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The First Settlers Of Iowa

State Historical Society Of Iowa
Meskwaki Woman and Child by a Wickiup in Tama, Iowa.

While schools have been closed, we've hosted a series of "Talk of Iowa" episodes designed to be fun and educational for learners of all ages. Moving forward, join us every Tuesday throughout the summer for learning and fun with "Talk of Iowa" Summer Camp.

When European explorers and settlers came to the land that would become Iowa it was not empty or unpopulated. For thousands of years before European settlement, Indigenous people lived, farmed, hunted and traveled through this land.

On today’s Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with archaeologist and historian Lance Foster, author of “The Indians of Iowa”, and archaeologist William Whittaker, author of “The Archaeological Guide to Iowa.”

Whittaker shares what we can learn about the native nations that made Iowa home during prehistoric times from studying the archaeological record. Archaeology also gives us insight into how native people in the state lived later on as well. Foster introduces listeners to the history and culture of some of the many different native nations that have called Iowa home.

Later in the program, a look at Iowa’s only Tribal Nation: the Meskwaki Nation. Johnathan Buffalo, Historic Preservation Director of the Meskwaki Nation, guides listeners through the fascinating and unique history of the Meskwaki people.

Vocabulary words:

  • Indigenous; adjective, produced, growing, living or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment.  
  • Prehistoric; adjective, of, relating to, or existing in times before written history.  
  • Mound Builders; noun, a member of a prehistoric American Indian people whose extensive earthworks are found from the Great Lakes down the Mississippi River valley to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Wickiup; noun, a small, temporary dwelling or shelter made of grass, brush or matts over a wooden frame usually with an oval base. 
  • Powwow; noun, an American Indian social gathering or fair usually including competitive dancing.

Discussion questions and activities:

  • The land you live on now was once home to Indigenous people. Use the Iowa Historic Indian Location Database (HERE) to learn which Tribal Nations once lived where you do now. 
  • Different groups of Mound Builders erected mounds in many parts of Iowa including the land that is now part of Effigy Mounds National Monument. Imagine how difficult it must have been to build these enormous and often beautiful mounds with the tools available at the time. Some mounds were shaped like animals. If you were going to build a mound what shape would you want it be? Draw a picture of your mound. https://www.nps.gov/efmo/index.htm
  • Why do you think it’s important to learn about the history of the Indigenous people who lived and live in Iowa? Have a conversation with family or friends about this vital part of Iowa history.
Matthew is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa