Monday, July 16, 2012

War of 1812 in the Eastern Iowa Country


By Jacob Van Der Zee.

Chief Black Hawk was violently opposed to the Americans,
and was involved in the attacks on Fort Madison
During the years 1808 and 1809 the English of Canada exerted a great influence over the Winnebago Indians of the Rock River. They employed a chief "to get all the nations of Indians to Detroit, to see their fathers, the British, who tell them they pity them in their situation with the Amer­icans, because the Americans had taken their lands and their game; that they must join and send them off from their lands; they told the savages that the Americans could not give them a blanket, nor any good thing for their fami­lies." In 1810 the Shawnee Prophet busied Himself solicit­ing the aid of the Ioways and Sacs and Foxes against the United States government. In July of that year, the Sacs and Foxes were reported as having received the tomahawk, ready to strike whenever the Prophet gave the signal. A considerable number of them went to see the British at Detroit and Malden where they were liberally supplied with everything they needed, such as rifles, fusils, and plenty of powder and lead. "This”, said a letter to the War Department, "is sending fire-brands into the Missis­sippi country, inasmuch as it will draw numbers of our Indians to the British side, in the hope of being treated with the same liberality."

In the spring of 1811, the Ioways got word that the time was drawing near when a general massacre was to begin, and "all the Indians who will not join are to die with the whites." In September, three hundred Sacs were reported to have visited the British agent at Malden who urged them not to participate in the meditated war. In November, White Rabbit, a Pottawattamie chief, went on a mission from the Prophet to the Sacs, Foxes, and Sioux to gain them over for a campaign in the spring of 1812. The gov­ernment's informant asserted his belief that the mission would not succeed, adding that the Sacs, Foxes, and some Ioways had been under the influence of the Prophet and the British but without mischief because their plans had been discovered in time. British agents were, however, still tampering with all of them.


In the month of September 1811, John W. Johnson sent George Hunt, the sutler at Fort Madison, with an outfit of government goods to trade with the Sacs and Foxes who had then been engaged for a year in working the lead mines of the Illinois country above the mouth of Galena River. Hunt hired two Frenchmen and two discharged soldiers to help him carry up the goods. After their arrival at the mines, he dismissed the Frenchmen and retained a young half-breed as interpreter and the Americans to build boats for the conveyance of lead. Upon the bank of the Missis­sippi Hunt erected a store, lead-house, and fur-house, and carried on a profitable trade that autumn, expecting to reap a larger harvest of furs in the spring of 1812. But at this juncture, William Henry Harrison defeated the confederated Indian tribes of the West in the famous battle of Tippecanoe in November 1811.

Fort Madison in 1808
Among the routed savages was a band of Winnebagoes who lost heavily and withdrew to their lodges on the Rock River. They painted for war and hastened to the mines whereas a New Year's greeting they riddled Hunt's men with bullets and tore them limb from limb, stripping their bones of all flesh. They then robbed Hunt of all his goods, including "a dozen fine linen shirts", burned his trading-house after giving the furs to some Sacs, and had they not believed Hunt himself was an Englishman (for they called him "Saginash"), he might immediately have shared the fate of his companions. At length, the murderous band discovered and consumed a barrel of whiskey which thus proved to be the source of Hunt's salvation. Hunt and his half-breed interpreter, Victor Lagotery, escaped  south­ward, arriving with a young Sac guide at Fort Madison at sundown on the evening of January 6, 1812, where they found Mr. Johnson at tea.

On the 7th of January, 1812, Johnson wrote to Benjamin Howard, Governor of Missouri Territory, (the Iowa coun­try then comprised a part of St. Charles County) that an expressman had left there on foot to apprise the people of Prairie du Chien of the battle of Tippecanoe, and that on the day before the express had left there with M. John McRae for St. Louis with many letters and papers. John­son asked for immediate relief in anticipation of a Winne­bago war party. Howard wrote to the War Department that only a punitive campaign in Illinois could procure durable peace upon the frontiers; while General William Clark on January 12th also reported the events near "the Spanish mines". Captain Horatio Stark, however, sent word of a Sac council's decision for peace.

