Black Hawk’s Removal to the Des Moines River

Soon after his return from Boston he removed his family and little band farther West, on the Des Moines river, near the storehouse of an Indian trader, where he had previously erected a good house for his future home. His family embraced his wife, two sons, Nashashuk and Gamesett, and an only daughter and her husband. As he had given up the chase entirely, having sufficient means from the annuities–he now turned his attention to the improvement of his grounds, and soon had everything comfortably around him. Here he had frequent visits from the whites, who came out in large numbers to look at the country, many of whom called through curiosity to see the great war chief, but all were made welcome and treated with great hospitality.

In 1838 Fort Madison had grown to be a little village, and its inhabitants were not only enterprising and industrious, but patriotic citizens. On the 4th of July of that year they had a celebration and having known and respected Black Hawk while residing in that part of the country, invited him to join them as a guest on that occasion.

In reply to a letter of B.F. Drake, Esq., of Cincinnati, asking for such incidents in the life of Black Hawk as he knew, Hon. W. Henry Starr, of Burlington, Iowa, whom we knew for many years as a highly honorable and intelligent gentleman, gave the following account of the celebration in his reply, dated March 21, 1839:

“On the 4th of July, 1838, Black Hawk was present by special invitation, and was the most conspicuous guest of the citizens assembled in commemoration of that day. Among the toasts called forth by the occasion was the following:

“‘Our illustrious guest, Black Hawk: May his declining years be as calm and serene as his previous life has been boisterous and full of warlike incidents. His attachment and great friendship to his white brethren, fully entitle him to a seat at our festive board.'”

“So soon as this sentiment was drank, Black Hawk arose and delivered the following speech, which was taken down at the time by two interpreted, and by them furnished for publication:

“It has pleased the Great Spirit that I am here to-day. I have eaten with my white friends. The earth is our mother–we are now on it–with the Great Spirit above us–it is good. I hope we are all friends here. A few summers ago I was fighting against you–I did wrong, perhaps; but that is past–it is buried–let it be forgotten.

“Rock river was a beautiful country–liked my towns, my cornfields, and the home of my people. I fought for it. It is now yours–keep it as we did–it will produce you good crops.

“I thank the Great Spirit that I am now friendly with my white brethren–we are here together–we have eaten together–we are friends–it is his wish and mine. I thank you for your friendship.

“I was once a great warrior-I am now poor. Keokuk has been the cause of my present situation–but do not attach blame to him. I am now old. I have looked upon the Mississippi since I have been a child. I love the Great river. I have dwelt upon its banks from the time I was an infant. I look upon it now. I shake hands with you, and as it is my wish, I hope you are my friends.’

“In the course of the day he was prevailed upon to drink several times, and became somewhat intoxicated, an uncommon circumstance, as he was generally temperate.

“In the autumn of 1837, he was at the house of an Indian trader, in the vicinity of Burlington, when I became acquainted and frequently convened with him in broken English, and through the medium of gestures and pantomime. A deep seated melancholy was apparent in his countenance, and conversation. He endeavored to make me comprehend, on one occasion, his former greatness, and represented that he was once master of the country, east, north, and south of us–that he had been a very successful warrior-called himself, smiting his breast, ‘big Captain Black Hawk,’ ‘nesso Kaskaskias,’ (killed the Kaskaskias,) ‘nesso Sioux a heap,’ (killed a great number of Sioux). He then adverted to the ingratitude of his tribe, in permitting Keokuk to supercede him, who, he averred, excelled him in nothing but drinking whisky.

“Toward Keokuk he felt the most unrelenting hatred. Keokuk was, however, beyond his influence, being recognized as chief of the tribe by the government of the United States. He unquestionably possessed talents of the first order, excelled as an orator, but his authority will probably be short-lived, on account of his dissipation and his profligacy in spending the money paid him for the benefit of his tribe, and which he squanders upon himself and a few favorites, through whose influence he seeks to maintain his authority.

“You inquire if Black Hawk was at the battle of the Thames? On one occasion I mentioned Tecumthe to him and he expressed the greatest joy that I had heard of him, and pointing away to the East, and making a feint, as if aiming a gun, said, ‘Chemocoman (white man) nesso,’ (kill.) From which I had no doubt of his being personally acquainted with Tecumthe, and I have been since informed, on good authority, that he was in the battle of the Thames and in several other engagements with that distinguished chief.”

In September, 1838, he started with the head men of his little band to go to Rock Island, the place designated by the Agent, to receive their annuities, but was taken sick on the way and had to return to his home. He was confined to his bed about two weeks, and on the 3d day of October, 1838, he was called away by the Great Spirit to take up his abode in the happy grounds of the future, at the age of seventy-one years. His devoted wife and family were his only and constant attendants during his last sickness, and when brought home sick, she had a premonition that he would soon be called away.

