THE IOWAY INDIANS: BRITAIN’S ALLY IN THE WEST?
By Michael Dickey
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Arrow Rock State Historic Site
(Revised October 2004)
The Ioway (Iowa) Indian Nation or Baxoje (Pa-ho-dje) as they called themselves, have often been credited as being the only tribe west of the Mississippi River to actively support Great Britain during the War of 1812. The question arises if this was actually the case and if so, to what extent did they militarily assist the British? Background information on native cultures and their history is always helpful in gaining insight into their conduct during the war. This is especially true in understanding the relationship of the Ioway and British. Unfortunately, there is little to no documentation available presenting the Ioway point of view, especially in their own words. Decades of government boarding schools and policies of assimilation have apparently erased that knowledge from tribal memory.
The Ioway were of Chiwere Siouan linguistic stock as were the Otoe, Missouria and the Winnebago whom the Ioway fondly referred to as their “Grandfathers. These people were direct descendants of the Oneota culture, which had dominated the area between Lake Michigan and the Missouri River valley for at least 300 years prior to European contact. One of the prominent Oneota sites in Missouri is located within Van Meter State Park, which was also the primary village site of the Missouria nation until around 1728.
In an 1836 letter to President Andrew Jackson, the Ioway described the former boundaries of their territory:
“No Indian of any other tribe dare build his fire or make a moccasin track between the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, from the mouth of the calumet (Big Sioux), upper Iowa and Des Moines Rivers, without first having obtained the consent of the Ioway nation of Indians. In fact, this country was all theirs and had been for hundreds of years.”
The archaeological and historical record indeed supports this claim. However, the Ioway certainly could not control this entire area at any one time. Many other tribes also claimed and frequently hunted within this geographical area, sometimes as allies of the Ioway but often as their competitors.
The Ioway were located along the South Dakota – Minnesota border at the earliest period of French exploration of the Mississippi valley. They began migrating towards the southeast as the Dakota Sioux and Cheyenne began
moving onto the Plains from the upper Mississippi Valley. The main Ioway villages were located on the Des Moines and Iowa Rivers by the early 1700s. Smallpox and warfare with the Sauk had eliminated the Missouria as an independent tribe by 1789, effectively leaving the Ioway in possession of what is now northern Missouri.
Ioway culture of the 18th and early 19th century contained a mixture of both plains and woodland cultural elements. Very early French documents identified the Ioway as “buffalo hunters.” After 1700 they acquired horses, which facilitated their seasonal buffalo hunts west of the Missouri River. Oval bark or reed mat covered wigwams and long houses similar to those used by eastern tribes formed their semi-permanent villages. Paintings by George Catlin and early photographs show the Ioway also used tipis, at least during the 19th century. The women practiced modest agriculture, growing a variety of maize, beans, squash and pumpkins. This was supplemented by the seasonal gathering of various nuts, berries and roots. Sophisticated religious beliefs and ceremonies maintained social order and governed all aspects of Ioway life. In many respects the Ioway material lifestyle was similar to other prairie-plains tribes such as the Otoe, Missouria, Sauk, Fox, Kansa, Omaha, Osage and Pawnee at this time.
The Ioway were always a rather small tribe, with various French, Spanish and early American documents reporting their warrior strength somewhere between 200 to 400 individuals. William Clark reported that in 1804 that the “Ayauway nation” consisted of 300 men. George Catlin indicated that able-bodied warriors usually constituted about one-fourth of a tribe’s numbers. This means that their peak population during recorded history was between 800 to 1,600 members. However, prior to the epidemics of European diseases, it is probable that their population was much greater.
Despite their relatively small numbers, the Ioway were a warrior society and not readily intimidated by much larger nations such as the Osage, Pawnee and the Dakota Sioux. Warfare was conducted primarily for the protection of home and hunting territory but it also provided an avenue for young males to achieve recognition and status within the social structure. Although the women were very seldom active as warriors, they actively supported the war parties through physical and ceremonial means.
With the exception of their Winnebago “Grandfathers”, the Ioway were generally on the friendliest terms with the Algonquin-speaking Sauk and Fox. This relationship began in the early 1720s and is considered one of accommodation more than of active cooperation. Being few in number, the Ioway needed allies and they sometimes joined with the Sauk and Fox in fights against other tribes. During a series of wars with the French, which culminated around 1734, the Sauk and Fox briefly retreated to central Iowa where they received shelter and assistance from the Ioway. However, in later years as the Sauk and Fox were pushed west of the Mississippi on a permanent basis, this generally amicable relationship was sometimes strained to the point of bloodshed.
The Ioway had been fairly reliable allies and trading partners with the French since their first meeting. However, beginning in the late 1740s, Britain attempted to undermine Indian loyalty to France by sending traders into the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. British goods were generally better made than French goods and sold at cheaper prices. As a result of this covert activity, the Ioway killed two French traders in 1755. But war was soon underway for the control of the North American continent and the French pardoned the murderers in order to recruit the tribe for military service against Great Britain. Thus in the assault against Fort William Henry in New York, General Marquis de Montcalm was able to count among his Indian allies, “The Ioway of the Western Sea.”
Before the end of the French and Indian War, trade items became scarce owing to British blockades at sea. French posts were abandoned and what men and materials were available were sent to support the campaigns in the east. Dependent on European trade goods, France’s Indian allies began turning more frequently to British traders. In 1763, British traders had established a headquarters at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin a crossroads for many native nations in the Great Lakes, Great Plains and upper Mississippi Valley. This location gave the Ioway easy access to English trade goods.
