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The Black Hawk Tragedy.

[Read before the Loyal Legion at Milwaukee, May 6, 1896 by Edwin D. Coe, of Whitewater, Wis.]


The talks and addresses to which you have listened on these occasions, in times past, have doubtless been for the most part of an eloquent, humorous or inspiring nature; but I come to you tonight with a somewhat somber theme, and if it seems inappropriate to an evening so entirely given to the exercise of the kindliest sentiments and graces, I hope I may be pardoned, for it is a subject to which I had devoted considerable reading, and so was the more easily dealt with in the overfilled time which I have had at command since this assignment was given me.

I call my topic the "Black Hawk Tragedy," and to me the events of those few months in the years 1831-32, resulting in the captivity of the Indian chief, Black Hawk, and the almost utter annihilation of his tribe, have in them all the elements of a tragedy of the most pronounced character. The subject is a trite one, and probably familiar to the most of you, but I hope to be able, by omitting statistics and unimportant details, and by adding incidents which have come to my own knowledge that have not been in print, to hold your interest for a short half hour.

I do not pose as an Indian lover. In fact the instincts and impressions of my early life bent me in the opposite direction. My father's log house, in which I was born, stood within a few rods of Rock river, about forty-five miles west of this city. The stream was the boundary line, in a half-recognized way, between two tribes of Indians, and a common highway for both. I well remember their frequent and unheralded entries into our house, and their ready assumption of its privileges. I can see them yet -- yes, and smell them, too. In some unventilated chamber of my rather capacious nostrils an abiding breath of that intense, all-conquering odor of fish, smoke and muskrat, which they brought with them, still survives. I well remember their impudent and sometimes bullying demeanor; and the


horror of one occasion I shall never forget, when a stalwart Winnebago, armed with a knife, tomahawk and gun, seized my mother by the shoulder as she stood by her ironing table, and shook her because she said she had no bread for him. I wrapped myself in her skirts and howled in terror. Having been transplanted from the city to the wilderness, she had a mortal fear of Indians, but never revealed it to them. She had nerve, and resolution as well; and this particular fellow she threatened with her hot flat-iron and drove him out of the house. So you see I have no occasion for morbid or unnatural sympathy with any of the Indian kind.

In those early days we used to hear much of the Black Hawk War, then only a dozen years old; but as time passed I came to look upon it as a very different affair from what it was at that time represented, and one reflecting much less honor upon the victorious whites than they claimed.

Before entering upon the campaign, let us take a hurried run back to the causes and forces that led to the final culmination. You are familiar with Myron Reed's story illustrating this idea of going back to the first cause of things: The story of a Maine soldier who dropped through a broken plank into the cold water and mud of a Virginia swamp, on an all-night march, and how, as he was pulled out by his comrades and stood upon the bridge to drain, he lifted up his voice and anathematized the Rebellion. So let us go back.

Black Hawk was a chief of the Sauk tribe, a branch of the Algonquin nation. He was not the greatest man of his people, but the sorrows and misfortunes of his later years have made him the best known. The Sauks lived in the early times on St. Lawrence Gulf; thence their name was trailed across the continent from Saguenay, beyond Quebec, to Saukenuk, on the Mississippi. Wherever the words, Sauk, Sac, Saguenay, Ozaukee or Saukenuk are found in the geography of our country, they signify that the tribe touched those localities and dwelt long enough to give them its appellation. Historians agree in according to the Sauks a very high rank among the Indians of the eastern part of the continent. They were bold, fearless warriors, and had advanced farther toward civilized life than any other tribe east of the Mississippi. Their famous village near Rock Island, Saukenuk, at one time contained a population of over 11,000 people. It consisted of bark houses -- "hodenosotes" -- substantially constructed and ranged systematically along streets and about two large squares. Some of these buildings were one hundred feet long, and all were divided into rooms for the occupancy of a corresponding number of families.


