Black Hawk Indian Chief 1767-1838


Where’s Black Hawk’s Grave?

Many Rumors, Few Specifics—

            Davis County Republican newspaper 5 July 1962

 by Gary Spurgeon


            It’s apparent that Indians today are as elusive as in the days of Iowa’s first settlers.

            This is the obvious conclusion of one who has spent several days in a search for the original grave of Chief Black Hawk, the most famed of Iowa’s Indians.

            According to several sources, the original gravesite is located in Davis county.  But printed sources don’t give an exact location and although many individuals seem to know people who know the exact spot, that’s as specific as the information gets. 

Black Hawk was supposedly buried soon after his death on the east bank of the Des Moines river in Davis county.  Most written records claim the famous chief was buried on the land of Indian trader James H. Jordan.

            Black Hawk was a very good friend of Captain Jordan in the early days of Iowa.  Jordan, who was the first settler to see Davis county, lived close to the Indian.

            The two became very close friends during the years.  It has been said that Black Hawk gave much land to Jordan when the captain settled along the Des Moines river Jordan is said to have accepted and managed the land.  Official records show some of the land still belongs to ancestors of Jordan.

            Black Hawk, after being defeated in the Black Hawk war, spent time in a federal prison.  He was released and returned to make his home on the Des Moines river.  He built a cabin along the river and lived there until his death. 

            The great chief passed away October 3, 1838 at the age of 71.  Black Hawk, prior to his death, had selected his own burial place.  The site was reportedly a mound in the prairie behind Captain Jordan’s cabin. 

            Black Hawk was buried in a suit adorned with medals and ribbons, along with an army sword presented to him by President Andrew Jackson.  Black Hawk’s body was placed on a board and one end was sunk into the ground.  The chief’s head was left above the ground.

            Over the grave a mound was erected which was supported by two forked sticks.  An American flag was raised over the grave and a palisade erected to keep prowling animals away.

            The Indians considered the burial place sacred and they took it as a violation of higher law when the body was robbed from the grave a few months later.        

            The grave was robbed by Dr. James Turner of Lexington, Iowa in Van Buren County.  Dr. Turner  was interested in the body of the deceased Indian because he wanted to put Black Hawk’s skull on exhibition.  It was his plan to become rich by touring the country with the skull.

            This almost sent the Indians on the warpath.  They were intent on massacring the whites of the surrounding area.  The Indians stopped at the Van Caldwell cabin a short distance from the grave.

            It took much discussion before the Indians were persuaded not to do away with the Caldwell family.  Van Caldwell wrote a letter to General Street, Indian Agent in the area, telling the general what had happened and asking that the dragoons be sent to track down the thieves.

            The letter was given to Caldwell’s small son, Henry Clay Caldwell, who later became a famous judge.  The boy went with the Indians to the agency.  General Street at first refused to send the dragoons because the thief had already escaped.  The Caldwell boy’s begging finally persuaded the general to send out the dragoons.

            Dr. Turner had sent the head of Black Hawk to Quincy, Ill., to a friend.  It was later recovered and sent to a museum in Burlington.  The body remained there until 1855 when the building burned, destroying all its contents.

            The original grave site was marked by a wagon load of stones.  How3ever, there appears to be no remaining evidence of the grave on the Jordan farm.

            Ross Wells, who farms the land today, said he knows of no remains of the grave.  John Ritz of Selma said that the grave site was a short distance west of the Jordan house.  Investigation failed to find any conclusive proof that the grave is still detectable.

            Dillon Payne in his “Pioneer History of Davis County” says the grave is located about one-half a mile from the Des Moines river.  Investigation found only a few stones lying around in no orderly fashion.

            If found, the grave would make a nice historical marker for the county.  Payne said, “This spot in Davis county is worthy of a monument.  The state or county should place one there.”

Contributor and Source; Pat Howk

In 1832, Black Hawk took a war party of 2,000 men, women and children back to a well-fortified Illinois to regain their cherished homeland.  A series of skirmishes in a few short weeks became what is known as the Black Hawk War, which claimed more than 1,000 lives.  Black Hawk and two sons were taken prisoner.

            That fall, the government paid $640,000 for 6 million acres of land that the Sac Indians held in eastern Iowa.  The action was called the Black Hawk Purchase, although the chief had nothing to do with it and was being held in prison at St. Louis at the time.  Black Hawk later was taken to Washington, D. C., where he met and gained the respect of President Andrew Jackson, and then was paraded before curious whites in Eastern cities before being set free in August 1833.

            Black Hawk lived his later years in a village on the Iowa River before moving to a lodge on the Des Moines River near Eldon.  He wrote a well-received autobiography.

By Tom Logsdon; Des Moines Register

Chief Black Hawk, the reason Iowans are called “Hawkeyes,” was a reluctant Iowan. He put up a fight because he had to live here.

            Black Hawk started a war when the U. S. government forced him to move from his land in Illinois to a site across the river in Iowa. 

Black Hawk was the son of a medicine man and was born in the Sac Indian village of Saukenuk, located near present-day Rock Island, Ill.  The village was on the Rock River and was considered an abundant paradise to those who lived there.  In 1804, five Sac and Fox Indian chiefs signed away rights to land east of the Mississippi River.  Trouble began in 1827 when pioneering whites moved into Saukenuk and villagers were told to move their tribe across the river to Iowa land.  Black Hawk at first refused, but when troops arrived in 1828, he moved his tribe, setting up a village near present-day Davenport.