In 1764, the Louisiana Territory and with it, the Ioway homeland, was passed from control of France to Spain in order to keep it out of British hands. In the brief but violent revolt of Chief Pontiac and the Great Lakes tribes against British rule from 1764 to1765, the Ioway along with the Sauk and Fox chose to remain neutral and await the outcome, rather than jeopardize their trade situation. Despite Spain’s control of Louisiana, a Spanish report dated 1777 noted that, “the Ioways traded only with the English.” In 1778 several Ioway headmen traveled to Montreal to affirm their loyalty to the king of England, their “British Father.” During the American Revolution, forces under George Rogers Clark captured British outposts in the Illinois Country disrupting the British supply line to the Indians of the Ohio valley. A party of Sauk and Ioway warriors appeared at Cahokia, apparently scouting American strength and intentions but they took no action.
Since Spain had allied with the Americans in the Revolution, British officials in Canada decided to retaliate by attacking Spanish St. Louis on May 26, 1780. Nearly 1,000 Indians composed of Ioway, Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, Ottawa, Menominee, Ojibwa and Santee Sioux participated in the attack mainly because the British offered better-made trade goods and were more generous with gifts than Spanish officials. St. Louis was well fortified and the Sauk may have even tipped Spanish officials off to the impending attack. The Spanish up to that time had supported the Sauk in their warfare against the Osage. Regardless of the reasons, the attack faltered then failed completely. Afterwards, the Ioway and Sauk and Fox remained outwardly friendly to the Spanish, who were military too weak to chastise the Indians. Besides, the Spanish needed the goodwill of the Indians to try and counter the British influence coming out of Canada.
The Ioway soon became highly successful in pitting Spanish, American and British interests against each other. In so doing they secured the best terms in trade and gifts as the different powers competed for their loyalty, which also meant acquiring their economically important fur harvests. Britain wielded the greatest influence of the three powers and the Ioway soon became the middlemen between British traders and the tribes on the Missouri River. Not only did the Ioway make trips to Prairie du Chien to trade, but also the British traders periodically visited the villages. By 1800, the British had established trading posts directly in the main Ioway villages on the Des Moines and Iowa Rivers.
The effect of the British trade with the Ioway is graphically illustrated in Nicolas Biddle’s interpretation of William Clark’s journal entry of June 27, 1804. In speaking of the Kansas (Kaw) Indian Nation he writes, “…they once lived 24 leagues higher than the Kansas (River) on the south bank of the Missouri and were more numerous, but they have been reduced and banished by the Sacs and Ayaways (Ioways), who being both better supplied with arms have an advantage over the Kansas though the latter are no less warlike than themselves.” Thus Ioway influence in regional affairs belied the small size of their nation, thanks to British firearms and gunpowder. The Ioway Nation was at the high tide of their power and prestige.
France reacquired Louisiana in 1800, but the change was scarcely noticed by the inhabitants of the territory. In April 1803 the United States took possession of the Louisiana Territory from France but this important event had no immediate impact on the Ioway and their trade relations with the British. In October of 1805, they held their first official talks with the United States, then attempting to broker peace between the warring tribes of the Upper Louisiana Territory. In December of that year, territorial governor General James Wilkinson reported that the Ioway, Sauk and Fox were “…certainly disposed for war and beyond all doubts are excited by their traders from Canada.”
To combat British influence emanating from Canada, a delegation of Ioway, Osage, Sauk, Sioux and other tribes were taken to meet President Thomas Jefferson in January of 1806. Jefferson plainly told the Indian headmen that the English, the Spanish and the French were gone “never to return” and that a “Father” would come to live among them, oversee them and settle their quarrels. This “Father” was Nicolas Boilvin, a French-Canadian employee of Auguste Chouteau the St. Louis fur trade baron. Boilvin was fluent in several Indian languages and extremely knowledgeable of their habits and customs. In addition, he was loyal to the new American government making him indispensable to the United States Indian Service.
Boilvin established his base in a Sauk village at the mouth of the Des Moines and he was instructed to “frequently visit” the towns of the Ioway. In spite of his presence, the Ioway openly continued to trade with the British in their villages. The Ioway frequently attacked boats descending the Missouri River, robbing traders and trappers of peltries and destroying what they could not carry off. Even though Boilvin was aware that the stolen material was being traded in the Ioway villages, he could do nothing about it other than beseech the Ioway to desist.
On July 22, 1807, Colonel Hunt at Fort Bellefontaine near St. Louis reported, “…a powerful association of all Indians between the lakes and the Missouri was formed for commencing a war on the frontiers of the U.S. The Ioways only we are told withhold themselves from this threatening combination. The others are ready to strike as soon as their corn is harvested.” Although the war did not materialize, the report was a harbinger of things to come. The Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother Tenskawatawa, “The Prophet” had initiated their efforts to build an alliance of native nations to halt further white encroachment on their lands.
The restraint of the Ioway can be partially attributed to the presence of four licensed American traders among them that year. Some elements within the tribe apparently did not want to jeopardize their newfound trade with the Americans. Thus a small fissure appeared within the tribe, centering on the issue of whether to trade with Great Britain or the United States. One of these American traders was French-Canadian born Denis Julien who had traded with the Ioway as far back as the 1790s under a Spanish license.
During the winter of 1801-1802 Julien had provided stiff competition to British trader Thomas Anderson. It was costly to send trade goods from the Ioway village on the Des Moines west to their hunting grounds on the Missouri River. To save the costs of sending trading outfits up the Missouri River, Julien and Anderson agreed to wait for the hunters to return to the Des Moines villages in the spring. However, Julien sent a boatload of merchandise up the Missouri to the hunting grounds in an attempt to undercut Anderson. Julien was betrayed by one of his employees who informed Anderson of the deception.
As a side note, it is generally presumed that the British sympathized with the Indians and respected their cultures. In general, when compared to the Americans, the British did have better relations and appear to be more tolerant of Indian customs and practices. However, this relationship probably had more to do with financial and military considerations than any real sympathy or interest in protecting the Indian way of life. For example, Anderson described the Ioway as, “…a vile set of people.” Clearly, his motives for trading and living among them were economic profit and not some sense of admiration or humanitarian ideals.
