A History of Wapello County-Trading Post

Long before the country west of the Mississippi and north of St. Louis was penetrated by settlers, fur traders established themselves here, far beyond the outskirts of civilization, and brought this apparently inaccessible region in touch with the world of the white man.

Chouteau was the name of a highly successful French fur-trading family based in St. Louis, Missouri.  Pierre Chouteau, Sr., established a trading post where now stands the city of Ottumwa, and when in 1837 the Sacs and Foxes were relocated here, the ruins of the old building could be described. Pierre Chouteau, Jr., & Co. succeeded the elder trader at this point, and had a post among these two tribes. S. S. Phelps and Captain William Phelps were the agents for the company. Captain Phelps was so jolly that the Indians termed him Che-che-pe-qua, or “Winking Eyes.” Ottumwa became one of the most important trading posts in Iowa.

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Where Eddyville is, formerly was a trading post under the management of J. P. Eddy. This post was called “Hardfisher,” because it was in the village of Chief Hard Fish.

Two men named Ewing conducted a trading post at the mouth of Sugar Creek, near Ottumwa

Indian customers of the trading stores purchased an odd assortment. But they were good patrons, because they were honest, and paid their debts more promptly than did the whites. When an Indian made out his note, acknowledging his indebtedness to a trader, he reversed the usual procedure and kept the note instead of handing it over to the store keeper.  The Indian said he did this so it would remind him when he must pay. He stuck the note in a corner of his blanket, or laid it in his cabin, and when the time was up — which would be the date on which the government money was due, or when the hunting season supplied skins — he would appear at the store and cancel his obligation. Then he gave the note to the trader. Possession by the trader was a sign to the Indian that the note had been paid.

Most of the old trading posts and agency buildings have disappeared. Only occasionally are the ruins to be pointed out as relics of the beginning of the city.

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