Old Man River:  History Along the MississippiApril 19-November 2, 2003

Early Exploration and Development


Bald eagle and alligator crossing sign
The Upper vs. The Lower Mississippi
trading post exhibit section
Photograph depicts a representative trading post and Native American items on display. Artifacts were loaned from many sources, including:
~ Andy Ball, Des Moines IA
~ James Leonardo, Des Moines IA
~ Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine IA
~ Charles Pope, Marion IA
~ Putnam Museum of History and Science, Davenport IA
~ State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines IA
~ Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Winona MN
~ Michael Zahs, Ainsworth IA

In the early 1800s, trade with Native Americans dealt primarily with beaver pelts, because the durable fur was so water-resistant that beaver hats had become all the rage in Europe and America! Other animals trapped for their fur included fox, mink, otter, muskrat, and white-tailed deer.

Most native traders had little use for money, however, and were confused by the variety of European currencies still circulating in America. Instead, they exchanged their pelts for rifles, kettles, glass beads, cloth, blankets, and liquor.

The fur trade along the Mississippi River flourished into the 1840s. After that time, however, most Indian tribes had been "removed" to the West.


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Did you know … ?
The monetary term "buck" derived from fur trade slang. Around 1800 the standard price for the skin of an adult male deer was one dollar, hence "a buck" for a dollar. And beaver fur was expensive, so hat makers experimented with cheap rabbit fur by treating it with mercury salts. Prolonged exposure often led to mercury poisoning, causing jerky movements and dementia … leading to the expression "mad as a hatter."


The Indian Removals

"I loved my towns, my cornfields, and the home of my people.
I fought for it. It is now yours. Keep it as we did."
- Chief Black Hawk, 1832

In 1829, President Andrew Jackson ordered Native Americans to relocate onto land west of the Mississippi River. The Sauk and Meskwaki (formerly known as Sac and Fox) were split into two camps - one accommodating, one defiant. Sauk Chief Black Hawk led nearly 1400 followers back across the Mississippi to reclaim their homelands in southwestern Illinois in 1832.

Illinois militia plus 12,000 U.S. Army soldiers chased the rebellious Black Hawk for four months through Illinois and Wisconsin. The war ended tragically on the banks of the Mississippi where 300 Sauk warriors, women, and children were massacred. Retreating into Iowa, the Sauk and Meskwaki were forced to cede more and more of their land to the US government. By 1845, the tribes were sent to Indian reservations in Kansas.

Elsewhere, over 52,570 Native Americans were removed from their ancestral lands. Receiving the worst treatment were 15,000 Cherokee from southeastern states. Equipped with few wagons, they were marched on foot to Oklahoma reservations, suffering through starvation, exposure, and a smallpox epidemic that took the lives of 4,000 men, women, and children. The Cherokees' journey is known today as "The Trail of Tears."

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Did you know … ?
Black Hawk surrendered at Fort Crawford where the fort commander was Zachary Taylor. Lieutenant Jefferson Davis escorted the chief to a St. Louis prison. Also serving in the war was the young captain of a volunteer Illinois militia named Abraham Lincoln.
And in 1856, a small group of Meskwaki purchased 80 acres of land in Tama County, Iowa. They now own 3,000 acres and are one of the few Native American tribes to live on or near their original homeland.

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This section "Early Exploration and Development" has the following related pages:
Trade and the Indian Removals

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2 men in a canoe
Early Exploration and Development
River Days
view of Bellview, Iowa
Riverfront Property
Civil War enenactors
Man vs. Man
Bald eagle and conservation officer
Man vs. Nature
jazz musician
The Arts Along the River
New Orleans graveyard
Legends and Spirits
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