At the opening of the 18th century the Sauks were centered about Lake Winnebago, and especially near its outlet. Here they imposed a heavy tribute upon the French traders, and collected from their barges, laden with rich goods, a revenue tariff which sometimes amounted to confiscation. This practice was finally broken up, for the Sauks one day swarmed around a flotilla of barges with their usual clamorous demands, and found to their sorrow that they had levied upon a cargo of armed French soldiers instead of French goods. The cemetery started that day at Buttes des Morts still signalizes the occurrence. The Sauks were the only Indian tribe whom the French were never able to do business with. The Frenchman's complaisant ways and easy adoption of Indian life found no favor in the eyes of these high-spirited and scornful barbarians.

From Lake Winnebago, the Sauks, with the related tribe of Foxes, worked their way to the south and west, down the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. The names of Sauk county and of Prairie du Sac village therein, indicate a short sojourn in that section. But it did not suit them for either hunting or fanning, and soon after they are found most satisfactorily established in a veritable wild-man's paradise, at Saukenuk, at the junction of the Rock and Mississippi rivers. On their passage they sent out offshoots into quite distant territory. The late Slatterlee Clark, when fourteen years old, visited Lake Koshkonong in company with an uncle, who came as agent of the government to deal with the Winnebagoes, and says that at that time, besides a Winnebago and a Pottawatomie village on the lake, there was also a Sauk and Fox village near its south end. This was in the year 1828.

Black Hawk was born in 1767 at Saukenuk. His father was the war chief of the nation and a very successful leader. Young Black Hawk inherited his martial spirit and conducted himself so valorously in battle that he was recognized as a brave when only fifteen years old. He was enthusiastic and venturesome, and before the close of his twentieth year had led several expeditions against the Osages and Sioux. It was his boast that he had been in a hundred Indian battles and had never suffered defeat.

Life passed pleasantly with Black Hawk and his tribe at Saukenuk for many years. The location combined all the advantages possible for their mode of existence. When Black Hawk was taken to Washington after his capture in 1832, he made an eloquent and most pathetic speech at one of the many interviews which he held with the high officials of the government. He said: "Our home was very beautiful. My house always had plenty. I never had to turn


friend or stranger away for lack of food. The Island was our garden. There the young people gathered plums, apples, grapes, berries and nuts. The rapids furnished us fish. On the bottom lands our women raised corn, beans and squashes. The young men hunted game on the prairie and in the woods. It was good for us." When I see the great fields and big villages of the white people, I wonder why they wish to take our little territory from us. He was a good deal of a political economist, and the following extract from his autobiography antedates Henry George:

"My reason teaches me that land cannot be sold. The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon and cultivate as far as necessary for their subsistence, and so long as they occupy and cultivate it they have a right to the soil; but if they voluntarily leave it, then any other people have a right to settle on it. Nothing can be sold but such things as can be carried away."

We are apt to regard the agriculture of the Indians as of small moment, but the Sauks and Foxes cultivated 3000 acres on the peninsula between the Rock and the Mississippi. Black Hawk said it was 800 acres, but the measurement of the corn fields shows that the area was nearly four times that. Of this the Foxes, who were much the smaller and weaker tribe, farmed 500 acres; they also occupied considerable land on the opposite side of the Mississippi, where the city of Davenport now stands. These lands were all fenced with posts and rails, the latter being held in place by bark withes. The barrier was sufficient to keep the ponies out of the corn, but their lately acquired razor-back hogs gave them more trouble. The work of preparing a field for their planting involved much labor. The women heaped the ground into hills nearly three feet high, and the corn was planted in the top for many successive years without renewing the hills. Accordingly a field was much more easily prepared on the mellow bottom lands than on the tough prairie sod. They raised three kinds of corn: a sweet corn for roasting ears, a hard variety for hominy and a softer for meal. They also cultivated beans, squashes, pumpkins, artichokes and some tobacco. The Sauks at one time sold 3,000 bushels of corn to the government officials at Fort Crawford for their horses. The Winnebagoes at Lake Koshkonoug sold 4,000 bushels of corn to Gen. Atkinson when he was pursuing Black Hawk in 1832. The hundreds of acres of corn hills still visible about the latter lake show how extensively that region was inhabited and farmed by the Indians.

