Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


In 1825, there was a general movement among the Indians living in the Des Moines and Mississippi River valleys for war with the white people. The number of warriors was estimated to be about 1,000 with a total Indian population between 5,000 and 6,000. The native Americans lived in small villages with a population usually numbering only a few hundred.

Most of the Indians lived in oblong huts, called “wickiups.” Rows of poles were driven into the ground and were bent and bound together at the top, then covered with bark. Long benches were built along each side of the lodge. Each bench was about three feet high and four feet wide. In between was a six-foot wide passageway. Huts were fifty or sixty feet long and could easily accommodate fifty people. A door at each end allowed access to the building.

Although there were openings at the top that served as chimneys to remove smoke from their fires, the buildings remained a smoky den filled with strong odors from the steaming kettles and dirty furnishings. One of the most common illnesses that Indians suffered was sore eyes, due in part to the great quantities of smoke in their shelters.

In winter, families built similar but smaller huts, used matting to cover them and hung a bear skin or blanket to cover the doorways. They made blankets to cover themselves and slept in their clothing made of pelts and animal skins.

A network of narrow, well-beaten paths existed between the villages. Young braves were fleet of foot and could travel quickly from village to village with messages. Thus they remained somewhat unified.

From corn they raised, the Indians made enough corn meal to last all winter. They lived on fish, wild ox, buffalo, and other wild game. For special occasions, they killed and butchered dogs as this was considered a rich delicacy. At times of the year when game was scarce, it appears that dog meat may have been used more often. Sometimes animals were dressed and the meat roasted on an open fire. At other times the meat was boiled until it fell off the bones. The men brought home the game while the women dressed and prepared the meat.

Traditionally, hunters would slump down quietly resting their heads between their knees while the women prepared the game. The women would serve them first. This would appear to revive them, and they would then relate the tales and experiences involved in hunting and gathering the food.

- -
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick