John Brassard Jr.

John Brassard Jr.

Observer Columnist

When the first settlers arrived in Clinton County, the first thing that they saw past the river bluffs were vast stretches of grass. Streams cut their way through this sea of green, and trees grew sporadically along their banks. 

There were no towns, no roads, no trains. But there were people. 

The first group of Native Americans that lived in the area were called the Ioway. One day, their name would inspire the name of the state when the land would become Iowa. 

The Ioway had once lived in the Northeastern United States, but at some point had moved west, where they settled in the region. 

They were especially good farmers, and their largest crop was corn. Some of their settlements were huge, with some of them covering around 100 acres of land. To supplement this, they also hunted wild game and foraged for berries and nuts. 

They moved all over the state, from what would become Council Bluffs in the west to various places along the Mississippi River. 

In the late 1700’s, two tribes came into the region that would have an even greater impact on the region – the Sauk and Meskwaki. 

While the two groups were closely allied, they were very different. Each had their own leaders and organizational structure. In general, the Sauk lived on the eastern edge of the Mississippi River, while the Meskwaki lived along the western. 

In their villages, the Meskwaki lived in long houses, which were wood framed structures they covered with bark and other materials. Inside, they were divided up into several sections, both to accommodate the separate living spaces of multiple families and make room for storage. These were used primarily in the summer months while the tribe mostly lived in the village. 

During the winter, much of the tribe left to different areas to hunt, living in smaller structures they utilized during those months. By spring, they returned to the main village to plant their crops. 

The Meskwaki never depended on one form of sustenance over another, choosing instead to utilize a combination of agriculture and hunting. 

The agricultural work was carried out mostly by women who tended vast fields that contained many different crops, including corn, beans, and squash. Women were also in charge of the lodge, and could leave their husbands if they weren’t happy with them. 

Men were primarily responsible for hunting and warfare, including the protection of the village from any enemies. This included hunting for beaver and other pelts which they would trade to Europeans for various goods that they wanted. 

Different Native American groups had lived in the region for years, but by the early 1800’s, more and more European settlers would begin to come into the area, starting with western Illinois. These interactions between the two cultures could be friendly, but could just as often be disastrous. 

Regardless of what came later, the Native Americans who lived in Clinton County, and the surrounding areas had a great impact on both American and local history. Their rich and vibrant cultures took root here, becoming just as much a part of the land’s history as anyone who was to come later.