Rowland E. Robinson says that in the veins of every civilized man there remains an uneliminated drop of barbaric blood which at


times asserts its power and drives him back toward the old wild life in the woods and beside the streams; and he further says that, while it may not be the best part of us, we certainly should be the worse without it. So it seems at times, in reading of this idyllic life at Saukenuk, that it was almost ideal as well: but the cold stormy days, the heart-burnings and envying, the savage forays from which the bravest and the best loved often came not back -- all of these have no place in the picture that our imagination paints.

Aside from the devastating wars which the tribe carried on with their new enemies west of the great river, whereby their numbers were steadily reduced, no serious shadow fell upon their life at and about Rock Island till the year 1804. A French trader had established himself a few miles below on the Mississippi. The young braves and squaws delighted in visiting his place and were always sure of a dance in the evening. One night in that year an Indian killed one of the habitues of the place, the provocation being unbearable. A few weeks after demand was made that he be given up, and he was at once surrendered and taken to St. Louis. Soon after his relative, Quashquamme, one of the sub-chiefs of the tribe, and four or five other Sauks went to St. Louis to work for his release. A bargain was made to the effect that a tract of land including parts of Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois, comprising 50,000,000 acres, be ceded to the government, the consideration being the cancellation of a debt of $2,400, which the Indians owed trader Choteau of St. Louis, and a perpetual annuity of $1,000 thereafter. It was also tacitly agreed that the imprisoned Indian should be released. This part of the program was carried out but the poor fellow had not gone three hundred feet before he was shot dead. We are sorry to say that Gen. Wm. Henry Harrison was the chief representative of the government in this one-sided treaty, though, of course, he knew nothing of the predetermined killing of the Indian prisoner. This treaty, made without due authority on the part of Quashquainme, was not accepted by the Sauks till 1816, when its ratification was made a side issue in an agreement which the government negotiated between the Sauks and the Osages or Sioux. Black Hawk always claimed that he had never consented to the sale of Saukenuk: and it is but fair to Quashquamme to say that he always insisted that his cession of land went only to the Rock -- and therefore did not include Saukenuk -- and not to the Wisconsin, as the whites asserted. I have been thus explicit, as the disagreement about this treaty led to the final conflict between the Sauks and the whites.

One proposition of the original paper was that the Indians


should be allowed to occupy all the territory as aforetime until it was surveyed and sold to settlers. Along in the '20's the frontier line rapidly approached the great river: and about 1823, when still fifty miles distant, squatters began to settle on the Indian lands at Saukenuk. Protest was made against this to the commander of Fort Armstrong (which was built on Rock Island in 1816) and to the government authorities, but without avail. The squatters, relying for protection on the troops near by, perpetrated outrages of the most exasperating character. They turned their horses into the Indian corn fields, threw down fences, whipped one young woman who had pulled a few corn suckers from one of their fields to eat, while on her way to work, and finally two ruffians met Black Hawk himself one day as he was hunting on the river bottom and accused him of shooting their hogs. He indignantly denied it, but they snatched his rifle from his hand, wrenched the flint out, and then beat the old man with a hickory stick till the blood ran down his back, and he could not leave his house for days. Doubtless this indignity surpassed all other outrages in the proud old chief's estimation, and we can imagine him sitting in his cabin on the highest ground in the village, looking over the magnificent landscape, brooding upon the blight which had fallen upon the beautiful home of his tribe, and harboring thoughts of revenge. Still he refrained from open resistance till the spring of 1831. It was the custom of the tribe to spend the winter months hunting and trapping in north-eastern Missouri, returning in the spring to Saukenuk. This time they found the whites more aggressive than ever. They had fenced in the most of the cultivated land, plowed over the burying ground, and destroyed a number of houses. They received the Indians with hostile looks, but Black Hawk at last did what he ought to have done at first, he ordered the squatters all off the peninsula. He then went to an island where a squatter sold liquor and had paid no heed to his entreaties not to sell to the Indians, and with a party of his braves knocked in the heads of the whisky barrels and poured their contents on the ground. The liquor vendor immediately hurried to Gov. Reynolds, of Illinois, with his tale of woe and represented that Black Hawk was devastating the country with torch and tomahawk. Gov. Reynolds at once issued a flamboyant proclamation calling for volunteers, and asked the United States authorities at S.. Louis for aid. A considerable body of regulars was dispatched up the river and reached Saukenuk before the volunteers. Black Hawk told his people to remain in their houses and let the soldiers kill them if they would, but not to obey any orders to leave Saukenuk, for they had not sold their home and


