Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Black Hawk War


By Benjamin F. Gue.

Black Hawk Sac Indian Chief
The followers of Black Hawk always repudiated the treaty of 1804, feeling that they had been wronged; but the white settlers who were swarming around them, fearing hostilities, demanded their removal. Collisions took place and, in 1830, when Black Hawk and his tribe returned from their annual hunting excursion, they found their lands had been surveyed and sold to white settlers. Their cabins had been seized and occupied and their own women and children were shelterless on the banks of the river. Black Hawk drove the white intruders out of the village and restored the wigwams to their owners. The whites called upon Governor Reynolds of Illinois for assistance and he called upon General Gaines to bring an army strong enough to expel the Indians.
On the 25th of June, 1831, General Gaines with sixteen hundred mounted soldiers took possession of the Sac village, driving the Indians from their homes to the west side of the Mississippi River. On the 30th Governor Reynolds and General Gaines, at the point of the bayonet, dictated terms with the Sac chiefs by which the Indians were prohibited from returning to the east side of the river without permission of the United States authorities. It was now too late to plant corn again and autumn found the Indians without food for winter.

In April 1832, Black Hawk with his followers, including women and children, crossed to the east side of the Mississippi, near the mouth of Rock River. He declared the purpose of his journey was to join the Winnebagoes in raising a crop of corn. As they were proceeding toward the country occupied by their friends, the Winnebagoes, General Atkinson, in command at Fort Armstrong, on Rock Island, sent a messenger to Black Hawk, commanding him to return immediately to the west side of the river. Black Hawk refused to comply with the order, stating that his people were suffering greatly for food. He sent word to General Atkinson that they were on a peaceable journey to visit the Winnebagoes who had invited them to come and help raise a crop of corn. Governor Reynolds, upon hearing of the return of the Sacs, called out the militia to aid the regulars at Fort

