About
Council Bluffs

Adventure back
into the past.

What’s in a name?

The Beginnings of Council Bluffs

Several tribes of Native Americans inhabited the Council Bluffs area prior to the arrival of the Potawatomi tribe in 1837. In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark, on their expedition to the Pacific Northwest, held a “council” with the members of the Otoe tribe in the area of Fort Calhoun, NE, and the entire area became known as “Council Bluff”.

Council Bluffs’ previous name was Kanesville. Read below to find out why!

Council Bluffs

A Brief History:

A series of treaties with the United States government resulted in the removal of the Potawatomi and other tribes from the Great Lakes region to lands even further west. In 1837, an estimated 2,500 Potawatomi came to western Iowa where they separated into five camps. One of which settled along Indian Creek in the area of North Broadway in what is now Council Bluffs.

Their leader was Billy Caldwell, the son of an Irish Colonel in the British army and a Mohawk woman, the daughter of Rising Sun. He spoke several dialects and negotiated the treaties on behalf of the Native Americans. The camp was called “Caldwell’s Village”. Due to his efforts, a Jesuit mission was established on the hill above Pierce Street by Fathers Pierre-Jean Desmet and Felix Verrydet, and Brother Andrew Mazzelli in an unused blockhouse, or fort, and four other buildings. St. Joseph Mission included the first church and school in the area. Billy Caldwell died of cholera in 1841 and was buried in the cemetery behind the mission. When Franklin Avenue was cut through, the graves were moved to the “old Catholic cemetery”. The marker, which read simply “Indians”, was made of wood and cannot be located today. By 1848, most of the Potawatomi were moved to a reservation in Kansas.

Next to come were the Mormons, fleeing persecution in Nauvoo, IL. Although headed west, some remained in the area which they named Kanesville after Colonel Thomas Kane, who befriended them. In 1852, thousands left for Salt Lake City and sold their land cheaply to the next band of emigrants – gold rushers who decided to settle here and start businesses or farms. In 1853, the name Kanesville was changed to Council Bluffs, and the frontier town became a major outfitting station for the wagon trains passing through. The coming of the railroads again changed the face of Council Bluffs.

National Recognition

National Register Listings in Council Bluffs

Discover the locations of the National Register landmarks in Council Bluffs.

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Preserve Council Bluffs is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote and preserve the heritage of Council Bluffs through its architecture, sites, and people.

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