had done no wrong. But when he saw the undisciplined, lawless and wildly excited volunteers, who came a few days later, he told the people that their lives were in danger and they must go. Accordingly the next morning at an early hour all embarked in their canoes and crossed the Mississippi. They were visited thereby the officials, and Black Hawk entered into an agreement to remain west of the river.

Two years before this Chief Keokuk had left Saukenuk with more than half the tribe and established a village on the Iowa river. Black Hawk was 64 years old in 1831 and Keokuk was only 43. But the latter was a man of much better judgment than his elder and was his superior in rank. He was a valiant warrior and one of the greatest Indian orators in history. Whenever he visited Washington, senators, judges of the supreme court and foreign ministers, hastened to hear his speeches before the commissioners. He could not talk English, but the melody of his voice, the grace, of his gestures and his stately presence charmed every listener. He had foreseen the inevitable loss of Saukenuk and tried vainly to persuade Black Hawk to accept their fate and go with him and build a new home at their leisure, instead of being expelled in mid-season perhaps. But the old man believed that the wrong of driving him from his loved dwelling place would not be consummated, and stayed by till the evil which Keokuk had predicted overtook him; and in mid-summer the Sauk band were driven out, leaving their well-planted fields of corn half grown, and all too late to start another crop.

I will say here, as it has much to do with the story, that Black Hawk had been superseded by Keokuk about the year 1815. He had taken two hundred warriors and joined the British in their war against the Americans. This was contrary to the wish of most of the tribe: it was regarded as a fool-hardy undertaking and one involving danger to the whole nation. So Keokuk was elected head chief in Black Hawk's place, very much to the latter's anger when he learned of it on returning from a very unsatisfactory campaign, the final event of which was the terrible defeat of the British in their attack upon Fort Stephenson. The belief that Black Hawk was with Tecumseh at the Thames is wholly erroneous. A part of the tribe, however, adhered to Black Hawk, acknowledging him as their chief. These were known as the "British Band," because of their continued strong preference for the British over the Americans. He used to make yearly visits to the British fort near Detroit and always came back loaded with presents, and his vanity inflated by the courtesies and blandishments which the wily British agents had bestowed upon him.


Black Hawk's band spent the fall and winter, after their expulsion from Saukenuk, in great unhappiness and want. It was too late to plant corn and they suffered from hunger. Their winter's hunt was unsuccessful as they lacked ammunition, and many of their guns and traps had gone to pay for the whisky they had drank before Black Hawk broke up the traffic. In the meantime Black Hawk was planning to recover Saukenuk by force. He visited Canada but received little encouragement there, except sympathy and the assurance that his cause was just. He also conferred with his trusted friend and adviser, Winneshiek, the prophet, whose village was thirty miles up the Rock, and known as Prophetstown. Winneshiek was half Sauk and half Winnebago. His followers were mostly of the latter tribe and numbered about 1,000. He had great influence with both tribes and was a man of much shrewdness. He always argued that Black Hawk, never having consented to the sale of his lands, would not be disturbed by the government if he insisted on possessing them. But Black Hawk's worst adviser was Neapope his second in command, and a terrible liar. He also visited Canada and claimed that the British whom he had seen, stood ready to help Black Hawk with men, arms and ammunition and that a steamboat would bring them to Milwaukee in the spring. This was good news to the credulous old chief: and quite as acceptable as this was Neapope's story that the Winnebagoes and Pottowattomies would join in the campaign to secure his rights. Added to these encouragements were the entreaties of the homesick, hungry women, who longed for their houses and corn fields at Saukenuk. Keokuk did his utmost to dissuade Black Hawk, but in vain, and then he gave warning to the whites of Black Hawk's purpose. He feared that the whole nation might be drawn into the war if it was once started. Black Hawk's first move with his band in the spring of 1832 was to visit Keokuk's village, set up his war post and call for recruits. He wore a British uniform and displayed a British flag. This foolishness and gratification of vanity cost him dearly in the end. He made an impassioned speech and wrought the Indians up to such enthusiasm that they demanded that Keokuk join with Black Hawk. It was a critical moment in the young chief -- even his life was in danger: but he was a more skillful master of oratory than even the eloquent Black Hawk, and, seeming at first to fall in with his plan, he gradually showed up its danger and its impracticable character until at last he saved all his own party and even won a considerable number away from Black Hawk.

