Van Caldwell and W. W. Baker and the Sac and Fox Agency

Van Caldwell, b. 1799, was brother of Paris Caldwell, b. 1816, who married Margaret Ellen Hackney in 1845 in Wapello Co., Iowa. She was sister of William S. Hackney (direct line of this blog) and daughter of William Hackney and Sarah Shannon.

In 1849 in Wapello County, Iowa, W. W. Baker, son of Joshua Wells Baker (the blacksmith mentioned in the article), married Isabel Frances Hackney, another daughter of William Hackney and Sarah Shannon.

From “History of Wapello County, Iowa”, by Major John Beach, agent, published 1914

Chapter III, “Indian Agency in Wapello County”

(Skipping the opening portion, taking up just after the death of General Street, Beach’s father-in-law.)

The writer, who was then living in Dubuque, hastened to Washington as soon as the sad news reached him, the hope being to save the family their home, in which they were now comfortably established, and of which the succession of a stranger to the office would have deprived them. When he arrived there, by a then unusually quick journey of twelve days, he found his nomination already awaiting the action of the Senate, and in a day or two more, obtaining his commission, he came direct to the agency. At the time of his arrival about June 1, 1840, the agency, with its dependencies, was about as follows: In the agency house was Mrs. Street and the nine youngest of her children, of whom William B. Street, of Oskaloosa, was the senior. Just over the branch, in the rear of the agency, was Josiah Smart, the interpreter, one of God’s noblemen, who combined in his character every brave, honest and generous sentiment that can adorn a man, and within a few steps of his residence was that of the blacksmith, Charles H. Withington. There was also Harry Sturdevant, the gunsmith, but being unmarried, he boarded with Withington until a year or so later he put himself up a cabin, where the writer now lives (August, 1874), and dug that famous old well. As distance (from the rest of us) did not lend enchantment to the view of his bachelorhood he soon switched on to the matrimonial track. Then there was the household of the Pattern Farm, some half-dozen in number, except in extra times, such as harvesting. This was the actual agency settlement. On the Des Moines, •a mile or so below the county farm, where the bluff approaches nearest to the bank, was the trading post of P. Chouteau, Sr., & Company, but later more familiarly known as the “Old Garrison.” This was usually superintended by Capt. William Phelps. And just above the mouth of Sugar Creek, on the creek bank, at the old road crossing, lived the miller, Jeremiah Smith, Jr., with his family. This embraced all the whites lawfully living in the country at the time.

Through some unfortunate misunderstanding in regard to the boundary line several persons had intruded upon the Indian land upon the bottom, and the ridges in the rear, as well as upon the south side of the river, and as the Indians made complaint to the Government it had no alternative but to remove them. This duty fell upon the writer to execute and was a very unwelcome one, if only for the reason that several of the intruders were persons who would not willingly have violated any law. Among them was that fine old specimen of West Virginia hospitality, Van Caldwell, but by reason of his location and his readiness by any reasonable arrangement to escape the terrors of fire and sword, the writer obtained permission from the department the he should remain, upon the condition of his maintaining a ferry for access to Soap Creek Mills during high water.

At the time of General Street’s decease the Indians were occupying their country with their permanent, or spring and summer villages, located as follows: Upon the bank of the Des Moines, opposite the mouth of Sugar Creek, where there is quite a spacious bottom extending for a mile or more below, where the bluff closes in pretty closely upon the bank, and for a much longer distance in the up‑river direction toward and past Ottumwa, was the village of Keokuk, and still above were those of Wapello, Foxes, and Appanoose, a Sac chief. According to the writer’s present memory, that of Wapello was the intermediate one. Keokuk himself had selected a pleasant, commanding and picturesque point for his own summer wigwam, some halfway up the side of the bluff, in the rear of his village, where with his own little field of corn and beans, despite the large field of Uncle Sam just beneath him, he enjoyed the otium cum dignitate of his authority and rank during the hot weather.

His wigwam was a very conspicuous object to a traveler along the road that crests the bluff and winds down the long hill to Sugar Creek on this side. From his elevated position, where, like another Robinson Crusoe in the boys’ story books, he could contemplate himself as “monarch of all he surveyed,” he had a fine view of the three villages spread burning him, as well as of the bluffs and bottoms for a considerable distance up and down the river on this side. Several of the lodges in every town had two or three small patches of cultivated ground in the neighborhood of their villages; but the hillside now covered by Ottumwa seemed to offer them more attractive spots for this purpose, probably because the soil was more easily worked and situated more favorably for the influence of the sun than upon their side of the river. A light, easily turned soil was of course an object to the poor squaws, upon whom devolved the duty of working it with their hoes, and of inserting the rickety posts that, with light poles bound to them, made the fence, not exceeding •four feet in height but in general, very respectfully treated by the ponies, the only animal liable to intrude injuriously upon their fields.

The whole hillside on its lower slope, for they seldom cultivated it more than half-way up, was occupied in this way by the Indians, from some distance below the depot fully up to or above the courthouse; often the writer, on receipt of some instructions requiring a “talk” with the leading men, in order to save time, and to the Indians the trouble of a ride to Agency, has appointed some shady spot in one of these patches.

The Indians seldom occupied their permanent villages, except during the time of planting or securing their crop, after which they would start out on a history hunt, if the annuity — which was generally paid within the six weeks from the first of September — had not yet been received. Immediately after payment it was their custom to leave the village for the winter, hunting p32through this season by families and small parties, leading the regular nomad life, changing their location from time to time as the supply of game and the need — so essential to their comfort — of seeking a place near to timbered streams best protected from the rigors of weather, would require.

