Sodom and Gomorrah

by Charles H. Sparks

(8) If there was one class of men more than another responsible for inciting the Indian to hostilities against the whites, it was the low, grovelling Indian trader. His stock of goods usually consisted of a few worthless trinkets and a barrel of whisky; and his modus operandi was to secrete his stock in some dense thicket near the Indians, and close enough to the whites for protection. He would exchange his fire-water (9) at an exorbitant price for their furs. In early days our frontier was not slighted by this class. Soon after the Indians were removed to the reservation, two men of this stripe established their retreats on or as near the line as they dared, for they were prohibited by the Government from going upon the reservation.

Taft Jones was an individual of this character. He hailed from Fort Crawford, and located a trading post in the vicinity of Monona, giving it the name of "Sodom." Another genius, named Graham Thorn, started a trading post in close proximity to Sodom, and called it "Gomorrah."

The Indians used to frequent these places, and, of course, usually got badly cheated. It is a matter of recollection that once in a trial before Hon. T. S. Wilson, the first judge of this part of the country, a witness testified to things that happened at Sodom and Gomorrah. The Judge was disposed to become indignant, and asked, somewhat pointedly, if the witness was not imposing on the Court. The reply was given by Judge Murdock, then a young attorney, "Oh no, your Honor; these places do actually exist."

The old Mayor of Sodom crossed long since to the other side of Jordan.

During the sojourn of the Indians on their reservation three murders were committed, to-wit: that of the Gardner family, in Fayette county; of Riley, near Monona; and of Hereby, near the mouth of the Volga. In all of these cases whisky was the inciting cause, and some of the parties undoubtedly deserved their fate.

In the Riley case, a small party of Indians were encamped on a tributary of the Yellowstone river, four or five miles from Monona. An old Indian visited Taft Jones' den, at Sodom, and (as many a "pale-face" has since done in similar cases) traded all his wordly effects for whisky. He even sold the blanket from his shoulders. Becoming intoxicated, he was turned out of doors, and on his way to his lodge died from exposure and cold. The next morning his son, a youth of about twenty summers, found the body of his father lying in the snow, naked and frozen. His revengeful feelings were aroused, and going to the whisky-den at Gomorrah, he shot at the first man he saw through the window. Unfortunately it happened to be an inoffensive man named Riley. A detachment of troops under command of Lieut. David S. Wilson, now Judge of Dubuque Circuit Court, was sent out to capture the Indian who committed the murder. He was apprehended, taken to Fort Atkinson, and confined in the guard-house, but by the connivance (10) of a sympathizing white man he escaped and was never recaptured. Jones lived but a short time after this occurrence.1

Willard Barrows
The Neutral Ground

Commentary. "reservation" — as a result of the agreement reached at Prairie du Chien, August 19, 1825, the Sioux agreed to cede certain lands in Iowa to the Sauk and Fox, who agreed to move west of the Mississippi. To separate further these traditional enemies, it was agreed in 1830 that a 40 mile wide strip of land would separate the warring tribes and serve as a neutral zone between them. This was called the "Neutral Ground." In 1837, the Hocągara were made to sign a treaty that removed them to this strip of land, an arrangement that left no one satisfied, since the Hocągara were traditional enemies to both their neighbors. They were not happy to move, and considered that the treaty had been negotiated with Hocąk leaders who were not authorized to engage in such talks. So suggestions that their new lands be carefully examined could hardly be greeted with approbation.

Old Fort Crawford

"Ft. Crawford" — a fort built at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, separted from the settlement by a marsh. It had been built in 1816 on the site of earlier Ft. Shelby, which had been captured and later burned by the British during the War of 1812. This fort was the site of the Treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825, of which many Hocak chief were signatories. This fort, however, was subject to frequent flooding, and having become obsolete, was abandoned by the Army in 1826. After the Redbird incident of 1827, a second Ft. Crawford was constructed on higher ground at Prairie du Chien in 1829 under the supervision of Col. Zachary Taylor.

"Monona" — a town in Iowa 12 miles due west of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Its coordinates are 43.049160, -91.390516.

David S. Wilson
"Lieut. David S. Wilson" — a good summary of the life of D. S. Wilson is given here:2

    David S. Wilson (Steubenville, Ohio, Mar. 18, 1825 – Dubuque, Iowa, Apr. 1, 1881), the brother of Thomas S. Wilson, bought into the ownership of the Miners' Express in 1841.3 He remained the newspaper's editor until 1845 when he sold his interest and resumed his study of law.4 Elected to the Iowa House in 1846, Wilson took an active role in re-submitting Iowa's constitution to the people. During the Mexican War he shared responsibility for moving the entire tribe of Winnebago from their reservation at Fort Atkinson into Minnesota.5
    Returning to Dubuque, Wilson was elected county attorney for two terms.6
    Wilson served as mayor from 1856 to June 1, 1857.7 During his first term along Main street cisterns holding 1,000 barrels each were built for fire protection. New market grounds were secured in January, 1856, at Iowa and Clay streets — the present Dubuque City Hall now stands on these lots. A private house was converted into a jail in April, 1856. In the fall of 1856 gas lighting was extended to the leading side streets. By proclamation of Mayor Wilson December 13, 1856, was set as the date of the special election to decide whether the city should borrow five hundred thousand dollars for railroad purposes. The election was duly held with the following results: For the loan, 1,456; against the loan, 4.8
    In 1857 Wilson was elected to a term of four years in the Iowa Senate. In 1861 he was nominated by his fellow legislators to deliver a lecture on "The Right of States to Secede from the Union." The lecture, considered the first of its kind, showed such depth of research that it was adopted as the war document of the state. The legislature printed and distributed thousands of copies.9
    With the outbreak of the Civil War, Wilson became a "War Democrat," a supporter of the Union. When the loyalty of an Irish regiment being raised in Dubuque was questioned, Wilson left for Washington, D.C. to meet with an old friend, Secretary of War Stanton. Wilson received Stanton's permission for the Irish regiment to join the Union army. Wilson was also asked to return to Iowa as a colonel to raise a cavalry regiment. Turning away from his profitable legal career, Wilson accepted the commission and raised the Sixth Iowa Cavalry Regiment. This served in Dakota protecting settlers against the Sioux. Disappointed that he was not able to serve in more action and frustrated by the little action, Wilson resigned his commission and returned to Dubuque in 1864.10
    He soon left for California where he joined his brother, Samuel W. Wilson, in a legal practice for two years in San Francisco. Moving to Washington, D.C., he practiced before the federal courts for several years. Upon his return to Dubuque, Wilson was appointed in June 1872 a circuit judge to fill an unexpired term. In July he was appointed District Judge to fill another vacancy. In 1874 he was elected to the position and served until January 1, 1879.11