On the 26th day of April the Black Hawk band crossed the


Mississippi several miles below Rock river. They numbered 1200 in all less than 400 being warriors, and these only partly armed. Their destination was Prophetstown as Black Hawk's plan was to raise a crop there and go on the war path in the fall. The braves struck across the country while the women weak with famine, slowly paddled the canoes up against the swift current of the river. They reached Prophetstown late in April, the heavy rains which had swollen the rivers greatly impeding their progress. A marvelous feature of this journey across the territory which the whites claimed had been ceded to them, is the fact that not the slightest depredation was committed at any farm or house on the march. The inhabitants fled, but the hungry Indians touched none of the abundant food which they left behind. Not a gun was fired. Back Hawk had ordered that no offense be given and he was strictly obeyed. Black Hawk was disappointed to find that the Winnebagoes were lukewarm as to his enterprise, and also reluctant to let him plant a crop, fearing to get into trouble with the government. He then pushed on to confer with the Pottowattomies, who had a village at Sycamore Creek about forty miles further on. Here he found similar conditions; also he learned the falsity of the story that he could get aid from the British. He says that he then determined to returned to Iowa and make the best of it there. But he was too late -- Gov. Reynolds had issued another proclamation, and 2,000 volunteers besides a considerable body of regulars were on his trail. He had made a farewell dog feast for his Pottawattomie friends, when a scout brought news that about 300 whites were going into camp five miles distant. This was a sort of independent command under Maj. Stillman who had pushed ahead of the main body. It was composed of lawless, undisciplined material, and at that moment was suffering under the effects of drinking two barrels of whisky which the troops had poured down their throats rather than leave it on a wagon that was hopelessly stuck in the mud.

Black Hawk directed three young braves to take a white flag, go to the camp, ask what the purpose of the command was, and to say that he desired a conference with them. He then sent five others on horseback to report the reception which the flag bearers met with. Three of them an hour later came at full speed into camp, reporting that the whites had surrounded the flag bearers and killed them and then chased the five who had followed, killing two of them, and were coming on in full force. All the devil in the old warrior's heart was roused by this brutal treachery, and calling on the forty warriors who were with him at the conference, the rest being in camp


some miles away, he hastened to meet the enemy. Forming an ambush in the brush, the Indians fired their guns as the whites approached, just at nightfall, and rose up and charged with a wild yell. The drunken volunteers at once turned and fled, the panic gathering force as they went. The fugitives rushed through the camp pell-mell and all who were left there joined in the stampede. In their desperate fear every soldier thought every other an Indian and fired hither and yon. Eleven were killed, probably only one by the redskins. The survivors for the most part continued their flight, spreading the most exaggerated stories of the numbers and ferocity of the Indians, until they reached their several homes. As it proved, the three Indian flag bearers were not harmed till the stampede began, when one of them was shot by a soldier just mounting his horse to run. One of the surviving Indians immediately killed him with his tomahawk.

This easy triumph changed Black Hawk's purpose. He regarded it as an omen of victory and determined to go on. But his strenuous efforts to enlist the Pottowattomies in the cause were unavailing. Old Chief Shaubenee had absolute control over them and steadily said "no." Even Chief Big Foot at the head of Lake Geneva refused. He was a drunken, sullen, brutal savage, but had given his word to keep the peace and did so, though he bitterly hated the whites and would have been glad to see the war go on. About one hundred reckless, lawless individuals of the Winnebago and Pottowattomie tribes joined Black Hawk, but gradually deserted him as his fortunes waned.

