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White Cloud (1784? - 1834)



White Cloud was a leader of the Ioway, or Baxoje (pronounced bock-HO-jay), people during a very difficult time in their history. When he was a young man, European American settlers were rare in Missouri and the Ioway were able to live as they had for centuries. But as he grew older and the population of white settlers became larger, his people struggled to live in the quickly changing world. White Cloud worked hard to make sure that his people survived in this new environment. Some of the decisions he made were not popular with the United States government and others made some of his own people angry.


Early Years

1837 Map of the Frontier Map of the Frontier Map of the Frontier, 1837.

This 1837 map shows the Ioway Tribe in the area of the state that became the Platte Purchase. The Osage Indians by this time had been removed to Oklahoma territory.

[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection]

White Cloud was born sometime around 1784, probably in a village along the Des Moines River where the present states of Iowa and Missouri meet. Like all Ioway children of his time, White Cloud had many names. When he was born, his parents gave him a birth name. When he was still a child, the elders of his clan, the Bear Clan, gave him a clan name. As he became a man and proved his bravery in battle, he may have chosen a name to remind others of his courage, or to mark an important event in his life. All of these names have been forgotten and we only know that he was called White Cloud. European Americans also commonly called him Mahaska. This name comes from MaxúThka (pronounced mock-WHO-thka), which means “White Cloud” in the language of the Ioway people.

When White Cloud was still too young to have had a chance to prove himself as a warrior, some Dakota Sioux men killed his father, MaHága (pronounced ma-HA-ga), or “Wounding Arrow,” in an ambush. Because Wounding Arrow was an Ioway leader, White Cloud was expected to take his father’s place.

Over the next few years, White Cloud worked to prove his bravery in battle. By that time the Ioways were living in what is now northern Missouri. With the help of the Sacs and Foxes, the Ioways were able to hunt as far south as the Missouri River
At 2,341 miles in length, the Missouri River is one of the longest rivers in North America and a major waterway in the central United States. The river flows east and south from western Montana, forming Missouri's northwest border and crossing the state before merging with the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. With the invention of the steamboat in the early 1800s, the river became part of the nation's first major transportation system and served as a main route during the nation's westward expansion. The Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, houses the remains of the cargo from a steamboat that sank on the Missouri River in 1856.
. The river marked the beginning of the territory that belonged to their enemies, the Osage tribe. As a young man, White Cloud claimed to have fought in eighteen battles. Many of those were against the Osage.

Convicted of Murder

Judge John B.C. Lucas John B.C. Lucas Judge John B.C. Lucas.

Judge John B.C. Lucas presided over the trial of White Cloud and Mira Natutais in 1808.

[History of St. Louis City and County, by J.T. Scharf, 1883, p. 1409. SHS REF H235.47Sch17]

In 1808, when White Cloud was in his mid-twenties, he was arrested for murder. White Cloud and one other Ioway man, known by the French name Mira Natutais, were trying to cross the Missouri River near the site of present day Brunswick, Missouri. While they were on the riverbank, they exchanged gunfire with some traders who were on the river in boats. As a result two traders, Joseph Tibeau and Joseph Marechal died. The two Ioways were taken to St. Louis where they were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. However, Judge John B.C. Lucas granted the two a new trial because the crime had taken place on land that was still owned by the Native Americans. Lucas believed that the territorial court had no authority over crimes committed there. While they were in jail waiting for their new trial, both White Cloud and Mira Natutais escaped.


An American Ally

After returning to his people, White Cloud vowed never to fight the Americans again. When he was young, there had not been many settlers on the Ioways’ land, but by 1810, he believed there were too many to fight. It was then that White Cloud realized that if his people were to survive, they had to cooperate with the Americans.

Not all of the Ioways agreed with White Cloud. When the War of 1812 began, some Ioways joined some Sacs and Foxes to fight on the side of the British, who were trying to chase the Americans out of Missouri. White Cloud joined the side of the Americans but instead of fighting, he and the Ioways who supported him, moved to western Missouri to be away from the violence.


Treaties with the United States

Drawing of Female Flying Pigeon, White Cloud's wife Female Flying Pigeon Female Flying Pigeon.