Lt. A. W. Renolds
Ft. Atkinson, 1842

"Fort Atkinson" — Hexom gives a good account of the history of Ft. Atkinson:

In 1840 the Winnebago Indians were removed to their new home on the Neutral Ground. In order to protect them from the incursions of their neighbors, among whom were the Sauk and Fox tribes, as well as from intrusions of the whites, and in turn to prevent them from trespassing beyond the limits of the reservation, soldiers were stationed among them. A detachment of the 5th Infantry (Company F) under command of Captain Isaac Lynde left Fort Crawford, with a complement of eighty-two officers and enlisted men, and went into camp, May 31, 1840, in the neighborhood of Spring creek (now known as Goddard's creek) on the Turkey river. The camp was named "Camp Atkinson" in honor of Brigadier General Henry Atkinson, U. S. Army, the Department Commander who was so prominent in military operations in the upper Mississippi valley. Barracks and quarters sufficient to accommodate one company were erected, and in March, 1841, the Secretary of War ordered that the station be known as Fort Atkinson.
    The fort was situated in the northwestern part of Washington township (on the old military road constructed from Fort Snelling to Fort Gibson) and stood on a rock-ribbed hill overlooking the site of the town which now bears its name. This hill is about eighty-four feet above the Turkey river. ... The top of the stockade consisted of spikes driven into the sharpened ends of the logs. Portholes were cut at about every four feet. ... In two corners of the stockade were located cannon-houses; and in the other two corners, the Quartermasters' store house (adjoined by the sutler's store) and the magazine, or powder-house.
    Concerning the Indian agency which was established in connection with the fort, Mr. Kingsley relates that,"The Winnebagoes were given food, clothing, gold, and silver. In money they received $46.00 per head, twice a year. ...
    February 24, 1849, the Post was finally abandoned. It was turned over to the Secretary of the Interior for disposition January 10, 1851. At the present time all that is still standing of the fort is the cannon-house of the southwest corner. ... The fort became useless as government property, and was sold at public auction to one J. M. Flowers for $3, 521. The reservation is described as containing 1,920 acres. This land was finally disposed of under the provisions of the acts of Congress of July 30, 1856, and June 7, 1860.12

"Jones" — Sparks adds, in the way of an addendum: Dr. Andros, of this city, witnessed his death, and describes it as follows: "I was traveling from Fort Atkinson to Prairie du Chien, and as I was passing by Sodom I was called in to see Taffy Jones. I found him on his bed in a miserable condition, and dying from chronic alcoholism. His countenance was horrible to look upon. He seemed to have but one thought, one wish. His only cry was whisky! whisky! whisky! I told Thorn, who was his 'right-bower,' that Tafty was dying, and to gratify his last wish. A tumbler of whisky was held to his lips, and he swallowed it with all the gusto that marks the smallest babe while drawing nourishment from the breast of its mother. In a few hours he died, a striking illustration of the old adage, 'The ruling passion strong in death'." [The expression "right bower" comes from the card game Euchre: "The highest trump is the jack of the trump suit, called the 'right bower.' The second-highest trump is the jack of the other suit of the same color called the 'left bower'." The jack is called Bauer, "farmer," in German, subsequently rendered as "bower" in English.]

Links: ...

Stories: mentioning whiskey (fire water): Little Fox and the Ghost, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Turtle and the Merchant, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Brawl in Omro, Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey; occurring in Iowa: Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey, Chief Wave Bars Explorers, The Duel.

Themes: ...


1 Charles H. Sparks, History of Winneshiek County with Biographical Sketches of its Eminent Men (Decorah, Iowa: J. A. Leonard, 1877) 9.

2 Encyclopedia Dubuque, Wilson, David S.

3 "Dubuque Sought Business Methods From Beginning," Telegraph Herald, March 27, 1921, p. 14.

4 M. M. Hoffman, "The Wilsons of Dubuque," Des Moines: Annuals of Iowa, Vol.XXI No. 5, July 1938, p. 323.

5 Franklin T. Oldt, History of Dubuque County, Iowa.Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 899-900.

6 Hoffman, "The Wilsons of Dubuque," 329.

7 Mayors of the City of Dubuque.

8 Franklin T. Oldt and Patrick J. Quigley, History of Dubuque County, Iowa (Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911) 245.

9 Hoffman, "The Wilsons of Dubuque," 330.

10 Oldt and Quigley, History of Dubuque County, Iowa, 245.

11 Oldt and Quigley, History of Dubuque County, Iowa, 245.

12 Charles Philip Hexom, Indian History of Winneshiek County (Decorah, Iowa: A. K. Bailey and Son, Inc., 1913) 53-60.