Kossuth County Iowa
The Last Iowa Indian Battle
The Close of the War Between the Sioux and Sacs and Foxes
A Battlefield Near Algona
The Old Autipathy Between the Two Tribes
The Neutral Ground Which Was Violated
Scattering of the Tribes
A Chapter of Iowa History.
Algona Upper Des Moines: Probably but few of even the oldest residents of Kossuth county realize that one of the most memorable Indian battles ever fought in the Mississippi valley occurred within a few miles of Algona. It was the last meeting between the Sioux and Sac and Fox nations, the two greatest among the western Indians. It occurred in April, 1852, between two struggling bands, both at that date without legal right to be on Iowa soil, and never again, so far as is known, did they come together. Thus a century's feud, which at one time involved all Iowa and engaged the repeated attention of the government at Washington, flickered out in a malicious slaughter on the banks of the Des Moines. On this account it assumes a dramatic interest, out of all proportion to its details. On other accounts it is of interest to us because of historical associations it recalls.
The glory of the Sacs and Foxed had departed long before 1852. Treaty by treaty the federated tribes which followed Blackhawk when he "touched the goose quill" at the close of the war on 1812 had ceded their Iowa possessions and in 1845 they had become a band of pensioners upon the government on a Kansas reservation. Blackhawk, the greatest of them all, had died disappointed and deserted in his Iowa home in 1838. Keokuk, eloquent, vain, venal and dissipated he reached the new western home with the remnants of his people, and there, in drunken debauch had ended his career ten years later. A few malcontents, broken hearted and homesick, had wandered back to their old hunting grounds on the Iowa river near Tama. Here they gradually collected a band, which by act of legislature was allowed later to make a permanent home; and taking the Indian names of the Foxes, Musquakie, signifying weaver of the yellow emblem, they and their descendants still linger to remind the traveler on the Northwestern railroad of the Iowa of a generation ago.
The Sioux, occupying only the northern and western border of Iowa, were slower to retreat before the advancing immigration of the whites, but already during the year previous to this battle, had yielded their claim by treaty to Iowa territory. Being but the boundary line, the great Dakota nation, as they called themselves, had never held Iowa at any time other than debatable battle and hunting ground. For some years therefore the region of Spirit Lake and of the two branches of the Des Moines river, the Sioux frontier, had been held by wandering and vagabond Sioux tribes. Si-mon-na-do-tah and Ink-pa-du-kah leading their illvisaged freebooters up the west branch and about the lakes, and Um-pa-sho-tah occasionally coming down the east branch with his band from the Minnesota lakes.
The Indians rarely crossed the prairies, preferring to range along the wooded valleys, and it was undoubtedly a band of the Minnesota Sioux which, on that beautiful April morning in 1852, were looking out upon a beautiful and peaceful landscape, preparing for the chase, unconscious that they were watched from the heavy grove to the north by their hereditary enemies, bent on avenging for the last time insults and injuries treasured in tenacious Indian memories.
The spot upon which they met was not far from the "neutral line," associated in both tribes with repeated hostilities, and near the western limit of the "neutral ground." These two landmarks of early Iowa geography mark two ingenious efforts on the part of the government to secure peace between these hostile people. The Dakota were a native nation. The sacs and Foxes were warlike Algonquin tribes driven from the St. Lawrence river gradually westward until at Prairie du Chien on the north and Keokuk on the south they occupied at the opening of this century the Mississippi valley. The Iowas, Pottawattamies and other western tribes gave way before them, but their infringing upon Sioux territory to the north was like the grinding contact of two mighty glaciers. As soon as white settlement reached the Mississippi western progress depended upon the establishment of some boundary line both nations would respect. Accordingly in 1825, in August, a great gathering of 3,000 painted warriors, Sioux, Winnebagos, Menomines, Pottawattamies, Iowas and Sacs and Foxes was held at Prairie du Chien, and the "neutral line" was established.
It ran from the mouth of the upper Iowa river on the Mississippi northwest to near the present boundary between Iowa and Minnesota and then directly southwest to the forks of the Des Moines, in Humboldt county, and then southwest to the Missouri. The adjournment of the convention had not occurred before the futility of the division appeared. Keokuk, the last to arrive, came with his followers in full war array, singing their martial songs, and casting looks of enduring hatred upon the Sioux chieftains even while they were entering into the agreement. Five years later the "neutral ground" was established, the Sioux ceding a twenty mile strip north of the neutral line from the Mississippi to the west branch of the Des Moines, and the Sacs and Foxes a like strip south of the line, making the belt forty miles wide to be used by both tribes for hunting and fishing unmolested. But even this wide barrier proved ineffectual, for only two years later the leaders of both nations were called to Washington and there before the "great father" explained their mutual grievances and displayed their mutual hatred.
"My father," exclaimed one Sioux, "you cannot make these people hear any good words unless you bore their ears with sticks." And another exclaimed,"We have often made peace with them, but they would never observe any treaty. I would as soon think of making a treaty with that child (pointing to Keokuk's child) as with a Saukie or Musquakie." Keokuk, at home in the war of words, master of the art of Indian oratory, replied with jaunts not less stinging: "They tell you that our ears must be bored with sticks, but my father, you could not penetrate their thick skulls in that way; it would require hot iron. They say they would as soon make peace with a child as with us. They know better, for when they made war upon us they found us men. They tell you that peace has often been made, and that we have broken it. How happens it, then, that so many of their braves have been slain in our country. I will tell you; they have invaded us; we never invaded them; none of my braves have been killed in their land."