In March of 1808, Ioway, Sauk, Fox, Menominee and Winnebago warriors visited The Prophet’s village, known as “Prophet’s Town” on the Wabash River. This was the center of Tecumseh’s confederacy and thus a gathering place for thousands of disgruntled Indians from over a dozen different nations. This was an alarming development for the Americans who viewed such activity totally as a British, rather than an Indian initiative. The actions of General William Henry Harrison, who had recently secured millions of acres of Indian lands by highly dubious means, were conveniently overlooked as the prime reasons for Indian agitation.
Mar-pak, an influential Potawatomie war chief was given gifts and encouraged to persuade the Ioway, Sauk and Fox not to heed The Prophet’s call. To further help the United States gain favor with the Ioway, Louisiana Territorial Governor Meriwether Lewis employed the aid of Denis Julien. In addition to trading with the Ioway for years, Julien’s wife Catharine was an Ioway, which further helped him have influence with the tribe.
At this time, Sauk and Ioway relations were strained as the Sauk had killed several Ioway on the Des Moines River. Boilvin feared a war between the tribes, which he predicted would render navigation on the upper Mississippi River extremely dangerous. While Boilvin was charged with keeping the peace between warring tribes, he was soon deprived of the only tool he had for accomplishing this goal.
In May, Governor Lewis ordered Boilvin to cease the Indian practice of “covering the blood.” Boilvin used government funds to buy trade goods to pay for the deaths in one Indian nation caused by another, thus making atonement and negating the need for retaliation. Lewis, who had little understanding and tolerance of native cultures, saw such action as a waste of government funds. He also said that if any tribe went hostile, “…no traders will be permitted to bring them merchandise and they will be deprived of means of making war or defending themselves. “ Lewis’ measure only assured that retaliatory raids would continue and that the British traders, not American officials, would influence the actions of native nations.
American-Ioway relations soured in June of 1808 when two traders were killed on the Missouri near the mouth of the Grand River. “The nation is not known but the Ioways are suspected” wrote Governor Lewis to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn. Eventually, two Ioway warriors were arrested and bound over for trial. A large number of the tribe arrived in St. Louis where they “…beseeched and harassed Lewis and General Clark to release their tribesmen.”
The warriors were placed on trail for murder on July 23 and found guilty. In a new trial held in August, the court ruled that the men could not be tried as the Ioway had no treaty relations with the United States and the incident occurred on Indian land, which had not been ceded to the United States. Therefore, the court concluded that the incident had occurred outside its jurisdiction and the laws of the United States. Governor Lewis vehemently disagreed with the court decision and ordered the two men to be held in jail anyway.
In June of 1809, an Ioway man was shot and killed near Cahokia, Illinois. A hunting party had been in the area for some time and this party was accused of stealing and of killing some hogs. The incident further served to heighten the tensions that already existed between the Ioway Nation and the United States. When the two warriors escaped from jail in August, Secretary Frederick Bates openly expressed relief saying the escape was “fortunate for themselves and for us.” Bates disagreed with Lewis’ handling of the Ioway warriors and he certainly must have felt that the chance for armed conflict had just subsided.
One of the escaped warriors was Mahaska or White Cloud, painted by Charles Bird King during a visit to Washington D.C. around 1825. White Cloud was the son of a chief by the same name. Mahaska became an important chief in the tribe, as did his own son. During his visit to Washington, he recalled his long imprisonment and related that he had killed one of the traders in self-defense. After his escape from prison, Mahaska led a war party against the Osage, the ancient foe of the Ioway. The purpose of the raid was to help him regain his status within the tribe after having suffered the humiliation of imprisonment. He took three scalps during this raid and was wounded in the ankle. He hid from Osage warriors under a log in a stream until he could finally make his way across the Missouri River and back to the village on the Des Moines River.
In a gesture of conciliation to the Ioway for Lewis’ jailing of the two Ioway warriors, President Jefferson sent papers and a medal to Hard Heart a prominent headman. In effect this presidential recognition elevated Hard Heart to the status of chief. Secretary Bates felt that Hard Heart was vicious and undeserving of such recognition. Hard Heart of course, was grateful and now looked upon the Americans with favor. Jefferson’s action abrogated Ioway traditions of tribal leadership. Whether intended or not, he widened the divide in the tribe’s pro-British and pro-American factions and set in motion an unraveling of Ioway traditions.
The “Hampshire Federalist” newspaper of Springfield, Massachusetts reported a serious clash between the Ioway and Osage in its January 4, 1810 edition.
“ Fort Osage, November 8th 1809 - On the 4th of this instant a hunting party of the Osage tribe…crossed the Missouri River, from the fort…they were surprised by a party of Ioway’s [sic] who killed one man and two women, and another man is missing, supposed to be killed some distance from their camp…On the following day a Missouri Indian from the Ioway Village called over the river for a canoe at the garrison, one of the defeated party knew him and said he shot at and chased him in the attack…Captain Clemson sent for the Missouri Indian and interrogated him closly [sic] suspecting him as a spy…he said it was the wish of the Ioway’s [sic] to cover the grave of the dead with presents, and be at peace.”
A similar report of the Otoe killing an Osage upriver from the fort also made the paper that day. While it might appear that Indians killing Indians would be of little interest to American citizens, particularly in the east, it was in fact newsworthy. Such incidents generated fears of an “Indian war” that could spill over into white settlements and involve federal troops, many of them easterners. The fur trade, upon which many businesses were dependent directly and indirectly, would also be disrupted. Such a war could also push the Ioway and other tribes even closer to the British in seeking military support and direct intervention on their behalf.
In July of 1810, emissaries of The Prophet openly courted the Ioway, exhorting them to strike the Americans when given the word. Boilvin “smoked the pipe” with them to keep the peace and he exhorted them to keep out of Tecumseh’s alliance, despite having few resources to back his words. For the moment, the Ioway decided to avoid direct conflict with the Americans and instead chose to escalate their conflict with the Osage.
