During the 1830 census, it was established that 105,060 Indians were living on tribal lands, east of the Mississippi River. Keokuk, Chief of the Sauk Tribe was one of those Indians. In that same year, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act which authorized the President of the United States to make treaties with the Indians to exchange lands east of the Mississippi River for lands west of that river. Because of this treaty, 100,000 Native American’s were relocated to the west.
Soon after the signing of the 1830 Removal Law, Keokuk understood that the Indians had no chance of winning any battle against the white settlers. Knowing this, he determined that it would be better for his people to negotiate with the Federal Government rather than go to war.
Chief Keokuk was a master at negotiations and knew he could get the best terms in exchange for his people’s eastern lands. He negotiated annual payments in gold and silver for the lands which made him popular with not only his own people but with the white settlers who didn’t have to fight with the Indians.
Chief Keokuk moved his tribes several times and always acted as an ardent friend of the Americans, visiting Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. He was a great orator and was very conscious of his public image. Some of the leading artists of that day painted Keokuk as a model of a good Indian Chief. One such painting was a mural in the LDS Mesa Temple wall where the stairs lead to the second floor. The story behind the mural is an interesting one:
In August 1841 Keokuk and 100 other chiefs camped for several days across the river from Nauvoo. A few years before, Keokuk had briefly met Joseph Smith when he received a copy of the Book of Mormon. During the first week of August representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints crossed over to Iowa to meet Keokuk. They made detailed arrangements for a social event for Keokuk and more than 100 fellow Chiefs together with their wives, to meet Joseph Smith and his people in Nauvoo.
The Indians and the members of the Latter day Saints agreed on the details for an all-day event that was to be a summer festival of diplomacy including food, music, and dance. The Indians would bring their drums and the Church members their brass band. The arrangements were clear and agreeable to both sides. On the appointed morning of Thursday, August 12th, the Ferryman took two flatboats and one ferry over the river from Nauvoo to Montrose to get the Indian guests whose total number was greater than 200. Joseph had pre-arranged for the city's brass band and a military unit to greet the arrival of this large group of Indians. These guests were at the time some of the most significant leaders of Native Americans in the country. Keokuk had a great sense of drama and after he and his people came to the Nauvoo landing they remained on the ferry and flatboats.
Keokuk asked where was the leader of the Mormon Church. (as was called back in that day) The welcoming committee said that Joseph Smith was waiting for them up the road in the grove. Keokuk said that he would not get off the ferry except that Joseph Smith was there to greet him in person. A messenger immediately went to get the Prophet and after a short time, Joseph and Hyrum came down to the landing to welcome Keokuk and his fellow Chiefs and their wives to Nauvoo.
For the rest of that day, there was a summer celebration in the grove. Church members offered the visitors their best "dainties" and fresh melons along with their brass band and singing. The Indians entertained the Church members with their drums and dancing. This was a very significant event for both the LDS Church members and the Indians. For Joseph Smith, this was one of the most important social events of his life. He made a speech to as many as 500 people when he announced that God had revealed to him that the Book of Mormon was an account of the fathers of Keokuk and his fellow Indian chiefs. Joseph Smith declared this as a direct revelation from God and thereby confirmed the truth of the Book of Mormon that it was "written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel." The giving of his testimony to those Native Americans was very important for Joseph Smith. Keokuk was the living embodiment of the people of the Book of Mormon.
An account of the day's activities was placed in the documentary history of the Church. The children of some of those members who were there would be so influenced by the telling of Keokuk's visit to Nauvoo that when the Mesa Temple was built in the 1920s, an artist created the mural that was used on the wall with the stairs to depict the day of Thursday, August 12th, 1841, when Chief Keokuk and his fellow Chiefs came to visit Joseph Smith.