Early in February 1812, Hunt, a discharged sergeant, and an interpreter - all on horseback - joined an express­man, Willard, on his return journey to St. Louis from Prairie du Chien and the mines. Later, Johnson informed William Clark by express that on March 3rd a war party of five Winnebagoes killed one of the corporals a short distance from Fort Madison. On March 22nd Clark re­ported that Tecumseh had won the ear of Sacs and Sioux and that a Pottawattamie called Marpack had sent runners from the vicinity of Fort Madison to his nation informing them he would play a new game with the Americans. A week before a considerable band of Sacs and Foxes who were friendly toward the Americans had left their villages upon the Mississippi River to make their abode upon the Missouri River, declaring their determination to continue in friendship with the United States.

Early in April Asa Payne left Fort Madison and in­formed General Clark at St. Louis that on March 29th the Winnebagoes had shot a sentinel, that on the 3rd of April another sentinel had reciprocated by shooting a Winne­bago, and that small parties of Winnebagoes were continu­ally about the fort. Governor Edwards of Illinois Territory also received constant advice from frontier posts confirming the hostile intentions of the Indians and fearing a bloody war by a formidable combination of sav­ages. He reported on May 12th that, inasmuch as differ­ences had arisen between the Sacs and the Foxes, the United States should support the latter to prevent their joining the hostile confederacy then forming.

George Hunt ventured to start out for the site of his post on the Mississippi in order to bring away his lead which had been melted into a solid lump when the Winne­bagoes burned his trading-house. He took passage on one of three French boats which left St. Louis in May 1812.

They had proceeded some distance above Fort Madison when they met Maurice Blondeau with a boat-load of furs bound for St. Louis. He informed them that a force of Winne­bagoes had occupied Rock Island in the Mississippi and were levying tribute upon all Frenchmen and French boats and threatening to slaughter all Americans. Hunt, therefore, abandoned his projected trip and embarked southward with Blondeau who immediately showed him an object of interest stowed away among his packs of furs in the person of Lieutenant Pryor. The latter was just completing his escape from the Winnebagoes who had visited him also on January 1st. The whole party landed at Fort Madison and on the next day went on to St. Louis.

In the month of June 1812, the United States declared war against Great Britain, citing among its grievances the Indian disturbances in the Northwest. The British military operations which ensued in the Upper Mississippi Valley constituted little more than the determined efforts of Brit­ish traders to beat back the advancing power of American government and trade; for one of Canada's main resources was furs and peltries, and to obtain these the mother coun­try furnished the manufactured goods. Hence both Cana­dians and Englishmen united to uphold their interests. The commandants at Fort Madison, Mackinac, Detroit, and Fort Dearborn (Chicago) had to bear the brunt of the British attack, un-formidable as it was. Captain Stark of Fort Madison was ordered to put his fortification into the best possible state of defense and to exercise vigilance: any number of Indians could then be resisted. After Ensign Barony Vasquez arrived with a relief force of twelve sol­diers the captain departed with a small party of soldiers for service down the river, and the post then came under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Hamilton.

On the fifth day of September, a band of over two hun­dred Winnebagoes, infuriated by their defeat on the Wa­bash, and Sacs under Black Hawk attacked the garrison, scalped a soldier, burned the boat and cargo of a trader named Graham and two government boats, killed some cat­tle, and plundered and burnt the houses of men named Julien and M'Nabb. For three days they besieged the fort and threw fire upon the block-houses which were only saved from conflagration by the use of guns as syringes. Fearing that the savages would set fire to the factory and endanger the whole fort if the wind blew from that direction, Hamil­ton one calm evening caused the factory to be burned.

The Indians were believed to have had several killed during the siege. Hamilton and Vasquez were compli­mented on the way in which they defended a post so badly situated: the interior of the stockade lay within view of the hills round about and was surrounded by chasms within ten or twelve paces of the pickets and block-houses. From these places, the Indians had hurled hundreds of pieces of burning timber and kept up "a continued sheet of fire from guns, fiery arrows and brands." But the brave fellows within were able now and then to knock over "such red skins as had the impudence to peep over the bank."