The Ioway and Osage had contested the hunting grounds between the Missouri River and Des Moines River for nearly a hundred years. The escalation of the fight demonstrates the problem the Shawnee brothers and the British had in forging an alliance of multiple native nations. It was extremely difficult for them to overcome the blood feuds and inter-tribal animosity that had gone for generations. In addition, American settlers were still only on the outermost fringes of Ioway territory. They did not yet perceive of them as a significant threat to their land or lifestyle.
George C. Sibley, the government factor (trader) at Fort Osage recorded some of the Osage and Ioway clashes in his diary. It is interesting to note that remnants of the Missouri nation were sometimes involved in these conflicts.
Monday March 11th 1811 “…100 men set off in a body to War against the Ioways…Lieut. Brownson sent a party of soldiers to set them across the river in the Public Boat.”
Tuesday March 12th 1811 “…another War party set off from the Osage Village against the Ioways of about 45 men consisting of about an equal number of Osages & Missouris, led by a distinguished warrior of the Missouri named Cheohoge or hole in my house. Their plan is to attack the enemy by surprise…Lieut. Brownson sent them across the River, and they immediately set out on this march.”
Tuesday March 19th 1811 “…in the evening all the Osages returned from war, and brought 8 scalps and one horse taken from the Ioways (2 men, 5 women, 1 child killed.)”
Wednesday March 27th 1811 ”…9 horses were discovered crossing the Missouri just above the Factory driven over it was Supposed by some Hostile Indians whose design it appears to have been to take them off – about 100 Osages immediately crossed…and in a short time…returned with all the horses.”
Monday April 8th 1811 “Last night at about 11 O’clock…alarm among the Osages…sentinels discovered three strange Indians stealthy [sic] approaching the camp…Sans Oreille (No Ears) had made his way into my sleeping Room and stood beside holding the head of the slain Indian in one hand, and a blazing torch in the other…I was quickly dressed and over at the camp: and there found the Osages in a temper far more Savage than I had ever before believed them capable...here one shewed [sic] me a leg – one a hand – another a finger – foot – strips of skin…The slain man was recognized as a distinguished Ioway war Chief.”
Ioway warriors, sometimes accompanied by the Sauk, Fox and occasionally even Winnebago began setting up ambushes for the Osage. In the spring of 1812, “northern Indians” attacked a band of Osage traveling to Fort Osage to collect their annuities. Sans Nerf, a Big Osage Warrior complained to Sibley about the situation during trade negotiations at the Arrow Rock bluff in November of 1813. “We do not like Fort Clark (Ft. Osage) for very good reasons. The road between that place and our village is nearly as long as the road to this place, and is a very dangerous one to travel. Our enemies lay in wait for us when we go there to trade and have killed several of our people.”
The United States and the Ioway Nation were officially at peace. However, the Osage, America’s primary Indian ally in the west, and the Ioway were openly at war. Many tribes viewed the Osage as American “pets” thus prompting jealousy and resentments. Indeed, the Osage received a measure of respect and treatment seldom extended to other tribes by the U.S. at this time. The situation was complicated by the fact that U.S. army troops under Lt. Brownson were tacitly aiding the Osage in the conflict by ferrying them across the Missouri River.
Just two weeks after President Madison declared war on Great Britain on June 12, 1812 nine tribes gathered at the Sauk village of Saukenuk on the Rock River. A Kickapoo emissary of The Prophet implored the tribes to join them in the struggle and warned of the consequences of American victory. The Sauk chief Nomwaite simply replied, “…the Americans provide the Sauk with everything they need.” The Ioways responded, “There are no chiefs here with you who belong to our nation. We are near neighbors to the Sauk. We have no wish to be at war with them. Our American Father (Boilvin) gives us good counsel. Whatever the Sauk agree to, we shall also.”
A formal council of all the tribal leaders was needed before a commitment to war could be made. Many of the Ioway chiefs were absent as were those of the other tribes. Clark and Boilvin had taken them to Washington D.C. and while en route they learned that war had been declared. So while the Kickapoo emissary was encouraging the tribes to go to war against the Americans, President Madison was encouraging their leaders to remain neutral. However, some of the Indians gathered at Saukenuk clearly sympathized with Tecumseh and the British since small, sporadic raids soon began occurring across the frontier.
The first hostile act attributed to the Ioway had actually occurred in late May of 1812. Several horses belonging to Robert Hancock, a resident of the Boonslick settlement in central Missouri, were stolen. In February 1813, a rumor began circulating that the Ioway were joining 1,200 to 3,000 hostile Indians gathered at Green Bay waiting for a British supply ship. At the same time, French-Canadian traders acting as spies for the United States reported that the Sauk, Fox and Ioway were divided between peace and war. Their assessment was probably the most accurate of the many fears and rumors about the Indians that circulated during the entire war.
In April of 1813, a son of Hard Heart appeared at Fort Madison and asked Captain Stark for aid and permission to fight the pro-British Sauk and Fox. Stark reported, “The Ioways deserve every assistance and I hope they will receive it. It is a just war on their part and I am inclined to believe it is unavoidable.” The young Ioway also asked for a medal and a rifle. A rifle given to him earlier by then acting Governor Frederick Bates had been confiscated while he was visiting the Boone’s Lick salt works.
Undoubtedly, Hard Heart led a faction of pro-American Ioway, but the actual size and extent of his following is difficult to determine. Hard Heart stayed with the Otoe during part of the war possibly because his authority as a chief was being questioned. The factionalism that existed and a lack of concise written records make it difficult to track the movements or loyalties of the various bands of the Ioway. The situation was compounded by the general turmoil of the war, which disrupted the normal cycle of hunting, trading and farming, which the Ioway had followed for generations. Life was difficult enough for the Indians but the War of 1812 made it harsher, even for those not directly involved in combat.
