Black Hawk’s Tower

On its highest peak our Watch Tower was situated, from which we had a fine view for many miles up and down Rock river, and in every direction. On the side of this bluff we had our corn fields, extending about two miles up parallel with the larger river, where they adjoined those of the Foxes, whose village was on the same stream, opposite the lower end of Rock Island, and three miles distant from ours. We had eight hundred acres in cultivation including what we had on the islands in Rock river. The land around our village which remained unbroken, was covered with blue-grass which furnished excellent pasture for our horses. Several fine springs poured out of the bluff near by, from which we were well supplied with good water. The rapids of Rock river furnished us with an abundance of excellent fish, and the land being very fertile, never failed to produce good crops of corn, beans, pumpkins and squashes. We always had plenty; our children never cried from hunger, neither were our people in want. Here our village had stood for more than a hundred years, during all of which time we were the undisputed possessors of the Mississippi valley, from the Wisconsin to the Portage des Sioux, near the mouth of the Missouri, being about seven hundred miles in length.

At this time we had very little intercourse with the whites except those who were traders. Our village was healthy, and there was no place in the country possessing such advantages, nor hunting grounds better than those we had in possession. If a prophet had come to our village in those days and told us that the things were to take place which have since come to pass, none of our people would have believed him. What! to be driven from our village, and our hunting grounds, and not even to be permitted to visit the graves of our forefathers and relatives and our friends?

This hardship is not known to the whites. With us it is a custom to visit the graves of our friends and keep them in repair for many years. The mother will go alone to weep over the grave of her child. The brave, with pleasure, visits the grave of his father, after he has been successful in war, and repaints the post that marks where he lies. There is no place like that where the bones of our forefathers lie to go to when in grief. Here prostrate by the tombs of our fathers will the Great Spirit take pity on us.

But how different is our situation now from what it was in those happy days. Then were we as happy as the buffalo on the plains, but now, we are as miserable as the hungry wolf on the prairie. But I am digressing from my story. Bitter reflections crowd upon my mind and must find utterance.

When we returned to our village in the spring, from our wintering grounds, we would finish bartering with our traders, who always followed us to our village. We purposely kept some of our fine furs for this trade, and, as there was great opposition among them, who should get these furs, we always got our goods cheap. After this trade was met, the traders would give us a few kegs of rum, which were generally promised in the fall, to encourage us to make a good hunt and not go to war. They would then start with their furs and peltries, for their homes, and our old men would take a frolic. At this time our young men never drank. When this was ended, the next thing to be done was to bury our dead; such as had died during the year. This is a great medicine feast. The relations of those who have died, give all the goods they have purchased, as presents to their friends, thereby reducing themselves to poverty, to show the Great Spirit that they are humble, so that he will take pity on them. We would next open the caches, take out the corn and other provisions which had been put up in the fall. We would then commence repairing our lodges. As soon as this was accomplished, we repair the fences around our corn fields and clean them off ready for planting. This work was done by the women. The men during this time are feasting on dried venison, bear’s meat, wild fowl and corn prepared in different ways, while recounting to one another what took place during the winter.

Our women plant the corn, and as soon as they are done we make a feast, at which we dance the crane dance in which they join us, dressed in their most gaudy attire, and decorated with feathers. At this feast the young men select the women they wish to have for wives. He then informs his mother, who calls on the mother of the girl, when the necessary arrangements are made and the time appointed for him to come. He goes to the lodge when all are asleep, or pretend to be, and with his flint and steel strikes a light and soon finds where his intended sleeps. He then awakens her, holds the light close to his face that she may know him, after which he places the light close to her. If she blows it out the ceremony is ended and he appears in the lodge next morning as one of the family. If she does not blow out the light, but leaves it burning he retires from the lodge. The next day he places himself in full view of it and plays his flute. The young women go out one by one to see who he is playing for. The tune changes to let them know he is not playing for them. When his intended makes her appearance at the door, he continues his courting tune until she returns to the lodge. He then quits playing and makes another trial at night which mostly turns out favorable. During the first year they ascertain whether they can agree with each other and be happy, if not they separate and each looks for another companion. If we were to live together and disagree, we would be as foolish as the whites. No indiscretion can banish a woman from her parental lodge; no difference how many children she may bring home she is always welcome–the kettle is over the fire to feed them.

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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