Sunday, June 19, 2022

Chief Moses Keokuk (Wunagisa)

Wunagisa—Chief Moses Keokuk.
(Ginter & Allen Tobacco Cards.

After Keokuk’s death, his son assumed control of the tribe.

Wunagisa visited Washington in 1852. “Keokuk’s father was made a chief because he was considered a good man and a true friend to the whites,” explained the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. “The great white chief (General Winfield Scott) made him a chief. I see no reason why young Keokuk, if he is as good a man as his father was, should not continue to be your chief.

“But I would say to young Keokuk he ought to recollect how it is he derived his honorable distinction. It was because his father was a good man, a good friend to the whites, and disposed to listen to the advice of the government and conduct himself properly.”[i]

That last line was the government’s formula for success and how they measured a native chief’s ability. If young Keokuk wished to remain chief of the Sac and Fox, he needed to do what the government wanted and continue along his father's path.

Wunagisa converted to the Baptist religion in 1878 and changed his name to Moses Keokuk. As part of his conversion, he gave up one of his two wives, stopped drinking and gambling, and moved out of his bark wigwam.

 At the same time, he renounced many of his Indian ways. For example, he stopped being a medicine man, gave up leading the medicine lodge ceremony, and stopped painting his face.

The changes angered many members of the tribe.

Before his conversion, Wunagisa wore the “most gaudy apparel he could find,” said Jacob Carter, the agent to the Sac and Fox Agency in Indian Territory. In addition, he “had his head shaved on two sides, leaving a strip of hair about two inches wide over the top of his head, and kept his head and face painted.” He was a big-time horse racer and gambler and took a “lead in all the Indian sports.”[ii]

Moses Keokuk visited Davenport in 1886. He stopped at Captain Benjamin W. Clark’s home in Buffalo to reminisce about the old days.[iii] He told Clark his father was sorry to leave the area. They had lived “contented and happily” there. The woods “abounded in game and wild fruits and the rivers with fish. The island of Rock Island was nature’s paradise.”

Now, Moses Keokuk farmed and took an interest in Sunday School work on his reservation in the Indian Territory. He was rich and owned 600 head of cattle.[iv]

[i] The Daily Republic. September 6, 1852.

[ii] Sioux City Journal. September 17, 1886.

[iii] Clark was an early settler in the Illinois country. He ran a cattle farm with Major Morrill Marston near Warsaw, Illinois, beginning in 1822. Clark sold his interest in the cattle operation in 1827 and moved to Rock Island, where he took up farming near the Indian villages on the Rock River. In 1833 he staked a claim to 2 ½ miles of waterfront property at current day Buffalo, Iowa. At the time his family was the only whites settlers in Iowa between Dubuque and Burlington. (History of Scott County. 1882.)

[iv] Sioux City Journal. September 17, 1886.

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