Iowa Archaeology Month and the Peace Tree
Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation

“Heritage Matters”...this year’s theme in celebration of Iowa Archaeology.

Iowa Archaeology Month 2017 will begin on September 18 and end on International Archaeology Day, October 21. Many County Conservation Boards, Museums, the State Historical Society of Iowa and the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist have partnered to celebrate the cultural and historical richness of areas within our state. The following link holds numerous opportunities from learning about Mammoths in Mahaska County to the Cedar River Rendezvous or learning about Iowa’s Underground Railroad.

Here in Marion County, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger will discuss the Building of the Red Rock Dam, creating the reservoir we know as Lake Red Rock, the largest lake in Iowa. 

  • Friday, August 4 at 9:00 p.m. at the Whitebreast Campground Amphitheater.

Red Rock: The Town beneath the Lake: The town of Red Rock was a thriving, industrious community and home to many pioneering people. Once hopeful that the Red Rock Dam would save them from the Des Moines River’s frequent flooding, it eventually sealed their fate.

  • Saturday, August 12 at 8:00 p.m. at the North Overlook Picnic Area
  • Friday, August 25 at 9:00 p.m. at the Whitebreast Campground Amphitheater.

The Peace Tree and Lost Towns

The Lake Red Rock area and all of Marion County is rich in diversity and historical attributes as with most areas if you look back far enough. So many people have handed down awe inspiring stories, mapped historical areas, renamed roads and have written down some of the most interesting reflections within their community.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implemented plans to build the reservoir on the Des Moines River in the 1960s. Red Rock is the largest lake in Iowa with over 15,000 acres of water and 35,000 acres of public land. Located on the Des Moines River downriver from Des Moines, the reservoir collects runoff and drainage from over 12,320 square miles of Iowa and southern Minnesota. Here are just a few noted years in Marion County history that may have seemed so long ago, but still show their respect and honor in Marion County.

A 1950s -era photo of the peace tree.

A grand old sycamore tree called the “Peace Tree” was an early meeting place of Native Americans and fur traders along the Des Moines River, as well as, Treaties being negotiated in the shade of its branches. 

The 'peace tree' as seen poking out of Lake Red Rock.

This tree was either close to or ‘marked’ the Red Rock Line, which separated the Native American and white man’s territory in 1843. It has been told that this historic tree was estimated to be the 2nd largest in North America and as much as 500 years old. The tree was left standing as the town of Red Rock was lost in the development of the Red Rock Reservoir.


The sign above left is on a memorial commemorating the Red Rock town site and the sign above right is at the intersection of county roads D35 and S55 in Hardin County.

The following is a brief description of lost towns that sit below Lake Red Rock. You can find a complete map and descriptions prepared by the Rural History Buffs of Marion County, Iowa.
Red Rock Red Rock existed longer than any other town under the lake. Its early existence and growth were partly due to its close proximity to the red rock bluffs, a familiar landmark to both Native Americans and early settlers.

RousseauMany horse drawn wagons crossed the river on the ferry at Rousseau. Rousseau was part of a Star post office route (1872-1903) that started in Knoxville, stopped at Rousseau, Red Rock and ended in Otley, then in reverse. The mail carrier and his horse spent an entire day working the route and was run three times a week.

Coalport - The first coal to be mined in Marion County was dug out of the bluffs at Coalport to fuel the passing ships that were previously fueled by wood. The river changed course in 1903 and left the town one mile from water, which led to its demise.

Cordova - The town of Cordova was platted in 1887 by the Wabash Railroad and was located on the north side of the lake on Hwy 14 and south of G28. Cordova had a depot, a grain elevator and office, stock yard, a coal loading ramp, two stores, post office, newspaper and a machine warehouse.

Dunreath - Dunreath owed much of its success to the Wabash Railroad, which build a depot there, and formed the Red Rock Coal Mining Co.

Fifield - Known as the White Breast settlement. The Wabash railroad was very important to Fifield. The community had a depot, but had a railroad repair crew, a refueling station, and a large water tank to fill the steam boilers.

What kinds of history lies in your neck of the woods? Don’t let it pass you by.

Links for more learning:

  • Saga of the Des Moines River Greenbelt by Harriet Heusinkveld
  • Red Rock, Iowa; Annals of a Frontier Community 1843-1969 by Harriet Heusinkveld
  • Coal Mining Days in Marion County, Iowa 1880s-1990s by Harriet Heusinkveld 

back to top

Raptor Viewing Etiquette

We should all observe good raptor viewing etiquette, not only during the nesting season, but also during this time of migration. 

Remember that raptors are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and bald and golden eagles have additional protections under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Upcoming Programs and Opportunities

Look more events to come!

Who am I? for the week of 14 August 2017

So, let’s get down to it. Put on those thinking caps, grab your friends and family, and let’s play! Remember — no cheating!

  • I burrow in ponds, streams, and dams,
  • I have a musky smell,
  • I am an excellent swimmers, thanks to my webbed back feet and flattened tail,
  • I can hold my breath for up to 15-20 minutes underwater, and
  • My diet in mainly plant-based, but I also eat insects, fish, and amphibians.
What am I? Make your guess, and then go here for the answer and more interesting facts. Did you get it right?! If not, no worries — you’ll have another chance next week!

In the news...

Check these out!

Iowa Young Birders - Check out this group formed in 2011 to help young people experience the joy and wonder of finding, seeing, and identifying birds! Check out the Iowa Young Birders website for info and field trip opportunities! <jealous!>

Developmentally-appropriate activities for early childhood learners to explore the natural world can be found at KinderNature!

Healthy and Happy Outdoors - Learn more about this Iowa Department of Natural Resources initiative here. Register with the program and record your outdoor activities in Iowa parks and recreation areas with each recorded activity a chance to win outdoor gear in a drawing.  The site also has a search feature for finding outdoor activities in Iowa.

Visit to check out a park or wildlife area you might want to explore managed by one of Iowa's 99 county conservation boards! Look here for events and activities, too!