Female Flying Pigeon accompanied her husband White Cloud to Washington in 1824. There she became popular with many of the wealthy people who entertained the Ioways at balls and parties.

[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (026557)]

Even after Missouri entered the Union as the twenty-fourth state in 1821, many Indian nations had rights to large parts of the state’s land. The Ioways and the Sacs and Foxes claimed rights to all of the state that was north of the Missouri River. In 1824 the United States government decided to buy those rights from the Native Americans.

White Cloud, along with his wife Rut^ánweMi (pronounced root-AN-way-me), or Female Flying Pigeon, and another Ioway leader named MáñiXáñe (pronounced MON-yee-HON-yay), or Great Walker, traveled to Washington DC to meet with President James Monroe and Superintendant of Indian Affairs Thomas McKenney. Once in the capital city, the Ioways were treated to fancy parties and to tours of factories and shipyards. All three Ioways also had their portraits painted by the famous American artist, Charles Bird King.

Great Walker Great Walker Great Walker.

Along with White Cloud, Great Walker signed the treaty that sold the Ioways’s rights to northern Missouri to the United States. It was the first land treaty that the Ioways ever signed.

[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (011682)]

When White Cloud and Great Walker finally met with McKenney, they agreed to sell their rights to all Ioway land between the Missouri River and Missouri’s northern border for $5,000. The United States government wanted to teach the Ioways to farm in the same way that their white neighbors did. The government also agreed to provide the tribe with a blacksmith, farm machinery, tools, and cattle. As part of the treaty, the Ioways promised to leave the state of Missouri by January 1, 1826.

As soon as they returned to Missouri, however, Great Walker regretted signing the treaty. He vowed never to leave the state and settled along the Chariton River in north central Missouri with several of his followers. White Cloud kept his promise and moved with his followers to the site of a new Ioway Agency, located near the present-day town of Agency, near St. Joseph, Missouri. At that time, Missouri’s western border was different than it is today. Instead of following the Missouri River north of Kansas City, the old state border ran directly north from the city. The land west of the old boundary line and east of the Missouri River was called the Platte country after the Platte River that ran through it. That land was intended to be a place where Native Americans could live without fear of having their land taken by settlers.

In 1830 White Cloud was one of nine Ioway leaders who attended another treaty council at Prairie du Chein, in present day Wisconsin. In the council, he told the U. S. representatives that he had followed their advice and learned to live and farm like a white man and that he had given up war forever. A few days later, the Ioways signed a treaty that sold all of the Platte country and western Iowa to the United States. Later, the Ioways complained that, because of their poor understanding of English, they did not understand the treaty they had signed and that they had not intended to sell their land. They were able to postpone the sale of the land, but only for six years.


A Violent End

Map of Missouri, 1820 Map of Missouri, 1820 Map of Missouri, 1820.

This map shows Missouri boundaries prior to the Platte Purchase in 1837 and the location of Native American tribes in the state.

[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (027882)]

By the early 1830s Missouri was growing in population and settlers were eager for more land. Soon, European Americans were settling illegally in the Platte country. Some moved so close to the Ioway Agency that their cattle destroyed the Ioways’ cornfields. The Ioways were too few in number to defend the land by themselves and White Cloud asked for help from the U. S. government. But even armed soldiers could not keep these illegal settlers, called squatters, off of the tribe’s land.

The Ioways also had problems protecting themselves from the violent acts of neighboring Indian tribes. There was not enough wildlife to feed the growing number of settlers and Native Americans living in the Platte country. Sometimes Native Americans were so desperate for food that they raided the nearby villages of other tribes.

Sac and Fox Indians in St. Louis, 1833 Sac and Fox Indians in St. Louis, 1833 Sac and Fox Indians in St. Louis, 1833.

The Sac and Fox Indians were sometimes allies and sometimes enemies of the Ioways. During White Cloud’s time, they helped the Ioways control most of the north half of the state of Missouri.

[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (021719)]

In June 1831 a group of Omaha Indians traveled along the Missouri River to their village with a shipment of food, clothing, and money the government had paid them as part of a treaty settlement. The Omahas were worried that they would be attacked by a band of Sac and Fox warriors, who were rumored to be in the area. As they traveled, the Omahas met a small group of Ioways and, believing they were bandits, attacked them. The son of an Ioway leader named Péchan (pronounced PE-chan), or “Crane,” died in the battle. After the attack, some Ioway warriors asked White Cloud for permission to avenge the man’s death by raising a war party to raid the Omaha. White Cloud said no, demanding instead that the United States government settle the matter by punishing in the courts the Omaha men who were responsible for the murder of Crane’s son.

