Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
PICTURING FT. MADISON IN THE 1830s
Around the ruins of the old fort near the river, a cluster of half a dozen houses in 1835 gave way to a tide of settlers during the following year. Alive with a sudden burst of energy, a village took shape as new construction made lasting changes to the landscape.
When Enoch Gilbert and Augusta, daughter of Nathaniel Knapp exchanged vows during the winter of 1835-1836, it was the first wedding in the new community. The first birth was that of John H. Douglass, son of Joseph S. and Almeda Douglass, on June 20, 1836.
Indians lived in the vicinity and many of the first residents were of mixed breed such as Rathburn, a schoolteacher, who was half-white, a quarter Indian and one-fourth black.
In 1834, Walsh and Pise opened the first store and during the following year, stores were opened by John Box, John H. Knapp, and Jacob Cutler. These merchants extended credit to the Indians until "annuity day," and natives seldom neglected their bills. However, Black Hawk failed to wipe clean a debt to Jacob Cutler of a little over $12.
Mr. and Mrs. Black Hawk, their daughter, and their two sons had lived in the vicinity and were frequently seen in Fort Madison during the town’s early days, and were treated somewhat as celebrities. When the town held its first official celebration on July 4, 1838 a special invitation was sent to Iowaville requesting Black Hawk’s presence. The old chief warmly welcomed the opportunity, and attended the event decked out in full regalia.
At dinner, a special toast was made to honor old chief Black Hawk, after which he delivered an emotional speech that touched the hearts of all who attended. "A few years ago," he said, "I fought the very people that now honor me." Perhaps he had done wrong, he admitted, and asked that people forgive him and forget his past. He cautiously asked the new people to care for the land that the Indians had fought for and loved. Black Hawk said that he believed it pleased the Great Spirit to see him there dining with them and added, "I shake hands with you as it is my wish, and hope that you are my friends."
After such a moving statement, Mr. Cutler smiled wisely and decided to cover the debt rather than approach the old man to collect his twelve dollars. After Black Hawk’s death Cutler framed the unpaid bill and displayed it in his store as a collector’s item.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick