity payments and protection from the U.S. military? While the treaty commissioners, trader Auguste Chouteau, governor of the Illinois Territory Ninian Edwards, and Missouri Territorial governor William Clark, advised the President James Madison to accept the offer, the government ultimately did not.

Sometime between 1819 and 1824, the Ioways left their home at Iowaville. Violence with the Sacs and Foxes — perhaps precipitated in part over a joint lead-mining operation or by encroachment on the Ioways' hunting land in 1818 — forced the Ioways out of their Des Moines River villages. A legend that has remained popular for nearly two centuries contends that in May 1819, the Sac and Fox headmen Black Hawk and Pashepaho led a surprise attack on the town while the Ioways were engaged in a celebration. Some nineteenth-century accounts estimated that the Ioways lost as much as one-third of their total population of one thousand men, women, and children in the attack. Modern historians who have studied the village site and the nineteenth-century population figures for the Ioways are skeptical about reports of such huge losses. The report seems to be based on the account of a single person, trader James H. Jordan, which was printed by historian A. R. Fulton in the 1880s. Jordan's tale aside, there is no historical evidence to support the story of the massacre. What is clear is that the Ioways abandoned the village site, moving south to live in what is now northern Missouri, and that the Sacs and Foxes continued to occupy the Iowaville site after the Ioways left.


Excerpted from Ioway Life by Greg Olson. Copyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
1. The Long Road to the Great Nemaha Agency,
2. "The House Is Empty",
3. "Useful in This World and Happy in the Next",
4. A Change in Ioway Leadership,
5. Crooked Fathers and Neglected Children,
6. Expanding Horizons and Constricting Boundaries,

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