Beginning of the Annual Rendezvous
In the year 1977, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Fort Atkinson community, with permission of the Iowa State Preserves Advisory Board, organized a frontier rendezvous to re-enact life as it was in the 1840s. Participants, dressed in authentic costumes worn in the 1840s, recreated the time period in regards to general military life at the Fort as well as when hunters, trappers, & traders displayed their furs & supplies for barter and trade at a frontier rendezvous as existed further west in the Rocky Mountains. Re-creation of the frontier rendezvous and the 1840s military life at Fort Atkinson has continued every year since. The annual Fort Atkinson rendezvous occurs during the last full weekend in the month of September, with"school day" the previous Friday.
Indian Tribes of Northeast Iowa
This information was written by Al Becker, a member of the Fort Atkinson Historic Commission.
Historical Site: 13WH111
The Winnebago Indians were impacted by several treaties between 1825 and 1837. Early treaties established inter-tribal boundaries in and around Wisconsin as part of the eventual government effort to acquire all Indian land on the east side of the Mississippi River.
Treaty of 1825
This treaty established a “neutral line” that ran east and west across present day Northeast Iowa. Thisvline separated the Sioux to the north from the Sauk & Fox to the south.
Treaty of 1830
Due to continued fighting between the Sioux and the Sauk & Fox, this new treaty established 20-mile-wide strips on both sides of the neutral line forming what was called the “neutral ground”. This space was to keep the tribes apart from each other.
Treaty of 1832
Through this treaty, The Winnebago tribe gave up their land around the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers in Wisconsin for a portion of the ‘neutral ground’ in Iowa.
Treaty of 1837
When the Winnebago did not move into the neutral ground due to their sacred burial grounds existing back in Wisconsin, this treaty was then signed requiring the tribe to give up all land claims they had on the east side of the Mississippi River.
Yellow River Winnebago Indian Subagency
A small group of Winnebago had settled near the Yellow River in present-day Allamakee County in the early 1830s. Due to this action, the government established a subagency site and erected buildings there in 1833. This subagency existed until the government decision was made to move the Winnebago into the neutral ground in the year 1840.
Turkey River Winnebago Subagency
Construction of the military post of Fort Atkinson within the ‘neutral ground’ began during the summer of 1840. At the same time, Yellow River subagent, David Lowry, chose the new subagency site three miles southeast of the military post and ¾ of a mile west of the Turkey River around a natural spring. In the spring of that year, the Winnebago were escorted by military troops into the neutral ground. In 1839, Reverend Lowry, a Presbyterian minister, was appointed as the first agent in charge of the Turkey River subagency.
Functions of the Subagency
Fourteen buildings were eventually erected at the subagency site. Functions of the subagency included hiring doctors to provide health care to the Indians, and operating a school to teach white culture to Winnebago. In 1842, the agency school had over 100 Winnebago students who attended classes on music, Christian religion, and reading English. The girls were taught how to sew and make clothes for the younger children, while the boys were taught how to farm. School enrollment was 166 students by the year 1845, and 249 students in 1847.
The Model Farm
A model farm was established with five agricultural fields. Apparently the attempt was made to teach the Indian men and boys to farm, whoever this activity was unpopular with the Winnebago men since they were hunters. While Winnebago women apparently did most of the farm work, by 1846 it was reported that some of the Indian men had become interested in plowing & cultivation of the land.
Another factor that enticed the Winnebago to move into the ‘neutral land’ was the government’s promise of monthly annuity payments and supplies. The Indians needed these supplies and funds to survive since a normal life of hunting would be difficult. Blankets, pipes, sewing supplies, livestock, guns, and other materials promised to the Indians by the government were distributed at the subagency. Cash payments could be used to purchase additional supplies from licensed traders allowed into the neutral ground.
Lowry was subagent until July 5, 1844, when he was replaced by James R. McGregor. Jonathan E. Fletcher replaced McGregor on June 2, 1845.
Subagent Fletcher reported that approximately 2400 Winnebago, living in 22 detached bands, existed with the ‘neutral ground’ in 1846.
Winnebago encampments existed throughout the neutral ground and included separate villages of Little Decorah, Waukon Decorah, & Winneshiek, each on the Upper Iowa River, then known as the Iowa River.
