New historical site honors Meskwaki Nation, Black members of Johnson County

In honor of a meeting on January 1838, which established Johnson County’s government on Sand Road, an Iowa City historian worked to create Remembrance Park, a new designated historical site.


Lilly Stence

Remembrance Park is seen in Johnson County on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

Sabine Martin, Managing Editor

Tucked away on the corner of Sand Road and Napoleon Street south of Iowa City, a slice of land which dates back to the 1800s is Johnson County’s newest dedicated historical site.

The piece of land, called Remembrance Park, honors Jenny, a member of the Meskwaki Nation, and Mogawk, a Black man, who helped set up the county’s government in January 1838 alongside fur trader John Gilbert. The park is slated to be permanently set aside as a wildflower park during the first weekend of September.

One of Meskwaki Nation’s former encampments stood on Sand Road, as did fur-trading posts at the time of the county’s founding, Marybeth Slonneger, head Remembrance Park organizer and Iowa City artistic historian, said.

Slonneger said Jenny was a talkative woman and worked for the Phelps Trading Company, which traded fur, according to historical records. Mogawk also worked at the Phelps Trading Company.  

Map by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

Meskwaki Nation is the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, located in Tama, and formally purchased 80 acres of land in Tama County in 1857.

Slonneger said she started researching the history of Johnson County 30 years ago and has since worked to add the historical site honoring the county's founding.

“It just wouldn't go away, the idea didn't go away,” she said.

Members of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Meskwaki Nation, and area musicians will gather on Sept. 5 for a ceremony at the park to unveil landmark plaques.

Dianna Penny, who oversees and is a pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, will read two of her original poems at the ceremony.

“They involve a more humanistic approach to things [are] and more related to the ups and downs and joys of life in general,” Penny said. “Even though they touch on being Black in America a little bit, it's not necessarily all about that. It's about enjoying life, no matter how you find it.”

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Penny said she is happy to see the contributions of America’s Black citizens being recognized.

“I mean, America is a big country,” she said. “And there are things that people have done nationally, things people have done locally that made a difference.”

An anonymous farmer donated the land for the park and agreed to maintain it, Slonneger said.

River Products Company, an Iowa City-based stone, and gravel producer donated two boulders for the park. Slonneger said the stones will eventually be engraved.

Marty Boller, writer of Iowa City blog “The Contemplative Activist”, said there are some truths in the context of Iowa City that some of the earlier historians have left out, including the story the Remembrance Park is honoring.

To progress the Remembrance Park project, Slonneger and her team are talking with the educators in the Iowa City Community School District to add a booklet of the watercolor paintings by Iowa City artist Jo Myers-Walker on the history of Johnson County that Slonneger commissioned for students to utilize in school.

“As they go into the fall, I'm hoping to set up some programs, PowerPoint programs in various social organizations, and perhaps schools,” said. “It's my intention to pursue it to not only educate children but there'll be a whole lot of adults that don't know about this history, for sure.”