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Who Was Wapello? Part 3 January 25, 2010

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

When the Indians were forced to move further west in 1838, Street took measures to start an agency more convenient to the Indian villages and started a new agency for the Sac and Fox tribes early in the fall of 1838. He set out with Chief Appanoose and a party of Indians to examine the country to select a location for the agency. They chose the location where Agency City was later located in what became Wapello County.

Street contracted for the necessary buildings to be built.

Prior to the establishment of the Agency in Wapello County, Wapello and his band lived at the mouth of Crooked Creek, near Marshall, in Henry County.

In 1838, Chief Wapello moved his village to the Des Moines River just south of Ottumwa near the new agency that was being built. A Council House, a place to hold talks with the Indians, was the first building completed . Soon to follow was a house for the first agent, Gen. Joseph Street, who arrived with his family in April 1839. There was a blacksmith shop, stables and mills. A “Pattern Farm” to teach farming skills to the Indians was begun and several other buildings were constructed.

In the spring of 1839, after the completion of the buildings, Street moved his family to the new agency. In the meantime, his health had been gradually declining. Before the close of 1839, he had become almost totally disabled, by “obstinate maladies.”

On May 5, 1840, the general died. When he died, Street’s wife and their nine youngest children had been living in the Agency residence for about a year.

The Indians were greatly attached to Street, and at the word of his sudden death, great numbers of them came immediately to the agency, where Street was buried.

Wapello and his tribe were so demonstrative in their grief that it caused distress for Street’s wife and the younger members of his family. It became necessary to find an interpreter to kindly ask the Indians to express their sorrow further from the house.

Source: “The Red Man of Iowa” by A. R. Fulton and the Ottumwa Courier 2000 Progress edition.

Less than a year later, on March 15,1841, while on a hunting trip, the 55-year-old Chief Wapello became ill and died on the banks of Rock Creek in present day Keokuk County, Iowa. His body was returned to the Indian Agency by ox cart, accompanied by numerous mourners. According to Wapello’s wishes, he was buried on the agency beside the grave of his friend Gen. Street. The burial included the customary Indian ceremonies.

Chief Wapello consistently promoted peace.

[Editor’s Note: Wapello moved more than once to new territories in order to escape the encroachment of white settlers and avoid war. Two years after his death, new treaties forced his tribe to move yet again. This time to Nebraska.]

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

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