The Saturday Evening Post, Burlington,
Iowa December 27, 1913, page 7.
AND STEAMBOATMEN OF THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI
by George B. Merrick
BLACKHAWK AND KEOKUK.
Aboriginal bearers of these names.
Steamboats will be considered later.
Before attempting the impossible task
of unraveling the record of the many steamboats that have been
named after the Indian whose intrigues and exploits fill the
pages of Illinois and Wisconsin history, and who figures as
the hero of innumerable romances, it may be interesting to
learn something of the original.
It is fortunate that for steamboat purposes there has
been no attempt to use the aboriginal name; and it is almost
as fortunate that the English translation has been somewhat
abbreviated for river purposes.
His baptismal name was Ma-cu-ta Mak-i-cu-tah, which
translated, is Black Sparrow Hawk.
He was born in the Sac or Sauk and Fox village at the
mouth of Rock River, in 1767.
He was not a hereditary chief of his tribe, this office
being held by the great chief Keokuk, who was at the head of
the amalgamated Sac and
Fox tribes, he himself being by descent head chief of the Fox
tribe. Black Hawk
was a popular leader—a sort of Indian reformer, or
progressive, as we know the cull in our day.
He was a fighter by instinct.
He claims in his autobiography, which was written while
a prisoner after the battle of Bad Axe, that he killed and
scalped his first enemy when he was but fifteen years of age,
and was thereby entitled to paint a bloody hand in the middle
of his blanket and take his seat in the councils of the
warriors. According to the same veracious authority he
thereafter slaughtered so many of his enemies that he had to
maintain a private cemetery of his own.
His figures were disputed at the time by no less a
personage than his commander in chief, Keokuk, who allowed
that Macuta Makicatah was inclined to draw the long bow when
upon the subject of his own prowess.
The white men of his time also questioned his estimates
of the number of scalps in his collection.
Chief Keokuk was a friend of the
Americans, and threw his influence for them, as against the
British both before and during the war of 1812.
His followers were known as the “American Hand,” while
Black Hawk and his followers were called the “British Hand” of
the Sac and Fox tribe.
Black Hawk, with five hundred followers, took service
with the British military agent, Col. Dixon, and went to
Canada, where they took part in the battle of the River Rasin,
Lower Sandusky, and others; but finding that there were more
bullets then plunder in the east, he, with some twenty or more
warriors, deserted and returned to Rock Island.
From there he went down the Mississippi to the little
settlement of Quivre River, Missouri, which he had hoped to
surprise and plunder.
Instead he met forty Border Rangers, who were guarding
the settlers. A
fight followed in which one Indian and one Ranger were killed,
and the Hawk returned home with one scalp to his credit.
In May 1813, an expedition for the
relief of Prairie du Chien, consisting of three barges, or
keel boats, with forty-four regular soldiers and sixty-six
Rangers, under command of Lieutenant Campbell, got as far as
the upper rapids at Rock Island where they anchored in the
river for the night.
Hon. John Reynolds, author of the History of Illinois
entitled “My Own Times,” tells the story of the fight and
rescue that followed as follows:
|The fleet all set sail in the morning, and above
Rock Island the wind blew so hard that Lieutenant
Campbell’s boat was forced on a lee shore, and
lodged on a small island near the main land, known
from this circumstance, as “Campbell’s Island.”
The Indians, commanded by Black Hawk, when the
wind drifted the boat on shore, commenced an attack on
boats of Lieutenant Rector and Lieutenant Riggs were
They could see the smoke of the firearms but could not
hear the report of the guns.
Then they returned to the assistance of
Campbell, but the wind was so high that their barges
were almost unmanageable.
They anchored near Campbell, but could not
reach him, the storm raged so severely.
Campbell’s boat had been driven ashore in the morning
by the wind, he had placed out sentinels, and the men
commenced cooking their breakfast; but the enemy by
hundreds rushed on them, killing many on the spot the
rest taking refuge in the boat.
Hundreds of the warriors were in and around the
boat, and at last set it on fire.
Campbell’s boat was burning, and the bottom was
covered with the dead.
They had almost ceased firing when Rector and
his brave men came to the rescue.
Campbell himself lay wounded on his back on the
bottom of the boat, and many of his men lay dead and
dying around him.
Rigg’s boat was well fortified, but his men
were inexperienced sailors.
Rector and his company could not remain
inactive spectators of the destruction of Campbell and
his men, but in a tempest of wind raised their anchor
in the face of almost a thousand Indians, and periled
their lives in the rescue of Campbell.
No act of noble daring and bravery surpassed
the rescue of Campbell during the war in the west.
