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Finding Chapters
From America’s Story
In Eastern Iowa


Keokuk, a leader of the Sac and Fox Confederacy, in about 1835. Keokuk, Iowa is named for him.
Keokuk, a leader of the Sac and Fox Confederacy, in about 1835. Keokuk, Iowa is named for him.

For Czechs and Slovaks, footloose Easterners, African-Americans from the South, Muslims and Jews and many, many others, Iowa was the end of the road, the final destination. That was true, too, for the Native American people best known as the Fox tribe, but for rather different reasons.

The Fox people refer to themselves as Meskwaki, the Red Earth People. Originally they made their homes in the St. Lawrence River Valley, where they first encountered French colonialism in 1666. The French dubbed them "Renard" — Fox — and the name stuck.

The Meskwaki, a local power in their own right, came into conflict with France; the hostilities lasted generations. Meskwaki resistance was so stubborn that the King decreed the complete extermination of the tribe — the only time a major European power ever declared war officially against a single Native American people.


The French were nearly successful in reaching their goal. In 1735 what was left of the Meskwaki allied themselves with the Sauk people, a culturally and linguistically similar tribal grouping, for mutual defense against the French and their allies. Under pressure, the Meskwaki and Sauk emigrated from Wisconsin and Michigan into Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.

Although far from the forested shores of the St. Lawrence, the tribes’ wanderings were not over.

Under the leadership of Black Hawk (1767-1838), a Sauk who had fought with the British during the War of 1812, the tribal alliance resisted U.S. attempts to remove the native peoples from Illinois. Years of fighting ensued. In 1832, Black Hawk and his followers were trapped on the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin. Despite a white flag, almost all of Black Hawk’s band, including women and children, were wiped out.

After the war, the U.S. combined the two tribes into a single group dubbed the "Sac and Fox Confederacy" and concluded a treaty with the new entity. This was a prelude to a series of land cessions which forced the Sauk and Meskwaki to a reservation in east central Kansas in 1845.

Not all, however.


Some Meskwaki remained hidden in eastern Iowa. Others came back within a few years. The State of Iowa in 1856 enacted a law allowing the Meskwaki to stay; the U.S. government, however, continued its effort to force the tribe to Kansas by withholding treaty-right annuities.

In 1857 the Meskwaki purchased 80 acres in Tama County. Eventually they began receiving treaty-right annuities and were formally recognized by the U.S. as the Sac and Fox of Iowa. But a long legal ambiguity gave the tribe more independence than many other tribes confined to a regular reservation strictly regimented by federal authority.

Today the Meskwaki are proud of how they have survived, and even thrived, in Iowa — and how they outlasted both colonial New France and the French monarchy. And yes, in case you were wondering, Meskwaki economic development includes a casino, hotel and bingo. (For more information, write the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa at 349 Meskwaki Rd., Tama, IA 52339-9629.)


Examples of Meskwaki traditional arts and crafts have been on display recently at the Linn County History Center in Cedar Rapids, a small but excellent local museum. The History Center houses a collection of more than 35,000 artifacts dealing with the history of Linn County, and includes letters, diaries, photographs and clothing. The Center starts pretty much at the beginning — when Linn County was underneath a tropical ocean! — and takes the story nearly into the future, with local industry’s contributions to space exploration.

Along the way, visitors see (and smell) the contributions of the region’s diverse population. The exhibits are designed, successfully, to hold the attention of young and old alike.

Located at 615 First Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids, the History Center is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except until 8 p.m. on Thursday), and on Sunday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children six through 17; children under five are admitted without charge. For more information, call 319-362-1501 or visit the History Center’s website at


Cedar Rapids is also home to the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, the foremost institution in the U.S. for preservation and interpretation of Czech and Slovak history and culture through its artifact and library collections, exhibits and public programs.

Go for a visit, and you will be told "Vítáme Vás" — welcome.

The museum and library are open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Extensive information on the facilities, exhibits and events, as well as on Czech and Slovak organizations in the U.S., can be found on the museum’s website:


The second largest city in Iowa, Cedar Rapids might not be thought of as a center of Islam. And yet here the Mother Mosque of America was completed in 1934 and totally renovated from 1990-1992. It’s listed in the National Historic Register. Its existence is a testament to the devotion of a small minority population in a new land far from the birthplaces and cradles of native culture. Today the Mother Mosque is an educational and research organization devoted to making Islam a living reality in North America and dismissing the stereotyped publicity about Muslims.

Photographs and group tours are welcome. The Mother Mosque is located at 1335 9th Street SW. For more information, contact Taha Tawil at 319-366-3150.

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