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The Story of Corn History Detective for Students


The Great Exchange

When Columbus reached the Americas, corn was not the only plant Europeans had never seen before. There were many others. And Europeans in turn, introduced several new plants to the native people living in the Americas.

The Great Exchange

Can you identify the plants that were native to the Americas and those that were native to Europe when Columbus made contact with the "New World"?













Drag the plant names to the correct maps above. You can restart the game by clicking the "reset" button below.

Corn and the Sauk and Mesquakie Indians

The Sauk and Mesquakie tribes came to live in present-day Iowa during the 1700s. When pioneers began to push toward Iowa in the 1820's and 30s, the Sauk and Mesquakie were living along the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Rock River.

Mississippi River

Like other tribes in the region, the Sauk and Mesquakie women planted many acres of corn each spring. They tended the fields surrounding their villages and nurtured gardens of pumpkins, beans and squash.

Chief Black HawkThe most famous Sauk leader was Chief Black Hawk. Near the end of his life, he told his life story to Antoine Le Claire, an Indian interpreter. In part of his story he told how corn first came to be according to Sauk and Mesquakie tradition.

I will here relate the manner in which corn first came. According to tradition, handed down to our people, a beautiful woman was seen to descend from the clouds, and alight upon the earth, by two of our ancestors, who had killed a deer, and were sitting by a fire, roasting a part of it to eat. They were astonished at seeing her, and concluded that she must be hungry, and had smelt the meat-and immediately went to her, taking with them a piece of the roasted venison.

They presented it to her, and she eat and told them to return to the spot where she was sitting, at the end of one year, and they would find a reward for their kindness and generosity. She then ascended to the clouds, and disappeared. The two men returned to their village, and explained to the nation what they had seen, done, and heard but were laughed at by their people.

When the period arrived, for them to visit this consecrated ground, where they were to find a reward for their attention to the beautiful woman of the clouds, they went with a large party, and found, where her right hand had rested on the ground, corn growing-and where the left hand had rested, beans-and immediately where she had been seated, tobacco. The two first have, ever since, been cultivated by our people, as our principal provisions and the last used for smoking.

The History of Corn Continued...

Photo credit © 2000 Iowa Public Television
Chief Black Hawk graphic used by permission from the State Historical Society of Iowa.


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