W.W. Baker Talks Interestingly of Fifty Years Ago Knew the Indian chief Wapello

William Baker, b. 1828, was the husband of Isabel Frances Hackney b. 1828, sister of our William S. Hackney who married Mary Jane Enlow. Baker was the son of Joshua Wells Baker, who worked as a blacksmith on the Sac and Fox Reserve.

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The Ottumwa Courier


W.W. Baker Talks Interestingly of Fifty Years Ago
Knew the Indian chief Wapello

Sax and Fox Indians were a Proud Race–Far Above the Average in Intelligence–Keokuk Was a Great Orator–Head Dress of Chieftains

W. W. Baker who has recently returned to Ottumwa for a short visit after an absence of over 50 years spent in the far west, talks entertainingly of pioneer times in the vicinity of Agency and Ottumwa. In 1838 his father came to Agency as one of the government officials. Mr. Baker was at that time a boy of about ten years of age.

This territory was at that time occupied by the Sac and Fox Indians. The Indian agency or council room as it was called, was a log hut which is still standing about one mile east of the present town of Agency. It was here that the elder Mr. Baker was located and here that the boy grew to be a personal friend of Blackhawk, Keokuk, Wapello and all the less famous chieftains of the Sax and Fox Indians. Mother Blackhawk, as the wife of the famous chieftain was called, was a frequent visitor at the Baker home. She was a great friend of the children and they played with her and sat upon her lap many a time.

Indians Very Proud

Mr. Baker met Blackhawk only a few times but with the two sons and Keokuk he was well-acquainted. With Wapello the chieftain for whom this county is named and whose grave is at the old agency council room, he was an intimate friend. Mr. Baker speaks very highly of the Sax and Fox Indians. They were far above the average, physically, mentally and morally of all the western tribes of Indians. They were a proud spirited race. You could not hire one of them to work for you or do chores. It was impossible to persuade one of the tribe to wear cast off clothing or to even put on a garment any one else had ever worn. The only condescension in this matter was when the chieftains occasionally wore military uniforms given them by the government officers, to the council chamber when they came to treat with the officials. When the council was over the uniforms were instantly removed.

The head dress which the chieftains wore when the sat in council with the officers was striking. The Indians were skilled taxidermists. A raven, head and body and tail was prepared,, its body split and used as the head covering; the tail feathers hanging down the back and the head extending to the front. Round headed, polished tacks were inserted for the eyes. At night in the old log council room when the swarthy chieftains squatted about in a circle, togged out in all their barbaric splendor with this raven black head dress, the brass eyes shining in the flickering candlelight, the scene was truly an uncanny one.

Sax and Fox Distinct tribes

The Sax and Fox Indians were two distinct nations, yet they lived together under one general government, or rather chieftain. The great chief was chosen sometimes from one sometimes from the other nation. In the two nations there were 2,200 individuals divided into eighty-two tribes each with its own chieftain who held definite rank. At the time the great warrior Blackhawk was chieftain, Keokuk became chief and Wapello second.

Mr. Baker remembers these three chieftains as magnificent specimens of physical manhood. Keokuk in general intelligence outranked the others. For an Indian he was a brilliant man. He was one of the most famous indian orators that ever lived. The indian orator spoke slowly, stoically. Not so with Keokuk. He was fiery and impassioned. He spoke with wonderful rapidity. When aroused and heated his Indian grunts and gutteral intonations sounded like the rattle of drum sticks. He was a hard proposition for the interpreter who found it impossible to keep pace with him.

Tribes Receive Annuity of $82,000

The territory about Agency and what is known as the Iowa prairie about Eldon was formerly the home of the Iowa Indians. But after the Blackhawk war an annuity of $82,000 was given to the Sax and Fox Indians. The manner of paying this money to the eighty-two tribes was unique. There were two traders dealing withthe Indians, J. P. Eddy, an independent trader, who founded the village of Eddyville, and Bill Phelps, who represented the American Fur Company. These traders gave credit to the Indians and when pay day approached placed their accounts against the Indians in the hands of the Indian agent, who at that time was General Street, the man who later founded and established the Courier. The money transaction took place in the council room. Upon a large rough table, arranged down the center of the room, were placed eighty-two boxes, designated one each for each of the chieftains. In each of the boxes was 1,000 silver dollars. Nothing but silver was acceptable to the IIndian. He would not receive either gold or paper. When a chieftain’s name was called he arose, came forward,reached out and placed his hand for an instant on the box indicated, and then returned to his place and squatted down in the circle. His touching the box was the official act by which he accepted the money for his tribe. After all had been accepted the agent paid to the traders what was coming to them from the various tribes. It was seldom that anything was left in the boxes, but when such a circumstance did occur the money was turned over to the chieftain to be distributed.

Mr. Baker tells many interesting stories illustrating the habits and the customs of the Indians as he knew them in and about Agency. A few of these will be given to the readers of the Courier in Saturday’s supplement.

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