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River History Series Kicks Off as a Part of Water Trails Regional Planning Effort in Des Moines

  • 1/5/2016 9:36:00 AM
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The confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers has attracted humans for at least 7,200 years, from hunter-gatherers living in small houses along the river, to prehistoric mound builders, to soldiers exploring the area, to a growing metropolis.

As part of a regional water trails planning effort funded by Iowa Department of Natural Resources and led by the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, four speakers will discuss the significance of rivers and streams to the human prehistory and history of the area over the next two Saturdays beginning at 2 p.m., at Hoyt Sherman Place, 1501 Woodland Ave, in Des Moines.

“Our time in this area represents a tiny fraction of the overall human timeline and I think the more we understand its history, the more we can appreciate this unique natural and cultural resource,” said John Wenck, water trails coordinator for the DNR.

Speakers on Jan. 9 include Bill Whittaker, the interim research director of the Office of State Archaeologist, and co-author of the 2015 book “The Archaeological Guide to Iowa” who will discuss and exhibit the results of recent archaeological investigations in and around Des Moines, including the fort established at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers.

Whittaker will be followed by Kathy Gourley, historian with the State Historical Society of Iowa, whose master’s thesis focused on discerning locations of Sauk and Meskwaki villages, trading posts, government Indian agencies, and U.S. military forts in Iowa during the 1830s and 1840s.  She will discuss the Meskwaki and Sauk migrations to Kansas from the area of present day Des Moines in the mid-1840s.

Speakers on Jan. 16 will cover topics including a close look at the industries that developed along rivers in the area, and a look at the history of river recreation through the eyes of Des Moines pioneer Tacitus Hussey. 

For more information, go to or contact John Wenck at