Monday, June 22, 2009

Iowaville: Let us now praise Lance M. Foster

A quirk of Iowa history as taught is absence: We’re fascinated by what our Euro-American ancestors did once they got here just the other day, beginning in the 1830s or so, and obsessed at times with the Spirit Lake Massacre (involving renegade Wahpekute Santee --- Dakota --- and white settlers who probably should have known better than to settle where they did when they did anyway). The Sauk and Meskwaki get a good deal of attention, too, although in Iowa terms they were Johnny-come-latelys.

No offense here to the Meskwaki --- they’re still part of us, thank goodness.

But how many I wonder even know that “Iowa” --- the state, the river, Iowa City and my personal icon, Iowaville down there in Van Buren County --- take their names from the Ioway tribe; that the Ioways were here for centuries before the other tribes --- Sauk, Meskwaki and white --- arrived; and that the Ioways are still around, although few live now in this beautiful land between two rivers.

Names are one sign of historical obscurity. Look at a few of the places scattered across our landscape and consider the leaders after whom they were named: Appanoose (Meskwaki), Black Hawk (Sauk), Waukon and Decorah (given and family names of a Winnebago), Keokuk (Sauk), Osceola (Seminole), Poweshiek, Tama and Wapello (Meskwaki) and Winneshiek (Winnebago). Even Inkpaduta, that guy who led the renegade band of Wahpekute Santee at Spirit Lake back in 1857, has a trail named after him for heaven’s sake.

But only Mahaska (translated into English as White Cloud, 1784-1834, portrait up top) among the Ioways is honored with a place on Iowa maps in the form of a county that is maybe a 45-minute fast drive northeast of here.

Part of the reason for that obscurity is a great battle involving an ambush about 1819 by confederated Sauk and Meskwaki of the Ioway near and in their last great village in this state along the Des Moines River where the later Euro-American village of Iowaville arose in the late 1830s and 1840s. This was in a way the last stand in Iowa of the Ioways, already weakened by losses in battle with other tribes and white tribe diseases. It greatly diminished a once-powerful tribe that by 1836 had been exiled entirely, a factor in its almost footnote status in Iowa history books. Euro-American Iowans remembered the Sauk, the Meskwaki and the Dakota, but not the Ioway.

There are many hearsay accounts of the battle and the dates set for it range on either side of 1820. Some among the white tribe even doubt that it occurred, but that seems to be a factor of white male historians’ tendency to doubt the validity of anything about which a white male historian has not written a book.

Here are four paragraphs of Lance M. Foster’s account of the battle and the events that preceded and followed it:

“On May 1, 1819, the Ioway were celebrating their successful return to their beloved principal village on the Des Moines after the winter buffalo hunt. The men were at a horse race on a course about two miles away from the village. They were so happy and relaxed after a good hunt, with so much meat, that they had relaxed their vigilance, and left their cumbersome arms in the village. In the village, the women prepared for a celebratory feast. The old people sat around and talked, and the children played.

“No one saw that two divisions of combined Sauk and Mesquakie forces lay in wait in the thick tallgrass prairie near the race track, commanded by the Sauk Pashepaho. No one saw that another division lay in wait in the woods beyond the village, under Black Hawk. If anyone wandering about saw any sign of the waiting enemy, they were quickly and efficiently silenced.

“When the sun had reached a certain height, pandemonium broke loose. Pashepaho's forces ran in shouting waves onto the shocked Ioway, who grasped in vain for the weapons they had forgotten, and who fell in numbers before the attackers. They fought the best they could, with sticks or stones or quirts, whatever they could find, and barehanded if they could find nothing. They began to make a break for the village and their weapons, and then new fear arose in them, fear for what might be happening to their defenseless families at home.

“They fought and ran and died. But it was too late, and the horror that they felt at seeing the carnage at the village, flames scorching the framework of the houses and the charred and ravaged bodies of the dead women, children, and elders, gave them the desperation of the hopeless. The Ioway fought the best they could but their hearts were gone, and they gave up just before sunset, and submitted to the enemy in unconditional surrender. Only a handful of the people were left, over a thousand dead, scattered over the darkening landscape for two miles.”

This is taken from an article by Foster entitled “The Ioway and the Landscape of Southeast Iowa,” published in 1996 in the “Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society.”

The Iowaville Cemetery remains the best vantage point from which to view the landscape of this decisive event and I have stood there often looking out to the southwest and west, thinking about it. It seems like there should be a memorial of some sort here, an interpretive sign to note it, but there isn’t. Iowaville, and the Ioways, remain obscured.

So here’s the reason to praise Lance M. Foster, a registered member of the Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska headquartered on a small reservation in extreme northeast Kansas and southeast Nebraska west of the Missiouri River and south of the Great Nemaha.

Foster, who grew up in Montana and has returned there to live, researched and wrote extensively about the Ioway while earning advanced degrees at Iowa State University. He is Webmaster of an extremely informative site, “Baxoje, The Ioway Nation: Ioway Cultural Institute,” which is here.

You’ll find articles written by Foster and others about the Ioway in “The Ioway Library” portion of the site. I’ve been a regular visitor for quite a while and learn something new whenever I spend time there.

Even better, perhaps, the University of Iowa Press will release in October a new book by Foster entitled “The Indians of Iowa,” which promises to pull together for the first time in comprehensive form information about 26 tribes who called what we call Iowa home. That’s a book I’m looking forward to.

And I’m wondering if it’s time for a new book about the Ioway. I have Martha Royce Blaine’s “The Ioway Indians” (University of Oklahoma Press, 1979; paperback 1995) and am getting ready to reread it. But surely there’s room for another.


Ed Abbey said...

Although I knew of the Ioway, I didn't know of their demise. Thanks for the history lesson.

Idyllopus said...

Have followed your blog for a while and it was a nice surprise to see this.

Greg Olson has published a book, "The Ioway in Missouri". Recently came out. I purchased a copy immediately and it is a great, informative read.

Frank D. Myers said...

Yes, I've seen the title and I've got to get it, but need to overcome my luddite aversion to ordering stuff online. Still expect to find what I want at my neighborhood bookstore (now an hour away), but for some reason the bookstore staff can't read my mind and have it ready when I get there!