Winnebago Mission School and Trading Post

By the treaty of September 15, 1832, it was stipulated that the government should annually, beginning in September, 1833, and continuing for twenty-seven years, give the Winnebagoes $10,000 in specie, and establish a school among them, at or near Prairie du Chien, with a farm and garden, and provide other facilities, not to exceed in cost $3,000 a year, for the education of their children, and continue the same for twenty-seven successive years. Six agriculturists, twelve yoke of oxen and as many plows, and other farming tools were to be supplied by the government. The buildings were erected in 1833, on the Yellow river, Allamakee county, Iowa, and President Jackson appointed Rev. David Lowry, a Presbyterian minister, to assume charge. The mission school was removed in 1840, from the Yellow river to a point on the Turkey river, in Winneshiek county, about four miles southeast of the fort buildings.

The erection of the mission was superintended by Rev. Lowry. There were about twenty buildings at the mission. One was a large school house, another a small church, while the rest were dwellings. Early Catholic pioneers, who settled near the Turkey river (1849), purchased these buildings. The small church was used as a chapel, hence the name Old Mission. In 1853 it was destroyed by fire.

There was also a mission one mile east of the fort, on the Turkey river, established by Catholic missionaries. Here there were a number of graves, and at the head of each was a cross. It is unknown whether any of the graves were those of converted Indians or not. The buildings belonging to this mission were burned down by a prairie fire in the early fifties.

Alexander states 1 that, “Rev. Lowry’s assistant was one by the name of Col. Thomas. To him was turned over the work of instructing the Indians in agricultural pursuits. The first year, under Col. Thomas’ supervision, a farm of 300 acres was opened. However, little work could be got out of them, and the crops planted began to show neglect.” There was an abundance of game in the country round about, and therefore the temptation for the Indian to roam and hunt was very strong. As a result he became negligent about tilling the soil. In 1843 Col. Thomas, under governmental instructions, built the first grist mill in Winneshiek county. The mission and farm was continued until the reservation was sold to the government. Lowry finally resigned to take charge of a mission in Minnesota and, in 1846, Mr. Fletcher was appointed agent for the Winnebagoes by President Polk, and served in that capacity for eleven years. During that time he resided at Fort Atkinson, Iowa, Long Prairie, Minn., and Blue Earth, Minn. Under the careful management of Mr. Fletcher the Winnebagoes attained to considerable proficiency in agriculture, and otherwise improved their condition.

During his service as Indian agent Mr. Fletcher was accompanied by his wife, who engaged earnestly in the work of teaching the Indians. Their eldest son, Frank Fletcher, acquired such command of the language of the Indians that he became his father’s interpreter. General Fletcher, while serving as agent, contributed through the publications of Mr. Schoolcraft a vast amount of information concerning the religion, traditions, and customs of the Winnebagoes while at the Turkey river. In 1858 Mr. Fletcher returned to Iowa, where he died April 6, 1872, on his farm near Muscatine, sixty-six years old.

When the crop, planted under Col. Thomas’ supervision, began to show neglect, a force of garrison men were detailed to cultivate it, and were paid for their labor out of the Indian annuity. Hon. A. Jacobson states 2 : “Ole Halvorsen Valle, undoubtedly the first Norwegian to visit the county, was engaged in the service of the government as teamster, hauling provisions from Fort Crawford, Wis., to Fort Atkinson and the Old Mission; he was also employed in breaking up pieces of bottom land on the Upper Iowa river. One of the largest fields thus prepared for the Indians to plant their corn was situated just below the outlet of Trout Run.” Mr. Goddard says, “An Indian chief had a farm about one-half mile southwest of Spillville, and a, considerable part of the ground was broken up.”

An Indian trading post was established two miles southwest of the fort by a Mr. Olmstead and one Joseph Hewitt. It seems that they had a permit from the government to trade with the Indians. The buildings, all one story high, were constructed of logs. There were five in number, two large dwelling houses, one large store, one storage house, and a blacksmith shop. Capt. Joseph Hewitt’s principal occupation was hunting, trapping, and fishing. In 1851 he left the country and located at Clear Lake, Ia., where he experienced no little trouble with the Sioux Indians. In 1849 Josiah Goddard bought the old Indian trading post from Olmstead, and in 1850 moved his family on to the land. Three or four acres of this land had been broken up by the Indians.Citations:

  1. In his History of Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties.[]
  2. In his article “Reminiscences of Pioneer Norwegians,. published in the Historical Atlas of Winneshiek County, 1906, Sec. II, pg. 11.[]

History, Winnebago,

Hexom, Charles Philip. Indian History of Winneshiek County. Decorah: A. K. Bailey & Don, Inc. 1913.

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