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
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.
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
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...