Wednesday, February 19, 2014

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.

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