Black Hawk was now anxious to take his women, children and old men to a place of safety, and, following the guidance of two Winnebagoes, they made their way up the Rock to Hustisford rapids and there went into camp. Fish, game, clams, roots and the bark of trees constituted their food while there, but Black Hawk in his biography says they found it difficult to keep from starving. And, adding to their present misery, the thrifty, provident squaws saw another harvestless summer passing and a winter of famine before them. With his warriors he then returned to continue the contest. A few skirmishes and collisions took place along the line that now separates Wisconsin and Illinois, and predatory parties of Winnebagoes and Pottowattomies worked out their grudges and revenges on whites who had incurred their enmity. These outrages were numerous and were attributed to the Sauks, as their perpetrators expected would be the case. It is now believed that not a single case of the murder of


an unarmed man or of a woman or child was justly chargeable to the Sauks.

Gov. Reynolds had called for a second levy of 2,000 volunteers, and Gen. Atkinson with a considerable force of regulars, was in the field. All were under his command and he followed Black Hawk as the latter retired northward, with an army of 4,000, all mounted, fully twelve times as great in number as the starveling band which he was pursuing. They camped near Beloit, camped at Milton, near the south end of Storr's Lake, and followed on cautiously to Lake Koshkonong, for Atkinson had a most wholesome regard for Black Hawk's prowess. At the lake they found an old blind Sank who had been left behind. They gave him food, but a straggler coming along later shot him as he was crawling to a spring for water. His bones lay on the ground unburied for years after the country was settled, the skull having been hung on a bush. At the junction of the Bark and Rock rivers Atkinson went into utter bewilderment and uncertainty as to Black Hawk's whereabouts, and he finally built the stockade at the point which bears his name. He dispatched a considerable force under Col's Alexander, Dodge and Henry to Portage for supplies. There they learned where Black Hawk's camp was; Henry and Dodge set out to attack it, while Alexander returned to Atkinson. The latter had heard that Black Hawk was in full force at Burnt Village on the Whitewater river, about four miles north of the location now occupied by the city bearing that name. He sent off messengers for the remainder of the army to join him for an attack. But in going and coming the trail of Black Hawk and his entire band was discovered leading to the west. Henry and Dodge started in rapid pursuit, sending word to Atkinson that the game had been flushed. That doughty warrior had in the meantime learned that the Burnt Village story was a myth: and those of his men whose time had expired, broke ranks and returned to their homes, all believing that Black Hawk had finally escaped. Abraham Lincoln was among those who were mustered out at Whitewater. Atkinson, with the remainder followed on after receiving the message from Henry and Dodge, and joined the pursuing party at Helena a few days after the fight at Wisconsin Heights. The fugitive trail crossed the site of the present city of Madison and also the University grounds, bearing thence northwest to the Wisconsin river. Singularly enough Black Hawk struck this stream directly opposite the site of his people's ancient village of Prairie du Sac. Soon after leaving Fourth Lake the Indians discovered their pursuers and hastened their painful flight. All along the trail had been marked by evidences of their extremity


in the skeletons of ponies robbed of their flesh, in the trees stripped of bark for food, and the ground dug over for roots. To these proofs were now added kettles and blankets which the enfeebled women could no longer carry, and the dead bodies of famished papooses and old people. About four o'clock in the afternoon, the rear guard of the Sauks was overtaken a few miles from the river. This was on the 21st day of July, and the troops had made a forced march of eighty miles in three days from the Rock to the Wisconsin, much of the way through swamps and dense forests. Until dark a series of skirmishes was maintained, the Indians skillfully forming new lines and holding the enemy, back while the women and children were crossing the river. Black Hawk directed the fight while sitting on his pony, his stentorian voice reaching every part of the field. He always counted this battle as most creditable to his military genius, and there is reason for the claim, for he delayed the whites till the passage of the river was secured. Jefferson Davis, who was present, says that the squaws tore the bark off the trees and made little canoes in which to float their papooses and utensils across the river; and that half the braves swam the river holding their rifles in the air while the rest kept the whites back, and then fired on them from the other side, while the remaining braves crossed. He pronounced it the most brilliant defensive battle he ever witnessed.

