Festivals, Meskwaki, and more

Summer is here! Let the festivals begin. My first taste of a Lincoln Highway festival was at the Tama-Toledo Lincoln Highway Bridge Park Festival on May 15th. The park is really looking nice with the plantings and the City of Tama having repaved part of the driveway. The festival program included children singing, the Mayor of Tama and other dignitaries speaking, and Abe Lincoln reciting his Gettysburg Address. The highlight of the night was getting a photo op with Abe Lincoln!

This past weekend I learned more about the history of the Meskwaki Nation at an event held in Ames in the North River Valley Park. The Meskwaki settled in Iowa around 1650 and their primary settlements were along the Mississippi River and rivers in Eastern Iowa, but the land they utilized ranged across the state. It was a hands-on event with a chance to grind corn and play with Native American toys and games.

In the 1830’s, under the Indian Removal Act, many Meskwaki were moved to Kansas. Some were able to hide in Iowa and never left and many others kept returning to Iowa from Kansas. Eventually the Meskwaki petitioned the young State of Iowa to allow them to purchase land. The nearby residents were asked their opinions and said it was OK with them. The Meskwaki are the only Indians to have purchased land and are not on a government reservation. Through my initial research, I knew this already. But I didn’t think about how the Amana Colony residents were part of the Iowans who were surveyed. These German people also had communal living and had no problem with the Meskwaki or their type of life. The road from the Meskwaki settlement to the Amana Colonies is now my sister Byway- The Iowa Valley Scenic Byway. (The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway shares the Tama, Chelsea, and Belle Plaine communities with Iowa Valley.) I now have a greater appreciation for the connection between the Meskwaki, the Iowa River Valley and the Amanas!

Next weekend is the Bell Tower festival in Jefferson, Iowa. I have not been there before, but hope to get to the top of the tower and see the awesome Iowa landscape from a great height.

In my spare time, I have been reading Greg Franzwa’s book, “Alice’s Drive”. The contents of the book are a republishing of Alice Ramsey’s “Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron”, annotations, and Franzwa’s “Chasing Alice”. Alice was the first WOMAN to drive a car the entire route of the Lincoln Highway. She started her journey on June 9, 1909 in New York and took along her husband’s two sisters (Nettie and Margaret) and a “younger unattached friend” (Hermine). On August 7th, they made it to San Francisco. The car of choice was a Maxwell- a gift to Alice from her husband. The advance agent, the automobile editor of the Boston Herald, traveled by train and met them at certain locations to help get axles and other parts to the women as many repairs were required during the journey.

It interesting what they took with them. They replaced the 14 gallon fuel tank with a 20 gallon, brought 2 extra tires, spare tubes and a tire kit, had much needed tire chains for traction in mud, and supplies including matches to light acetylene lamps for head lights. Each woman was allowed one suitcase. Dresses then were floor length and bulky- not the light weight fabrics we have now. So clothes needed to be functional, not fancy, as not much could fit into one suitcase. Automobiles were not designed to bring luggage along. Most people did not go far enough in a car to require spending the night some where.

One funny story was that Nettie and Maggie brought very fancy luggage, complete with fancy “cutglass holders with sterling silver tops, for toothbrushes and other toilet articles”. The holders were small, but came in handy outside Cedar Rapids when trying to get through mud and the water in the radiator got low.  Maggie suggested using the holders and she and Nettie used them as a pail to get water out of the ditches to fill the radiator. It took many trips back and forth to the ditch before they had enough water. They had to stop and do this 3 times before the women reached the next town and could get clean water for the radiator!

That is just one of the stories of early traveling in Iowa. I’ll share more next time. But for now, I better get traveling.

I’ll see you on the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway!