Blood Run National Historic Landmark

Time: One Place, Many People

"XE" - The Ioway-Oto word for Blood Run

The Ioway-Oto word for the Blood Run location is Xe (pronounced like "khay"), "where something is buried." This refers to the buried remains there on that river and to the mounds there at Blood Run. Sometimes the Ioway-Oto also referred to the river here as the Pipestone River since it connected to the route to the Pipestone Quarries to the northeast. 

Lance Foster, Northern Ioway Tribal Member (Personal communication November 2012)

George Catlin painting of the pipestone quarries, Minnesota, less than 50 miles north of Blood Run.

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Enhanced LiDAR map of the site showing surface features.
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It is not certain when people first lived at the Blood Run site location, but radiocarbon dates and European trade items suggest that intensive occupations began around A.D. 1500. Numerous burial mounds, now protected by Iowa law, are found throughout the site. Two hundred years later, tribal history, early written accounts, and French maps place Omaha peoples in a location consistent with descriptions of Blood Run. Various accounts and archaeological evidence also place Ioway peoples here. Nonlocal, native-made artifacts and European trade items suggest this as a place where many people gathered. When known European traders and explorers visited the region in the early 1700s, they found the site vacated. It is commonly agreed that pressure from Dakota peoples forced abandonment of Blood Run shortly before 1714. By 1851 Dakota peoples relinquished all their lands in Iowa.

Blood Run is the traditional location where the Omaha-Ponca, Ioway, and Oto had built a village, and it was there those tribes also made peace with the Cheyenne and Arikara, through the ceremony of adoption known as the Pipe Dance or Calumet Dance. 

Lance Foster, Northern Ioway Tribal Member, 2012 (Personal communication November 2012)

Guillaume Delisle 1702 Map

The earliest European historical information about Native American peoples of the upper Mississippi River country derives from Frenchman who visited that region in the middle and latter parts of the seventeenth century, as well as from accounts reported to the French prior to their actual arrival in the upper Mississippi region…Information deriving from the activities of Pierre Charles Le Sueur and his men in the upper Mississippi region in the 1700-1702 period strong suggests that the Omaha lived for an undetermined time along the Big Sioux River some distance above its mouth...

Thomas D. Thiessen, 2004: 369, 380

…the Ayavois and the Otoctatas had gone to station themselves on the side of the river of Missoury, in the neighborhood of the Maha, a nation dwelling in those quarters.

Pierre-Charles LeSueur, French trader, 1700–1702, as relayed to Guillaume and Charles DeLisle (Quoted in Wedel 1974; 1981)

Guillaume Delisle 1718 map

[the Omaha were] situated on a river that enters the Missouri on the right in ascending at 9 or 10 leagues from the river that comes from the former village of the Aiaoues.

Pierre-Charles LeSueur, French trader, 1700–1702, as relayed to Guillaume and Charles DeLisle (Quoted in Wedel 1974; 1981)

From its mouth, the Omahas traveled up the Missouri River "until they reached a point on the Big Sioux river." where they built a village and lived for “many years," with the Ioways, Otos, and Winnebago. 

Henry Fontanelle, Omaha Tribal member, 1885 (Quoted in Thiessen 2004: 356)

The Silent City

The abundant vestiges of Blood Run’s early history—mounds, earthworks, house remnants, artifacts—attracted the attention of nineteenth century pioneers, historians, and antiquarians. These individuals offered their own perspectives on the site’s history at a time when agriculture and industry were inexorably altering the landscape and the site forever.

...the most remarkable of all their relics are situated on a plateau extending back from the east bank of the Big Sioux River, on the south side of a small creek….The surface of the earth appears to have been removed to a considerable depth, from a large field being thrown up into pyramids or mounds from fifteen to twenty-five feet high. Of these, there are a great number covering over twenty acres. Some of these works assume the form of an amphitheater composed of curcular (sic) terraces rising one above another from the ground. In other places circles have been formed of huge blocks of Sioux quartzite rock.

S.C. Hyde (1873) First published account of the Blood Run Site (Quoted in Henning and Schnepf, 2012: 5)

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Click For More Information on Ancient Burial Protection

In 1886, F.W. Pettigrew, a Sioux Falls physician, wrote an article for the Sioux Falls Press entitled “The Silent City”. He and his brother, Richard, the first United States Senator from South Dakota, prepared a detailed map [see above] of a small part of the site and kept records that still offer invaluable information… The map the Pettigrew brothers prepared records a concentration of mounds and boulder outlines south of Blood Run Creek. These stones are thought to outline the edges of houses placed to anchor the hides and mats that once covered them. Shortly after the map was made, all the stones were cleared for cultivation. By this time agriculture had joined gravel quarrying as a site-altering activity.