Davis' account of the affair at Wisconsin Heights differs from other reports in the particulars mentioned; and it is barely possible that his recollections may have been colored by his warm admiration for the old chief. He had charge of Black Hawk immediately after the latter's capture, and conveyed him from Prairie du Chien to St. Louis. On the journey down the river the two struck up a strong mutual friendship. I have been told that thirty-three years later, when Davis was himself a hunted fugitive, he used to draw comparisons between his fate and Black Hawk's.

The next morning the Indians had disappeared, but during the night they had constructed a raft upon which a large number of the women and children and old men were placed and sent adrift, hoping that they would be allowed to go down the river unmolested, and reach their late village in Iowa. But Col. Dodge sent word ahead and the soldiers at Fort Crawford lay in wait for them; and when the raft approached they fired upon the helpless creatures, killing a large number. A few were taken prisoners, but the rest were drowned or swam ashore and afterwards perished of hunger in the woods.

Late in the night after the fight at Wisconsin Heights, a loud, shrill voice was heard from the eminence which Black Hawk had occupied


during the conflict. It caused consternation at first among the whites as it was thought to signify a night attack. But the voice continued in strong, impassioned harangue for more than an hour, eliciting, however, only jeers and an occasional rifle shot. It was afterwards learned that the orator was Neapope, who was suing for mercy and peace in the Winnebago tongue. He had seen a few Winnebagoes with the whites in the afternoon but did not know that they had gone away at nightfall. He told how they saw their great mistake in leaving Iowa, that they had their wives and children with them, that all were dying for want of food, and that they only asked to be allowed to go in peace; and they pledged themselves to return to Iowa, and never again come east of the river. Neapope was an orator of great power, and he presented his plea with all the eloquence of which he was master. But it fell on ears that understood not its purport. I know of no more pathetic incident in all the long chapter of human woe and despair than this pitiful prayer of a perishing people for mercy and forgiveness, spoken in a tongue that carried no meaning to those who heard. Let us hope that if the petition had been understood it would have been granted.

The loss in the battle on the 21st had not been large on either side, and the Black Hawk band pursued their journey to the Mississippi without guides through a rugged, trackless wilderness, sorrowing, suffering and despairing. The whites continued down the Wisconsin to Helena, where Gen. Atkinson took command. Helena was a deserted village which had been built to carry on shot-making. The soldiers tore down the log houses and made rafts of the logs to cross the river. Five days in all were consumed before the Black Hawk trail was discovered, and then the pursuers were guided to it by crows and buzzards gathering in the air over the bodies of dead refugees left by the wayside. On the first of August the Indians reached the Mississippi and began crossing in two canoes. In the afternoon the steamer Warrior, which had been sent up from Fort Crawford to notify the Sioux chief, Wabasha, one hundred and twenty miles above, to lookout for his enemy, Black Hawk, who was headed that way, stopped opposite the spot where the Indians had gathered. Black Hawk raised a white flag and tried to parley: but the captain assumed that it was an attempt to trap him and, without warning, fired into the Indians at short range with a cannon loaded with cannister. Thus a second time was the usage of all nations violated in this war by refusing to recognize the flag of truce. Twenty-three were killed by this discharge. There were twenty riflemen on the boat who then began firing, and the Sauks responded.


The Warrior soon after steamed away to Fort Crawford, twenty miles below, and the Indians continued their efforts to cross the river, here three hundred rods wide and running a strong current. Some were drowned and others were carried down the stream on improvised rafts. A few of these were rescued at Prairie du Chien.

