Origin and History
The Iowa people are a Siouan-speaking and semi-nomadic group of Native Americans. They called themselves “Paxoje” or “Dusty-noses”, claiming that they once dwelt on a sandbar where the wind blew dust into their faces. They inhabited a region in present-day Iowa.
However, the Iowa bands moved between the plains and woodlands. They fished in Lake Michigan, hunted and trapped in the woods along the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers, quarried red pipestone in the southwestern part of Minnesota, hunted buffalo beyond the Missouri, as well as locations in the valley of the Platte, Nishnabotna, the Nodaway, the Chariton, and the Grande Rivers but mainly dwelt along the Iowa River.
In 1676 the Jesuit Louis Andre first recorded the presence of seven or eight families of the “Aiaoua” Indians living among Winnebago in the vicinity of the Great Lakes.
In 1680 the Jesuit Zenobius placed the Nadouessious Maskoutens (Iowa) and Anthoutantas (Oto) about 130 leagues from the Illinois nation, in three great villages built near a river which empties into the river Colbert (Mississippi) on the west side, above the Illinois, almost opposite the mouth of the Wisconsin.
In the autumn of 1685 Nicholas Perrot ascended the Mississippi river and passed the winter at "Montagne qui trempe dans l'eau," (near the site of the modern village Trempeleau, in Wisconsin). Here he was visited by Iowa persons who at that time hunted in the valley of the river, a western tributary of the Mississippi, that still bears their name, and roamed over the prairies toward the Missouri.
However, by 1693, it appears that the band living with the Winnebago had moved from the Great Lakes area starting a migration that totalled some fifteen separate village sites, covering an area of approximately 500 miles, finally settling at the mouth of the Iowa River.
In 1695 Le Sueur mentions some Iowa living alongside the Omaha on the Missouri River.
The Iowa and their Dakota allies attacked the Miami around 1695/1696.
In 1700 one band of Iowa were settled in the Des Moines River Valley in the southern part of present-day Iowa (the extreme north-west corner of present-day Van Buren County, near the town of Eldon) when the first explorers penetrated the area. Their noted leader Mau-haw-gaw, “the Wounding Arrow,” had led his band westward across the Mississippi river and through northern, western and southern Iowa country. Other villages were to be found in present day Davis and Wapello counties.
When Pierre La Sueur and 30 men reached the mouth of the Mahkahto, or Blue Earth river, a tributary of the Minnesota in 1700, he was told that the river belonged to the Sioux of the West (Dakota), the Ayavois (Iowa) and Otoctatas (Ottoes), who lived a little farther off. Here they built and overwintered at Fort L'Huillier, trading furs and other merchandise with the local Native American bands. It is from La Sueur that the Iowa first obtained firearms. The fort was attacked by the Sauk and Fox and abandoned after he left. In 1702 he mentions "that the Ayooues and the Octoctatas, their neighbours, are about three hundred families. They occupy the land between the Mississippi and the Missouri about one hundred leagues from the Illinois."
Those Iowa living along the Missouri were forced to leave that country due to attacks by the Lakota at some point, and moved southward as far as the Platte River and away from the Omaha village. In 1744 Fort Cavagnial was bult overlooking the Kansa people’s village on the Missouri River and it became convenient for the Iowa to visit it. Auguste Chouteau wrote that the Iowa ‘... formerly had their village on the right bank of the Missouri River about eighteen miles above the Platte River on the lands of the Mahas [Omaha].’
Role during the War
The following letter written by the governor general of Canada, Pierre Rigaud, the Marquis de Vaudreuil alludes to the occasion of the first visit of an Ioway delegation to Montréal:
- "Montreal, July 20, 1757
- "My Lord: Before my arrival in the colony, the Ayo8ois [Iowa} killed two Frenchmen on the Missouri [in 1752]. With all possible haste I issued order to the commandants of posts, where this tribe might happen to visit, so that the first officer to whom in might come would compel it to bring the murderers to me. The Commandant de la Baye [west of Lake Superior] had an opportunity to see the Ayo8ois, and spoke to them, in my name, with so much vigour, that ten Indians of this tribe came to Montréal, to deliver me the murderers.