Duration of the Turkey River Winnebago Subagency
The Turkey River Subagency lasted from 1840-1848. In the latter year, the Winnebago were moved into central Minnesota. Once the buildings at the subagency site were abandoned, settlers quickly took advantage of the cleared land, established roads, and existing buildings by purchasing the former subagency land for their own settlement.
Turkey River Subagency Site Recorded as an Official Archaeological Site
In 1988, the Turkey River Winnebago Indian Subagency Site was recorded as an archaeological site in the state of Iowa. It was given the official site number of 13WH111 (“13” represents Iowa; “WH” represents Winneshiek County; 111 is the designated site number within Winneshiek County).
Winnebago Tribal Historian Visits the Subagency Site
On July 19, 1995, David Lee Smith was escorted to the military post and the 1840s subagency site by members of the Fort Atkinson Historic Preservation Commission. Smith is director of Indian Studies at Little Priest Tribal College, Winnebago, Nebraska, and also serves as Tribal Historian of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. David Lee Smith is an accomplished Winnebago professional storyteller. During the year long celebration of Iowa’s Sesquicentennial in 1996, Smith conducted traditional Winnebago oral history story-telling activities at the Sept. Ft. Atkinson rendezvous that year. On the day preceding rendezvous, identified as “School Day”, Mr. Smith shared tales of Winnebago myths & legends as well as historical & cultural information about the Winnebago Indians to over 1300 students from Iowa Schools.
The Winnebago people called themselves Hochungra which means “People of the Parent Speech”, or “Big Fish People”. The origin of the tribe is not known although some theory supports the idea that the Winnebago’s migrated into North America from Middle America around 1000 B.C., and later arrived in Wisconsin about A.D. 700. Historical records from the French fur traders indicate that their first recorded contact with the Winnebago Indians occurred in Wisconsin in the early 1600s. At that time, the Winnebago numbered about 20,000 with most living around Lake Winnebago in the Green Bay area.
Around the year 1630, the Winnebago’s were at war with the Huron nation. Jean Nicolet, a French Jesuit, was sent to Lake Winnebago to help make peace between the tribes. Five years later, the Winnebago tribe contracted smallpox and shortly their population dropped to 16,000. In 1637, a smallpox and measles epidemic hit the tribe reducing their numbers to 8000.
In 1820 it is reported that the tribe consisted of 900 warriors, 1300 women, and 3600 children for a total of 5800 people. In 1834, yet another large smallpox epidemic killed off approximately 1500 members of the tribe.
Between 1825 and 1837, the government worked to acquire all the Indian lands on the east side of the Mississippi “River through a series of treaties made with the Winnebago. With the Treaty of 1837, the Winnebago gave up their final claim to land on the east side of the Mississippi River.
In the year 1840, the tribe was escorted by U. S. military soldiers into the “neutral ground” located in the Iowa Territory (what is now northeast Iowa). Total numbers of the Winnebago population and the number of villages they were located in within the ‘neutral ground’ is somewhat conflicting. According to a Winnebago Census taken in the year 1842 by J. W. Hancock, superintendent of the Turkey River Indian subagency school, the Winnebago’s totaled 2183 in number living in 13 different villages.
Subagency school superintendent, J. W. Hancock, listed the following Winnebago band chiefs, and the number of men, women and children within each village:
- Chief: Bent Nose
- Men: 25
- Women: 25
- Children: 20
- Total: 70
- Chief: Big Nose
- Men: 47
- Women: 61
- Children: 61
- Total: 169
- Chief: Whirling Thunder
- Men: 50
- Women: 64
- Children: 63
- Total: 177
- Chief: Little Hill
- Men: 68
- Women: 114
- Children: 158
- Total: 340
- Chief: Winoshink
- Men: 74
- Women: 105
- Children: 150
- Total: 329
- Chief: Little Soldier
- Men: 43
- Women: 50
- Children: 40
- Total: 133
- Chief: Yellow Thunder
- Men: 51
- Women: 52
- Children: 40
- Total: 143
- Chief: Big Thunder
- Men: 50
- Women: 36
- Children: 34
- Total: 120
- Chief: Nak-hawn
- Men: 55
- Women: 66
- Children: 82
- Total: 203
- Chief: Big Canoe
- Men: 40
- Women: 58
- Children: 50
- Total: 148
- Chief: Kisch-??
