Moanahonga, An Ioway Chief
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Moanahonga, which signifies Great Walker, was an Ioway brave. This name was conferred upon him, not for his having performed any great feat as a walker against time, as in the case of the Sioux Killer, but on account of his great muscular strength, which enabled him to endure the toils of the chase, and to lead war parties over a vast extent of country, without appearing to be fatigued. This brave, like the Sioux Killer, was called by another name, by which he was more generally known, viz., Big Neck; and he was also known by the name of Winaugusconey, or the man who is not afraid to travel; the meaning of which is, that he would traverse large tracts of country alone, utterly reckless of danger, relying for protection and defense, upon his courage, and great physical strength, both of which he possessed in an extraordinary degree.
Moanahonga was of a morose and sour disposition; the result, doubtless, of his having been the descendant of obscure parents, which circumstance much impeded his advancement to the higher honors, to which his bravery, skill, and talents entitled him. He was emulous of glory, but found himself always held in check by the lowness of his origin. There was nothing which he valued so highly as the honors and dignity of a chieftain, and to this elevation he constantly aspired; seeking ardently, by daring exploits, to challenge the admiration of his nation, and in the midst of some blaze of glory, to extinguish all recollection of the meanness of his descent. As was natural, under such circumstances, he was envious of distinction in others; and the more exalted the incumbent, the more he disliked him. He even avoided those who were in command, because of his aversion to being the subordinate of any; and, acting under the influence of this feeling, he would separate himself from his band and people, build a lodge of his own, and, taking with him as many as had been won over to him by his bravery, exercise the authority of their chief.
This brave was one of a party led by General Clark to Washington, in 1824, at which time he united with Mahaskah in concluding a treaty, by which they ceded all their lands lying within the State of Missouri, amounting to some millions of acres, for the remuneration of five hundred dollars per annum, for ten years, in connection with some other paltry considerations. It appears that he did not comprehend the import of the treaty; and, on his return to his country, finding it overrun with the whites, who had taken pos session of the ground that covered the bones of his ancestors, he is said to have become greatly affected. He sought relief, but was told the treaty was made, and that he and Mahaskah had sold the country. He continued to endure this state of things until 1829, when, unable to sustain it any longer, he determined to go to St. Louis, and state his grievances to General Clark. On his way thither, he encamped on the borders of the river Chariton, his party consisting of about sixty persons. While there, resting his comrades from the fatigues of their march, a party of whites came up, having with them some kegs of whisky. It was not long before the Indians were completely besotted, when the whites plundered them of their blankets and horses, and whatever else was of value, and retired. Recovering from their debauch, the Indians felt how dearly they had paid for the whisky with which the whites had regaled them, and being hungry, one of the young men shot a hog. Big Neck rebuked him, saying, “That is wrong; it is true, we are poor, and have been robbed, but the hog was not ours, and you ought not to have shot it.”
It was soon rumored along the borders that the Indians were destroying the property of the settlers, and the dead hog was brought in evidence to prove the charge; whereupon a company of about sixty white men was raised, and marched to the Indian camp. They ordered Big Neck to leave the country instantly, adding, if he delayed, they would drive him out of it with their guns. Big Neck thought it prudent to retire, and leaving his encampment, he went fifteen miles higher up into the country, to a point which, he believed, was beyond the boundary of. the state. While there, this same party, having pursued them, arrived. Seeing them coming, and not suspecting that there was now any cause of quarrel, Big Neck stepped from his lodge unarmed, with his pipe in his mouth, and his hand extended towards the leader of the, party, in token of friendship. The pipe is a sacred thing; and is, among most of the Indian tribes, the emblem of peace; nor have they ever been known to permit any outrage to be committed upon a man who advances towards another with this symbol of peace in his mouth. While in the act of reaching his hand to the leader of the party, and as the Indians came out of their lodges to see the cavalcade of white men, they were fired upon. One child was killed, as was also the brother of Big Neck, who fell at his side. Enraged by this assault, the Indians flew to their arms, their number of fighting men being about thirty; and, against such fearful odds, Big Neck, supported by Maushemone, or the Big Flying Cloud, resolved to contend. The white man who had shot the child, was killed on the spot. Big Neck shot James Myers, the leader of the party, in the thigh; at about the same moment, a white man, named Win, shot a squaw, sister of Big Neck; as she fell, she exclaimed, “Brother! I am going to die innocent avenge my blood!” She had scarcely spoken, when an Indian, sometimes called Ioway Jim, and at others, Major Ketcher, leveled his rifle and discharged its contents into Win’s thigh, fracturing the bone. A furious fight ensued, in which the whites were defeated, and driven from the ground.
Win, being unable to escape, was found on the battle-ground by his exasperated enemies, who immediately prepared to burn their victim. A pile was raised around him, and fired. As the flame began to encircle him, Big Neck, pointing to the dead and wounded, thus addressed the murderer of his people :
“See there! look! You have killed all that was dear to me my brother, my brother’s wife, and her child. See the blood it flows before you. Look at that woman; her arm was never raised against an American; the child never wronged you it was innocent; they have gone to the Great Spirit. I came to meet you with the pipe of peace in my mouth. I did you no wrong; you fired upon me, and see what you have done see my own squaw with her head bleeding; though not dead, she is wounded. Now listen you are not a brave, you are a dog. If you were a brave, I would treat you as a brave, but as you are a dog, I will treat you as a dog.”
