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Intro to Exploring the Prairie

Intro to Pioneer Farming
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Intro to Pioneer Farming


First Farmers

Many scientists believe the first people to live in North America arrived over twenty thousand years ago. During the last twelve thousand years, people have lived in Iowa. These first "Iowans" hunted large animals and moved frequently while following the herds of wooly mammoth and giant buffalo.

The first Iowa farmers may have been the mound builders of northeast Iowa. They planted small gardens and gathered food from the forests. They also built mounds in the shape of animals such as bears, snakes and birds and buried their dead in the mounds along with many objects such as pottery.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, part of the National Park Service, is located in northeast Iowa. There you can see the mounds built by Indian groups many years ago.

Little Bear Mound
National Park Service Photo

About seven hundred years ago, new Indian groups began to move up the Mississippi River valley and into Iowa. They discovered that corn grew well in the rich Iowa soil. Corn originally came from Mexico. As the Indians migrated north, they brought corn with them.

In the late 1600s, French traders and explorers first contacted Indians living in present-day Iowa. The Ioway Tribe was one of these groups.

The Ioway built their homes and villages near Iowa's many streams and rivers and migrated to a new area every few years as they followed the buffalo and elk herds.

Their larger villages may have numbered from 1,000 to 1,500 people, and large fields surrounded these villages. Women tended the gardens of corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash in these fields while men hunted deer and buffalo.

The Indians did not have metal farm tools such as the breaking plow that could slice through the tough prairie sod. For this reason, they lived near the river valleys where the soil was easier to farm.

Early accounts report that they may have planted one-quarter to one-half acre for each member of their tribe.

Later the Sauk and Mesquakie tribes came to live in present-day Iowa during the 1700s.

When pioneer settlement began in eastern Iowa in 1833, the Sauk and Mesquakie were living along the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Rock River.

Like other tribes in the region, the Sauk and Mesquakie women planted many acres of corn each spring in the fields surrounding their villages, and tended gardens of pumpkins, beans and squash. In the summer the men hunted buffalo and elk and bartered for supplies with traders.

Introduction to Pioneer Farming Continued...


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