- Men: 43
- Women: 44
- Children: 54
- Total: 141
- Chief: Little Thunder
- Men: 40
- Women: 50
- Children: 40
- Total: 130
- Chief: Little Decorie
- Men: 28
- Women: 30
- Children: 22
- Total: 80
- Chief: Total
- Men: 614
- Women: 755
- Children: 814
- Total: 2183
Events from 1838-1855
- 1838 -Cherokee Indians made “Trail of Tears”; removed from Georgia to Oklahoma
- 1840- William Henry Harrison elected President of U. S.
- 1840- Construction of military post of Fort Atkins on begins
- 1840- Winnebago Indians of Wisconsin given military escort into the “neutral ground” of the N. E. Iowa Territory
- 1840-Turkey River Indian Subagency established
- 1841- John Tyler (VP) became President of the U. S.
- 1841- 1st Company of dragoons (horse mounted soldiers) arrived at Fort Atkinson
- 1841- According to J. W. Hancock, superintendent of the Turkey River Indian subagency school, the Winnebagoes within the “neutral ground” totaled 2183 in number living in 13 different villages
- 1843- A Catholic Mission was established next to a Winnebago village east of Fort Atkinson
- 1844- First message over first telegraph line sent May 24 by inventor Samuel F. B. Morse from Washington to Baltimore: “What hath God
- 1844- Jim Beckwourth discovered a pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains that led to California and the Pacific Ocean
- 1844- Telegraph put into operation
- 1845- James Polk inaugurated as President of the U. S.
- 1845- Texas became the 18th state
- 1846- Great Britain and the U. S. agreed to divide Oregon between the twocountries at the 49th parallel of latitude
- 1846- Discovery of ether as an anesthetic
- 1846- Sewing Machine is patented
- 1846-1848 - U. S. War with Mexico
- 1846- Iowa enters the Union
- 1846- Ft. Atkinson troops sent to fight in the Mexican-American War
- 1846- According to J. E. Fletcher, subagent at the Turkey River Subagency, the number of Winnebago Indians in the “neutral ground” totaled about 2400 living in 22 detached parties or bands
- 1847- Frederick Douglas publishes an anti-slavery newspaper in New York called “The North Star”
- 1847- First adhesive U. S. postage stamps on sale July 1st
- 1847- Mormon migration to the Great Salt Lake
- 1848- Zachary Taylor elected President
- 1848- Gold discovered in California
- 1848- Winnebago Indians removed from Iowa & taken into Minnesota
- 1848- The government abandoned the Turkey River Indian Subagency
- 1848- Seneca Falls, New York Convention for Women’s Rights
- 1849- Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery; becomes a conductor on the “Underground Railroad” helping other slaves escape to freedom
- 1849- Gold Rush to California
- 1849- Walter Hunt invented the safety pin
- 1849- Elizabeth Blackwell became the 1st U. S. woman to graduate from a medical college
- 1849- In February, the last company of infantry left Ft. Atkinson and the military post was abandoned
- 1855- On April 21, the first train crossed the Mississippi River on the rivers first railroad bridge which was between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa
- 1855- The Fort Atkinson military post was sold to privateowners by public auction and the buildings were torn down
Clink on the link below to read information on the Indian Tribes who lived in the area.
The Fort Preserve
The Military Post of Fort Atkinson
Historic Site: 13WH57
In the broader context, the story of the military post of Fort Atkinson is a story of the United States government policy in removing native Americans from the east side of the Mississippi River over to the west side. In the narrower context, the story is about the life of the inhabitants of the 'neutral ground' of the northeast Iowa Territory from 1840-1848
The first log barracks of the fort were constructed in the year 1840. The cold Iowa winters led to many desertions that first winter, so beginning in April, 1841, the first stone barracks were constructed. Due to the difficulty the infantry (foot soldiers) had in monitoring the various Winnebago bands throughout the 'neutral ground', a unit of dragoons (soldiers mounted on horseback) arrived at the fort in June, 1841.