Henning and Schnepf, 2012: 6-8

Theodore H. Lewis surveyed and mapped many sites in Minnesota for the Northwestern Archaeological Survey in the 1880s and 1890s. Blood Run was one of few sites that took him outside that state. One of his 1889 maps includes the information recorded by the Pettigrews and accurately locates the mounds, but his notes discuss very few of the lodge outlines. Obviously, most stones had been removed by this time.

Henning and Schnepf, 2012: 8

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

When I came to this county in was on tilled land then and long ago the weather and plowing has leveled it off with the surrounding has always been my regret that this area was not set aside as a state park and the mounds preserved...

Nathan E. Getman, Lyon County pharmacist, 1880s Quoted in Henning and Schnef 2012: 9


The twentieth century saw Blood Run formally recorded as an archaeological site and identified as belonging to the late prehistoric Oneota tradition. Limited excavations in the 1960s and 1980s hint at both how little we know about this place and at the tremendous potential that remains. In 1970, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1987, the State Historical Society of Iowa, in cooperation with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, acquired a relatively small (approximately 230 acres) portion of the site in the core area. Today, descendant peoples and local residents have joined state and national organizations to devise ways to further understand and protect the Blood Run site.

Charles R. Keyes, director of the Iowa Archaeological Survey

Martin Johnson, whose farm occupies about the center of the old village [Blood Run], had picked up so many things on his place by the time we called at his home that, to be certain the state had a good usable supply, he gave us about a thousand specimens.

Charles R. Keyes, Iowa Archaeological Survey, 1927: 330

Gravel operations that led to the 1985-86 archaeological excavations and subsequent state acquisition.

1985-86 excavations

1985-86 excavations, gravel operation visible in left background

In the mid-1960s a small team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a brief excavation sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Center for Climatic Research, assisted by volunteers from the Iowa Archeological Society. Hoping to obtain information on prehistoric climate, they excavated a small mound to reach undisturbed remnants of the village below. The project produced new information about mound construction and burial patterns at the site. 
Archaeologists returned to the site in 1985 and 1986. This work was designed to learn as much as possible about the site’s occupants in the aftermath of site disturbance and mound destruction resulting from gravel-quarrying. Following the passage of Iowa’s landmark protective burial legislation in 1976, deliberate destruction of prehistoric mounds was in direct violation of Iowa law. The results of this work afford us much of what is known archaeologically about the site.​

Henning and Schnepf, 2012: 10, 21

In 1987, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation facilitated the purchase of 230 acres of the site core for the State of Iowa and the State Historical Society. It is managed for the State Historical Society by the Lyon County Conservation Board. These actions reflected a true commitment by elected officials throughout the State to the project and a unique and unheard of leadership action by a legislative committee.

Henning and Schnepf, 2012: 20

Blood Run is highly important as a place where data from archaeology, history, cartography, and ethnography can be welded together to form a multifaceted record of the Native American presence in the Northeastern Plains at the cusp of recorded history. 

Henning and Thiessen, 2004: 1

References Cited

DeLisle, Guillaume
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

1718    Carte de La Louisiane et du Cours du Mississipi dressée sur un grand nombre de mémoires entrautres sur ceux de Mr. le Maire 
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.
Foster, Lance
2012    Email correspondence, November 8, 2012. Reproduced with permission.

Henning, Dale R. and Gerald F. Schnepf
2012    Blood Run: The Silent City. Booklet sponsored by the Lyon County Historical Society and the U.S. National Park Service.
Henning, Dale R., and Thomas D. Thiessen
2004    Summary and Conclusions. In Dhegihan and Chiwere Siouans in the Plains: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives, Part Two, edited by Dale R. Henning and Thomas D. Thiessen, pp. 591–601. Memoir 36, Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 49, No. 192, Part 2. Plains Anthropological Society, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Hyde, S.C.
1975 (1873) Historical Sketch of Lyon County, Iowa. Perkins Brothers Printers and Binders, Sioux City Iowa. Reprinted Lost Cause Press, Louisville, Kentucky.

Keyes, Charles R.
1927    Prehistoric Man in Iowa. The Palimpsest 8 (6): 185-229.
1951    Prehistoric Indians of Iowa. The Palimpsest 32:281–343.

Thiessen, Thomas D.
2004    Traditional and Historical Summary. In Dhegihan and Chiwere Siouans in the Plains: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives, Part Two, edited by Dale R. Henning and Thomas D. Thiessen, pp. 355–380. Memoir 36, Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 49, No. 192, Part 2. Plains Anthropological Society, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Wedel, Mildred Mott
1974    Le Sueur and the Dakota Sioux, pp. 157-171, in Elden Johnson,
ed., Aspects of Upper Great Lakes Anthropology. St. Paul:Minnesota Historical Society.

1981    The Ioway, Oto, and Omaha Indians in 1700. Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society 28:1–13.