Generally, there appears to be two main Ioway villages at this time, the one on the Des Moines and the other on the Iowa River. The village on the Iowa River may have represented the pro-British faction of the tribe, since it was relatively close to Prairie du Chien. Colonel Robert Dickson of the British Northwest Company operated without interference in the area. He was able to exert considerable influence over the upper Mississippi tribes with gifts and generous trade terms, something that Nicholas Boilvin was unable to counteract due to the miserliness of the federal government.
The next documented event of Ioway hostility occurred on July 4, 1813. The house of William Ewing on Sandy Creek in St. Charles County was plundered and several horses stolen and about eight acres of corn were destroyed. A French trader named Francis Le Sieur later stated in a deposition that he saw Ewing’s property and horses in an Ioway camp on the Mississippi on or about July 16. Ewing had briefly served as a government “agricultural instructor” to the Sauk, Fox and Ioway, prior to Nicolas Boilvin’s appointment in 1806. Ewing had proven to be a poor choice for enhancing U.S. and Indian relations and William Clark forced him to resign under a cloud of suspicion. It is interesting to speculate if that the Ioway had specifically targeted Ewing because of some offense he had committed while their agent.
The federal and territorial governments in the West had long recognized the strategic importance of Prairie du Chien in controlling the Indian nations of the upper Mississippi. With a view of eliminating the Indian threat, William Clark personally led an expedition upriver in the summer of 1813, capturing Prairie du Chien and establishing Fort Shelby on the site. Clark’s stern treatment of the Sauk Indians on the way upriver had cowed the Indians and without their support the British militia fled the approaching Americans without firing a shot. Clark left a gunboat named for him, the “Governor Clarke” moored off the fort and he returned to St. Louis intending to send back reinforcements. For the moment it appeared that Clark had succeeded in his mission of neutralizing the upper Mississippi tribes.
Reinforcements of Missouri and Illinois Rangers and regular troops headed upriver and were soon involved in what British Colonel William McKay called the “…most brilliant action fought by Indians since the commencement of the war.” On July 22, allied Ioway, Sauk, Fox and Kickapoo warriors attacked six armed keelboats above the mouth of the Rock River. One Ioway who had traveled with Colonel McKay from Michilimakinac, chopped a hole in a boat firing into it until he expended all his ammunition, after which he jumped into the river and swam ashore. This warriors’ accompaniment of McKay may be an indication that he and other Ioway warriors had been actively campaigning with the British in the Great Lakes region. The armada lost one boat and beat a hasty retreat when the fleeing “Governor Clarke” appeared on the scene bearing news of the fall of Fort Shelby to a force of British and Indians.
Clearly, the Indian threat on the western frontier was heating up. Incredibly, Clark still reported, “The Greater part of the Sacs, Foxes and Ioway nations still profess friendship.” At the same time Robert Dickson, now back in business at Prairie du Chien reported, “…the Sioux, Ioways, Winnebagos and Rock River Sacs are for war.” These statements help illustrate the general confusion and uncertainty that reigned on the frontier during the war. Clearly the Indians themselves were divided in their allegiances, at least in varying degrees. However, it appears that the British actually held the edge in counting allies among the upper Mississippi tribes.
Since Clark had been unable to neutralize Prairie du Chien as a British post, he decided the next best step was to remove the Indians from its influence. In September of 1813, Clark persuaded the “neutral” or friendly portion of the Sauk and Fox to settle on the Missouri River near Little Moniteau Creek. “I have also sent for the Ioways directing them to pass across the Missouri where a trader will be situated to trade with them” Clark wrote. Part of the Ioway left their village on the Des Moines and settled in the Chariton River valley, north of present-day Glasgow. Clark estimated his maneuver would keep 1,000 warriors from aiding the British. His assessment was overly optimistic since only about 1,500 to 2,000 Indians in total actually responded to his call. It is not clear if the band on the Chariton River moved there as a result of Clark’s directive or if this was when Hard Heart’s band joined the Otoe. More research may or may not provide an answer.
Sauk and Fox warriors under Black Hawk had grown disgruntled with the British campaigns in the eastern Great Lakes and returned to their villages in the fall of 1813. They immediately attacked and besieged Fort Madison and succeeded in burning the factory although they did not carry the fort. In the spring of 1814, they turned their attention to the Missouri frontier. Raids began increasing, particularly in the isolated Boonslick settlements of central Missouri. The situation became so threatening that the U.S. government trading houses located at the Arrow Rock bluff and Little Moniteau Creek had to be abandoned. If any Ioway were involved in these actions, they were acting in concert with the Sauk and their individual presence as a tribe was not noted.
When passing through the Boonslick settlements in August, a keelboat belonging to Manual Lisa reported that the Indians freely roamed the countryside while the settlers were shut up in their forts. Lisa, a powerful St. Louis fur trader had just been appointed Subagent to the Tribes of the Missouri by William Clark. Lisa wielded considerable influence among the Missouri River tribes and he had successfully checked Dickson’s attempts to influence those tribes. When he reached his headquarters near Council Bluffs, Lisa invited the powerful Teton Sioux to meet with him in council the next spring. Clark and Lisa had planned to turn them against the pro-British Santee Sioux, Sauk, and Ioway. Due to a fight with the Winnebago, most of the Fox broke from the British alliance and sought aid from the United States. Thus the U.S now viewed the Fox as neutral.
In the interim, Lisa persuaded the Omaha to attack the Ioway and they soon presented him with two Ioway scalps. The Otoe refused Lisa’s exhortations to attack their kinsmen, saying vaguely that some time in the future would be better for them. The presence of Hard Heart and his followers may have had something to do with their refusal. Despite their differences, the Ioway factions were not warring against each other and out of respect to their guests; the Otoe would not have attacked other Ioway bands regardless of Lisa’s influence. The Ponca on the other hand eagerly agreed to send out a war party against the Ioway early the following spring.
