Home » A few figs from thistles » Amos Beddowes, Indian Agent

Amos Beddowes, Indian Agent

Howard has a fetish for anniversaries, especially those that end with a double-zero.

A few years ago—it was summer of 2010, I think—he acknowledged the 150th anniversary of Agincourt’s oldest surviving building, the Baptist Fellowship, dedicated in 1860. Coincidentally, it was built and probably designed by Amos Beddowes, one of the earliest Europeans to settle the Muskrat valley. I’d asked Howard about Mr Beddowes so many times, he may have written this to satisfy my curiosity (i.e., shut me up).

Some of Howard’s readers will recall that Amos Beddowes had built his cabin on an oxbow of the Muskrat years before the Agincourt townsite was platted. He’d come to this part of Iowa as agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (the BIA) and worked for some time with the Sac & Fox people. Their treaty with the U.S. government opened a substantial portion of northwest Iowa for settlement and, indirectly, made the site of Agincourt a probability. But some measure of remorse concerning that treaty may have shaped what remained of his life.

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“A few figs from thistles…”

Howard A Tabor

Amos Beddowes, Indian Agent

Amos Beddowes was born in rural Connecticut about 1790, one of many children born to Leviticus and Mariah Beddowes. Large families guaranteed at least a few offspring would survive to adulthood and overcome the harsh realities of farm life and infant mortality.

Born into the Federal period, Beddowes’ rural childhood equipped him for many tasks: the cycles of planting and harvest; animal husbandry; woodworking and carpentry, from furnishings to houses, barns and outbuildings. Even folk medicine, childbirth and rudimentary surgery would at least be familiar, if not entirely comfortable activities; if he didn’t know how to do it, he at least knew when to get out of the way.

That Beddowes lived into the age of increasing specialization, of urbanization was a mixed blessing. So it isn’t surprising to find him in the 1810 US Census as “carpenter” living in the Town of Sharon, widowed—infant mortality sometimes occurring during childbirth. Ten years later, the 1820 census counted him in Ashtabula, Ohio, which had previously been the Western Reserve of Connecticut and “thickly settled” with emigrants from New England. Neither his relocation nor his upward mobility—the census lists him as “house builder”—are a surprise. The frontier often works that way.

Beddowes was a moving target for census enumerators in 1840 and 1850. But soon after, we know that he’d arrived in Iowa as a government representative working with the Sac & Fox people. Like many in “middle management,” however, Amos identified with the “wrong” end of the power structure: he married a medicine woman and became a tribal advocate, which must not have sat well with the BIA. Beddowes left government service and shifted his energies to architecture; old habits are hard to break. So, in 1859—his seventieth year—Amos Beddowes applied his considerable woodworking skills to the construction of Agincourt’s oldest church, the Baptist Fellowship.

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During the sesquicentennial Wally Balthus and students in his architectural drawing class at Fennimore High made an interesting discovery: our Baptist church shares a proportioning system with the Parthenon in ancient Athens. Phi (pronounced “fee”) or 1:1,61803398874989484820… is also called the Golden Ratio and may be the most amazing number in mathematics, art and nature. But it had to come from someplace. Why not Amos Beddowes?

Male members of Beddowes’s family—older brothers, his father, uncles—very likely fought in the American Revolution. Amos himself may have served in the War of 1812. So when the Horsemen rode roughshod through his family again in 1861, Amos might have felt beyond the reaper’s reach in that regard. He was wrong. Amos and Circe (She-listens-to-the-Moon, the Sac & Fox medicine woman) had already lost their daughter Mary, probably to typhoid fever. And within a year of Southern secession, their son John came home for burial—among the earliest Civil War casualties interred at The Shades.

Amos joined his children in 1867. Happily, his widow Sissy Beddowes remained with us another thirty-three years, but that’s another story.


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