That the site of Fort Madison was unsuitable and there­fore difficult to defend, many reports bear witness. Benja­min Howard, Governor over the Missouri and Iowa country, had repeatedly advised the authorities at Washington to remove the post further up the river, preferably to Prairie du Chien. The War Department in October 1812, instruct­ed the withdrawal of troops and all army stores from Fort Madison, but learned of the impracticability of evacuation until March when the Mississippi would be free of ice. When March of the year 1813 came, Governor Howard deemed evacuation impolitic under the circumstances, de­claring that if abandonment were to take place then, "the measure could be employed with great dexterity among the Indians by British agents, as evidence of our inability to maintain it, and would embolden those who are now hostile, and probably decide the wavering to take part against us.

Another reason for holding the fort at this time lay in the fact that Fort Madison was the only place where persons could safely be sent and kept to collect information regard­ing the views and movements of the British and their Indian allies. Furthermore, Governor Howard suggested, if the government's difficulty with the Indians of this region were ever to terminate, it would be absolutely necessary to make a campaign as far north as the Wisconsin River and then to erect a fort at Prairie du Chien: in the prosecution of such a campaign what place better than Fort Madison could be used as a base of supply and operations In case the Indians were aided by a British force with artillery Fort Madison would probably fall, but to repel such a force a fortified boat or two would prove very useful: garrison and gunboats could then cooperate "in arresting an attempt of the enemy to descend the river against the [Missouri and Illinois] settlements below, and in the event of a serious attack of the Post on the land side, the command in them can be drawn with facility to its support." On the 8th of April, 1813, the Governor, then on an inspection tour which included Fort Madison, advised the postponement of the evacuation of the post, but he favored "every necessary preparation to a relinquishment of the garrison".

Two months later the garrison, consisting of about one hundred men, repulsed a small body of Indians, and on the 16th of July withstood a second attack with the loss of a corporal and three privates who were butchered and man­gled in a small block-house commanding a hollow ravine where the savages found shelter. Lieutenant Thomas Hamilton submitted a report of the storming and added:

William Clark, Governor of the
Missouri Territory during the War of 1812
I must begin again cursing the situation of this garrison. If there is any necessity for one in this part of the country why can it not be removed to a more eligible spot? The Indians have decided advantage over us in our present position, and will always succeed whenever they attempt to kill a man. It is true we may prevent them from taking the garrison, but that, sir . . . . must be attended with great slaughter, for I never heard of greater acts of desperation offered by any of the tribes than what has been shown in storming the small block-house. Our incessant watching I fear is . . . . why I have so many at present on the sick report.

Lieutenant Hamilton also complained that there was a lack of wood so that he was under the necessity "to burn some of the petty moldings in some of the fine buildings." He also called for musket powder 2 and 3/4 inch shells."

But no help came. Besieged by the Indians, reduced to the direst extremity and driven to the verge of starvation, the garrison had no alternative but to surrender or escape. During the night of the 3rd of September, a trench was dug from the southeast block-house to the river; the soldiers removed their provisions and property and gained their boats by crawling out on hands and knees. They embarked safely and departed southward, leaving the fort wrapped in flames to the enemy's utter surprise.

During the winter of 1813 and early months of 1814 the French traders at Mackinac, pro-British in their sympa­thies, made preparations to descend upon the Americans at Prairie du Chien. Louis Grignon, whose voyageurs were to be used as a part of the invading force, reported from Green Bay on January 10, 1814, that he had got news from Sacs and Foxes who had come from Fort Madison that "a Capt. of Gov. Howard was to come to Prairie du Chien with an army of 2700 men." Grignon declared: "Many think this is not their plan, for soon after we learned that they had gone up the river Des Moines and built a Ft. at Pees and then that they had come down the same river."

