Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Iowa and Illinois Frontier Before 1832

"Rock River was a beautiful country. I liked my town, my cornfields, and the home of my people. I fought for them." Black Hawk

Before the Black Hawk War, the territory along the east bank of the Mississippi River was an unbroken wilderness of alter­nating prairies, oak groves, rivers, and marshes. The United States government had not surveyed any portion of it.  Few explorers, other than Lewis and Clark and Zebulon Pike, had explored the lands. Settlers were few and far between. The Indians themselves rarely ventured off their regular trails. A few trading posts served the small mining settle­ments in the lead regions at Galena and Mineral Point.

Galena and Fort Armstrong were connected by an Indian trail that ran along the east bank of the Mississippi. Galena, Peoria, and the settlements in southern and eastern Illinois were linked by a coach road known as Kellogg’s Trail.

This was the only wagon road north of the Illinois River. A daily mail coach traveled this road and was often crowded with people going to and from the lead mines. Very few people lived in this barren wilderness, the few who did serve the travelers, providing meals and keeping stage teams. Among them were “Old Man" Kellogg, at Kellogg's Grove; Mr. Winter, on Apple River; John Dixon, at Dixon's ferry, on Rock River; "Dad Joe," at Dad Joe's Grove; Henry Thomas, on West Bureau Creek; and Charles S. Boyd, at Boyd's Grove.

Indian trails connected the villages with their hunting and fishing grounds. Both Indians and whites traveled on these wilderness roads.

One of these connected Galena with Chicago, by way of Big Foot's Pottawatomie vil­lage, at the head of the body of water now known as Lake Geneva. There was a lesser used road be­tween Dixon's Ferry and Chicago. Two well-traveled roads led to Fort Winnebago, at the portage of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, and to Fort Howard, on the lower Fox.

The most traveled Indian road in Illinois was the great Sac trail, extending across the state from Black Hawk's village to the south shore of Lake Michigan and from there to Malden. This was the path Black Hawk and the British Band traveled to visit the British agency.

The largest settlement between Galena and the Illinois River was on Bureau Creek. Close to thirty families lived there. Smaller settlements were scattered around Peru, La Salle, Ottawa, Newark, Holder-man's Grove, and on Indian Creek. The lead-mining district in Michigan Territory (now Wisconsin) was clustered around Mineral Point and Dodgeville. Chicago was still a minor village, consisting of two or three hundred homes protected by Fort Dearborn.

The settlers were for the most part backwoodsmen from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Most of them were dirt poor, owning little more than their cabins, the clothes they wore, a few rough tools, teams of "scrub" horses or yokes of cattle, and some barnyard stock. They were bold, fearless, skilled marksmen, accustomed to ex­posure, privations, and danger. 

Black Hawk War - Part I

The Black Hawk War was a mix-up of frontier madness, mayhem, and murder. Illinois Governor John Reynolds called out the militia and raised thousands of volunteer troops. General Winfield Scott marched his regulars half way across the country to Fort Armstrong at Rock Island. Lieutenant Colonel Zachary Taylor led a group of infantrymen in the fighting.

Every yokel and backwoods frontiersmen with a grudge against the Indians joined the fray. A slew of future Presidents, Congressman, Senators, and military leaders built their careers off of the Indian’s misfortune.

Abraham Lincoln served as a frontier ranger and spy. Two years later he began his political career as an Illinois Congressman. Zachary Taylor served in the heat of several battles. Later he was a hero of the Mexican War, and soon after that President of the United States. Winfield Scott was already distinguished for his service in the War of 1812. After the Black Hawk War, he negotiated treaties with several Indian tribes that ceded over sixty million acres of land to the United States. He earned more fame in the Mexican War, and in 1852 he ran unsuccessfully for President on the Whig ticket. Jefferson Davis was on furlough for most of the war but returned in time to escort the prisoner Black Hawk down the river to Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis. During the Civil War, he served as President of the Confederacy.

Four future Illinois Governors served in the war: John Wood, Thomas Ford, Thomas Carlin, and Joseph Duncan. Colonel Henry Dodge was later appointed Governor of the Wisconsin Territory.

There were several points where bloodshed could have been avoided altogether. Instead, the opportunities were bungled.

The first chance to end the campaign peacefully had come before a single shot was fired. Had Stillman’s men respected the flag of truce carried by Black Hawk’s braves, the war would have ended right there. Instead, they brutally killed one of the flag bearers and precipitated the first battle of the war.

Another opportunity to end the war presented itself just before the battle of Bad Axe when Black Hawk’s braves attempted to hail Captain Throckmorton onboard the steamboat Warrior. American troops disregarded the Indian’s flag of truce and fired upon them. What followed over the next few days was the massacre of nearly seven hundred men, women, and children of the Sac tribe.

What’s remarkable about the Black Hawk War is that it set the tone for future conflicts between the whites and the Indians in the opening of the American West. The land was set aside exclusively, by treaty, for the use of the Indians. As pioneers moved further westward, they encroached upon the Indian lands, building homes, fencing in their lands. When the Indians complained to authorities, their concerns went unanswered.

In the troubles that followed the settlers beat or killed some of the Indians who got in their way. When the Indians retaliated, the frontier was thrown into a panic, and troops were called in to save the day. Frontier troopers attacked and pushed the Indians further westward when by treaty, they were bound to protect the Indian lands from the white settlers who were squatting upon them.

Black Hawk War - An Introduction

Imagine if you would a band of fifteen hundred men, women, children, and elderly, with no more than five hundred warriors terrorizing an entire frontier. That’s what happened after the battle of Stillman’s run.

Common sense should have given politicians, and military leaders pause to think. Instead, Illinois Governor John Reynolds called out twenty-five hundred Illinois militia to serve beside the one thousand regular troops already in the field.

The entire frontier was spooked by the bugaboo of an Indian uprising, but they didn’t stop to think what they were faced with.

Black Hawk never had over five hundred braves in the field, most often it was half of that number or less. They were weighed down with their camp followers of women, children, and elderly.