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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

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Mahaska (White Cloud)
(ca. 1784–1834)

–Ioway chief—was born along the lower Des Moines River in southeast Iowa. Mahaska (MaxúThka in his native language) served as a chief of the Ioway, or Báxoje, Indians during a particularly difficult period in his nation's history. Born into the Túnap^i, or bear clan, one of two traditional Ioway leadership clans, Mahaska became a chief at a young age after members of the Dakota nation killed his father, MaHága, or Wounding Arrow, in an ambush. Untried as a warrior at the time of his father's death, Mahaska proved his worthiness to take his place among the Ioway chiefs by participating in a retaliatory raid against the Dakota and killing a Dakota chief.

    Mahaska first gained attention in the non-Native world as a defendant in a St. Louis murder trial in 1808. He and another Ioway known as Mira Nautais were arrested for their participation in a gun battle along the Missouri River, near the present-day town of Brunswick, Missouri, in which two French-speaking traders, Joseph Tibeau and Joseph Marechal, died. Jailed in St. Louis, the two Ioway were tried and convicted for the murders. While the court considered questions concerning the legitimacy of its jurisdiction over crimes committed in what was then Indian Territory, the pair escaped from jail.

    In the years that followed, Mahaska's political and military skills were tested by an increasingly uncertain cultural landscape. Several epidemics of smallpox, continuous war with the Osage, and sporadic fighting with the Sauk and Meskwaki exacted a heavy toll on the Ioway in the opening decades of the 19th century. In the spring of 1819 the violence led to a tragic episode when Sauk and Meskwaki warriors led by Black Hawk and Pasepaho made a surprise attack on the main Ioway village near the present-day town of Selma, Iowa. The Ioway may have lost as much as one third to one-half of their total population of 1,500 men, women, and children in the attack.

    At the same time, Euro-American settlers began moving in growing numbers across the Mississippi River into the Ioway's land in northern Missouri and southern Iowa. Mahaska realized that no amount of fighting would turn back the tide of settlers. As the new state of Missouri annexed several million acres of Ioway land in 1821, Mahaska came to see that a peaceful coexistence with the whites was no longer an option; it was a matter of survival.

    As chief, Mahaska signed two major treaties that ceded Ioway land to the United States. In 1824 he traveled with another Ioway chief, MáñiXáñe, or Great Walker, to represent the Ioway in treaty negotiations in Washington, D.C. On August 4 the two chiefs inked their marks on a treaty relinquishing all claims to the entire northern half of the state of Missouri and netted the Ioway $5,500 in cash and annuities over 10 years. In 1830, at Prairie du Chein, Mahaska and nine other Ioway chiefs agreed to cede all their land in western Iowa and northwest Missouri in exchange for the services of a blacksmith, $600 worth of farming implements, and 10 annual payments totaling $2,500.

    In his later years, Mahaska made his home not far from the Missouri River, on Ioway land near the present-day town of Agency, Missouri. There he appears to have done his best to adopt an Anglo-American lifestyle. He lived in a log home, learned European farming methods, and advocated the education of Ioway children in schools operated by Jesuits. He refused to fight against whites, even those who were illegally settling on Ioway land not yet annexed by the state of Missouri. He also declined to engage in intertribal warfare, even in cases where the Ioway were victimized by attacks from other tribes. When violence did erupt, Mahaska referred the crimes to the Ioway's Indian agent, Andrew S. Hughes, and to the U.S. government for federal intervention and peaceful resolution.

    In 1831 a group of Omaha Indians killed the son of an Ioway chief named Péchan, or Crane. Mahaska tried to prevent young Ioway warriors from avenging the murder, instead appealing to the federal government for justice in the matter. When a party of Ioway killed six Omaha in 1833, Mahaska assisted Hughes in arresting eight of them. The following year one of the young Ioway men convicted of the Omaha killings escaped from Fort Leavenworth and exacted revenge on Mahaska by tracking him to his camp along the upper Nodaway River in southwest Iowa and killing him.
Sources The earliest biographical sketch of Mahaska was based on an interview with him and appears in Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall, History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1838). For more recent information about Mahaska and the Ioway, see Martha Royce Blaine, The Ioway Indians (1995); and Greg Olson, "Navigating the White Road: White Cloud's Struggle to Lead the Ioway along the Path of Acculturation" Missouri Historical Review 99 (January 2005), 93–114.
Contributor: Greg Olson

Cite as: Olson, Greg. "Mahaska (White Cloud)" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 11 December 2017