French and Early Iowans

In the early 1700s the French formed relationships with the Indians in Iowa. They traded furs for guns, kettles and knives. The Indians became dependent on the traders. Life changed forever for the Indians.


While the Spanish moved up from South American, the French were gradually moving across what was to become Canada and the United States. By the 1700s some of them had reached the Iowa region. The French had come to this area for furs, a valuable item in the European market. They needed the Indians help and friendship to trap on their lands. French trappers and traders adapted to the Indian way of life, learning their languages and sometimes marrying Indian women. The Indians were introduced to the white man’s culture too. In trade for the furs which the Indians had collected, the white man had collected the white man gave them iron kettles, steal knives, colorful beads and guns. They made hunting and trapping easier. More furs for the white man, more kettles, knives, beads and guns for the Indians. White men depended on the Indians for furs and pelts. Indians also came to depend on the white man. Gradually, they were trading away their way of life. Greedy whiskey dealers quickly discovered the bargaining power of liquor. They made big profits as a result. Whiskey dealers got the Indians drunk and cheated them out of their guns, blankets, furs and anything else of value. The Indians had no choice, but to collect more furs to pay back their huge debts. Indians came to distrust white traders, because of these experiences. The United States Government attempted to solve the problem by only allowing licensed traders to deal with the Indians, but even some licensed traders turned to whiskey dealing to make their trade more profitable.

“First People of the Prairies,” The Iowa Heritage: Program # 1, Iowa PBS, 1979.