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Who Was Wapello? November 17, 2009

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

WA-PEL-LA (Wapello) was born in 1787 where Prairie Du Chien, Wis. is today, according to A.R. Fulton’s “Red Men of Iowa.”

I have found two translations for his name. According to Meskwaki literature, it means Prince. In the Treaty of Sept. 21, 1832, it is defined as “He who is painted white.” If you search “He who is painted white” online, a wealth of information is available about not only Wapello, but about the tribal history.

Wapello, a leader with great influence among his people, was described as short in stature and stoutly built.

Wapello is said to have been a man of quiet wisdom and great devotion. He was always promoting peace and was a good friend of the early white settlers.

When Fort Armstrong was built at today’s Rock Island, Ill. (1816-1817), Wapello is said to have led one of the principal Meskwaki Indian villages about 5 miles away.

As a Meskwaki chief, he signed several treaties. The first was at Fort Armstrong in 1822.

In 1829, Wapello moved his people west of the Mississippi River and built a village near the present site of the town of Wapello, Iowa. The exact location is unknown.

In early 1832, when Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, known as Black Hawk, sought support from his fellow Indians in southeast Iowa to strike against the whites, Wapello and Chief Keokuk declined.

The tribal council, with thousands of Indians attending, took place at Keokuk’s village in Louisa County in the vicinity of today’s F Avenue and 40th Street.

On April 5, 1832, Black Hawk led a band of about 1,500 Indians, mostly old men, women and children, across the Mississippi at the mouth of the Iowa River. On Aug. 3, many of the Indians were massacred at the Battle of Bad Axe (Wisconsin) by U.S. forces.

On Sept. 21, 1832, the Black Hawk War officially came to an end with a treaty approved at Fort Armstrong. In this treaty the remaining Sac and Fox Indians, including Wapello, agreed to cede the lands they occupied west of the Mississippi River to the United States.

With the end of the Black Hawk War, the U.S. government designated Keokuk as principal chief of a confederated Sauk (Sac) and Meskwaki tribe designated as the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi, even though the Meskwaki was a different tribe than the Sauk. Wapello was next in line after Keokuk.

Wapello signed treaties at Dubuque, Iowa in 1836; and at Washington, D.C., in 1837. During that same year Wapello and Keokuk accompanied Indian Agent Gen. Joseph Street on a tour of the American northeast. Wapello spoke at Boston, stating his nation’s desire to live in harmony with white settlers.

Click here to read Who Was Wapello? Part 2

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

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1. Wapello Warbler - November 19, 2009

“On April 5, 1832, Black Hawk led a band of about 1,500 Indians, mostly old men, women and children, across the Mississippi at the mouth of the Iowa River.”

Connie, was he dropping these folks off with Wapello or Keokuk before going into battle?

Connie Street - November 21, 2009

No, he was enroute to his war after his Council with Keokuk and the others. We have a great diorama at the Heritage Center depicting the Council….only about 500 of the Indians who went with him were warriors. Most of these people were slaughtered by the U.S. government at Bad Axe, Wis. – the last battle of the Black Hawk War. I will tell more about Black Hawk later.

You can get a glimpse of the diorama at louisacountyhistory.com

2. Steve Hanken - January 13, 2010

Couple of things, this is a sketch of what was written from a white man’s view of what happened in. Wapello and Keokuk’s business of being “chiefs” is as usual, a white mans interpetation and for whatever reason, they would be friendly with the whites most likely means they had abandoned the land for whatever they could get for it, most Indian’s would not do that. The land was sacred, held the bones of their ancestors, and wasn’t something you could turn into money. As to the “Blackhawk War” in true form it was one of the first massacres of Indian’s, men, women and children by using a river boat equipt with a cannon to shoot people who couldn’t shoot back swimming across the Mississippi River. Most of those killed were women and chidren trying to get back into Iowa and onto their reserve areas where they would be safe. Hardly something for whites be proud of.

Wapello Warbler - January 15, 2010

Thanks for weighing in. In the June 18th, 1981 edition of the Wapello Republican an article without a byline echoes what you have said about Keokuk and the white response to Blackhawk; however, it is silent about Wapella. I would note that the Meskwaki and Sauk tribes were not native to this area, but relatively recent immigrants from the great lakes. The burial mounds and other ancient artifacts in this part of Iowa were left by different peoples.

The Republican says this about the massacre:

To inspire this murderous drunken spree, the governor of Illinois, Ninian Edwards, formed these frontier rowdies into an army and offered to pay a cash reward for every man, woman, and child murdered by this army. This was the war in which Abraham Lincoln volunteered and was voted a captain by his followers from his own neighborhood.”

As you say, it’s nothing to be proud of.

If you or people you know have access to materials about these events from Meskwaki or Sauk sources, I would be delighted to accept guest posts that reflect those perspectives.

3. DiAnna Petty - January 14, 2010

I love this information. My son, age 37, asked just the other day if Chief Wapello was a real person. I told him yes, but did not know any information about him. My son is going to love reading this info. Thanks Connie. You did a great job on this article.

4. It Happened in Keokuk - February 2, 2010

[…] Who Was Wapello? « Wapello Warbler's Louisa County […]

5. In Memorium: Connie Street « Wapello Warbler's Louisa County - October 27, 2010

[…] Who Was Wapello, Parts 1-3 […]

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