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Ioway Cultural Institute : The Ioway Virtual Library

The Old Iowa Village (1880-1893), near Fallis, Oklahoma

The following article was transcribed by Lance Foster on Oct. 23, 1999, from the original 1939 newspaper clipping from the files of Dr. Robert Fields, a Pawnee-Ioway-Otoe member of this list, Professor of Anthropology, and still living in Perkins, Oklahoma. The original article had some photographs I was unable to scan, due to the poor quality of the photocopy. Those photographs were captioned "The Tribal Council House," "The Mission Church," "The Mission House," "White Cloud's Grave," and "Iowa Indian Treaty Tree." Some minor changes of spelling, punctuation, etc. have been made for added readability. Original usages not favored today, such as "squaw" "papoose" and "Negro," have been retained as the article and its sentiments are from another time, with other sensibilities.

From: "The Leader," Guthrie, Oklahoma, Sunday, April 16, 1939; page number unknown.


Horse Racing Chief Sport of Iowa Tribe -- Pioneer Buildings Served Many Purposes Before Retirement

By Aletha Caldwell Conner

The Iowa Indian village was established near Fallis, in early 1880, according to the best information now available. The Iowa Indians were transferred to this section from their former homes in northeastern Kansas, and Frank Kent, now living southeast of Perkins, a young man at that time, helped to establish the tribal headquarters on Bear Creek, western Lincoln county.

Chief To-hee, father of "Blind Billy" Chief To-hee, ordered the village site and buildings. To-hee township was named for these two Indians. In May, 1881, while the sap was running and large pieces of bark could be obtained, their council house was built.

Well do I remember this Indian village. It was about one mile northwest of the present town of Fallis. The first time I saw the place was in early 1890. In company with my father, the late J. W. Caldwell, who was a trader among the Iowa and Kickapoo Indians, I visited the village. I remember I rode an Indian pony, bareback, through grass in Deep Fork and Deer Creek bottoms that was higher than a man's head. Other than my brother, a sister and myself, there were not white children nearer than the Sac and Fox agency about 25 miles distant. We found the Indian children companionable playmates, however, much as any other children.

The Indian tepees, made of cleverly woven willows covered with large slabs of elm bark, were fairly comfortable. Earthen floors, covered with bright-colored, hand-woven rugs, cheerful open fires over which hung great iron pots filled with beans, corn, and meat, with maybe a huge fat turkey browning over the coals, fascinated me. Never did I leave that village hungry and even yet, my mouth fairly waters in the memory.


Indian Race Tracks

Another 600 yards southwest of the village was the race track. All big races were run on this track. Deep ruts in the soil still give evidence of the many races run here in the long ago. Those were gala occasions. Even the dogs were imbued with extra spirit at this time and their ribs lost their prominence. I am sure no race of today could create more excitement than did their races run on this old Iowa Indian village race course during the years 1880 and 1890. Wiry and fleet of foot, the ponies seemed just as excited as their riders, and the slim, brown-skinned young men certainly knew how to handle their mounts in a manner to secure their utmost speed.

Everyone attended the races. I remember an incident that attracted my attention and came near ending in tragedy. A squaw, intent on the races, left her papoose safe in his baby-carrier, under a tree. A hunk of dried beef fastened to string was this papoose's 'pacifier.' After passing over a small limb of the tree above the child's head, the other end of the string was tied to the papoose's big toe. For a time the papoose contentedly chewed on his 'pacifier' and then apparently by accident, the meat was swallowed. Of course the papoose choked! Black in the face, near death, he kicked in agony. The string tightened and the meat was jerked out of his throat. Giving a few angry yowls and kicks, the papoose then reached out a fat brown hand, grasped the meat and popped it back into his mouth. Smiling, he grunted his satisfaction. The squaw never saw this by-play amid the yells of excited spectators as the ponies galloped around the course.


Old Mission Church

About 1885 John F. Mardock, missionary of the Society of Friends, came to the Iowa country and established a mission and day school. The school was taught by Elizabeth Test, assisted by Mary Sherman, Rachel Kirk and Lina B. Lunt. Miss Test began her work in 1886 and $1,000 of her own money for a building to house the mission and school.

Various Friends visited the school and did religious work among the Indians. Rev. Mardock labored faithfully and efficiently, and much of the success achieved during the period was due to his devoted service. The Mission house built by these Friends was moved from its original site in the village to the town of Fallis and used as a residence. Then it was moved back near its original site, remodeled [by R D Divine], a farmer.

The old Mission church first stood near the burying ground. It was built about 1885 or '86. It is now standing near the main line of the M. K. & T. railroad northwest of Fallis where it was moved with the town's establishment. For a time it was used as a community church and school, then with the establishment of separate schools, was converted into a school for Negro children. With their own modern brick building being completed, it became a Negro Baptist church. For some time now it has been abandoned.

According to Frank Orner, early day pioneer, who served in scout and secret service work about 1886, and who now lives on his Cimarron River ranch, the I.O.A., near Goodnight, United States soldiers were stationed just west of the Iowa village on Bear Creek. The burying ground was between their camp and Bear Creek.


