MUSCATINE, Iowa–While walking in Riverside Park, Rick Bierman often noticed a round stone Native American trail marker by the riverfront. A lover of history, he wondered about the people who created it. “I remember seeing this stone marker many times over the years, but there wasn’t any information about it or what trail it marked,” he said.
Not willing to just speculate about it, Bierman began doing research. He determined Muscatine residents first placed the stone in the park in 1936 to honor E.L. Koehler, who had helped with park improvement projects at the time. Though this explained how the stone got there, it did not reveal the trail it marked.
Digging deeper, one of Bierman’s acquaintances, Virginia Cooper, found a map from 1845 at the Muscatine Art Center depicting a Native American trail traveling from the Mississippi River across town near Halsted Street before crossing Mad Creek at the future location of the Ninth Street Bridge. It continues down Ninth Street towards the current location of Jefferson Elementary School and then along Cedar Street before swinging up towards Mulberry Avenue and continuing past the contemporary location of the bypass towards the Cedar River. According to the map, a tree, near the present intersection of Logan Avenue and Cedar Street, grown specially to have a right angle bend in it, helped mark the trail.
Stones, like the one in Riverside Park, marked the trail near the present day Saulsbury Road near the Cedar River,about the spot where the trail crossed the current intersection of Mulberry Avenue and the bypass, and a safe spot along the Mississippi River to ford over to the Illinois side. Unfortunately, the stone from Mulberry Avenue disappeared and construction crews used the original one from the riverfront to help construct a levee in the early 1900s. The one currently on display came from Saulsbury Road. Anne Wieskamp Collier, confirmed it originally came from the farm of T. M. Barnes.
Along with uncovering the map, Bierman’s inquiries also turned up a newspaper from May 30, 1936 describing a Native American trail traveling from the riverfront across the Cedar River and on towards West Liberty and Iowa City that matches the route marked on the earlier map.
Pleased with his findings, Bierman shared them with the Muscatine Parks and Recreation Department, who he had communicated with since 2005 when he first started working on the project. They welcomed the collaboration. Muscatine Parks and Recreation Director Rich Klimes stated, “anytime we can work with a citizen group or a citizen who has a real passion for a project, we are happy to collaborate.”
For several years, the marker had sat in storage because of landscaping and trail work done in Riverside park. In the summer of 2020, parks and recreation staff placed it on display once more near the boat harbor. Moving forward, Klimes hopes to help preserve this unique piece of Muscatine’s earliest history. “Our intention is to keep them in place and to keep them in good shape for as long as we can.”