IN THE NICK OF TIME
By NICK NARIGON
Native American history has been lost or misplaced throughout the annals of time, a travesty that is shown very clearly right here in Iowa County.
Archaeologists have proven a large American Indian settlement existed near South Amana in the mid-1800s, and very little is known about it.
There was once a township in northern Iowa County called Cono Township, its namesake being the mysterious Chief Cono. Indeed, arrowhead hunters have found points that date back thousands of years.
The original inhabitants of Iowa County were here for centuries before we were, yet we know little, except for the random artifact found in a tilled field.
This is not just an academic problem here in Iowa County, but nationwide.
High school American history classes start their lessons in Europe. High school students learn about Columbus, Magellan and Vespucci. Squanto, the Patuxet Indian who helped the pilgrims, and Pocahontas, who supposedly saved the life of Captain John Smith, are just blips in the history books.
This always frustrated me in high school. I cared little for European history. I wanted to learn American history, which started several millennia ago, not in 1492.
In college, I ended up receiving a certificate in American Indian studies. To earn a journalism degree at the University of Iowa, you have to earn 24 credit hours in a second area of study.
First, I tried English, however, I found out I am terrible at writing English papers. You have to have a thesis and stick to it. You can’t start a topic and then ramble on about other things for two pages before finally getting back to your point.
Then I tried studying environmental science for a semester. Except you have to be good at science.
On a whim I took an introduction to Native American studies class and loved it.
Native Americans come from an oral culture, and most of their history is passed down through story-telling. There is very little documentation of Native American history prior to 1800.
Through my classes, the window was cracked open a little more.
While we tend to think of American Indian tribes as separate groups that were at constant war with each other and white settlers, this is not necessarily the truth.
Prior to Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, there was a vast trading network among the Native Americans that stretched from Mexico to the East Coast. The population may have reached as high as five million, and the hub of the trading network was a village east of St. Louis called Cahokia. Cahokia had a population of anywhere from 20,000 to 35,000. It is believed that by the 13th century, the population of Cahokia was larger than that of London.
By the time explorers reached the middle of the United States, the Native American civilization was in shambles.
Native Americans were not immune to the diseases of the European explorers. Small pox and other common ailments wiped out the tribes well before they came into contact with settlers.
The diminished tribes had little firepower to fend off the intruders from their land, and thus most were forced onto reservations beginning in the 1800s.
This includes the Meskwaki tribe that once inhabited Iowa County. Chief Cono is believed to be a member of the Meskwaki tribe, and he was forced to relocate to Kansas in the 1850s. However, Cono did not stay in Kansas long, and returned to Iowa County.
His reputation was thought of highly enough that a township was named in his honor in 1856, plus two schoolhouses.
Even though he was given this honor, very little else is known about the man.
He died somewhere between 1865 and 1875 and his final resting place is the Athey Pioneer Cemetery north of Marengo.
Local researchers are trying to find out what there is to know about Cono, but there is very little documentation.
Hopefully he is not another Native American lost in the annals of time.