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The History of Iowa
From early Native American cultures through WWII
© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini
Page 1

Historical Review 1.8   
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Native Americans

          Iowa has a long and fascinating Native American history that dates back tens of thousands of years. Early Native American history is divided into three main stages. The first is the Paleo-Indian period, which began about 10,000 years ago. The second stage is the archaic period, which lasted from approximately 8,500 B.C. to 800 B.C. The Woodland period is the last of the ancient stages, lasting from 800 B.C. to 1200 A.D. These stages are divided by differences in migratory, technological, and social developments. The first people, originally from Asia, reached North America by crossing the land bridge Alaska and Asia once shared. The Paleo-Indians were nomadic hunter-gatherers who followed herds of large animals. They camped in locations that offered an abundance of natural features such as shelter, game, and water. Places along streams and tributaries were common camp locations.(1) Their nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle resulted in low population densities; the population of Iowa during this time is estimated to have been between 1,000 - 2,000 people.(2)

          During the Archaic period, which started in 8,500 B.C., the Midwest went through a considerable climate change. The temperature became warmer and large areas of prairie land formed. With the climate being more hospitable, population began rising significantly. Some archeologists believe that the population could have doubled during this time. Technological advancements in tool making and pottery were major characteristics of this era as well, but the most revolutionary advancements would be witnessed during the coming Woodland period.





          The creation of better hunting weapons, including the bow and arrow, the development of agriculture, and the ability to make better pottery, were all extremely important developments made by Native Americans during the Woodland Period (800 B.C. - A.D. 1200). The Woodland period was a time of growth and prosperity for midwestern people. The cultivation of food and the relative ease of hunting made it possible to sustain larger populations. This also allotted more time for cultural development. Religious and social institutions expanded during this time. A number of different tribes occupied present-day Iowa during the archaic period. The Hopewell lived near the Mississippi River, the Oneota were found throughout the state, the Glenwood People lived in present-day Mill County, and the Mill Creek tribe lived near Cherokee. These people are the ancestors of Iowa's modern tribes, the tribes that the French explorers and trappers met in the late 1600s.

          Iowa's major modern tribes include the Ioway
(for which the state is named), Sauk, Mesquaki, Sioux, Potawatomi, Oto, and the Missouri. The Sauk and Mesquaki were the largest and most powerful of Iowa's tribes. They had moved into the Illinois area from Michigan in the 1730s, and used eastern Iowa as a hunting ground. The Native Americans lived relatively undisturbed during the French Period of the Midwest's history, but as Americans began to settle more and more to the west, Iowa's Native Americans found themselves being pushed off of their land. By 1830, The Potawatomi, Oto, and Missouri Indians had sold their land claims to the United States. The Sauk and Mesquaki followed suit in 1845. The Sioux were the last to relinquish their lands, holding out until 1851.

Indian Land Cessions/Treaties


1824 - From Sauk & Fox, southeast
1830 -
Various sections of land in the north and west
1832 -
Black Hawk Purchase, east
1836 -
From Sauk & Fox, small tract in the east
1837 -
Triangular tract directly west of the Black Hawk Purchase
1842 -
Last Sauk & Fox treaty, large tract in the center of Iowa
1846 -
Western land ceded from Winnebago, northern land from the Potawatomi
1851 -
Northern land from the Sioux


The French Period

          The French began to explore the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River in the late 17th century. They went on to claim the area, engaged in fur trading with the Native Americans, and created numerous settlements. Iowa, because of its location on the far side of the Mississippi River, did not witness much French development or exploration. Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette are credited as being the first white men to set foot in what is now Iowa. Marquette and Jolliet, along with their crewmen, came ashore near the junction of the Iowa and Mississippi Rivers in June of 1673. A few years later, Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed the entire Mississippi Valley for France. Iowa was part of this claim, but did not serve as an area of settlement. The French had no plans to colonize America in the way that the British had, they were more concerned with fur, so their population in North America remained low and primarily concentrated in the areas adjacent to the Great Lakes. White activity would not increase until the beginning of the 19th century.


The Louisiana Purchase and the Early American Period

          Iowa did not become part of the United States until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), which pitted the French against the British for North American dominance, the French secretly sold their western land holdings, which included present-day Iowa, to Spain. They did this in efforts to keep as much land out of British hands as possible. When the French lost the war, they surrendered their North American claims to England. After the American Revolution, all British claims south of Canada became American. In 1803, the United States made the biggest land purchase in its history, the Louisiana Purchase, which officially made Iowa part of the U.S. Land included in the Louisiana Purchase would then be divided into two counties, the Territory of Orleans and the District of Louisiana, which contained Iowa. In 1812, Louisiana achieved statehood. The remaining land in Orleans Territory was renamed the Territory of Missouri. When Missouri became a state in 1820, the land of present-day Iowa was left in limbo until it became part of Michigan Territory in 1834.

          The famed exploration of Lewis and Clark traveled through Iowa, but it was only mentioned briefly in their reports. The only man who died during the trip, Sergeant Charles Floyd, died on Iowa soil. His last journal entry, written shortly before falling ill, read; "Captain Clark and 10 of his men and myself went to the Mahas Creek [between Iowa and Nebraska] a'fishing and caught 317 fish of different kinds."(3) He died on August 20th, 1804, and was buried at Sergeant Bluff, near present-day Iowa City. "We buried him at the top of the bluff…with the honors of war much lamented; This man at all times gave us proof of his fairness and determined resolution to do service to his country and honor to himself," said William Clark of Floyd.(4) Floyds River, Floyd County, and Sergeant Bluff are all places named in honor of him.

          American interest in Iowa increased during the War of 1812. Fort Madison was constructed in Iowa, although Indians burned it down. Further interest and settlement of the land would not take place until the 1830s, after sufficient land was purchased from the Native Americans.


