Meskwaki Anthology



From the desk of Johnathan L. Buffalo

Treaty of 1842


“I Want to live where men are free.  Soon I will go to a new home.  You will plant corn where my dead sleep.  Our towns, the paths we have made, the flowers we have loved will soon be yours.

I have moved many times.  I have seen the white man put his foot in the track of the Indian and make the earth into fields and gardens.  I know I must go far away, and you will be so glad when I am gone.

You will soon forget the lodge fire, and the meat of the Indian has ever been free to the stranger, and he has asked for … what he has fought for… the right to be free.”

Poweshiek, 1838 … Meskwaki



“The removal of the Foxes (Meskwaki) from all the land of the U.S. shall receive my early attention.”  Agent Street, 1839



“Found 200 Indians hid on and around this mound.  They cried, “No Go! No Go!” But we took them to Ft. D[es Moines].”  Lieut. R S. Granger, U.S. Army, 1846.



Captain John Allen

Allen was the highest military officer during the removal of the Sac and Meskwaki.  As the representative of the U.S. military, he was present during the signing of the Treaty of 1842.

He found the Meskwaki to have more difficulty than other tribes with the idea of “removal.”  But on a personal level, he got along well with the tribes.



U.S. Dragoons

In 1842 the U.S. Dragoons were assigned to the Sac and Fox Agency at Ottumwa, Iowa.  Fort Des Moines was established in 1843 to await the removal of the Sauki and Meskwaki scheduled for 1845.  During this time, the Dragoons had two main duties:  1) Stop intrusion by White settlers at the edge of the boundary between the United States and Sac & Fox, and equally important, 2) Stop war between the Sac & Fox and the Sioux.  In 1845, the Dragoons presence as a U.S. military force made sure the Sac and Meskwaki were on their way to Kansas but in 1846 they were still finding and removing small Meskwaki groups in Iowa.



1842 Land Cession

The Meskwaki gave up the last of the lands conquered from other tribes during the previous century…a large region which included most of Iowa, Illinois, and parts of Missouri.  Beginning with the Treaty of 1804 – the first one commissioned by the newly formed United States of America – the Tribe gradually lost land to the advancing American “frontier.”

The Meskwaki were pushed westward, leaving behind Illinois-side Mississippi river village sites in 1829 such as Galena, Savanna, and Prairie Du Chien.  Three years later a dubious treaty forced the Meskwaki out of their Iowa-side Mississippi river villages such as Dubuque, Bellevue, Clinton, Davenport, and Burlington.

In 1836, the Meskwaki were also forced to leave their eastern Iowa villages of present-day Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

Then, in the end, the Treaty of 1842 left the Meskwaki no choice but to leave their Marengo, Oskaloosa, and Ottumwa villages to go to the Raccoon River and await further removal to Kansas by 1845.



Indian Removal Act of 1845

By order of Article III of the 1842 Treaty, the Sacs and Foxes were to remove from Iowa by October 11, 1845 to lands in Kansas assigned to them.  The treaty terms allowed for a gradual relocation process of two steps taking place over a period of three years.

Theoretically, the first move in 1843 was to be to the western part of the ceded land past a boundary called “Painted Rocks” or “Red Rocks” and the second move was to be across the Iowa border into Kansas by the 1845 deadline.  However, the actual removal process was not a smooth transition due to repeated treaty violations by the Meskwaki, who kept returning to old village sites in the eastern part of the state.  These frequent boundary infractions disturbed the settlers and so the military was perpetually summoned to chase the Meskwaki back across the Painted Rocks line.  These multiple confrontations reflected the tribe’s strong desire to stay in this area as well as an equally strong dislike for the treaty terms.

The punctual, well-organized Sauks left for Kansas in two large groups on September 30th in 1845, a few weeks ahead of the October 11th deadline.  In comparison, the Meskwaki hadn’t even begun preparations to leave despite being bound by the same agreement.  Government Agent John Beach threatened the Meskwaki with full military action, indicating that one way or another the tribe would be “gone” by October 11th.  After antagonizing Agent Beach with delays, finally the Meskwaki march began on October 8th, but not in the same orderly manner as the Sauks.  The Meskwaki rapidly dispersed in very small groups leaving every fifteen minutes apart.  This chaotic form of departure made it very difficult for the military to keep track of who had left, which direction they headed, and how intact the groups stayed during the course of the journey.  Agent Beach was EXTREMELY displeased to discover that by early winter of that same year, only one-fifth of the Meskwaki population’s whereabouts were accountable at the Kansas “Osage River” reservation.  Clearly, four-fifths of the Meskwaki were somewhere else…primarily, right back in Iowa. 



Hardships in Kansas

Life was hard on the Kansas reservation.  The land was poor quality and crops were nearly impossible to grow unlike the harvest from rich Iowa soil.  Diseases such as cholera, small pox, and dysentery flourished in the densely populated reservations, transmitted by passing settlers on the nearby Sante Fe Trail.  Hunting the dwindling buffalo herds meant increased competition with other Indian tribes confined to nearby reservations: tribes who the Meskwaki had no desire to form intertribal relations other than for purposes of war.  With the superior war tactics honed through centuries of full-scale and bloody warfare, Meskwaki warriors overpowered the southern plains tribes such as the Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Arapaho, and Osage.  In one particular well-documented instance, 80 Meskwaki hunters defeated a one thousand man force, inflicting heavy losses and ultimately earning cautious respect from the new neighbors. 



Kansas Reservations, 1854

The “Sacs and Foxes of the Mississippi” were removed to a reservation in the Osage River area near present-day Ottawa, due south of the already existing “Sacs and Foxes of the Missouri” reservation near the Nebraska border.  Surrounded by old Eastern “Fox Wars” enemies such as the Wyandots, Ottawas, Peorias, and also by new Plains enemies such as Comanches, Osage, and Kiowas, the unwelcome relocation was more complex than just simply not caring for the Kansas countryside.

The reservation itself was in present-day Franklin and Osage counties.  The Meskwaki occupied the more remote northwestern half and the Sauk occupied the southeastern half which was closer to the Indian Agency (the agent’s home, doctor, government buildings, etc.).  As the Meskwaki gradually left for Iowa, the “Fox” population dwindled to the degree that the remaining numbers were absorbed by the Sauk.