The Black Hawk War from the perspectives of those involved
The Expedition Against the Sauk and Fox Indians 1832 by Henry Smith
Sac and Fox Indians in Kansas by C. R. Green
The Great Indian Chief of the West: or, Life and Adventures of Black Hawk by Benjamin Drake
Narrative of the Capture and Providential Escape of Misses Frances and Almira Hall by William Edwards
This book contains four accounts of the Black Hawk War on the American frontier of 1832. The so called ‘British Band’ of Sauk and Fox Indians, under the leadership of the war chief Black Hawk, were moving across the Mississippi River from the Iowa Territory into Illinois. According to authorities on the subject, the band was attempting to avoid bloodshed by this migration to what they hoped would be a more secure location, but their actions were misconstrued by local settlers and a militia was sent out to deal with them. This unit pre-emptively attacked the Indian band which fiercely fought back, defeating the militia at the ‘Battle of Stillman’s Run’. The conflict then escalated as other tribes began raiding in the area while Black Hawk and his warriors moved into the southern Wisconsin Territory. An army force under Colonel Henry Dodge caught up with the ‘British Band’ and defeated it at the ‘Battle of Wisconsin Heights’ forcing it to retreat. The Indians were finally defeated at the ‘Battle of Bad Axe’ after which Black Hawk escaped but was later captured and briefly imprisoned. The four accounts here give a flavour of the times of these events in several ways. Readers will discover the military expedition from the perspective of those who campaigned, hear the voices of settlers whose fear and hatred of the Indians was palpable, understand the conflict from the perspective of Black Hawk and his followers and gain an insight into a common factor of the wars between the pioneers and the Indian tribes—that of the capture and abduction of settler women and children.
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In short, thus far, it was little more than a neighbourhood quarrel between the squaws of the “British Band” of Indians, and a few white settlers,—most of whom were there in violation of the laws of the country—about the occupancy of some cornfields, which, from time immemorial, had been annually cultivated by the Indian women. Black Hawk became excited by these outrages, as he deemed them, upon the rights of his people; but instead of killing every white man in his vicinity, which he could have done in one night, he simply commanded them to leave his village: and threatened in case they did not, to remove them by force. Such is the substance of the “actual invasion” of the state of Illinois, by the British Band of Sac Indians.
It is alleged, however, by the defenders of this memorable campaign, that this band of Sacs had, in violation of the treaties of 1804, 1816 and 1825, continued to remain upon and cultivate the land on Rock river, ceded to the United States, after it had been sold by the United States to individual citizens of Illinois and other states—that they had refused positively to remove to the west side of the Mississippi—that they had endeavoured to persuade some of the neighbouring tribes to unite with them in defending this land against the rightful occupancy of the white purchasers—that they had “threatened to kill” them—“thrown down their fences”—on some occasions “hurt” said settlers—“stole their potatoes” saying they had not sold these lands—otherwise “acted in a most outrageous manner,” and finally, in the words of the capitulation on the 30th June, 1831, “assumed the attitude of actual hostility towards the United States, and had the audacity to drive citizens of the state of Illinois, from their homes.”
Admitting these allegations to be true, what may be said in behalf of the party against which they are made? It may be replied, that under the treaty of 1804, the Indians had an undoubted right to “live and hunt” upon the land ceded by that treaty, so long as it remained the property of the United States: that as early as 1823-4 the whites had intruded upon the land on Rock River around the principal village of the Sacs and Foxes—the United States neglecting to have these intruders removed, as by the treaty they were solemnly bound to do: that these whites frequently beat the Indian men, women, and children with sticks, destroyed their cornfields, distributed whiskey among them, cheated them out of their furs and peltries and on one occasion, when the Indians were absent on a hunting excursion, set fire to some thirty or forty of their lodges, by which many of them were totally destroyed.
These outrages were perpetrated before a single acre of the land upon Rock River, had been sold by the United States, and when in fact, the regular frontier settlements of Illinois, had not approached within fifty miles of the Sac village. Consequently they were committed in express violation of the most solemn treaties and of the laws of the United States, for the protection of the Indians. In 1829, clearly with a view, on the part of those who brought about the measure, of evading the force of that article of the treaty of 1804, which permitted the Indians to live and hunt upon these lands, so long as they remained the property of the United States, a few quarter sections were sold, on Rock River, including the Sac village.
New insults and outrages were now offered to the Indians, and they were again ordered to remove, not from the quarter sections which had actually been sold, but to the west side of the Mississippi. Against this, they remonstrated and finally refused, positively, to be driven away. The results of this refusal have already been shown in the narration which has been made of the events following upon the “actual invasion” of the state of Illinois, in the spring of 1831. But it has been said that these Indians endeavoured to form an alliance with some of the neighbouring tribes to defend their lands. There is no doubt that Black Hawk laboured to persuade Keokuk and the Sac Indians residing with him, to return to the east side of the Mississippi and assist in defending their village.
His effort to unite with him, in alliance against the United States, the Winnebagoes, Pottawatamies and Kickapoos, was probably for the same object, though the case is not so clearly made out. Mr. Schoolcraft in his “Narrative” speaks of a war message having been transmitted to the Torch lake Indians, by Black Hawk, or his counsellors, in 1830, and repeated in the two succeeding years; and adds that similar communications were made to other tribes. The message, continues Mr. Schoolcraft, was very equivocal. It invited these tribes to aid the Sacs in fighting their enemies. Whatever may have been the object, no success attended the effort. Other motives than that of retaining possession of these lands, may have prompted Black Hawk to seek this alliance. Being an ambitious, restless man, he may have thought it expedient to do something to keep himself in power with his people.
A military campaign is occasionally a fortunate circumstance for a politician, whether his skin be red or white. Gunpowder-popularity is of equal importance to the chiefs of the Sacs and the chiefs of the Illini. An “actual invasion” of a state—which, in these modern times, is supposed to consist in “levelling deadly weapons” at the inhabitants thereof, and “stealing their potatoes,” is quite a wind-fall to political aspirants.
That the British Band of Sac Indians cherished the feeling of active hostility towards the whites, that has been attributed to them, may well be questioned. That they were provoked to a feeble assertion of their rights by the injustice of our government and the lawless conduct of the white settlers among them, is unquestionably true. But it should be recollected, that from the period of their treaty with the United States, in 1816, to their capitulation in 1831, they had not killed one of our people. For a number of years prior to 1831, the Americans had constantly passed through their country, unarmed, carrying with them large amounts of money and of goods, for the trade at the lead mines: and yet not one of these travellers, sleeping in the woods and the Indian lodges, had been molested in person or property.
For several years, the whites residing at and around the Sac village on Rock River were trespassing upon these Indians, for the purpose of driving them to the west side of the Mississippi, but still the tomahawk was not raised for retaliation. If Black Hawk and his party, had really intended to resort to arms, who that understands the Indian character, can doubt for a moment, that they would have struck a decisive blow, and murdered every white settler upon Rock River, before General Gaines ascended the Mississippi? After our army reached Fort Armstrong and General Gaines had been informed by Black Hawk that he would not remove, he gave orders to his braves, that if the American war chief came to the village to force them away, not a gun should be fired, nor any resistance offered; but that they must remain quietly in their lodges and let the war chief kill them if he chose.