- "With great humility, they offered them, in the name of the nation, and expressed a willingness to break their heads (a leur casser) if it were my desire; but they earnestly begged for pardon, assuring me, that they would avenge the deaths of the two Frenchmen, by attacks on the English.
- "All our nations of the Upper Country, and our domiciliated (domiciliers) in the City, to the number of 1700 or 1800, united with the Ayo8ois and begged me, in most touching language, to grant their pardon. I thought I ought not to refuse them as all the nations were about departing, to help in my expedition against Fort George [William Henry], and because the circumstances demanded that I give some proof of good will; meanwhile I made them sue strongly for the favour, and yielded only after many and repeated requests.
- "This favour will increase our hold on these savages much more than if I had executed the two murderers, because all the nations who interested themselves in their behalf, at the same time, bound themselves to punish them, if hereafter they steeped their hands in French blood.”
On July 28, 1757 Louis Antoine de Bougainville, Montcalm’s aide, listed these 10 Iowa warriors being present and taking part in the French expedition against Fort William Henry. The siege of the Fort started on August 4 and lasted until August 10 during which time Native Americans were deployed sniping at the fort during the day and as an observation screen in woods around the perimeter of the cleared land. Following this the Iowa warriors went home.
In the fall of 1724 M. de Bourgmont of the Compagnie des Indes distributed fusils, hatchets, swords, bullets, red and blue woollen cloth, hand mirrors, shirts, scissors, bells, beads, vermillion for paint and other items to the Iowa.
The paintings from 1844 below by George Catlin shows a group of Iowa people on a visit to London and Paris some 90 years after the French and Indian War began when the Iowa culture had become adapted to life on the prairies and show the influence of Plains Indian styles.
Apart from a very brief mention by the Marquis de Montcalm, there are no written or drawn descriptions of Iowa people from the time of the Seven Years War. The following is surmised:
Montcalm writes in 1757, ‘...the Ioways, heads shaved...’ but does not describe the extent or style of wearing the hair. Hair typically for woodland warriors a patch on the crown of the head left long and braided.
Each Iowa person belonged to one of eight clans, each named after a particular animal or bird from which they sprung. The Black Bear, Eagle, Wolf and Elk formed one group, while the Buffalo, Beaver, Snake and Pigeon formed the other. At least in the mid-19th century each clan had a particular method of cutting and wearing men’s hair. Missionaries writing in 1848 stated those men of the Eagle clan had two locks of hair on the front part of the head and one on the back which was left long; the Wolf scattered bunches of hair over the head representing islands from whence the clan spring; the Bear one side is left to grow longer than the other; and the Buffalo, a strip of hair left long from the front to the back of the head with two branches either side to represent horns. The other styles are lost. These styles may date back into the 18th century. Amongst the Siouan-speaking Omaha (with whom the Iowa had associated with) similar clan affiliated styles were worn by boys.
It is likely that feathers and other items were worn in the scalplock according to the man’s spiritual experiences.
The 1831 and 1844 paintings by George Catlin show men wearing a roach of deer hair and porcupine guard hair. It is likely that this headdress was used in the mid-18th century by the Iowa. However, by Catlin’s time the deer hair roach had become identifying item (along with the feather bustle) of regalia of the Heloshka Society which originated from the Omaha Hethu’shka Society (the ancestor of modern-day men’s powwow dancing).
Tattoo and Paint
Iowa men were tattooed with two or three bands above the wrist. Their chests were also tattooed. Men who had earned war honours were tattooed in a public ceremony. No designs were remembered by the 1920s.
It is likely that warriors painted their faces and bodies with personal, predominately red and black paint prior to entering combat.
