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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Street, Joseph Montfort
(December 18, 1782–May 5, 1840)

–Indian agent—was born in Lunenberg County, Virginia, to Anthony and Mary Street. In 1806, in Frankfort, Kentucky, he and his friend John Wood began publishing the Western World, a fiery broadside that was responsible for instigating investigations of such people as Aaron Burr. Because of his outspokenness, Street was constantly involved in lawsuits, a situation that continued during his years as an Indian agent in Illinois, then Wisconsin and Iowa territories from 1827 until his death in 1840. His friends Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and Zachary Taylor often had to intervene on Street's behalf so that he was not removed from his position as agent.

    Married to Eliza Maria Posey Thornton and eventually the father of 14 children, Street moved his family to the frontier town of Shawneetown, Illinois, in 1812. There he was active in local politics and became brigadier general of the local militia, resulting in his being known afterward as "General" Street. On August 8, 1827, President John Quincy Adams appointed him as Indian agent to the Winnebagos, headquartered in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin Territory. Throughout his term as agent, Street advocated fair but firm treatment of the Indians. In his early years as agent, he often requested federal troops to help him drive away white settlers who were illegally encroaching on Indian territory, but because he seldom received them he began to think that the best way to protect the Indians was to remove them from harm's way. From that point on, he worked tirelessly for Indian removal to the West. His most powerful adversary in that fight was the American Fur Company, whose business would have suffered without the availability of Indian trappers.

    During the Black Hawk War of 1832, most Winnebagos gathered at the agency, where Street convinced them to remain neutral. The Winnebagos turned Black Hawk over to Street, who in turn reported their cooperation to Washington. A transfer to Rock Island in 1834 added supervision of the tribes known by the federal government as the Sac (Sauk) and Fox (Meskwaki) to Street's oversight of the Winnebago. He vigorously opposed the move, which meant leaving his family as well as abandoning the new Winnebago school he had just opened in Prairie du Chien. Due in large part to the efforts of representatives of the American Fur Company, who thought the school would discourage the Indians' nomadic lifestyle, enrollment at the school kept decreasing until late in 1837, when Street was allowed to return. His efforts soon doubled the enrollment, but when he left in January 1839 to oversee the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes at the newly created Des Moines River Agency, the school floundered again, finally closing in 1840.

    Street was agent for the Sauk and Meskwaki during the time that Keokuk, Appanoose, Wapello, and Poweshiek were chiefs. He died on May 5, 1840, and was buried at the Des Moines River Agency. Two years later a dying Wapello asked to be buried near Street, and their monuments can be seen there today.
Sources The State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, has a box of Street's papers from 1827 to 1840. The University of Chicago Library has issues of Street's early Kentucky newspaper, Western World . There are entries about him in early editions of the Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 9 (1958); and the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. 13. The only full biography is Ronald Rayman "The Role of the Frontier Indian Agent: Joseph Montfort Street, 1827–1840" (master's thesis, Drake University, 1974). See also Ronald Ray-man, "Joseph Montfort Street: Establishing the Sac and Fox Indian Agency in Iowa Territory, 1838–1840," Annals of Iowa 43 (1976), 261–74; Ronald Rayman, "Confrontation at the Fever River Lead Mining District: Joseph Montfort Street vs. Henry Dodge, 1827–1828," Annals of Iowa 44 (1978), 278–95; Ida M. Street, "A Chapter of Indian History," Annals of Iowa 3 (1899), 601–23; and Ida M. Street, "Joseph M. Street's Last Fight with the Fur Traders," Annals of Iowa 17 (1929), 105–48.
Contributor: Charlotte M. Wright

Cite as: Wright, Charlotte M. "Street, Joseph Montfort" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 16 December 2018