The next day Atkinson appeared on the ground. Black Hawk seems to have been utterly demoralized and had told those who had not crossed that he was going to the Chippewa country and that they had better follow. Only a few did so, and after going a few miles he turned back August 2d, just in time to see the closing scene of the massacre called the battle of Bad Axe. As Atkinson approached he was skillfully decoyed beyond the Indian camp some distance, but its location was finally discovered and a fierce onslaught was made. The poor wretches at first begged for quarter, but as the soldiers shot them down without discrimination, they fought for a time with desperation, and then men, women and children plunged into the river, the most of them to drown before reaching the other side. The steamer Warrior reappeared and the sharp shooters fired at the swimmers, some of them women with babies on their backs. The incidents of the merciless slaughter are too harrowing for recital, and would be incredible if not thoroughly authenticated. It is difficult to understand the ferocity with which Black Hawk's band was pursued and destroyed. Probably the belief that he was still in the British service had much to do with it: also his first success at Stillman's Run, and the murder of the whites in Northern Illinois by marauders from other tribes, which were unjustly charged to him, may account for it in large part. About three hundred Indians succeeded in crossing the river, but their ill fate still pursued them. Their fierce enemy, Wabasha, was on their track, and before reaching the Iowa river half of the three hundred had been relentlessly slain. Of the 1,200 who crossed the Mississippi in April, only one hundred and fifty, and they barely living skeletons, returned in August. But this remnant maintained its separate character and became the nucleus of the Black Hawk band now established in the Indian Territory: the rest of the tribe, known as the Keokuk band, live in Kansas.

Black Hawk gave himself up soon after the Bad Axe massacre to the Winnebagoes, and was surrendered to our officers at Prairie du Chien. Thence he was taken to St. Louis, Washington, through the east, and back to Fort Armstrong, where he was delivered over to Keokuk, who became surety for his good behavior. Although always kindly treated by the latter, the old chief never ceased to be mindful of his subordination. For five years he brooded over his


misfortunes and humiliation, and then died in his 72d year. Even his body was not allowed to rest in peace; it was stolen by a physician, and when the Indians discovered the theft and demanded the return of the bones, the building in which the skeleton was stored burned before it was delivered up, and only indistinguishable ashes remained.

A word further is due the stalwart old chief, whose good qualities certainly surpassed his evil ones. He was honorable, brave, generous and magnanimous. He never permitted a captive to be tortured, and early gave up the practice of scalping the enemies he had slain. As a leader in Indian warfare he ranks high, and his final campaign had in its purpose the same comprehensive idea which actuated Tecumseh and Pontiac, that of a union of all Indian tribes; and he had the further intent of drawing in the British to enforce the treaty of 1815, which he claimed had been violated in his own case -- the guarantee of immunity to all Indian allies of the British having been disregarded. Absolute honesty and truthfulness in business matters were among his characteristics. These he shared with his people generally. Col. Davenport, who had a trading establishment on the island for many many years, used often to go to dinner leaving his store full of Indians, and he said they never took so much as a clay pipe, in his absence.

Black Hawk was impulsive, hopeful and credulous, and so was easily imposed upon: he had an ardent love for the beauties of nature; he was deeply religious, and said that he never took a drink of water from a brook without sincere gratitude to the Great Spirit who cared for him. He was a tender husband and father, and, contrary to the usage of his tribe, married only one wife. When his father was killed he mourned and fasted five years. He did the same for two years, when a son and daughter died, eating only a little corn each evening, "hoping that the Great Spirit would take pity on him." We wish for the honor of our race that this poor savage, whose only offence was that of loving his home too well to give it up without a struggle, had not gone out of life leaving such a red, indelible page on the book of history against us.

One remarkable effect of the Black Hawk war was its influence on state and national politics. It was the stock in trade of numerous Illinois politicians for years, and many rode into high places on their war record who had not seen an Indian or heard a gun fired. The number of people who had connection with the war who afterward became notable is marvelous; two presidents, Lincoln and Taylor, were among them. The former went out as captain and had his


first lieutenant promoted to the coloneley of the regiment over his head. But he was not so angry about it as to prevent his enlisting for short periods as private twice thereafter. Governor Reynold's aspired to the presidency, but his hopes vanished at Stillman's run. Jefferson Davis, Sydney Johnson, Robert Anderson, the defender of Sumpter, Wm. S. Harney, Phil. Kearney, Chas. Dunn, Henry Dodge and John McClernand, were also of the number who followed Black Hawk in 1832 and afterward achieved fame or notoriety in other spheres of action.