Ears were likely to have been pierced and decorated with rings of brass, silver or tin which could be ornamented with stones, shells, beads or geometrically cut pieces of brass or tin. Catlin shows Iowa men with strings of wampum or imitation wampum hanging from piercings in the upper ear rim.
Ornaments and Necklaces
Necklaces of wampum, imitation wampum or glass beads were likely to have been worn. Pendants could have consisted of large shells. Catlin shows men wearing necklaces of claws from bears which may have also been worn in this period. Silver ornaments, armbands and bracelets may also have been worn but were less available than to those peoples living further east.
Breechclouts were narrow strips of cloth looped over a belt front and back. J. C. Bonin recorded of Native American men in the Ohio catchment although likely to be applicable to the Iowa at this period that ‘The loincloth is made of deerskin or cloth obtained from Europeans. It is a quarter or third cloth that the men wind between their legs. The piece of cloth is held in place around the hips with a cord. The two ends of the loincloth are folded over in front and in the back, with the end in front longer than the one in the back.’
Catlin shows Iowa men wearing full length buckskin leggings with the side seam cut into fringes, one with a quilled strip running down the leg at the seam, characteristic of Plains Indian ones. It is more likely that in the mid-18th century skin or cloth leggings were made with side seams and flaps like other Great Lakes peoples. Possibly these were half leggings typical of that period for Eastern Woodlands men.
Garters were worn below the knee. Garters were made of woven bison hair or probably from woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave of or of deerskin. The porcupine was absent from Iowa territory so it is likely that garters or other items were less commonly decorated with quillwork. Although the porcupine’s range is north of their territory, it is likely that the Iowa obtained porcupine skins or quills in trade.
It is likely that Iowa moccasins in the mid-18th century were made of smoked bison or buckskin with a puckered centre seam along the instep and with cuffs. Later moccasins were made of the one-piece side fold plains style as well.
A European shirt of linen or cotton, cut in contemporary European fashion, obtained from French traders, were popular and could be daubed with vermillion and grease to waterproof it over the shoulders.
Blankets and Robes
Buffalo or other skin robes were worn by the Iowa for warmth. Catin shows the skin side of men’s robes with a band of quillwork and decorated with the wearer’s war exploits similar to that of Plains peoples but at the time of the French and Indian War this form of recording is unlikely amongst the Iowa. Trade blankets, usually of blue or red woollen cloth, which could be decorated with bands of ribbon, are also likely to have been worn.
Iowa warriors are likely to have hung from the belt holding the breechclout or a specific belt or sash, their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which could be the skin of an otter, beaver, cat or bird taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel.
By the mid-18th century, the standard trade musket that armed the Iowa was manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE. After 1745 the ‘V’ changed to a ‘U’. Characteristically the stock had a drooped ‘cow’s foot’ butt.
A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of the deerskin probably with a rounded bottom, from animal skins with the hair left on, otter or badger for example, or perhaps of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads. Straps were likely to have been made of deerskin, or woven fibre. A knife was carried in a sheaf (which, rarely may have been decorated with quillwork) hung around the neck.
A tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt on the hip.
Blaine, Martha Roye, The Ioway Indians, Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1995.
Dorsey, James Owen, Iowa: in Hodge, Frederick W. (Ed.) Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Volume I, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30, 1905, pp. 612-614.
Fletcher, Alice C. & Francis La Flesche, The Omaha Tribe, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972.
Hamilton, Edward P., [trans], Adventure in the Wilderness: The American Journal of Louis Antoine de Bougainville 1756-1760. Norman: University Press, 1964, pp.151.
Miner, William Harvey, The Iowa, Cedar Rapids: Torch Press 1911, pp. xvii - xxii.
Skinner, Alanson, Ethnology of the Iowa Indians, Bulletin of the Public Museum of Milwaukee, 1926, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 258-263.
Stevens, Sylvester, Donald Kent & Emma Woods (eds), Travels in New France by J C B, Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1941
Ioway Cultural Institute – The First Ioway Indians at Montreal]
Larry Burrows for a major overhaul of the article