The Rangers under Rector were mostly Frenchmen,
and were well acquainted with the management of a boat
in such a crisis: and they and their commander,
Lieutenant Rector were governed by the high and
ennobling principles of chivalry and patriotism.
Rector’s boat was lightened by casting
overboard quantities of provisions, and then many of
the crew actually got out of the boat into the water,
leaving the boat between them and the fire of the
enemy, and thus pushed the boat, against the fire of
the warriors to Campbell’s boat, which was in the
possession of the Indians.
This was a most hazardous exploit for forty
men, forcing the barge to a burning boat in possession
of the enemy, nearly a thousand strong, and taking
from it all wounded and living soldiers, together with
"A salt-water sailor named
Hoadley did gallant service in this daring exploit by
his superior knowledge of management of a vessel.
Rector took all the live men from Campbell’s
boat into his, and his men, in the water, hauled their
own boat out into the stream, leaving the Indians to
feast upon the provisions in the abandoned boat of
Rector’s boat was crowded with the wounded and dying,
but he rowed day and night until he reached St. Louis.
It was supposed that the boat of Riggs had been
captured by the enemy; but the vessel was strongly
fortified, so that it lay, as it were, in the hands of
the Indians for several hours, the enemy having
possession of the outside and the whites of the
The wind subsided in the evening, and Riggs got his
boat off without losing many men.
It was a day of general jubilee and rejoicing
when Riggs arrived at St. Louis.
I saw the soldiers on their return to St.
Louis, and the sight was distressing.
Those who were not wounded were worn down to
skeletons by labor and fatigue.”
Black Hawk’s next victory, over the
whites under command of Maj. Zachary Taylor, came soon after
in the same year, 1814, as related in my story of the Buisson
family in a preceding chapter.
In 1804 Black Hawk had been one of the tribal magnates
that had ceded lands belonging to the Sac and Fox tribe lying
near the mouth of the Rock River; but in 1831, instigated by
British emissaries, and under promise of support by the
neighboring tribes, he threatened to again take up arms
against the whites.
Keokuk, head chief, in 1816, moved over the river into
Iowa, in anticipation of such a war.
Assuming that these threats meant an outbreak by the
Black Hawk band, a force of some seven hundred militia made a
demonstration against his village at Rock Island, from which
Black Hawk and his “British band” also retired across the
river to Iowa; but yielding to persuasions of emissaries from
the Pottawattamie, Winnebago, Chippewa and Ottawa Indians of
Illinois and Wisconsin he re-crossed the river April 6, 1832,
with five hundred warriors and all his women and children.
After routing a party of twenty-five hundred drunken,
disorderly Illinois cavalrymen at Stillman’s Creek, who
promptly disbanded and ran for home, Black Hawk moved north
into Wisconsin to near Lake Koshkonong, from whence,
reinforced by a couple hundred braves from Winnebago and
Pottawattamie, he raided surrounding settlements for two or
three months, taking the scalps of some two hundred men, women
and children during his forays, and losing about the same
number of braves in return.
A reorganized army of 3200 Illinois militia, with some
regulars, and two hundred mounted rangers from the lead
regions of southwestern Wisconsin under Major Henry Dodge,
afterwards the first governor of Wisconsin, took the field
against the Hawk, and in August, 1832, a decisive battle was
fought at Bad Axe, on the Mississippi, in which Capt. Joseph
Throckmorton, with his boat, the “Warrior,” took an active
part. Black Hawk
was overwhelmingly defeated, only one hundred and fifty out of
one thousand escaping.
He was surrendered to the whites by the Winnebago's,
with whom he had sought safety.
He was imprisoned first at Prairie du Chein, where
Jefferson Davis, then a lieutenant of regulars was stationed,
and who late conducted Black Hawk to Jefferson Barracks, St.
Louis, Abraham Lincoln was captain of militia in this “war,”
and Zachary Taylor was an officer of regulars at the same
time. Later Black
Hawk was confined in Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and finally
was turned over to his rival Chief Keokuk, for safe keeping.
He died October 3, 1838, on a small reservation in
says that while Black Hawk was a great fighter, Keokuk was the
brainiest of the two, and was able to see further into the
future than his rival.
He realized that the whites were bound to conquer the
land, and like a true diplomat, he made the best terms
possible for his people.
His name is preserved in the thriving city of Keokuk,
itself now made celebrated as a site of the greatest water
power in the world.
Both names are perpetuated on the wheelhouses of at
least half a dozen steamboats a piece to unravel the tangled
records of which will be my task, the first of which, “Black
Hawk,” I shall take up in my next chapter.