Black Hawk

Illinois Indian Land

Black Hawk
Makataimeshekiakiah, Or Black Hawk,
Original name Black Sparrow
A Saukie Brave (Sac, Sauk)
1767 – 1838

With the rapid increase of a white population between the Lakes and the Mississippi, which followed the conclusion of hostilities with England and her Indian allies, new difficulties began to arise between the natives and the settlers. Illinois and Wisconsin were inhabited by various tribes of Indians, upon terms of bitter hostility among themselves, but united in their suspicions and apprehensions at the unprecedented inroads of emigrants from the east.

The Winnebago, dwelling in Wisconsin; the Pottawatomie, situated around the southern extremity of Lake Michigan; and the Sac, (afterwards mingled with the Foxes, and usually coupled with that tribe,) of Illinois, principally located upon Rock River, were the most considerable of these north-western tribes. By various cessions, the United States acquired, in the early part of the present century, a title to extensive tracts of country, lying east of the Mississippi, and included in the present state of Illinois. The tribes who sold the land were divided in opinion; great numbers of the occupants of the soil were utterly opposed to its alienation, and denied the authority of the chiefs, by whose negotiation the sales or cessions were effected; and upon the parceling out and the sale by the United States government of this public property to private individuals, conflicting claims soon led to serious disturbances.

In July, of 1830, a treaty was formed at Prairie du Chien, between United States commissioners and the tribes of the Iowas, Sioux, Omawha, Sacs and Foxes, &c., for the purpose of finally arranging the terms upon which the lands east of the Mississippi should be yielded up. The Sac chief, Keokuk, was present, and assenting to the arrangement in behalf of his people; but a strong party, headed by the celebrated Black-Hawk, utterly refused to abide by it. This chief was then between sixty and seventy years of age, and had been, from early youth, a noted warrior. He was born at some Indian settlement upon the Rock River, and retained through life a strong attachment to the place of his nativity and the stream upon whose banks he so long resided. He was a Pottawatomie, but his whole life was spent among the Sacs.

The Sacs Removed West Of The Mississippi

To enforce the removal of the Sacs from their villages, on Rock River, General Gaines visited that locality in June 1831. He proceeded up the river in a steamer, with several pieces of artillery and two companies of infantry. The general spoke of his visit as follows: ” Their village is immediately on Rock river, and so situated that I could, from the steamboat, destroy all their bark houses, (the only kind of houses they have,) in a few minutes, with the force now with me, probably without the loss of a man. But I am resolved to abstain from firing a shot without some bloodshed, or some manifest attempt to shed blood, on the part of the Indians. I have already induced nearly one-third of them to cross the Mississippi to their own land. The residue, however, say, as the friendly chiefs report, that they never will move; and, what is very uncommon, the women urge their hostile husbands to fight rather than to move, and thus abandon their homes.”

Before the close of the month the forces of the United States and the state militia took possession of the settlement. The Indians made no attempt at resistance, and betook themselves to the western bank of the Mississippi. In the spring of the following year, the Sacs began to straggle back to their old towns in Illinois; and Black-Hawk, with a considerable force of his warriors, marched up Rock River, with the avowed intent of spending the summer, and raising a supply of corn among the Pottawatomie, in accordance with an invitation from that tribe. He proceeded quietly and peaceably up the river, offering no violence to either the persons or property of the white inhabitants. A body of mounted militia, under Major Stillman, set out in pursuit of the Indians about the middle of May. On their approach to his temporary quarters, Black-Hawk sent a number of his followers to meet and confer with the commanding officer; but it so happened, either through mistake as to their intentions, or from a reckless depravity on the part of certain of the whites, that several of these emissaries were killed.

Housed by this injurious treatment, the Indian chief prepared to fall upon his pursuers at a point where an ambuscade could be rendered most effective. It is said that when the militia came up, he had but about forty warriors with him, (the rest of his men being off in pursuit of game,) while the whites numbered no less than two hundred and seventy! As these undisciplined troops were crossing Sycamore creek, in entire disorder, and without any precaution against a surprise, they were fiercely attacked by the Indians. The rout was complete: unable to form, or to offer any effectual resistance, the whites were driven off, leaving eleven of their number dead upon the field. As they again rendezvoused at Dixon s Ferry, thirty miles below, they gave the most extravagant accounts of the numbers of the enemy.

Great excitement was produced by the skirmish, and a large army of militia was called into service by Governor Reynolds, and ordered to meet by the 10th of June, at Hennepin, in Putnam County, on the Illinois. Agents were sent to confirm the good will of the Winnebago, and other tribes, and the services of several hundred of the Menomonies and Sioux were enlisted against the dangerous intruders.

Black-Hawk and his party, feeling themselves now fully committed, were not slow in following up the advantage gained by the terror inspired by the engagement at Sycamore Creek.

