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Iowa: The Hawkeye State

From the Effigy Moundbuilders to Chief Black Hawk, Iowa has a rich indigenous story.

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Iowa, also known as the Hawkeye State, became the 29th state admitted to the Union on December 28, 1846. The state’s name comes from the Iowa River, referring to the Ioway people, a tribe of Native Americans that inhabited the lands. Like many other territories in the U.S., Iowa was first populated by the indigenous peoples, known as Paleo-Indians, who lived, hunted, and worked the land thousands of years ago.

From about 300 CE until the 17th century, a group known as the Effigy Moundbuilders had settlements in the northeastern area. These indigenous people built earthen mounds in the shapes of various animals including bears and birds. It is not certain what the mounds specifically represented, but it is thought that they were used either for ceremonies or for tracking cosmic phenomena. Today, approximately 200 of these artifacts remain in the area.

As time went on, the Paleo-Indians morphed into roughly 17 Native American tribes, including the Ioway, Fox (Mesquakie) , Sauk, and Sioux. As Europeans started exploring the area, many of the tribes ended up giving their lands to the U.S. through treaties. Although the state was populated by so many indigenous tribes, there is only one reservation today; the Mesquakie Settlement, located in the central part of the state.

In 1693, French explorers first visited the territory. Louis Jolliet, a fur trader, and Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, toured the area to map the terrain for future explorers and potential settlers. In 1682, another French Explorer, Robert de La Salle, had visited and claimed the area for France as a section of what the Louisiana Territory. Making up a large central portion of what would later become the United States, this territory was owned by France, and partially Spain, until 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase transferred ownership to the U.S.

The first permanent settlement was established in the 1830s, and this came as a result of the Black Hawk War – a conflict between the Sauk tribe and the U.S. The Sauk tribe had been told to leave their lands, but in 1832, they returned and went to war with the U.S. under their Chief Black Hawk, trying to get their lands back. After several months and at a great loss to the people, the Native Americans surrendered after the Battle of Bad Axe. As part of the terms, the tribes had to give up a portion of their land (the Black Hawk Purchase), and in June 1833, the first real white settlement began on those lands.

Since then, Iowa has developed as a largely rural state that formed part of the “Corn Belt” agricultural area.

Interesting Facts

  • In the 1950s, rock stars Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens were traveling to an event when their plane crashed and they were killed in Clear Lake, Iowa.
  • In 1840, the Winnebago Indians had to give up their lands and leave their home territory in Wisconsin. The U.S. government stepped in and gave the tribe protection by building Fort Atkinson. It was the first and only time the U.S. built a shelter to shield one tribe from others.


Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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