Iowa Counties named for Indian Chiefs

Many Iowa counties bear names which stand as monuments to Indian chiefs, both good and bad: Black Hawk County recalls the memory of the great warrior leader of the Sacs and Foxes. While he opposed the sale of lands to the whites, and was the chief spirit in the struggle known as the Black Hawk War, he was honest in his motives, and may be considered a good Indian. “He never drank liquor, and tried to prevent the whites from supplying it to other Indians. He had only one wife, and dearly loved his family. He was not cruel, and practised none of the tortures of which savages are fond.”*

Keokuk County and the city of that name represent Black Hawk’s rival, the great chief Keokuk, the “man of peace.” Like the watchful fox for whom he was named, he was very shrewd and quick-witted. He thought it folly to try to fight the whites when they wished to become settlers, and he made his braves think so too. He was not a chief by birth, but he gained a high position on account of his cunning and his power as an orator. In one of the treaties which he signed his name is spelled Keeokuk, and after it is written “he who has been everywhere. ” The government set him above Black Hawk. But he was not so great an Indian as this noble chief. He had too many vices. He was fond of all sorts of shows, had three or four wives, a number of fast horses, and loved whiskey better than any thing else. He died from the effects of drink.

Mahaska County preserves the memory of the famous Chief of the Iowas. He was a noble warrior and a wise man. His favorite wife Rant-che-wai-me, which means “flying pigeon,” was much loved by her people. They called her the “beautiful-female-eagle-that-flies in-the-air. “The story is told that once Mahaska set out with a party of braves to visit the city of Washington. For some reason he tarried behind the others to cook himself some venison. As he stooped over the fire by the wayside something struck him in the back. He looked up quickly and there stood Rant-che-wai-me, with uplifted tomahawk. She demanded that Mahaska take her with him to the “American big house,”so that she might see and shake the hand of In-co-ho-nee, “the American great father.” He was glad to consent, and the two journeyed on happily together. At Washington the beautiful, dusky-eyed princess attracted a great deal of attention. But she did not like many of the ways of the pale-faces. She thought them wicked. On her return home she called the women of her lodge together and gave them a solemn talk and warning against ever trying to live as their white sisters did.

The counties of Winnebago, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Sac, Sioux, and Pottawattamie are named for well known Indian tribes. Winneshiek County represents the great Chief of the Winnebagoes. Waukon, in a neighboring county, preserves the name of another Winnebago Chief, who was a great orator and a friend of the white men. Wapello County stands as a monument to the head Chief of the Foxes. The name means “he-who-ispainted white. “He was a great orator and favored peace with the pale faces. Appanoose County owes its name to the warrior who ruled a certain band of Sacs.

His village was the site of the present city of Ottumwa. The story is told, in Sabin’s “Making of Iowa,” that once Appanoose visited Boston, and called upon the Governor of Massachusetts. In reply to a speech made by the governor, he said “As far as I can understand the language of the white people, it appears to me that the Americans have attained a very high rank among white people. It is the same with us, though I say it myself. Where we lived, beyond the Mississippi, I am respected by all people, and they consider me the tallest among them. I am happy that two great men meet and shake hands with each other.” And he reached out and shook hands -with the governor.

Iowa County, Iowa River, Iowa City, and the name of the State itself, come from a band of Dakotas who called themselves Ayouways (Iowa) or Dusty Noses. Their chief village was in the far northwest corner of Van Buren County, where the town of Iowaville now stands. They were brave and intelligent Indians, but aliens from their tribe because one of their chiefs was once treacherously slain along the Iowa River by a band of the Sioux or Dakotas. They were massacred by the Sacs and Foxes and ceased to be a part of history in 1823.


White, Judy Wallis. The Story of Iowa.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top