Friday, October 10, 2008

The Battle of the Raccoon River


Lindsey and I have often talked about how we either didn’t pay attention at all during school (k-12) or some of our teachers didn’t teach us very well. We have especially felt this way in the subject of history. Lately I have been doing a little research about the religious history of Iowa and as I was flipping through the pages in Benjamin F. Gue’s four volumes of the History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century published in 1903 something caught my eye. I have never seen or heard this before. And trust me…no one told me this story because I grew up almost on the banks of the Raccoon River and I would have remembered this one!

First, A little History
Chapter IX of Volume I starts out describing the Pottawattamie (also known as Pouks by the French) Native Americans. Pottawattami means “makers of fire”. In 1804 the United States acquired land from the Sacs (also known as Sauks) and Foxes for the sum of $2,000 a year, which included much of Iowa. Black Hawk, the chief of the Sacs, never recognized this acquisition.

On August 24, 1816 the United States yielded a portion of these lands to the Pottawattamies, Ottawas and Chippeways in exchange for their lands on the west shore of Lake Michigan, which included the site of Chicago. After the United States yielded this land to them they then repurchased it in two treaties: first on September 20, 1828 and second on July 29, 1829. In the second treaty the Native Americans were to be paid $16,000 a year forever, for a small portion of the lands originally purchased from the Sacs and Foxes. In response to this Chief Black Hawk said, “If a small portion of our lands are worth $16,000 per [year], how was it that more than 50,000,000 of acres were sold for the insignificant sum of $2,000 per year?” Gue writes that this question could never be satisfactorily answered. Gue then describes how the Pottawattamies ended up living on the eastern shores of the Missouri River. Then on June 5, 1846 the United States made a treaty with the Pottawattamies in which they exchanged their Iowa lands for a reservation, which was thirty miles square within the limits of Kansas, and they moved there.

The earliest explorers of the Northwest recognized three powerful Native American nations in the Mississippi Valley in the 16th century: (1) The Pottawattamies, (2) The Dakotas who were the most powerful and populous of the nations. This nation spanned from Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, more than half of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, all of Kansas and Nebraska, the greater part of Minnesota, to the north half of Wisconsin. The Sioux Native Americans belonged to the Dakota nation. (3) The Mahas or Omahas. The Oc-to-ta-toes or Octoes were a small offshoot of them that lived in western Iowa close to the Missouri River. Their hunting grounds extended from near Council Bluffs to the Des Moines River.

Hostile Relations
Gue describes the relational situation between the United States and the Sioux saying, “They were always more or less hostile to the Americans and only restrained from open hostilities by the wholesome fear of troops stationed in the frontier forts. They were also deadly enemies of the Sac and Fox nation."

This brings us to the events of 1841.
“A party of the Sioux surprised a hunting camp of twenty-four Delawares on the Raccoon River, killing all but one of them. The Delawares, led by their Chief, Neowa-ge [Neowage], made a heroic fight against overwhelming numbers, killing twenty-six of their enemies, four of whom fell beneath the terrible blows of the Delaware chief... One [Delaware] escaped to carry the tidings to their Sac and Fox friends, who were camped on the east bank of the Des Moines River, near where the State House now stands. Pashepaho [Pashepao], [their] chief, who was then eighty years of age, mounted his pony and, selecting five hundred of his bravest warriors, started in pursuit of the Sioux. He followed the trail from where the bodies of the Delawares lay unburied, for more than a hundred miles up the valley of the Raccoon River, where the Sioux were overtaken. Raising their fierce war cry and led by their old chieftain, the Sacs and Foxes charged on the enemy’s camp. The battle was one of the bloodiest ever fought on Iowa soil. [The combatants were mortal enemies.] Hand to hand [they] fought with a desperation never surpassed in [Native American] warfare. The Sioux were fighting for life and their assailants to revenge the slaughter of their friends. The conflict lasted for many hours. The defeat of the Sioux was overwhelming [even though they won]. More than three hundred of their dead were left on the field of battle. The Sacs and the Foxes lost, but [only] seven [of them were] killed.”
This is a combination of accounts from the following works:

Gue, Benjamin F. History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Volume I: The Pioneer Period (New York City: The Century History Company, 1903), p. 104; & Maclean, Paul History of Carroll County Iowa A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement Volume I (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912), pp. 7-8.


Confirmation By Aftermath
In Paul Maclean’s History of Carroll County Iowa A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement Volume I he provides a few more details about what was left over a few years after the battle and a few more details of the battle.
“The settlers in the central part of the county found along the east bank of Crescent Lake (later called Swan Lake, now extinct) many signs to indicate that it must have been at one time the scene of a bloody and disastrous [Native American] battle. Human skulls and bones could be picked up at an early day, and the prairie around was strewn with implements of Indian warfare. Among these were several rusty muskets of a primitive type and thousands of flint darts and other weapons common among the [Native Americans]. There were, however, no signs to tell anything of the battle or the combatants, but this debris indicated that it could not have taken place a great many years before. Several ingenious theories have been advanced by way of accounting for a battle to fit the field and circumstances. It is probable, however, that the shore of Crescent Lake was the scene of a reckoning between the Sacs and Foxes and the Sioux.”

He further wrote the same account that I quoted above from the History of Iowa book by Gue. After recounting the battle Maclean then writes:
“The accounts of this battle do not locate it, but so far as is known there were but three [terrible Native American] collisions in western Iowa. A terrible battle was fought near Twin Lakes, in Calhoun county, between the Pottawottamies and the Sioux. The same foes again met on the South Lizard in Webster county, where the event was also a tragic one and where the Sioux were the victors as they were also at Twin Lakes. These are the same Sioux who perpetrated the massacres at Spirit Lake and Okoboji fifteen or twenty years later. The relics of the battle at Crescent Lake were so numerous and important as to indicate beyond probable doubt that that was the scene of the third of the three great [Native American] battles of western Iowa.”

Maclean, Paul History of Carroll County Iowa A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement Volume I (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912), pp. 7-8.

So here are a few questions… Why didn’t we ever talk about the three great Native American battles in Iowa? Growing up playing down by the Raccoon River why hadn’t I ever heard of the great battle of the Raccoon River? I looked for arrowheads as it was…and I know that the main part of the battle was way up the river, but man I would have been down there looking for them more intensely if I knew events like this happened. Since we have lived in Washington, DC I have definitely grown in appreciation of history. This is mainly because we are able to go see all the actual locations of events such as George Washington’s home, the Whitehouse, I’ve been to Gettysburg and Vicksburg battlefields, and many other historical sites. I know that if I had known more of the history of where I lived I would have been more engaged. That’s all speculation though;)

Anyhow, if you have read all of this I hope you have picked up a bit more of a desire to learn about the local history of where you live. The next time I'm in Iowa I'm definitely going to head to the Raccoon River and ponder some of the events that took place along its banks.

1 comment:

Shane Vander Hart said...

I didn't know about this either. I feel robbed! Why did we not study this in our Iowa History unit?