The factionalism within the Ioway nation prevented them from fully supporting the British and it weakened the tribe as a whole. Due to the size of the tribe, the Ioway could not pose a significant threat to large towns such as St. Charles or St. Louis unless acting in concert with other tribes. However, two or three hundred Ioway warriors could pose a significant guerilla threat to outlying and isolated settlements such as those at Boonslick or on the Cuivre River, northwest of St. Charles. However, the Omaha and Ponca raids now diminished that capability even further. For the remainder of the war, the Ioways were increasingly preoccupied with defending themselves from their western neighbors.
In the spring of 1815, Lisa held his council with the Teton, unaware that the war had officially ended. In February, Congress ratified the peace treaty signed by the U.S. and Great Britain on Christmas Eve of 1814, but the news was slow in reaching the frontier. In the council, Lisa promoted the virtues of loyalty and adherence to the United States. The Teton accepted Lisa’s proposals and following their protocol asked for permission to visit Governor Clark in St. Louis. A band of nearly 700 men and 90 women set out on the journey, promising Lisa that they would attack any pro-British Indians they encountered along the way.
The ostensibly pro-American Ioway village on the Chariton lay close to the direct route of the Teton from Lisa’s post at Council Bluffs to St. Louis. In June of 1815, the Teton reached the Chariton River where they destroyed the Ioway cornfields. They killed twenty-four people and captured two more whom they eventually turned over to Lisa. The question arises if the Teton had mistaken this village as hostile or if in fact this “pro-American” village had perpetrated hostilities that might have warranted the attack. Two significant events involving the Ioway had occurred shortly beforehand.
On April 4, 1815 a force composed of Sauk, Fox, Ioway and a few Winnebago attacked the small isolated settlement of Cote sans Dessien opposite of the mouth of the Osage River. Osage and French mixed bloods were the primary occupants of this settlement. The attackers killed at least five settlers and partially looted and burnt the settlement. They were unable to destroy the main blockhouse due to the diligence of the women in putting out the fires set to the roof. When water ran out, the women used the contents of “chamber pots” to extinguish the flames set by burning arrows. The Indians finally retreated when a burning powder magazine exploded, killing fourteen Ioway and Sauk warriors.
On the 14th of the same month, Captain Sarshall Cooper, a prominent leader in the Boonslick settlement was killed inside Cooper’s Fort. There are several versions of the account of his death but they all agree that he was shot through a hole in the log chinking. The accounts differ on who perpetrated the deed. The recollection of Judge Joseph Thorp, if correct, directly attributes Cooper’s death to an Ioway: “…two young bucks, one an Ioway about 19 years old, and another A Sauk about 22, came to the fort after dusk. It was in the spring of the year…Wherever they could see a light they picked holes with their knives to find a place big enough to shoot through. They finally found one, and it happened to be right opposite the heart of Capt. Cooper, the man they were after, for they knew the house he lived in. They fired and the ball took effect in his side. He sprang to his feet, exclaiming ‘Lord have mercy on us’ and died. The rascals told afterward that they ran some twenty yards or thirty yards from the walls of the fort and listened until they heard the squaws crying, and then they knew they had done what they came for. The young Ioway who did the shooting always called himself Captain Cooper. I often saw him after the war. He was a good-looking buck and took great pride in his name. If you got into a chat with him he would soon let you know, “Me Captain Cooper.”
There is actually no way of knowing to which Ioway village the perpetrators of these events came from. They could have come from the Chariton village. Even if this village was “pro-American”, some individuals may have harbored anti-American sentiments or the inhabitants would simply change sides at an opportune moment. The appeal of gaining honor in war could also be a strong temptation for the young men and the chiefs would have difficulty restraining them. Warriors undoubtedly passed freely between all the Ioway villages to visit their family and friends and such visitors could also have perpetrated these strikes.
It seems highly unlikely that either Lisa or the Teton would have known about the Cote sans Dessien attack and Sarshall Cooper’s death. News of the peace between Britain and America was only becoming widely known during the month of May. William Clark, Auguste Chouteau and Illinois Governor Ninian Edwards acting as peace commissioners were circulating the word to all the Indian nations to gather at Portage Des Sioux to sign a peace treaty. The Teton were traditional enemies of the Ioway and probably cared little whether the Ioway they attacked were pro-British or pro-American. The incident may have been nothing more to them than a random opportunity to pay back an old enemy.
Despite the news of the impending peace treaty, the Ioway stepped up horse stealing raids in the Boonslick settlements during the summer of 1815. Possibly, they were intent on replacing stock lost as a result of the Teton, Omaha and Ponca raids. William Reid of the Boonslick filed the following deposition with William Clark in 1825 recounting one of the Ioway raids.
“…after the settlers were notified of peace and the Ioways and other Indians had gone down to Portage Desou [sic] to treat with the Commissioners appointed by the United States, David Jones, Stephen Turley, Thomas McMahan and this deponent, who had removed to Cooper's Fort during the war, believing that their property would be safe, brought their horses across the river into the bottoms below the Arrow Rock…a mare of Henry Ferrils’ worth about sixty dollars, and a small horse, belonging to Braxton Cooper, was stolen from Cooper’s Fort. This deponent and others examined the trail of the Indians and were convinced that they had crossed the river, and heard them shooting in the bottom, where the horses had been put, viz. Below the Arrow Rock. This deponent and a party of men crossed the river next morning, and found an Indian trail leading up the Missouri, towards the mouth of the Chawton [sic] (Chariton); and they also found pens or pounds in the bottom, which the Indians had made and driven the horses into for the purpose of catching them. This deponent and his party followed the trail until they became satisfied that they had stolen the horses, and were making for the Ioway village. When the Ioway chiefs returned from the treaty at Portage Desiux [sic] they agreed to deliver up the horses; and this deponent, Herman Gregg and Braxton Cooper, went with the Chiefs and Interpreters to the Ioway village; and this deponent there saw in their possession Henry Ferrils’ mare, Braxton Cooper’s horse and a sorrel mare of David Jones’…This deponent further saith, that some of the Ioway Chiefs offered to deliver some of the horses, and did bring up the sorrel mare of H. Ferril, and Braxton Cooper’s horse, for that purpose; but a party of Indians made pursuit and retook the mare and Cooper saved his horse by running him away from them.”