The following account of his death and burial we take from the Burlington Hawk-Eye, and as we knew the writer as a reliable gentleman, many years ago, we have no doubt of it being strictly correct.

Captain James H. Jordan, a trader among the Sacs and Foxes before Black Hawk’s death, was present at his burial, and is now residing on the very spot where he died. In reply to a letter of inquiry he writes as follows:

Eldon, Iowa, July 15, 1881.

Black Hawk was buried on the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of section 2, township 70, range 12, Davis county, Iowa, near the northeast corner of the county, on the Des Moines river bottom, about ninety rods from where he lived when he died, and the north side of the river. I have the ground on which he lived for a door yard, it being between my house and the river. The only mound over the gave was some puncheons split out and set over his grave and then sodded over with blue grass, making a ridge about four feet high. A flag-staff, some twenty feet high, was planted at the head, on which was a silk flag, which hung there until the wind wore it out. My house and his were only about four rods apart when he died. He was sick only about fourteen days. He was buried right where he sat the year before, when in council with Iowa Indians, and was buried in a suit of military clothes, made to order and given to him when in Washington City by General Jackson, with hat, sword, gold epaulets, etc., etc.

The Annals of Iowa of 1863 and 1864 state that the old chief was buried by laying his body on a board, his feet fifteen inches below the surface of the ground, and his head raised three feet above the ground. He was dressed in a military uniform, said to have been presented to him by a member of General Jackson’s cabinet, with a cap on his head ornamented with feathers. On his left side was a sword presented him by General Jackson; on his right side a cane presented to him by Henry Clay, and one given to him by a British officer, and other trophies. Three medals hung about his neck from President Jackson, ex-President John Quincy Adams and the city of Boston, respectively. The body was covered with boards on each side, the length of the body, which formed a ridge, with an open space below; the gables being closed by boards, and the whole was covered with sod. At the head was a flag-staff thirty-five feet high which bore an American flag worn out by exposure, and near by was the usual hewn post inscribed with Indian characters representing his war-like exploits, etc. Enclosing all was a strong circular picket fence twelve feet high. His body remained here until July, 1839, when it was carried off by a certain Dr. Turner, then living at Lexington, Van Buren county, Iowa. Captain Horn says the bones were carried to Alton, Ills., to be mounted with wire. Mr. Barrows says they were taken to Warsaw, Ills. Black Hawk’s sons, when they heard of this desecration of their father’s grave, were very indignant, and complained of it to Governor Lucas of Iowa Territory, and his excellency caused the bones to be brought back to Burlington in the fall of 1839, or the spring of 1840. When the sons came to take possession of them, finding them safely stored “in a good dry place” they left them there. The bones were subsequently placed in the collection of the Burlington Geological and Historical Society, and it is certain that they perished in the fire which destroyed the building and all the society’s collections in 1855; though the editor of the Annals, (April, 1865, p. 478) says there is good reason to believe that the bones were not destroyed by the fire, and he is “creditably informed that they are now at the residence of a former officer of said society and thus escaped that catastrophe.”

Another account, however, and probably a more reliable one, states that the last remains of Black Hawk were consumed as stated, in the burning building containing the collections and properties of the Burlington Geological and Historical Society.

In closing this narrative of the life of this noble old chief it may be but just to speak briefly of his personal traits. He was an Indian, and from that standpoint we must judge him. The make-up of his character comprised those elements in a marked degree which constitutes a noble nature. In all the social relations of life he was kind and affable. In his house he was the affectionate husband and father. He was free from the many vices that others of his race had contracted from their associations with the white people, never using intoxicating beverages to excess. As a warrior he knew no fear, and on the field of battle his feats of personal prowess stamped him as the “bravest of the brave.”

But it was rather as a speaker and counselor that he was distinguished. His patriotism, his love of his country, his home, his lands and the rights of his people to their wide domain, moved his great soul to take up arms to protect the rights of his people. Revenge and conquest formed no part of his purpose. Right was all that he demanded, and for that he waged the unequal contests with the whites. With his tribe he had great personal influence and his young men received his counsel and advice, and yielded ready acquiescence in his admonitions. With other tribes he was held in high esteem, as well as by English and American soldiers, who had witnessed his prowess on the field of battle.


Davis County IA,

Black Hawk, Patterson, J. B., editor, Leclair, Atoine, interpreter  Autobiography of Black Hawk or Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, Self Published by J. B. Patterson, 1882.

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