Midwest Connections

Meskwaki

Above: Choice Iowa farming lands. Iowa Railroad Land Company, 1870. Newberry Library. View catalog record

Forced Migration

Like other Midwest tribes, the Meskwaki migrated west and south after a series of wars in the Great Lakes region during the eighteenth century. Often called the "Fox" by European Americans, the Meskwaki are historically linked with but distinct from the Sauk. The two tribes were often grouped together in treaties, like the one below that facilitated peace among the Meskwaki and other groups in 1830.

Successive treaties beginning in the 1820s continually reduced Meskwaki land in current-day Iowa until, in 1845, the Meskwaki ceded the last of their land and relocated to current-day Kansas.

European Americans profited from this removal in a number of ways. For one, the United States government paid men like A.D. Stephen to escort the Meskwaki from Iowa to Kansas:

Bt. Maj. S. Woods U S Army promises and agrees, on behalf of the U States to pay for each & every male and female there delivered & undertaken by the said A.D. Stephen the sum of three dollars & fifty cents and the said Bt. Maj. S. Woods U.S. Army on behalf of the U States agrees further to pay to the said A.D. Stephens the sum of five hundred dollars to be expended by him in provisions and other necessary articles to enable them to reach their homes, provided the entire sum (the per capita included) does not exceed two thousand dollars.

In addition, once the Meskwaki were forced to leave, railroad companies purchased the land from the United States government and resold it to European American settlers "at low prices on credit or for cash." Memories of self-described "old settlers" and "pioneers" rarely acknowledged the presence and migration of the Meskwaki prior to their arrival, as demonstrated in this documentation of an "Old Settlers' Reunion" in Iowa.

Settlement in Tama County

Despite forced migration to Kansas, some Meskwaki stayed hidden in current-day Iowa or returned shortly after departure. Beginning in the 1857, the Meskwaki purchased land in Tama County to reclaim as home. The tribe continued to purchase land, and by the turn of the twentieth century they were living more independently than many tribes in traditional reservations. Photographs from the settlement show a combination of Meskwaki and Euro-American influences in dress, housing, and activities. The Meskwaki have continued to purchase land and live in Tama County into the present day.

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This page references:

  1. Choice Iowa farming lands. Iowa Railroad Land Company, 1870. Newberry Library. View catalog record
  2. Map showing the lands assigned to emigrant Indians west of Arkansas & Missouri. Map Collection, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines