"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.