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Indian Stories by Great Grandma


Iowa Indians Had Many Villages

They built two kinds of dwellings. The lodge above was quickly set up round or long in one day and were used for temporary shelter.

Permanent village dwellings was a three foot deep hole framed above ground with birch branches covered with birch bark or animal skins, and a thick cover of sod on the roof. White men called them dugouts or soddies.


The first white settlers in Iowa found a tribe of big game hunters and farmers known as the Iowa.

These people are believed to be descendants of the Oneota, people of Mississippi origin who moved into the Upper Iowa River area around 1250 AD

Being an agronomy culture, they raised corn and beans, were skilled potters, and lived in permanent village sites where they built houses made of wood. 

The Iowa developed a way of life around the a way the environment dictated. To the Northeast they had forests with rugged canyons and deep ravines. Moved west they encountered a vast marshland. To the west was basically prairie. 

The Iowa set up permanent villages in river valleys

and depended on hunting and farming. They followed an annual cycle that fit in with the seasons.

During the winter November to April they trapped beaver in their river valley winter camps. Around January they would hunt for bear. They would actually fight the bear in hand to hand combat. Around March the large camps would disperse, with small bands traveling to the sugar cane regions to make sugar and syrup. In April the bands would meet at the Summer camps. Here they would trade with the  fur traders before celebrating their annual Spring Festival. 

The Lodges that had fallen into disrepair over winter would then be rebuilt and the fields would be  plowed. In May the crops would be planted. Corn planting would be accompanied by religious rites.

Summer was the season of hunting and war for the Iowa people. The young warriors would travel far from their villages on long distance hunts for the bison and the deer. They would travel out on war parties, usually fought over hunting rights to certain areas.

In the 17th Century, many tribes from eastern states were forced west as a result of warfare with the British, Americans and French. Tribes of Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo and Ojibwa occupied hunting grounds of the Iowa Indians. This led to inter tribal warfare. This century also saw an increased interaction with white fur traders by the Iowa. As a result of trading for metal pots and tools, the making of traditional clay pottery and stone tools began to fall into decline. 

The Iowa were closely related to the Sioux, but tribal wars had separated them. The language of the Iowa people is of Siouan origin. Linguists call this language ‘Chiwere.’ The Iowa were a religious people with many religious societies. They had bear and buffalo doctors as well as a Medicine Lodge. Iowa society was organized in accordance with Clan membership. Each Clan within a village was accorded specific responsibilities. The Thunder Clan, for example, would take leadership in warfare. Other Clans included the Elk, Beaver, Buffalo and Bear Clans.

Through several treaties in the 1800’s the Iowa ceded title to much of their lands to the United States Government. In 1836, the Iowa signed a treaty and were moved to a reservation on the border between Kansas and Nebraska. Later treaties made their reservation even smaller. 

Today there are two tribes of Iowa Indians, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Iowa Tribe in Oklahoma.

Above is the version of Iowa Indians taught in school. Following is Great Grandmother Williamson's version she learned in school around 1875. The histories vary only slightly in the telling.

The people had more than one village. They would leave their home village to hunt and plant crops some distance away, but they always returned to the first village to, "re establish (or re mark)" their hunting grounds.

For centuries the cooperating tribes honored that tradition. On one occasion the tribe returned to their permanent village to find white men, children and women living there. The people had heard rumors of, but never met a white person without a boat, or a white woman with children before. The family found in the dugout were afraid of the Indians, but the Indians harmed them not.

According to grandma, the tribes befriended white people. When they saw that the white people were scared, they backed off and let them be. Later the women helped the family build a, "Dugout" with a sod roof and permitted the family to stay and showed them how to farm the land.

That brings up another related story about Indian housing, to counteract the rumors:

The Indians Did Not Live In Teepees

Great grandma said the hunting houses were somewhat like, "Hogans" she saw when she traveled through Hopi Indian territory in Arizona. The Iowa Indians did not live in teepees like in movies.

At fish camp their shelters were different, and quickly built in a few minutes. They built mound shaped abodes of flexible limbs and covered them with animal skins. Those shelters could be broken down and moved within minutes.

The houses in the villages were more permanent. All they had to do with the dugouts was replenish three feet of sod on the roof and they were ready to move in. They were warm in winter and cool in summer.

As white people came, the Indians saw what they called, (translated "stick house"). Later on white men  pushed the Indians out, built sawmills, widened trails, and began to build, first log houses, and as the sawmills were built in Illinois, "stick villages" began to appear.

Anger built up between the Indians and the whites, fights erupted, and soldiers often came to stop the fighting. Pressured by encroachment of enemies from the north and east, and by white people from the east and south, and with fierce and terrible enemies to the west, some Indians decided to make a stand and fight for their land and their rights.

NOTE: The last paragraph sounds like it might have been the beginning of the Black Hawk wars which finally ended in treaties first signed in 1836. After that the Iowa eventually lost all of their land in Iowa.


GOTO: Possibly The Black Hawk War