Ask your average Quad-Citian what military battle was fought at Davenport’s Credit Island and you’re likely to draw a blank.
Ask that same person how Credit Island got its name and, yes, another blank.
The 350-acre island that is a city of Davenport park has a rich history that is not widely known, but the late Ken Oestreich, a history buff and Davenport city planner, was working to change that.
In May, the city received a $12,118 grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa that Oestreich had applied for to conduct an archeological survey of the island and to prepare a nomination for placing it on the National Register of Historic Places.
The first focus of the survey will be the Aug. 6, 1814, battle during the War of 1812 between American forces led by Zachary Taylor — who later became the 12th president of the United States — and British forces aided by the famous Sauk warrior Black Hawk.
The Americans were outnumbered about 3-to-1, and after at least 11 men were badly wounded and one died, they were forced to retreat back to St. Louis.
The second focus will be on the island’s use from 1815 to 1830 as one of the first fur trading posts west of the Mississippi River, a place where American Indians bought goods on “credit” in the fall, paid for them with furs in the spring — and, according to historians, got cheated.
If you visit Credit Island today, turning in at the first road to your right, you will find several plaques that speak to this history, one installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution and others from by River Action Inc. But Oestreich was hoping for something showier, especially if it could be supported by fresh research and possibly some new artifact finds.
Credit Island is a site of “national importance,” he wrote in his grant request.
“Historic preservation was more than just his job, it was one of his passions,” Matt Flynn said of Oestreich, who died unexpectedly June 5 due to complications of a broken hip. He was 61.
Oestreich “felt it (Credit Island’s history) was a story not many people know of in the city. Most people think Davenport’s history started with Antoine LeClaire and Colonel Davenport. This clearly pre-dates that.”
Flynn is a senior manager in the city’s planning division.
Credit Island in report to Congress
In a letter written to Connie Langum, who is Midwest regional coordinator for the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, Oestreich said he hoped the project would be the first step and that the city would be “able to erect the sort of signage describing the events on Credit Island much like one sees at other battlefield parks.”
The national battlefield protection program came about in the early 1990s in response to the increasing loss of Civil War battlefields to development. Once the Civil War sites were studied, Congress asked that sites from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 be studied as well, and a report on those was made in 2007.
Langum contributed to the report and actually visited the Quad-Cities twice, walking Credit Island and doing research at the Davenport Public Library.
The report ranks sites according to an A-D scale, with A being the most historically significant. Credit Island ranks as a C, meaning it is “associated with events that had a demonstrable influence on the course, conduct and results of the war.”
One factor in its favor is that it still exists; most battlefield sites from 1812 have been destroyed by the construction of streets or buildings. While the island certainly has changed since 1812, it looks more like it did then than many other places do today, Langum said.
One question about the island is whether any fighting actually occurred on land or whether it was entirely boats on the water. Langum believes some fighting did occur on land.
James Edward Jacobsen, a Des Moines historian, said more answers might be found by locating the actual battlefield report in the National Archives and determining whether anyone ever drew a map of the engagement.
Archeological digging would be on the lookout for anything pertaining to the battle — cannonballs, for example.
State archeologist John Doershuk says locating remains from a battle could be a needle-in-a-haystack type of venture, but finding evidence of the island’s use as an early fur training site and the Indian encampments that likely went with it would be very likely.
Davenport’s Flynn said he expects to take over the project from Oestreich.