Seventeen Ioway headmen led by Hard Heart signed the treaty of peace and friendship at Portage Des Sioux on September 6, 1815. On October 15, the treaty commissioners, William Clark, Auguste Chouteau and Ninian Edwards reported that, “The Ioways are very desirous of coming more closely under the protection of the U.S. and for this purpose wish to cede part of their lands in order obtain annuities…This is a spontaneous offer on their part…” The issue of “spontaneity” on the part of the Indians is highly questionable. The Sauk and Fox land cession of 1804 and the Osage cession of 1808 had been anything but spontaneous. The treaties resulted in bitter feelings once the real price of U.S. “protection” became fully understood. Part of the land ceded by those two Indian nations was also claimed and hunted on by the Ioway. In fact, up to the outbreak of the war, the Ioway had been resisting further Sauk and Fox intrusion on their domain, casting further doubt on their “spontaneity” of offering this land for sale.
The Ioway may have still been under pressure to make the cession due to the Lisa’s actions among the Missouri River tribes. Lisa pointedly reminded Clark after the war, “…your excellency will remember that more than a year before the war broke out, I gave you intelligence that the wampum was carrying by British influence along the banks of the Missouri, and that all the nations of the great river were excited to join the war. They did not arm against the republic; on the contrary they armed against Great Britain and struck the Iowa’s [sic] the allies of that power. When peace was proclaimed, more than forty chiefs had intelligence with me; and together, we were to carry an expedition of several thousand warriors against the tribes of the upper Mississippi, and silence them at once.”
There is a possibility that both factions of the Ioway were not represented at Portage Des Sioux. This is only speculation, as the treaty itself gives no indication that this was the case. However, the Rock River Sauk under Black Hawk remained recalcitrant and did not sign the peace treaty until May of 1816. The Ioway were still living in separate villages in 1816, the one on the Chariton and other on the Iowa River. It is also not known at this time when Hard Heart and his followers left the Otoe village and returned home. However, one more hostile act occurred which indicated some Ioway may have remained recalcitrant despite the peace treaty.
In May of 1816, Robert and John Heath were engaged in salt making at the Boone’s Lick salt springs in Howard County, Missouri. On the 28th, John Ferril was at the salt works when John Heath came in and reported, “…that two Negro men were missing, and he supposed killed or taken by the Indians.” They searched the area and found a campsite nearby with scraps of deer hide, hog meat and a cane fife, which Ferril kept. A company of men pursued the same Indians, and routed them near the Buffalo Licks, on the Grand Charlatan (Chariton) where they were encamped; none of the Indians were seen nor were the negroes seen, but the Indians fled with such precipitation that they left their leggins, mockasins, [sic] bows, arrows, and chopping axes, and a water jug of the negroes…”
Joseph Cooper, also a member of the pursuit party, gave this report: “I was at the Indian camp, in company of William Becknall [Becknell] and others, where the Indians caught the negroes, where there was left some hog meat and a cane fife; that the party pursued on to the Chareton [Chariton] Creek, some sixty or eighty miles, where we found the Indians discovered us, and had dispersed and taken off the negroes, one of which we discovered by his tracks to have been taken down by the creek or branch, after which we were able to trace them no further. We found at this camp of the Indians the chopping axes of the negroes, and water jug.”
A few days after the two slaves had disappeared, Ioway trader Denis Julien and his men came down to the Boone’s salt works from the Grand River. Ferril told them what happened and about the cane fife he found. One of Julien’s employees Martin Dorian told Ferril, “…that the Ioways had a cane fife he should know if he saw it. Dorian described the fife minutely and perfectly, and when it was shown to him, said it was the fife of the Ioways; that he had known for a long time past, that there was a party of ten Ioways had gone out at that time, supposed to hunt on the Charlatan [sic].”
Except for the chopping axes and water jug found in the Indian camp, no trace of the two black men, named Henry and Nat, was ever found. Based on the depositions given to William Clark by Boonslick settlers, everyone appeared less concerned about the well being of the two missing men than they were about the Heath brothers’ monetary loss, which totaled $1,400.00. The Heath brothers appealed to Clark to compensate their loss since the Ioway were “wards” of the government. Under the common practice of the time, the government would pay for losses sustained by settlers, then withhold the amount from the annuities due to the suspected offending tribe.
While escaped slaves sometimes found refuge and intermarried with southeastern tribes such as the Seminole and Creek, this generally does not appear to be the case with the prairie-plains tribes. However, death at the hands of Indians usually left ample evidence of violence. Since no trace of Harry or Nat was found, the possibility remains that they found freedom courtesy of the Ioway. It seems improbable that a large group of Boonslick settlers could successfully conspire with Julien’s company to perpetrate a fraudulent claim on the government. Despite their distrust of and often-outright hatred for Indians, the Boonslick settlers were generally people of honesty and integrity in dealing with their fellows and the government.
Subsequent actions of the Ioway would also seem to indicate that the incident did occur as reported. The Chariton village was soon abandoned and fear of retaliation by the settlers may have precipitated the move. Major Stephen Long reported in 1817 that the majority of the 1,200 Ioway had “resettled” along the Mississippi. The new Sauk & Fox Indian agent Thomas Forsyth reported in 1818 that the “Ihowai” were once again on the Des Moines River in their pre-war village site. The abandonment of the Chariton River village may well be viewed as closing the final chapter of the War of 1812 in the Missouri Territory.