Armstrong in driving them out of the State. General Samuel Whiteside was placed in command of the Illinois militia, numbering about two thousand. One of the captains serving under him was Abraham Lincoln, afterward President of the United States. Serving under General Atkinson were Lieutenant-Colonel Zachary Taylor, who was elected President in 1848, Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, afterward President of the Southern Confederacy, and Captain W. S. Harney, afterward a distinguished general. The militia burned the Indian village at Prophetstown and then joined the regulars under General Atkinson. The combined army numbered about two thousand four hundred, while Black Hawk had less than five hundred warriors.
Black Hawk's little band was now near Dixon's Ferry, about forty miles from Kishwacokee. Major Stillman, with two hundred and seventy-five mounted volunteers, was anxious for a fight and General Whiteside sent him out in the direction f the Sac camp to make observations. Black Hawk hearing of Stillman's approach sent three young men with a flag of truce to conduct Major Stillman into camp, that they might hold a conference. Five more young warriors were sent by the Sac chief to watch the reception of his messengers. When the messengers bearing the flag of truce reached Major Stillman's camp, they were taken prisoners and one of them was shot. As the second party of five approached the camp, they were fired upon and two of them killed. The others escaped and reported to Black Hawk the slaughter of his messengers. The Sac chief had but forty warriors with him, the main body was in camp ten miles distant. The three Indians who escaped were pursued by the militia into Black Hawk's camp. The fearless old chief concealed his forty warriors in the brush and prepared for battle. As Major Stillman approached with his entire force, the Indians in hiding opened fire upon them and gave their terrific war whoop. The volunteers fired one volley and then fled in a wild panic as the forty Sac warriors poured hot shot into their broken ranks. Eleven of the volunteers were killed. As they fled, their provisions and camp equipage were abandoned. The fugitives scattered into little parties and never ceased their wild fight until thirty miles were placed between them and the enemy. Fifty of them kept on until they found shelter in their homes, spreading alarm as they ran their horses, reporting an overwhelming force of Indians in close pursuit. The wanton murder of the messengers and the attack upon his camp enraged Black Hawk, and he prepared as best he could to defend his people to the last.
After several battles against greatly superior numbers, the Indians were gradually driven to the Wisconsin River. General Henry Dodge, with two brigades of mounted men, now came upon the remnant of the tribe and killed sixty-eight. The Indians fought with great bravery, and when driven to the river bank, made a heroic stand against overwhelming odds, checking for several hours the pursuit.
While the warriors were inspired to the most determined resistance by their undaunted old chief, the squaws stripped bark from the trees, making frail boats of it in which they placed the small children and household goods. Swimming the deep waters, guiding their precious freight and leading their ponies, they reached a sheltered island. When the women, children, ponies, and baggage were thus sheltered from the enemy, one-half of the warriors held their foes in check, while the other half plunged into the current, each holding his gun above his head with one hand, swimming with the other, until they reached the opposite shore. They then opened fire upon their pursuers, until those on the other shore could cross in the same manner. Black Hawk stood calmly on the river bank next to the enemy directing this retreat, which was accomplished in the most skillful manner. Jefferson Davis, who was serving under General Dodge and witnessed this heroic defense by Black Hawk's little band, was greatly impressed with the skill of the old chief in holding the pursuing army in check while his women and children crossed the river. A few years before his death Mr. Davis wrote as follows:
“This was the most brilliant exhibition of military tactics that I ever witnessed; a feat of most consummate management and bravery in face of an enemy of greatly superior numbers. I never read of anything that could be compared with it. Had it been performed by white men it would have been immortalized as one of the most splendid achievements in military history.”
Black Hawk modestly says of this desperate struggle at the river:
“In this skirmish, with fifty braves, I defended and accomplished my passage over the Wisconsin, with a loss of only six men, though assailed by a host of mounted militia. I would not have fought there, but to gain time for our women and children to cross to an island. A warrior will duly appreciate the disadvantage I labored under.”
Sixty-eight of the Sacs fell in this brilliant retreat and battle, but the remnant of the tribe was saved for the time. An attempt was made to escape on rafts and canoes down the Wisconsin River, but the white soldiers from safe shelter on the shore killed men, women, and children in their fight. Many were drowned and others sought shelter in the woods and died of starvation.
On the first of August, Black Hawk had gathered the shattered remnants of his band on the banks of the Mississippi and offered to surrender. But the soldiers who crowded the steamer “Warrior” were ordered to fire upon the white flag Black Hawk had raised in token of surrender. Twenty-three of his people were thus killed while offering no resistance. The next day the Indians were attacked by the combined forces of Generals Dodge, Henry, Alexander, and Posey and shot down again without mercy. Men, women, and children were killed like wild animals as they sought to escape by swimming the river. More than three hundred Indians were thus massacred and the slaughter was dignified by the name of the “battle of Bad Axe.” Black Hawk and a few of the people escaped but were captured by treacherous Indians, delivered up to Colonel Zachary Taylor and by him sent to Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis. Thus ended the Black Hawk war in which the whites lost about two hundred killed, the Indians about five hundred men, women, and children. The cost to our government was about $2,000,000.
Black Hawk was taken by his captors to Washington in 1833, and when presented to General Jackson, he stood unawed before the President, remarking, “I am a man, you are only another.” He then addressed the President as follows:
“We did not expect to conquer the whites. They had too many men. I took up the hatchet to avenge injuries my people could no longer endure. Had I borne them longer without striking my people would have said Black Hawk is a squaw; he is too old to be our chief; he is no Sac. These reflections caused me to raise the war-whoop. The result is known to you. I say no more.”
The prisoners were taken to Fortress Monroe where they were kept until the 4th of June when they were released by order of the President. They were then conducted by Major Garland, of the United States Army, through several of the large cities to have impressed upon them the great power of the nation. Crowds of people gathered to see the famous Sac chieftain and his braves. As they were conveyed down the Mississippi River to Fort Armstrong and along the shores of their old homes and hunting grounds, the dauntless old chief sat with bowed head. The memory of the power and possessions of his race in former years came over him as he looked for the last time upon the familiar shores, woods, and bluffs. Here he had reigned over the most powerful tribes of the west. Here his father had ruled before him. Here he had dwelt in happiness from boyhood. Here he had taken his one young wife to his cabin and lived faithful to her all the years of his life. Here for half a century, he had led his warriors to scores of victories. He was returning a prisoner shorn of his power, to be humiliated before his hated rival, Keokuk.
Keokuk Fox Indian Chief
Upon landing at Fort Armstrong, Keokuk was seen gayly decorated as the chief of the Sacs and Foxes, surrounded by his chosen band of personal attendants. Black Hawk was required to make a formal surrender of his authority as chief of his nation, to his triumphant rival and enemy. It was the bitterest moment of his life and he only bowed to the humiliation at the command of his conquerors, when powerless to resist. He retired with his faithful wife, two sons and a beautiful daughter to the banks of the Des Moines River near Iowaville. There he lived a quiet life, furnishing his home in the style of white people. He cultivated a small farm, raising corn and vegetables for his family. His cabin stood near the banks of the river shaded by two majestic trees. He saw his once proud and warlike nation dwindling away year by year. Under his despised rival they were selling their lands to the whites and spending the money in drunkenness and degradation.
Here on the old battlefield, where years before he had wrested the country from the powerful Iowas, the proud Sac chieftain now brooded over his fallen fortunes. His last appearance in public was at a celebration at Fort Madison, on the 4th of July, 1838, where the following toast was given in his honor: “OUR ILLUSTRIOUS GUEST, BLACK HAWK—May his declining years be as calm and serene as his previous life has been boisterous and warlike.” In responding the old chief said:
“It has pleased the Great Spirit that I am here today. I have eaten with my white friends. It is good. A few summers ago I was fighting you. I may have done wrong. But that is past. Let it be forgotten Rock River Valley was a beautiful country. I loved my villages, my corn fields, and my people. I fought for them. They are now yours. I was once a great warrior. Now I am old and poor. Keokuk has been the cause of my downfall. I have looked upon the Mississippi since I was a child. I love the great river. I have always dwelt upon its banks. I look upon it now and am sad. I shake hands with you. We are now friends. I may not see you again. Farewell.”
He died on the third day of October following and was buried on a spot long before selected by himself on the banks of the Des Moines River near the northeast corner of Davis County. His age was about seventy-two.
Taken from - History of Iowa From Earliest Times.  1903

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