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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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This map indicates the various land purchases from tribes of Native Americans in Iowa. Image courtesy: Don Nelson
LAND PURCHASES. Over hundreds of years, Iowa has belonged to Spain, England and France. In 1803 the United States acquired title to it as part of the LOUISIANA PURCHASE.President Jefferson foresaw that Indians would become indebted to the American traders and would sell their land to the United States. (1) As white settlement moved west, wars were fought with tribes who were then forced from their land--sometimes with some payment. The actual price paid to tribes for land in Iowa will never be fully known. Part of the price was cash. Another part of the price was in merchandise and food. It has been estimated that the amount paid to tribes for Iowa was approximately $2,887,500. (2)

The first land lost to the Native Americans was the "Half-Breed Tract." A "half-breed" was a person with a white father and a Native American mother. These people usually lived in the tribe of the person's mother. The "Half-Breed Tract" at the southernmost top of Lee County was traded and cheated away by the whites. (3)

The "Western Slope" was an area in far western Iowa. In 1830 the SAUK AND FOX, SIOUX, Omahas, Otes, and Missouri tribes sold this land to the United States government. Each tribe received a small amount of money with the promise the site was to be reserved for their hunting grounds. (4)

On July 30, 1830, at Fort Crawford, in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a 40 mile wide, 200 mile long “ neutral ground” was established to separate the Sac and Fox Tribes from the Sioux. (5) In compensation, the tribes received about three cents per acre. (6) Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone, headed the party that surveyed this neutral tract of land in which hunting and fishing were allowed, but no warring. The Winnebago Indians, who lived in the northern portions of Fayette County, were moved into the Neutral Ground as a buffer between the other tribes. (7) The government agreed to pay the Indians $3,000 annually for ten years and help the Indians promote agriculture. The government would also supply blacksmiths, farm implements, and furnish schools for the Indian children. In 1840, an Indian mission was established about 3 miles south of Fort Atkinson. The mission was designed as a school to educate the Winnebagos and to encourage them to adopt the manners and customs of “civilized” life. (8)

Following the defeat of Black Hawk in 1832, a council was held at the present site of Davenport, Iowa. For paying all the debts of the Sauk and Fox to traders, $20,000 annually for thirty years to the tribe, and providing food to the widows and orphans of warriors killed in the Black Hawk War, the United States government took over the area known as the BLACK HAWK PURCHASE. This amount to a cost to the government of about eleven cents per acre.(9)

Because Keokuk and his village had not entered the war, an area of 400 square miles was provided to them as a home along the Iowa River. In 1836 this land was sold for $198,500.37 or about eight cents per acre when they moved to the Des Moines River Valley. (10)

The pressure of white settlement soon required the purchase of more land. A second "Black Hawk Purchase" was made in 1837. Located just west of the first purchase, the cost to the government was thirty cents per acre. In 1842 the Sauk and Fox sold the title to remainder of land they owned in Iowa for about ten cents per acre. They were to move to a reservation in Kansas. (11)

In 1838 the Iowa tribe sold all of their lands. In 1846 the Pottawatamis agreed to move from their southwest Iowa lands to a Kansas reservation. The same year the Winnebagoes agreed to leave the Neutral Strip where the government had put them and move to Minnesota. The last tribe to sell their lands was the Sioux. They sold their Iowa land in 1851 for about eight cents per acre. (12)

The government purchased land from the Indian tribes in return for promises of relocation, protection and payment of tribal debts. (13) While the government agreed to pay, in practice the tribes often did not receive all they were promised. When the Mesquakie returned to live in Iowa, the federal government withdrew financial support promised in earlier treaties. Years of hardship followed as the tribe worked to make a living on an area of land too small to support so many people. The tribe then approached Governor James Grimes with the request that they be allowed to purchase back some of their original land. Their first land purchase of eighty acres for $1,000 was made on July 13, 1857. (14) and eventually they bought back approximately 3,200 acres. (15) Today the Mesquakie own over 3,000 acres along the Iowa River in Tama County. (16)



1. Hayworth, Roberta. "Indian Land Cessions and Relocated Tribes," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District Mandatory Center of Expertise For the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections Consulting with Tribal Nations, Chicago, Illinois, March 6-8, 2012

2. "Buying Iowa From the Indians," The Des Moines Register, Nov. 28, 1932

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Clayton County Leadership Group, "Old Mission Road," Online: http://www.strawberrypt.com/Files-in-pdf/Old-MRd.PDF

6. "Buying Iowa..."

7. "Iowa's Indian Tribes," The Des Moines Register, September 19, 1932

8. "Buying Iowa..."

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. "How the Indians Lost Iowa," Iowa History Project, Online: http://iagenweb.org/history/soi/soi20.htm

13. "Indian Removal in Iowa," Iowa Pathways, Online: http://www.iptv.org/iowapathways/mypath.cfm?ounid=ob_000120

14. Coffey, Dan. Iowa Curiosities, 2nd. Ct: Morris Book Publishing, 2010, p. 224

15. Schwieder, Dorothy, "History of Iowa," Iowa Official Register, Online:http://publications.iowa.gov/135/1/history/7-1.html

16. Ibid.