Hardfish’s band of Sacs was composed mainly of those who had been the leading parties in the Black Hawk war, and who had been by degrees freeing themselves from the restraint imposed upon them by the treaty, demanding their dispersion among the friendly villages. But as all unfriendly feeling had now subsided and they were now disposed to conduct themselves with the utmost good will in all their intercourse with the Government, and as, moreover, the department with a view to an early effort to acquire possession of their remaining lands in Iowa deemed it most conducive to success in that object to pursue toward them a policy apparently oblivious of former strife, the writer was instructed so long as there was no reason to apprehend unfriendly designs, to ignore these requirements of the treaty and to avoid all cause for reawakening former strife.


The village of Hardfish — or Wishecomaque, as it is in the Indian tongue — which was quite as respectable in size as any of the old villages, was located in what is now the heart of Eddyville, named for J. P. Eddy, a trader, who was licensed in the summer of 1840 by the writer to establish his trading post at that place. He continued to trade there until the treaty of final cession in 1842, and was the most fortunate of any of the large traders in finding his schedule of claims against the Indians very little reduced by the commissioners, whose part it was at that treaty to adjust all outstanding claims against the Sacs and Foxes.

The writer cannot locate the place exactly, according to our state maps, although he has often visited it in Indian times; but somewhere out north from Kirkville, and probably not over •twelve miles distant, on the bank of the Skunk River, not far above the “Forks of the Skunk,” was a small village of not over fifteen or twenty lodges, presided over by a man of considerable influence, though he was not a chief, named Kishkekosh. This village was on the direct trail — in fact it was the converging point of the two trails — from the Hardfish village, and the three villages across the river below Ottumwa, to the only other permanent settlement of the tribes, which was the village of Poweshiek, a Fox chief of equal rank with Wapello, situated on the bank of the Iowa River.

About this time that Eddy moved out his stock of goods from Burlington to his licensed point at the Hardfish village, P. Chouteau, Jr., & Company also obtained an addition to their license for a post at the same place, and put up a small establishment •some fourth of a mile below Eddy, on the river bank. In the same winter, 1840‑41, Messrs. W. G. and G. W. Ewing, of Indiana, who had already acquired large wealth in the Indian trade, but never yet had dealt with the Sacs and Foxes, obtained a license and had their point assigned them just at the mouth of Sugar Creek on the Ottumwa side, where they soon got up a large establishment, filled with a full and valuable stock. This post was started and for a year or so conducted by a Mr. Hunt, a gentleman of far more education, refinement and culture than is often found among the resident Indian traders.

p36 Previous to the treaty of 1842 some few changes were made in their location, both by the Indians and among the whites. The house at the “Old Garrison” was broken up and one established in its stead up in the Red Rock region, near the mouth of White Breast; and Keokuk also moved his village into the same neighborhood. A second blacksmith was appointed, named Baker, son-in‑law of Colonel Ingraham, one of the pioneers of Des Moines county, and a person of considerable character and influence in his county. Baker died at Fort Des Moines, still in the service of the Indians; but when appointed he built his residences •some half a mile east of the agency, not far from the claim taken by the late William Newell, father of L. F. Newell, by whom the property was subsequently purchased and added to his farm.

The Sacs and Foxes were quite friendly and manageable; in fact, were very pleasant and agreeable people to live among, and all public and personal intercourse with them rolled smoothly along the well-worn track, without much of incident or marvel, until the final sale of their remaining Iowa domain. Sometimes incidents would occur, possessing excitement or amusement enough to encroach for a little upon the monotony that otherwise might have become tedious, of which the writer will endeavor to recover the memory of one or two that may amuse the reader.


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.

The Race of Gray Eagle

NOTE: The story concerns W. W. Baker who was married to Isabel Frances “Fanny” Hackney, daughter of William Hackney and Sarah Shannon. Unfortunately, the below article does not reveal the Sac Indian with whom W. W. Baker had formed a partnership in the training of the horse, Gray Eagle, for a run against the Fox.

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April 13 1903

It is the popular impression that the native Indian pony could outrun anything on earth. In connection with this W. W. Baker, who spent many years in this vicinity when it was part of the Indian reservation, tells a story which seems to prove that the Indian pony wasn’t in the same class with the fleet-footed Kentucky racer. Shortly after the Indians were removed to Des Moines Tom Foster, father of Mrs. C. T. McCarroll, 726 West Second Street, got possession of a Kentucky racer called Gray Eagle. Baker purchased this horse, took him to Des Moines and took in a Sacs Indian as a partner. A match race was arranged between Gray Eagle and a field of horses belonging to the Fox. Gray Eagle was kept as much in the dark as possible. His training was all secret. So far as the Fox Indians knew he was simply a Sacs pony. By the time the day for the race arrived the interest and excitement in the outcome was intense. The Foxes were confident of winning. They bet every pony, saddle, blanket and treasure in their camp. There was hardly an article of any value whatever in either camp which was not “up” on one side or the other. The Indians were wild bettors and upon this race they had bet their all. The day came and the race was run. When Gray Eagle finished there wasn’t a Fox pony within a quarter of a mile. Baker and his friends made a killing and the Fox nation was “strapped”.