Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


About 750 years ago, the Oneota tribe moved into upper Iowa from somewhere much further south along the Mississippi River. They were agricultural, built permanent houses of wood, lived in villages, made pottery, were big game hunters, traded with Canadians, and sometimes buried their dead in mounds, although it should be noted that this was a borrowed custom.

When they buried their dead in mounds, it was in mounds already found that contained the dead of a group of people that lived in the Iowa region before their time.

The Oneota are believed to be the ancestors of the Iowa Indians, a tribe that lived in central, south, and southeast Iowa along the tributaries of the Mississippi River.

The Oneota settled along the upper part of the Iowa River. They planted corn and beans but it appears that they found the river bottom lands much easier to cultivate than the prairie land.

The Iowa Indians developed a culture in tune with the environment. Northeast Iowa had a heavily forested landscape that featured rugged canyons and deep ravines. Further west, they encountered marshlands and beyond that was a vast prairie. Similar to the Oneota, the Iowa Indians lived in villages situated in river valleys. The tree covered rolling hills of southern and southeast Iowa provided an abundant hunting grounds. One of their main villages was along the Des Moines River between Eldon and Ottumwa.

Both hunting and farming were implemented by the Iowa tribe. They learned the annual cycle of seasons and adjusted their livelihood to coincide. From November to April, they trapped beaver in their winter camps and by January, began to hunt bear. Often fighting a bear required hand to hand combat.

By March the winter camps would disperse and small bands would go south to the sugar cane regions to make sugar and syrup. Here they would live in their summer camps. Sometimes these were temporary teepees or wigwams because of the warmer weather.

When lodges fell into disrepair over winter, the natives that remained rebuilt them and prepared the fields for planting. In May corn was planted, accompanied by religious rites. Many of the women did the planting and cultivating.

In summer they would hunt and make war with other tribes, sometimes traveling long distances for bison and deer. War parties usually fought over hunting rights.

Corn was harvested in September, and another festival was celebrated, involving horse racing, gambling, games of lacrosse, and games of strength and endurance.

The Iowa Indians were closely related to the Sioux. They were often warlike but eventually, they fell subservient to the Sauk and Fox tribe. Around 1824, the victors (Sauk and Fox) built Iowaville as a permanent village so that they could maintain control of the Iowa nation. The tribes are said to have sometimes shared a racetrack located between the present villages of Selma and Eldon. Iowaville was located in present Van Buren County near the borders of Wapello, Jefferson and Davis.

One of the things that greatly plagued the Iowa tribe was the spread of white manís diseases when Europeans began settling in the Black Hawk Strip of Eastern Iowa and further west. Smallpox and cholera ravaged through the native villages, killing hundreds of natives at once.

(Some of this information is from an on line article about Iowa Indians as published by PageWise.)

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