The government was slow to act and two years later twelve frustrated Ioway men took matters into their own hands. They killed six Omahas in a raid and took a woman and a boy hostage. White Cloud helped the U.S. government arrest eight of the Ioways who were responsible for the raid. While in prison in Fort Leavenworth, one of the Ioway men vowed to kill White Cloud for helping to arrest him. A year later, the man escaped and, with the help of a small number of others, followed White Cloud to a hunting camp in southwest Iowa and killed him. White Cloud was about fifty years old when he died in 1834.



Sculpture of White Cloud Sculpture of White Cloud Sculpture of White Cloud.

This statue of White Cloud (also known as Mahaska) was created by Sherry Edmundson in 1908 and is located in the town square of Oskaloosa, Iowa.

[Photo by Greg Olson]

As a leader of the Ioway, it was White Cloud’s job to make sure that his people had everything they needed to survive.  But as settlers flooded onto the Ioways’ land in Iowa and Missouri, that job became very difficult.  While some wanted him to resist the white settlers, White Cloud believed that the Ioways could only survive by working with them.  After the United States government took over Missouri, White Cloud accepted the U.S. officials as leaders and did his best to follow their laws and advice.  While the process was long and difficult, the Ioway have survived.  Today they are successful farmers and business people who still maintain a reservation in northeast Kansas and another in north central Oklahoma.

Text and research by Greg Olson


References and Resources

For more information about White Cloud's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about White Cloud in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.

  • Articles from the Missouri Historical Review
    • Olson, Greg. “Navigating the White Road: White Cloud’s Struggle to Lead the Ioway Along the Path of Acculturation.” v. 99, no. 2 (January 2005), pp. 93-114.
  • Books and Articles
    • Blaine, Martha Royce. The Ioway Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. [REF 970.3 B574]
    • Foley. William E. “Different Notions of Justice: The Case of the 1808 St. Louis Murder Trials.” Gateway Heritage. v. 9, no. 3 (Winter 1988-1989), pp. 2-13. [REF F550 M69gh v. 9]
    • McKenney, Thomas L. and James Hall. “Mahaskah.” History of the Indian Tribes of North America. Philadelphia: D. Rice and A. N. Hart, 1855. v. 2, p. 217. [REF Bay Coll. v. 2]
    • Meriwether, David. My Life in the Mountains and on the Plains. Ed. Robert A Griffen. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965. [REF 921 M5451]
    • Olson, Greg. The Ioway in Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008. [REF 921 M5451]
    • _____. “Two Portraits, Two Legacies: Anglo-American Artists View Chief White Cloud.” Gateway. v. 25, no. 1 (Summer 2004), pp. 20-31. [REF F550 M69gh v. 25]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Dougherty, John (1791-1860), Letter Book, 1826-1829 (C2292)
      The Dougherty letter book contains letters from Dougherty, fur trader, interpreter, and Upper Missouri Indian agent, to William Clark, superintendent of Indian affairs at St. Louis, various U.S. Army officers, Indian agents, interpreters and fur traders, U.S. War and Treasury Department officials, Missouri politicians, and private citizens. The collection includes references to White Cloud.

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following websites:
  • Ioway, Otoe-Missouria Language Website
    This Website provides information about the language of the Ioway.
  • Ioway Cultural Institute
    Information about the Ioway or Iowa Indian Tribe can be found at this WebSite.
  • Olsen, Greg. “Mahaska (White Cloud).” The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. David Hudson, et al, eds. Iowa City: The University of Iowa Press, 2008. pp. 334-335.

White Cloud White Cloud (1784 – 1834)

This etching was drawn from a painting that the artist Charles Bird King painted of White Cloud while he was in Washington in 1824.

[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (026556)]

White Cloud

Born: 1784?
Died: 1834 (age 50?)
Tribe: Ioway
Categories: Native Americans, Leaders & Activists
Region of Missouri: Northwest