After the Boone’s Lick salt spring incident, the Ioway influence in regional affairs waned rapidly. The hostilities initiated by Manual Lisa between the Omaha and the Ioway in 1814 continued until 1820. The greatly weakened Ioway entered into treaty negotiations with the United States in 1824 that resulted in the loss of 80% of their territory in Missouri. In 1829 white settlers on the Chariton River attacked a band of Ioway on their way to meet with William Clark in St. Louis. The resulting tragedy, the so-called “Big Neck War” resulted in the deaths of several Ioway and white instigators. However, in a remarkable display of justice, a frontier jury in Randolph County absolved Chief Great Walker (Big Neck) and his followers of any wrongdoing.
Factionalism exacerbated by the turmoil of war accelerated the decline of Ioway society and culture. The end of the war in 1815 signaled an avalanche of westward immigration and white settlers taking up the former Ioway homeland. Simultaneously, the importance of Indian tribes to the United States as allies and trading partners declined, as there was no longer any foreign power to compete with for their loyalty. Indians had always been viewed as obstructions to be eventually assimilated or removed. However, that sentiment grew steadily after the war and reached fruition under President Andrew Jackson’s administration. Inter-tribal warfare increased as remnants of once powerful eastern tribes were pushed into the diminishing hunting grounds of the Trans-Mississippi west.
The post-war condition of the Ioway dramatically illustrates the cultural disintegration experienced by many tribes following the War of 1812. In 1810, the Ioway had been an influential force in regional events, hunting over thousands of square miles of territory and intimidating Euro-Americans who entered their domain. Great Britain and the United States actively vied for their loyalty. By 1820, they could not resist the tidal wave of settlers pouring in, and in fact, needed the U.S. governments’ protection from them. That year they suffered a severe military blow at the hands of their old allies the Sauk in a clash over hunting grounds. Treaties initiated by the government steadily and quickly eroded their land base. By 1830, some like chief Mahaska accepted the inevitable and tried to adapt to the Euro-American culture, even sending their children to mission schools.
The Ioway were finally settled on a small reservation north of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and ceded all their remaining lands in Iowa and Missouri in 1836. The government continued to sell off tracts of even this small Kansas reservation. Many Ioway still resisted assimilation and continued to hunt in the buffalo country or make occasional forays against the Pawnee. However, visitors to the tribe frequently noted their decreasing population due to disease, increasing dependence on government largesse and victimization by white whisky peddlers and unscrupulous traders.
The tribal factionalism bore its final fruit in 1868, when part of the tribe removed to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Northern Ioway tribe still has a small reservation near White Cloud, Kansas and the Southern Ioway has an agency at Perkins, Oklahoma. In recent years both groups of Ioway have made efforts to recover their language and heritage. The Ioway have also been leaders in the efforts nationwide to repatriate the burial remains of Native Americans.
In conclusion, it appears that at the opening of the 19th century the Ioway are solid British allies. However, factions developed within the tribe owing to American trade and President Jefferson’s recognition of Hard Heart as a chief. During the War of 1812, the tribe remained divided in its loyalties. Although the extent of the division is not clear, a majority of the tribe appears to have supported the British. Although the Ioway were a small tribe they could mount effective guerilla raids and enhanced the military threat to the frontier by acting in concert with other Indian nations. In 1825, William Clark calculated the dollar amount of wartime damage in Missouri attributed to various Indian tribes. He ranked the Ioway third at $2,950.00, behind the Winnebago and well behind the Sauk and Fox. The disposition of the Ioway during the war had been a major concern to Clark, Frederick Bates, Nicolas Boilvin, Manual Lisa and other frontier officials. The War of 1812 led to the diminishment of Ioway culture and traditions and the eventual loss of their homeland.
The Ioway Indians by Martha Royce Blaine, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1979.
Indians and Archaeology of Missouri by Carl H. and Eleanor F. Chapman, University of Missouri Press, Columbia MO 1983
Memorial of the State of Missouri in Relation to Indian Depredations Upon the Citizens of That State, Washington D.C. 1825, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.
Missouri Historical Review, April 2001 “Denis Julien: Midwestern Fur Trader”
By James H. Knipmeyer. State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia MO.
Historical Iowa Settlements in the Grand River Basin of Missouri and Iowa by Timothy E. Roberts and Christy S. Rickers, Missouri Archaeologist volume 57, December 1996
Ioway History and Treaties compiled by Lance Foster, member of the Northern Ioway Nation, 1997 http://home.earthlink.net/~ioway/history.html
The History of Missouri, Vol. I by David March, PHD, Lewis Historical Publishing, New York and West Palm Beach, 1967.
The Sac and Fox Indians by William T. Hagan, University of Oklahoma Press Norman OK. 1958
The Osages by John Joseph Mathews, University of Oklahoma Press 1932, Norman OK.
The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Volume I by Elliott Coues, Published by Francis P. Harper, New York 1893
Diary of George C. Sibley May 7, 1808 to September 3, 1811, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis MO, transcript courtesy of David Bennett (now in print by Lindenwood University)
Hampshire Federalist, Springfield Massachusetts, Thursday January 4, 1810, David Bennett collection
Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians by George Catlin, 1841 reprint by Dover Publications
Indians of Kansas and Nebraska U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1968
Indians of the Great Lakes U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1968
Early Days in the West, Along the Missouri One Hundred Years Ago by Judge Joseph Thorp, Liberty, Missouri, 1924 transcript courtesy of William Lay.
Missouri Historical Review 33 (1938) “The War of 1812 on the Missouri Frontier Parts I, II, and III” by Kate L. Gregg.
Return to top
Return to General History page
Return to History main page