Early in May 1814, William Clark, the new Governor of Missouri Territory, ascended the Mississippi River from St. Louis with gunboat and barges conveying one hundred and fifty volunteers and sixty regulars. Just north of Prairie du Chien they erected a stockade, Fort Shelby, and equipped it with six pieces of cannon, relying upon the gun­boat's fourteen cannon for further protection. Upon Gov­ernor Clark's departure southward, Lieutenant Joseph Perkins took command. Soon a few British military men with a motley force of traders, fur trade employees, and several hundred Indian allies from Mackinac appeared before Prairie du Chien on July 17, 1814, and summoned Perkins to surrender. Not until after considerable cannon fire was the American gunboat driven downstream and pursued by French and Indians in canoes as far as the rapids at Rock Island; Perkins ran up the white flag, and Fort Shelby became Fort McKay in the hands of the Anglo­savage army of Great Britain." About this time also British forces were burning the national capital and the President's house at Washington.

It may seem surprising, but it is a fact nevertheless, that the British placed great strategic importance upon this little frontier post in the wilderness. They feared that Americans would win over tribe after tribe of the Indians friendly to the English and thus "destroy the only barrier which protects the Great trading establishments of the North West & the Hudson's Bay Company." Nothing could then prevent the Americans from extending their power up the Mississippi, thence by the Red River to Lake Winnipeg, and by Nelson's River to Hudson Bay, thus aid­ing in the expulsion of the English from Upper Canada."

Zachary Taylor, later President of the
United States
In July an American force under Lieutenant John Camp­bell was checked three miles above Rock Island by a party of Sacs and Foxes under the command of Black Hawk, suffered a bloody repulse, and retreated with a loss of nine killed, sixteen wounded, and one boat of stores captured. To destroy the village and crops of these hostile Sacs and Foxes upon the Rock River, Major Zachary Taylor set out from St. Louis with about three hundred and fifty men, in August. On the 6th of September, as Taylor's armed keel­boats were preparing to ascend Rock Rapids, an English artillery officer with thirty men welcomed Taylor's force with a brass three-pounder and two swivels: these were handled so dexterously with cooperation from the Sacs and Foxes on shore that the American boats hastily retired downstream, stopping long enough near the river Des Moines to make repairs and bury their dead. Taylor wrote and dated a report of the skirmish at the ruins of Fort Madison. Opposite the mouth of the Des Moines River Taylor then constructed Fort Johnson. During the ensuing winter messengers from three nations in winter quarters at the "Riviere des Ayouais" - Sacs, Kickapoos, and Foxes - came to the commandant at Prairie du Chien to report that the new fort had been abandoned and burned by the Americans themselves in October 1814. Not long after Taylor's repulse, Andrew Jackson and his army of back­woodsmen overwhelmed an army of England's Napoleonic veterans at New Orleans, thus blasting at once all British hopes of winning the American West.

French-British traders were, however, in undisputed pos­session of the entire Upper Mississippi Valley. By the distribution of public stores at Fort McKay the British maintained their grip upon all the Indian tribes of the region. They called the Sacs "Mississippi Indian heroes". Indeed, the Sacs and Foxes who had not removed to the Missouri River to be within the protection of the American lines made repeated protestations of their sincerity to the British cause. At one time they brought from the Des Moines River to Fort McKay ten scalps, asserting they would continue "to bring them in as they do ducks from the swamps." British traders now introduced their goods into the country at will and they hoped that if peace were restored they might retain their ascendancy.

Peace negotiations between the warring nations had al­ready been opened: the British commissioners at first insisted that the United States set apart some of the North­west to be held by the Indians under a guarantee of Great Britain, and they demanded freedom of navigation upon the Mississippi River. But the treaty concluded at Ghent in December 1814, contained no such privileges, although news of this did not reach Fort McKay until May 1815.

Thus was cut short the British regime in the Iowa-Wis­consin region. The treaty placed the English government in an embarrassing position because English army officers had promised supplies from time to time to such of their Indian allies as would come to Drummond Island: they had forced the Sacs into war and now called on the British government to make good all their promises. For years thereafter Sac and Fox Indians obtained presents and sup­plies from their English friends in Canada."

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