The first Mahaska, whose name meant “white cloud”, was a chief of the Ioway tribe of Indians.
The Ioway were a powerful tribe that was in decline at the time of Mahaska, primarily due to a smallpox epidemic that wiped out about three fourths of the population. That dramatic decline in population changed the balance of power, and allowed neighboring tribes who had been historical rivals to push them out of some of their historical territories.
Mahaska was suddenly thrust into power when his father was murdered by a rival Sioux tribe. Mahaska was quite young at the time, and had not been tested in battle. He was offered the opportunity to lead a revenge party against the rivals, and chose to participate but not lead the party. He killed the Chief of the Sioux tribe that had killed his father, and thus achieved status in his tribe.
McKenny records that Mahaska “was in eighteen battles against various bands and was never defeated.”
Mahaska was involved in a fight with some Frenchmen who were passing by in a canoe. They asked the men for assistance (Mahaska had a nosebleed at the time), and instead of assisting them, the Frenchmen fired on the Indians, wounding one of Mahaska’s party. The Indians, including Mahaska returned fire and one of the Frenchmen was killed.
As a result of this incident, a number of whites pursued and captured Mahaska, and he was put in jail, where he remained for a number of months.