American Settlement

"Our third day in Ioway [Iowa] and our twenty-fifth day on the way from Ohio to the Indian Country of Ioway. Sounds romantic, don't it?
                                                                 - Mary Alice Shutes, Iowa Settler, May 31, 1862

          Soon after land had been purchased from the Native Americans in the 1830s, thousands of settlers rushed into Iowa. Prior to 1830, only a few white people lived in the area, mainly around Dubuque and Keokuk. The first school in Iowa was established in Keokuk in 1830(5) and by 1836, the population of Iowa had blossomed to over 10,000 people. Dubuque, Bellevue, Muscatine, Burlington, Fort Madison, and Keokuk emerged as main areas of settlement.

          The majority of Iowa's early settlers came from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. The first land offices were created in Dubuque and Burlington in 1838, but thousands of people had already settled by that time. Nobody had a legal title until the land offices were established and squatters were able to buy the land for $1.25 per acre.(6) Often times the squatters formed groups and went to the auctions together to help ensure they weren't outbid or pressured by speculators. Kitturah Penton Belknap, an Iowa pioneer in 1839, described the settlement process in her journal;

We had a quarter section [160 acres] of land. We thought that sounded pretty big but it was not paid for yet. The land had just been bought of the Indians and had not been surveyed so it was not in the market yet. We could settle on it and hold our claims and make improvements, but we must have the cash to pay when it was surveyed and came in to market or some land-shark [would be] ready to buy it from under us. Then we would lose improvements and all so we had to get in and dig to have the money ready. (7)


          Many settlers were surprised to discover how devoid of trees the central and northwestern areas of Iowa were. In eastern and central Iowa, enough trees were available to build cabins, but not enough for fuel. As one Iowan noted in her diary, "Water and timber were considered very essential."(8) In northwest Iowa, houses had to be constructed of sod. The prairie lands of Iowa were very different than many settlers, especially those from heavily wooded areas, were used too. They quickly discovered new hardships to prairie living that didn't exist in areas more abundant with trees and people. These difficulties lessened as more settlers arrived and as they began adapting to the land. By 1860, most of the state had been settled and pioneers no longer lived in isolation.


Border Disputes and Statehoood


          Some people in Iowa were ready for statehood long before it was achieved. The call for a constitutional convention was first made in 1839, then again in 1840, and again in 1842, but were all voted down. Finally in 1844 the Territorial Assembly passed the bill for a convention. The convention was held and a constitution created, but boundary disputes in both the north and the south caused major problems. In 1839, Governor Lucas recommended that Iowa's northern boundary run from the mouth of the Big Sioux River where it emptied into the Missouri and continued along the St. Peters (Minnesota) River) and down until it collided with the Mississippi River.(9) Known as the Lucas Boundaries, they encompassed present-day Iowa and parts of Minnesota. In 1843, a report by Joseph N. Nicollet, a French-born geographer and explorer, created a hypothesis for a different border that cut in more to the west and south, creating a smaller area. These differing boundaries were in competition when Iowa petitioned for statehood. The convention's committee on boundaries adopted the Lucas Boundaries in 1844, but upon admission to statehood, the House of Representatives chose the Nicollet Boundaries. The Senate passed the bill, and President John Tyler signed the act admitting Iowa into the Union on March 3rd, 1845. Citizens of Iowa did not agree with the Nicollet Boundaries and rejected statehood until the boundaries could be agreed on. A new constitution was drafted in 1846 and was accepted by the citizens. Iowa officially became a state in December of that year.

          Yet another border dispute, this time in the south, plagued Missouri from 1839 to 1850. Congress had established the southern border of Iowa to run through the rapids of the River Des Moines, but Missouri speculators determined that the line was ten miles further north. Missouri settlers soon moved in and took up the land, which was home to valuable trees where bees deposited their honey.(10) Troubles began when Sandy Gregory, sheriff of Clark County, Missouri, entered the area to collect taxes. A group of Iowans kidnapped the sheriff and held him prisoner. Locals retaliated by cutting down some of the honey trees. The citizens of Iowa and Missouri became furious, and both called up their militias. In August of 1839, Iowa's army of 1,200 men marched towards the border. The Missouri Militia followed suit, and both sat waiting for a call to battle that never came. Nobody fought, but political battles continued over the boundary until the United States Supreme Court established the border at the junction of the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers. Iowa kept the bee trees and the Honey War, which wasn't actually much of a war at all, came to an end in 1850. Iowa's borders were finally secured.


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(1) Lynn M. Alex, Iowa's Archeological Past, (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002), 42.
(2) Alex, 43.
(3) James J. Holmberg, Exploring With Lewis and Clark, The 1804 Journal of Charles Floyd,(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 91.
(4) Holmberg, 1. Leland L. Sage, A History of Iowa, (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1974), 46.
(5) Joseph Frazier Wall, Iowa, A Bicentennial History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978), 119.
(6) Diary of Kitturah Penton Belknap, Glenda Riley, ed., Prairie Voices, Iowa's Pioneering Women, (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1996), 8.
(7) From the Memoirs of Ada Mae Brown Brinton, Riley, 197.
(8) Sage, 86. Allan Carpenter & Randy Lyon, Between Two Rivers: Iowa Year by Year, 1846-1996, (Ames: Iowa State University, 1997), 11.
(9) Dorothy Schwieder, "History of Iowa," Iowa Official Register,
<http://publications.iowa.gov/archive/00000135/01/history/7-1.html> 5-4-2006.
(10) Carpenter& Lyon, 37. Carpenter & Lyon, 37.

By Rickie Lazzerini
Historian

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.


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