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River Men



Part II


~ Researched and Transcribed by Sue Rekkas

The Saturday Evening Post, Burlington, Iowa December 27, 1913, page 7.


by George B. Merrick




Original and 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 it.  The boats of Lieutenant Rector and Lieutenant Riggs were ahead.  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.

  “When 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 their commander.

"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 Campbell.  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 inside.  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 Iowa.  Reynolds 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.



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