Between the breaking out of the war and the beginning of the month of August the Indians committed many murders, and various skirmishes took place between them and the troops sent in pursuit. On the 20th of May, a little settlement on Indian Creek was plundered. Fifteen of the inhabitants were killed, and two young girls, by the name of Hall, one sixteen and the other eighteen years of age, were carried into captivity. According to the almost universal custom of the North American Indians, these female prisoners were not exposed to the slightest insult or out rage, but were as well cared for as circumstances would allow. They were afterwards ransomed, at a large price, and returned to their friends.

Little mercy was shown to any of Black-Hawk’s followers upon any occasion of success on the part of the whites. Five persons were killed near Galena on the 14th of June, and, shortly after, twelve Indians, supposed to be connected with the attacking party, were pursued and driven into a neighboring swamp. When overtaken, although they made no resistance, they were every one killed and scalped by the whites.

The condition of Black-Hawk and his band grew daily more miserable, from destitution, exposure, and starvation. An end would speedily have been put to their operations, but for that terrible disease, the cholera, by which the United States troops, on their route from the east to the scene of action, were almost wholly disabled.

Sacs Pursued By Atkinson and Dodge

Driven from this encampment at the Four Lakes by the approach of General Atkinson, Black-Hawk retreated down the Wisconsin, expecting to find provisions and assistance among the Indians in that direction. General Dodge, with a strong force of militia, followed close, on his trail. He came up with the fugitives on the 21st of July. The Indians were about crossing the river when they were attacked, and, but for the coming on of night, could hardly have escaped entire destruction or capture. They lost in the encounter not far from forty men.

The discomfited savages continued their flight down the river in their boats, beset on every side by enemies, and with an overwhelming force Dodge’s army having been joined by Atkinson and his troops in hot pursuit. “Some of the boats,” says Drake, “conveying these poor wretches, were overset, and many of those in them drowned; the greater number, however, fell into the hands of their enemies in their passage. Many of the children were found to be in such a famished state that they could not be revived.”

The Sacs Defeat On The Bank Of The Mississippi

Having reached the mouth of the river, on the first of August, Black-Hawk prepared to cross the Mississippi, but was prevented by a force on board the steamboat Warrior. He did not wish to fight, but to escape; and when the steamboat fell in with him, he used every means to give the captain of her to understand that he desired to surrender. He displayed two white flags, and about one hundred and fifty of his men approached the river without arms, and made signs of submission.” The only reply was a discharge of canister and musketry from the boat, which was returned from the shore. After about an hour s firing, which resulted in the destruction of more than twenty of the Indians, the boat moved off to procure a supply of wood.

Next morning General Atkinson, with the whole force in pursuit, (sixteen hundred men) came up with the remnant of the enemy. Retreat was cut off on every side, and the half-starved and dispirited savages were shot and cut down at the pleasure of the irresistible numbers who surrounded them. The following is extracted from an account published shortly after this decisive and final engagement. “The battle lasted upwards of three hours. About fifty of the enemy s women and children were taken prisoners, and many, by accident, in the battle, were killed. When the Indians were driven to the bank of the Mississippi, some hundreds of men, women, and children plunged into the river, and hoped, by diving, &c., to escape the bullets of our guns; very few, however, escaped our sharp-shooters. ”

Historians generally speak of an action in which the Indians prove successful as a “massacre,” but the above-described proceeding is dignified by the name of a battle! Black-Hawk, who, with a few followers, managed to effect his escape, afterwards declared that, upon the approach of the American army, he and his warriors made no attempt at resistance, offering to surrender themselves unconditionally, and that they only used their arms when it was apparent that the successful pursuers had no intention of showing quarter. It is hard to decide upon the true state of the case.

His cause now being palpably hopeless, and most of remaining warriors having yielded themselves prisoners, or been taken by the various bands of Indians friendly to the whites, Black-Hawk surrendered himself at Prairie du Chien, on the 27th of August. With several other chiefs he was taken to Washington, and after holding conference with President Jackson, was confined, for a period, at Fort Monroe, on an island near Old Point Comfort, on the Chesapeake. Here the captive warriors were well and kindly treated, and in June, of the ensuing year (1833), there being no longer any necessity for detaining them as hostages, they were set at liberty.

Before returning to the west, these chiefs visited several of the principal eastern cities, and were every where received with the greatest enthusiasm and interest. They were shown the fortifications, navy yards, &c., and every effort was made to impress them with the irresistible power of the government. They were afterwards escorted back to their homes at the west, and dismissed with valuable presents and tokens of good will.

Black Hawks Subsequent Career

Black-Hawk lived thenceforth in peace with the whites. He settled upon the Des Moines River, where he died in 1838. The body of the old warrior, in accordance with his own wishes, expressed shortly before his death, was disposed in Indian style. According to Drake: “No grave was made; but his body was placed in a sitting position, with his cane between his knees and grasped in his hands; slabs or rails were then piled up about him. Such was the end of Black-Hawk. Here, however, his bones did not long rest in peace, but they were stolen from their place of deposit some time in the following winter; but about a year after, it was discovered that they were in possession of a surgeon, of Quincy, Illinois, to whom some person had sent them to be wired together. When Governor Lucas, of Iowa, became acquainted with the facts, they were, by his requisition, restored to his friends.”

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864.

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