Here Big Neck paused, listened to the crackling of the fagots, and, with his knife drawn, eyed his victim for a moment, when, as the flames burst forth, and were approaching the body, he sprang over them, scalped the fated Win, and, while yet alive, cut open his breast, tore out his heart, bit off a piece, then throwing it back into the flames, it was consumed with the body.
The tidings of this affair soon reached the settlements; every where it was proclaimed, “The Indians are killing the whites.” Most of the border settlers abandoned their homes. An order was issued from Jefferson Barracks, to the officer in command at Fort Leaven worth, to march forthwith against the Indians. A large detachment of United States infantry was sent from Missouri in a steamboat, whilst the governor ordered out the militia. The agent of the Ioway, General Hughes, was required to co-operate. The militia were marched direct to the battle-ground, and thence back again, having accomplished nothing. The first step taken by the agent was to deliver eleven of the principal men of the Ioway nation as hostages for the good conduct of that people. With these, General Leavenworth returned with his command to St. Louis. The agent then proceeded with four men to the battle ground; taking the trail from thence, he pursued Big Neck and his party to the upper Mississippi, and to the waters of the lower Ioway River, a distance but little, if any, short of four hundred miles. Here he fell in with Taimah, or the Bear whose screams make the rocks tremble, and his son, Apamuse, who were on the Polecat river, near Fort Madison. From Taimah and his son, he learned where Big Neck was encamped, and was accompanied to the spot by a party of Sauk and Foxes. Caution became necessary; and, as they approached Big Neck’s party, they lay concealed in the day, and advanced upon it only in the night. Just before day, having had the camp in view the previous evening, when all was still, the agent approached, and stepped quickly into Big Neck’s lodge. Here he was safe; for, in accordance with the Indian practice, no outrage is ever permitted upon any person, though an enemy, who takes refuge within a lodge; no blood is allowed to stain the ground within its precincts. Big Neck was just in the act of raising himself from his buffalo skin, as the agent entered his lodge. The object of the visit was explained. But few words were spoken, when Big Neck said, “I’ll go with you; a brave man dies but once cowards are always dying.” Where upon he surrendered himself and his party. They were marched to the Rapide Des Moines. On arriving there, Big Neck ordered his squaw to return. The agent at once interpreted the object, and turning to his four men, said, ” Get your guns ready, for Big Neck means to kill us.” The squaws ascended the hill that rises from the margin of the river at that place, and were clustering about its summit; and just as they were turning to witness the murder of the agent and his four men, a point which makes out into the river was suddenly turned by the advance of a little fleet of five boats, filled with United States troops, under the command of
Lieutenant Morris. The squaws, seeing this, rushed suddenly down the hill, with howls and cries, and throwing themselves at the agent’s feet, begged for their lives. The inference was, that they supposed the plot for the destruction of the agent and his companions had been discovered, and that the Indians would be made to atone for it with their lives. A moment longer, and the agent and his men would have been slain. This was one of those rare and timely interpositions that can be resolved into nothing short of the agency of Providence.
Eleven of the principal Indians, including Big Neck, were transferred to these boats, and conveyed to St. Louis, whilst the residue, in charge of one of General Hughes’s men, were sent across the country in the direction of their homes. Arriving at St. Louis, arrangements were made for the trial of the prisoners, on a charge of murder, which, it was alleged, had been committed in Randolph county. The trial was then ordered to take place in that county, whither the prisoners were conveyed. The jury, with out leaving their box, brought in a verdict of not guilty.
Big Neck, being now on friendly terms with the agent, agreed to accompany him to his village. He was in deep distress, and went into mourning, by blacking his face, nor did he ever remove this symbol of grief to the day of his death. He was asked his reason for this. He answered, “I am ashamed to look upon the sun. I have insulted the Great Spirit by selling the bones of my fathers it is right that I should mourn.”
About five years after his trial, Big Neck led a war party of about fifty men in pursuit of a party of Sioux, who had penetrated the country to his village, and stole nine of his horses. He took with him in this expedition a famous brave, called Pekeinga, or the Little Star. The party soon came within sight of the Sioux, who fled, throwing behind them their leggings and moccasins, and dried buffalo meat, which indicated their defeat. Big Neck, however, was resolved on punishing them, and ordered his men to charge.
The Sioux had taken refuge in a large hazel thicket, above which towered trees, thick set with foliage, into two of which, two Sioux, one a chief, had climbed. Each of these Sioux selected his man, one of them Big Neck, the other, the Little Star, and as the party rushed into the thicket, they both fired Big Neck was shot through the breast; the Little Star fell dead from his horse. Seeing them fall, the two Sioux sprang from the trees to take their scalps. The Sioux chief, who had shot Big Neck, hastened to his body, and while in the act of taking his scalp, the dying savage drew his knife with one hand, and with the other grasped the Sioux, brought him in contact with him, threw him, and then, with his remaining strength, fell upon the body of the Sioux; and stabbed, and scalped him. When they were found, that was their position the Sioux on the ground, and Big Neck lying across his dead body, with his scalp dripping with blood in one hand, and his knife firmly grasped in the other.
On witnessing this spectacle, both parties retired from the fight, each deeply deploring the death of their favorite chief, and interpreting so great a calamity unto the anger of the Great Spirit, they made peace, and remain friends to this day.