Indian Burial Ground

This, to me, was a fascinating but gruesome spot. Pieces of cloth hanging from tree limbs, placed there to frighten away possible evil spirits lurking nearby awaiting an opportunity to capture a newly released spirit on its way to "the happy hunting ground," excited my imagination and kept me enthralled with speculation.

The Indian custom at this time, of placing food and drink beside their recently deceased dead, was to me, a thoughtful and kind expression. I took particular pains to impress upon my Indian friends the idea that I wanted them to make the same provision for my spirit when I started on my last journey.

Their custom of leaving their dead in open graves did not favorably impress me. Well do I remember the fright I got one day while playing hide and seek with some Indian children in this burial ground. Leaning over a protecting log wall about one of these open graves, I was horrified to see an immense rattler coiled menacingly around a grinning skull! I gave one yell and began to run, and I did not stop until I breathlessly reached my father's side.

According to Frank Kent, the Iowa Indian burial ground was started in the spring of 1883 when the first person, an 8-year-old girl, was buried. Records today show that 41 old, 43 young Iowa Indians and 14 Otoes have been buried here. In this number were four chiefs: "Blind Billy" To-hee, Old Man Mo-hee, his son Frank and Ben Hollwell. Jeff White Cloud was not a chief, but he was the first person to sign the treaty negotiated here in 1890. His body lies near the tombstone that marks the grave of a child that is erroneously credited to be his grave. Also, according to Frank Kent's statement, contrary to the common belief that "Blind Billy" To-hee lies buried on a hill about one mile southwest of the village site, he was buried in this burial ground, and his father To-hee was buried on the hill.

The custom of burying their dead in open graves was not abandoned by the Iowas in this place until about 1893. "Uncle John" Lincoln, county pioneer, father of James W. Murphy, agitated a movement that brought about the change.


Treaty Tree

I did not know when I raced wildly from the burial ground that day, and unceremoniously broke in on a group of dignified old Indians, David Jerome, Governor of Michigan, Fred Wenner, newspaper reporter, and my father, that I was witnessing a most important council, but such was the fact. I learned later on that the treaty between the United States government and the Iowa Indians was under consideration at this time. David Jerome could not understand the Indians and the Indians could not understand him. So my father was their official interpreter. The final signing of this treaty was May 27, 1890. The signing took place under an immense old tree and this tree stills stands a monument to a step toward final disintegration of the Iowa Indians as a separate and individual race. The Iowa surplus lands were opened to settlement September, 1891.


Village Site

A trail leading to the Sac and Fox village, Red Fork, followed Mission creek which flowed along the southeast side of the Iowa village, and a trail crossed the hill where now stands the town of Fallis, and followed a southeasterly direction, connecting with the Sac and Fox agency where the Iowas drew their rations.

South of the council house were the Indian tepees, and about east of the burying ground, near the present highway, was Frank Kent's pole house. Another trail led off to the north to Round Timber on the Cimarron river, known to the early day whites as "Barrel Springs." Directly east of the soldiers' camp and the Treaty Tree, were the U.S. commissioners' tented camp, and near the spring was the council house, and the dugout house of Lady Roubidoux.


Origin of Iowa Indians

According to Dr. Joseph Thoburn, Oklahoma historian, the Iowa Indians (meaning "sleepy ones") were a tribe of Sioux stock, close kindred of the Otoes and others under various names, such as Pahoji, Ayovis, Aowes and Pahutot. The Iowas ranged over an extended area including parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska during this historical period. They were known to the French form the time of Marquette's visit to the Mississippi river (1673).

The Iowas were actively engaged in gathering pelts for the fur trade. They cultivated corn, beans, pumpkins, etc. Although they have probably lived west of the Mississippi river in Nebraska for at least a century past, they still claimed ownership of land in Missouri until 1824, when they relinquished these claims to the government by treaty. In 1836 they were given a reservation in northeastern Kansas. From that place a part of the tribe were afterwards moved to the new reservation in the Indian territory. This was in 1876. In 1890 their lands were allotted in severalty and their surplus lands thrown open to homestead settlement.


Early Day Impression

Frank Orner said: "As I recall the Iowa land, it was indeed a land of "milk and honey." Deer, turkey, quail and prairie chickens, native fruits, grapes, blackberries, strawberries, plums, pecans, walnuts, hickory nuts, and persimmons provided the main abundance of food. The treaty allotted each Indian 80 acres of land and the government paid them thirty-seven cents per acre for their surplus lands."



With the final allotment of the Iowas' lands and their removal to new homes on the Cimarron river, this village was abandoned. There is nothing left now of what was once a very busy and important Indian [village except for the] burying ground where the bones of one-time fierce red warriors went back to the red earth whence they came, an old, old tree, that, were it able to speak, could tell thrilling tales, and a pathetic building.

But Negroes living on the hillside opposite the burying ground tell of strange sounds that come on dark nights, and peculiar lights that flicker on and off-- strangely resembling campfires. Maybe the spirits of the Indians still linger over the old stomping grounds.

Copyright 1999, Lance M. Foster.

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