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Local Tribes Had Their Own Look August 31, 2009

Posted by Wapello Warbler in History, Louisa County.
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by Connie Street

Recently, I attended the Meskwakie Powwow near Tama with my daughter and her two children. I finally learned what the American Indians who lived in and around Louisa County wore on their heads.

Traditional Meskwakee Dress

Traditional Meskwakie Dress

Looking at paintings and actual photographs, I knew it wasn’t feathers, but what was it?

There was a discussion at a recent school board meeting about what type of Indian to use in the new mural in the gym. One choice was an Indian wearing a big feather headdress. Another suggestion was actually using the likeness of Chief Wapello, for whom the town and the school are named, based on a painting of him done in the early 1830s. The result is an Indian with a couple of feathers.

The typical feather headdresses that you see in the movies were not the norm here. Called a roach, the decorations used in this area were made mostly of porcupine hair and fastened to a scalp lock on the head. That’s what many of the dancers were wearing at the powwow.

Jonathan Buffalo, tribal historian, verified that for me. I found him in a tent filled with historical artifacts and books about the Meskwakie Nation.

Nearby was a wikiup, a cone-shaped house made of sticks woven into mats. A step inside and the temperature was several degrees cooler than being in the hot sun.

Roach Up Close

Roach Up Close

At the Meskwakie casino/hotel is a nice museum about the history of the Meskwakie. Stop by and take a look sometime when you are up that way. There is also a CD available for sale at the hotel gift shop on the history of the Meskwakie Nation.

If the name Meskwakie doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve probably heard of the Sac and Fox. Those names were given to the tribes by white men. What is commonly known as Fox should have always been called Meskwakie.

At the Louisa County Heritage Center in Wapello, there is a diorama showing the Sac and Fox Indian Council held along the Iowa River when the warrior Black Hawk asked for support in his quest for a war with the encroaching settlers. Keokuk, the tribal chief, and Wapello a sub chief, both said no.

Black Hawk went to war anyway. Many of his followers, including women and children, were slaughtered. The peaceful Indians who lived in southeast Iowa were moved west to reservations and white settlement began in Iowa soon afterward.

Connie Street is a retired journalist who contributes regularly to the Wapello Republican. She also staffs our local historical museum.



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