Labor continued on the fort and by the fall of 1842 most of the work was completed. A total of 24 buildings were erected. Ten of these existed inside the stockade walls of the Fort, & included such buildings as two enlisted men's barracks, an officers' quarters, a non-commissioned officers' quarters, a commissary storehouse, a sutler's store, a powder house or powder magazine, two block houses (cannon houses) and a guardhouse. Another 14 buildings were located outside the gates. Some of these buildings included the stables, a granary, three laundresses' huts, a carpenter shop, a blacksmith shop, a bake house, root house, ice house, and three dragoon (mounted infantry) stables.
In the year 1846, the regular army troops stationed at Fort Atkinson were sent to Mexico to fight in the Mexican-American War. Volunteer troops then took over the manning of the Fort.
By the mid-1840s, the southeast Iowa Territory had been invaded by settlers, and shortly these pioneer farmers were located at the southern edge of the 'neutral ground'. The government made the decision to move the Winnebago Indians out of the region and into Minnesota. In 1846, the same year that Iowa was admitted as a state to the union, the Winnebago signed a treaty to relinquish their land within the neutral ground. It would not be until June, 1848, that the military escort of the Winnebago into Minnesota was completed. With no more Winnebago Indians left in the region, the last company of infantry soldiers left Fort Atkinson in February, 1849.
In 1968, the Fort was dedicated as a State Preserve. In 1976, the Iowa Conservation Commission, along with the Travel Development Division of the Iowa Development Commission, decided to develop a new program of promotion of interest areas on state-owned land in Iowa with Fort Atkinson being the starting point.
Two previous archaeological investigations have been conducted at the Ft. Atkinson military post site. In 1939-41, Sigurd S. Reque, a professor at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, conducted excavations at the fort. The purpose of the investigation was to determine the exact locations of the building foundations located inside the stockade wall, and to collect artifacts for display at a State Museum within the fort. A report on Reque's work was never published.
The second archaeological investigation was conducted by Dr. Marshall McKusick, then State Archaeologist of Iowa, in the summer of 1966. McKusick dug outside the stockade wall and located the foundation of the bakehouse as indicated by Lieutenant A. W. Reynolds sketch of the post. Reynolds made the sketch for the War Department in September, 1842. McKusick then excavated the officer's latrines inside the stockade wall. Artifacts associated with the latter part of the fort's occupation were discovered. McKusick never published the findings of his excavations.
Fort Atkinson ‘Self-Guided Walking Tour Brochure
In the year 2008, the Fort Atkinson Historic Preservation Commission was awarded a $5505 grant from the Winneshiek County Gaming Revenue Committee for development of a 'self-guided-walking-tour-brochure' to be available to visitors to the military post grounds and for development of two 'teaching trunks' of historic Fort Akinson materials/artifact replicas/military elements/Winnebago/Ho-Chunk Indian cultural items that could be check out by schools and other organizations.
The project was conducted by personnel from the Office of the State Archaeologist in Iowa City with assistance from the Fort Atkinson Historic Preservation Commission members. OSA staff that developed the brochure included Lynn Alex, Cherie Haury-Artz, and Angela R. Collins.
Since the current military post grounds are not staffed during the week and the State Museum on the post grounds is only open weekend afternoons during the summer, visitors to the grounds can now have access to the historical aspects of the fort by picking up a copy of the Walking Tour Brochure when they enter the fort.
The brochure gives a history of the 1840s military post and specific information on over fifteen stopping points on the grounds.
One side of the brochure contains a large water color painting by Deanne Wortman showing the layout of the fort buildings in its heyday. Numbered stops guide visitors to the location of reconstructed structures such as blockhouses, the North Barracks (now the museum) and the stockade.
Images on the brochure such as dominoes, a jaw harp, buttons and artifacts found by archaeologists on the post grounds help create a sense of the Fort's residents and their everyday lives.
The teaching trunks contain replicas of period artifacts and educational resources that can be utilized in the elementary grades of regional schools. The lessons and activities are excellent sources for use in social studies and history units on the 1840s military post of Fort Atkinson and the Winnebago/H-Chunk Indian history in the 'neutral ground'.
Visitors to the fort are encouraged to pick up a copy of the brochure to get a detailed story of the military post and the current sites on the grounds.