Five years later, in 1841, while 1.600 Sacs and Foxes were holding a war dance on what is now inclosed in the townsite of Des Moines, Si-mon-na-do-tah's Sioux warriors attacked a band of friendly Delawares at Adel, killing twenty-six, and Keokuk, the aged Pashepaho, Kiskekosh led a band of 500 Sacs and Foxes in pursuit, claiming on their return to have killed 300 Sioux. As a barrier the neutral ground was little if any better than the neutral line. But as a hunting ground it has never been and never will be surpassed. It was the garden spot for sport. Buffalo, elk and deer ranged the prairies, beaver otter and mink abounded in the streams; wild fowl of every variety from the pelican and swan to the modest teal hovered over the ponds and lakes. Plover, pigeon, quail and chickens hid in the luxuriant grass, and fish, still abundant enough to attract the disciples of Walton, then actually infested the water. No equal territory ever led the northern Iowa in its virgin condition as the home of game, and of all the neutral ground no part was fairer than the East Des Moines valley, lying as it did in a circle of large lakes from Clear lake on the east through Chain lakes on the north to Spirit lake and Okoboji on the west. And lying as it did at the western extremity of the neutral ground, the valley was last to be depleted of its game, because when in 1841 the Winnebagos were moved from Wisconsin and given the ground for a reservation, their proximity to the Sioux on the west kept them from coming beyond Clear lake, and was equally effective in restraining Sioux from venturing often east of Spirit and Okoboji lakes.
Thus it happened that as late as the spring of 1852 two remote tribes should have come into close proximity in their search for game. The history of the battle is contained in the story of a trapper, and was reduced to writing in 1860 in a letter which was written by Amos J. Collins to A.L. Seeley, and which, yellow and worn, is still preserved.
The Sioux were encamped upon a bluff which rose abruptly in a short bend of the river, its wooded sides fronting east and north. On the south it was cut off by a deep ravine, while, by a few feet at least, it rose to the west above the level of the far stretching prairies. It was and is a sightly spot, and from its summit the wary and keen sighted Indians could note a suspicious movement many miles away. To the northeast along the creek now known as Buffalo Fork to the grove in Winnebago county, now known as Buffalo grove, stretched the favorite stamping ground of the big herds of buffalo. Across the river a mile to the north a heavy growth of native timber sheltered the attacking Sacs and Foxes. They had come sixty strong from Tama under Kokowah for the buffalo, but learning at Clear lake of the presence of their life long enemies, had donned their war paint and cautiously approached from the east until they lay hidden awaiting the fateful moment. Among their band were Petokape, an aged chieftan of renown, and Kear Kurk, a younger but distinguished warrior. Morning found the Sioux setting out upon the hunt and the Musquakies steadily approaching under cover of the underbrush of the river valley.
Thirty years have added to the density of the timber which fringes the banks and steep sides of the bluff, but even then and in the early spring it was possible to reach the summit unnoticed if unsuspected. The first fire, had firearms been effecctive in those days, would have ended the conflict, but the mutilated and scattered skeletons of the Sioux told of a desperate struggle to the hunter who found them in 1856 glistening in the sun. The sixteen who were killed lay along the hillside as they fell, forced gradually back and down. At the foot of the bluff lay the medicine man, his bangles and rude ornaments still clinging to his fleshless bones. Four Sacs and Foxes fell. In the first rush Petokape was shot in the breast by a Sioux squaw, and as he turned to run was killed by an arrow at twenty rods. The four were buried in one grave on the summit of the battle ground, and there in 1860 there skeletons were found wrapped in a buffalo robe, with their several weapons, one a pistol of ancient make whose rude construction proved a puzzle to the writer's youthful mind, in the solution of which he succeeded in destroying an interesting and valuable relic of early times. The rude burial over, the Musquakies retreated in hast to Tama, traveling day and night. There they spent six days and nights in fortifying their town, when they burned their prisoner, a boy of 14 years, and scattered in small parties to prevent the Sioux getting revenge.
For years therafter they carried the scalps of their victims at their belts, and Mr. John Reed remembers seeing a war dance at Albion, in Marshall County, in which, with many demonstrations, the story of the battle was retold and the scalps were made to do service in encouraging the noise and enthusiasm of the occasion. They never again ventured near Sioux territory, The Sioux lingered in northwesten Iowa until the Spirit Lake massacre of 1857, and then withdrew permanently to the west. After the New Ulm massacre in 1862 they also withdrew from Minnesota and have never since visited the "neutral ground." For many years the skeletons and broken crookery told the story of the battle, the little skulls of the children, each chipped by the tomahawk, speaking of the merciless Indian hate, and of the pathos of war.
One by one, however, they have been carried away, until today the last vestage is gone. The visitor now drives from Algona, along fenced lanes to a farm gate at Gottlieb Bohn's and following the direction to "straddle a corn row" throught his field, finds himself at length upon the battle ground. A bushy vine grows out of Petokape's deserted grave, near by a thrifty field of corn covers the spot where the Sioux fell. To the east the spire of a church arises, to the north along the valley the Musquakies traversed the cattle are quietly pasturing.
The buffalo grounds are now dotted with farm houses. The past and the present seem so immeasurably apart that the imagination fails in the effort to repeople the valley. With the fading memories of the men who knew the Iowa prairies when the buffalo ranged at will, will fade any adequate realization of the scene which was enacted on that April morning, when lingering remnants of two great nations, which had equally suffered from the invading white man, celebrated their farewell to the magnificent hunting grounds of northern Iowa, by wreaking Indian vengence on each other.
[Source: "The Sioux City Journal" - Feb. 23, 1896 - submitted by Kat Lowrie]
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